So here we have a fine contrast between the Fox family’s tenanted property at Callow Farm, a few miles uphill and upstream in the Derwent valley, and the landlordly premises that ate up farm rents and lead mining royalties and employed armies of local craftsmen and servants.
This, then, is Chatsworth House, the place called home by the Cavendish family, otherwise known as the Dukes of Devonshire. It is one of England’s most imposing stately piles, these days run by the Cavendish family as a charitable trust, and caught here so flatteringly in the October sun. The setting alone is magnificent.
And so how does it come to be here. Whose money built it?
The answer is somewhat convoluted – successive generations of royal patronage is part of it. But so too is Henry VIII’s desire for a male heir and his subsequent break from the Catholic Church, one result of which was the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
If you have ever wondered what happened to the amassed wealth of some 900 monastic estates during Henry’s big 1530s campaign to liquidate holy assets and usurp papal domination, then Chatsworth is one place to look. William Cavendish, courtier and royal employee was a man with a good head for figures and a strong survival instinct, though he did slip up badly in the end.
For a time he held a post in the Exchequer. In 1530 he was also one of Thomas Cromwell’s commissioners who visited the monasteries to audit their wherewithal and demand its surrender to the Crown. This included the lead off the roofs, which would have been worth a fortune by itself, and its stripping key to the physical dissolving of monastic edifices, which disintegration happened pretty soon after the weather got in.
It is said William took unfair advantage of this appointment. On top of this he was officially rewarded by the king with a knighthood and estates in Hertfordshire. He continued to enjoy royal favour even as his former boss, Cromwell, fell from grace (and was beheaded). Cavendish was despatched to Ireland to repeat the property assessing exercise. When Henry died he remained in the young Edward VI’s court and was granted still more monastic land. He even managed to hang on when Mary Tudor succeeded (he having paved the way by sending the Lady Mary tokens of loyalty before her accession). When she returned the nation to the Catholic Church he conformed and so gained a post as her Treasurer of the Chamber (1546-1553). It was here he rather over-reached himself. In late 1557 when the auditors arrived in Westminster to discover what he had been doing while in office all those years, they found the accounts in a shambles. Sir William was accused of embezzlement. He then died pretty much at once thereby avoiding further unseemly exposure, but begging for clemency for himself and his family.
It was during his years of service to Mary Tudor that he married for the third time – a rich young Derbyshire widow, Elizabeth Barley. She would later become [in]famously known as four times married ‘Bess of Hardwick’. She wanted to live in her native Derbyshire and so Sir William sold up all his monastic acquisitions and in 1549 bought the then lowly manor of Chatsworth for £600. Thus began the massive building of the first Cavendish family seat, which was only completed by Elizabeth after Sir William’s death. She would later go on to build the even more astonishing Hardwick Hall. She also the founder of the Cavendish Chatsworth dynasty, bearing 8 children during her marriage to Sir William.
Thereafter the heirs sought and bought titles, including the Earldom of Devonshire, and it was the 4th Earl who gained a further step up by being rewarded with the dukedom (1694) – this for his part in bringing Protestant William and Mary to the English throne. It was also the 1st Duke who went in for some massive rebuilding, including most of what we see today. He began by adding more family rooms and the extravagant State Apartment for receiving the new monarchs. Once started, however, no frontage could be left untouched. He also had the formal gardens laid out on a jaw-dropping scale. This included the famous Cascade, though he lived to enjoy its creation for only four years after its completion in 1703.
The 4th Duke (1720-64) decided the house should have westerly approach, which meant demolishing the 1st Duke’s stables since they interfered with the view. He also relocated the village of Edensor where his staff and tenants lived, so it too did not spoil the view. Architect James Paine was commissioned to build the new stables we see today plus a new bridge upstream of the house.
And Capability Brown was engaged to make the now enclosed park look more ‘natural’. In the meantime the Duke found a vastly rich heiress to marry and acquired even more property and family titles.
The 5th Duke was famous for marrying celebrated beauty and socialite, Lady Georgiana Spencer. They lived in London but had lots of jolly house parties at Chatsworth. They also lived happily in a menage a trois with Georgiana’s best friend Lady Elizabeth Foster. The 6th Duke never married, but nearly bankrupted the estate with all his ‘improvements’. These included funding plant expeditions around the globe and having his head gardener Joseph Paxton construct the Emperor Fountain (85 metre/280 feet of jet). The fountain meant draining the upland moor into an 8-acre man-made reservoir on the high ground above the house.
On the day we visited the jet was on short measures due to the high wind.
The 7th Duke (1808-1891) was apparently a sober successor to the Batchelor Duke, a sad widower who lost his wife when she was only in her twenties. For thirty years he maintained strict economies in the running of the estate. Our family legend has it that my great grandmother Mary Ann opened the tenants’ ball with him one year, she as the eldest daughter of the oldest tenant family on the estate. He is said to have remarked to her on her family’s long presence in the locality, far longer than his own, he said. He would have been quite elderly at the time, and Mary Ann perhaps in her late teens or very early twenties. The blue silk covered buttons from the dress she wore were apparently kept down the generations, and still in my grandmother’s sewing basket when my mother inherited it. I’m not sure if I have a real memory of seeing them or not. Anyway, it was not long after this that Mary Ann ran off with the Bolton spindle manufacturer, and had her more usual bright print country dresses scoffed at by the dark clad women of Farnsworth.
When we went around the house we had hoped to see the ballroom, but when Graham asked the attendant she said it was in the family’s private quarters and had been turned into a theatre. And as for the interior rooms we did see, and the severe outbreak of aggravation they induced in me, they and it will have to wait till the next post. For now, here’s the Emperor Fountain making a rainbow, which we very much enjoyed.
copyright 2018 Tish Farrell
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