Chatsworth calls itself a “family home, a working community and a living landscape”. Personally, I would call it a palace. This estate has been lived in for five centuries by the same family. Today the house is part of a charity – the Chatsworth House Trust. The Duke and Duchess of Devonshire pay rent to live here and work with the charity to welcome guests to the property. Unlike a lot of sites that I visit this is a location that remains an integral part of current English history. Prince Charles is friends with the Duke and Duchess and, according to the Chatsworth spokesperson, is a frequent visitor in his helicopter.
Chatsworth is located in the Peak District of Derbyshire, southeast of Manchester about 60 miles.
I arrived earlier than usual and less prepared. Normally I research the sights prior to visiting but didn’t have a chance this time. As I drove up the winding road I saw the magnificent palace and took pictures from afar. It is nestled in a valley with a beautiful river running through it. The landscape is speckled with white dots that are “free roaming sheep”. You actually approach Chatsworth from higher ground as you enter the property. It sits on the side of a magnificent hill with a garden next to it that is beyond description.
I drove into the parking lot at 9:00 a.m. and there was no one around. Chatsworth is beautiful, magnificent and breathtaking all in one. I cannot imagine anyone living in such an opulent place. A groundskeeper walked out and told me the garden opened at 10:30 a.m. and the house at 11:00 a.m. Two free hours to explore the area so I was on my way!
Chatsworth sits in a geographic area full of history. In the extra time provided I was able to find three enjoyable locations that I had no plans of visiting and in fact didn’t even know were there when my journey began. Haddon Hall was a 15 minute drive up the road and an estate home built like a small castle dating back almost 1,000 years. Parts of it date back to Norman rule of England (after 1066). I drove through an interesting community called Rowsley just beyond Haddon Hall. There were two magnificent pubs in the area: the Grouse and the Clarinet and the Peacock. The Peacock is an imposing pub with rooms “to let” for the night, like a hotel, dating back hundreds of years. The Grouse and the Clarinet is a youthful 150 years old but also terrific. I stopped at The Grouse for tea and toast and the manager took me around the rooms upstairs. Rowsley is centrally located in the center of the Peak District between Haddon Hall and Chatsworth. It would be a great place to spend the night while visiting the area.
There was also a delightful gated community that caught my attention as I entered the Chatsworth property so I drove back with some time still to spare. Edensor (pronounced Ensor) was amazing. Built by the 4th Duke of Devonshire for his house and property workers, Edensor is a gated community available to all with a variety of cottages from varying European architecture styles built 200 years ago. In the center of the community is a beautiful steeple church.
I was fortunate to find some women walking their dogs and didn’t miss an opportunity to learn more about the community. They explained how the village had once been across the road but the 4th Duke was upset he could see the peasants’ houses from Chatsworth. So he had a new village built and moved the community across the street. All the houses today are still filled by the families of people who work at the house. Widows and widowers are allowed to stay there until they pass or desire to move out. Interestingly enough there was one house that remained on the opposite side of the road. According to legend an elderly man lived in the house that the Duke didn’t want to disturb so he allowed him to stay. His home, as you can see from the picture above, rests in a low spot just outside the village. Without the work of Chatsworth staff it wouldn’t take long to look much different by the forces of nature and the wear of 1,000,000 visitors a year to the property.
I returned to Chatsworth about 10:30 and the parking lot was full of buses and cars. People were everywhere, which says a lot about this attraction. It isn’t close to London and is a bit of a drive outside of Manchester. I paid £15 (about $22) and bought the garden and house pass. It was well worth it.
I started off by spending about 1½ hours in the garden. To the best of my recollection I have never spent that long in a garden but this was not like any I have ever seen. You will see from the pictures I took how splendid and beautiful it was. It was a joy to walk around on a sunny English morning. The garden ended up being my favorite part of the tour.
The house is like nothing I have ever seen. It is more like a living museum than a home with life size portraits, books, paintings, sculptures, precious metals, ceramics, textiles, minerals, furniture and other valuable collectibles from the previous five centuries. I couldn’t even begin to speculate how much money in valuable paintings and sculptures the house had and of course there is no price on old carriages, armor and other pieces of historical value. If I have a criticism it was almost too much. Maybe it was because I was in a hurry to see as many sights as possible but this is one place that requires a full half day or more. There was so much history to take in I felt overwhelmed.
Opulent. That is the only word to describe the home. Estate, palace, manor, mansion….it is all of those things and more. I couldn’t help wonder how people could live with so much when others had so little. Royalty is important to the English people and the average person only spends £75 (about $115) a year in taxes to support the royals, as tourism brings in funds to support it. The Duke and Duchess share part of the house and the garden with visitors 364 days a year so it is hard to say they are not generous.
There are some great areas to picnic, buy lunch, a playground for the kids and lots of places to sit and enjoy the scenery.
