Victories tapestries, Blenheim Palace

John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough commissioned several sets of tapestries from the workshop of Judocus de Vos between 1707 and 1717, including the renowned  ‘Victories’ set commemorating the battles where Marlborough was victorious during the War of the Spanish Succession.

“The Tapestries at Blenheim” by Winston Churchill

Still hanging in the rooms for which they were originally commissioned, five of the ten extant tapestries have been conserved at the studio over the last decade. This includes one of the largest tapestries in the UK – the ‘Bouchain III’ tapestry which hangs in the second state room and measures almost nine metres wide by four and a half metres high. It was depicted in a painting of the room by Winston Churchill c.1930 and famously includes a dog with horse’s hooves instead of paws.

The tapestries are finely woven in wool and silk, with the silk being used for highlights in the design and also crucially, in large areas in the skies over the battle scenes. After three hundred years of continuous open display the silk was degrading and no longer able to bear the considerable weight of these large tapestries, so slits were opening up and there was some loss where the silk had dropped out following its loss of structural cohesion.


The tapestries were all wet cleaned at the De Wit facility in Belgium (which I use for large wet cleaning projects), after removal of old linings and careful testing of the dyes present. There were some repair threads that had been used which were unstable in water, and these had to be controlled by varying the pH during washing. On return to the studio, I applied a full support of linen scrim to the back of the tapestries and carried out a full conservation treatment involving re-sewing all slits, in-fill couching to areas of loss, and support stitching through all weak areas. Upon rehanging, the scrim is able to support the weight of the tapestry and stabilise areas that were previously disintegrating. The tapestries were also lined with new linings and finished with Velcro fastenings for rehanging – this makes positioning the tapestry on the wall much easier especially where they hang around a corner of the room, it distributes the weight evenly and makes removal in the case of an emergency much quicker.

Historical alterations

It was apparent upon examination of the tapestries that they had all undergone reductions size, in order to fit the wall spaces. This must have been carried out immediately after manufacture, since they were woven for Blenheim and never hung elsewhere, so one can only assume that incorrect dimensions were supplied to the workshop. In these images from the ‘Bouchain III’ tapestry, you can see how the main field had been cut from its border on the right of the tapestry, reduced in width and then resewn with a flat seam – it has the effect of removing the front hooves of the horse on the far right of the panel.

Upon removal of the linings, one often finds interesting historical information and in this case I discovered localised re-weaving of key parts of the design. In these images from the ‘Malplaquet’ tapestry, you can see how the entire coat in the figure on horseback has been rewoven to match the original, and then skilfully pieced into place. No doubt the original coat, which will have had a large amount of silk highlight weaving, degraded and was replaced. This could only have been carried out at a skilled tapestry weaving workshop.

Rehanging the tapestries

Following conservation at the studio, the tapestries were returned and rehung, after preparation of the walls with the opposite side of the Velcro.  For the ‘Victories’ series, I use Velcro along the top edge, and down either side, as this keeps the tapestry exactly positioned within the space and fitted back against the wall rather than hanging freely, imitating the original closely fitted effect which would have been achieved either with nails or hooks. For tapestries of this scale, its essential to have the support of a good team and a tower scaffold of a suitable height!

‘Bouchain III’ after re-hanging at Blenheim.