Remembering The Last Mitford Sister
Nancy and Jessica both became well-known writers, while Unity and Diana scandalised British society in the Thirties after befriending Adolf Hitler. Although Deborah also took tea with the Führer, he left her unimpressed: “If you sat in a room with Churchill,” she later said, “you were aware of this tremendous charisma. Kennedy had it too. But Hitler didn’t – not to me anyway.”
Deborah and her sister Pamela chose more traditional roles for the era, and Debo became known as the “housewife duchess” as she began transforming her home – Chatsworth in Derbyshire – into one of the country’s most successful and profitable stately homes, later writing a series of books about the property as well as about her incredible life.
“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,” Prince Charles said today, the BBC reports. “She was a unique personality with a wonderfully original approach to life, and a memorable turn of phrase to match that originality. 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.”
Throughout her life, fashion played a part. She forged a lifelong friendship with Hubert de Givenchy, and held stylish gatherings at Chatsworth with guests including Oscar de la Renta and Valentino. Model Stella Tennant is her granddaughter and she is the great aunt of Daphne Guinness.
“She was an extraordinary person, and I am very lucky to say that she was a great friend of mine,” De la Renta told WWD on Wednesday. “She was bigger than life. What she did for that house was absolutely amazing.”
Latterly she campaigned against the fox-hunting ban and became an expert chicken farmer – a pursuit she was once photographed indulging in whilst being photographed by Bruce Weber.
“I would describe her as a tree [that] just kept growing and getting better with the seasons,” Weber told WWD. “When you would least expect it, there would be a beautiful pink blossom appearing on a branch. She had an enormous sense of humour. When I first met her, she had a great knack of making everybody feel very comfortable. I was photographing her and Stella for Italian Vogue, and she said she had this really beautiful dress that was made especially for her by Jean Patou. She said, ‘I think it’d be nice to wear it feeding my chickens.’ I don’t think that there’s ever been a more elegant woman photographed feeding chickens. She was extraordinarily flirtatious, and everybody at Chatsworth who worked with her for many years was mad about her.”
She is survived by her three children, Peregrine Cavendish, the 12th Duke of Devonshire; Lady Emma Cavendish, Stella Tennant’s mother; and Lady Sophia Louise Sydney Cavendish.
You may know that Deborah is the grandmother of the model Stella Tennant, pictured below left at Tom Ford’s recent fashion show.
The subject of the 2008 movie The Duchess was a previous Duchess of Devonshire, Georgiana Cavendish who married the 5th Duke and also lived at Chatsworth. The movie starred the beautiful Keira Knightley in the title role.
Deborah, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, is the the driving force behind making Derbyshire’s Chatsworth House one of the nation’s most popular stately homes. My favourite stately home I have ever seen and visited! 🙂