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Charming plus formidable equals 'Debo' Mitford

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

Deborah Mitford, who became the Duchess of Devonshire, could have faced down Henry VIII. She survived the Great Depression, the loss of her best friends and brother to war, a wandering husband and the deaths of three babies. Her memoir gazes back at 90 years, and attests to her unbreakable spirit.

Charles Moore reviews her memoir. She is also known for battling tax agents to save Chatsworth and for becoming one of Britain's successful entrepreneurs.

Her memories of childhood in the country are intense -

"As one who becomes hopelessly addicted to sticks and stones, gateways with their ruts and puddles, anthills, thrushes, freshwater springs, kingcups, dog roses in May (soon to be hips and haws), wood anemones under oaks, silent woods in August, milk-white walnuts in autumn, the smell of new creosote on chicken houses, saddle soap and horse manure – having to abandon all these made leaving Swinbrook, 'the land of lost content', hard to bear."

Perhaps all we need to know about Debo is that she had tea with Adolf Hitler in 1937, but, asked whether she would rather have met Hitler or Elvis Presley, she immediately answered: "Well, Elvis of course! What an extraordinary question."

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