Blenheim Palace, near Oxford, stands in a romantic park created by the famous landscape gardener 'Capability' Brown. It was presented by the English nation to John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough, in recognition of his victory in 1704 over French and Bavarian troops. Built between 1705 and 1722 and characterized by an eclectic style and a return to national roots, it is a perfect example of an 18th-century princely dwelling.
Statement of Significance
Blenheim Palace near Oxford was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 1987 for its architectural importance, as the design and building of the Palace between 1705 and 1722 represented the beginning of a new style of architecture and for its landscaped Park designed by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown which is considered as “a naturalistic Versailles”.
In tangible form Blenheim is an outstanding example of the work of John Vanburgh and Nicholas Hawksmoor, two of England’s most notable architects. Blenheim represents a unique architectural achievement celebrating the triumph of the English armies over the French. Blenheim and its associated Park has exerted great influence on the English Romantic movement which was characterised by the eclecticism of its inspiration, its return to national sources and its love of nature. The original landscape set out by John Vanburgh who regulated the course of the River Glyme was later modified by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown who created two lakes seen as one of the greatest examples of naturalistic landscape design. Blenheim Palace was built by the nation to honour one of its heroes the first Duke of Marlborough and is also closely associated with Sir Winston Churchill.
Criterion (ii): By their refusal of the French models of classicism, the Palace and Park illustrate the beginnings of the English Romantic movement which was characterised by the eclecticism of its inspiration, its return to national sources and its love of nature. The influence of Blenheim on the architecture and organisation of space in the 18th and 19th centuries was greatly felt in both England and abroad.
Criterion (iv): Built by the nation to honour one of its heroes, Blenheim is, above all, the home of an English aristocrat, the 1st Duke of Marlborough, who was also Prince of the Germanic Holy Roman Empire, as we are reminded in the decoration of the Great Drawing Room by Louis Laguerre (1719–20).
In virtue of this criterion, just like the Residence of Wurzburg (included in 1981) and the Castles of Augustusburg and Falkenlust in Brühl (included in 1984), Blenheim is typical of 18th century European princely residences, a category which is still under-represented on the World Heritage List.
By their refusal of the French models of classicism, Blenheim Palace and park illustrate the beginnings of the English Romantic movement, which was characterized by the eclecticism of its inspiration, its return to national sources, and its love of nature. The influence of Blenheim on the architecture and the organization of space in the 18th and 19th centuries was greatly felt both in England and abroad.
Built by the nation to honour one of its heroes, Blenheim is, above all, the home of an English aristocrat, the 1st Duke of Marlborough, who was also Prince of the Germanic Holy Roman Empire (as commemorated in the decoration of the Great Drawing Room by Louis Laguerre (1719-20). On 13 August 1704 John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough, with the help of Prince Eugene of Savoy, won a decisive victory over French and Bavarian troops at Blindheim. As an expression of the nation's gratitude Queen Anne bestowed on him the royal property of Woodstock, one of the oldest royal properties set in the heart of a forest, rich in game, 13km to the north-west of Oxford. A new palace, commemorating this victory, of colossal dimensions was built between 1705 and 1722; its name became anglicized as Blenheim.
The works on this outstanding site to begin was entrusted to an ex-soldier and dramatist named John Vanbrugh with the collaboration of an architect, Nicholas Hawksmoor, whose talent was already evident in St Paul's Cathedral in London, Hampton Court, and Whitehall.
The main interest of this building is the authenticity of its national character: indeed, the decorative and figurative rhetoric all exalt the triumph of the English armies over the French. The term 'English Baroque' has been used when speaking of Blenheim, but this ambiguous and inadequate expression only goes to prove the difficulty art historians have in defining this unclassifiable building.
The symmetrical plan, with its classic-type spatial organization, is combined with an original elevation: there is something anachronistically defiant in the square towers which stand at the four corners of the main building with their distinct medieval influence. The eclecticism of Vanbrugh, a theatrical taste for stenographic effects which result from the heterogeneous architectural forms used, make Blenheim a pre-Romantic monument whose historical importance cannot be underestimated.
The innovative character of the palace is accentuated by the conception of the park whose original layout dates back to Vanbrugh: he regulated the course of the River Glyme and created the Great Bridge, which was never completed. However, it was more especially during the period between 1764 and 1774 that 'Capability' Brown, one of the most famous English landscape gardeners, turned this classical park into a wonderful artificial landscape by the creation of two lakes. During the course of the second half of the 18th century, Gothic or neo-Gothic style buildings were built.
In what remains of the family property of the Dukes of Marlborough (in the palace is the room where Winston Churchill was born in 1874) the evolution of the park has not been held back by conservation measures and its present state owes much to the transformations which were undertaken by the French landscape architect, Achille Duchène, between 1908 and 1930. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC