1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Devonshire, Earls and Dukes of

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DEVONSHIRE, EARLS AND DUKES OF. The Devonshire title, now in the Cavendish family, had previously been held by Charles Blount (1563-1606), 8th Lord Mountjoy, great-grandson of the 4th Lord Mountjoy (d. 1534), the pupil of Erasmus; he was created earl of Devonshire in 1603 for his services in Ireland, where he became famous in subduing the rebellion between 1600 and 1603; but the title became extinct at his death. In the Cavendish line the 1st earl of Devonshire was William (d. 1626), second son of Sir William Cavendish (q.v.), and of Elizabeth Hardwick, who afterwards married the 6th earl of Shrewsbury. He was created earl of Devonshire in 1618 by James I., and was succeeded by William, 2nd earl (1591-1628), and the latter by his son William (1617-1684), a prominent royalist, and one of the original members of the Royal Society, who married a daughter of the 2nd earl of Salisbury.

William Cavendish, 1st duke of Devonshire (1640-1707), English statesman, eldest son of the earl of Devonshire last mentioned, was born on the 25th of January 1640. After completing his education he made the tour of Europe according to the custom of young men of his rank, being accompanied on his travels by Dr Killigrew. On his return he obtained, in 1661, a seat in parliament for Derbyshire, and soon became conspicuous as one of the most determined and daring opponents of the general policy of the court. In 1678 he was one of the committee appointed to draw up articles of impeachment against the lord treasurer Danby. In 1679 he was re-elected for Derby, and made a privy councillor by Charles II.; but he soon withdrew from the board with his friend Lord Russell, when he found that the Roman Catholic interest uniformly prevailed. He carried up to the House of Lords the articles of impeachment against Lord Chief-Justice Scroggs, for his arbitrary and illegal proceedings in the court of King's bench; and when the king declared his resolution not to sign the bill for excluding the duke of York, afterwards James II., he moved in the House of Commons that a bill might be brought in for the association of all his majesty's Protestant subjects. He also openly denounced the king's counsellors, and voted for an address to remove them. He appeared in defence of Lord Russell at his trial, at a time when it was scarcely more criminal to be an accomplice than a witness. After the condemnation he gave the utmost possible proof of his attachment by offering to exchange clothes with Lord Russell in the prison, remain in his place, and so allow him to effect his escape. In November 1684 he succeeded to the earldom on the death of his father. He opposed arbitrary government under James II. with the same consistency and high spirit as during the previous reign. He was withdrawn from public life for a time, however, in consequence of a hasty and imprudent act of which his enemies knew how to avail themselves. Fancying that he had received an insulting look in the presence chamber from Colonel Colepepper, a swaggerer whose attendance at court the king encouraged, he immediately avenged the affront by challenging the colonel, and, on the challenge being refused, striking him with his cane. This offence was punished by a fine of £30,000, which was an enormous sum even to one of the earl's princely fortune. Not being able to pay he was imprisoned in the king's bench, from which he was released only on signing a bond for the whole amount. This was afterwards cancelled by King William. After his discharge the earl went for a time to Chatsworth, where he occupied himself with the erection of a new mansion, designed by William Talman, with decorations by Verrio, Thornhill and Grinling Gibbons. The Revolution again brought him into prominence. He was one of the seven who signed the original paper inviting the prince of Orange from Holland, and was the first nobleman who appeared in arms to receive him at his landing. He received the order of the Garter on the occasion of the coronation, and was made lord high steward of the new court. In 1690 he accompanied King William on his visit to Holland. He was created marquis of Hartington and duke of Devonshire in 1694 by William and Mary, on the same day on which the head of the house of Russell was created duke of Bedford. Thus, to quote Macaulay, "the two great houses of Russell and Cavendish, which had long been closely connected by friendship and by marriage, by common opinions, common sufferings and common triumphs, received on the same day the highest honour which it is in the power of the crown to confer." His last public service was assisting to conclude the union with Scotland, for negotiating which he and his eldest son, the marquis of Hartington, had been appointed among the commissioners by Queen Anne. He died on the 18th of August 1707, and ordered the following inscription to be put on his monument:—

Willielmus Dux Devon,
Bonorum Principum Fidelis Subditus,
Inimicus et Invisus Tyrannis.

