History Unveiled: Attic Sale at Chatsworth
That’s certainly true of an item for sale at Chatsworth, one of the estates that has so many resonances for Regency buffs. Not only is Chatsworth the supposed original model for Jane Austen’s Pemberley, but it was also the Derbyshire seat of one of London’s leaders of the ton and Empress of Fashion, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, 1757-1806. Jane Austen wasn’t the only writer that found Chatsworth admirable, either. Some eighty years earlier, Daniel Defoe described it as “the most pleasant garden and most beautiful palace in the world”.
You may wonder what this has to do with cupboards. I should really say bookcases, because one very famous bookcase is for sale at Chatsworth. This was the bookcase through which Prince George, later to become Regent and then George IV. The mahogany bookcase had a secret door and was used to conceal another door behind it through which the prince gained access to his mistress/wife Maria Fitzherbert. The location of the bookcase? Devonshire House in Piccadilly, often called “The Lost Palace of London”. Obviously the Prince must have been a frequent visitor.
The Prince's passion for Mrs Fitzherbert was described in this manner: “He cried by the hour … he testified to the sincerity and violence of his passion and his despair by the most extravagant expressions and actions, rolling on the floor, striking his forehead, tearing his hair, falling into hysterics and swearing that he would abandon the country, forego the crown, sell his jewels and plate and scrape together a competence to fly with the object of his affections to America.”-- Lord Holland.
The bookcase, which didn't have the curtains originally, was designed by Thomas Hope and made by Marsh and Titham. It was relegated to the nursery when it was moved from Devonshire House to Chatsworth. I wonder if any of the children ever discovered the secret door and speculated on who could have used it.
Other items for sale are chairs that belonged to Lady Georgiana and a snuffbox that features a miniature of Georgiana and her daughter based on the Joshua Reynolds painting that currently hangs in Chatsworth.
This fascinating auction is being held as we speak, from October 5th to 7th.
Meanwhile, I’ve decided that my next Regency or Jane Austen inspired novel will feature a bookcase similar to that belonging to the Regent.