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Treasures from Chatsworth: The Exhibition

Treasure of the Week: Peeress Robe Worn by Duchess Deborah to the 1953 Coronation

New York
The Devonshire Collection encompasses thousands of objects that have been carefully collected over 500 years. Because of this extraordinary breadth, choosing the 43 pieces that would travel to Sotheby's New York as part of the Treasures from Chatsworth exhibition was a challenging feat. Spotlighted here is the Peeress Robe, an exceptional garment worn by Duchess Deborah to Queen Elizabeth's 1953 Coronation.

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The Peeress Robe on display at the Chatsworth Exhibition, Sotheby's New York Julian Cassady Photography LTD./by Julian Cassady Photography LT

T he Peeress Robe is a luminous example of Regency era ceremonial garments. Thought to be made for the 6th Duke of Devonshire's sister, Lady Georgiana Cavendish, wife of the 6th Earl of Carlisle, to wear to William IV's Coronation in 1831, the robe is cut from exquisite red velvet and ivory lace, with fur trim throughout. While the waistline of the garment has been altered (likely for Duchess Deborah), the neckline appears in its original form, and is typical of the 1830s style.

More than a century later, in 1953, Duchess Deborah was in search of a proper outfit to wear to the Coronation of Elizabeth II. As she writes in her book, Wait for Me!, she happened upon the crimson Peeress robe in tin trunks at Chatsworth. The dress was perfect, as she notes:

“With velvet of exceptional quality, so soft your fingers hardly know they are touching it.”
Duchess Deborah, “Wait for Me!”, 2011, Picador

There was just one problem: the bodice is cut off the shoulder, a style unlike the other peeress' gowns. However, the Queen granted the 11th Duke and Duchess a dispensation, allowing the Duchess to wear the robe for the Coronation.

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Left: The 11th Duke and Duchess of Devonshire with the current Duke as a child await their coach to take them to the Coronation in 1953; Right: Duchess Deborah at the Coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953.

These days, the robe is maintained by the textiles team, a subset of Chatsworth's larger Collections Team. The team has their work cut out for them, as the Chatsworth clothing archive is remarkably extensive. While textiles are highly susceptible to environmental degradation, ladies' ceremonial garments were worn infrequently and safely stored, so they could survive from one generation to the next. For this reason, the Chatsworth collection lacks everyday female attire, but is replete with historic state costumes in fine condition.

The Peeress Robe from All Angles

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The Peeress Robe on display at the Chatsworth Exhibition, Sotheby's New York

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