A truly remarkable woman
Last week brought us the sad news of ‘Debo’ Deborah Cavendish – the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire – passing away at the age of 94.
A privileged woman from a high society home, she was the youngest of the notorious Mitford sisters, who were never far from the public eye. Entertaining the company of Adolf Hitler, eloping with cousins, and wedding fascist leaders, were just a few of the things that made the sisters legendary; they were faced with public outrage throughout their younger years.
Perhaps the quietest sister of the six, Deborah married Andrew Cavendish in 1941. In 1959 the couple inherited Chatsworth House in Derbyshire.
Swathed in debt, the 175-roomed manor and additional 105 acres of land would be a momentous challenge for anyone to manage. Driven by a passion for the rural lifestyle and the understanding that such a beautiful building shouldn’t simply go to waste, Deborah dedicated her life to returning Chatsworth to its former glory, and opened its rooms and the grounds to the public. Her hard work and dedication made her known as the ‘housewife Duchesse’.
With the success of Chatsworth and its farm shop, her life achievements will be remembered, and she will continue to entertain us all with her series of books about the property, and the memoirs of her remarkable life.
A woman who is remembered by many as ‘witty’, ‘enchanting’ and ‘honest’, was also a great friend to Prince Charles, who said: "My wife and I were deeply saddened to learn of the death of the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, whom both of us adored and admired greatly. The joy, pleasure and amusement she gave to so many, particularly through her books, as well as the contribution she made to Derbyshire throughout her time at Chatsworth, will not easily be forgotten and we shall miss her so very much."
Not only a lifestyle icon, she was also greatly admired for her fashion sense; she forged a lifelong friendship with Hubert de Givency, and often invited powerhouses of fashion such as Oscar de la Renta and Valentino as guests to Chatsworth. Model Stella Tennant is her granddaughter, and Mario Testino pictured them together at Chatsworth for a photoshoot featured in Vogue.
As Derbyshire women ourselves, we have been inspired by how she made fashion and rural life look effortless together – reminding us that we can walk the dogs, run a business, or even feed the chickens whilst still looking our very best in what we wear.