You may note I’ve switched from diary entries as “Day” to “Note,” because I’m no longer keeping up here in real time. On Instagram yes, more or less, but here, there’s a lag. Hope you don’t mind.
What I’ve learned is that there are not more hours in the day here in the Cotswolds than there are in New York. You can either go and do, or you can write and post, or you can draw and paint. But you cannot do all of them at once and still paint. Finding a story of my life and the story of all our lives, right? And then setting priorities and doing what is most important first. I make it sound so easy. Right now, I’m writing. Tomorrow I am going and doing.
A darlin’ American friend of mine who is married to a Brit asked if I wanted to join on a visit to Blenheim Palace. I hadn’t been in years so I said heck yeah. If I can survive the drive, I say to myself. What else I say to myself, like a LOT, is thank heaven for GPS, or sat-nav as they call it here. I say that about every 15 minutes. I don’t even have to be driving and I say it. For someone who has the sense of direction of an eggplant, GPS is life-changing.
So, boldly on to Blenheim, estate of the dukes of Marlborough and the Spencer-Churchill family, also the birthplace of Winston Churchill. But get this, he was born in a cloakroom, or a room they were using as a cloakroom at the time (I’m unclear on this as I was eavesdropping on a conversation between a docent and another visitor). There was a party going on, and when Churchill’s mother Jenny , who was American as you recall, went into labor, they re-organized the cloak room rather than have her walk upstairs to a regular bedroom. The furnishings today are not original or grand but the room is hung with Churchill’s paintings, which I loved seeing. He was quite the painter and wrote a wonderful little book called Painting as a Pastime which every artist should read 🙂
Otherwise Blenheim is the only non-royal residence to be designated a palace and was a gift in 1705 from the Crown to John Churchill for whipping the French and the Bavarians culminating in the Battle of Blenheim in 1704,
Like any self-respecting centuries-old palace Blenheim is full of scandal and intrigue. You remember the movie The Favourite, about Queen Anne’s relationship with Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough (among others)?
When hard times and taxes descended, family fortunes throughout England dwindled and great houses suffered. Blenheim was no exception and was ultimately rescued by the reluctant (on her part) and loveless (on both their parts) marriage of Consuelo Vanderbilt to Charles, the 9th Duke, in 1895. She ended up leaving him (scandal!) and they divorced in 1921 (double scandal). She was a beauty, though, and did re-marry and did live to see her son become the 10th Duke.
There is soooo much history here but even more gossip, and many a movie and telly episode has been shot here. Some of the costumes from “The Crown” are here now, and they are fun to see. “The Crown” was wildly popular here, but not “Ted Lasso.” Go figure.
The garden and grounds, including some designed in the mid-18th century by Capability Brown, are worth a visit in themselves.
All the marble and gilt starts to run together to me, which I should probably not admit. But the personal areas and details fascinate me. Along with seeing Winston Churchill’s art, I especially loved seeing his easel and makeshift “studio.”
My only personal connection to Blenheim isn’t much, except that years ago I met Lady Henrietta Spencer-Churchill a few times. Sister of the current Duke, she is an excellent and hard-working interior designer, author, and speaker, and she is lovely. Funnily enough a hundred years ago we dated the same boy. But not at the same time 😉
Speaking of time…Coming soon, my visit to Thyme… The English love puns and so do I.