If walls could talk, what would the walls at Chatsworth have to say?
A great deal I’d bet, considering the number of aristocrats, politicians, socialites and even royals who have lived within its walls. Chatsworth House is one of very few English country houses still owned by the family that built it and a brief history of this family – their triumphs, their trials and their scandals – offers snapshot of life in the uppermost echelons of society that spans over 500 years.
The story of Chatsworth House begins with the formidable matriarch, Bess of Hardwick. Bess was born in 1527 and over the course of her 81-year life rose through the ranks of the British nobility by marrying four husbands, each more powerful than the last, and outliving them all.
With her second husband, Sir William Cavendish, Bess bought Chatsworth Manor in 1549 at a cost of £600. The manor was nowhere near grand enough for Bess and the couple immediately set about building a large country house on the land.
Bess was often referred to as the second most powerful woman in England, after Queen Elizabeth I, and she had a complicated relationship with the Queen.
On the one hand, Bess’s grandaughter, Arbella Stuart had a legimitate claim to Elizabeth’s famously unstable throne. On the other, Bess did Elizabeth the great service of acting as custodian of Mary, Queen of Scots, who was intermittently held prisoner at Chatsworth House.
The rooms in which Mary was held at Chatsworth were located on the east side of the house and are still known as the Queen of Scots Apartments although their interiors are dramatically changed.