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Home: The Toast

Yes, she was 94. Yes, time passes and mows down various generations with it. People die every day. I myself am subject to the laws of decay and death, I’m told. And yet: Age, thou art shamed. Rome, thou hast lost the breed of noble bloods.

Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, has died; she was the last of the Mitford sisters. They are all now gone from the earth.

The Mitford sisters fascinated – and sometimes scandalised – British society in the 1940s.

Unity was a friend of Hitler, Diana, the second wife of British fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley, and Jessica a left-wing polemicist.

Deborah was more focused on her home life.

Nicknamed the “housewife duchess”, she made Chatsworth one of the most successful and profitable stately homes in England after marrying Andrew Cavendish in 1941.

But along with her siblings, during her lifetime she moved in the same circles as Sir Winston Churchill, John F Kennedy and Evelyn Waugh.

She also accompanied her sister Unity to tea with Hitler in 1937, was painted by Lucian Freud, and amassed a collection of Elvis Presley memorabilia.

She was not my favorite Mitford — a list of my favorite Mitfords, and Nicole’s too, can be seen here — but she was a Mitford, dammit, and worthy of respect. Attention must be paid.

Her sister Unity’s infatuation with Hitler saw the young Deborah invited to tea with the German dictator, although the visit made little impression on her.

“If you sat in a room with Churchill,” she later recalled, “you were aware of this tremendous charisma. Kennedy had it too. But Hitler didn’t – not to me anyway.”

She probably thought that was such a sick anti-Hitler burn, too. “Well, he wasn’t like one of ours, darling, if that’s what you mean.” God bless and keep the simple duchesses of the world.

Any anti-aristocratic sentiments in the comments will be heartily banned. I must mope for the rest of the day.

“Truly there were giants on the earth in those days, heroes of old, men of renown.”

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