Youngest of the famous Mitford sisters, the Hon. Deborah Mitford married Lord Andrew Cavendish in 1941 in the bomb-damaged Priory Church of St Bartholomew-the-Great in Smithfield, London.

Her husband’s elder brother was killed in action in 1944, and when his father died unexpectedly in 1950, the course of his life – and that of his wife – was dramatically changed on his inheritance of the dukedom. 

Having lived in Edensor House for twelve years, in 1959 Duchess Deborah and her husband moved into Chatsworth, which had been opened to the public for the first time after the War in 1949.

The Duchess oversaw the redecoration of Chatsworth and the rearrangement of its contents, imprinting her character on a house which had become neglected during the War years when it was home to a girls’ school evacuated from North Wales.

She became extremely knowledgeable about the house’s history and her changes were always made in awareness of what had been before. Her book The House: A Portrait of Chatsworth responds to and complements earlier handbooks of the house written by the 6th Duke of Devonshire, and Duchess Evelyn, and it is rich with anecdotes about previous generations. 

The Duchess was also a writer and in 2001 published Counting My Chickens… and other home thoughts, a collection of far ranging observations on life at Chatsworth including her love of poultry, gardening, the Turner Prize and breeding cattle.

The Duchess also published a tribute to her husband the 11th Duke after his death in 2004 entitled Memories of Andrew Devonshire. Other publications included In Tearing Haste: Letters between Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor, Home to Roost ... and Other Peckings and Wait for Me!... Memoirs of the Youngest Mitford Sister.

She was also a contributor to The Spectator and The Daily Telegraph. Her last book, All in One Basket, was published in 2011.

The Duchess was an astute businesswoman, and played a significant part in making Chatsworth estate a commercial success: her initiatives included the Chatsworth Farmyard – set up to provide people of all ages and backgrounds with the opportunity to learn about farming, food production and traditional landscapes; Chatsworth Farm Shop; and the Orangery gift shop

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