Sunday, October 21, 2018

DAY 93: A Palace for a Princess

Two thousand acres and 187 rooms, Blenheim Palace is the ancestral home of the Dukes of Marlborough, but it's not all that old by English standards--when Jennie first saw it in the spring of 1874, it had been standing in its Cotswold fields for a mere hundred and fifty years. The land and some funds to build the palace, along with a ducal title, were granted to John Churchill by Queen Anne to celebrate his victories against the French and Bavarians in the War of Spanish Succession. Huge cost overruns and the Churchills' fluctuating political fortunes prolonged the construction for decades; John died before the palace was completed. There was never enough money to maintain Blenheim in the style to which the Dukes of Marlborough managed to become accustomed. In Randolph Churchill's day, fifty indoor servants scurried up and down the hidden service passages to keep the family functioning. The outdoor servants--grooms, gardeners, coachmen, gameskeepers--were as numerous.

Everyone who visits Blenheim has an opinion about the place: it's hideous, cold, echoing, grand, awe-inspiring, monumental, tasteless, drafty, daunting, magnificent, depressing. 

Jennie viewed any stay with her in-laws as a penance; there was nothing to do and no one to amuse her. She spent the endless days practicing her piano, following the gentlemen's shooting parties, or writing letters to her sisters. Sometimes she concealed her face with a veil and joined groups of tourists wandering through the palace, suppressing laughter at their unflattering comments about the portraits of her husband's ancestors. 

The Long Library
Having been reared in American comfort, Jennie deplored the fact that there were only two baths in the entire "barracks," as she referred to the Blenheim. Family prayers were said each morning in the private chapel, dominated by John Churchill's tomb, and festivities were limited to the annual Hunt Ball. After dancing all night at this party in late November 1874, Jennie went into labor and gave birth to her first son, Winston, in a spare ground-floor bedroom.

For more images from THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN, visit the  Pinterest board behind the novel.

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