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Chatsworth: Stunning Estate Which Can Claim A Royal Employee

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Hopefully, you saw that William and Kate have added an Away Day in Wales on the 8th of November. On Sunday they will almost assuredly be on hand for the Remembrance Sunday at the Cenotaph, and now Kate has added an engagement on the 12 of November visiting with young athletes for SportsAid. A busy week/end for them...and so for us! While we wait, though, I wanted to go over some recent news relating to both the Duke and the Duchess...let's start with William.

Chatsworth House Website

While I think a lot of people will realize that they already knew this, if they sift through the mental archives, the news that William spent time working at Chatsworth in 2005 got a fresh run this week when an autobiography was released by housekeeper Christine Robinson. The Express reported:
She says: He spent a week working around the estate and made sausage rolls and mince pies. Then he spent a week at the house, dressed in overalls, drinking tea and eating fish and chips with the rest of the housemen and joiners. We were staging a ballet in the theatre, but discovered the stage was too short and had to be extended. He was carrying planks of wood through the shop dressed in workmen’s clothes. The look on visitors’ faces was priceless, most obviously thought to themselves, ‘That joiner is the double of Prince William.’ When two old ladies came straight out and asked him he admitted he really was the heir to the throne. He was, of course, charming.
Well, of course. :) I am particularly interested by this news resurfacing so soon after the death of Her Grace, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, aka, Deborah "Debo" Cavendish. When the Duchess died this autumn, I stumbled upon some very interesting pieces that detailed how hard she had to work to maintain Chatsworth House. 

View of Courtyard
Chatsworth Facebook

À la Downton Abbey, Chatsworth was under the strain of death duties. When Debo's father-in-law, the 10th Duke of Devonshire, passed away unexpectedly at only 55, the estate was forced to pay 80% death tax!  The couple had to draw on all their resourcefulness and ingenuity to save the estate.
The old Duke died in 1950, and the family had to pay the Attlee government's 80 per cent death duties. 
Many grand estates suffer from harsh economic conditions and crushing taxes, and many estates have had to adapt to survive. The Duke and Duchess of Devonshire's success in revitalizing their ancestral home and creating a successful business that provides the needed income, has become something of a blueprint for other large estates around the UK. The Telegraph expressed her success thus:
At first, her ideas appeared eccentric, but owners of other stately homes soon followed her lead. Richard Compton, president of the Historic Houses Association, said her legacy was not only the long-term health of Chatsworth, but of other stately homes that followed suit.
The Washington Post ran an obituary on the Duchess describing the stats in a little more detail:
The great challenge facing her and her husband was how to resuscitate the houses and estates that came with the dukedom, principally Chatsworth, a honey-stoned palace with 297 rooms, more than an acre under roof and 112 fireplaces. 
It had been neglected and used and abused as an academy during the war. More to the point, the postwar tax laws in Britain imposed a punitive levy of 80 percent of the value of the estate.
They resolved to save Chatsworth by selling a second 16th-century palace, Hardwick Hall, along with many works of art. It took 24 years to settle the debt. 

As the matron of one of the most important historic homes in England, she found that she had an entrepreneurial streak that turned the once-moribund property into a thriving enterprise, with 600,000 visitors a year. 
She started a farm shop, renovated hotels and restaurants for visitors, and helped to initiate an agricultural show and equestrian events. The house’s setting in the idyllic Peak District of Derbyshire made it a favorite for film crews drawn to its backdrop, at a price.
Chatsworth is widely believed to have been Jane Austen's inspiration for Pemberley, and although the beloved 1995 version with Colin Firth used Lyme Park House in Cheshire, the 2005 Keira Knightley adaptation used Chatsworth as Pemberley's location.

In the 2008 movie The Duchess, Chatsworth played itself. This is one of my favorite period dramas. The Duchess is the partial story of Georgiana Cavendish, the most famous Duchess of Devonshire in history, although her recently deceased successor may prove quite notable as time moves forward. At the time is was produced, promotion for The Duchess put heavy emphasis on the distant relationship between Georgiana and Diana, Princess of Wales. Georgiana was born at Althorp and was a Great-(x4)-aunt of the late princess. 

