Main­tain­ing a Leg­end


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The cor­ner­stone of Blen­heim Palace was laid in June 1705, in Ox­ford­shire, Eng­land, where Queen Anne granted the first Duke of Marlborough and his heirs the 2,000-acre royal manor of Wood­stock. With such an ex­pan­sive es­tate, what is it like to main­tain?

Mar­ry­ing for Main­te­nance. Main­te­nance has been an al­ba­tross for al­most ev­ery gen­er­a­tion of the fam­ily, lead­ing to many sacrifices through­out his­tory. On oc­ca­sion, this means mar­ry­ing for money in­stead of love in or­der to bring in cash flow. Fa­mously, the union of the ninth Duke and Con­suelo Van­der­bilt, the poster heiress of the Gilded Age, con­sum­mated for pre­cisely this rea­son. Her $2.5 mil­lion dowry in 1895 was im­pos­si­ble to ig­nore.

Fund­ing Renovations. Renovations and up­keep for a home this size are astro­nom­i­cal. A staff of 158 runs the es­tate ef­fi­ciently, and many of them have worked there for decades. The sheer mag­ni­tude makes renovations in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult. Re­paint­ing the in­te­ri­ors took seven years, and rewiring took an­other seven years. In 2009, the Duke spent £1 mil­lion to re­build the Blen­heim Dam and its ad­join­ing cas­cade, though it doesn’t seem to have been a hard­ship for him. “It’s a la­bor of love and I adore it,” he says.

Look­ing to the Fu­ture. Many of these es­tates re­sort to tours of the home as well as large-scale events in or­der to draw in fresh crowds. The Blen­heim Palace es­tab­lished the Blen­heim Art Foun­da­tion, which has com­mis­sioned con­tem­po­rary artists such as Ai Wei­wei and Lawrence Weiner. “This house is the cul­mi­na­tion of 300 to 400 years of work,” says Lord Ed­ward. “The idea that you just freeze it in time doesn’t make any sense to me. We need to cre­ate a sense of mov­ing for­ward.”

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