If you’ve ever wanted to own a little piece of history today sees Sotheby’s auction over 400 lots belonging to Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire (1920-2014). Unsurprisingly, the sale features some truly dazzling diamond jewellery, including some highly personal pieces commissioned for Debo by her husband Andrew, 11th Duke of Devonshire (1920-2004). There’s even a bracelet with ‘Chatsworth’ spelt out in diamonds (est. £2000-£3000), whilst another reads ‘Teapot Row’ (est. £200-£300) – the name of the couple’s prized racehorse and a row of houses in the estate village of Edensor.
Many of the pieces feature animal motifs, and there are butterflies, beetles and bees as well as the obligatory Cavendish serpent rendered in precious stones. Personally, I love the late eighteenth-century emerald ring, enamelled to read ‘Ta Lumiere Est Ma Vie’ (est. £400-£600). Other items for sale range from a rare edition of Brideshead Revisted, only circulated amongst Evelyn Waugh’s circle of friends for comment prior to the novel’s publication (est. £15,000 – £20,000), through to the rather kitsch collection of Elvis memorabilia. And, of course, there are plenty of poultry-related lots. The Duchess’s beloved chickens feature heavily in everything from paintings to pottery and silverware.
The sale promises to feature something for every budget, but if the 2010 attic sale is anything to go by the items will far exceed their estimates as bidders vie for a memento of Debo. If I could bid on anything it would have to be for Her Grace’s desk – just imagine sitting down to write at a desk with that kind of provenance! Whilst such luxuries are beyond the means of a poor PhD student I’ve always got my signed copy of The House: A Portrait of Chatsworth, which is one of my prized possessions.
In her lifetime the Duchess worked tirelessly to ensure the survival of the Chatsworth estate in the wake of perilous death duties. She opened the farmyard and the farm shop, and in revolutionising the way in which country houses are managed she ensured that Chatsworth would remain a family home and an important source of local employment, as well as a place of immense historical importance which can be enjoyed by all. From 19th March 2016- 3rd January 2017, Chatsworth will have a selection of Cecil Beaton’s photographs of Debo and her social set on display in an exhibition entitled ‘Never a Bore’.