Part of the estate of Deborah Devonshire, the great Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, has sold at auction in London for around £1.8 million. Hundreds of personal items (her last possessions) were sold at Sotheby’s on New Bond Street, bringing to light the tastes and life of the British aristocrat. Items included a very rare edition of Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh’s 1945 novel, enscribed with a personal note to Debo and her husband Andrew Cavendish, the 11th Duke of Devonshire, which sold for £52,500.
Among the Regency chairs and other fine furniture included in the sale, the other mainstay of the vast collection was chickens: Debo’s first love. The auction haul included special chicken boxes, inscribed with her initials, made so she could transport her favourite hens to country shows. Sotheby’s estimated this lot would go for £200-300 but it eventually sold for £10,625. Among other poultry-themed items were tureens in the shape of chickens and chicks, miniature models of cockerels, and an egg case, complete with six alabaster eggs, which was sold for £5,500.
Deborah, known to her friends as “Debo”, an eccentric British duchess was the youngest of six sisters who scandalised 1930s British high society. She married Andrew Cavendish, the later Duke of Devonshire, which led to her acquiring her royal title. She masterminded the transformation of Chatsworth House, the family’s 18th-century mansion, into a profitable tourist attraction that now hosts more than a million visitors a year. She was also famously devoted to her chickens and regularly hosted parties where live hens would strut about the dinner table. Among Deborah’s friends included President Kennedy, Winston Churchill, Lucian Freud, Evelyn Waugh, Alan Bennett, members of the Royal Family, Hubert de Givenchy, Oscar de la Renta and Cecil Beaton.