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My friend Kristine Hughes and I spent three days at Chatsworth on our May England trip and it was not enough time!

Chatsworth is the Derbyshire country house of the Duke of Devonshire, one of the first of the great country houses to be open to the public in order to raise enough money to save the place. The rescue of Chatsworth was the work of the late Duke and Duchess and what they achieved was a remarkable gift to their countrymen and the world.

Much of the success of Chatsworth must be given to the late Duchess of Devonshire, the former Deborah Mitford, youngest of the Mitford sisters, so captivating and/or scandalous that we are still talking of them today. Debo, as her sisters called her, had the imagination and drive to make Chatsworth the successful enterprise it is today, employing some 600 workers. In doing so she preserved a place of great beauty, both inside and out.

Here’s what we came upon that first day, after closing time, so there were no cars and very few people. It must have been close to what our Regency characters would have seen had they visited the house.

The beauty of the landscape was the work of Capability Brown, the famous landscape architect who popularized the naturalistic style in the mid-1700s. To enhance the beauty of the views from the front of Chatsworth House, Capability Brown required the 4th Duke of Devonshire to have the village of Edensor moved to a more picturesque location.

The next day we took the house tour and walked into the Painted Hall. The 4th Earl and 1st Duke of Devonshire was responsible for the Painted Hall. The artist was Louis Laguerre and the mural depicts the allegorical ascension of Julius Caesar. The upper walls show scenes from Caesar’s life. IMG_0457
The 1st Duke had been one of the Immortal Seven who signed the invitation for William III of Orange to take the English throne, receiving the titles of Duke of Devonshire and Marquess of Hartington for his service. He rebuilt Chatsworth House and decorated it with symbolism celebrating King William’s monarchy. In the murals Julius Caesar sympbolizes William. Unfortunately William never saw the beautiful murals painted in his honor. He never visited Chatsworth.

In every hall and room there is something of interest to see. I took dozens of photos but didn’t cover a fraction of the beautiful art and furnishings of the house. In the music room there is a door ajar, revealing another door–and a violin.
Look closely at the violin. Bet you can’t tell that it isn’t real. It is the painting of a violin, so realistic-looking that one must take it on faith because they don’t allow you to walk up to it and touch it.

Of course, there is homage to perhaps the most famous Duchess of Devonshire, Georgiana Cavendish. Georgiana, a celebrated beauty, married the Duke when she was a mere seventeen years old. She went on to be a successful political hostess, friend of the then Prince of Wales, campaigned for Charles James Fox. She was also a fashion icon. She was banished to the Continent for a while when she became pregnant by Charles Grey, but she filled her time there collecting minerals and gems. Her collection is on display in Chatsworth House.


Not much was said on the tour of Georgiana’s friendship with Lady Elizabeth Foster, who became the Duke’s mistress and bore him two children raised a Chatsworth with Georgiana’s children and another of the Duke’s out-of-wedlock children. After Georgiana’s death in 1806, Lady Elizabeth Foster became the next Duchess of Devonshire.

The house tour ends at the sculpture gallery. Most of the works exhibited there were commissioned by Georgiana’s son, “Hart,” who became the 6th Duke of Devonshire and who was responsible for much of the art and improvements to the house and grounds.IMG_0637

After our tour of the house, we visited the farm, which was more like a petting zoo for children, but Chatsworth is a working farm with its very successful farm shop, a place we, unfortunately, did not see.

The next day we took the garden tour and returned to the house again to walk through at our own speed. Here’s a snippet of what we saw on the garden tour.

There was so much more to see and more to see again. I would go back in a minute and do this all over again!

If you have a chance to visit Chatsworth, give yourself more than one day. You’ll be happy you did!

(My thanks to Denise Costello who helped me figure out how to appropriately size the videos to fit the blog!)

Perhaps one of the most famous Duchesses of Devonshire is Georgiana Cavendish nee Spencer, wife of the 5th Duke. Georgiana was eclipsed, perhaps, only by Deborah Cavendish, the youngest of the famous Mitford sisters and whom I consider the savior of Chatsworth. Georgiana, however, was the subject of a best-selling biography by Amanda Foreman and was played by Keira Knightley in the movie based on the book, The Duchess.

