Marlborough House

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Marlborough House
Marlborough House.jpg
The south façade of Marlborough House
LocationLondon, SW1
Built1711; 309 years ago (1711)
ArchitectChristopher Wren
OwnerElizabeth II in the right of The Crown
Listed Building – Grade I
Designated5 February 1970
Reference no.1331701
Marlborough House is located in City of Westminster
Marlborough House
Location of Marlborough House in City of Westminster

Coordinates: 51°30′18″N 0°8′9″W / 51.50500°N 0.13583°W / 51.50500; -0.13583 Marlborough House, a Grade I listed[1] mansion in St James's, City of Westminster, London, is the headquarters of the Commonwealth of Nations and the seat of the Commonwealth Secretariat. It was built for Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, the favourite and confidante of Queen Anne. For over a century it served as the London residence of the Dukes of Marlborough. It became a royal residence through the 19th century and first half of the 20th. It was leased by Queen Elizabeth II to the Commonwealth beginning in 1965.


In its original form Marlborough House had just two storeys. This illustration of c.1750 shows the garden front.

The Duchess wanted her new house to be "strong, plain and convenient and good". The architect Christopher Wren and his son of the same name designed a brick building with rusticated stone quoins (cornerstones) that was completed in 1711.

The house was taken-up by the Crown in 1817.[2] In the 1820s plans were drawn up to demolish Marlborough House and replace it with a terrace of similar dimensions to the two in neighbouring Carlton House Terrace, and this idea even featured on some contemporary maps, including Christopher and John Greenwood's large-scale London map of 1830, but the proposal was not implemented.[3]

Royal residence

This view of the entrance front published in the 1850s before Pennethorne's additions shows an additional storey on the wings. The wings later gained a fourth main storey, and the central section gained a third.

Located north of The Mall and east of St James's Palace, Marlborough House was primarily used by members of the Royal Family, especially dowager queens and by Prince Albert Edward of Wales and his wife Alexandra. Queen Adelaide, widow of William IV, was given the use of Marlborough House from 1831 until her death in 1849.[4]

From 1853 to 1861 Prince Albert, the consort of Queen Victoria, arranged for the building to be used by the "National Art Training School", later the Royal College of Art.[5]

From 1861 to 1863, Sir James Pennethorne substantially enlarged the structure by adding a range of rooms on the north side and a deep porch for the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, and his wife the Princess of Wales, Alexandra of Denmark, who made their home the social centre of London.[6] Their second son, later King George V, was born at Marlborough House in 1865, and the family lived there until Victoria died in 1901, when Edward acceded the throne and they moved to nearby Buckingham Palace.

Marlborough House – Rotating Summer House

After Edward VII died in 1910, Alexandra again made Marlborough House her London home until her death in 1925. A late Art Nouveau-Gothic memorial fountain by Alfred Gilbert (1926–32) in the Marlborough Road wall of the house commemorates her.

In 1936, Marlborough House became the London residence of George V's widow, Queen Mary who survived George by 17 years. In the grounds of the house remains her pet cemetery. A thatch-roofed rotating summer house built for her is still in place.[7] A plaque to commemorate Queen Mary was unveiled by the Queen in 1967 in the exterior wall closest to the corner with the Mall.

Commonwealth Secretariat

After Queen Mary's death in 1953, Marlborough House continued to be used by various members of the royal family as a London residence before Queen Elizabeth II leased it to the Commonwealth Secretariat in 1965, an arrangement which continues today.


Eugène-Louis Lami, Entry to a Drawing Room at Marlborough House, 1871, Princeton University Art Museum

The nearly cubical saloon retains wall-paintings by Louis Laguerre of the Battle of Blenheim (at which the 1st Duke of Marlborough was overall commander for Britain and her allies; seat of the Dukes of Marlborough is Blenheim Palace, one of England's largest houses). A cupola inserted in the ceiling is surrounded by paintings by Orazio Gentileschi for the Queen's House, Greenwich, 1636. There are paired staircases flanking the saloon, with further battle pieces by Laguerre. Most of the interiors have been altered.[2]

Public opening times

Marlborough House is usually open to the public for Open House Weekend each September. The house is also open for group tours by prior arrangement.[8]


  1. ^ Historic England. "Grade I (1331701)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 4 April 2009.
  2. ^ a b Pervsner, Nickolaus; Cherry, Bridget (1973). The Buildings of England: London. I. Penguin. p. 470-ff.
  3. ^ Greenwood Map of London 1830 Archived 3 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ F. H. W. Sheppard (General Editor) (1960). "Pall Mall, South Side, Past Buildings: Nos 66–68 (consec.) Pall Mall: The Junior Naval and Military Club". Survey of London: volumes 29 and 30: St James Westminster, Part 1. Institute of Historical Research. Retrieved 3 April 2013.
  5. ^ Frayling, Christopher (1987). The Royal College of Art, One Hundred and Fifty Years of Art and Design. London: Barrie & Jenkins. pp. 35-42. ISBN 978-0712617994.
  6. ^ Jane Ridley, Marlborough House set (act. 1870s–1901) in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press; online text accessed 30 Nov 2010 (subscription site)[dead link]
  7. ^ "Marlborough House Gardens Virtual Tour". Commonwealth Secretariat. Retrieved 26 February 2012.[permanent dead link]
  8. ^ "Marlborough House opens its doors to the public" (Press release). Commonwealth Secretariat. 6 September 2011. Retrieved 20 January 2019.


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