Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Marlborough House, London

Most people striding along the Mall towards Buckingham Palace don’t look over the wall about half way up on the right, but they should. Just visible above the stonework is Marlborough House, one of Britain’s royal palaces. This important but little known English building was originally the town house of the Duke of Marlborough, the general who won the Battle of Blenheim and was rewarded by Queen Anne with the stupendous Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire. Marlborough’s Duchess, the queen’s bosom-friend Sarah, fell out with John Vanbrugh, the architect of Blenheim, and chose Christopher Wren to design their town house. It was finished in 1711 in Wren’s trademark ‘brick-with-stone-trimmings’ style, though the architect’s son, also called Christopher, may have been mainly responsible for the drawings.

Marlborough House became a royal palace in 1817. It was the home of Queen Adelaide, widow of William IV, and later of Edward, Prince of Wales (later Edward VII). In the 1960s, it became home to the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Commonwealth Foundation. The building is only occasionally open to the public, when the elaborate wall paintings depicting Marlborough’s victories can be seen on the stairs and in the saloon. For the rest of the time, we must be content with the view over the garden wall, while officials diligently discuss burning issues such as the Kiribati question inside.

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