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11th Duke of Marlborough
Owner of Blenheim Palace

"As custodians of a priceless national heritage, our endeavour is to look after this splendid house, its precious contents and parks for future generations. We hope that you will enjoy your visit!" That's what John George Vanderbilt, Henry Spencer-Churchill - better known as the 11th Duke of Marlborough - signed in the official colourfully illustrated Blenheim Guide Book. Including a personal dedication...


We still have some time. The Duke has let us know through his private secretary that he will receive us this afternoon in his private chambers. The flag has been hoisted - a sign that broadcasts that the owner is staying in the palace. The gigantic proportions of the building itself which alone cover three square kilometres means that it is impossible to see all of Blenheim Palace at one go. According to architect John Vanbrugh, the palace was "more a monument to honour the queen" than a private home for a Duke.

Thanks to a friendly guide who provides us with directions, we begin our exclusive tour in the state dining room which is only used at Christmas by the family. The table is laid with a Minton service and with silver gilt. The silver centrepiece shows the 1st Duke of Marlborough, a military genius, still on horseback after his victory at the Battle of Blinheim (Rhine valley, Germany) in 1704. So important was the battle and in reward for his services, the grateful Queen Anne granted to Marlborough the Royal Manor of Woodstock and signified that she would build him there, at her own expense and as a gift 'from a grateful nation', a palace to be called Blenheim. 

The Romney above the fireplace in the Green Drawing Room with a portrait of the 4th Duke is as famous as the Mantilla painting of Sarah, the first lady of the house. It is almost impossible to count all the ancestors of today's Duke. In the Red State Apartment, his grandparents Charles and Consuela - a Vanderbilt by birth - look down to check that their grandson is carrying on the century-old tradition the way they want. My TV-team and I continue to wander along the Green Writing Room, three staterooms, the Long Library and the Chapel. And then at last, the moment has arrived...the 11th Duke of Marlborough will receive us now!

This palace is one of the most beautiful palaces I ever saw and I am quite astonished because it has a German name – why does it have a German name?

Duke of Marlborough:
Well that‘s because of the victory of my great ancestor John Churchill – the 1 st Duke of Marlborough. On August 13 in 1704 at Blindheim in Bavaria, the Allied troops under his direction defeated the forces of Louis XIV in the war of the Spanish Succession. In doing so Churchill saved Vienna - and ultimately England - from a French invasion. It was one of the most important battles in English military history.

Despite securing a crucial victory at a pivotal moment in history and never having lost a battle in his career, John Churchill remains a relatively unknown figure. Many historians rank his military achievement as comparable to those of Montgomery or Wellington, for if Churchill had failed in his mission against the French in 1704 the world would be a different place today.

Have you been in Germany before?

Duke of Marlborough:
Oh yes, I‘ve been in Germany and I have been to Mindelheim once – and of course if I am around in 2004 it will be the 300th anniversary of the battle of Blenheim.

The Duke was around - of course !!
He enjoyed a massive programme of events and attractions himself and celebrated with his family the achievements of the enigmatic John Churchill. After all, without his famous victory the Palace would never have been built. And the colourful and often turbulent story of the house and its inhabitants would remain untold. In May 2004, visitors joined the troops as they prepare for battle, garrisoned at Blenheim, and in October they came face to face with masked highwaymen and damsels in distress. They also found history coming to life with costumed characters, historical re-enactments and special exhibitions throughout the year.


A direct descendant of John Churchill, the world famous British prime minister Sir Winston Churchill was born on November 30, 1874 in Blenheim Palace as the nephew to the 8th Duke of Marlborough. He went on to become one of Britain's greatest leaders. Sir Winston Churchill drew strength and inspiration from the example of his ancestor, the 1st Duke of Marlborough, all his life - and particularly during World War II. In his study, very cosy and very English, I ask the current 11th Duke about Sir Winston.

How come that Sir Winston Churchill was born here?

Duke of Marlborough:
Well, Sir Winston Churchill‘s mother was staying here at the time and there are two theories: one is that she was in a carriage and she was bouncing over the rough ground and that brought the baby on. And the other theory was that there was a dance, that is the story. There was a dance taking place – a big ball - and she got tired and that brought the baby on…anyway, my father wrote to Sir Winston and asked which of the two sides of the story is the correct one. And he said: „Although I was present on that occasion I can not recall the fact leading up to it.“ It‘s rather charming…

And he also said: „I took two important decisions in my life at Blenheim – one to be born and secondly to be married“…, cause he proposed to his wife Clementine in the temple in the gardens here.

Do you have any memories…?

Duke of Marlborough:
Oh very much so – he was a great friend of the family. He knew my grandfather and was a friend of my father and mother. And I knew him as well because he was my godfather and so it was a wonderful experience for me during the war to go to „Chekkers, Downing Street“ and close after the war to his house „Chartable“ and I was very fortunate to be taking along on a train journee to Liverpool in Manchaster during the war, when he was inspecting bomb damage and going round munition factories. I was something that I will always remember: walking behind this great man!

We have a little museum of all his memorabilia, his suits and lot‘s of pictures of what took place during his life. It‘s a lovely exhibition and people very much enjoy going through this exhibition. You should also have a look!

In the West Wing we see the original birth room, his curls (cut from his head when he was five years old) and there is also the permanent Churchill exhibition which contains numerous mementoes, including Sir Winston's painting of Blenheim Palaces' "Great Hall". If he had not known it beforehand, the visitor to the palace soon learns that the statesman Churchill was also an extremely talented painter. Numerous paintings of Sir Winston were inspired by the surroundings. 

