Blenheim Palace

Blenheim Palace

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

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 Nicholas Hawksmoor.

Blenheim Palace the courtyard

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.

Gate detail Blenheim Palace

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 scale.

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.

Blenheim Palace Chapel

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 Duke’s campaigns.

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 Manor.

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.

Blenheim Palace gardens

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 1770s.

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 outside.

What to see

Court yard Blenheim Palace

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
Private Appartments
Indoor Cinema
Contact details:

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 Location

Blenheim Palace Location: Woodstock, Oxfordshire OX20 1PP, United Kingdom. Get help with directions:

Blenheim Palace Map

Scroll to Top