Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Blanche's Vase: Urn-ing a special place at Chatsworth

Blanche's Vase (or Urn) at Chatsworth House, Derbyshire UK

You may feel you already know Chatsworth House in Derbyshire's lovely Peak District.

Even if you've never been there!

Chatsworth House has become famous on movie screens all over the world, wearing its film star face!

In 2005, it became Mr Darcy's home, Pemberley, in the film adaptation of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice".

In 2008, it starred as itself in "The Duchess" telling the tale of its most glamorous and famous former occupant Georgiana, the 5th Duchess of Devonshire.

In 2010 it again featured on the big screen, when the cameras filmed "The Wolfman" there.

Chatsworth House, or the 'Palace of the Peak', Derbyshire, England
 I've been coming to Chatsworth since I was a kid. Getting familiar with its nooks and crannies long before I was old enough to know its history or read the maps and guidebooks. One of the first sights I remember belongs to the memory of one of Chatsworth's lesser known occupants, Georgiana's granddaughter Blanche, the 7th Duchess.

Blanche's Vase - a lasting memorial to a life ended far too soon

The first time I held a guidebook in my own hands (as opposed to visiting with my parents on their motorbike and sidecar), I noticed the words "Blanche's Vase" next to a spot at the end of an avenue of my favourite beech trees, sometimes referred to on maps as "Broad Walk" or "Long Walk".

I walked up the long avenue flanked by these stunning beech trees towards what looks from a distance a very ordinary stone pot, positioned on the highest point of the path. There are many different statues around Chatsworth. I wondered how exactly I would be sure this was what I was looking for.

From the back, nothing but bare stone. I started to walk round the huge pot and made out the letter "E". Then an "H" carved next to it. Then a "C". I was doubled up with laughter as I saw that, of course, the monument is exactly what it says in the description. A giant flowerpot crafted from local sandstone with the name of "Blanche" chipped into it by a stonemason back in 1840!

Blanche did not live a memorably glamorous life like her famous grandmother Georgiana. Her mother, Georgiana's daughter, also called Georgiana, was married to George Howard, 6th Earl of Carlisle. Young Blanche was born on 11th January 1812, full name Blanche Georgiana Howard. Blanche became the favourite niece of the 6th Duke of Devonshire, her mother's brother and the famous Georgiana's heir.

Blanche Georgiana Cavendish, nee Howard, standing by a column not unlike the pedestal of her vase!

Known as "Hart" because of one of his titles, Marquess of Hartington, William Spencer George Cavendish, was also called "The Bachelor Duke" for obvious reasons. He was a close friend of the Prince Regent and a prominent Whig politician. He doted on Blanche and when she married another of the Cavendish clan, Hart's cousin once removed, William Cavendish 2nd Earl of Burlington, they were very close to him and became his heirs at Chatsworth.

Hart, (William Cavendish), the 6th Duke of Devonshire, and Blanche's devoted uncle
 However, Blanche sadly died aged only 28 on 27th April 1840. Hart was devastated.

He had the vase placed in the grounds  so his niece would never be forgotten. He also left an inscription to her memory in Chatsworth's Painted Hall. It says that he completed the restorations to the House in the year of his bereavement. Neither her uncle nor her husband ever really recovered from the blow of losing Blanche. That's an amazing testament to her character and lovable nature, more than can be graven in stone.

Her uncle Hart once wrote:

"There are many things at Chatsworth that I should not have allowed myself to do had I not reposed in the thoughts of being succeeded by a person so indulgent, so much attached to me as Blanche." (Quote from 'The Garden at Chatsworth' by the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire).

A play on the Cavendish name in the family motto "Cavendo Tutus" meaning "Safe through Caution", graven in gold around the outside of the house
 Some speculate that Hart's fondness for Blanche and her husband William influenced his decision not to marry. Chatsworth House mounted an exhibition about him recently, calling him: 'Britain's Most Inspirational and Eligible Bachelor'.  Hart certainly is reputed to have had his fair share of mistresses positioned at handy distances from his ancestral home! He was known in contemporary accounts as 'the most princely of England's nobility'.

Certainly, if it wasn't for Hart's lasting tributes to Blanche, we would know even less about her than we do. She has always fascinated me since I first discovered her vase perched at the end of the beech avenue. The impression she left in this most beautiful corner of England, echoes sweetly from far beyond the grave.

Stunningly lovely Chatsworth House and Gardens

If you haven't had the joy of a visit to Chatsworth yet, and even if you have, there is always more to discover. You owe it to yourself. Blanche and her kin will be waiting with the warmest welcome!

Chatsworth House Official Website

1 comment:

  1. I had never seen a portrait of Blanche before. Where does it hang? Do you know what she died of at age 28? Her death is mentioned in "The Bachelor Duke" by James Lees-Milne. The Duke saw her just before Easter 1840 (April 19th). "Blanche's appearance filled him with a terrible foreboding. She was clearly very ill." She died on April 27th. If it were childbirth, you'd think the account would mention the welfare of the baby.