executive summary by Darmansjah
Blenheim Palace is a monumental country house situated in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England, residence of the dukes of Marlborough. It is the only non-royal non-episcopal country house in England to hold the title of palace. The palace, one of England's largest houses, was built between 1705 and circa 1722. Blenheim Palace was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
Its construction was originally intended to be a gift to John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, from a grateful nation in return for military triumph against the French and Bavarians at the Battle of Blenheim. However, it soon became the subject of political infighting, which led to Marlborough's exile, the fall from power of his duchess, and irreparable damage to the reputation of the architect Sir John Vanbrugh.
Designed in the rare, and short-lived, English Baroque style, architectural appreciation of the palace is as divided today as it was in the 1720s. It is unique in its combined usage as a family home, mausoleum and national monument. The palace is also notable as the birthplace and ancestral home of Sir Winston Churchill.
The building of the palace was a minefield of political intrigue by Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough. Following the palace's completion, it became the home of the Churchill family for the next 300 years, and various members of the family have in that period wrought various changes, in the interiors, park and gardens. At the end of the 19th century, the palace was saved from ruin by funds gained from the 9th Duke of Marlborough's marriage to American railroad heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt. The exterior of the palace remains in good repair.
The palace remains the home of the Dukes of Marlborough, the present incumbent of the title being John George Vanderbilt Spencer-Churchill, 11th Duke of Marlborough. Like his forebears he lives for part of the year in the palace, his family occupying the same suite of rooms as the 1st Duke and Duchess.
The palace, park, and gardens are open to the public on payment of an entry fee (maximum £21 as of December 2012). Separation of tourist entertainment attractions (the "Pleasure Park") from the palace ensures that the atmosphere of a large country house is retained. The palace is linked to the park by a free miniature railway, the Blenheim Park Railway. The progression from home to business has been essential to the palace's survival in the 20th and 21st centuries. Varied commercial concerns include a maze, adventure playground, mini-train, gift shops, butterfly house, fishing, cafeteria and bottled Blenheim Natural Mineral Water. Game, farming and property rentals also provide income. Concerts and festivals are staged in the palace and park. Day-to-day control of commercial aspects are outsourced to Searcys, while the Duke retains final control over all matters in the running of the palace.
The public have free access to about five miles (8 km) of public rights of way through the Great Park area of the grounds, which are accessible from Old Woodstock and from the Oxfordshire Way, and which are close to the Column of Victory.
In the state apartments, guests are more likely to be the invitees of a large company, or a couple who have paid to marry at the palace, rather than guests of the Spencer-Churchills. However, the ducal family still entertain in the state rooms, and dine on special occasions in the saloon, around the great silver centrepiece depicting the 1st Duke of Marlborough on horseback—the same piece that Consuelo Vanderbilt liked to call her cache mari because it conveniently hid her detested husband from view across the table. The many residents of Blenheim have each left their mark on the palace. Today, it is as likely to be used as a film location (such as Kenneth Branagh's 1996 adaptation of Shakespeare's Hamlet) as it is for the setting for an aristocratic house party; yet it still hosts both. Blenheim Palace remains the tribute to the 1st Duke which both his wife and the architect Sir John Vanbrugh envisaged.