(b. 1664, London, d. 1726, London)

General view

Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire

Blenheim Palace is an English country house designed by John Vanbrugh for John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough. It was begun in 1705 and completed c. 1725. The gardens, initially laid out by Vanbrugh and Henry Wise, were largely redesigned in 1764-74 by 'Capability' Brown. Blenheim Palace is regarded as one of the finest examples of English Baroque architecture. It was a gift to the Duke from a grateful Crown and nation to commemorate his victory in 1704 over the French and Bavarians at Blenheim (now Blindheim) during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-14). The intention was to create a public monument symbolizing the glory of Britain and a palace fit for a hero, rather than a building on a domestic scale. This is reflected in Vanbrugh's dramatic and monumental design, inspired by both English and French architecture, which developed the style he had begun to formulate in his earlier work at Castle Howard. In both undertakings he was assisted by Nicholas Hawksmoor.

Blenheim Palace represents the culmination of the English Baroque, but it was regarded as being out of date even before it was finally completed. It remains the finest expression of Vanbrugh's theatrical style, combining dramatic quality and a sense of mass and volume with the more intricate details and complex skyline that heralded a more picturesque and Romantic approach. The building was first projected to cost around £100,000, but at least three times that amount was spent during the main building phase (1705-12), with 1500 workmen employed at one time. Work was halted in 1712 when the Marlboroughs lost favour with Queen Anne and went into exile.

After the accession of George I, construction resumed (1716), but Vanbrugh resigned almost immediately after disputes with the Duchess, who had always wanted Wren as the architect and a comfortable home rather than a monument. She employed the cabinetmaker James Moore (1670-1726) to advise her, and in 1722, after the death of the Duke, recalled Hawksmoor (who had departed with Vanbrugh) to complete the work. When Vanbrugh attempted to visit the building in 1725, the Duchess refused him entrance. Later modifications were made by William Chambers, who redecorated the palace in the 1760s and 1770s.