Friday, November 9, 2012

Constant Curiosity | Her Grace

A while back I became fascinated by Chatsworth, the house that stood in for Pemberley in the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightley.  I've seen the film several times, but when Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle tour Pemberley, I was a goner, and not just for Mr. Darcy. 

Of course,  I started investigating Chatsworth House, considered one of grandest of the English country homes (the roof alone covers more than an acre.) The evolution of the house and the family with each generation adding their particular stamp (and stuff) could take a lifetime to study.  The original structure dates from the 1550's and there are 297 rooms, with about 25 open to the public.   

When the 12th Duke, Peregrine (Stoker) Cavendish, and his wife became residents they cleaned out the attics and had a boot sale (yard sale to us Yanks.)   I bet they used all 100+ acres of the Chatsworth gardens.  The English aristocracy were the first hoarders.  They never threw anything away, except when it became necessary to sell the Van Dyck to pay the death taxes.

In the past 450+ years, Chatsworth has served as home to many of the Dukes of Devonshire, and some of their Duchesses, including Her Grace, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, Deborah Cavendish, nee Mitford.  Yes, those Mitfords.  The notorious sisters:  "Diana the Fascist, Jessica the Communist, Unity the Hitler-lover; Nancy the Novelist; Deborah the Duchess and Pamela the unobtrusive poultry connoisseur".[2] 

In my avid dilettantism, I read all about the Mitfords and the Cavendishes, but my favorite character in this centuries-old drama remains Debo, (after all she does ask people to call her that; why not me?) the Dowager Duchess, who is wonderfully eccentric, and who numbers among her passions chickens and Elvis Presley.  I really enjoyed her autobiography, Wait For Me (she was the youngest of the Mitford siblings) and a collection of letters exchanged with Patrick Leigh Fermor:  In Tearing Haste

My dream is to someday visit Chatsworth House.  With any luck, it will be the day of another boot sale and the Dowager Duchess will be presiding.  Oh well, a girl can dream, can't she?


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