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Kindle Me: Deborah Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire


Common, in terms of style, equates to personable, approachable, and level both in terms of how possible a look is to copy and achieve. Common is something I would wear. Common can be regular – jeans and a tee – and common can be fancy – cocktail dress. If common were a day, it would be Saturday and if common were a person, it would be Deborah Cavendish, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire. Common with a sprinkling of glitter.

It’s hard to believe that a Duchess is common, especially one that has a title with a word that I had to dictionary.com (I just made the a verb), but ‘Debo’ is common. Seriously.

I was first introduced to Debo when I read an article about her in a British magazine. The article highlighted British women “who have a knack of putting together the weirdest combinations of clothing and accessories that somehow – with their warped sense of good, bad, and just plain weird taste – inspire the rest of the world.” The author also wrote, “The English style at its best is totally natural, fiercely individual and girlishly contrary.” Yep, that’s Debo.

To give a little history, Deborah Freeman-Mitford, Debo’s maiden name, was born on March 31, 1920. The youngest and the last surviving sister of the famous Mitford sisters – six sisters who were famous in the 1930s and 1940s in Britain because of their political and marital shenanigans – Debo married Lord Andrew Cavendish, the son of the Duke of Devonshire, in 1941. When Andrew’s father died in 1951, he (Andrew) became the Duke of Devonshire and Debo became the Duchess of Devonshire. During her reign, Debo became the face of Chatsworth, a home that has been in the Cavendish family since 1549. In addition to renovating and up-keeping  the interior and exterior design of the building, she started the Chatsworth Farm Shop that today employs several hundred people and Chatsworth Food that sells luxury foodstuffs.

What’s most noteworthy about the history lesson is that she personally ran – and still runs – the stately home. She handles the ticket office and she feeds the chickens (wearing Balmain). In an article written by The New York Times on Debo, the author ends with a quote by a local taximan, “That were the duchess, weren’t it?” he (the taximan) asked, recalling the thrill he got years ago when, taking his family on an outing to the Chatsworth farm, he spotted her feeding her chickens. “We love her to bits.”

And Debo’s style is even more impressive, at least it is to me. Of the WWII generation, Debo’s style is perfectly practical, country, and elegant but a little witty and aloof, which I like. Her hair is coiffed to the tee and her strand of pearls are neatly worn. She maintains this look, along with her ramrod posture, both day and night, during chicken feedings and black tie events.

“I buy most of my clothes at agricultural shows, and good stout things they are. After agricultural shows, Marks & Spencer is the place to go shopping, and then Paris. Nothing in between seems to be much good,” Debo was quoted saying.

This is what inspires me – to have an AURA and a sense of STYLE that is both high up on the thrown and down among the laypeople. She touches the stars while standing on the ground.

Click here to watch an interview of Deborah because although my words and images give a sense of who Deborah is, or at least I hope, video always gives a much clearer picture.


  1. Reply

    Sarah Welsch

    *ps, hope all is well up there!

  2. Reply


    I thought you might wish to know that to call someone ‘common’ in the UK is to suggest they are ‘vulgar’ or ‘lacking in refinement’. Would I be right in thinking this is not the case in the US?

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      Yes – in no way, shape, or form did I mean that Debo was vulgar or lacking in refinement. As I wrote in my definition, common means approachable and personable. Debo, in my opinion, is a unique type of common in that she is both common and refined – “she touches the stars while standing on the ground.”

      I’m sorry for the confusion!

  3. Reply

    Caroline Greeven

    I agree, as a Brit I’ve always understood “common” to be a very cutting term. Used when someone is so drab and predictable as to be unworthy of notice. Which the MItfords, with all their wit and sparkle and rebelliousness were not! What Debo probably does have is the common touch, because she does seem to be able to connect with and inspire adoration with everyone who comes into contact with her!

    I always loved how there is a Mitford for everyone, each sister equally fascinating in her own way.

    Ahhhh.. nothing like a knit-picky semantic discussion of the English language in your blog comments first thing in the morning! 😉

    Love your blog, really value all the information you share here!

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      Amen sister! I meant common is the best sense of the word and I did not expect my use of the word to cause such a stir! Oh well, it makes for an interesting post. Top of the mornin’ to ya, eh?

      For all of the British readers out there, I apologize about the confusion. Please try to interpret the word ‘common’ as a good thing, which it is here in the US, and NOT a bad thing.

  4. Reply


    I went to the Chatsworth estate for my birthday last year. It is LOVELY. Beautiful but very educational gardens, all interlaced with curated, outdoor sculptures that integrate into their environment. Obviously a part of what they do is fund up and coming artists. It’s so earthy and yet elegant. I can totally see her in it, feeding the chickens…

  5. Reply

    Amanda Russell

    In that portrait of her in her younger years, you could be related to her – you have very similar features; the fine bone structure, the look in the eyes… the slightly aloof elegance… I can see why you relate to her 🙂

  6. Reply


    Wow, I love that she shops for her clothes at agricultural shows and Paris. What a contrast this fascinating lady is. I would love to see more pictures of her in her younger years!

  7. Reply


    Wow, she seems very classy. Love her style =D

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