Chatsworth House

Chatsworth House is the inspiration behind Jane Austen’s fictional country house Pemberley, owned by Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice.  Jane visited Chatsworth House in 1811 with some relatives. Her protagonist, Elizabeth Bennet, takes a similar trip in the novel and happens upon Pemberley while Mr. Darcy is away from his estate. Elizabeth is charmed by the house and the grounds, and is also pleased by a visit with Mr. Darcy’s younger sister, Georgiana. At this point Elizabeth begins to rethink her initial unfavourable impression of Mr. Darcy.

Additionally, in the not so fictional world, Mary Queen of Scots was held prisoner at Chatsworth at various times between 1569 and 1584 . Not bad digs – definitely preferable to the Tower of London.

Obviously, Chatsworth House was a must-see for me.

Below is a view of the front of Chatsworth House. There is a long, winding road that leads up to the house but it is too narrow (and too busy with other interested visitors) to stop and take a picture. The House does make quite the grand impression as you are driving up to it. The House has been open for public visitation since the mid-1650s!

Chatsworth House was acquired in 1549 by the Cavendish family. Sir William Cavendish was one of Henry VIII’s commissioners during the Reformation. William’s wife Elizabeth, known as Bess of Hardwick, sold some of the estates given to William by the Crown and used it to buy this land that was close to her own childhood home. There was likely a smaller manor house present or nearby the site of the present house. In 1552 William and Bess built a grand Elizabethan estate. Unfortunately, little of this original manor house remains as the house was altered and enlarged over the years.

After William died in 1557, Bess remarried, but was then widowed again in 1565. She married George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury in 1567. George and Bess then hosted Mary, Queen of Scots, during her imprisonment at Chatsworth. I read about this time from Bess’ perspective in Philippa Gregory’s novel The Other Queen. (In case you’re wondering why I found this bit of history so interesting.)

It’s fair to say that I was unprepared for what I was about to see. I’ve seen beautiful houses before. Beautiful Canadian houses. Nothing like Chatsworth. We didn’t take the time to see inside any of the Palaces in London, so this was my first experience with the kind of art collecting and furnishing that takes place in grand European homes.

Below are a couple of images from the Painted Hall. The paintings were painted in 1687 and depict scenes from the life of Julius Caesar. The 4th Earl of Devonshire commissioned the paintings to flatter the new Protestant monarch, Wiiliam III, with his wife Mary II, on their royal visit. For his aide in helping them to the throne, the Earl was granted the title of Duke of Devonshire in 1694. (What passes for a promotion in the late 17th century.) (Flattery never hurts.)

Since I decided to look this up, here is the ranking of the nobles of England (also known as “the Peerage”) from lowest to highest: Baron/Baronness → Viscount/Viscountess → Earl/Countess → Marquess/Marchioness → Duke/Duchess. There are currently 54 Barons/Baronness titles in England, 3 viscounts, 26 Earls, 1 Marquess, and 11 Dukes.

The 12th Duke and Duchess of Devonshire currently live at Chatsworth House and are dedicated to its ongoing upkeep and improvement. 16 generations of Cavendishes have lived at the Estate.

Every inch of the home was covered with beautiful oil paintings, silk tapestries, ornate banisters and delicate carvings on the wall. It was hard to know what to pay attention to because there were so many different things on display!

Below is the Chapel Corridor.

Below is the Chapel, which was built between 1688 and 1693, a year before the 4th Earl of Devonshire was created the 1st Duke of Devonshire. The room remains almost completely unaltered from that time. The room was inspired by the now lost Chapel at Windsor Castle.

On the second floor are a grouping of rooms that were meant for the reigning King and Queen to stay in on the occasion of their visit. The resident family never stayed in these rooms themselves.

After the State Apartment (which I didn’t take a picture of) the visitor enters the the Great Chamber, which served as a lobby in which members of the Court would have gathered to await the King and Queen. It was also occasionally used for dining. Below is a display of silver-gilt plate and oriental porcelain to illustrate this use.

The painting on the ceiling depicts the Triumph of the Virtues over the Vices.

View from the window of the Great Chamber of the Emperor Fountain and the Canal Pond.

The State Drawing Room is the 1st room in which select members of the Court could retire from the Great Chamber to meet with the royals.

Below are the Coronation Chairs of King George III and Queen Charlotte in 1761. They are unusual because they were carved by a woman, Catherine Naish. They were given to the 4th Duke as a reward for his role at the coronation.

