CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Derbyshire Life today CLICK HERE

Deborah Vivien Cavendish, The Dowager Duchess of Devonshire DCVO (1920–2014)

PUBLISHED: 09:24 10 November 2014 | UPDATED: 20:21 23 October 2015

The 11th Duke and Duchess of Devonshire

The 11th Duke and Duchess of Devonshire

Chatsworth Photo Library

It is a tired cliche, but nevertheless true, that the death of the last of the Mitford sisters marks the end of an era

The Hon. Deborah Vivien Freeman-Mitford was born on the 21st March 1920, the youngest of six sisters – daughters, of the 2nd Lord Redesdale (their only brother Thomas died of wounds in Burma in World War II). Her siblings were all formidable characters including brilliant author Nancy Mitford and Diana Mosley. ‘Debo’ as she was always affectionately called was also an author of considerable ability.

‘Debo’s’ main talent came into play when she married Lord Andrew Cavendish younger son of the 10th Duke of Devonshire. The Duke’s heir, William, Marquess of Hartington, fell in action during the War so Lord Andrew became Hartington and eventually Duke himself when his father died in 1950. His wife thus became chatelaine of one of Britain’s finest houses.

The enormous death duties at the time meant the very existence of Chatsworth, one of the nation’s most cherished treasures, was seriously threatened. It could have meant the break-up of an estate which had flourished since the l6th century and the consequent plight of many employees and tenants, some of whom had been associated with the family for generations.

It can be fairly said that the new Duchess with the help and approval of her husband the 11th Duke saved the major part of the estate. She herself contributed more than anyone else to Chatsworth since her hero the 6th Duke. Debo and her husband worked tirelessly over a number of years to pay off the huge ‘debt’ to the state. They had to part with Hardwick Hall (now National Trust), several very important works of art and much land. The Duchess introduced money-making schemes such as the Farm Shop and the spectacular and very popular Carriage House Restaurant in the stables. Her latent talent for business came to the fore and millions were raised, enabling the family to move back into Chatsworth and restore it to its former glory.

What of the Duchess’s private self? She had much tragedy in her life but was a very kind and friendly person with some quirky ideas such as her admiration for Elvis Presley and her love of poultry. My favourite story is of her showing a party around Chatsworth pointing out the Rembrandts, the Lelys, the Canova sculptures and much more. One of the party asked ‘Who is Your Grace’s favourite artist?’ She replied without hesitation ‘Beatrix Potter’. She had a point.

There is so much more to say about the Duchess but her life’s work saving Chatsworth will endure in fame as long as the literary works of her siblings, and perhaps longer.

Related links:

Remembering Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire

Pat Ashworth looks back on treasured memories of past meetings.

Funeral of Deborah Vivien Cavendish DCVO

Deborah Vivien Cavendish DCVO (1920-2014) was laid to rest on Thursday 2nd October 2014 at St Peter’s Church, Edensor.


Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Derbyshire Life and Countryside visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Derbyshire Life and Countryside staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Derbyshire Life and Countryside account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from People

Adrian Farmer can certainly be said to ‘put his money where his mouth is’, backing his role as Heritage Coordinator for the DVMWHS with support for Belper’s history and heritage.

Read more

Gamekeepers and the ‘ton up’ boys learned to live in harmony – and for a time they somehow made it work!

Read more

David Marley talks to Ashley Fulwood the Derbyshire-born chief executive of OCD-UK who swapped the corporate city trading world for a life leading a national health charity.

Read more

Hartington Rural Social Group in Derbyshire is celebrating after being awarded a grant of £1,000 to help fund new seating for the elderly, as part of rural energy provider Calor’s annual funding scheme.

Read more

Sally Mosley scans her bookshelf for a brief round-up of Peak visitors across the ages who were inspired to celebrate its people and places.

Read more
Peak District

Lissa Cook finds out about the new experimental Active4Life initiative which aims to help communities to get up and about.

Read more

Tinnitus sufferers are being invited to use a new online, sound matching tool to help better understand their type of tinnitus and the potential treatments available to them.

Read more

Mary Berry talks to Pat Ashworth about why she loves the Chatsworth Country Fair

Read more

John Wright reveals what became of some of the county’s first convict colonists

Read more

Pat Ashworth meets Jasvinder Sanghera CBE, the Derby-born founder of the national award-winning charity Karma Nirvana

Read more

Keith Emerson and Robert Berry were planning a follow-up to their 1988 3 recording at the time of Emerson’s death. Berry is now about to release the new album, a remarkable memorial to Emerson.

Read more

A Derby group has been celebrating 100 years of supporting good causes and making a difference to the community

Read more

David Marley meets Mark Hallas, chief executive of the national Crimestoppers Trust charity, whose inspirational life journey has taken him from a Derby classroom to some of the most challenging missions in the British Army

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Subscribe or buy a mag today

Topics of Interest

Local Business Directory

Property Search