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.”
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.
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.