Rare hunting tapestries returned home to Chatsworth House for exhibition to celebrate stately home's reopening

A rich picture of tradition is woven into the fabric of the Devonshire Hunting Tapestries, giving a glorious insight into what life was like for the nobility of medieval Britain.

Chatsworth House reopening with the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. Image by Brian Eyre

Now these handcrafted masterpieces, long since handed over to the Treasury in lieu of tax, are returning to their ancestral home for one season only.

The ancient tapestries, nearly 600 years old, have been hung on the walls of the Sculpture Gallery at Chatsworth House to celebrate its reopening on Tuesday.

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“It is a great privilege to welcome these tapestries back to Chatsworth," said the The Duke of Devonshire.

Chatsworth House reopening with the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. Image by Brian Eyre

"They had been part of the collection for very many years until they were given in partial lieu of death duties in the 1950s.

"Since then they have been superbly looked after at the V&A Museum and we are delighted that they are allowing us to enjoy them here in Derbyshire once again for a few months in 2021.”

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Tapestries such as these, enormously costly objects in the Middle Ages, were once the preserve of only the wealthiest of families in medieval Britain.

The tapestries in Chatsworth House sculpture gallery with conservator Susie Stokoe. Image by Brian Eyre

The Devonshire Tapestries, each measuring more than 11m by 4m, are one of the largest pictorial representations of any kind from their period to survive, and they are the only great 15th century hunting tapestries remaining today.

Depicting vivid scenes of fabulously dressed noble men and women hunting in imaginary landscapes, they are believed to have been made in Arras, France between 1425-1450.

Such tapestries, with scenes of forests, people and animals, were a popular subject, transforming the cold and draughty interiors of medieval castles and mansions into forest glades.

But having belonged to the Devonshire family for more than 500 years, this pair was handed over to the Treasury in lieu of tax payable on the estate of the 10th Duke of Devonshire in 1957.

The tapestries in Chatsworth House sculpture gallery with conservator Susie Stokoe. Image by Brian Eyre


Now Chatsworth House, working with the Victoria and Albert Museum where they have been housed ever since, has brought them home for the first time in more than 60 years.

Chatsworth House, having been closed for more than six months, will reopen on Tuesday to 'Life Stories', a new exhibition sharing the stories of those people associated with its history.

Jonathan Fish, of the estate's team, said there was a buzz of anticipation ahead of the exhibition's launch, and as the house has prepared over recent weeks to welcome back guests.

Not since the days of Foot and Mouth in 2001 had the house been closed for any great length of time, and even then it was for a matter of weeks.

Of the tapestries, he said they were "astonishing".

"We are very lucky to be able to bring them back to Chatsworth for the next few months," he said. "I've never seen anything like them - they are truly enormous.

"Having belonged to the Devonshire family for hundreds of years, to return them home to Chatsworth is quite special.

"People are going to be awestruck when they get to the end of the exhibition."


Nine portraits and objects are to feature in the eight-month Life Stories exhibition, with the Devonshire Hunting Trophies hung on the walls of the final room in Chatsworth's Sculpture Gallery.

The exhibition, from May 18 to October 3, is focused on the traces of lives in the house to demonstrate how past figures continue to resonate today, with artist's paintings, ceramic works, and a recreation of Bess of Hardwick’s necklace of 1,000 pearls.

The opening of Chatsworth House on Tuesday marks the final phase in its reopening, with the gardens, farmyard and adventure playground already open to visitors by prebooking.


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