The situation of Chatsworth is peculiarly beautiful. It stands on the east bank of the river Derwent, near the bottom of a high and finely wooded hill. The house consists of an immense quadrangle, with two principal fronts. The approach to it is by a bridge built by Paine, it is said from a design by Michael Angelo. In the niches between the arches are four marble figures.
It was not in the present mansion that the royal captive, Mary of Scotland, was detained. It was in the original Chatsworth House, built by Sir William Cavendish about the middle of the sixteenth century. This was a quadrangular building with turrets, on the same site as the present house; and was in the possession of the Earl of Shrewsbury. To his charge Queen Elizabeth committed her unjustly held captive, the unfortunate Mary Queen of Scots. She allowed the earl not quite a hundred a year for the expenses of his charge and her attendants; and the noble jailer was consequently greatly out of pocket by the duty thrust on him. Moreover, his wife, the celebrated Bess of Hardwick, grew jealous of their beautiful guest, and made his life miserable in consequence. He never failed, however, in kindly courtesy to Mary, and it was at his entreaty that Elizabeth permitted him to take the captive queen to Buxton for the baths; to try their effect in curing her rheumatism, caused doubtless by the damp of Tutbury Castle, one of her places of imprisonment; for she was taken to Sheffield Castle, then to Tutbury, next to Winfield House, and again to Chatsworth.
During the civil wars old Chatsworth House was occupied at different times by both parties. In 1643 it was garrisoned for the Parliament, and in December of the same year was taken by the Earl of Newcastle, who put a garrison in it for the king, under the command of Colonel Eyre. In September, 1645, it was still held for the Royalist cause, though with a fresh garrison and commander, Colonel Shalcross. It was besieged by the Parliamentarians under Major Mollanus, but the siege was raised by command of Colonel Gell.
The fourth earl, and first Duke of Devonshire, planned and rebuilt the house. Talman was the principal architect, but Sir Christopher Wren was also employed there. as was Cibber as a stone carver, and the Watsons for the wood carving. They were natives of the county, and are thought to have worked under Gibbons, who gave the designs. Sir James Thornhill, Verrio, and Laguerre were the painters.
The armorial bearings and motto of the Cavendishes are carved on the west facade of the house, which has Ionic columns and a balustrade ornamented with vases.
The south front looks on a beautiful lawn, ornamented with magnificent fountains. Many of the private apartments are in this front.
In the park, where every varied moorland beauty is to be found, but not far front the house, is a small clear lake, half concealed by thick foliage, and in a sweet secluded spot.
In the centre of it is a tower, and on the platform at the top is a garden or lawn, on which are several fine trees, especially a wide-spreading yew tree. There is a light balustrade round the platform, and the view from it across the park, where the deer feed, and the river flows gleaming and glittering in the sunlight, is very charming. It must even have soothed by its beauty the troubled spirit of the captive queen who was allowed to take the air here.
But here, as elsewhere, she was most care fully guarded. Armed retainers of the earl stood at the door of the tower, and beyond where the steps ended. She could have had no hope of escape; for the hills of the Peak surrounded her, great moors stretched beyond, and everywhere the eyes of guards followed her. How she must sometimes have thought on Lochleven, and that escape by moonlight, with little William Douglas for her guide. For thirteen years Queen Mary lived at Chatsworth. She tried to beguile the weary hours with needlework, we are told "all day she wrought with her neydill, and the diversity of colours made the work seem less tedious, and she contynued (continued) so long at it till the very pyne (pain) made her give it over."
It is impossible in our space to give a full description of the magnificent interior of this house, or rather palace.
The grand entrance hall is painted with the life and death of Julius Caesar.
The staircase has steps of rock amethyst and variegated alabaster, guarded by a richly gilt balustrade. The drawing room is painted by Thornhill; the second drawingroom is hung with Gobelin tapestry. The state apartments are superb. They are lined with exquisite woods, and adorned with carvings and old paintings, and hung with Gobelin tapestry of Raffaele's cartoons. The state dining-room has wood carvings which are absolutely perfect, nor must we omit to mention the pen carved over the door of the ante-chamber, which may be actually taken for a feather. The great northern staircase is of oak, richly gilt.
The fittings of the chapel are of cedar, with which it is wainscoted; the altar is made of the fluors and marbles of Derbyshire, sculptured by Cibber.
The Sketch Galleries contain paintings by Rubens, Raffaele, Titian, and all the greatest artists; and the Sculpture Gallery contains very fine works of that art; it is lined with Devonshire marble. Here are exquisite statues and busts, and two lions carved out of a solid block of marble, nine feet long by four feet high.
Next to the Sculpture Gallery is the orangery, which has thirty orange trees, from Malmaison, and some marble basreliefs by Thorwaldsen.
In the garden, to which we pass from the orangery, is an immense tropical conservatory, covering an acre and a quarter. It has a carriage drive through it, and is rich in lofty palms, bananas, and other eastern trees, with flocks of birds of brilliant tropical plumage. Here, also, is the hothouse built for the Victoria Regia Lily, which requires such excessive heat; it was designed by Sir Joseph Paxton, and suggested the gigantic glass palace of the first exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851.
The pleasure-grounds are more than eighty acres in extent, and have every possible beauty of woodland, rocks, and water. There is a large cascade which descends with great noise and velocity down a precipitous rock, forty feet high, and after running a little distance disappears in the ground. The fountains are magnificent; the principal one throws water to the height of a hundred feet.
At the back of Chatsworth, on the highest summit of the hill, is a building called the Hunting Tower. It is square, with a round tower at each corner, and rises to the height of two storeys above the ground floor. The whole height is about ninety feet it commands a fine view, and is believed to have been built that the ladies of the house might watch the stag-hunt from it. It is probably as old as the first house. At present its only use is to support the flag of the Duke of Devonshire as Lord Lieutenant of the county.
Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort visited Chatsworth, and were given a most magnificent reception by their ducal host.