Chatsworth House Style: Five Centuries of Fashion

April 8, 2017

This article was written for Annabel & Grace, which is now part of Rest Less.

Chatsworth is one of our greatest stately homes, the majestic family seat of the Dukes of Devonshire and home to the Cavendish family since 1549. Last year alone it welcomed just under 642,000 visitors to the house and gardens.

Over the centuries there have been many famous members of this notorious family. The ‘new’ house was built in 1533 by Bess of Hardwick, wife of Sir William Cavendish, who became the wealthiest and most powerful woman in England after Elizabeth I. When her husband died she lived there with her fourth husband, the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury. It was during that time Shrewsbury was entrusted with the custody of Mary, Queen of Scots, and brought his prisoner to Chatsworth several times from 1570 onwards.

It was the 4th Earl of Devonshire who was the first holder of the title of the Duke of Devonshire. He was awarded the title by the monarch in 1694 for helping to put William of Orange on the English throne.

Georgiana, 5th Duchess of Devonshire

There have been other famous members of the Devonshire family such as Georgiana, 5th Duchess of Devonshire, famous for her beauty, charisma and fashion style.

In 1944 Kathleen Kennedy, sister of John F. Kennedy, married William Cavendish, Marquess of Hartington, the elder son of the 10th Duke of Devonshire. However, he was killed in action in Belgium later in 1944, and Kathleen died in a plane crash in 1948. His younger brother Andrew became the 11th Duke in 1950. He was married to Deborah Mitford, one of the Mitford girls and sister to Nancy Mitford, Diana Mitford, Pamela Mitford, Unity Mitford and Jessica Mitford.

Fred Astaire’s sister and dancing partner for 27 years, Adele, married the second son of the 9th Duke of Devonshire.

Laura, Countess of Burlington

So you can see from all of this that the House of Devonshire has a colourful history and therefore it is no surprise that they are presenting their largest exhibition ever this year called House Style: Five Centuries of Fashion. The idea started when Laura Roundell, a former model and fashion buyer who is married to the heir to the estate, was searching the house’s textile rooms with her mother-in-law, the current Duchess of Devonshire, for a christening gown. She unearthed a treasure trove of fashion so she invited her friend, Hamish Bowles, the editor-at-large of American Vogue to curate the best pieces into a show. It spreads over most rooms in the house and is sponsored by Gucci.

One cabinet ranges from the belt buckle of Bess of Hardwick to the nose ring worn by Stella Tennant (granddaughter of the 11th Duke)

I love all the personal objects in particular the series of woollen jumpers embroidered by the 11th Duke of Devonshire with slogans such as ‘Never Marry a Mitford” or “Bollocks”.

Of course there are christening gowns, wedding dresses and even fashionable funeral attire displayed in the chapel. Along the ‘Georgiana’ corridor there is a stunning green Galliano dress which was worn by Stella Tennant for a Mario Testino shoot for Vogue.

It is hard to imagine that all of this has been languishing in the attic at Chatsworth – a treasure trove of items that has taken 6 years to be put together into this exhibition.

This is an exhibition that is both for history lovers and fashion fanatics – both boxes that I tick. So I cannot wait to visit in May. For tickets visit the Chatsworth website – click here.

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