The Duchess Movie

Georgiana was a good friend of Marie-Antoinette and there is a heavy French influence seen in Georgiana's artistic taste as a result. You can see Chatsworth on television now most beautifully as featured in the just released BBC mini-series Death Comes to Pemberley. I know many purists will poo-poo a sequel of Jane Austen's sacred work, and a murder mystery at that, but if you can leave the connection be, as best as possible, and enjoy the show as a separate entity, the incredible shots of Chatsworth's interior are stunning.

Interior decorated for Christmas
Chatsworth Facebook

Enough of art and architecture and interior design and back to...William making mince pies. The point is, William worked at Chatsworth for a brief time, and I imagine it was really an educational endeavor for him, just as he undertook his course at Cambridge. As the leading example of a successful estate navigating the modern land-mines of the ancestral property world, William must have gotten a pretty solid understanding of what it takes for his social class to continue to hold onto the lands and properties that have been passed down for centuries. His time at Chatsworth will contribute to his wisdom in the future when he ascends the throne to be crowned king.


  1. I watched the second part of Death Comes to Pemberley this past Sunday. I thought it was great!

    1. I was too busy that night, so I haven't seen the 2nd part yet, but I am excited to finish it soon!

  2. Oh my!!! What a stunning home, words really can't describe it. Hats off to the late Duchess for all the blood, sweat and tears she put into saving such a wonderful piece of history!!

    My first thought when I heard about Kate's Sport Aid engagement was, Oh No not the dreaded skinny jeans and striped shirt again!!! However, it just struck me that she's pregnant and might not be able to fit into them at this point. :):) So, I'm looking forward to seeing what she will wear to this engagement. Now before anyone gets too upset, I'm not against Kate wearing skinny jeans, just not the same baggy, faded blue pair she seems to wear so frequently to any type of sporting event. I would really like to see her upgrade to a nice pair of trousers or even khaki's for more casual engagements.

    Thanks Jane for such an informative post and the lovely pictures of Chatsworth House.

  3. I LOVE this post; Chatsworth, IMO, puts Highgrove and Sandringham House to shame and is about to displace Buckingham Palace. Nor can Balmoral match it, except when it comes to grounds.

    The Royal Family seems to have made a right royal mess of things, financially. Monetarily ignorant, themselves, they appear to have relied upon the poor advice of courtiers/syncophants, the aristocratic idiots they tend to befriend. It seems to me that had it not been for Charles, and his desperate and on-going need to redeem himself and Camilla in the eyes of the public, professional--smart advisors--aid would never have been brought in. And, of course, the public refusal to pay for fire damage to Windsor Castle, back in 1992, was a serious wakeup call for the Queen. Until that point, I rather think that HM, not very bright, actually thought that the British public would perpetually run to the rescue.

    Enuf rant. Congratulations to the Duchess of Devonshire, and her advisors, who managed to save Chatsworth, altho not without struggle. It is a magnificent edifice.


  4. I visited chatsworth this summer. Its a gorgeous place to visit and their gift shop is addictive! Thanks for your informative post. Have been following your blog for a while and I love it.

  5. I could not agree more about those pants. Faded and worn, they need to be replaced with something better quality. I can appreciate that she wishes to look young and sporty, but the jeans are faded, worn and to me, no longer look professional. She is working when making these appearances and I feel this lacklustre outfit no longer does her causes justice.

  6. Fantastic post. Love hearing about these different snippets of information. Chatsworth is one place I would love to go to so seeing some new photos Ive not seen before was great. Simply stunning

    Glad to hear Kate is up and about. Perfect timeing to ensure I have some study breaks.


  7. Carmen, The NetherlandsNovember 4, 2014 at 3:00 PM

    Lovely post! I absolutely adore the picture with the Christmas decorations! When we traveled to Scotland last month for our honeymoon, we visited many castles and it's always so very lovely and entertaining. Glamis Castle (where the Queen Mum grew up) was my favorite, but Inverary Castle was also great, since they filmed the Downton Abbey Christmas special in 2012 there :)
    Thank you for a very interesting post!


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