A Very Great Lady - The Duties of the Mistress of the Robes - A Ducal Mother - Teasing the Lizard - Bess of Hardwick - An Unruly Earl - The Tables Turned - Plumbers' Bills of the Past - "Grinling's Masterpiece" - A Prayer of a Tudor Princess - A Trying Hoax - The Stolen Duchess
Among the foremost chatelaines of the day is undoubtedly the Duchess of Devonshire.
A daughter of Lord Lansdowne, the Duchess has been used to Court and social life all her days, and her wide experience admirably qualifies her for the duties of chatelaine alike of Chatsworth, and of other palatial residences owned by the Duke.
Besides her social and home duties, the Duchess of Devonshire, as Mistress of the Robes to Queen Mary, holds a very important office.
Although at the present time the Mistress of the Robes has not actually to perform the duties of tire-woman to the Queen, as she was required to do in olden times, still her duties are somewhat onerous, and her responsibilities great, as, technically, the Mistress of the Robes is mother of the Queen's maids.
She has to accompany Her Majesty to all state ceremonies, and follow her in any procession.
First a Mother, then a Duchess
Once the Duke and Duchess were driving down the main walk at Chatsworth on their way to some local function.
Instantly, the Duchess stopped the carriage and ran to pick up the little one.
One of the nurses, surprised at her mistress's action, said that she would have lifted the child up.
"I never forget that I am a mother first, and a duches afterwards," was the reply of her Grace.
Some charming unrehearsed effects were introduced once by Lord Charles Cavendish, the youngest, who at the time of writing (1912) has attained the dignity of four years.
The theatre is a comparatively recent erection, though Chatsworth itself dates back to the time of William the Conqueror.
In those early days, however, it was an unimportant place, and even in a later reign was valued only at about 20s.
He died before he could finish his plans, and their completion was left to his widow, the famous Bess of Hardwick, who afterwards became Countess of Shrewsbury.
This lady, so tradition says, had a firm belief that she would never die as long as she continued building, so year after year she kept on adding to the house, until at last a hard frost threw the masons out of work. Curiously enough, she then fell ill and died almost immediately.
In 1687 her great-great-great-grandson, who afterwards became the first Duke of Devonshire, decided to rebuild the house entirely, and he it was who helped greatly to make Chatsworth the beautiful place that it now is.
A curious train of circumstances led up to the undertaking.
His Grace, it appears, had made himself very unpopular at Court, and his troubles culminated when, in a fit of exasperation, he seized one of the courtiers, in the Presence Chamber, and swung him round by the nose. For this offence he was fined an enormous sum, and sent to the King's Bench prison, there to stay until the money was paid.
This was not at all to his lordship's taste, and he managed somehow to escape to Chatsworth. When the sheriff and his men came to re-arrest him, he neatly turned the tables, and kept them prisoners at Chatsworth, although he, too, was forced to stay there also.
Casting about for some task on which to employ his energies, this greatly daring duke resolved to restore and alter his historic home.
He was a staunch Protestant and made haste to build himself a chapel at great expense, for which the famous Verrio painted his world-renowned picture. "The Incredulity of St. Thomas," which hangs there still, a cherished possession.
No pains or expense were spared to make the mansion lovely.
The designs and accounts are still carefully preserved, and make interesting reading.
One account particularly - namely, the plumbers' bill, reminds us that the fraternity has changed but little since those distant days. A certain Mr. Cocks, having sent in a bill of £1,000 for work done, £236 was deducted as an excessive charge.
The Duke kept hard at work for several years, and entirely rebuilt a great portion of the old house, and the Chatsworth of to-day is a monument to his artistic taste.
The floor is of exquisite black and white marble, and the walls and ceiling were painted by Laguerre and Verrio. The latter also executed a great deal of work in other parts of the house, notably the ceiling in the state dining-room, a beautiful design of gods and goddesses, among whom sit the Fates cutting the thread of life.