Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, Part Three

How could a family keep up a house and estate this large? Such a question plagues the families who have the responsibility of great houses, though probably just a few with a property near this size. Many houses have been presented to the National Trust, but the Trust requires that properties given to them be accompanied by a large endowment for their maintenance and operation.  Public funds are available to houses based on their historical significance, their degree of need, and the necessity of opening to visitors (which in itself involves many expenses for washrooms, parking, guarding, refreshments, repairs, etc. etc.).

Blenheim Palace attracts many visitors in itself, but never enough paying customers just to see the house and gardens. So, like many other stately homes in Britain, the estate is now a business, home to all sorts of  events.

John Spencer-Churchill, 84, the 11th Duke of Marlborough, and his 4th wife, Her Grace Lily, Duchess of Marlborough 

The Blenheim Horse Trials are justly famous, but only one of many sporting events held on the grounds. To amuse the children, the 11th duke began a railway, a maze, the Butterfly House, an adventure playground and the Churchill Exhibition.

The estate is the venue for all sorts of concerts, fairs, sporting events  and can be hired for weddings.

Bike Blenheim is one of many  charity events. Or attend one of the flower festivals, antique or craft shows, art exhbitions, and more.

Sad to say, but apparently true, the historical and cultural treasures of the great country estates with their incredible gardens — all these riches are not enough to attract sufficient numbers of paying customers to meet the bills.  One has only to think of how many stately homes are now part of schools and colleges, hotels,
country clubs, or worst of all, demolished. In the latter category are hundreds of once thriving estates dating from the time when owning land was the key to wealth.

One more opportunity for earning money is to serve as the setting for movies and television programs.  You have seen parts of Blenheim Palace and its grounds in scenes from many films, such as Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet, The Young Victoria, The Oxford Murders, and currently filming, a version of Gulliver’s Travels.

The Blenheim Railway
David Littlejohn wrote a book called The Fate of the English Country House in 1997.  If you are interested in this complicated set of issues (private fortunes vs. public support, national heritage vs. contemporary welfare, etc. etc.), find a copy of Littlejohn’s book. You’ll never tour quite the same way again.

Or go to this website for the story of 1,776 demolished country houses. It’s a sad story.

But aren’t we lucky that so many wonderful estates remain for us to visit. We’ll blog about more soon.

Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, Part Two

Sir Winston Churchill by Arthur Pan

The most famous name associated with Blenheim in modern times is Winston Spencer Churchill, grandson of the seventh duke. He was born at Blenheim in 1874, son of Randolph Churchill (a second son) and his American wife, Jennie Jerome.

Jennie was staying at Blenheim when she went into labor and the baby arrived, typical of his later impatience, two weeks before his due date. Winston proposed to Clementine Hozier in the Blenheim garden folly known as the Temple of Diana.

Sir Winston and Lady Churchill are buried in the graveyard of St. Martin’s Church in the nearby village of Bladon.

As an archetypical English country house, Blenheim today is a museum of art and historical memorabilia, featuring such attractions as the victory dispatch the first duke wrote to Sarah on a restaurant menu, elaborate tapestries depicting his campaigns, ducal coronation robes, and the memorabilia of three centuries.

The gardens at Blenheim have been redesigned many times and currently reflect a variety of styles from formal, at left, to the rolling hills of Capability Brown’s tastes.

In the long library, there is a chart of the family’s genealogy, a familiar object in most English Stately Homes. However, instead of  just showing the family’s lineage back to William the Conqueror, this Spencer-Churchill (Marlborough) family traces its origins to Charlemagne.

Below, see the long library set up for a wedding.
Blenheim is one of many stately homes which can be rented for a lavish ceremony and reception.

As I mentioned in my first post on Blenheim, it is not a house designed for a family to live in. Wandering through the remarkable but sadly bleak trappings of Blenheim, one is struck by how much the first Duke of Wellington learned from Blenheim’s dominion over the entire Marlborough family. When offered a great Waterloo Palace as a gift from the nation after his victory over Napoleon (much as the first duke of Marlborough had been promised a great estate after his victory at Blenheim), Wellington proceeded cautiously. The Iron Duke knew what a burden Blenheim had been to its owners. What Wellington did, the story of Stratfield Saye, we will save for another blog post.

The Great Hall is 67 feet high with stone carvings by Grinling Gibbons. The arms on the stone arch are those of Queen Anne.  The ceiling,  painted in 1716 by Sir James Thornhill,  shows the Duke of Marlborough kneeling to Britannia.
The door leads into the saloon.