When Kristine Hughes Patrone of Number One London Tours, and I spent three days at Chatsworth last May, Georgiana was featured prominently in one room, including the wonderful Gainsborough portrait (center) that had been lost for a while and only returned to Chatsworth in 1994.
To the right is an unfinished portrait of Georgiana by Joshua Reynolds. To the left is Elizabeth Foster, Georgiana’s friend and the Duke’s mistress. Elizabeth married the Duke after Georgiana’s death.

There was also this spectacular portrait by Maria Cosway of Georgiana as Cynthia from the Fairie Queen.
As we walked through the house I noticed another portrait amidst several on the stairway. I’d never seen this portrait before, even though I’d once searched online for as many portraits of Georgiana as I could find. I asked the docent and, sure enough, the portrait was of Georgiana, although he did not know the artist.

Georgiana was not only present in her portraits, but also in her gem collection. For a time, because of her affair with Earl Grey and her pregnancy by him, the Duke banished Georgiana to the Continent. During her banishment, she developed an interest in gems and became quite a collector. Here’s an example of one of her finds.
Georgiana, a celebrated beauty since her youth, lost her looks at age 39 when an illness of her eye left her scarred. Her health continued to decline and she died at age 48. She had been active in politics and other social causes; she published two novels, a memoir, and a poem. She also was an addicted gambler and hiding and confessing her losses which were over three million pounds in today’s money.

I’ve been intrigued by Georgiana since reading her biography–I even named my GPS after her!!

As much as I love Keira Knightley, to me, she was NOT Georgiana. Georgiana was voluptuous and warm and Keira is all angles and energy. What do you think? Who would have made a better Georgiana? Or did you like Keira Knightley as the Duchess? Do you have a favorite portrait of Georgiana? To me, it is hard to beat the Cosway portrait.

cover of "All in One Basket"I was really sad to learn earlier today that Deborah Devonshire (or, to use her title, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire) has died at age 94. She was the last of the famed Mitford sisters, whose family was fictionalized by Nancy Mitford in The Pursuit of Love. One of the most infamous passages is perhaps this one:

“My Uncle Matthew had four magnificent bloodhounds, with which he used to hunt his children. Two of us would go off with a good start to lay the trail, and Uncle Matthew and the rest would follow the hounds on horseback. It was great fun. Once he came to my home and hunted Linda and me over Shenley Common. This caused the most tremendous stir locally, the Kentish week-enders on their way to church were appalled by the sight of four great hounds in full cry after two little girls. My uncle seemed to them like a wicked lord of fiction, and I became more than ever surrounded with an aura of madness, badness, and dangerousness for their children to know.”

Just a few days ago, I bought several of “Debo’s” books, including Chatsworth: The House and All in One Basket: Nest Eggs by Deborah Devonshire (which includes the books Counting my Chicken and Home to Roost). I love her wry observations about life in the country and life in a giant country house:

“The joys and difficulties of living in such a huge house are all magnified. […] A bag put down in a rare bit of house can be lost for months. The master key can be forgotten in an attic door until panic sets in. It is a terrible place to housetrain a puppy. Letting a dog out in the night is quite a performance, with thirty-four stairs to go down and up again and the complicated unlocking of monster doors. […] On the good side, children can roller skate for miles without going out of doors; on a wet day you can walk for hours, be entertained and keep dry […].” (from Chatsworth: The House)

cover of "Chatsworth: The House"And the following passage perfectly explains why our Regency misses better pack a shawl when they are invited to a country house party:

“A new heating system was installed [at Chatsworth] when we moved in and it works pretty well. Even so, the wind can penetrate huge old window frames which don’t fit exactly. In September we go round with rolls of sticky brown paper to stop the gaps. When the front door is open and people with luggage dawdle, all our part of the house feels the blast […]. There are zones of intense cold, seldom visited in winter: the Sculpture Gallery, State Rooms and attics, where a closed-season search for forgotten furniture can feel colder than being out of doors.” (from Home to Roost)

If you wonder at all the references to poultry in many of her book titles: she kept chickens and apparently loved them very much. There is one fine picture of her, showing her in a ballgown among her flock. On at least one occasion the chickens also came in handy as an alternative to flower arrangements on the dinner table: one cockerel and two hens – all freshly washed for the occasion – were put in glass containers on each end of the table, with little chicks snuggled up in hay-filled china baskets in between.

Obviously, she was rather unconventional (a bit of an understatement) and had a great sense of humor. All of this shines through in her writing and makes her books truly enjoyable reads.

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