Early Garden (1549-1811)
The house and garden were first constructed by Sir William Cavendish and Bess of Hardwick in 1555. The Elizabethan garden was much smaller than the modern garden is now. There was a formal plot to the south with ponds and fountains, the hill to the east was terraced and a high wall enclosed a deer park. Fish ponds were dug between the house and the River Derwent. The main visual remnant of this time is a squat stone tower known as Queen Mary’s Bower.
Bess died in 1608 and there is little evidence left of works carried out in the garden by Bess’s immediate successors at Chatsworth, the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Earls of Devonshire. However, the 4th Earl, who became the 1st Duke of Devonshire in 1694, had a passion for building. Over a number of years he rebuilt the Elizabethan house in the classical style and constructed a garden to complement it. The Duke was one of the first Englishmen to embrace the creation of formal gardens already fashionable in France, Italy, and Holland. The result was numerous parterres cut into the slopes above the house, and many fountains, garden buildings and classical sculptures.
The 2nd Duke (1673-1729) made few changes to the garden he inherited. However, in the year before he died, 1728, there were initial attempts made to simplify the geometric patterns of the previous generation by levelling and turfing the formal parterre on the South Front. The 3rd and 4th Dukes continued this work. All but three of the main fountains (those in the Ring Pond, the Canal, and the Sea Horse Fountain) were removed and their ponds filled in. Topiary and avenues disappeared, the terraces were levelled and replaced with grass, a ha-ha was constructed to trick the eye into thinking the garden and park were one and the same, and trees were planted in apparently natural clumps in both park and garden so there was no demarcation between the two.
The 4th Duke’s fundamental changes left the garden and park much as they appear today and after his death there followed almost half a century of inactivity. The 5th Duke (1748-1811) was seldom at Chatsworth and made limited changes other than the addition of the Grotto House which was built for Duchess Georgiana in 1798.