Chatsworth: English Baroque Masterpiece

Home to the aristocratic Cavendish family since 1549, and passed down through 16 generations, Chatsworth House is the seat of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire.

Standing on the east bank of the River Derwent, Chatsworth looks across to the low hills that divide the Derwent and Wye valleys. The house, set in expansive parkland and backed by wooded, rocky hills rising to heather moorland, contains a unique collection of priceless paintings, furniture, Old Master drawings, neoclassical sculptures, books and other artefacts. Chatsworth has been selected as the United Kingdom's favourite country house several times.

Chatsworth House, Derbyshire.

Chatsworth House, Derbyshire.

Chatsworth House, Derbyshire. South front facade.

Chatsworth House, Derbyshire. A magnificent Hall Bench Settee by William Kent (1685-1748). This type of wooden bench and matching hall furniture were created by William Kent for the great entrance halls of the newly built Palladian mansions of the 18th century. They were the first furnishings to greet any visitor and, through the use of quality materials, skilled workmanship and exquisite design Kent was able to communicate the grandeur, wealth and taste of his patrons (Susan Weber, William Kent Designing Georgian Britain, London, 2013 p. 481).

Chatsworth House, Derbyshire. A superb carved marble baroque door surround

Chatsworth House, The Painted Hall. A superb George II period walnut and gilt armchair, c. 1730

Chatsworth House, The Gallery. Wonderful examples of William Kent furniture

Chatsworth House, The Gallery. Wonderful example of William Kent giltwood chair

Chatsworth House

Chatsworth House, the Wellington Bedroom. A superb Regency satinwood armchair, c. 1830

Chatsworth House, the Smoking Room. An imposing pair of library armchairs of the finest quality, en suite with the pair of sofas from the Painted Hall; possibly by Gillows of Lancaster.

Chatsworth House, the Gallery. A delightful brasswork detail of a fine Regency bookcase or display cabinet, c. 1810.

Chatsworth House, the Staircase. The malachite clock, a part of a suite, gift from the Russian Emperor Nicholas I.

Chatsworth House, The Painted Hall. Detail of a superb George II period walnut and gilt armchair, c. 1730. Note the crisp carving and the well-balanced ornament.

Chatsworth House, a superbly carved overmantle, attributed to Samuel Watson (1662-1751), who worked in Gibbons's style at Chatsworth between 1691 and 1711.

Chatsworth House, a detail of superb wood carvings attributed to Samuel Watson (1662-1751), who worked in Gibbons's style at Chatsworth between 1691 and 1711.

Chatsworth House, a detail of superb wood carvings attributed to Samuel Watson (1662-1751), who worked in Gibbons's style at Chatsworth between 1691 and 1711.

Chatsworth House, a detail of superb wood carvings attributed to Samuel Watson (1662-1751), who worked in Gibbons's style at Chatsworth between 1691 and 1711.

Chatsworth House, a detail of superb wood carvings attributed to Samuel Watson (1662-1751), who worked in Gibbons's style at Chatsworth between 1691 and 1711.

Chatsworth House, a detail of superb wood carvings attributed to Samuel Watson (1662-1751), who worked in Gibbons's style at Chatsworth between 1691 and 1711.

Chatsworth House, a detail of superb wood carvings attributed to Samuel Watson (1662-1751), who worked in Gibbons's style at Chatsworth between 1691 and 1711.

Chatsworth House, Derbyshire. Superbly carved overmantle in the State Dining Room (originally the Great Chamber), attributed to Samuel Watson (1662-1751), who worked in Gibbons's style at Chatsworth between 1691 and 1711.

Chatsworth House, the State Dining Room (originally the Great Chamber). A detail of the fireplace carving, attributed to Samuel Watson (1662-1751), who worked in Gibbons's style at Chatsworth between 1691 and 1711.

Chatsworth House, a detail of superb wood carvings attributed to Samuel Watson (1662-1751), who worked in Gibbons's style at Chatsworth between 1691 and 1711.

Chatsworth House, a detail of superb wood carvings attributed to Samuel Watson (1662-1751), who worked in Gibbons's style at Chatsworth between 1691 and 1711.

