We headed directly to Blenheim Palace yesterday morning. It’s the hereditary seat of the dukes of Marlborough — the eleventh duke still lives in one wing, with his fourth wife — going back to the first duke, John Churchill, at the beginning of the eighteenth century. The first duke was perhaps the greatest of English generals. He never lost a battle, and, when people speak of “the Duke of Marlborough” without special qualification, they’re typically speaking of him.
As his name suggests, Sir Winston Churchill was closely connected with the place and the family. In fact, he was born at Blenheim in 1874. His full name was Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill — Spencer-Churchill is the actual name of the family now — and Princess Diana (in whom, to put it mildly, I have considerably less interest) was a relative. (“Lady Diana Spencer,” right?).
From Blenheim, we drove to Stratford-upon-Avon, where we spent the day wandering the town, visiting sites related to the late Mr. William Shakespeare. Among these sites, we visited Holy Trinity Church, where he is buried. Years ago, I believe that I read in a handout from the Knight family that relatives of ours, contemporaries with Mr. Shakespeare, are buried near him in the church, and that their two boys were named “William” (fairly ordinary, that) and “Shakespeare” (which is a bit less common as a personal name). I haven’t been back to Holy Trinity since discovering that — I had just been to the church a few weeks before, and kicked myself for not having known in time — so I’ve wanted to return and find their graves. But I couldn’t even find the handout, and I can’t remember their surname. So it seems that I’ll have to return when I have my information straight. Of course, maybe I was just hallucinating. But I have a personal interest in the Shakespearean authorship question: I’m guessing that, if they were contemporaries of his in this little town, and if they named their sons after him, they most likely knew him. It could be my family’s only brush with greatness, and I can’t lightly let that go.
In the evening, we attended a curious production of As You Like It at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Ornamented with country music, reggae, marijuana references, an allusion to Johnny Cash, hippies, and rock music, it wasn’t my favorite production of the play. But it was undeniably fun.
We spent the night at the Arden Way Guesthouse, which is owned by a very charming hostess, a retired teacher, and which is ideally located: a seven-minute scenic walk across the bridge over the Avon River delivers you directly to the Theatre, which is right in the heart of the historic old town.
Posted from Stratford-upon-Avon, England