This "Palace of the Peak" stands in a park covering over two thousand acres; the Derwent flows in front, over which the road to the palace is carried by a fine bridge. From the river a lawn gently slopes upward to the buildings, and the wooded hill which rises sharply behind them is surmounted by a hunting-tower, embosomed in trees. A herd of at least a thousand deer roam at will over the park, and have become very tame. Chatsworth is a brownish-yellow building, square and flat-topped, with a modern and more ornamental wing. Its front extends fully six hundred feet, and in parts it is of that depth.
The estate was bought in the sixteenth century by Sir William Cavendish, who built the original house, a quadrangular building with turrets, which was greatly extended by his wife. It was used as a fortress in the Civil Wars, and was considerably battered. The first Duke of Devonshire about the year 1700 rebuilt the mansion, employing the chief architects, artists, designers, and wood-carvers of his time, among them Sir Christopher Wren. In the grounds, not far from the bridge over the Derwent, is the "Bower of Mary Queen of Scots." There is a small, clear lake almost concealed by foliage, in the centre of which is a tower, and on the top a grass-grown garden, where are also several fine trees. Here, under guard, the captive was permitted to take the air. In those days she looked out upon a broad expanse of woods and moorland: now all around has been converted into gardens and a park.
Entering the house through a magnificent gateway, the visitor is taken into the entrance-hall, where the frescoes represent the life and death of Julius Cæsar; then up the grand staircase of amethyst and variegated alabaster guarded by richly-gilded balustrades. The gorgeously-embellished chapel is wainscoted with cedar, and has a sculptured altar made of Derbyshire marbles. The beautiful drawing-room opens into a series of state-apartments lined with choice woods and hung with Gobelin tapestries representing the cartoons of Raphael. Magnificent carvings and rare paintings adorn the walls, while the richest decorations are everywhere displayed. Over the door of the antechamber is a quill pen so finely carved that it almost reproduces the real feather. In the Scarlet Room are the bed on which George II. died and the chairs and footstools used at the coronation of George III.
On the north side of the house is another stairway of oak, also richly gilded. In the apartments replacing those where Mary Queen of Scots lived are her bed-hangings and tapestries. There is an extensive library with many rare books and manuscripts, and a sculpture-gallery, lined with Devonshire marble, containing many statues and busts, and also two recumbent lions, each nine feet long and four feet high and weighing four tons, and carved out of a solid block of marble. The final enlargement of Chatsworth was completed about forty years ago, when Queen Victoria made a state visit and was given a magnificent reception by the Duke of Devonshire.
The grounds are filled with trees planted by kings, queens, and great people on their visits to the palace. The finest of all the trees is a noble Spanish chestnut of sixteen feet girth. Weeping willows do not grow at Chatsworth, but they have provided one in the form of a metal tree, contrived so as to discharge a deluge of raindrops from its metallic leaves and boughs when a secret spring is touched. The glory of the Chatsworth gardens, however, is the conservatory, a beautiful structure of glass and iron covering nearly an acre, the arched roof in the centre rising to a height of sixty-seven feet. In this famous hot-house are the rarest palms and tropical plants. It was designed by Joseph Paxton, the duke's head-gardener, and, enlarging the design, Paxton constructed in the same way the London Crystal Palace for the Exhibition of 1851, for which service he was knighted. Besides this rare collection of hot-house plants, the famous Victoria Regia is in a special house at Chatsworth, growing in a tank thirty-four feet in diameter, the water being maintained at the proper temperature and kept constantly in motion as a running stream. The seed for this celebrated plant was brought from Guiana, and it first bloomed here in 1849.
Some fifty persons are employed in the gardens and grounds, besides the servants in the buildings, showing the retinue necessary to maintain this great show-palace, for that is its chief present use, the Duke of Devonshire seldom using it as a residence, as he prefers the less pretentious but more comfortable seat he possesses at Bolton in Yorkshire. North of Chatsworth Park, near Baslow, on top of a hill, is the strange mass of limestone which can be seen from afar, and is known as the Eagle Rock.