In an age where family ties to the land go back only a few generations, Chatsworth House has an unbroken, inherited legacy of 12 twelve generations that have owned this vast estate.
The very epi-center of England’s power base was formed at this palatial manor graced by royalty, heads of state and the aristocracy. It is undisputedly, one of the greatest homes in England.
Chatsworth House was built by Sir William Cavendish and his wife Bess of Hardwick. They bought the 1,000 acre estate land in 1549 and construction of the house started in 1552.
Their second son William became heir in 1605 and was created Earl of Devonshire in 1618. The Earl acted as King Henry VIII’s commissioner for the dissolution of the monasteries.
After Sir William died his wife married George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, who Queen Elizabeth I appointed custodian of Mary Queen of Scots, held prisoner at Chatsworth between 1569 and 1584.
Only those very wealthy were asked by the crown to harbor prisoners due to the high costs of guarding the Scottish Queen.
Few changes were made at Chatsworth until the late 17th century, when in 1686 the 4th Earl demolished the South Front and built new family quarters and fantastic State Apartments for the upcoming Royal Visit from William and Mary.
In 1694 he was created the first Duke of Devonshire for helping to put William of Orange on the English throne. Although only initially wanting to rebuild the South Front, the Duke enjoyed building and also completed the Painted Hall and long gallery, which is now the Library.
Landscape architecture of the large, formal gardens was designed by George London and Henry Wise. A Frenchman, Grillet built the famous Cascade and Thomas Archer designed the waterside house from where it starts.
The desire to build again proved irresistible to the Duke, who later rebuilt the West Front from 1699 to 1702 and finally the North Front.
The Canal Pond was built in 1702. William Talman was the architect for the South and East Fronts, but it was possibly designed by the Duke himself, who helped supervise the masons.
The North facade, with its bow front, was designed by Thomas Archer. This new and improved Chatsworth was completed in 1707 just before the Duke died.
The 2nd Duke, William Cavendish, enjoyed the fruits of his parent’s labor and became a serious collector of art, coins and Cavendish began a library of 12,000 books on science and many other topics.
The 3rd Duke served for seven years as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and was Member of Parliament in the House of Commons from 1721 until his father’s death, when he became a member of the House of Lords in 1729.
Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole was his friend and the exceptional Van Dyck portrait of Arthur Goodwin, which still hangs in the Great Dining Room, came from Walpole’s collection.
The 4th Duke was a prominent Whig politician and like his father before him, served as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and became Prime Minister of England as well.
The Duke made significant changes to the park and garden and restructured the house approach to be from the west. The old stables, cottages and offices interfered with the view from this side and were razed.
The architect James Paine was commissioned to build the new stables in 1763, with the river altered and a new bridge built upstream of the house. The land to the west of the river became the park known today.
The most famous and talented landscape architect, Lancelot Capability Brown, was assigned the task of removing the first Duke’s formal gardens and giving the park a natural, romantic look which became all the fashion.
The Duke married Lady Charlotte Boyle, the only surviving daughter and heiress of the architect and connoisseur 3rd Earl of Burlington.
This marriage brought new estates to the Cavendish family, including Lismore Castle in County Waterford, Londesborough Hall and Bolton Abbey in Yorkshire, Burlington House and Chiswick House in London.
The 5th Duke, William Cavendish, married the beautiful and beloved Lady Georgiana Spencer. She and her friend Lady Elizabeth Foster were painted several times by Sir Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough.
Lady Elizabeth became the mistress of the Duke and had two children by him. Interestingly enough this did not interfere with her friendship with Georgiana, whereby the ménage à trois continued for years.
The Duke and Georgiana lived mainly in London, but when they were in residence at Chatsworth, it was filled with friends, family, writers and mostly politicians. The house was open for people to tour when they were gone and one day a month dinner was provided for whoever came.
John Carr of York was commissioned to redesign the decoration and furnishings of the private drawing rooms on the first floor at Chatsworth. They had three children, the eldest Georgiana, married the 6th Earl of Carlisle. Her daughter Lady Blanche Howard married her cousin William, who eventually became the 7th Duke of Devonshire.
The 6th Duke was known as the Bachelor Duke and was Duchess Georgiana’s only son, succeeding his father at the age of 21. Extravagant and charming, he was a prince of hosts.
Although he never married, the Duke loved entertaining his friends and spent the next 47 years improving his many houses and collecting objects of every kind with which to embellish them. He bought two complete libraries, many paintings and sculptures.
The architect Sir Jeffry Wyatville was hired to build the long North Wing at Chatsworth. Later, Lismore Castle in County Waterford was also rebuilt. Such expenditure taxed even his resources and he was forced to sell property in Yorkshire, including most of the town of Wetherby and his estate at Londesborough.
The Duke became intensely interested in gardening after he met Joseph Paxton, a young gardener working in the Horticultural Society’s gardens at Chiswick, which adjoined the Duke’s property.
Paxton was appointed to head gardener at Chatsworth in 1826 and together they changed the garden into what is seen today. Plant-collecting expeditions were sent to the Americas and the Far East.
