Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace
Cultural United Kingdom Of Great Britain And Northern Ireland Europe And North America Oxfordshire, England

By their refusal of the French models of classicism, Blenheim Palace and park illustrate the beginnings of the English Romantic movement, which was characterized by the eclecticism of its inspiration, its return to national sources, and its love of nature. The influence of Blenheim on the architecture and the organization of space in the 18th and 19th centuries was greatly felt both in England and abroad.

Built by the nation to honour one of its heroes, Blenheim is, above all, the home of an English aristocrat, the 1st Duke of Marlborough, who was also Prince of the Germanic Holy Roman Empire (as commemorated in the decoration of the Great Drawing Room by Louis Laguerre (1719-20). On 13 August 1704 John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough, with the help of Prince Eugene of Savoy, won a decisive victory over French and Bavarian troops at Blindheim. As an expression of the nation's gratitude Queen Anne bestowed on him the royal property of Woodstock, one of the oldest royal properties set in the heart of a forest, rich in game, 13km to the north-west of Oxford. A new palace, commemorating this victory, of colossal dimensions was built between 1705 and 1722;its name became anglicized as Blenheim.

The works on this outstanding site to begin was entrusted to an ex-soldier and dramatist named John Vanbrugh with the collaboration of an architect, Nicholas Hawksmoor, whose talent was already evident in St Paul's Cathedral in London, Hampton Court, and Whitehall.

The main interest of this building is the authenticity of its national character: indeed, the decorative and figurative rhetoric all exalt the triumph of the English armies over the French. The term 'English Baroque' has been used when speaking of Blenheim, but this ambiguous and inadequate expression only goes to prove the difficulty art historians have in defining this unclassifiable building.

The symmetrical plan, with its classic-type spatial organization, is combined with an original elevation: there is something anachronistically defiant in the square towers which stand at the four corners of the main building with their distinct medieval influence. The eclecticism of Vanbrugh, a theatrical taste for stenographic effects which result from the heterogeneous architectural forms used, make Blenheim a pre-Romantic monument whose historical importance cannot be underestimated.

The innovative character of the palace is accentuated by the conception of the park whose original layout dates back to Vanbrugh: he regulated the course of the River Glyme and created the Great Bridge, which was never completed. However, it was more especially during the period between 1764 and 1774 that 'Capability' Brown, one of the most famous English landscape gardeners, turned this classical park into a wonderful artificial landscape by the creation of two lakes. During the course of the second half of the 18th century, Gothic or neo-Gothic style buildings were built.

In what remains of the family property of the Dukes of Marlborough (in the palace is the room where Winston Churchill was born in 1874) the evolution of the park has not been held back by conservation measures and its present state owes much to the transformations which were undertaken by the French landscape architect, Achille Duchène, between 1908 and 1930.