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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.

One of the great things about writing historical romance is that I always come across something new in my research. Often such finds are serendipitous and always they give me the chance to add some historical detail that I otherwise would not have included.

This time I discovered a papillote iron.

I knew that ladies in the Regency curled their hair and I knew they used some sort of curling iron, but I supposed that the curling iron was more like our modern ones. it turns out it was a much cooler process.

The papillote iron looks a little like coal tongs or iron scissors with flattened ends.

You’ve read of curling papers in Regency novels? It turns out they were used with a papillote iron. Curling papers were triangular shaped pieces of tissue paper used to shield the hair from the heat of the papillote.

First the papillote was heated with coals from the fireplace. Next a strand of strand of hair was selected and rubbed with pomade. The strand was then curled around a finger and wrapped in a triangle of tissue paper. The curl was heated by pressing it with the flat ends of the papillote iron. This process was repeated until all the strands of hair that need curling had gone through the process.

When the hair was completely cooled, the papers were pulled off and the result was the corkscrew curls so familiar to us who love the Regency era.

I could not find a good history on papillote curls except that the technique was used in the 1700s to curl wigs and help create the towering hairstyles of that era. The curls were brushed out, creating the volume. This portrait of the Duchess of Devonshire by Gainsborough (1785-87) is an example.

The name suggests French origin. This print from 1824 certainly supports that idea.

Here is a very detailed tutorial on a modern way to make papillote curls using tissue paper and a flat iron.

And another using an actual papillote iron from the time period

There are other ways to use paper to make curls. This technique is very similar to rag curls that my aunt taught me when I was a little girl, but these are with paper towels!

I have stick-straight hair and I’m so tempted to try one of these curling techniques. Maybe I’ll find out what it is like to have curls.

One last note. Papillote also refers to a cooking technique, in which the food is put into a folded pouch or parcel, often made of parchment paper, and then baked. But, since I am so-not-a-cook,  I also knew nothing about that papillote.

Have you ever tried to create Regency-style curls? How did you do it?

Have you ever held a yard sale in order to fund a home repair project? Well, that’s precisely what Earl Spencer, brother of Princess Diana, did when he needed ten million pounds to repair the roof at Althorp and fund other home repair projects. Rather than use his driveway and front yard, Earl Spencer used the famous Christies auction house to auction off paintings, furniture, carriages, livery, uniforms, walking sticks, canes, snuff boxes, spoons, linens, porcelain, inkstands, and more.

See all the items here.
Read more about it here.

Too bad the auction is over, because I would have selected these items for myself:

I’m partial to prints and artwork and would not have been able to resist a miniature of Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire (1757-1806). Georgiana died before the Regency, but she was a super star of her day, a fashion icon and a political hostess as well as a lady who personified some of the excesses of the Georgian era.

This is Lady Anne Horatia Seymour, wife of Lord Hugh Seymour, one of the Prince Regent’s set, and good friend of Mrs. Fitzherbert. Isn’t she pretty?

This fellow is Colonel Sir Horace Beauchamp Seymour, son of Lady Anne Horatia Seymour. Doesn’t he just look like the perfect Regency gentleman? Look at that hair!

I also love antique porcelain and I thought these Chinese Famille Rose plates (1736-95) were particularly beautiful.

I also could not resist this lovely piece of furniture which the auction house called a “Louis XVI Giltwood Canape.”

There were so many treasures at the auction that it would have been hard to limit myself. As it was, I “spent” about ten thousand pounds. And I noticed that most of what I coveted was Georgian, not Regency. I suppose my Regency world is furnished with Georgian decor.

Did you ever buy a treasure at an auction or a yard sale? When I was at college I bought a desk and a vacuum cleaner worth every bit of the ten dollars I spent!

Which of Earl Spencer’s treasures would you have purchased?

Come visit me on Thursday for Diane’s Blog and next Sunday here at Risky Regencies when my friend Mary Blayney will talk about her latest, Courtesan’s Kiss.

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