Giant rockeries were introduced and the ‘Conservative Wall’ glasshouse was built. Paxton designed and constructed the Emperor Fountain, the jet in the Canal Pond which tops 280 feet on a calm day.
This engineering feat entailed draining the moor into an eight acre man-made reservoir and was completed in only six months.
The most famous of Paxton’s achievements was the building of the Great Conservatory, built of wood, iron and glass, which was the predecessor of the Crystal Palace, which he built for the Great Exhibition of 1851 in Hyde Park.
Unfortunately the Great Conservatory was abandoned during WWI and was demolished soon thereafter. A maze now grows in its place.
William Cavendish, 2nd Earl of Burlington became the 7th Duke in 1858. He was the grandson of the 6th Duke’s uncle Lord George Cavendish.
A scholar, the Duke excelled in mathematics and became Chancellor of London University at the young age of 28. He later was appointed Chancellor of Cambridge University and founder of the Cavendish Laboratory there.
Spencer Cavendish became the 8th Duke and served in Parliament for over fifty years. Greatly respected in the Liberal Party, he played a major role in the cabinet of Prime Minister Gladstone and other Liberal governments.
When asked by Queen Victoria to be Prime Minister three times, the Duke refused. He was in strong, vocal opposition of Home Rule for Ireland and little wonder, given his family’s rule over Ireland for generations.
In 1892 the Duke married Louise, widow of the Duke of Manchester and the ‘Double’ Duchess entertained lavishly at Chatsworth where King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra were regular visitors. The Duke and Duchess had no children and upon his death, his nephew Victor Cavendish was inherited the estate.
The 9th Duke and his wife Lady Evelyn Fitzmaurice, daughter of the 5th Marques of Lansdowne and Viceroy of India, had seven children. He was a Member of Parliament and like most of his predecessors loved politics and continued in the House of Lords after the death of his uncle. He held office as Financial Secretary to the Treasury and was Governor-General of Canada.
When the Duke and Duchess moved to Chatsworth in 1908 a lot of work had to be done to the house, including the complete renewal of the drainage system. Meanwhile the Duchess focused on the various collections becoming very knowledgeable about each houses contents.
Her husband was an attentive landlord and enjoyed his farm and the sporting life. The Duke was the first to have to pay the dreaded death duties, which amounted to over half a million pounds. Added to that was the huge debts incurred by the 7th Duke’s failed business ventures, forcing the sale of major assets.
All the collectable books in the Library, John Kemble collection of plays and rare first editions of Shakespeare were sold in 1912 to the Huntington Library in California, while Devonshire House was sold in 1920.
When Edward Cavendish succeeded his father as the 10th Duke in 1938 he and his wife Lady Mary Cecil, daughter of the 4th Marquess of Salisbury, planned to make many improvements at Chatsworth, but instead war broke out.
In May 1944 the Duke’s eldest son William, Marquess of Hartington, married Kathleen Kennedy, sister to US President Kennedy. Only four months later he was killed in Belgium while serving with his regiment, with Kathleen died in a plane accident in 1948. Having no heirs, the prior Dukes son Andrew Cavendish succeeded to the title in 1950.
Andrew Robert Buxton Cavendish the 11th Duke of Devonshire married Deborah Mitford, daughter of Lord Redesdale, in 1941. He served in the war, was Mayor of Buxton and later was a minister in the Conservative government.
The Duke and Duchess had three children and so upon the Duke’s death at the age of 55, once again the family faced death duties at the outrageous rate of 80%, which had to be paid.
Nine of the most important works of art and many rare books, as well as Hardwick Hall and its farms and woods were surrendered to the Treasury in lieu of cash. Thousands of acres of land and many other assets were sold. The negotiations took seventeen years to complete and the final payment was made in 1967.
The Duke and his family lived at Edensor House, but in 1957 the decision was made to move back into Chatsworth. Internal modernization, including plumbing, updated electric and new central heating were installed as well as changes of use for some of the rooms. A new kitchen was installed near the private dining room and six flats were created for staff members and their families.
In November 1959 the work was completed and the family moved into the house, while the house, garden and park were the given to a newly created Trustees of Chatsworth on the condition that no public funds go toward any upkeep and the garden receives 620,000 visitors to pay for upkeep.
By the year 2000, the 11th Duke had held the title for 50 years and on his death in 2004, he was succeeded by his son Peregrine Cavendish, the current 12th Duke of Devonshire. Still living on the estate, the family pays a market rent for the use of its private apartments in the house, while the cost of running the house and grounds is estimated at £4 million a year.
The Dowager Duchess of Devonshire is very active in promoting the estate and increasing its visitor income. She is responsible for many additions to the gardens, including the maze, the kitchen, the cottage gardens and several commissions of modern sculpture. She has also written seven books about the Chatsworth estate.
Such is the living, breathing history of this grand dame. A relic of the past now preserved for future generations through public cooperation and private family devotion to balance the legacy of this “Palace of the Peak District”.