Chatsworth House, a detail of superb wood carvings attributed to Samuel Watson (1662-1751), who worked in Gibbons's style at Chatsworth between 1691 and 1711.

Chatsworth House, a detail of superb wood carvings attributed to Samuel Watson (1662-1751), who worked in Gibbons's style at Chatsworth between 1691 and 1711.

Chatsworth House, a detail of superb wood carvings attributed to Samuel Watson (1662-1751), who worked in Gibbons's style at Chatsworth between 1691 and 1711.

Chatsworth House, a detail of superb wood carvings attributed to Samuel Watson (1662-1751), who worked in Gibbons's style at Chatsworth between 1691 and 1711.

Chatsworth House, the Scultpure Gallery. Diskobolos preparing to throw, by Mathieu Kessels.

'The 6th Duke of Devonshire, William Spencer Cavendish, had a bit of a thing for going to auctions'. In particular he liked to buy marble. He had the sculpture gallery purpose-built following a trip to Italy in 1819, where he fell in love with the work of Italian sculptor Antonio Canova.

Chatsworth House, the Scultpure Gallery.The Wounded Achilles, Filippo Albacini 1777-1858

Chatsworth House, the Scultpure Gallery. Letizia Ramolino Bonaparte, Napoleon's mother, by A. Canova, 1808. Note the bold design of the Klismos chair

Chatsworth House, Derbyshire. West front facade.

Chatsworth House, Derbyshire. The grounds.

The history of Chatsworth begins with Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury, better known as Bess of Hardwick - the second most powerful woman in Elizabetthan England after the Queen. Bess married four times, and it was with her second husband, Sir William Cavendish. They bought Chatsworth manor for £600 in 1549, and in 1552 began to build the first house on the site. Queen Elizabeth I appointed Shrewsbury as custodian of Mary, Queen of Scots, who was a prisoner at Chatsworth at various times between 1569 and 1584.

William, their second son, held various important positions and was created Earl of Devonshire in 1618. However, it was not until the 4th Earl, when the main house was rebuilt to resemble what we see today. He was a leading member of the Whig party, serving as Lord Steward for the new king, and in 1694 he was created the Duke of Devonshire and the Marquess of Hartington in recognition for his services. By this time Chatsworth had fallen into a poor state of repair, and the 4th Earl began some much-needed work on the old house. The new Chatsworth was finished just before the Duke died in 1707.

The 6th Duke (known as 'the Bachelor Duke' as he never married) was a passionate traveller, builder, gardener and collector who transformed Chatsworth. In 1811 he inherited the title and eight major estates. Extravagant and charming, he loved entertaining his friends and spent 47 years improving his many houses. In 1830 the Duke converted rooms on the east side of the house into guest bedrooms. People invited to stay at Chatsworth spent their days hunting, riding, reading and playing billiards. In the evening formal dinners would take place followed by music, charades and smoking for the men. Women would return to their bedroom many times during the day to change their outfits. These guest bedrooms at Chatsworth are the most complete set of bedrooms from the period to survive with their original furnishings. In October 1832, Princess Victoria (later Queen Victoria) visited Chatsworth where she had her first formal adult dinner, at the age of 13, in the new dining room. The 6th Duke had another opportunity to welcome Victoria in 1843 when the Queen and Prince Albert returned to be entertained by a large array of illuminated fountains. A keen collector in all areas, the Duke formed a particularly important collection of sculpture which was housed in the purpose-built Sculpture Gallery in the new North Wing.

In the early 20th century social change and taxes began to affect the Devonshires' lifestyle. When the 8th Duke died in 1908 over £500,000 of death duties became due. This was a small charge compared to what followed 42 years later, when the 10th Duke died. The amount due was £7 million (£216 million as of 2015). There was a proposal to transfer Chatsworth to the nation as a Victoria and Albert Museum of Northern England. Instead, the Duke decided to retain his family's home. He sold tens of thousands of acres of land, transferred Hardwick Hall to the National Trust in lieu of tax, and sold some major works of art from Chatsworth. Nonetheless, it took 17 years to complete negotiations with the Inland Revenue. Now Chatsworth House is managed by the Trust, created in 1981 to preserve the house and its setting for "the benefit of the public."

Source: Chatsworth House; Wikipedia; images: Peacock's Finest

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