England: Royal jousting at Blenheim Palace

Royal jousting at Blenheim PalaceThe two armoured knights thundered down the lists, helmets gleaming, lances pointed viciously towards each other, shields held protectively high, horses gaily caparisoned, charging boldly towards a potentially deadly impact.

Banners were flying brightly on all sides, finely dressed ladies watched nervously, massed crowds of peasants – myself among them, camera poised eagerly – hoped for a spectacular collision…and in the background, the majestic shape of Blenheim Palace watched imperturbably.

This was a royal jousting tournament being held to celebrate the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton – though they hold tournaments regularly throughout the year – and what more regal setting could there be than this most imperial place.

It was commissioned some 300 years ago by Queen Anne as a gift to John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough, probably Britain’s finest military leader.

These days, it is home to the 11th Duke and Duchess, though rather better known as the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, probably Britain’s finest wartime leader.

The original architect, John Vanbrugh, consciously tried to make it a statement of British supremacy over the French, who Marlborough had defeated in the Battle of Blenheim in 1704, so it was to be – in the words of the official booklet – “a blaze of architectural glory to rival Versailles … a monument, castle, citadel and private house … in that order”.

I don’t know that it rivals Versailles, but Blenheim is certainly a dramatic statement of power and wealth (though, ironically, lack of wealth meant it took 17 years to complete).

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