Deborah Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire

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Her Grace
The Dowager Duchess of Devonshire
Born (1920-03-31) 31 March 1920 (age 94)
Asthall Manor, Oxfordshire, England
Residence Edensor House, Chatsworth Estate, Derbyshire
Title Her Grace The Dowager Duchess of Devonshire
Parents David Freeman-Mitford, 2nd Baron Redesdale and Sydney Bowles
Relatives Sisters: Nancy (deceased)
Pamela (deceased)
Diana (deceased)
Unity (deceased)
Jessica (deceased)
Brother: Tom (deceased)
Nephew: Max Mosley

Deborah Vivien Cavendish, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire DCVO (born 31 March 1920), née The Hon. Deborah Freeman-Mitford, is the youngest and last surviving of the six Mitford sisters whose political affiliations and marriages were a prominent feature of English culture in the 1930s and 1940s. She was born in Asthall Manor, Oxfordshire, England.


Known to her family as "Debo", Deborah Mitford married Lord Andrew Cavendish, younger son of the 10th Duke of Devonshire, in 1941. When Cavendish's older brother, William, Marquess of Hartington, was killed in combat in 1944, Cavendish became heir to the dukedom and Marquess of Hartington; in 1950, upon the death of his father, he became the 11th Duke of Devonshire.

The Duchess was the main public face of Chatsworth for many decades. Upon the death of her husband in 2004, her son Peregrine Cavendish became the 12th Duke of Devonshire.

The Duchess has written several books about Chatsworth, and has played a key role in the restoration of the house, the enhancement of the garden and the development of commercial activities such as Chatsworth Farm Shop (which is on a quite different scale from most farm shops as it employs a hundred people); Chatsworth's other retail and catering operations; and assorted offshoots such as Chatsworth Food, which sells luxury foodstuffs which carry her signature and Chatsworth Design which sells image rights to items and designs from the Chatsworth collections. Recognising the commercial imperatives of running a stately home, she took a very active role and has been known to run the ticket office for Chatsworth House herself. She also supervised the development of the Cavendish Hotel at Baslow near Chatsworth and the Devonshire Arms Hotel at Bolton Abbey.

In 1999 the Duchess was appointed a Dame Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (DCVO) by Queen Elizabeth II, for her service to the Royal Collection Trust. She became the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire in 2004, when her son inherited the dukedom upon the death of her husband.

She and the duke had seven children, four of whom died shortly after birth:[1]

  • Mark Cavendish (born and died 14 November 1941)
  • Emma Cavendish (born 26 March 1943, styled Lady Emma Cavendish from 1944), mother of the fashion model Stella Tennant
  • Peregrine Cavendish, 12th Duke of Devonshire (born 27 April 1944)
  • An unnamed child (miscarried December 1946; he or she was a twin of Victor Cavendish, born in 1947)[2]
  • Lord Victor Cavendish (born and died 22 May 1947)
  • Lady Mary Cavendish (born and died 5 April 1953)
  • Lady Sophia Louise Sydney Cavendish (born 18 March 1957)

She is also a maternal aunt of Max Mosley, former president of the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), as well as the grandmother of Stella Tennant, a fashion model.

Selected interviews[edit]

She was interviewed on her experience of sitting for a portrait for painter Lucian Freud in the BBC series Imagine in 2004.[3]

In an interview with John Preston of the Daily Telegraph, published in September 2007, she recounted having tea with Adolf Hitler during a visit to Munich in June 1937, when she was visiting Germany with her mother and her sister Unity, the latter being the only one of the three who spoke German and, therefore the one who carried on the entire conversation with Hitler. Shortly before ending the interview, Preston asked her to choose with whom she would have preferred to have tea: American singer Elvis Presley or Hitler. Looking at the interviewer with astonishment, she answered: "Well, Elvis of course! What an extraordinary question." [4]

In 2010, the BBC journalist Kirsty Wark interviewed the Duchess for Newsnight. In it, the Duchess talked about life in the 1930s and 1940s, Hitler, the Chatsworth estate, and the marginalisation of the upper classes.[5] She was also interviewed on 23 December by Charlie Rose for PBS. She spoke of her memoir and other interesting aspects of her life.[6] On 10 November 2010, she was interviewed as part of "The Artists, Poets, and Writers Lecture Series" sponsored by the Frick Collection, an interview which focused on her memoir and her published correspondence with Patrick Leigh Fermor.

Titles from birth[edit]

  • The Honourable Deborah Vivien Freeman-Mitford (1920–1941)
  • Lady Andrew Cavendish (1941–1944)
  • Marchioness of Hartington (1944–1950)
  • Her Grace The Duchess of Devonshire (1950–2004)
  • Her Grace The Dowager Duchess of Devonshire (2004 – present)

The Mitford siblings[edit]



  • Chatsworth: The House (1980; revised edition 2002)
  • The Estate: A View from Chatsworth (1990)
  • The Farmyard at Chatsworth (1991) — for children
  • Treasures of Chatsworth: A Private View (1991)
  • The Garden at Chatsworth (1999)
  • Counting My Chickens and Other Home Thoughts (2002) — essays.
  • The Chatsworth Cookery Book (2003)
  • Round About Chatsworth (2005)
  • Memories of Andrew Devonshire (2007)
  • In Tearing Haste: Letters Between Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor (2008), edited by Charlotte Mosley
  • Home to Roost . . . and Other Peckings (2009)
  • Wait for Me!... Memoirs of the Youngest Mitford Sister (2010)
  • All in One Basket (2011)



  1. ^ Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire, Wait for Me! (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2010), pages 128–132
  2. ^ Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire, Wait for Me! (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2010), pages 130
  3. ^
  4. ^ Last lady of letters – Telegraph
  5. ^ BBC News – Newsnight – Mitford duchess on taking tea with Hitler
  6. ^ Charlie Rose – Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire

External links[edit]