Catherine Booth at Chatsworth

I was surprised to discover during some reading yesterday that William and Catherine Booth had a bit of a holiday in Chatsworth Park when they were young marrieds.   Maybe I shouldn’t find it surprising, but it’s not the kind of place that I normally imagine the “Army mother” spending time.

Chatsworth has been home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire since Tudor times, and Chatsworth House is one of the most well known and oft-visited English country houses.  The main part of the current house was built in the late seventeenth century, and has been used as a set for many films, including the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.  Apparently, Jane Austen’s fictional Pemberley was inspired by the real-life Chatsworth.

We visited Chatsworth  in September 2010, and it was well worth the trip.  I didn’t care too much for the inside of the house,  but the grounds, and the physical setting of the house itself  are truly amazing.   These pictures give  you a bit of a sense of what it is like, but of course they cannot do it justice.

Catherine seems to have been quite taken by it all when she and William stayed in Chatsworth Park in late October and early November of 1855.  Frederick Booth-Tucker’s biography, The Life of Catherine Booth, Mother of The Salvation Army (2 volumes, 1892), includes extracts from some letters she wrote  to her mother during their stay in the Park, in which she praises the scenery and the magnificence of the house itself.

This afternoon we walked through the park right up to the Duke of Devonshire’s residence. It is one of the most splendid spots I was ever in. It is all hill and dale, beautifully wooded and bestudded with deer in all directions. The residence itself is superior to many of the royal palaces, and the scenery around is most picturesque and sublime. This splendid spot is ours for a week in every sense necessary to its full enjoyment, without any of the anxiety of being its real owner (p. 150).

I suppose I am so used to thinking of Catherine Booth as an austere, self-denying warrior and advocate for the poor, that I find it refreshing to see another side of her – one that is taken aback by the physical beauty and magnificence of a fine English estate.   In another letter she again offers high praise for the beauty of Chatsworth.

This morning we were just preparing to visit Chatsworth House and to explore a part of the park we had not seen, when to our surprise Mr. and Mrs. Fenton and Mr. Mark Firth, brother to the gentleman named in my former letter, came to the door…So we set off to climb some tremendous hills, in order to reach a tower built in the highest part of the Park grounds. I got about half-way up and then my strength failed me, and I begged to be allowed to sit down and wait, while the rest of the party completed the ascent. After much persuasion I carried my point and was left alone, sitting on a stone, my eyes resting on one of the loveliest scenes I ever expect to witness in this world. I enjoyed my meditations exceedingly. I was on an elevation about as high as St. Paul’s, with a waterfall on one side of me and the most romantic scenery you can imagine all round, above and below (p. 152).

Even in the midst of her revelry, however, she did not lose herself completely.  So she continues:

The old Duke ought to be a happy man, if worldly possessions can give felicity. But alas! we know they cannot. And, according to all accounts, he is one of those whom they have failed to impart it (p. 152).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s