Today we said goodbye to the lovely, quaint, picturesque Cotswolds and drove north to the lovely, quaint, picturesque Lakes. It's a bit of a drive to get there (five hours), so we made a break in the journey to hit up Chatsworth.
Chatsworth is by far my favorite of the English country estates I've seen in my life. Nestled in the hills of the Peak District, it's a completely idyllic setting. Surrounded by dear and both natural and man-made water features, it really can't be beat for setting. Unfortunately, it was also under renovation. Again. The last time I came only one exterior wing was up for maintenance, so we could still get good pictures of the house from the right angle. This time the entire freaking house was under renovation (with a few small exceptions) so exterior pictures were limited (at least of the house. The grounds were perfect.) The interior was lovely as well, though I never feel quite right walking around houses like this in trousers. (I can't say pants until I'm back in the States. Pants are underwear here.) I feel like I ought to be in full Regency gear. (Who am I kidding. I feel like I should be in pretty old-fashioned clothing basically all the time. Why else would I do theater?)
Chatsworth is home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. The house has origins back many hundreds of years - though it looks nothing like it did during the Tudor time period, an estate was there during that time. In fact, Mary, Queen of Scots, was held captive there at Elizabeth I's instruction for several years. (Can you still be held captive at Chatsworth? If so, I VOLUNTEER AS TRIBUTE.). Its more recent history involves the figure of the illustrious Georgiana Spencer, wife to the sixth Duke of Devonshire. Georgiana was a fashion icon during her day - as well known to the English as Marie Antoinette is to the French, Georgiana was a fairly powerful woman. One story goes that she wore enormous feathers in her hats. Because she did, every woman wanted to. This in and of itself wouldn't be a problem, but apparently the king personally requested that she stop because women would bend over and their feathers (and then their hats) would catch fire. The king knew that if Georgiana stopped wearing feathers in her hat, everyone else would follow suit.
Unfortunately, she married the Duke when she was just seventeen and their marriage was absolutely miserable. She found comfort in a dear friend of hers named Elizabeth - at least until Elizabeth and the Duke started an affair. Georgiana had an affair herself with another man (Earl Gray) and thought that they could, perhaps, have a nice little mutual arrangement with this illegitimacy with everyone merrily loving whom they wished. Her husband didn't see it this way - he told Georgiana that if she ran off with Gray she would give up rights to her children and never see them again. Georgiana, whatever she was, loved her children dearly. She came back home and somehow managed to move forward, even with her husband and Elizabeth openly having their affair in the house.
She was a woman who must have lived a somewhat miserable life, but she made her mark on the world and on the culture of Chatsworth. She helped mold Chatsworth into a kind of world museum, featuring art and artifacts from all over the world. She herself was a great mineral collector. She even collected some rocks from Vesuvius to bring home (in a day where women rarely traveled far from home.)* Now the house holds many wonders from around the world, including the horns of two Narwhals, relics from Egypt, the largest amethyst I've ever seen, etc.
Chatsworth is still a living museum. One thing that makes it stand out to me in a sea of estate homes that you can visit is how the current Duke and Duchess are still working to add to the art and style of the home. As you walk through the rooms, you see many distinctly traditional things, but you also catch new, unique offerings mixed in. It was fun to see.
The last time I visited Chatsworth the upstairs was primarily dedicated to exhibits on some of the different movies that have been filmed at Chatsworth (there are many). This time the guest rooms were set up more traditionally, which was a treat. One room was the pride and joy of the first Duke who built the house - a grand bedroom intended to house the king when he came to visit. Unfortunately he would never live to see this happen - the first king to actually stay in the room was George the Fifth, who was king during World War I. Some of my other favorite rooms included the library (duh) and the grand dining room. The library flooded into about three more rooms because it was so huge. Every nook and cranny of the room was full of books - as it should be.** The great dining room is a shocking red color compared to the more muted colors in the other rooms. The silver service set out on display is amazing. This was the dining room where the future Queen Victoria first ate an adult meal in public (at the age of thirteen). The poor staff of Chatsworth had to do the meal twice - once for practice before she came, and once again for the main event.
The highlight of Chatsworth to me is the statue room at the end of the tour. It's featured in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice if you want a glimpse of what it's like. (Several rooms in the house were used for Pemberly.) It's dazzling. The detail on the statues is incredible - I've never seen stone look so fluid and alive. The flow of the fabric on the dress of one is so beautiful that you forget it's not really fabric. Apparently the room used to have a bunch of portraits on the walls, but they took them down when they were filming the movie and the Duke and Duchess liked it so much they left the portraits down. Can't say I blame them! There is one notable statue missing from the exhibit - that of Mr. Darcy himself. That bust was obviously created for the film, and now resides in the gift shop. My favorite part about this statue (aside from the fact that you can buy mini versions of it - so much cooler than an action figure!) is that there is a sign next to it requesting that visitors not kiss it. (Who would do that?!!)
The grounds of Chatsworth are as stunning as the interior. We didn't get to see as much of them as I would like (stupid rain!) but we did get to spend about an hour roaming around. They were initially designed by Capability Brown (whose first name, I discovered, was actually 'Lancelot'. Oy. Who does that to their child?!) Capability Brown is an extremely famous designer in this part of the world - you see his name as often as you see Christopher Wren's. He did a smashing job with Chatsworth. It's a wonderful balance of the obviously constructed (there's a rock cascade feature that you can climb up) and the not as obviously constructed (rolling fields with sheep and stags and the like).
I could have stayed for hours, but the wanderers need to wander. We're off to my soul hospital: the Lake District. The green mountains and rolling hills and sheep of the Lake District are the best Balm of Gilead a person could ever ask for. After a week of pretty solid sight seeing, it will be nice to slow down for a few days to take in nature before we head off to our crazy theatrical extravaganza in London. God willing, we'll get some weather that will allow us to really enjoy the Lakes. (Truthfully, our weather has been pretty nice, if overcast, but it has rained every day since we got here. It would be excellent to have good hiking weather!)
*She was in Italy to have Gray's child, but she and Elizabeth stayed on the continent for two years - Georgiana took advantage of this opportunity and took up a great interest in science while she was gone. This continued throughout her life.
**There was also a grand piano that Greg got to play. The little rat has been able to play instruments now in three of the places we've visited - Stourhead, Chatsworth, and Saint Anne's church next to Gloucester Cathedral let him play there organ from the 1700s. Curse my lack of piano ability! They always ask me first if I play and I have to hang my head and say ". . . No. . . ". I can't even answer like Elizabeth with her "Very little" with any amount of truth.