The Saloon is also known as the state dining room and is now used by the family once a year on Christmas Day. The magnificent ceiling was painted by Louis Laguerre. Various nations are represented in wall paintings, whilst the ceiling shows the 1st Duke in victorious progress but stayed by the hand of peace.

Another view of the saloon.

In the Green Writing Room, below, the Blenheim tapestry depicts the first Duke of Marlborough accepting the surrender of the enemy in 1704, the accomplishment for which he was honored with the dukedom and the estate.

                              A detail of the Battle of Blenheim tapestry.

The above tapestry showing Marlborough on the way to the battle hangs in the First State Room.

The Green Drawing Room, Red Drawing room and the Green Writing Room ceilings are the work of Nicholas Hawksmoor and the walls feature beautiful portraits of members of the family.  The tapestries are superb examples of the weaver’s art; ten Victory tapestries grace the walls of the State Rooms.
The Second State Room
The architects of Blenheim designed the house as a monument not as a family home, much to the disapproval of Sarah, first Duchess of Marlborough, who wanted a livable residence.  Continued maintenance of the estate has caused many generations of family to become the slaves of their legacy. The house is vast but the rooms, to me, almost seemed claustrophobic, crowded and anything but comfortable.
Nevertheless, it is worth a visit, even with the steep entrance fees.  But go soon, because it is ever more becoming a theme park. We will write about that in a future post on Blenheim, Part Three. 

The Forgotten Queen


This is the birthday of Caroline of Brunswick (17 May 1768 – 7 August 1821), Princess of Wales, Queen Consort of King George IV, one of the saddest characters in the last 200 years of British royal history.  Many have pointed out the parallels between Caroline’s life and the more recent sad Princess of Wales, Diana.

 
 Both married men who loved another woman (or women, in the case of George), both were loved by the public, both engaged in questionable romantic relationships outside of their royal marriages, and both died well before their husbands.

 George, Prince of Wales, later Prince Regent and then King George IV, already had a wife when he found himself out of funds again, and had to appeal to his father, George III, and governmental leaders in Parliament for an increase in his allowance.

Some probably knew of the marriage ceremony in which Prince George had illegally wed Mrs. Maria Fitzherbert. But since the wedding of a royal heir required the permission of the king, the marriage did not exist officially.  So in return for an increase in his allowance, Prince George agreed to wed Caroline of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, his cousin from a German principality. The wedding took place April 8,1795.

The marriage was a disaster from the beginning. Prince George did not care for the appearance or the hygiene of his bride.  She thought he was much fatter than his pictures and a drunkard. Worse, he flaunted one of his mistresses, Lady Jersey, by making her Caroline’s lady-of-the-bedchamber, which Caroline did not appreciate. (See Kristine’s post on the Two Lady Jerseys posted April 2, 2010). George and Caroline separated almost immediately and lived in distant households for the rest of their lives.

However, nine months later, Princess Charlotte was born on January 7, 1796, and became the heir to the throne after her father and grandfather. To the right, Caroline and Princess Charlotte of Wales by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1802.

We will tell Charlotte’s sad story another day, but it suffices to say that both Caroline and Charlotte led unhappy lives because Prince George tried to ignore their very existence. Eventually, Charlotte married and later died in childbirth in 1817.

By then, Princess Caroline, her mother, was living in Italy at the Villa d’Este on Lake Como. (Victoria will post about this the Villa, now a hotel, soon.)
Caroline was living the high life, it was said, and had a very close friendship with a certain Signor Bartolmeo Pergami, which was widely caricatured.

After George III died in 1820, George IV had Caroline tried for adultery in the House of Lords. Though many believed she was guilty, it was not proved, to the King’s great irritation. He refused to allow Caroline to enter Westminster Abbey for his coronation in July of 1821.  She died just a few weeks later on August 7, 1821.  To the left, a detail of the Trial of Queen Caroline by Sir George Hayter.

There were inquiries into the cause of Caroline’s death, but again, nothing could be proven. She was buried in Brunswick.

To the left, a portrait of Queen Caroline by James Lonsdale. Caroline always had a popularity with many of the people who despised her husband for his profligate ways, overspending and general excesses in everything.  Jane Austen famously wrote, “I will always support her as long as I can, because she is a woman, and because I hate her husband…I am resolved at least always to think that she would have been respectable, if the Prince had behaved only tolerably by her at first.” (From letter of 16 February 1813 to Martha Lloyd)

Flora Fraser published her excellent book The Unruly Queen: the Life of Queen Caroline in 1996. It tells most of the story in detail with many more pictures. But, of course, the questions remain, nearly 200 years later. Was her behavior as bad as George IV’s was? Probably not. He was the penultimate spoiled child, self indulgent to the extreme.  But no one probably will ever know the full story of Caroline, the forgotten queen.

