Lucy Worsley, Chief Curator of Historic Royal Palaces, explains how a seventeenth-century Duke stole her heart while she was still at university.
On September 6th, 2007, my long and intimate relationship with a dead duke will come to an end. For more than a decade, I have been peeping through the keyhole into the domestic world of William Cavendish, first Duke of Newcastle, and my biography of him and his household is about to appear in print at last.
I first met William Cavendish in June 1995. Taking a book at random from my university history library, I found myself one rainy afternoon starting to read Mark Girouard’s Robert Smythson and the Elizabethan Country House (Yale, 1983). I ended up devouring it before dinner, crouched on the hairy carpet of my college room, and remaining motionless so long that the carpet’s corduroy stripes became permanently tattooed into my knees. The book is about Elizabethan and Jacobean architecture, the secret ‘conceits’ or messages hidden in buildings, and Girouard’s own search for the real-life houses described in the treasure trove of sketches by the designer Robert Smythson (now owned by the Royal Institute of British Architects). The book’s climax was my first glimpse – through Edwin Smith’s brooding photographs – of Bolsover Castle in Derbyshire. I was instantly smitten by this building, and by its builder, William Cavendish.