Marlborough House has the destinction of being designed, but nor entirely built by Sir Christopher Wren, or more likely his son Christoopher. It was to be first Duke of Marlborough, the illustrious relation of Winston Churchill. It was his wife Duchess Sarah who had the idea of a London town house. She obtained a lease of the site from Queen Anne and chose Sir Christopher Wren as her architect. Her husband has chosen Sir John Vanbrugh to build Blenheim Palace. Sarah was a strong-willed woman and had her own ideas about the house. The Duchess laid the foundation stone in 1709 and the house was completed in 1711. She quarled with Wren and fired him. She then persoanally supervized the completion. After the Duke died, Sarah lived for many years at Marlborough House until her death in 1744. The house was a simple, dignified design, verging on the plain. Its most impressive feature was the magnificent historical paintings of the Duke’s great battles which are displayed on the walls of central salon and the staircases. Fittingly, red Dutch bricks brought to England as ballast in the troop transports that had carried soldiers for the Duke’s army in Holland, were used in the construction. The Dukes of Marlborough occupied the house until 1817.
Marlborough House in 1817 was given to Princess Charlotte, only daughter of the future King George IV and heir presumptive to the
throne, who had married Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in 1816. It was to be their London home. Unfortunately, the Princess and her baby died in childbirth and Princess Victoria became the heir apparent.
After Princess Charlotte’s death, Prince Leopold stayed on in England and continued to use Marlborough House. He played a major role in introducing his nephew Allbert to the young Queen Victoria. He left Marlbourough House in 1831 to take up his post as King of the Belgians. Prince Leopold became Leopold I of Belgium, but continued to be an important part of the royal family's family as well as a trusted adviser.
King William IV in the same year came to the throne. Parliament provided that his consort Queen Adelaide should have Marlborough House for life in the event of her husband's death. After William died, the Queen Dowager spent much time at Marlborough House. She gave a wedding banquet after the marriage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
Shortly after Queen Adelaide's death, the house was settled on the Prince of Wales (King Edward VII, for his official residence when he reached age 18. The building was used for a variety of public purposes during the 1850s. Some of them were exhibitions that eventually culminated in one of Prince Albert's greatest achievements--the Great Exhibition of 1851. The extensive alterations needed to prepare the house for the Prince of Wales in 1863 were put in the hands of Sir James Pennethorne, chief architect of the Office of Works. His wife Princess Alexandra fell in love with it when she first saw it. In fact when her husband became king and it was necessary to move into Buckingham Palace, he could only convince Alexandra to leave Marlborough House with great difficulty. [Battiscombe, pp. 219-220.]
After Edward was crowned in 1901, Marlborough House was allotted to his second son, the Duke of York, who because of the death of his elder son, Prince Albert Victor (Eddy) was the heir to the throne. Prince George soon became Prince of Wales (and eventually King George V. George moved in during April 1903.
Princess Alexandra had lived in Marlborough House as the recently married Princess of Wales while Sandringham in Norfolk was being renovated. She referred to Marlbourough House as "dear old bright comfortable Marlborough House". No resident enlivened Marlborough House more than the charming, unpredicatable Danish princess. Even after Sandringham was completed, it Marlborough House continued to be the London residence of the OPrince and Princes and Wales. A London House was needed as Sandrringham was licated so far from London. Their children, incvluding Prince George V had many happy memories at Marlborough House. When King Edward VII died in 1910, Queen Alexandra returned to Marlborough House. It must have brought back many rich memories to the Queen.
Queen Mary, in her turn, moved to Marlborough House on the death of King George V in 1936. She died there in 1953.
Queen Elizabeth II in September 1959 donated Marlborough House to the British Government as a Commonwealth centre.
Battiscombe, Georgina. Queen Alexandra (Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1969).
Bennett, Daphne. King Without a Crown: Albert Prince Consort of England, 1819-1861 (New York: J.B. Lippincott, 1977).
Woodham-Smith, Cecil. Queen Victoria: Her Life and Times (1972).
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