Deborah Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire

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The Duchess of Devonshire

Deborah Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire.jpg
Deborah Mitford in 1938
Tenure26 November 1950 – 3 May 2004
BornDeborah Vivien Freeman-Mitford
(1920-03-31)31 March 1920
Asthall Manor, Oxfordshire, England
Died24 September 2014(2014-09-24) (aged 94)
ResidenceEdensor House, Chatsworth Estate, Derbyshire
Noble familyMitford family
(m. 1941; died 2004)
Issue7, including Peregrine Cavendish, 12th Duke of Devonshire and Lady Sophia Topley
SignatureDeborah Mitford signature (cropped).jpg
OccupationWriter, memoirist, socialite

Deborah Vivien Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, DCVO (born Deborah Vivien Freeman-Mitford and latterly Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire; 31 March 1920 – 24 September 2014) was an English aristocrat, writer, memoirist, and socialite. She was the youngest and last-surviving of the six Mitford sisters, who were prominent members of British society in the 1930s and 1940s.


Known to her family as "Debo", Deborah Mitford was born in Asthall Manor, Oxfordshire, England. Her parents were David Freeman-Mitford, 2nd Baron Redesdale (1878–1958), son of Algernon Freeman-Mitford, 1st Baron Redesdale, and his wife, Sydney (1880–1963), daughter of Thomas Gibson Bowles, MP. She 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 action in 1944, Cavendish became heir to the dukedom and began to use the courtesy title Marquess of Hartington. In 1950, on the death of his father, the Marquess of Hartington became the 11th Duke of Devonshire.

The Duchess was the main public face of Chatsworth for many decades. She wrote several books about Chatsworth, and 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 (later Chatsworth Estate Trading), which sold luxury foodstuffs carrying 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 was known to man the Chatsworth House ticket office herself. She also supervised the development of the Cavendish Hotel at Baslow, near Chatsworth, and the Devonshire Arms Hotel at Bolton Abbey.[1]

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. Upon the death of her husband in 2004, her son Peregrine Cavendish became the 12th Duke of Devonshire. She became the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire at this time, and moved into a smaller house on the Chatsworth estate.[2]

She and the duke had seven children, four of whom died shortly after birth:[3]

  • Mark Cavendish (born and died 14 November 1941)
  • Lady Emma Cavendish (born 26 March 1943), married Hon Tobias William Tennant, son of the 2nd Lord Glenconner, in 1963 and has issue.
  • Peregrine Andrew Morny Cavendish, 12th Duke of Devonshire (born 27 April 1944)
  • An unnamed child (miscarried December 1946; the child was a twin of Victor Cavendish, born in 1947)[4]
  • 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), married, firstly, Anthony William Lindsay Murphy in 1979, divorced 1987. In 1988 she married secondly Alastair Morrison, 3rd Baron Margadale, son of James Morrison, 2nd Baron Margadale, with whom she had two children. Following divorce she married, thirdly, William Topley in 1999.

She was a maternal aunt of Max Mosley, former president of the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA),[5] as well as the grandmother of fashion model Stella Tennant (1970–2020).[6][7]


In 1981, the Duchess became politically active when she and her husband, Andrew Cavendish, 11th Duke of Devonshire, joined the new Social Democratic Party.[8]


The Duchess died on 24 September 2014, at the age of 94.[9] Her funeral was held on 2 October 2014 at St Peter's Church, Edensor. Guests included The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall.[10]

At the time of her death, journalist Michael Crick speculated that she was the last living Briton who had met Hitler.[11]


  • 1920–1941 – The Honourable Deborah Freeman-Mitford
  • 1941–1944 – Lady Andrew Cavendish
  • 1944–1950 – Marchioness of Hartington
  • 1950–1999 – Her Grace The Duchess of Devonshire
  • 1999–2004 – Her Grace The Duchess of Devonshire, DCVO
  • 2004–2014 – Her Grace The Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, DCVO

Selected interviews[edit]

Cavendish was interviewed on her experience of sitting for a portrait for painter Lucian Freud in the BBC series Imagine in 2004.[12]

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."[13]

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.[14] She was also interviewed on 23 December by Charlie Rose for PBS.[15]

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.[16]




  • 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)
  • The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters (2007), edited by Charlotte Mosley, ISBN 0-06-137364-8
  • 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)
  • Mitford, Diana, The Pursuit of Laughter (2008) – introduction





  1. ^ "Last of the Mitfords: 'Debo', Dowager Duchess of Devonshire dies at 94". Retrieved 24 September 2014.
  2. ^ "Dowager Duchess of Devonshire - obituary". The Telegraph. 19 March 2016. Archived from the original on 6 January 2021. Retrieved 23 January 2021 – via
  3. ^ Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire, Wait for Me! (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2010), pages 128–132
  4. ^ Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire, Wait for Me! (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2010), pages 130
  5. ^ "Lady Mosley". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 12 October 2018. Retrieved 3 April 2018.
  6. ^ "End of an era: Last remaining Mitford sister dies aged 94". The Independent. 24 September 2014.
  7. ^ "Stella Tennant: Model dies days after 50th birthday". BBC News. 23 December 2020. Archived from the original on 2 January 2021. Retrieved 23 January 2021.
  8. ^ Mitford, Jessica (2006). Sussman, Peter Y. (ed.). Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford. Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
  9. ^ "Last Mitford sister, Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, dies at 94". BBC News. 24 September 2014. Archived from the original on 15 January 2021. Retrieved 23 January 2021.
  10. ^ "Chatsworth funeral for Dowager Duchess of Devonshire". BBC. 2 October 2014. Retrieved 8 April 2021.
  11. ^ Crick, Michael [@MichaelLCrick] (25 September 2014). "With death of the Duchess or Devonshire, are there any other Britons still alive who met Adolf Hitler?" (Tweet). Archived from the original on 23 January 2021. Retrieved 26 July 2020 – via Twitter.
  12. ^ "Imagine - Sitting for Lucian Freud | LocateTV". 7 October 2014. Archived from the original on 7 October 2014.
  13. ^ Preston, John (2 September 2007). "Last lady of letters". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 8 November 2013. Retrieved 3 April 2018.
  14. ^ "Mitford duchess on her extraordinary life". 14 December 2010. Archived from the original on 21 October 2019. Retrieved 23 January 2021 – via
  15. ^ "Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire". Archived from the original on 28 December 2010.
  16. ^ "The Dowager Duchess of Devonshire". Retrieved 10 November 2010.

External links[edit]