My paternal grandmother’s father was called Christopher Scaife Betterton. A carriage striper by profession, he came with his family to the US from England at age five. His father William Frank Betterton was a shoemaker in Sheffield who brought his young family to Rhinebeck NY in 1841. Christopher’s middle name was his mother Grace’s maiden name. The Scaifes were from the Old Brampton, Sheffield and Chesterfield areas of Devonshire, where their genealogy can be traced back to Grace’s grandfather, an 18th century man named John Scaife.
John Scaife was born about 1738, married my 4th great grandmother in 1780 in Old Brampton, and died in 1815. He is known to have been a huntsman, the person who trains dogs used in fox hunts, directing them in the field using his voice as well as the iconic fox hunting horn.
A short obituary notice was printed in the “Provincial Occurrences” section of The New Monthly Magazine of 1815:
“At Stone Gravels, Mr. Scaife, many years huntsman to the late Duke of Devonshire.”
So who was the Duke of Devonshire, and where did he live?
The Duke of Devonshire’s country seat is called Chatsworth, founded in the 16th century and still inhabited today by the current 12th duke. The spectacular Chatsworth House sits on 1000 acres and contains 126 rooms, including sumptuous state apartments built to host British royalty. The house and grounds were even used as settings in the 2006 film Pride and Prejudice.
The fifth duke of Devonshire was William Cavendish, who was born in 1748 and died in 1811, which would make him the “late Duke” that John Scaife worked for. His wife Georgiana was quite famous in her time. She was the oldest daughter of the first Earl of Spencer, in the same Spencer line as Diana, the former Princess of Wales. Similar to Diana, Georgiana was known for her beauty and her trend setting sense of style. She took 18th century hairstyles literally to a new height, managing a three foot tall tower of hair, sometimes decorated with sail boats, stuffed birds, or artificial fruit. For a short time, she popularized a fashion for wearing costly, four foot long ostrich feathers in her hair. The fad created a backlash, however, with one noble lady recounting:
“the unfortunate feathers were insulted, mobbed, hissed, almost pelted wherever they appeared, abused in the newspapers, nay even preached at in the pulpits and pointed out as marks of reprobation.”
Unfortunately, Georgiana was also overly fond of gambling and parties, and her husband the Duke was often absent, being more interested in his own friends and mistresses. After producing a male heir and two daughters, Georgiana indulged in a series of disastrous affairs and died of liver disease at the age of 48, deeply in debt from gambling losses.
Imagine John Scaife the huntsman, with his below stairs colleagues at Chatsworth, observing the craziness of the above stairs Cavendish family members. Wealth and privilege might not have looked all that tempting to John.
- Scaife Study Group – research on the Scafe/Scaife surname from its appearance in 13th century British records, 2009
- Foxhunting: Yesterday and today, International Museum of the Horse, Lexington Kentucky, 2017
- Atlas Obscura, Chatsworth House, 2017
- Chatsworth.org, 18th century; short biography of the fifth Duke of Devonshire, 2017
- Chatsworth.org, About the House, 2017
- Architectural Digest, The Duke and Dutchess of Devonshire Prepare Chatsworth Estate, 2007
- The Guide to Cheshire, Derbyshire, Lancashire and the Wirrel, The Cavendish Family – the Dukes of Devonshire, 2006
- The New York Times on the web, excerpt from Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman, 1999