Pemberley, Chatsworth House, and the Cavendish Family

Pemberley, Chatsworth House, and the Cavendish Family

Panorama of Chatsworth by Pieter Tillemans c.1725

Every time I write a book about Darcy and Elizabeth, I think of Chatsworth as Pemberley. Even in rereading Jane Austen’s description of Pemberley, it seems to be Chatsworth that she is describing.

Chatsworth by William Marlow c.1770

Elizabeth, as they drove along, watched for the first appearance of Pemberley Woods with some perturbation; and when at length they turned in at the lodge, her spirits were in a high flutter.

The park was very large, and contained great variety of ground. They entered it in one of its lowest points, and drove for some time through a beautiful wood stretching over a wide extent.

Elizabeth’s mind was too full for conversation, but she saw and admired every remarkable spot and point of view. They gradually ascended for half a mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road with some abruptness wound. It was a large, handsome stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high wood hills; and in front a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. They were all of them warm in their admiration; and at that moment she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!

Chatsworth has been the ancestral home of the Cavendish family since the 1560’s. The twelfth Duke and Duchess live in the current house that is the result of a number of changes to the original structure that was started in 1552 by Bess of Hardwick and the land around it. Chatsworth passed to her eldest son Henry Cavendish, and the property was later bought by Henry’s brother, William Cavendish, the 1st Earl of Devonshire. The 4th Earl of Devonshire, William Cavendish, was made a duke in 1694, thus starting the long line of dukes down to today.

Although Pride and Prejudice 2005 had Charlotte mentioning that Darcy supposedly owned half of Derbyshire, Chatsworth is not that big. Derbyshire is about 1,014 square miles or 648,960 acres. Around the Regency era, Chatsworth was much larger than it is now: around 83,000 acres. Not half of the county but a substantial acreage at 13%. That’s why I had Darcy claiming 85,000 acres for Pemberley in ‘Darcy Vs Bingley.’ And, yes, I was criticized for that because Austen mentioned it was about ten miles around the park. To me, that meant around the house. Park is defined as follows:

a: an enclosed piece of ground stocked with game and held by royal prescription or grant

b: a tract of land that often includes lawns, woodland, and pasture attached to a country house

These are the original definitions of park and what Jane Austen would have been referring to, not including the cultivated grounds which could be much more extensive in size.

Much of the history of Chatsworth House has been retained with original furnishings, hand-painted wallpaper, moldings, and painted ceilings, etc. I would love to see it in person. Although it would be more opulent than I would actually be willing to live with, the decorations, murals, and the skilled workmanship, I could appreciate.

The 6th Duke (known as ‘the Bachelor Duke’) was a passionate traveller, builder, gardener and collector who transformed Chatsworth. In 1811 he inherited the title and eight major estates; Chatsworth and Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire, Devonshire House, Burlington House and Chiswick House in London, Bolton Abbey and Londesborough Hall in Yorkshire, and Lismore Castle in Ireland. These estates covered 200,000 acres (810 km) of land in England and Ireland. Wikipedia

Engraving of Chatsworth from Morris’s Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen 1880

Stables can be seen behind the house

However, opulent homes from earlier centuries were going to be problematic with the advent of the 20th century with the wars, taxes, etc.

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 forty-two years later, but the estate was already burdened with debt from the 6th Duke’s extravagances, the failure of the 7th Duke’s business ventures at Barrow-in-Furness, and the depression in British agriculture that had been apparent since the 1870s. In 1912 the family sold 25 books printed by William Caxton and a collection of 1,347 volumes of plays acquired by the 6th Duke, including four Shakespeare folios and 39 Shakespeare quartos, to the Huntington Library in California. Tens of thousands of acres of land in SomersetSussex and Derbyshire were also sold during, and immediately after, World War I. Wikipedia

The Cavendish family had around 83,000 acres in Derbyshire in 1950, but with inheritance taxes, inland revenue, etc., their holdings are less today. Unfortunately, great wealth can also have great problems with it as well.

The modern history of Chatsworth begins in 1950. The family had not yet moved back after the war and, although the 10th Duke had transferred his assets to his son during his lifetime in the hope of avoiding death duties, he died a few weeks too early for the lifetime exemption to apply, and tax was charged at 80% on the whole estate. The amount due was £7 million (£236 million as of 2018). Some of the family’s advisors considered the situation to be irretrievable, and 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 if he could. 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. The family’s Sussex house, Compton Place was lent to a school. The effect of the death duties was mitigated to some extent by the historically low value of art during the post-war years and the increase in land values, subsequent to 1950, during the post-war agricultural revival, and, on the face of it, the losses were considerably less than 80% in terms of physical assets. In Derbyshire 35,000 acres (140 km) were retained out of 83,000 acres (340 km). The Bolton Abbey estate in Yorkshire and the Lismore Castle estate in Ireland remained in the family. Nonetheless, it took 17 years to complete negotiations with the Inland Revenue, interest being due in the meantime. The Chatsworth Estate is now managed by the Trustees of the Chatsworth Settlement, which was established in 1946. Wikipedia

Chatsworth House today

In spite of all the trouble the Cavendish family has experienced, Chatsworth seems to be one of the most popular houses in Britain to visit. The grounds are beautiful and there is a lot to see. The house itself consists of 126 rooms of which nearly 100 are closed to the public.

