It’s bigger and grander than Buckingham Palace, but there’s more to Blenheim than Boulle antique marquetry furniture , as a new Channel 4 series revealed on Thursday night.
The birthplace of Winston Churchill, with 187 rooms stuffed with antique chests and other treasures, Blenheim is arguably Britain’s finest stately home, receiving around half a million visitors each year. It is also the only palace in the UK not occupied by a bishop or royalty, having been the seat of the Dukes of Marlborough since 1704. The first Duke almost lost the house after a fall-out with Queen Anne, but the family managed to keep hold of it and the ‘Battle of Blenheim’ was won when John ‘Sunny’ Spencer-Churchill, the 11th Duke and present incumbent, made the home a tourist and events attraction.
In The Aristocrats (Channel 4, 22nd November at 8 pm) viewers in Cumbria saw the antique bookcases in a new light as the cameras focussed on the 11th Duke and his tumultuous relationship with his son Jamie, the infamous Marquess of Blandford. James Blandford’s hell-raising lifestyle led to his father disowning him in 1994, the inheritance passing instead to his younger half-brother, Edward. However, following a period of redemption and reconciliation both his inheritance and title were restored.
The Aristocrats is proof that inheriting a stately home is more about work and responsibility than privilege and wealth. In Lancashire, the Victorian balloon back dining chair seen in an antique dealer’s window may well have come from some historic family seat, long since reduced to rubble.
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