He had married in 1661 the daughter of James, duke of Ormonde, and he was succeeded by his eldest son William as 2nd duke, and by the latter's son William as 3rd duke (viceroy of Ireland, 1737-1744). The latter's son William (1720-1764) succeeded in 1755 as 4th duke; he married the daughter and heiress of Richard Boyle, earl of Burlington and Cork, who brought Lismore Castle and the Irish estates into the family; and from November 1756 to May 1757 he was prime minister, mainly in order that Pitt, who would not then serve under the duke of Newcastle, should be in power. His son William (1748-1811), 5th duke, is memorable as the husband of the beautiful Georgiana Spencer, duchess of Devonshire (1757-1806), and of the intellectual Elizabeth Foster, duchess of Devonshire (1758-1824), both of whom Gainsborough painted. His son William, 6th duke (1790-1858), who died unmarried, was sent on a special mission to the coronation of the tsar Nicholas at Moscow in 1826, and became famous for his expenditure on that occasion; and it was he who employed Sir Joseph Paxton at Chatsworth. The title passed in 1858 to his cousin William (1808-1891), 2nd earl of Burlington, as 7th duke, a man who, without playing a prominent part in public affairs, exercised great influence, not only by his position but by his distinguished abilities. At Cambridge in 1829 he was second wrangler, first Smith's prizeman, and eighth classic, and subsequently he became chancellor of the university.

Spencer Compton Cavendish, 8th duke (1833-1908), born on the 23rd of July 1833, was the son of the 7th duke (then earl of Burlington) and his wife Lady Blanche Howard (sister of the earl of Carlisle). In 1854 Lord Cavendish, as he then was, took his degree at Trinity College, Cambridge; in 1856 he was attached to the special mission to Russia for the new tsar's accession; and in 1857 he was returned to parliament as Liberal member for North Lancashire. At the opening of the new parliament of 1859 the marquis of Hartington (as he had now become) moved the amendment to the address which overthrew the government of Lord Derby. In 1863 he became first a lord of the admiralty, and then under-secretary for war, and on the formation of the Russell-Gladstone administration at the death of Lord Palmerston he entered it as war secretary. He retired with his colleagues in July 1866; but upon Mr Gladstone's return to power in 1868 he became postmaster-general, an office which he exchanged in 1871 for that of secretary for Ireland. When Mr Gladstone, after his defeat and resignation in 1874, temporarily withdrew from the leadership of the Liberal party in January 1875, Lord Hartington was chosen Liberal leader in the House of Commons, Lord Granville being leader in the Lords. Mr W. E. Forster, who had taken a much more prominent part in public life, was the only other possible nominee, but he declined to stand. Lord Hartington's rank no doubt told in his favour, and Mr Forster's education bill had offended the Nonconformist members, who would probably have withheld their support. Lord Hartington's prudent management in difficult circumstances laid his followers under great obligations, since not only was the opposite party in the ascendant, but his own former chief was indulging in the freedom of independence. After the complete defeat of the Conservatives in the general election of 1880, a large proportion of the party would have rejoiced if Lord Hartington could have taken the Premiership instead of Mr Gladstone, and the queen, in strict conformity with constitutional usage (though Gladstone himself thought Lord Granville should have had the preference), sent for him as leader of the Opposition. Mr Gladstone, however, was clearly master of the situation: no cabinet could be formed without him, nor could he reasonably be expected to accept a subordinate post. Lord Hartington, therefore, gracefully abdicated the leadership, and became secretary of state for India, from which office, in December 1882, he passed to the war office. His administration was memorable for the expeditions of General Gordon and Lord Wolseley to Khartum, and a considerable number of the Conservative party long held him chiefly responsible for the "betrayal of Gordon." His lethargic manner, apart from his position as war minister, helped to associate him in their minds with a disaster which emphasized the fact that the government acted "too late"; but Gladstone and Lord Granville were no less responsible than he. In June 1885 he resigned along with his colleagues, and in December was elected for the Rossendale Division of Lancashire, created by the new reform bill. Immediately afterwards the great political opportunity of Lord Hartington's life came to him in Mr Gladstone's conversion to home rule for Ireland. Lord Hartington's refusal to follow his leader in this course inevitably made him the chief of the new Liberal Unionist party, composed of a large and influential section of the old Liberals. In this capacity he moved the first resolution at the famous public meeting at the opera house, and also, in the House of Commons, moved the rejection of Mr Gladstone's Bill on the second reading. During the memorable electoral contest which followed, no election excited more interest than Lord Hartington's for the Rossendale division, where he was returned by a majority of nearly 1500 votes. In the new parliament he held a position much resembling that which Sir Robert Peel had occupied after his fall from power, the leader of a small, compact party, the standing and ability of whose members were out of all proportion to their numbers, generally esteemed and trusted beyond any other man in the country, yet in his own opinion forbidden to think of office. Lord Salisbury's offers to serve under him as prime minister (both after the general election, and again when Lord Randolph Churchill resigned) were declined, and Lord Hartington continued to discharge the delicate duties of the leader of a middle party with no less judgment than he had shown when leading the Liberals during the interregnum of 1875-1880. It was not until 1895, when the differences between Conservatives and Liberal Unionists had become almost obliterated by changed circumstances, and the habit of acting together, that the duke of Devonshire, as he had become by the death of his father in 1891, consented to enter Lord Salisbury's third ministry as president of the council. The duke thus was the nominal representative of education in the cabinet at a time when educational questions were rapidly becoming of great importance; and his own technical knowledge of this difficult and intricate question being admittedly superficial, a good deal of criticism from time to time resulted. He had however by this time an established position in public life, and a reputation for weight of character, which procured for him universal respect and confidence, and exempted him from bitter attack, even from his most determined political opponents. Wealth and rank combined with character to place him in a measure above party; and his succession to his father as chancellor of the university of Cambridge in 1892 indicated his eminence in the life of the country. In the same year he had married the widow of the 7th duke of Manchester.