One item I found interesting is the Cascade.

The Cascade

The Cascade and Cascade House is a set of stone steps over which water flows from a set of fountains at the top. It was built in 1696 and rebuilt on a grander scale in 1701. In 1703 a grand baroque Temple or Cascade House designed by Thomas Archer was added at the top. A major restoration of both the Cascade and the Cascade House in 1994–1996 took 10,000 man-hours of work. In 2004 the Cascade was voted the best water feature in England by a panel of 45 garden experts organised by Country Life.[17] It has 24 cut steps, each slightly different and with a variety of textures so that each gives a different sound when water runs over and down them. Wikipedia

Chatsworth Main Hallway by Martin Hartland

The beauty of past centuries has always caught my eye. Whether its architecture, paintings, wallpaper, carpeting, gardens, or otherwise, I can enjoy it. Though I feel that a person who is a minimalist might have many misgivings about it. 🙂

Dining Room

Library at Chatsworth

And as to Elizabeth Bennet, I think she would appreciate Chatsworth’s library as well. When I look at it, I love the lovely surroundings. They are peaceful and completely conducive to sitting and reading for hours.

If you would like to learn more about Chatsworth and the Dukes of Devonshire, there is a wealth of information available. In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed this brief look at why I think Jane Austen had Chatsworth in mind, at least for the exterior, when she wrote ‘Pride and Prejudice, and some of the reasons why this house and its history have captured my imagination as well. 🙂

Reference: Wikipedia

10 Responses to Pemberley, Chatsworth House, and the Cavendish Family

  1. I am in complete agreement about that 10-miles just around the park alone. I never thought otherwise. Oh, my goodness. That death tax destroyed many family fortunes, estates, and homesteads. Wow! I suppose the country had to get funds from somewhere and someone had to pay even in death. Dang! It seems cruel on one hand. I love this post. The pictures are amazing and I cringe thinking of an Elizabeth walking into a house like that thinking, ‘of all this I am mistress.’ I’d faint dead away. It completely overwhelms me just looking at the pictures. I suppose I am a minimalist. Who knew. Thanks for sharing.

    • You’re welcome, Jeanne. I’m delighted you enjoyed it. Chatsworth’s interior is fantastic and very much a product of great wealth. However, in reading Austen’s comments about the inside of Pemberley, I do wonder if she had another house in mind with a less opulent decor. Then again, she may have loved Chatsworth’s rooms and colorful ceilings and hallways. I think it’s beautiful, but I do wonder how they keep it clean with all the molding and fancy this and that which could get quite dusty easily. Then again, I might be able to get quite used to the beauty, artwork, opulence, etc. etc. if given the chance. 🙂

  2. A wonderful post. I live not too far away from Lismore Castle. It’s in a beautiful part of our county beside a river. The gardens are magnificent.

    • Oh, how neat, Teresa. I had read that the Cavendish’s had property in Ireland but not followed up on it. Linsmore Castle is beautiful. What a great piece of history to be still standing intact. Thank you for your comment. I have more research to do. 🙂

  3. What a beautiful house! I love the library it’s gorgeous! If Pemberly looked like that Elizabeth must have been very happy!

    • Yes, it is very beautiful, Cindie. I think the only objection might be that it would take an army of servants to keep it clean from dust. 🙂

  4. When I imagine Pemberley I vacillate between Chatsworth and Lime Park, but Chatsworth is much larger and much more magnificent. I enjoyed reading all the history you shared, including the two images from the early 1800s. The grounds surrounding Chatsworth at the time must have been incredible. I’m running out of superlatives to describe the place! Thanks for this post.

    • You’re welcome, Nancy. The grounds had to have been fantastic. One thing I didn’t mention was the conservatory. It took ten men’s efforts to keep it going, but sadly all the plants died during the war due to a lack of coal. Eventually it was torn down. But it was apparently magnificent when at its peak. As to Lyme Park, I’ve never been able to think of it as Pemberley. I guess I have to be the odd man out. 🙂

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