Chatsworth Dowager’s death mourned by public and high society
Known to her family as ‘Debo’, Deborah Mitford was born in Asthall Manor, Oxfordshire, on March 31, 1920, and died today, Wednesday, September 24, 2014, aged 94.
She married Lord Andrew Cavendish, younger son of the 10th Duke of Devonshire, in 1941.
When Cavendish’s older brother, William, Marquess of Hartington, was killed in combat in 1944, Cavendish became heir to the dukedom and Marquess of Hartington.
In 1950, upon the death of his father, he became the 11th Duke of Devonshire.
The Duchess was the main public face of Chatsworth for many decades. She wrote several books about Chatsworth and played a key role in the restoration of the house, the enhancement of the garden and the development of commercial activities such as Chatsworth Farm Shop.
She became more famous as her direct involvements in Chatsworth’s developments and adaptations for tourists were featured in a TV series.
Recognising the commercial imperatives of running a stately home, she took a very active role and was known to run the ticket office for Chatsworth House herself.
She also supervised the development of the Cavendish Hotel at Baslow near Chatsworth and the Devonshire Arms Hotel at Bolton Abbey.
In 1999 the Duchess was appointed a Dame Commander of the Royal Victorian Order by Queen Elizabeth II for her service to the Royal Collection Trust.
Upon the death of her husband in 2004, her son Peregrine Cavendish became the 12th Duke of Devonshire. She became the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire at this time.
She and the Duke had seven children, four of whom died shortly after birth.
The Dowager Duchess wrote her memoirs, Wait For Me! - despite being partially sighted - in 2012 which she said she had completed because she felt her family and parents, had been portrayed unfairly over the years.
She was the last surviving member of the famous six Mitford sisters, originally dismissed because her parents had wanted a second son, and patronised by her glittering sister Nancy, and somewhat overshadowed by the fame of Jessica, Diana and Unity.
Her memoir was entitled Wait For Me! because she said she was always running to catch up with her older siblings.
She only started to write in her 60s – first about the ancestral seat of Chatsworth.
She met Adolf Hitler and John Kennedy and was an acquaintance of the Queen and was related by marriage to Harold Macmillan.
She met Hitler in 1937, when she, her mother and her sister Unity took tea with him in Munich.
The sisters were educated at home, because their mother didn’t believe in exams, and The Dowager spent most of her time hunting, skating and going fishing with her father Lord Redesdale.
When she married Andrew Cavendish, he had not expected to become duke, but his older brother was killed in the Second World War.
The Dowager embraced her role as Duchess and was highly regarded among Royalty, aristocracy and dignitaries.
But she also kept the common touch as a very popular Derbyshire figurehead who took pride in her several breeds of chickens and was often spotted moving around the grounds of Chatsworth by tourists.