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The house, situated alongside the River Derwent, was built on land purchased by Sir William Cavendish in 1549 for £600. Sir William started construction of the house in 1552, but he did not live to see its completion, as he died in 1557. His widow, Bess of Hardwick completed the building work, and bequeathed the house to her son, Henry Cavendish. Henry sold the house to his younger brother William, who became the 1st Earl of Devonshire in 1618. At first the Earl only intended to rebuild the south front, but with the accession of William III and the elevation of the Earl to a Dukedom his schemes became grander, and by 1707 he had in fact rebuilt the whole house. Talman was certainly responsible for the south and east fronts, and Thomas Archer - the architect of St John's, Smith Square and other churches in London - for the north. The designer of the west front remains something of a mystery, but it is possible that it may have been the invention of the Duke himself, who certainly had claims to be a competent amateur architect. The new facade obliterated the Elizabethan exterior, but the 'modern' house retains many of the Elizabethan interior walls and the Hunting tower on the hill above the house dates from the 1580s .
The Duke rebuilt Chatsworth in a Classical style, with the Library and North Wing added by the 6th Duke between 1790 and 1858. 26 rooms are open to the public within the main house. These include the Library, which was originally the 1st Duke's Long Gallery which was re-fitted as a library by the 6th Duke, the Painted Hall which was the 1st Duke's ceremonial entrance hall, and the Great Dining Room, where the first meal served was for the Princess (later Queen) Victoria in 1832. The Scots Rooms make up the section of the house which were used to keep Mary Queen of Scots, who was placed in the custody of the 6th Earl of Shrewsbery, Bess of Hardwick's 4th husband by Queen Elizabeth I. The stunning chapel was built between 1688 and 1693 by the 1st Duke, and has remained unaltered ever since. The Collection Chatsworth contains a magnificent private art collection which has been built up by the Cavendish family over 450 years. Much of the collection is on display in the public rooms of the house, and includes paintings by Rembrandt, Lanseer, Gainsborough and Freud, and sculptures by Canova and Frink.
The Garden extends to 105 acres, and includes many features such as the giant rockeries (1692), the cascade (1696), the canal (1702) and the gravity-fed emperor fountain (1843) which can emit a jet of water 90 metres into the air. There are five miles of walks in the Garden alone, with rare trees, shrubs, the cottage, Kitchen and Rose Gardens, temples, streams and ponds. The 1000 acre Park surrounding Chatsworth was landscaped by Capability Brown in the 18th Century. It is still the family home of the Dukes of Devonshire.