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My Love Affair with Chatsworth,
This review is from: Round About Chatsworth (Hardcover)
My love affair with the Cavendish family began when I read the only book ever written about Kathleen (Kick) Kennedy "Her Life and Times" by Lynne McTaggart; "the best thing America ever sent to England" and the darling of World-War-II English society who met and fell in love with Billy Hartington who took her to Chatsworth where fourteen previous generations of Cavendish's had lived.
Where did it all began? The journey I embarked upon took me back in time to Bess of Hardwick, born into the most brutal and turbulent period of England's history who did not have an auspicious start in life. This remarkable woman, widowed for the first time at sixteen, she nonetheless outlived four monarchs, married three more times, and died one of the wealthiest and most powerful women the country has ever seen; building an empire of her own: the great houses of Chatsworth and Hardwick.
The next stop of my journey took me to Chatsworth, one of England's grandest and most visited great houses; a funny, informative and engrossing portrait and of the family with which the house and its contents are intertwined as told by the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire (Deborah) in her book "Chatsworth the House."
The occupants of this great house beginning with Bess of Hardwick, later the Countess of Shrewsbury (1527 - 1608) up until the present owner, Peregrine Cavendish, 12th Duke of Devonshire.
I must admit my favourite Duke was the Sixth Duke, William Spencer Compton (1790 - 1858) fondly known as the Bachelor Duke. His love of Chatsworth, his delight when a new wonder was added to the many already there, his passionate interest in the house and the garden, the intense satisfaction of the great years of creation with Joseph Paxton, his gardener and friend, his pride of ownership and extreme liberalism in his wish to share the enjoyment of his possession with anyone who might be passing, and his keen appreciation of work done for him by his employees.
The next stop of my journey was the book "Round About Chatsworth" by the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire. A legendary place that has been presided over by the same family for more than 450 years, Deborah tells the story of the glorious and superbly kept estate that surrounds Chatsworth. This book brought me to the remarkable Mitford family as portrayed by Mary S. Lovell "The Mitford Girls" - a biography of an extraordinary family which inspired dozens of books but surely this book one of the best. Six daughters born between 1904 and 1920 of the charming eccentric David, Lord Redesdale and his wife Sydney had been quite ordinary women, encompassing the most traumatic century in Britain's history, and the status to which they were born, made their story a fascinating one. The "mad, mad Mitford's" were and are far from ordinary.
But my favourite Mitford girl most definitely is the youngest girl Debo. A funny, witty and loveable character telling her story in "Wait for Me!" describing her parents, talking candidly about her brother and sisters and their politics, finally setting the record straight. Unity her elder sister, however a close second; anyone who loves pet rats are very special. Simply the most remarkable little animals - like their owners, intelligent, clever, funny, adorable; loveable traits rolled into one remarkable personality.
At the age of twenty-one Debo married Andrew Cavendish, who succeeded as the 11th Duke of Devonshire. With an enthusiasm and ability to get things done, she played an extremely active role in restoring and overseeing the day-to-day running of the family house and gardens, and in developing commercial enterprises such as the successful Chatsworth Farm Shop and Children's Farmyard.
Deborah is a natural writer; she has a knack for the telling phrase, hitting the nail on the head, culminating in a host of books by this witty author.
My journey ends with "In Tearing Haste" - letters between Deborah and Patrick Leigh Fermor as edited by Charlotte Mosley.
In spring 1956 Deborah invited the writer and war hero Patrick Leigh Fermor to visit Lismore Castle, the Devonshire's' house in Ireland. This halcyon visit sparked off a deep friendship and a lifelong exchange of sporadic but highly entertaining letters full of laughter and humour, these letters will delight Leigh Fermor and Mitford fans alike.
Sadly Fermor died on June 10, 2011 at age 96. A linguist, novelist, soldier, conversationalist and romantic, he left school at 18 to walk across Europe, a tale he told later in two books, "A Time of Gifts" and "From the Woods to the Water."