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Photo by Simon Norfolk @simonnorfolkstudio I Blenheim Palace near Oxford—one of of the greatest of England's stately homes—was a gift from a grateful nation to a general, John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, for his victories in battle. In a contemporary guidebook to the palace and its gardens— William Fordice Mavor's "New Description of Blenheim"—the extraordinary suggestion is made that the original garden layout for the "military oaks" imitated the disposition of troops at the beginning of the Battle of Blenheim on August 13, 1704. Just think: a battlefield laid out in the heart of England in a massive, leafy reminder of a faraway military conquest! There is little evidence to support Mavor's conjecture, but true or not, people build their own realities and readers thought it was true. Indeed, Mavor's book was wildly successful, despite its turgid prose, being reprinted 13 times, once even in French.
Over the years, blasted by lightning or simply toppling over in their senescence, the oaks at Blenheim seem like ancient pachyderms or baobabs clinging to the edge of life. Mavor was right to offer these trees as "moral and impressive lessons"—not as he intended but as metaphors about the great arc of empire's rise and fall. Follow @simonnorfolkstudio for updates, outtakes, unpublished and archive material #photojournalism #nature #documentaryphotography #simonnorfolk #lowlight