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Blenheim, An English Palace

Laurence Whistler charts the history of the magnificent seat of the Churchills.

It was on August 10, 1704, that Colonel Parkes, having crossed Europe on horseback with a scribbled note from the Duke to his Duchess, delivered in London the news that “in a few minutes” set the guns in the Tower thundering and the bells in the new steeples of the City cascading into excitement. By the time the victor of Blenheim disembarked at Greenwich, four months later, it was universally agreed that a reward would have to be handsome to be appropriate; but what form it should take was much in debate among the influential. Some were for a new Square to be carved out of London and named after the Duke, and this “Marlborough Square” as we should doubtless know it Today, overlooked by a house built for the Duke at the nation’s expense, would contain opposing works of sculpture in which the hero and his monarch would confront one another on equal terms. Perhaps there was a hint in that proposal of flattery too great to be wholesome, or to be merited by any subject, even by this one. We do not know who suggested to the Queen a happy solution to the problem; for she herself was not a highly imaginative person. She bestowed on Marlborough the Royal Manor of Woodstock, under Act of Parliament, with about 15,000 acres of parkland in which she proposed to build him a new palace. Marlborough’s gratification was unalloyed. He was profoundly ambitious for his name and for his family. Having covered himself in glory, he had no mind to shuffle off the mantle of refulgence, as might a modern English general with deprecating awkwardness. And yet he was not at all arrogant or vain: he might even be described as uncommonly modest, no less than uncommonly chivalrous. In a curious way this great soldier could detach himself from his reputation and regard it pleasurably as though from a distance. Because of him, glory existed. It was right that in his name it should be rewarded.

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