Chatsworth House: A Rendezvous with Mr. Darcy

For those of you who know me well, you know that one of my absolute favorite films is the 2005 version of Pride & Prejudice, starring Keira Knightley. Now, before anyone starts an uproar, I also enjoy the 1995 BBC mini-series. However, considering its total length of nearly 6 hours, I often find myself gravitating to the newer rendition instead with its dazzling cinematography and enchanting score (which I often listen to whilst studying). For those unawares, Chatsworth House was used for filming the scenes at Pemberley, Mr. Darcy’s estate, in the 2005 film.

Everything about the estate is extravagant, even from the start. Lush. Decadent. Gilded. Its simultaneous magnitude and emphasis on minute intricate detail is altogether breathtaking. Chatsworth belongs to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and has been passed down through 16 generations of the Cavendish family. The history of Chatsworth began with Elizabeth Talbot, known as the Countess of Shrewsbury or Bess of Hardwick. A native of Derbyshire, she married four times and became the second most powerful woman in Elizabethan England (after the Queen, of course). It was in partnership with her second husband, Sir William Cavendish, that she bought Chatsworth in 1549.

Visitors at Chatsworth today can view magnificent works of art that span 4,000 years — ancient Roman and Egyptian sculptures, masterpieces by Rembrandt, and work by modern artists, including Lucian Freud, Edmund de Waal, and David Nash. The statue seen above (which you may remember from the 2005 film) is “A Veiled Vestal Virgin” by Raffaelle Monti — ordered by the sixth Duke of Devonshire after a visit to the artist’s studio in Milan, Italy. Other treasures include an extensive geological collection and the library’s early copy of Audubon’s The Birds of America and a prayer book that once belonged to Henry VII and then Margaret Tudor. (The library also possesses many volumes of poetry, perhaps partially due to the influence of Georgiana, the fifth Duchess of Devonshire, who dabbled as a poet herself. She is portrayed by Keira Knightley in the 2008 film The Duchess, which was also filmed at Chatsworth.)

The gardens and grounds of Chatsworth are no less exceptional than the interior of the manor, featuring a Victorian rock garden, a labyrinthine yew maze (which I proudly navigated in record time), a waterfall, and acres of other wonders. There are over five miles of walking trails and impressive gravity-fed waterworks abound, such as the 300-year-old Cascade seen above on the left. There is a prominent focus on sustainability that can be especially seen in features such as the Kitchen Garden, which supplies fruit, vegetables, and herbs for the manor house and has done so for years. 20 gardeners total are necessary to keep the estate pristine.

The greenhouses at Chatsworth are acclaimed throughout Britain. However, some grander elements have been lost. During and after the World War I (1914-18), there was not enough coal to heat the conservatories and, therefore, many plants, especially of tropical varieties, died. Because of the expense of restoring, maintaining, and heating, the property’s renowned Great Conservatory built by Joseph Paxton, the largest glass building in England of its time, was demolished in 1920. Still, horticulture is very much alive at Chatsworth. When we visited, the RHS Chatsworth Flower Show was in full swing, which is quite the affair. We declined visiting its separate encampment of vast white tents (think The Great British Baking Show multiplied by five), begonias, and ferns as admission is separate and ranges upwards of £34.00 per person. Tickets are now on sale for the next flower show, June 5-9, 2019, if you’re interested.

Visiting Chatsworth House was one of my favorite memories from my trip to the UK! As I strolled around the gardens and it began to softly rain, I couldn’t help but think about the appeal of moving to some little cottage in Bakewell and being able to pop over to Chatsworth for picnics in the summer or their cozy Christmas market in the winter. As you exit the manor through the gift shop (oh, how clever), you come face-to-face with a bust of Matthew Macfayden (the anointed Mr. Darcy of 2005) — a lingering prop from the film. A cheeky sign underneath reads, “Please do not kiss.” Or perhaps it isn’t so cheeky; maybe, in the past, this has been a real issue. Of that I cannot be sure, dear readers. Regardless, when I saw the likeness, I could not help but recall the iconic scene shot in Chatsworth’s sculpture gallery:

“Do you not think him a handsome man, miss?” “Yes. Yes, I dare say he is.”

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