You might wonder why Blenheim Palace, an 18th century palatial home, would be of interest to me when my historical tastes don’t encompass that time period.
I’m more interested in the ghost of the missing Woodstock Palace, which used to be part of the estate. Integrating real events, places, things, or people into my story is one of the key things that made The Queen’s Viper fun to write. Have you found all the historical Easter eggs?
Here’s one: Before she became queen, Tudor Princess Elizabeth was held prisoner by her sister, the Catholic Queen Mary I. Mary couldn’t prove sedition, so she couldn’t kill her sister as a traitor. However, Mary wasn’t kind to Elizabeth either. Queen Mary kept Princess Elizabeth under guard at the crumbling Woodstock Palace in 1554, more specifically in the Gate House, the only serviceable building. In my novel, Viper carved
Much suspected by me
Nothing proved can be
into a glass pane with her nail as a mantra for the despairing princess.
According to verbal history, Elizabeth scratched these words into a pane of glass at Woodstock, with the signature line, “Quoth Elizabeth Prisoner.” Since the pane was never preserved, there’s no extant proof of the quote. However, doesn’t it make a delicious factoid and Queen Elizabeth quote?
Queen Elizabeth I’s successor, King James I, partially repaired Woodstock, but by 1705, Queen Anne granted the property to John Churchill, the military commander who led the Allied forces in the battle of Blenheim on August 13, 1704. By then, Woodstock was truly in ruins. John and his wife, Sarah, became the 1st Duke and Duchess of of Malborough. Sarah oversaw the construction of Blenheim Palace as a tribute to her husband, even after his death.
Apparently, Sarah had every stone of the old Woodstock buildings removed in 1720 so they couldn’t be used by her designer John Vanbrugh after they had a falling out. I guess she wasn’t a big fan of history.
Blenheim Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, known for its Baroque architecture (designer John Vanbrugh) and naturalistic “Versaille-style” gardens (designer Lancelot “Capability” Brown). Visitors may choose to see the gardens alone, or include a palace tour. Although this is one of the most extensive palaces and grounds to visit, tickets are a tad dear. My ticket to the palace, park, and gardens cost approximately $40 Canadian.
Since I visited with my child, husband, and his cousin, I didn’t spend a lot of time examining all the details for visitors. However, there’s certainly enough information and antiques in the palace to keep a history buff entertained for a day. The grounds and park beckon to naturalists. Mind you, when I visited, it was an usually hot day and I melted into a puddle in my shoes.
There are a couple of walks around the grounds, not all of which are accessible to those with physical challenges. We didn’t see it, but there is a stone plinth that marks the spot of the original Woodstock Manor house, erected 1961.
Blenheim is the ancestral home and birthplace of British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, born in 1870. The palace hosts an informative exhibition about Churchill. I loved reading journal entries from his earliest years, such as, I went out fishing today and caught my first fish by myself. When I reflected upon Churchill’s role in WWII, this was a touching reminder about the innocence of youth.
In the First World War, Blenheim Palace served as a convalescent hospital, and in WWII, 400 boys had been evacuated here from their school (Malvern College). The State Rooms had been used for dormitories and lessons for one academic year. The park had also been used for training exercises for the D-Day landings.
I loved sitting in a cafeteria-style area that I’m fairly certain was a kitchen, once upon a time. I’m no historian, but these tables and chairs rest inside what looks like a giant cooking fireplace. Too bad the renovated space doesn’t do the feature justice IMHO.
Harry Potter fans making the rounds of Oxford and Oxfordshire might consider visiting Blenheim Palace. The garden is home to the Cedar of Lebanon tree from which Harry’s father dangled a young Severus Snape (Snape’s Worst Memory).
(video clip copyright Universal Studios, J.K. Rowling, et. al.)
Blenheim Palace is the home of the current 11th Duke and Duchess of Malborough. That being said, it lacked the “working home” charm of Arundel Castle, where family photos sit alongside antiques in areas open to the public.