What can I say about Chatsworth that has not been said better by the gushing tributes of many ages? A house so large as to defy photography. This is a glorious house and estate, set in the verdant dale of the Derwent and a landscape transformed from the roughness of the Peak to produce the finest lordly park in the land.
The house that stands today is not the one which Thomas Hobbes knew. That house, built by the redoubtable Bess of Hardwick, was an enormous Tudor house, famed in its time, and the pictures we have are of an astounding building for that time. Of that time, The Hunting Tower remains, perched high on a wooded hill, from which the ladies could watch the hunt below, and a ‘fishing platform’ bigger than a house. The house today though is a huge, early Baroque palace, built by Hobbes’s last patron, the 4th Earl and and 1st Duke of Devonshire. He received the promotion of his title as a reward for his active role in overthrowing James II and inviting William of Orange to take the throne in his place. Perhaps he had in mind what Hobbes said about when subjects no longer have duties to the Sovereign:
The Obligation of Subjects to the Soveraign is understood to last as long, and no longer, than the power lasteth, by which he is able to protect them. For the right men have by Nature to protect themselves, when none else can protect them, can by no Covenant be relinquished. The Soveraignty is the Soule of the Common-wealth; which once departed from the Body, the members doe no more receive their motion from it. The end of Obedience is Protection; which, wheresoever a man seeth it, either in his own, or in anothers sword, Nature applyeth his obedience to it, and his endeavour to maintaine it. And though Soveraignty, in the intention of them that make it, be immortall; yet is it in its own nature, not only subject to violent death, by forreign war; but also through the ignorance, and passions of men, it hath in it, from the very institution, many seeds of a naturall mortality, by Intestine Discord.
The house the Duke built is astounding in scale and filled with art to which I am unable to do justice. The parkland though – that is a wonder all of itself, crafted over several generations of the Cavendish family.
The Derwent is a cool, languid river here, simply making its course southward, and the harsh Peak landscape is forgotten, in a soft, lush landscape. Above the broad valley though the Peak reasserts itself. The park at Chatsworth is a tribute to all these qualities. The house stands close to the valley bottom, but the park of nearly two thousand acres encompasses the meadowland but then also climbs the steep slope. It has green lawns, parkland where sheep safely graze, then beyond is a pinetum, planted with pine trees of the Americas, and close by a grotto and rockery of rocks in fantastical shapes, reminiscent of the shapes of the Peak.
A cascade tumbles down the hill, carefully crafted by man, but the water is from springs on the wild hill about. Beside the house is a fountain, a huge spout of water bursts 290 feet into the air – all without pumps, just from the natural height of the springs from which the water comes.
None of the house nor the landscaping would have been known to Hobbes or Camden before him, but they are the result of man settling in a remarkable landscape, which they did know.
ON th’ English Alps, where Darbies Peak doth rise,
High up in Hills, that Emulate the Skies,
And largely Waters all the Vales below,
With Rivers that still plentifully Flow,
Doth Chatsworth by swift Derwins Channel stand,
Fam’d for it’s Pile, and Lord, for both are grand.
Slowly the River by its Gates doth pass,
Here silent, as in Wonder of the place,
But does from Rocky precipices move
In rapid streams below it, and above.
A losty Mountain guards the house behind,
From the assaults of the rough Eastern wind;
Which does from far it’s rugged Cliffs display,
And Sleep prolongs, by shutting out the day.
Behind, a pleasant Garden does appear;
Where the rich earth, breaths odours every where.
Where in the midst of woods, the fruitful Tree
Fears without prune-hook, seeming now as free.
Where by the thick leav’d roof the Walls are made
Spite of the Sun were all his beams display’d
More cool than the fam’d Virgil’s Beechen shade.
Where Art (it self dissembling) rough hewn stone
And craggy flints worn out by dropping on
Together joyning by the workmans tool)
Makes horrid rocks, and watry caverns cool.