Youthful Politicians

Much has been made of the youth of new British Prime Minister David Cameron, 43, and Nick Clegg, deputy PM, also age 43. Perhaps it is a time of young men in power. Here are their facebook pages: Cameron and Clegg.


 Clegg is on the left and Cameron on the right, in the picture that is, and probably in their politics.
   
To lots of observers this seems like a real wonder. In fact, I think some early stories on both sides of the Atlantic talked about the youngest PM ever. Nonsense!!


Those of us who love history remember learning about several young PMs, not to mention U.S. Presidents. For example, William Pitt (1759-1809), usually characterized as ‘the Younger’ became Prime Minister at age 24. Yes, 24!!!

The portrait at right is attributed to Gainsborough. Pitt served two terms, separated by a few years. He died short of age 50, probably of stress and the effects of overimbibing his Port.

Some of the recent news stories about PM Cameron referenced Robert Jenkinson, Lord Liverpool (1770-1828), who took office as Prime Minister in 1812 at age 42. He occupied the office for fifteen eventful years, through the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the Congress of Vienna, the disruptions of the postwar period and most of the rule of George IV as the Prince Regent and King after 1820. After a stroke in 1827, he resigned office and lived on just a short time, dying at 58, relatively young when one considers the age of Sir Winston Churchill who was PM for the second time until he was 81 and died at age 90.

Tony Blair, just a few years ago, became PM at age 43, though he was practically on the eve of the more respectable 44. Born in 1953, he retired as PM in 1997 at age 54.

U.S. President Barack Obama was 47 at his election. The youngest U.S. President was Teddy Roosevelt, at age 42.  John Fitzgerald Kennedy was 43, Bill Clinton, 46, and Grover Cleveland at 47 matched the current president.

Take a virtual tour of No. 10 Downing Street here.

England in the Movies, continued…

From Victoria…

In my last list were some great films. In this list, some of them were television series and all come from classic English novels.  Let me warn that I am not including any of the Jane Austen adaptations, because I intend to write about them in another post. Later.

Thomas Hardy was a great Victorian novelist whose long, dark novels can be the bane of English literature students. But he is also a brilliant prose artist, and he wrote many passages in Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891) which are absolutely poetic. My favorite film version is Tess by director Roman Polanski (1980) which captures the poetic quality of the countryside and in the personality of Tess, played by Nastassia Kinski.  Subsequent versions are not as well done, in my opinion.

George Elliot (aka Mary Ann Evans 1819-1880) wrote several novels I passed up for many years because I had to read Silas Marner in 7th grade. I hated it.  But when I finally discovered her Middlemarch (1871), I loved the book. The BBC version screenplay was written by Andrew Davies, one of Britain’s premier adapters of great novels for the screen.  I saw it first on Masterpiece Theatre in 1994, starring Juliet Aubrey and Rufus Sewell.

If you want to try Silas Marner or Mill on the Floss or other Eliot stories, you might be interested in this collection from BBC Video. Personally, I like Middlemarch the best by far.

My favorite of the celebrated films of Ismail Merchant and James Ivory is Room With a View (1985), from the novel of the same name written by E. M. Forster which appeared in 1908. Starring Maggie Smith and Helena Bonham Carter, the film is lyrical and compelling, both at the same time.  The trio of Merchant as producer and Ivory as director with Ruth Prawer Jhabvala as screen writer is also responsible for two more favorites of mine: Howard’s End (1992), also based on a Forster novel, and Remains of the Day (1993), based on a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray has been filmed or on television in at least six versions.  I can’t pretend to have seen all of them, but the last several I have watched and my choice among them is the miniseries from the BBC from 1998 starring Natasha Little as Becky Sharp, one of literature’s most fascinating non-heroines. Thackeray called Vanity Fair a novel without a hero and so it is. The screenplay for the 1998 version was written by Andrew Davies and the extended length allows the whole story to unfold. See an excerpt here. The music is not from the film but the thought is correct!

Cold Comfort Farm is humourous novel by Stella Gibbons, published in 1932 which parodies many novels comparing urban and rural life. The 1995 film starred Kate Beckinsale as Flora, Eileen Atkins as Judith Starkadder, and Rufus Sewell as Seth.  It is very funny and worth watching several times.

If you think I am obsessed with the films of Rufus Sewell in these two movie posts, just wait until I do a post just about him. Sigh. 

Can’t wait, can you?