Chatsworth - Fit for a King, Owned by a Duke

I've blogged a little about our 2018 summer trip to the UK but Chatsworth was the reason for our trip to Derbyshire and it's a place I've wanted to visit for years. It's a stately home that could certainly be a palace. Like Blenheim in Oxfordshire, it is a house fit for a King or Queen, though in this case it is owned by a Duke! The family has lots of interesting connections and heritage including the infamous Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire (1757-1806) whose  antics, debts, lovers and political intrigues have been the subject of a fascinating scholarly biography and a 2008 film entitled The Duchess staring Kiera Knightley. 
Indeed if you read about a certain kind of England you are going to run into stories about Chatsworth, as the Cavendish family have had a significant social and economic place in the country for centuries. This is of course only one of the properties that have been historically associated with the aristocratic Cavendish family, others include Bolton Abbey, Lismore Castle in Ireland, Devonshire, Burlington and Chiswick House in London (which I blogged about sometime ago) the nearby Hardwick Hall. 
One of the more recent Duchesses, who effectively helped to revive the fortunes of the house and gardens, was Deborah Mitford, of the famous  Mitford sisters. Her sisters' social and political involvements  were legendary, spanning everything from civil rights and social commentary   - activist Jessica  wrote The American Way of Death in 1963, to well regarded fiction - Nancy was a famous diarist who wrote Love in a Cold Climate among other novels. But it was their political involvements that proved infamous. 
While Jessica was at one time an avowed communist, sisters Unity and Diana supported Hitler and the British fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley, to who Diana was married in 1936 with Goebbles and Hitler in attendance. Unity attempted to kill herself when Germany and Britain went to war but somehow survived shooting herself in the head.   If you're intrigued there's more than you could ever want to read including extraordinary letters between them. For anyone who is interested here's an article from Vanity Fair subtitled "What explains the endless obsession with six British socialites of a bygone era? Probably their beauty, wit, eccentricity . . . and epic split over Hitler’s rise."
The Mitfords are a bit of a red herring as the main story at Chatsworth  is the magnificent house and garden which are open all year. This is a well oiled touristic machine with cafes, shops, tearooms and even a pink van selling champagne on the weekends! 
But all  that can't take away from the startling grandeur of both the house and gardens. Indeed the scale of things is so glamorous at Chatsworth that even the vegetable gardens and greenhouses are destinations in themselves. 
I think this is perhaps the most regal vegetable garden I've ever seen! 
The orangeries is stunning too...
We saw the Duke  making a visit to the kitchen garden, though in a tweed jacket and leather brogues he looked like it was more surveying his domain than getting his hands into the dirt! However, his presence demonstrates how very much this remains a family enterprise and they have done an extraordinary job of commoditizing the house through tours, Christmas programs, concerts and a well know garden show in the summer. This isn't somewhere you'll have to yourself and I'd recommend avoiding the weekends in season. But the gardens are extensive and the house visit is self guided so you can go at your own pace which makes it easy to wait out any small crowds.
Passed through sixteen generations of the Cavendish family Chatsworth House is  extraordinarily beautiful and perfectly situated in the Peak District countryside. The house itself, with its  State Rooms, Painted Hall, Sculpture Gallery is  enormous and quite overwhelming. Modified over  over centuries of habitation the original Tudor manor was replaced with the  current classical facade and extensive Italianate gardens. 
As a visitor you'll see a large number of rooms but the scale of the house means that there are at least 100 rooms closed to the public and the Cavendishes retain large family apartments  with discreet  staircases that enable them to live privately however many visitors there are upstairs.  The word apartment here bears nothing in common which the apartments most of us  are familiar with and the private rooms while familial, have the same proportions and grandeur of those open to the public.
The gardens are enormously varied and I think I'll do a seperate blog post so I can share some of the history and all of my photos with you.  You never know who you'll bum into lurking in the hedgerows! What a romantic chap he is!
The interiors at Chatsworth are as grand a house as you will find in England.  State Apartments were designed in anticipation of a visit from King William III and Queen Mary II. Designed in the baroque style these apartments were reached through the grand Painted Hall. This entrance room  is breathtaking, not too large and therefore impactful in its intimacy, it speaks to the grandeur of the State Apartments above. 
 Here you can see the staircase in a little more detail...
 The baroque apartments are filled with carved details, painting and all the luxuries of the period. They were built for  royalty but unfortunately the visit never materialized. 
Over the years furniture and art was brought from other houses, including Devonshire House in London.
 In addition to the State Apartments the tour includes hallways and stairwells filled with art, indeed the house is a treasure trove of items of all kinds collected over generations and brought back from various Grand Tours.
The Veiled Vestal Virgin carved by Raffaelle Monti between 1846–1847 was purchased by the sixth Duke of Devonshire in Naples. It reminded me of a popular version of the far more evocative 1750 Veiled Christ  sculpture by Guiseppe SanMartino I had seen in  a church in Naples.  
 This is a house designed for  entertainment and indeed in the 1830s the same Sixth Duke modified the house to created more guest bedrooms to accommodate the new fashion for country house parties. Queen Victoria visited several times and apparently was hosted in the dining room below at her first formal dinner the age of thirteen.
Another Nineteenth Century feature was the creation of a Sculpture Gallery in the newly built north wing which has the feeling of a warehouse of lost art, some of dubious taste.
Chatsworth is a delight to visit and the docents in each room are genuinely interested in engaging with you about the house, the family and their history. It's a great place to learn about the architecture as well as the art collection. The house  is not a National Trust  property and is expensive to visit. It is run by the  highly successful charitable Chatsworth House Trust, established in 1981. The trust is dedicated to the maintenance of the house, art and gardens, but it also allows for the family to remain on the property and Chatsworth (rather anachronistically perhaps these days)  retains the sense of being a family home, despite its enormous size. The success of the trust can be measured by the fact that they recently completed a ten year 34 million pound restoration project.
I hope you've enjoyed the tour, whether you are planning to visit or just traveling from your armchair.