Rosamund's Labyrinth at Blenheim
This is the tale of Rosamund's Labyrinth, a tale of love, jealousy, hatred; a tale whose truth is lost in the mists of time. What we have are myths, legends, songs and stories, passed down by word of mouth, from that medieval time.
The Fair Rosamund, the Rose of the World, was born Rosamund Clifford, in about 1148 AD, the daughter of Lord Walter de Clifford. Lord Clifford was a "marcher lord", he was the steward first, then lord of his major holding, the Clifford Castle on the River Wye.
Rosamund was just 15 years old when she caught the eye of the lecherous King Henry II, in December of 1166, while Henry's wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, was giving birth to their eighth and final child, after 13 years of marriage. Henry II was 32 years of age at the time; his wife, whom he married because she was, quite frankly, the most fabulously wealthy woman in two kingdoms, was 43.
The story goes that Henry II fell deeply in love with Rosamund. He transformed his father, Henry I's, hunting lodge at Woodstock in to a palace, a palace of timber and stone, with 150 doors, and "surrounded by a maze so cunningly contrived with turnings round and about that none but with a clue of thread could enter in or out".
Did Henry II intend to protect the fair Rosamund, or did he want to imprison her--to keep her all for himself, and baffle his rivals for her affections?
The story goes that when Henry was visiting Eleanor one morning, his spur caught on a thread, and Eleanor, who was madly jealous of the youthful beauty, followed the thread through the labyrinth to Rosamund, whom she killed.
Some tales say Eleanor of Aquitaine killed the fair Rosamund with poison; other tales say very oddly, that the poor fair Rosamund was roasted to death.
The Fair Rosamund died in 1176, at the age of about 28. Her tombstone read, in part:
"Adorent, Utque tibi deur requies Rosamunda precamur"
"Let them adore, and we pray that rest be given to you, Rosamund.
The original hunting lodge at Woodstock in Henry I's day became Rosamund's Bower, or Rosamund's Labyrinth, in Henry II's day, as legend would have it (this legend was completely debunked very much later in history, along with the idea that Eleanor of Aquitaine killed the fair Rosamund, though Henry II did have a deep and long-lasting affair with Rosamund Clifford); Henry II did make the original hunting lodge into a very elaborate country estate for his fair Rosamund; then...
Blenheim Palace was built on the site of the original hunting lodge and Rosamund's Labyrinth, and was completed in 1724. It's now a World Heritage Site, and one remarkable building.
The palace itself covers 7 acres, and is situated on 2500 acres of parkland. It is the home of the Dukes of Marlborough. It is the only palace in England which is neither royal nor ecclesiastical; this gigantic monster of a building is one of the very few surviving examples of English Baroque in archetecture. It is so big, it forms its own parish.
The palace was a gift from the nation to John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough, because of his military exploits at the Battle of Blenheim. It has been the home of the Churchill family for three hundred years, and the birthplace of Winston Churchill.
Naturally, a palace this size is hugely expensive to maintain. The reason this palace has survived, intact, is because Charles Churchill, the 9th Duke of Marlborough, recognized that family fortunes were failing fast, and did the only thing left open for a person in his position to do: he married an American heiress, Consuelo Vanderbilt. They married in 1896; in 1921, Consuelo divorced the Duke, who was flagrantly unfaithful, having a more or less open affair with a much younger women, Gladys Deacon. Both parties to the divorce, which rocked their social world, lost no time in re-marrying. The Duke must not have been an easy husband: Gladys, once she was his wife, habtiaully dined with the Duke, keeping a revolver by her plate.
The palace is now open to the public, and quite a tourist attraction, with a butterfly house and a maze, and the "Pleasure Park", connected by a miniature railway. The park still contains "Fair Rosamund's Well", famous for granting wishes and for never running dry, remaining sweet throughout recorded history.
The 11th Duke of Marlborough and his family inhabit the same state apartments that the 1st Duke of Marlborough did. They occasionally dine in the salon, where the huge silver centerpiece of the 1st Duke once hid Consuelo's detested husband Charles completely from her view.