The cumulative labors of [architect Sir John] Vanbrugh and [landscape architect Lancelot] “Capability” Brown have succeeded at Blenheim in setting an Italian palace in an English park without apparent incongruity. The combination of these different ideas, each singly attractive, produces a remarkable effect. The palace is severe in its symmetry and completeness. Nothing has been added to the original plan; nothing has been taken away. The approaches are formal; the wings are balanced; four equal towers maintain its corners; and the fantastic ornaments of one side are elaborately matched on the other.
Natural simplicity and even confusion are, on the contrary, the characteristic of the park and gardens. Instead of that arrangement of gravel paths, of geometrical flower-beds, and of yews disciplined with grotesque exactness which the character of the house would seem to suggest, there spreads a rich and varied landscape. Green lawns and shining water, banks of laurel and fern, groves of oak and cedar, fountains and islands, are conjoined in artful disarray to offer on every side a promise of rest and shade. And yet there is no violent contrast, no abrupt dividing line between the wildness and freshness of the garden and the pomp of the architecture. Read More >
In his multi-volume biography of his ancestor John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough, published from 1933 to 1938 as Marlborough: His Life and Times, Winston Churchill described the creation of the ancestral seat.
The background: during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–14), King Louis XIV of France and the Elector of Bavaria sought to knock Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I out of the war by seizing Vienna in the summer of 1704 and gaining a favorable peace settlement. This plan ended in failure in August with the catastrophic defeat of French and Bavarian forces at the Battle of Blenheim at the hands of British and Austrian armies led by the Duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene of Savoy. The battle altered the course of the war, which nevertheless continued to rage for another decade.
Following his spectacular victory at Blenheim, Marlborough returned home from Bavaria in the autumn as “The Conquering Hero” of Queen Anne’s realm. For the moment he was showered with honors, but the protracted conflict later turned political opinion against him. Here follows Winston Churchill’s account of the Duke’s homecoming. Read More >
The ninth Duke of Marlborough with his first wife, Consuelo Vanderbilt, and their children, as depicted by John Singer Sargent
Finest Hour 187, First Quarter 2020
By Hugo Vickers
Hugo Vickers’ biography The Sphinx: The Life of Gladys Deacon, Duchess of Marlborough was published by Hodder & Stoughton/ Zuleika in January 2020.
It is not beyond the realms of possibility that Winston Churchill could have become the tenth Duke of Marlborough, and thus custodian for life of Blenheim Palace. He was heir presumptive to the title between 1895 and 1897, since at that time his first cousin the ninth Duke had no children, and Winston’s father Lord Randolph Churchill had died in January 1895.
This prospect was evidently of some concern to Frances, Dowager Duchess of Marlborough, a daughter of the third Marquess of Londonderry, though this may have been exaggerated by Consuelo Vanderbilt in her somewhat misleading and self-serving memoirs The Glitter and the Gold. That was the book from which she emerges as the poor, unloved American bride, forced by her mother to marry Sunny, the ninth Duke, in 1895—his only motive to obtain Vanderbilt money to keep Blenheim going. In her book, Consuelo described her husband’s grandmother as “a formidable old lady of the Queen Anne type… [with] large prominent eyes, an aquiline nose, and a God-and-my-right conception of life.” Read More >
The entrance front of Blenheim Palace from Vitruvius Britannicus (1725)
Finest Hour 187, First Quarter 2020
By Robert Courts
Robert Courts is Member of Parliament for Witney. He lives with his family in Bladon, abutting Blenheim Park.
Winston Churchill is reported to have said: “At Blenheim I took two very important decisions: to be born and to marry. I am content with the decision I took on both occasions.” Certainly the remark typifies his characteristically understated humour, giving as it does only a hint of the role that Blenheim Palace played in his life. In fact, it made up part of the fabric of his hinterland: a vision of what he came from, was, and wanted to be.
But Blenheim is and was much more than just a gorgeous backdrop to the lives of either Winston Churchill or his ancestor John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough. Whilst it was this weight of history, so vividly portrayed at Blenheim, that made the young Winston acutely aware of his ancestry—and his destiny— there is a much greater story to be told in the way Blenheim has shaped and been shaped by the surrounding area.
A visit to Blenheim Palace offers an unforgettable experience. It’s a chance to share the splendours of Baroque architecture designed in the 1700s by Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor, to wonder at the collections of art, tapestry and antiques, and to explore the Park and Gardens and discover landscapes crafted by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown to form magnificent vistas of English countryside.
If you are visiting Blenheim Palace for the first time, we have 300 years of history and 2000 acres of beautiful landscapes for you to discover. With just a single day, you can enjoy guided tours of the Palace, home to the Dukes of Marlborough and the greatest Briton, Sir Winston Churchill. You will find exhibits that tell the story of their lives, and the lives of those who have run the Palace and Estate for three centuries, through diaries, artefacts, photographs and film.
Our annual pass will give you more time for our rich history to unfold, and to appreciate the natural delights of the changing seasons as they play across the glorious parkland that, together with the Palace, make this a World Heritage Site.
Churchill had been determined to have a happy family – to maintain those ‘dominating virtues of human society’ – but he lived so many other lives – as a politician, as a war leader, and had so many passionate interests (writing, painting, holidays) – that his family was, to a greater or lesser degree, squeezed in among these other busy lives. There were painful consequences, of course, but Clementine had always accepted that her husband must come first (and ‘second and third’) and worked tirelessly to support him. And his children, however, they responded to the pressures of being the great man’s children, appreciated, and were proud of, all he had done for them and for the country.
Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom
Blenheim Palace is a World Heritage Site and home to the 13th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough.
Queen Anne and a grateful nation gifted Blenheim Palace to the 1st Duke of Marlborough for his great victory at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704. A true masterpiece of Baroque architecture, Blenheim Palace delivers an awe-inspiring experience for visitors and is surrounded with over 2000 acres of ‘Capability’ Brown landscaped Parkland and Formal Gardens.
Sir Winston Churchill was born at Blenheim Palace in 1874. Grandson of the 7th Duke, he was also a close friend of the 9th Duke and Duchess. Winston spent a considerable amount of time at the Palace throughout his life and proposed to his wife Clementine in the Temple of Diana.
Churchill’s younger brother, Jack, was born in 1880 when Churchill was five. They saw little of their parents, and both of them were looked after by a nanny. Mrs Everest (she was, in fact, a spinster; the ‘Mrs’ was an honorary title) was hired when Winston was only a few months old. The children led a peripatetic life, often travelling with her from their home in Ireland (the ‘Little Lodge’, where the Churchills lived when his grandfather, the 7th Duke of Marlborough, became Viceroy of Ireland), to the Isle of Wight, to Blenheim and to London.
Churchill was enormously fond of Mrs Everest and called her ‘Woom’ or ’Woomany’. She exerted a considerable influence on him throughout his childhood until she died when he was a young man of twenty-one (he was devastated by her death, and arranged for the erection of a headstone on her grave and paid an annual sum for its upkeep thereafter, a practice which has been continued to this day by The Churchill Centre and the Churchill family). For more about Churchill and his nanny, see the National Churchill Museum site.
Churchill proposed marriage to three women in his twenties, all of whom said ‘no’ (although all of them remained his friends). He met Clementine Ogilvy Hozier, ten years his junior, at a party, the Crewe House ball, in 1904 but the meeting wasn’t a success. Unusually for him, Churchill was tongue-tied and they hardly spoke.
When they met again, however, at a dinner party in 1908 (Clementine had been invited at the last minute, to fill a gap at her great-aunt’s table), they clearly got on rather better. Impressed by her beauty, her intelligence and her ability to talk politics (she was an earnest Liberal and supporter of greater rights for women, Churchill began an ardent courtship.
Churchill’s younger brother, Jack, was born in 1880 when Churchill was five. They saw little of their parents and both of them were looked after by a nanny. Mrs Everest (she was, in fact, a spinster; the ‘Mrs’ was an honorary title) was hired when Winston was only a few months old.
The children led a peripatetic life, often travelling with her from their home in Ireland (the ‘Little Lodge’, where the Churchills lived when his grandfather, the 7th Duke of Marlborough, became Viceroy of Ireland), to the Isle of Wight, to Blenheim and to London.
Blenheim Palace was always one of Churchill’s favourite places. He spent much of his time as a child there, both before he went to school and during school holidays. His parents were often away, busy with their political and social lives, and his grandparents, the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, often looked after him and his brother, Jack, allowing them to play in the Palace and its Great Park.
Frances, the Duchess of Marlborough, his grandmother, kept an eye on Winston throughout his youth and, in 1890 when he was returning to school from Blenheim after the summer holidays, wrote to him advising him to take care and to ‘keep out of scrapes and don’t flare up so easily…’. Like most children, he greatly looked forward to the holidays, many of which were spent at Blenheim. Blenheim was to provide a reassuring, constant backdrop to Churchill throughout his life; not just as a venue for holidays from school, but also for house parties and dinners as an adult, and it was where he chose to propose to his future wife, Clementine.
Oxford Botanic Garden in Autumn about 30 minutes drive from Ditchley Park
By Ashley Jackson
Ashley Jackson is Professor of Imperial and Military History at King’s College London and a Visiting Fellow, Kellogg College Oxford. This article is the unabridged version of a briefer, unfootnoted account in Finest Hour 165, Autumn 2014. Ditchley Park was a venue for the 2015 International Churchill Conference.
This article has two points of origin. The first was the desire to explore Winston Churchill’s Oxfordshire connections more thoroughly than is usual in biographical accounts of his overloaded life. The second was the invitation of the Churchill Centre (UK) to give a talk at Ditchley Park on the 139th anniversary of Churchill’s birth. This afforded an opportunity to conduct further research into Churchill’s wartime visits to this secluded Oxfordshire estate, the results of which are presented in this article. 
Like many famous individuals, Winston Churchill’s name is associated with numerous geographical locations. He was a freeman of numerous towns in Europe and beyond, and an acclaimed visitor to a diverse range of places including the White House, the Atlas Mountains, the French Riviera, Cairo, Marrakech, and Tehran. He is most famously associated with London, the political heartland to which he was tethered for over half a century, the city in which he resided for much of his life and in which he died. Second to that, his purchase of Chartwell in 1924 forged an abiding link with Kent, and his delight in the place (as well as Clementine’s comparative despair) is well-known. But Oxfordshire also has a claim on this most famous of Britons, and not just because of his birth in Blenheim Palace and burial in the nearby churchyard of St Martin’s Bladon. The county’s claim rests on additional factors, such as the sense of place and of English history that Churchill developed during childhood days in idyllic Oxfordshire surroundings, his family’s links with the town of Woodstock that adjoins the Marlborough estate, and his service in the yeomanry regiment the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars. 
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The International Churchill Society (ICS), founded in 1968 shortly after Churchill's death, is the world’s preeminent member organisation dedicated to preserving the historic legacy of Sir Winston Churchill.
At a time when leadership is challenged at every turn, that legacy looms larger and remains more relevant than ever.