Thursday, October 2, 2014

Farewell to the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire

Deborah Cavendish, 
Dowager Duchess of Devonshire
and a few friends

I was quite distraught to hear of the death last week of Deborah, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire. She was 94. Her funeral was held this morning following a procession, which included Prince Charles, that began at Chatsworth House, the stately home that she and her husband turned into one of the most popular of tourist attractions in England with its gardens, farm, stables, and gift shop. 

Members of Chatworth's staff, 600 in all and dressed in traditional livery, lined the mile-long route from the house to the church. She was buried in the family plot in Edenson's village cemetery in Derbyshire. 

Her coffin was made of wicker.

I read that she had once attended the funeral of a friend who was buried in a wicker coffin. She liked the idea so much that she decided that's what she wanted saying it reminded her of "a picnic basket."   

The Dowager's coffin was carried into St Peter's Church, where 200 mourners gathered. Hundreds more waited on the green in the village where they watched the service on two large screens
Wicker coffin of the Dowager Duchess
Photo credit:  Max Mumby
the Daily Mail

She was a great fan of chickens and Elvis Presley. How could you not love a woman like that?

The Duchess was also was a fine writer and memoirist. One of my favorite books of hers is Counting My Chickens...And Other Home Thoughts. It is a collection of essays and excerpts from her diaries and other writings. She writes that her favorite author and artist was Beatrix Potter. She claims she learned all about retailing from reading Ms. Potter's The Tale of Ginger and Pickles. I wrote about all this here early last year.

The Dowager Duchess wrote other books that contained her thoughts on country living: Home to Roost and All in One Basket; her memoirs Wait For Me!; a cookbook; and two books about Chatsworth. In Tearing Haste is the collection of her correspondence with writer Patrick Leigh Fermor. 

How fortunate we are that Our Dowager Duchess left so much behind to remember her by. 


  1. Thank you for this warm tribute to the Duchess of Devonshire, Belle. It seems she was laid to rest with the same finesse and style that was reflected her whole life.

    I have been unable to find it, but, there is a sweet interview that Charlie Rose did with her that is charming. Should I find it, I will let you know.

    We are fortunate, indeed.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Penny. I know that you are also a fan of the Duchess. I am reading her sister Nancy Mitford's "Love in a Cold Climate" which is quite amusing.

      I will search for the Charlie Rose interview. Thanks for the tip.

  2. I've already got a couple of her books on my TBR list, and I'm going to add Counting My Chickens. What a delightful lady she must have been. You're actually the second blogger I follow who wrote about her death--she's been an inspiration to many.

    1. Kathy, you know how we love anything that has to do with England! The Duchess seemed to exemplify all that was hardy and hearty. She certainly lived her life on her own terms.

  3. I'll miss her, too, although you've read many more of her books than I have. I heard her and her late husband speak about Chatsworth and the gardens in the 1980s in Boston. They seemed a very gracious and loving couple. And I love a woman who can so casually hold two chickens while wearing a suit! I was hand feeding chickens yesterday and will post a blog about it in a day or two, photos included!

    1. Good point about the chickens and the suit, Joan. And a navy blue one to boot! I am jealous that you actually got to see her in person. I have a friend who visited Chatsworth last year. She is the one who called to inform me of the sad news of the Duchess's death. We had a wonderful conversation recalling her love of Elvis, her books, and her struggles to turn Chatsworth into such a jewel in the English countryside.

  4. It does feel very much like the end of an era. I hadn't seen the bit about the wicker coffin - fascinating.

    1. Yes, Vicki, the end of an era for sure. I love the wicker coffin. So fresh and so like the Duchess to 'shuffle off this mortal coil'
      in such an unconventional fashion.