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Monday, March 19, 2012

“Blenheim: Biography of a Palace”, by Marian Fowler

272 pages, Penguin Books Ltd., ISBN-13: 978-0140106176

This small but wonderful book is a popular biography of perhaps the greatest of all English country houses, from its conception and building in the opening decade of the eighteenth century to the burial of Winston Churchill in the early 1960s. Using the vast Blenheim papers (now in the British Museum) together with local Oxfordshire documents and archives Marian Fowler has been able to trace the history not just of its famous inhabitants but also of the building itself and the thousands of servants and workmen who have kept it functioning over the years. There will be four long core chapters each taking a specific event at Blenheim (the first is a theatrical performance of a Dryden play put on by his grandchildren for the almost senile first Duke of Marlborough) and moving out from that to general description of the place and its inhabitants at that time. The four events will each be separated by about 60 years. Fowler comprehensively details the often scandalous behavior of the spectacular landmark's occupants as well as its physical features and crippling maintenance costs.

What an entertaining book! The author was able to capture the ages through which the palace has passed through the lives of a series of dukes who were, suffice to say, an interesting collection of persons. The point of the book was never an examination of the Blenheim Papers. Nor, indeed, of the Churchill family, except when the book used those members to piggy-back the story of the palace. I've read this book over three times so far, and I urge anyone with an interest in Blenheim Palace, in the Dukes of Marlborough, and in the 17th through 19th centuries to

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