Chatsworth House under the 1st–4th Earls of Devonshire (1610–c. 1700): notions of privacy in a specific household, its material space and intellectual climate

The team investigates notions of privacy in English country houses as environments for architectural innovation as well as scholarly pursuits of the nobility. We focus on the Elizabethan Chatsworth, built by Bess of Hardwick (c. 1527-1608) in the middle of the sixteenth century, and the new Hardwick Hall, which she also built at the end of this century next to the old Hardwick.

The first earl of Devonshire, William Cavendish (1552-1626), hired Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) in 1608 to tutor his son, William (1590-1628), future second earl of Devonshire. Hobbes remained almost all his life at the service of the Cavendishes, at Chatsworth and Hardwick. We investigate in particular his role as private tutor for the earls of Devonshire and as librarian in charge of ordering books, cataloguing and shelfing them for the private library. By combining inventories, account books, and library catalogues, we aim to reconstruct the physical and intellectual environment for knowledge production at Chatsworth and Hardwick. The history of the Devonshire private library is one of a significant transition from private closets with no label at the end of the sixteenth century to a dedicated public ‘library floor’ at the end of the seventeenth. 

The interdisciplinary approach, combining intellectual history with architectural history allows for a new history of the private Cavendish library, its contents, location and accessibility.

From 1687 on, Chatsworth was completely rebuilt, which allows for a comparative analysis between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ Chatsworth building, looking at the evolution of privacy in the seventeenth century.


  • October 2021 research trip to Derbyshire and the Devonshire Collection Archives at Chatsworth

Publications in the pipeline

  • Poulsen, Frank Ejby and Sanne Maekelberg, ’Out of the Closet: Privacy Evolutions of the Devonshire Private Libraries’

Case team members

Sanne Maekelberg and Frank Ejby Poulsen