Any children, who inherited all these paintings?

Duke of Marlborough:
His only son died before he did, but he has got a grandson of course, Mr. Winston Churchill, who is a member of parliament at the moment.

Is he a good politician?

Duke of Marlborough
Well, that‘s for other people to judge – I mean he‘s been relatively successful, he‘s never had any major post though in the government in this country.

And when tourists come here – do you show up some times?

Duke of Marlborough:
Well, I have my normal daily routine, duties or whatever I have to do on that particular day, and if I run into them and they recognize me I say „hello“ and „I hope you enjoy yourself“ and all that…

The Duke and I continue our pleasant conversation, while English Tea is served. He is a gentleman from head to tow and his position doesn't allow comments about the Queen, the unhappy marriage of Prince Charles with the late Lady Diana or his son, the Marquis of Blandford, who constantly has some negative headlines in the press about his drug abuse. 

Duke of Marlborough:
I never comment on what goes on in the Royal Family and I don‘t comment on what appears in the newspapers, cause a lot of things you read in the newspapers are not near the truth at all. Well, all I can say is that the Queen does the most wonderful job and long may the Royal Family last in England as far as I am concerned!

He continous to talk about his eldest daughter Lady Henrietta Spencer-Churchill, from his marriage with Duchess Dagmar Rosita, a German born Countess Douglas. Lady Henrietta  is author of numerous stylish books and a very successful interior designer, who heads her own furnishing company "Woodstock Design". She was responsible for the classic English decoration in most of the private chambers in Blenheim Palace.

Finally, a few hours later, the 'audience' is over. The Duke of Marlborough seems to have enjoyed our conversation as he takes his Montblanc pen to sign a beautiful book about Blenheim Palace, which he offers me with a smile. "To Nathalie - with best wishes - Marlborough" he has written just above the family crest. I admit it, I am proud.


Location: Just one hour from London and just a few kilometres from Oxford. Except for the winter months, Blenheim Palace & its stately gardens are open to the public from mid-March to the end of October from 10:30 - 5:30. Palace visitors may take a guided tour (approx. 1 hour)or view the rooms independently. Admission tickets to the Palace include the tour, Churchill Exhibition, Park, Gardens, Butterfly House, Adventure Play Ground, Launch and Train and the use of Restaurants and Cafeterias. Entry to the Marlborough Maze and Rowing Boat hire are optional extras.


February 12th Blenheim Palace Opens
February 12th - 20th "Duels and Jewels" Half Term costumed entertainment.
March 25th - 28th The Great Blenheim Palace Easter Egg Challenge
Solve the hidden clues leading to the Easter eggs. A fun day out for the family.
April 24th Oxford Times Run
April 30th - 2nd May Blenheim Palace Jousting Tournament
A spectacular new event. Admission included.
May 6th - 8th Home and Interior Design Show
Admission included.
May 22nd Blenheim Triathlon
Blenheim Palace will provide a splendid backdrop as over 1000 competitors swim across the lake and cycle and run through the park. Admission included for spectators
May 28th - 30th Living Heritage Oxfordshire Craft Fair
A collection of over 100 stalls offering traditional and eclectic crafts. Admission included. Visit
May 28th - September 11th
'Churchill's Destiny'
The story of two great war leaders on the sixtieth anniversary of the end of WW2 and forty years since the death of Winston Churchill, a major new exhibition celebrates the military achievements of John and Winston Churchill. From the Battle of Blenheim to the Battle of Britain.
Admission included
June 25th Breast Cancer Awareness Walk
June 30th, 1st - 3rd July

Blenheim Music Festival
Festival of Jazz and pop music in the grand setting of the Great Court. Separate Admission

July 15th - 17th Blenheim Palace Tattoo and Country Fair
A new event for the whole family. Special Park & Gardens ticket price for all visitors on these three days.
August 6th - 7th

Blenheim Children's Extravaganza
A weekend's programme of fun and games
August 27th - 29th Living Heritage Oxfordshire Craft Fair
A collection of over 100 stalls offering a range of traditional and more unusual crafts, with arena activities and kiddies' amusement throughout the day. Admission included
September 8th - 11th FEI Blenheim Petplan European Eventing Championships
Eventing Championships
Europe's top eventing championships will be held at Blenheim for the first time and will attract teams of the very best riders across Europe. Separate admission
September 24th - 25th The Great British Cheese Festival (P)
View over 750 cheeses at Britain's biggest cheese market.
Separate admission. Visit
October 16th or 23rd Woodstock Rotary Run
October 22nd - 30th 'Haunting Tales for Halloween'
Costumed entertainment at half term
November 12th - December 11th

Christmas at Blenheim Palace
Experience the finery and traditions of Christmas at the Palace

November 18th - 20th Living Crafts for Christmas (P)
Come and hunt for those special gifts whilst marvelling at the Palace decorated for Christmas.
December 11th Blenheim Palace Closes


Woodstock, Oxfordshire OX20 1PS

Website Blenheim Palace



* This special feature "Duke of Marlborough" has been one of more than 200 VIP-Portraits, produced by Nathalie Gütermann for her TV-Shows 'Nathalie's Lifestyle' and 'Nathalie's Art of Living' that were broadcasted between 1990 - 2003 in Germany and in 15 countries world-wide. The content has been updated with actual information in 2004 for © 1990 - 2004. The reproduction or other use of any text, photographs, etc. needs the prior written permission of the Chief Publisher.

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