Blenheim Palace Literary Festival
Blenheim Palace, in Woodstock, about 10 miles from Oxford, is the ancestral home of the Churchill family. In 1704, John Churchill, a brilliant strategist, defeated the army of Louis XlV at a small town on the Danube, called, in German, Blindheim. In gratitude, Queen Anne built for him the palace known as Blenheim Palace in Woodstock and at the same time made him the first Duke of Marlborough. John Churchill was married to Sarah, an ambitious beauty who became a lady in waiting to Queen Anne and greatly influenced her.
In 1964, the writer Ian Rodger, to whom I was married, was commissioned by the BBC to write a radio play in celebration of the 90th birthday of Winston Churchill. He chose, as his subject, the story of Blenheim. He researched the diaries and papers of Sarah – no Google in those days – and returned home one day triumphant, having unearthed an entry in Sarah’s diary: “My lord returned from the war today and did pleasure me twice in his top boots.”
The Blenheim Palace Literary Festival was held this week (Sept 14th…) One of the speakers at the festival was biographer Anne Somerset whose book, Queen Anne: The Politics of Passion describes how the friendship between Queen Anne and Sarah Churchill came to an end, precipitated by Sarah’s claim that the friendship was destroyed by the Queen’s lesbian infatuation with another lady-in-waiting. A book worth reading if you are at all interested in that period.
I came to Woodstock for the discussion on Syria and before it started, spent a while having a wander round.The notice on the Bear Hotel (where Liz Taylor and Richard Burton stayed when visiting Oxford) filled me in on some more history: around 1100, Woodstock was a favourite place for Henry ll, father of Richard the Lionheart, and it was here that he had meetings with his lover, the fair Rosamunde while still married to the tempestuous Eleanor of Aquitaine ( Katherine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter.)
The Syria session was lively with Eugene Rogan, head of the Middle East Centre at St Anthony’s College, Oxford and author of the wide-ranging The Arabs: A History, Lindsey Hilsum Channel 4 editor of international news and author of Sandstorm: Libya in the Time of Revolution, David Aaronovitch writer and commentator, the whole event chaired by Munir Majid, author of 9/11 and the Attack on Muslims.
My own book, My Home is Your Home A Journey Round Syria, with an introduction by Eugene Rogan, is about a very complex country and its even more complex peoples. Here’s a link to it:
If you want to know what it’s like to visit an Arab family, hitch a life with some Kurds, ride a bike around Damascus, stay in a one-star hotel, listen to a desert poet, ride a camel, overnight with some desert nomads,fight off a sex-hungry host, spend Christmas 3000 feet up a mountain…. This is the one.
Order from me directly (email@example.com) and your signed copy will be posted the same day.