The Background and History
Bess of Hardwick was born in Derbyshire and persuaded her second husband, Sir William Cavendish, to buy Chatsworth in 1549. She lived in Chatsworth, a much smaller house at that time, while he spent time at the Royal court in London, a six day journey by horseback or carriage. At that time Derbyshire was a wild and isolated place. She turned the property around and produced luxurious foods from fruit in the orchards, placed carp in the fish ponds, rabbits in the warren and deer in the park (it is illegal to hunt anything in England today).
Bess was married four times and rose from gentry to the highest aristocracy. She and Sir William Cavendish built Chatsworth with the money he made in the service of King Henry VIII. Since Bess there have been a string of colorful and interesting characters that owned and resided in the house. Bess’s second son was given an Earldom. Since the Earl of Derbyshire was already taken he was given the vacant title of the Earl of Devonshire. The 2nd Earl rebuilt the family fortune after the extravagances of the 1st Earl. The Cavendish family supported King Charles I in the English Civil War. After the King’s defeat the 3rd Earl narrowly avoided losing Chatsworth to Parliament. It was the 4th Earl who rebuilt Chatsworth as a Baroque palace, a reflection of his power and ambition. He helped bring William III and Queen Mary II to the throne and they rewarded him with a Dukedom in 1694. The Devonshire House became the center of the Whig party during the 5th Duke’s life and his wife Georgina reigned as queen of society and fashion. For two decades she and the Duke lived in a relationship with Elizabeth Foster who married the Duke after Georgina’s death. The 6th Duke was referred to as “the Bachelor Duke” who was the first major collector. His Head Gardener redesigned and expanded the garden. The Duke also had a door built to provide his Gardener with personal access to his bedroom. The 7th Duke struggled to regain the wealth after the extravagances of the 6th Duke. The 8th Duke refused the Queen’s invitation to become Prime Minister three times. He had to sell off major portions of his family’s land in Ireland to pay the inheritance tax. The 9th Duke was the nephew of the childless 8th Duke. He improved Chatsworth and was Governor-General of Canada. The 10th Duke invited a girls’ school to use Chatsworth during WWII. His oldest son William was killed in action. His son’s wife was Kathleen Kennedy, sister to President John F. Kennedy, who died in an airplane crash. It was the 11th Duke of Devonshire, when faced with an 80% inheritance tax of his land and possessions, who created the Chatsworth House Trust to protect its collections for future generations of visitors. The current Duke and Duchess live at Chatsworth and pay rent to the trust. They have 3 children and 9 grandchildren.
Mary Queen of Scots, a colorful and interesting character in English royalty and politics, was brought to Chatsworth several times as Queen Elizabeth I’s prisoner. There is a story that she used this platform, referred to today as “Queen Mary’s Bower” as an exercise ground.
She was best known as the mother of James I, famous for the King James Bible translation. She was the great-granddaughter of Margaret Tudor, sister to Henry VIII and had a claim to the English throne equal to that of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. Mary was the daughter of James V of Scotland becoming Queen of Scotland upon his death. She married Dauphin Francis who would eventually become King of France. Mary now had claim to the throne of Scotland, England and France. The English were afraid that if she became Queen of England that she would abdicate the throne to France.
This was a very turbulent time in England and Scotland. Wars were being fought over Catholicism and Protestantism. Henry VIII had split the Church of England from the Catholic Church and made the throne of England head of the English church. Wars continued across England for generations on which was the rightful church. As an American it is difficult to understand the amount of death and destruction created in the name of these two Christian denominations.
Back to the Queen Mary’s Bower, this small building was surrounded by a pond that was fed from the river. Evidently people fished from the top of the building for sport or food. As you can see from the picture above there is a large grass area on top of the Bower. Legend is that Mary used this area as an exercise area. Mary was kept under guard off and on at Chatsworth for 11 years but was treated like royalty by her cousin, Queen Elizabeth.
Standing in the beautiful sunshine I looked around from the Bower at the grounds of Chatsworth and could almost imagine Mary Queen of Scots walking around this small grassy area enjoying the scenery. No doubt if Mary had been next to me she would have wondered the same thing I did – how in the world did the sheep, which are allowed to roam free on the estate, manage to get up the stone steps to the top of the Bower? Sheep manure was everywhere and created an odor that made it hard to ignore. Stepping carefully I walked down the steps and returned to my car. It is easy to imagine Mary on the Bower taking in the scenery, walking around stretching her legs or maybe even fishing some 500 years ago.
As previously mentioned Prince Charles and Camilla are frequent visitors. In June 2012 the Queen celebrated 60 years of rule. There was an enormous ceremony in London that is referred to as the “Queen’s Diamond Jubilee”. She flew to Chatsworth for a reception afterwards.
Ratings (Estates ad Royal Houses)
Category Rating: A
Overall Rating: #1
Comments: It is hard to imagine as impressive as the house is that a garden could be equally or even more impressive. The Peak District is splendid with lots of rolling green hills and surprises around the corner. Stay at the Grouse and Clarinet in Rowsley and take a couple of days to see Haddon Hall, Edensor, Chatsworth and Bolsover Castle which isn’t too far. It is a great place for the family to enjoy.