Originally there were three buildings in the water gardens to the north west of the house. These gardens consisted of seven large rectangular ponds divided by grassed terrace walks and formal orchard planting. The functions of these water gardens were to provide fish for the household and to act as an attractive enclosed garden area near the house.
Tradition holds that Queen Mary’s Bower was constructed in the 1570s when Mary Queen of Scots was held at Chatsworth, in order to provide a raised exercise ground for the captive queen (her presence at Chatsworth is recorded throughout the 1570s). There is no hard evidence to support this tradition, and while it is perfectly possible that the structure was used by the exiled queen there seems little doubt that the Bower was originally built as a garden feature.
The Bower’s original form is uncertain. It was massively restored in the 1820s by Wyatville and the area around the Bower has been changed in many ways since the 16th century. In particular, major alterations in the mid-18th century by Brown and Millican included the removal of the ponds further to the east. This level and featureless area is a testament to the extent of levelling and earth-moving undertaken by Brown and Millican.