It was back in February when I first got to know of Chatsworth House. I was watching a Netflix series on the Secrets of Royal Palaces and one of the episodes was on Chatsworth House, a grand estate, home to the Cavendish family since 1549. That episode really intrigued me. The history behind the house and its inhabitants, the opulence, all upped my interest level and I made it a point to visit the estate once I returned to the UK.
The opportunity came in April. I was going to Sheffield for two weeks and I got to know that Chatsworth was only a 40 minute bus ride away. And the best thing was that the House was now open to public. For nearly a decade, it was undergoing a restoration worth 32.7 million pounds with the aim of bringing the 500-year old House to its original glory and the doors opened again in March. It seemed as if the universe wanted me to visit. Plans were chalked out, bus tickets from Sheffield Interchange to Chatsworth House were bought and on a cold, Sunday morning, five of us set out to explore this stately home.
History of Chatsworth House
Chatsworth is home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and has been passed down through 16 generations of the Cavendish family. It was built by Sir William Cavendish and then passed down to his son William, who rebuilt Chatsworth over a period of twenty years. During the Georgian period, Chatsworth was owned by five different Dukes of Devonshire, all named William. The 5th Duke William in 1774 married the vivacious and fashionable Lady Georgina Spencer (Lady Diana’s ancestor) and that’s when the story becomes interesting. Georgina after her marriage learned that her husband already had a mistress, Charlotte, with whom he had a daughter and all that he wanted from Georgina was a male heir. Possibly frustrated with her marital life, she threw herself into the world of extravagance, throwing lavish parties and gambling away her riches. The story gets even more interesting when she traveled with her husband to Bath in 1782 and met Lady Elizabeth Foster or Bess. The two ladies became great friends and Bess came to Chatsworth to live with them. Unfortunately, her husband and Bess started an affair soon and strangely, Georgina accepted the “menage a trois” that resulted. After Georgina’s death, William married Bess and she became the new Duchess of Devonshire.
Many books have been written on Georgina’s life and the various scandals at Chatsworth as well as movies have been made. A recent one is The Duchess starring Kiera Knightley which was actually shot at Chatsworth House. Watch it if you are interested 🙂
The Chatsworth Estate
The estate is huge and is the size of nearly 20 football fields as told by our guide inside the house. It is located in the Peak District which is one of the most beautiful and picturesque locations in the UK. The estate includes the House, Farmyard and Playground and a 105 acre Garden. The price for tickets to see all of these is 23 pounds for adults and 14.50 pounds for children. If you don’t want to see everything together, prices are slightly lower. We did not go to the playground and only bought tickets for the House and Garden which was 21 pounds. If you are taking a car, it is better to book tickets online from www.chatsworth.org else you will need to pay a charge for parking. We took a bus that dropped us off right in front of the gates so we just got our entry tickets from the counter.
The Chatsworth Garden
I have honestly never seen a garden this big and this beautiful! The history of the garden is also an illustrious one. It was first started in 1555, then restored around 1811 on a grand scale and then changed again around 1858.
Highlights of the Garden include beautiful green houses to grow exotic plants, Fountains, a Cascade, a Vinery, a Maze, a Kitchen Garden, Summer House, Golden Grove etc. I went at a time when everything was grey and dull and I can only imagine how spectacular the garden will look in full bloom.
The garden is huge and if you want to see everything, it will take you approx 2 hours to walk around. If you are lazy like I am, you can also book a buggy ride for about 5 pounds to take you around. The person who was driving my buggy gave me a valuable piece of information – Bollywood has also explored Chatsworth House. Some parts of the horrible film Humshakals was also shot there!
Trivia – Around 1834, William, 6th Duke of Devonshire received a shipment of bananas from Mauritius. He liked them so much, he ordered his gardener to cultivate them in the greenhouses of Chatsworth House. And those bananas were names as Cavendish Bananas.
At first glance, the House reminds you of The Palace of Versailles and I got to know that the French Palace was actually an inspiration to the Dukes when they were building and remodeling the house. Inside, the opulence and grandeur is breath taking. Have you seen the 2005 film Pride and Prejudice? Remember the scene when Elizabeth Bennet goes exploring in the sculpture gallery of Mr. Darcy’s house? Well that house in the film is Chatsworth House and that sculpture gallery very much exists.
As soon as you enter the House, you realize that you are in the midst of some remarkable and precious works of art collected by the Cavendish family over generations. You get to see centuries-old sketches by the Great masters, ancient Egyptian statues, and luxurious interior decorations interspersed with contemporary art pieces especially that of ceramic, something that the current Duke of Devonshire is very interested in.
The Painted Hall is one of the most stunning rooms with a grand staircase leading to the first floor and balconies on both sides. The Painted hall is striking because of the murals painted on the ceilings.
Ascend the stairs and you come to the State Apartments. The first Duke hoped that King William II and Queen Mary would visit him in Chatsworth and the rooms as they were prepared for the royal couple are there for us to see. The King and Queen never came down but if they did, they would have definitely liked those rooms!
The House is full of Sketch Galleries and one of the rooms is full of art from Da Vinci, Raphael, Rembrandt and Guercino. One of the most striking pieces of art in the House for me was the Veiled Statue of the Vestal Virgin by Raffaele Monti.
In the South Sketch Gallery is a stunning portrait of Duchess Georgina made to look like Goddess Diana. Georgina was said to be very interested in collecting crystals, fossils and minerals and we can still see some of the pieces that she brought into the house.
Chatsworth House is not just a mecca for art enthusiasts but also for bibliophiles. There are nearly 30,000 books in the Library including some original manuscripts and works.
There’s so much to see in Chatsworth that it is very difficult to condense everything in a blog post and I realize that I’ve already written a lot. It is a beautiful and fascinating place with a riveting history. If you are ever in the Derbyshire area, definitely make it a point to visit the estate. I am sure you will be as marveled by it as I was.