The Mortlake Acts of the Apostle tapestries date to the mid 1630s. They were woven from designs by Raphael that were originally made for tapestries that decorate the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. In 2014 a major conservation project on the tapestries began as they had deteriorated from exposure to light and atmospheric pollution. (This helps to explain why a lot of the houses and palaces are dimly lit.)

Below is a display of Chinese porcelain, highly prized in Europe because the secret for creating true porcelain had not been yet discovered in the West. I love the beautiful chest it is sitting on!

Below is the State Music Room, which was also known as the Second Withdrawing Room or the Green Velvet Room. Stamped and gilded leather now cover the walls, replacing the green velvet of the 18th century.

I’m sorry some of these pictures are blurry. The rooms, as I’ve said, are dimly lit and it’s hard to get a crisp, sharp image. The image below was taken in the State Bedchamber. The bed below was made for Kensington Palace, and is the bed in which George II died (1760).

Below, the silver-gilt toilet service on the dressing table is the most complete example of Parisian silver from this period of time (1694). It was used by a lady when getting ready in the morning.

Now to view some paintings in the South Sketch Gallery.

Below is a portrait of the 5th Duchess Georgiana. Georgiana was a bibliophile, arts patron, and referred to as “the Empress of fashion” by her contemporaries. She was also a little bit scandalous, as the sign below the picture states. Her best friend, Lady Elizabeth Foster, lived in a ménage-à-trois with the Duke and the Duchess. After Georgiana passed away, the Duke married Lady Elizabeth.

The below painting of Georgiana was created in 1785-1787. In 1876 it was stolen from an auction house in London and taken to America by “the Napoleon of the criminal world”, Adam Worth. The theft was widely publicized and It was eventually retrieved and purchased by the 11th Duke of Devonshire and brought to Chatsworth in 1994. The story of the theft inspired a Moriarty caper in the Sherlock Holmes mystery The Valley of Fear.

Viewing some of the many paintings in the Oak Stairwell.

Below is the Queen of Scots Dressing Room, a guest bedroom. The room only takes its name from Mary as she didn’t actually stay in this part of the house (although this was long believed to be the case). Today the rooms are presented as they would have looked in the 19th century.

A ladies’ vanity.

Close-up of some curling irons.

Hand-painted Chinese wallpaper that I absolutely loved, although it didn’t photograph that well.

I also loved this beautiful dressing screen.

Below is the Wellington Bedroom, another guest bedroom.

An imposing wardrobe.

A painting miniature of Marie Antoinette.

The Library! There are over 17,000 books covering six centuries contained here including the scientific manuscripts of Henry Cavendish (1731-1810),who calculated how to weigh the Earth.

Here is a close-up of the beautiful detailed work on the ceiling. The plaster work was done in the late 17th century and the paintings are by Antonio Verrio from that same time period (his work is also in the Painted Hall.)

Below is the Veiled Vestal Virgin, created in 1847 by Raffaelle Monti. It is so beautiful – the marble veil looks so soft and delicate.

The Great Dining Room. The first dinner held here was for the Princess Victoria and her mother the Duchess of Kent in 1832. Victoria was 13 years old and it was the first time she had dined formally in adult company.

The walls are covered in red silk tapestries.

The fixtures on the table are pure silver. I now understand for the first time what it is to “hide the family silver” and why Jean Valjean got in trouble for stealing a candlestick from a church. Because they were real silver. I had never seen real silver dining ware until Chatsworth House. This silverware was created by the leading silversmiths of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

A beautiful chandelier.

The ceiling of the dining room was covered with these beautiful gold roses.

The sculpture gallery was created by the 6th Duke between 1818 and 1834. It is one of the most important collections of early 19th-century European marble sculpture.

This was my favourite sculpture.

I also really liked the pair of cranky lions.

The Cascade was designed by Grillet, a French hydraulics engineer with experience working for Louis XIV, King of France, in 1696.

Great view of the surrounding countryside. There’s a story behind this unobstructed view. There used to be a small village, Edensor, located immediately below Chatsworth but it was moved between 1838 and 1842 by the 6th Duke of Devonshire out of sight over a hill. 145 people still live in the village. There’s rich, and then there’s moving an entire village because you don’t want it to impede the view of your estate rich.

The grounds are massive, with lots of different gardens. There’s also a maze that we had fun exploring.

Beautiful flowers.

View of the southern end of Chatsworth House as we were walking along the Canal Pond.

All of the information that I have used in this post I got from Your Guide to Chatsworth. See Neil, there was a reason I made us drag this increasingly heavy load of guidebooks all over the U.K.!

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