Lady Randolph & Winston Churchill on Blenheim

Lady Randolph & Winston Churchill on Blenheim

I am asked what Churchill wrote and thought about his birth­place, Blenheim Palace, Wood­stock, Oxford­shire. The first words I recall are those of his moth­er Jen­nie: “with par­don­able pride.” They occur ear­ly in The Rem­i­nis­cences of Lady Ran­dolph Churchill (1908).
I always loved her descrip­tion. One regrets the decline of peo­ple who can write like Jen­nie. She ranked with Lady Diana Coop­er, and I think her son’s writ­ing tal­ent was inher­it­ed from her.

Jennie’s Encounter

My first vis­it to Blenheim was on a beau­ti­ful spring day in May, 1874. Some of the Duke’s ten­ants and Randolph’s con­stituents met us at the sta­tion to give us a wel­come. Tak­ing the hors­es out of the car­riage, they insist­ed on drag­ging us through the town to the house. The place could not have looked more glo­ri­ous…. we passed through the entrance arch­way, and the love­ly scenery burst upon me, Ran­dolph said with par­don­able pride, “This is the finest view in England.”

Look­ing at the lake, the bridge, the miles of mag­nif­i­cent park stud­ded with old oaks, I found no ade­quate words to express my admi­ra­tion, and when we reached the huge and state­ly palace, where I was to find hos­pi­tal­i­ty for so many years, I con­fess I felt awed. But my Amer­i­can pride for­bade the admis­sion, and I tried to con­ceal my feel­ings, ask­ing Ran­dolph if Pope‘s lines were a true descrip­tion of the inside:

Alexander Pope:

“See, sir, here’s the grand approach;
This way is for his grace’s coach:
There lies the bridge, and here’s the clock;
Observe the lion and the cock,
The spa­cious court, the colonnade,
And mark how wide the hall is made!
The chim­neys are so well design’d
They nev­er smoke in any wind.
This gallery’s con­trived for walking,
The win­dows to retire and talk in;
The coun­cil cham­ber for debate,
And all the rest are rooms of state.’
‘Thanks, sir,’ cried I, ‘ ’tis very fine,
But where d’ye sleep, or where d’ye dine?
I find by all you have been telling,
That ’tis a house, but not a dwelling.'”

Jennie continues…

The impe­ri­ous Sarah, known to her con­tem­po­raries as “Great Atossa,” “Who with her­self, or oth­ers, from her birth
Finds all her life one war­fare upon earth,” demol­ished the old­er and prob­a­bly more com­fort­able hunt­ing-lodge which stood in the for­est. Tra­di­tion asserts that it occu­pied the site of the “Bow­er” in which “Fair Rosa­mond” hid her roy­al amours. To this day “Rosamond’s Well,” con­cealed among the trees, is the object of a favourite walk.

Winston on Blenheim

Good friends, a mem­o­rable night: The 11th Duke and Duchess greet Mol­ly and Mar­cus Frost on the penul­ti­mate Churchill Tour Bar­bara and I host­ed, 2006. At the door is Charles Crist, with the Duke’s invalu­able Paul Duffy (red coat).

Her son inher­it­ed her way with words. He wrote in his biog­ra­phy, Lord Ran­dolph Churchill, pub­lished in 1906:

The cumu­la­tive labours of Van­brugh and ‘Capa­bil­i­ty’ Brown have suc­ceed­ed at Blenheim in set­ting an Ital­ian palace in an Eng­lish park with­out appar­ent incon­gruity. The com­bi­na­tion of these dif­fer­ent ideas, each singly attrac­tive, pro­duces a remark­able effect. The palace is severe in its sym­me­try and com­plete­ness…. Nat­ur­al sim­plic­i­ty and even con­fu­sion are, on the con­trary, the char­ac­ter­is­tic of the park and gar­dens. Instead of that arrange­ment of grav­el paths, of geo­met­ri­cal flower-beds, and of yews dis­ci­plined with grotesque exact­ness which the char­ac­ter of the house would seem to sug­gest, there spreads a rich and var­ied land­scape…. And yet there is no vio­lent con­trast, no abrupt divid­ing-line betwee
Earl Bak­er on the same occa­sion. (See com­ments below.)

n the wild­ness and fresh­ness of the gar­den and the pomp of the architecture.

The whole region is as rich in his­to­ry as in charm….. Here Kings—Saxon, Nor­man and Plantagenet—have held their Courts. Ethelred the Unready, Alfred the Great, Queen Eleanor, the Black Prince loom in vague majesty out of the past.

What we have lost

Lady Randolph’s and her son’s beau­ti­ful words always remind me of ​ David Dilks​’s remark in his dis­cus­sion and lat­er essay on The Queen and Win­ston Churchill:

…the monar­chy sig­ni­fied for him some­thing of infi­nite val­ue, at once numi­nous and lumi­nous; and if you will allow the remark in paren­the­sis, ladies and gen­tle­men, do you not some­times long for some­one at the sum­mit of our pub­lic life who can think and write at that level?

3 thoughts on “Lady Randolph & Winston Churchill on Blenheim

  1. When I saw the pho­to of Mar­cus and Mol­ly Frost, it made me think of the pho­to tak­en of me at the same time. It is one of my trea­sured mem­o­ries from your tour of “Churchill’s
    Eng­land.” I was seat­ed at the Duke’s table that evening at Blenheim and found him a pleas­ant host and live­ly con­ver­sa­tion­al­ist. As we exchanged din­ner pro­grams for table­mates to sign, he wrote in a firm, proud hand sim­ply, “Marl­bor­ough.” I asked him, did he ever think about all the trap­pings and won­der, what if he didn’t have them? His great reply was, “If I did, I knew I shouldn’t.”

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