Introducing The Portland Collection with Dr Lucy Worsley

Lucy Worsley

Dr Lucy Worsley opened the new museum for The Portland Collection in March 2016.

The Portland Collection at Welbeck includes outstanding examples from some of the most highly regarded artists of each period, and includes one of the largest privately-owned and significant collections of British portraits and miniatures.

“Welbeck is a deeply eccentric place… the people who have lived there have been quite bonkers, and the things they have commissioned or collected, their art has sometimes been quite bonkers too.”

First of all came the Cavendish’s who turn the abbey into the House of Welbeck, including William who loved to teach horses how to dance. He had a brother, Charles, who was a brilliant mathematician; a wife Margaret, who was history’s first feminist science fiction writer.

When they died out without a male heir in the late 17th century a second Margaret Cavendish managed to disinherit all of her sisters and she married John Holles 1st Duke of Newcastle, so the family name is now Cavendish Holles. They had just one girl, Henrietta, who marries Edward Harley 2nd Earl of Oxford and Mortimer; so the family name is now Cavendish Holles Harley, two female successions. Henrietta was fantastic; she was a rich recluse, a patron of architecture. She furiously built enormous additions onto Welbeck Abbey, boasting that she had more than a hundred men working at once, she kept them at it day and night by candlelight. She was horse mad as well and had herself painted in her riding habit. Her daughter, another female succession, William Bentinck the 2nd Duke of Portland, so the family name is now Cavendish Holles Harley Bentinck. When he died she had a long widowhood, the richest woman in England and spent all her money collecting plants and wonders. Her house became known as the Hive because of all the botanists, entomologists and ornithologists that she employed there with the aim of collecting and recording every species in the whole world.

All these rather brilliantly odd people have created a brilliantly odd collection.

Horace Walpole described it in the 18th Century, he said that the collection consisted of “all sorts of portraits of Cavendish’s, Harley’s, Holles’, Veers’ and Ogle’s. Every chamber is tapestried with them and nay, with 10,000 other fat morsels”.

But the collection wasn’t just portraits it was diamonds, silver and odder items like the earring worn by Charles I on the scaffold; ask yourselves this, who had the job of getting it out of his ear afterwards? And the manuscript containing the first known recipe for curry from 1729.

Dr Lucy Worsley

Dr Lucy Worsley is Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, much-loved TV presenter and prolific author.

Her book ‘Cavalier: The Story of a Seventeenth Century Playboy’ is a portrait of William Cavendish, 1st Duke of Newcastle, owner of Welbeck and ancestor of the Dukes of Portland.