Chatsworth sits in the most incredible valley, it’s scale and beauty open up as you enter the 400 hectares of parkland and take in the peaceful Peak District landscape.
The house stands out proudly from its surroundings as probably the finest example of an English stately home and one of the county’s top visitor attractions. It also contains one of Europe’s finest art collections.
Before entering the house, we took an hour or two walking around the gardens which were so spectacular and peaceful at the same time. The views from the top of the cascading water fall down the slope toward the house are sublime. The maze is made up of 1,200 yew trees and is stunning. The Emperor Fountain to the right of the house from the front is a Grade II listed building.
The closer you get to the house from all angles the more impressive it becomes. It is set, above the River Derwent, in what is without doubt the most impressive surroundings of a house or building I have ever seen anywhere. On a beautiful, crisp, sunny autumn day there can be very few places in England better for a country walk.
Chatsworth’s story begins with the tale of a woman who was the second most powerful woman in Elizabethan England after Queen Elizabeth I. Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury, more popularly known as Bess of Hardwick who married four times.
Upon her second marriage to Sir William Cavendish, she convinced him to sell his former monastic lands in Suffolk and move to her home county, Derbyshire, in the Peak District. For a measly £600, they bought what was then simply known as Chatsworth Manor in 1549 and quickly set to work transforming it from a Tudor mansion into a Baroque masterpiece in 1552 on the banks of the river Derwent. Since then, it has been the seat of the Duke of Devonshire and home to the Cavendish family.
After the death of Sir William in 1557, Bess would marry twice more. In 1567 she married George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury who was appointed as custodian of Mary, Queen of Scots by Queen Elizabeth I. Queen Mary stayed here throughout the 1570s with her first visit for one month in May 1569. Her apartments are still named after her all these centuries later. There is a moated structure in a series of Elizabethan fishponds, known as Queen Mary’s Bower, where she used to take the air. Within the ground there is also a The Hunting Tower which dates to around 1580.
There are over 170 rooms (around 30 open to the public) with every room and space overflowing with objects of luxury and historical interest. I have never seen so many fantastically painted ceilings in one building. It feels like you are walking through a series of churches and Emperor’s rooms in Rome as you then glance through a window and see the pure green of the rolling Derbyshire hills. It is magnificent opulence personified (surely for pure ridiculousness the windows are even gilded with 24 carat gold leaf). My thoughts kept coming to “imagine living here, imagine owning that, imagine the parties that have happened here”
In the 17th century, Jane Austen stayed at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire while she wrote Pride and Prejudice. It is believed that the stately home inspired Pemberley, My. Darcy’s estate
The list of visitors to Chatsworth is endless, from Sir Anthony Hopkins, Benicio Del Toro and Kiera Knightly shooting here to Lucian Freud who was one of the 11th Duke of Devonshire’s first guests to stay at Chatsworth when he visited in the autumn of 1959. Prince William spent a fortnight working and living incognito at the mansion in October 2005. Dickens and Darwin were honoured guests. Elton John played two concerts here in 2000 and 2004.
Gucci designer Alessandro Michele called Chatsworth House “the most rock’n’roll place I have ever been”
In 1963, American president John F Kennedy travelled to Britain to pay his respects to his sister, who is buried on the Chatsworth estate, in Derbyshire. It was his last ever visit to the UK – a few months later he was assassinated. Kennedy had travelled to Britain on June 29, 1963 on a private pilgrimage to lay a wreath at his sister Kathleen’s grave in the churchyard close to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire’s stately home. The president’s sister married the Duke’s elder brother in 1944, but he was killed on active service in Italy a few months later. Kathleen Kennedy then became the heir to the famous estate, but died in a plane crash in the South of France in 1948. JFK had even delayed talks with then Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in order to fly to Derbyshire. Security was intense, with presidential agents and police sealing off the village churchyard at Edensor throughout the visit.
We were told that Queen Elizabeth had spent the night here only a few months previous which wasn’t part of an official or published event.
Chatsworth is also home to numerous Old Master drawings. I was looking forward to seeing some of Da Vinci’s but was informed these were off on their travels. There were plenty more to see and without hesitation one of the assistants pointed to a Rembrandt right behind me. The marble gallery is also phenomenal – I particularly liked the Colossal head of Napoleon Bonaparte by Antonio Canova dated to around 1803 – 1806.
The estate itself includes several whole villages and even after driving for a good 20 minutes it is likely you are still on the estate lands.
You could probably visit here at least four times throughout the year in different seasons and have four completely different experiences, each as magical as the rest.
It is truly a place you have to see to believe.
Date of visit – 12th October 2019