When I was thinking about what the topic of my first ever blog post should be, the idea that immediately jumped to my mind was: CHATSWORTH HOUSE. To some, literature fans and movie goers, Chatsworth symbolises the home of the ever so dashing Mr Darcy of Pride and Prejudice, Pemberley, wonderfully portrayed (house and character) in the 2005 film version of said novel. To others, it is this magnificent palace nested in the heart of Derbyshire, surrounded by opulent hills of the greenest green colour and whose parkland is inhabited by herds of sheep and deer. A palace with a rich history and one of the best artistic collections in England. To me, it is both…and so much more. Chatsworth is the place where I developed my skills as an art historian and researcher. It is the place where my passion for decorative arts and Regency furniture grew and where my desire to, one day, become a curator strengthened. A place where I did not only grow professionally but also personally. For all these reasons, I wanted to share this special place with you, dear readers, to share my love and my knowledge of this beautiful estate.
Chatsworth: from an Elizabethan palace to a French château (16th-17th centuries).
In medieval times, the Chatsworth estate was owned by William Peverel, a close friend to William the Conqueror. The estate and lands were bought by Sir William Cavendish in 1549, on the advice of his wife, Elizabeth “Bess” who was born in Derbyshire. She knew the value of these lands. There is nothing left of the Elizabethan Chatsworth, apart from the Hunting Tower and Queen Mary’s Bower (tradition says it was used by Mary, Queen of Scots when she was held prisoner at Chatsworth in the 1570s). The only testament of the Elizabethan house is on a needlework panel weaved in 1590-1600. It depicts the West front of Chatsworth with its battlements, corner towers and glass windows. Beyond the entrance, one can see a fountain in an inner courtyard (for more information on this specific piece, go have a read at my Instagram post on this subject).
During the English Civil War (1642-51), Chatsworth was consecutively taken over and occupied by the Royalists and the Parliamentarians. Nothing much was done to the house and estate until the 1680s when the 4th Earl, then 1st Duke of Devonshire (1694) decided to transform the old home of his ancestors into a French Baroque château. He went on a Continental Grand Tour in the late 1650s and accompanied Ralph Montagu (later 1st Duke of Montagu) on a State visit to King Louis XIV of France in 1669. His stays in France certainly nurtured his tastes, and, at his father’s death in 1684, he decided to redesign Chatsworth. To do so, he hired William Talman who remodelled the South and East wings. Inside, he created an enfilade, a series of state rooms typical of French palaces and stately homes. The 1st Duke employed many great artists and craftsmen to furnish and decorate his interiors: Antonio Verrio, Louis Laguerre, Jean Tijou, etc. The 1st Duke was one of the first to buy furniture made by French ébénistes (cabinetmakers) like André-Charles Boulle. After many disagreements with Talman, the 1st Duke fired him and gave the remodelling of the North front to architect John Archer. Regarding the West facade, it seems like the connoisseur duke designed it himself, inspired by the Château de Marly, Louis XIV’s country retreat near Paris designed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart (demolished in the early 19th century).
18th century Chatsworth: The Age of garden landscape.
No major changes were made to this architecture of the house during this time. In the gardens and park, that was another story.
Under the 3rd Duke, the gardens and parterres in the French style created by his grandfather were altered and more trees were planted. A drastic transformation was operated by the 4th Duke in the mid-18th century. By this time, garden landscaping was in favour of more natural, wild and seemingly unkept gardens, inspired by French landscape paintings. It was the Age of the Picturesque style. To make his picturesque gardens come to life, the 4th Duke ensured famous landscape designer Lancelot “Capability” Brown with this task. The latter got rid of most of all the terraces and parterres (the Ring Pond still survives today) and created a scheme of tree planting in the gardens as well as on the rest of the estate, especially the park. The gardens one visits today have not been much changed since Capabilty Brown’s transformations.
The 4th Duke also changed the road access to the house from East to Southwest, thus allowing the visitors to have a better view of the West facade. It is still today the main road access to the estate and anyone who has visited Chatsworth will, perhaps, agree with me: what a brilliant idea!
Architect James Paine built a new bridge crossing the river Derwent, as well as a new Northwest road and new stable blocks on the Northeast side.