He continued to hold the office of lord president of the council till the 3rd of October 1903, when he resigned on account of differences with Mr Balfour (q.v.) over the latter's attitude towards free trade. As Mr Chamberlain had retired from the cabinet, and the duke had not thought it necessary to join Lord George Hamilton and Mr Ritchie in resigning a fortnight earlier, the defection was unanticipated and was sharply criticized by Mr Balfour, who, in the rearrangement of his ministry, had only just appointed the duke's nephew and heir, Mr Victor Cavendish, to be secretary to the treasury. But the duke had come to the conclusion that while he himself was substantially a free-trader,[1] Mr Balfour did not mean the same thing by the term. He necessarily became the leader of the Free Trade Unionists who were neither Balfourites nor Chamberlainites, and his weight was thrown into the scale against any association of Unionism with the constructive policy of tariff reform, which he identified with sheer Protection. A struggle at once began within the Liberal Unionist organization between those who followed the duke and those who followed Mr Chamberlain (q.v.); but the latter were in the majority and a reorganization in the Liberal Unionist Association took place, the Unionist free-traders seceding and becoming a separate body. The duke then became president of the new organizations, the Unionist Free Food League and the Unionist Free Trade Club. In the subsequent developments the duke played a dignified but somewhat silent part, and the Unionist rout in 1906 was not unaffected by his open hostility to any taint of compromise with the tariff reform movement. But in the autumn of 1907 his health gave way, and grave symptoms of cardiac weakness necessitated his abstaining from public effort and spending the winter abroad. He died, rather suddenly, at Cannes on the 24th of March 1908.

The head of an old and powerful family, a wealthy territorial magnate, and an Englishman with thoroughly national tastes for sport, his weighty and disinterested character made him a statesman of the first rank in his time, in spite of the absence of showy or brilliant qualities. He had no self-seeking ambitions, and on three occasions preferred not to become prime minister. Though his speeches were direct and forcible, he was not an orator, nor "clever"; and he lacked all subtlety of intellect; but he was conspicuous for solidity of mind and straightforwardness of action, and for conscientious application as an administrator, whether in his public or private life. The fact that he once yawned in the middle of a speech of his own was commonly quoted as characteristic; but he combined a great fund of common sense and knowledge of the average opinion with a patriotic sense of duty towards the state. Throughout his career he remained an old-fashioned Liberal, or rather Whig, of a type which in his later years was becoming gradually more and more rare.

There was no issue of his marriage, and he was succeeded as 9th duke by his nephew Victor Christian Cavendish (b. 1868), who had been Liberal Unionist member for West Derbyshire since 1891, and was treasurer of the household (1900 to 1903) and financial secretary to the treasury (1903 to 1905); in 1892 he married a daughter of the marquess of Lansdowne, by whom he had two sons.

(H. Ch.)


  1. His own words to Mr Balfour at the time were: "I believe that our present system of free imports is on the whole the most advantageous to the country, though I do not contend that the principles on which it rests possess any such authority or sanctity as to forbid any departure from it, for sufficient reasons."