English country house near Woodstock, Oxon, designed by John Vanbrugh for John
Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough.
It was begun in 1705 and completed around 1725. The gardens, initially laid out
by Vanbrugh and Henry Wise, were largely redesigned in 1764–74 by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown.
History of Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace is regarded as one of the finest examples of
English Baroque architecture. It was a gift to the Duke from a grateful Crown and nation to
commemorate his victory in 1704 over the French and Bavarians at Blenheim (now Blindheim) during
the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714).
The intention was to create a public monument symbolizing the glory of Britain
and a palace fit for a hero, rather than a building on a domestic scale.
This is reflected in Vanbrugh’s dramatic and monumental design, inspired by both
English and French architecture, which developed the style he had begun to formulate in his earlier
work at Castle Howard, N. Yorks. In both undertakings he was assisted by
The plan of Blenheim Palace consists of a main block approached
on the north by a great forecourt flanked by two huge wings, the kitchen and stable courts, which
are linked to the main block by colonnades .
The façade (total width of 146 m) and the courtyard (depth about 90 m) create an
impressively framed approach to the main block. The central entrance is a massive portico
surmounted by a pediment. The vast scale of the exterior is balanced by prominent towers or
belvederes at the four corners of the main building, each with sculptured finials carved between
1708 and 1716 by Grinling Gibbons.
They are echoed by similar towers at the sides of the kitchen and stable courts.
The elaborate roof-line is further embellished by gilded and painted statues of men and beasts.
Giant Corinthian pilasters and Doric half columns decorate the walls, with free-standing loggias at
the corners. Considerable variety was achieved through the use of contrasting recessions and
projections: the whole has been described as a piece of sculpture.
The palace is entered through a clerestoried Great Hall (height around 20 m),
from where the staircase leads to the upper floors. Beyond the Hall is the Saloon (12 m high), with
a musicians’ gallery above.
To either side of it extend symmetrical suites of state apartments consisting of
antechamber, drawing-room and bed-chamber; together with the Saloon, these occupy the entire south
front. Along the west front of the house runs the Long Gallery (intended as a picture gallery but
completed as a library); to the east were the family apartments, designed on a more domestic
The interior decoration and fittings were lavishly executed. Door- and
window-frames are of marble, with architectural carvings by Gibbons in an uncharacteristically
restrained classical style appropriate to the great proportions of the rooms.
The ceiling of the Great Hall was painted with an allegory of the Duke
presenting a plan of the Battle of Blenheim to Britannia (1716) by James Thornhill in his
continental Baroque style. The walls and ceiling of the Saloon were decorated (around 1720) by
Louis Laguerre, the former painted as an illusionistic composition of a colonnade open to the sky,
from behind which figures representing the four continents look into the room.
In the Gallery and Hall hung works by Titian, Rubens and Raphael, while the
state suites were hung with Brussels tapestries, including a set of ten ‘Victories’ depicting the
There are said to be 187 rooms in the main building. The relationship of the
building to the landscape was a crucial part of the design. Vanbrugh and Henry Wise created formal
gardens and turned the surrounding forest into parkland to provide a more appropriate frame for the
house; Vanbrugh also sought (unsuccessfully) to retain the nearby medieval ruins of Woodstock
His triple-spanned Grand Bridge in front of the palace originally crossed three
canals but now spans the lake created by ‘Capability’ Brown when he redesigned the landscaping.
Blenheim Palace represents the culmination of the English
Baroque, but it was regarded as being out of date even before it was finally completed. It remains
the finest expression of Vanbrugh’s theatrical style, combining dramatic quality and a sense of
mass and volume with the more intricate details and complex skyline that heralded a more
picturesque and Romantic approach. Among the many influences that inspired him were English
medieval fortifications (he originally wished the building to be called Blenheim Castle), the
classical rhythms of Wren and the exuberance of the great Italian and French Baroque palaces.
The building was first projected to cost around £100,000, but at least three
times that amount was spent during the main building phase (1705–1712), with 1500 workmen employed
at one time.
Work was halted in 1712 when the Marlboroughs lost favour with Queen Anne and
went into exile. After the accession of George I, construction resumed in 1716, but Vanbrugh
resigned almost immediately after disputes with the Duchess, who had always wanted Wren as the
architect and a comfortable home rather than a monument.
She employed the cabinetmaker James Moore (1670–1726) to advise her, and in
1722, after the death of the Duke, recalled Hawksmoor (who had departed with Vanbrugh) to complete
the work. When Vanbrugh attempted to visit the building in 1725, the Duchess refused him entrance.
Later modifications were made by William Chambers, who redecorated the palacein the 1760s and
Blenheim Palace Visitor Information
A day out at the Blenheim Palace and its Formal Gardens is a pleasant
experience anytime. The palace is open for visits and it can be explored both inside and
What to see:
The State Rooms, where one of the finest collections in Europe can be found
The Untold Story - The Blenheim Palace tour
The Churchill Exhibition
The Formal Gardens and Park
The Pleasure Gardens
Phone: +44(0) 1993 810 530 (Enquiries and Group Bookings)
Free phone (24 h) 0800 849 6500
For more information about opening times and tickets visit the main page.
Blenheim Palace Map&Location
Blenheim Palace Location: Woodstock, Oxfordshire OX20 1PP, United Kingdom. Get
help with directions:
View Larger Map