In the 5th Duke’s time, the Grotto house was built in the gardens for his wife Lady Georgiana Cavendish. Nevertheless, the Grotto was much altered by their son, the 6th Duke, in the 19th century.
19th century Chatsworth: final transformations and desertion.
When William Spencer Cavendish became the 6th Duke of Devonshire in 1811, he became one of the wealthiest gentleman in the kingdom. This money, he wanted to spend it. And spend it he did. In the 1820s, he hired architect Jeffry Wyatt to enlarge the main building. An avid collector, the 6th Duke needed a space to house his large collection of books and sculptures. To that effect, the 1st Duke’s Gallery was turned into a library and Jeffry Wyatt added the North wing to create a Sculpture Gallery, Orangery, Ballroom and Theatre.
Sir Jeffry Wyattville (as the architect was known after his ennoblement) came back in the 1830s to improve some of the State Rooms in preparation for the visit of Princess Victoria (later Queen Victoria) in 1832.
Finally, John Crace added a final touch to the interior decoration by redecorating the Lower Library.
In the gardens, one of the 6th Duke’s close friend, Joseph Paxton, created a greenhouse entirely made of iron and glass, prefiguration of the famous Crystal Palace built by the same man for the Great Exhibition of 1851. In 1844, Paxton also created the Emperor Fountain on the South lawn to celebrate the visit of Czar Nicholas I who, unfortunately, never came.
After the death of the 6th Duke who died a bachelor and thus without male heir, the title and estates were passed on to his cousin, William Cavendish. In 1829, he had married Lady Blanche Howard, a niece of the 6th Duke of Devonshire. Unfortunately for the 7th Duke, he was plagued by the debts of his predecessors. This financial situation and the fact the 7th Duke lived at Holker Hall rather than Chatsworth left the stately home as almost a ghost house until the early 1890s. Chatsworth found a second breath when the 8th Duke made judicious money investments during the Edwardian era. Parties were organised there during the shooting season.
Chastworth and the 20th century: avant-garde and modernity.
In 1908, the 8th Duke died without issue and was succeeded by his nephew, Victor Cavendish. The 9th Duke came back to Chatsworth, but the house needed a lot of maintenance. Duchess Evelyn was an avant-garde curator. She maintained the estate and the household after her husband suffered a stroke in 1925.
During WWII, Chatsworth collections were stored in safe places and the house transformed into a girls’ school (which protected the building from possible damages by being requisitioned for army uses). Lord Hartington, heir of the 10th Duke married Kathleen Kennedy, sister of future U.S. president John Fitzgerald Kennedy in June 1944. He was killed in action three months later (Kathleen herself died in a plane crash in 1948). The 10th Duke’ second son, Andrew became the heir apparent. In April 1941, he married Deborah Freeman-Mitford, one of the famous Mitford sisters. He succeeded his father to the dukedom in 1950. With the payment of the death duties following his father’s passing, the 11th Duke had to sold lands and estates. Hardwick Hall was transferred into the care of the National Trust as well as part of the collections. The private rooms of Chatsworth were modernised to welcome the Duke and his family, which happened by 1959. The Chatsworth estate became self-sufficient after the sales of the 1970s and 1980s and thanks to the visits and tours of the house and gardens. The collections grew – the 11th Duke added contemporary paintings, such as Lucian Freud’s for example. The Duchess transformed the Orangery and Stable blocks into restaurants and souvenir shops to accommodate the visitors.
Chatsworth’s vibrant history made it what it is today: a place of knowledge where one goes back in time every time one steps into a new room. The architecture and historic interiors are amazingly well-preserved and taken care of by teams of qualified and passionate architects, curators and conservators. The collections are breathtakingly majestic, one of the best in the country. There is always something to discover at Chatsworth and their cultural program certainly shows it (chatsworth.org/events/).
Thank you for reading this article, dear readers. I hope you enjoyed it? If you desire to follow me on Instagram, the link is on my home page.
Links to Chatsworth social media:
- www.chatsworth.org/ (website)
- @chatsworthofficial (Instagram)
- @chatsworthhouse (Twitter)
- @chatsworthhouse (Facebook)
Next week topic:
Lyme Park, Cheshire.
Images copyrights to respective owners.