50 Facts About John Vanbrugh


Sir John Vanbrugh was an English architect, dramatist and herald, perhaps best known as the designer of Blenheim Palace and Castle Howard.


John Vanbrugh wrote two argumentative and outspoken Restoration comedies, The Relapse and The Provoked Wife, which have become enduring stage favourites but originally occasioned much controversy.


John Vanbrugh was imprisoned by the French as a political prisoner.


John Vanbrugh was attacked on both counts, and was one of the prime targets of Jeremy Collier's Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage.


John Vanbrugh grew up in Chester, where his family had been driven by either the major outbreak of the plague in London in 1665, or the Great Fire of 1666.


Architectural historian Kerry Downes is sceptical of earlier historians' claims of a lower middle-class background, and writes that a 19th-century suggestion that Giles John Vanbrugh was a sugar-baker has been misunderstood.


The complex web of kinship Downes' research shows that John Vanbrugh had ties to many of England's leading mercantile, gentry, and noble families.

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However, Robert Williams proved in an article in the Times Literary Supplement that John Vanbrugh was in India for part of this period, working for the East India Company at their trading post in Surat, Gujarat where his uncle, Edward Pearce, had been Governor.


In spite of the distant noble relatives and the lucrative sugar trade, John Vanbrugh never seemed to possess any capital for business ventures, but always had to rely on loans and backers.


From 1686, John Vanbrugh was working undercover, playing a role in bringing about the armed invasion by William of Orange, the deposition of James II, and the Glorious Revolution of 1688.


John Vanbrugh remained in prison in France for four and a half years, albeit in reasonable comfort.


John Vanbrugh's life is sharply bisected by this prison experience, which he entered at age 24 and emerged from at 29, after having spent, as Downes puts it, half his adult life in captivity.


The often-repeated claim that John Vanbrugh wrote part of his comedy The Provoked Wife in the Bastille is based on allusions in a couple of much later memoirs and is regarded with some doubt by modern scholars.


In 1703, John Vanbrugh started buying land and signing backers for the construction of a new theatre in Haymarket, designed by himself and managed by John Vanbrugh along with Thomas Betterton and his associate William Congreve.


John Vanbrugh was now bound to pay salaries to the actors and, as it turned out, to manage the theatre, a notorious tightrope act for which he had no experience.


John Vanbrugh had put a lot of money, his own and borrowed, into the theatre company, which he was never to recover.


John Vanbrugh went on to make more friends than enemies at the College, however.


In 1719, at St Lawrence's Church, York, John Vanbrugh married Henrietta Maria Yarburgh of Heslington Hall, York, aged 26 to his 55.


John Vanbrugh's married life was mostly spent at Greenwich in the house on Maze Hill now known as Vanbrugh Castle, a miniature Scottish tower house designed by Vanbrugh in the earliest stages of his career.


John Vanbrugh arrived in London at a time of scandal and internal drama at London's only theatre company, as a long-running conflict between pinchpenny management and disgruntled actors came to a head and the actors walked out.


John Vanbrugh had good reason to offer his second play to the new company, which had got off to a brilliant start by premiering Congreve's Love for Love, the greatest London box-office success for years.


The actors' cooperative boasted the established star performers of the age, and John Vanbrugh tailored The Provoked Wife to their specialities.


John Vanbrugh takes advantage of this schema and these actresses to deepen audience sympathy for the unhappily married Lady Brute, even as she fires off her witty ripostes.


John Vanbrugh laughed at these charges and published a joking reply, where he accused the clergyman Collier of being more sensitive to unflattering portrayals of the clergy than to real irreligion.


Jonathan Swift, in this quote, suggests that John Vanbrugh had no previous training in, nor studied architecture, but applied himself to the discipline whole-heartedly.

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John Vanbrugh's inexperience was compensated for by his unerring eye for perspective and detail and his close working relationship with Nicholas Hawksmoor.


John Vanbrugh's chosen style was the baroque, which had been spreading across Europe during the 17th century, promoted by, among others, Bernini and Le Vau.


Four of John Vanbrugh's designs act as milestones for evaluating this process:.


Marlborough's reward, from a grateful nation, was to be a splendid country seat, and the Duke himself chose fellow Kit-Cat John Vanbrugh to be the architect.


At Blenheim, John Vanbrugh developed baroque from the mere ornamental to a denser, more solid, form, where the massed stone became the ornament.


Seaton Delaval Hall was John Vanbrugh's final work, this northern, seemingly rather bleak country house is considered his finest architectural masterpiece; by this stage in his architectural career John Vanbrugh was a master of baroque, he had taken this form of architecture not only beyond the flamboyant continental baroque of Castle Howard, but past the more severe but still decorated Blenheim.


The design concept John Vanbrugh drew up was similar to that employed at Castle Howard and Blenheim: a corps de logis between two flanking wings.


Towers crowned by balustrades and pinnacles give the house something of what John Vanbrugh called his castle air.


Seaton Delaval is one of the few houses John Vanbrugh designed alone without the aid of Nicholas Hawksmoor.


John Vanbrugh's prompt success as an architect can be attributed to his friendships with the influential of the day.


In 1702, through the influence of Charles Howard, Earl of Carlisle, John Vanbrugh was appointed Comptroller of the King's Works.


However, eventually a warrant signed by the Earl of Godolphin, the parliamentary treasurer, appointed John Vanbrugh, and outlined his remit.


The day after the Queen's death the Marlboroughs returned, and were reinstated in favour at the court of the new King George I The 64-year-old Duke now decided to complete the project at his own expense; in 1716 work restarted and Vanbrugh was left to rely entirely upon the means of the Duke of Marlborough himself.


Already discouraged and upset by the reception the palace was receiving from the Whig factions, the final blow for John Vanbrugh came when the Duke was incapacitated in 1717 by a severe stroke, and the thrifty Duchess took control.


In 1719, while the duchess was "not at home", John Vanbrugh was able to view the palace in secret; but when he and his wife, with the Earl of Carlisle, visited the completed Blenheim as members of the viewing public in 1725, they were refused admission to even enter the park.


John Vanbrugh was buried in the church of St Stephen Walbrook in the City of London, but his grave is unmarked and the above epitaph is as yet unused.


John Vanbrugh has shown me, not only all the designs of his father, but two houses of his building, one near Whitehall, and the other at Greenwich.


Sir John Vanbrugh's genius was of the first class; and, in point of movement, novelty and ingenuity, his works have not been exceeded by anything in modern times.


John Vanbrugh is remembered today for his vast contribution to British culture, theatre, and architecture.


John Vanbrugh had told his old friend Colley Cibber that he intended in this play to question traditional marriage roles even more radically than in the plays of his youth, and end it with a marriage falling irreconcilably apart.

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The unfinished manuscript, today available in John Vanbrugh's Collected Works, depicts a country family travelling to London and falling prey to its sharpers and temptations, while a London wife drives her patient husband to despair with her gambling and her consorting with the demi-monde of con men and half-pay officers.


John Vanbrugh thought of masses, volume and perspective in a way that his predecessors had not.


John Vanbrugh was adept at delivering buildings for his clients, that successfully met their requirements.


John Vanbrugh's reputation has suffered because of his famed disagreements with the Duchess of Marlborough, yet, one must remember his original client was the British Nation, not the Duchess, and the nation wanted a monument and celebration of victory, and that is what Vanbrugh gave the nation.


John Vanbrugh is commemorated throughout Britain, by inns, street names, a university college and schools named in his honour.