Part Six: Blenheim Palace – Setting for “The Lost Prince”
When we pull off Oxford Road and pass through the visitor gate, we see the palace at the end of a long drive. We are actually approaching the palace from the side. This is not the really impressive entrance. That approach is from the north, passing through parkland landscaped by the famous Capability Brown, skirting the Column of Victory, crossing the shimmering lake over the Grand Bridge, and entering directly into the Grand Court. But our approach is impressive enough. Rising above us is the East Gate, a monumental triumphal arch, shouldered on either side by massive walls.
The palace isn’t open to the public yet, so Nick finds a parking spot right next to the gate. I get out and look up at the inscription over the arch, which begins: “Under the auspices of a munificent sovereign this house was built for John Duke of Marlborough, and his Duchess Sarah, by Sir J Vanbrugh between the years 1705 and 1722.” The reference to the 1st Duke of Marlborough brings butterflies to my stomach. Seren has arranged for us to be greeted by the 11th Duke. I turn to her for advice, remembering that she had once introduced some foreign journalists to Prince Charles: “What do I call the Duke again?” “Your Grace,” she reminds me. Her calmness is reassuring.
We are joined by Hannah Brown, the Palace’s publicity director. “You must be Greg and Ginny,” she says warmly. “Welcome to Blenheim Palace. Come, we mustn’t keep the Duke waiting.” I think: here is a Capability Brown of another kind. She escorts us through the East Gate, and we find ourselves in a large courtyard. Crossing it, we pass through another massive gate and enter the Grand Court. For the first time we see the impressive façade of this magnificent baroque palace, with its massive corner towers and central columned portico. We turn around and see the ground drop down to the lake and the Grand Bridge, and then rise to a green mound surmounted by the Column of Victory. The scale of the building and the sweeping vista is breathtaking. Unlike Greenway, we cannot take it all in.
Coming up next: Meeting the Duke of Marlborough