Blenheim Palace is a monumental mansion designed by the controversial architect Sir John Vanbrugh in the rare English Baroque style. The palace was originally meant to be a gift from Queen Anne and the British parliament to John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough in recognition of his important military victories against the French and Bavarians during the War of the Spanish Succession. The palace was named after the most famous of these which took place near the small village of Blindheim, Bavaria (Germany). It was built between 1705 and circa 1722 and is the only palace in the UK that is owned independently of either the church or monarchy. Blenheim Palace is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From the very beginning the construction project was fraught with deign disagreements, funding failures and political intrigue. The Duke’s wife, Sarah, was determined to use Sir Christopher Wren who was already famous for his work on St Paul’s Cathedral. To her annoyance her the Duke appointed Sir John Vanbrugh who, at the time was more designer than architect. From that point on the construction site was a never ending source of conflict. Vanbrugh’s ideas far exceeded the available funds and this pressure is thought to have contributed to the breakdown in the once excellent relationship between Queen Anne and Sarah Churchill although the primary reasons were, as usual, political. Both the Duke and his wife were eventually forced to live in exile in Europe and Scotland until the death of the Monarch. State funds for Blenheim Palace had ceased so the remainder of the project was paid for by the Duke himself.
Vanbrugh was eventually dismissed from the project and banned from the site. The project was finished by Nicholas Hawksmoor sometime after the death of the Duke who, together with his wife are interred in the exceptional tomb that is part of the palace chapel. Blenheim palace is unique as a family home, mausoleum and national monument.
Over the following years the estate and palace were repeatedly redecorated and renewed by the Spencer-Churchill family but by 1880 the cost of maintaining it had become devastating. Fortunately, the 9th Duke of Marlborough, Charles Spencer-Churchill, married American railroad heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt and funds became available for the restoration of Blenheim Palace.
On the 30th November 1874, Sir Winston Churchill, the man often described as Britain’s greatest prime minister, was born at Blenheim Palace. Known generally as just ‘Churchill’ he was responsible during WWII for rallying the leaders and people of Britain to successfully resist the Nazi military machine and ultimately secure the defeat of Germany.
The estate is open to visitors and in addition to the Palace has many exceptional features including the Grand Bridge, The Column of Victory, Palace Chapel & Mausoleum as well as the Temple of Diana and The Temple of Health. A miniature railway transports visitors from the car parks to the Palace.
The Eyes of Blenheim Palace
Visitors to Blenheim Palace are often surprised to notice that the ceiling roof of the entrance portico is decorated with six remarkable eyes. Three of these are blue and three are brown and all of them look vaguely masonic in their design. They were painted in 1928 by artist Colin Gill based on strict instructions from Gladys, the remarkably beautiful and eccentric 2nd wife of the Ninth Duke of Marlborough. Gladys was renowned for her outstanding good looks and everyone who met het admitted that they were easily captivated by her exceptional eyes. The blue eyes of the portico are believed to be hers and there is even a record that she climbed to the top of the scaffolding with a blue scarf that matched their colour so that the painter would get them exactly right. The brown eyes are said to be those of the Duke but could equally have been those of the Duke’s first wife Consuela who was, for a time, close friends with Gladys.
Gladys was a remarkable woman who had known some of the greatest artists and writers of the time including Monet, Rodin and Proust. Men fell in love with her with regularity and she was pursued by Bernard Berenson, Hermann von Keyserling, the Duke of Connaught and d’Annunzio as well as Crown Prince of Prussia. She eventually married the Ninth Duke of Marlborough but was eventually evicted from the palace when the couple’s marriage broke down and her eccentric behaviour became too dangerous to ignore. It is said that she would carry a loaded pistol and when asked why she would answer that perhaps she would shoot the Duke. Gladys spent the last years of her life in a psychiatric hospital. To this day nobody is truly sure why she had the eyes painted or what they were meant to represent – or for that matter why there are three of each colour. Masonic connections, clairvoyance and spiritualism have all been suggested but there is no proof for any of these theories. Perhaps Gladys had them painted just because she could.
Camping and Caravanning Club Site
426 Abingdon Road, Oxford
Oxfordshire, England, OX1 4XG
+44 (0)1865 244 088
- Address: Park Street, Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England, United Kingdom, OX20 1PP
- GPS: 51.84153333,-1.361202778
- Phone: 0044 (0)1993 810 530
- Part of UK: England
- Sat Nav Postcode: OX20 1PP
- Entrance Fees: Yes
- Disabled Access: Excellent
- Visibility from Road: Limited: Gatehouse Entrance Arch
- Image Credits: Header Image: Paul Vincent