Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Cavendish, Spencer Compton
CAVENDISH, SPENCER COMPTON, Marquis of Hartington and eighth Duke of Devonshire (1833–1908), statesman, born on 23 July 1833 at Holker Hall, Lancashire, was eldest of three sons of William Cavendish, second earl of Burlington, and afterwards seventh duke of Devonshire [q. v. Suppl. I], by his wife, Lady Blanche Georgiana, daughter of George Howard, sixth earl of Carlisle [q. v.]. She died on 27 April 1840, leaving four children, three sons and a daughter. The second son was Lord Frederick Cavendish [q. v.]. The third son, Edward (1838-1891), was father of Victor Christian William Cavendish, ninth duke of Devonshire. The daughter, Louisa Caroline, married Admiral Francis Egerton (1824-1895), second son of Francis Egerton, first earl of Ellesmere [q. v.], and died 21 Sept. 1907. The sons were educated at home, chiefly by their father, whose attainments in both mathematics and classics were high. The eldest son, known at first as Lord Cavendish, was sent to Trinity College, Cambridge, at eighteen, in 1851. Without much reading he gained a second class in the mathematical tripos of 1854, graduating M.A. in the same year. During the following three years he led the life of a young man of high social position, hunted a good deal, and was an officer first in the Lancashire Yeomanry, and then in the Derbyshire militia. In 1856 he went to Russia attached to the staff of his cousin, Granville George Leveson-Gower, second Earl Granville [q. v.], who had been sent as a special ambassador to represent Queen Victoria at the coronation of the Tsar Alexander II.
In the spring of 1857, at the age of twenty-four, Cavendish was returned to Parliament for North Lancashire as a liberal and a supporter of Lord Palmerston. In January 1858 his cousin, the sixth duke of Devonshire, died. Cavendish's father, the earl of Burlington, succeeded to the dukedom and estates, and he himself became marquis of Hartington, under which name he made his political position. In June 1859, after a general election, Lord Palmerston, having effected a reconciliation of the sections whose divergence had led to his fall from office in 1858, was prepared to displace Lord Derby's government, and to resume power. He commissioned Lord Hartington to move a motion of want of confidence intended to effect this object. The speech (7 June) was very successful, the motion was carried on 10 June by 323 to 310, and the resignation of the Derby government followed. The speaker, John Evelyn Denison [q. v.], wrote to the duke of Devonshire that his son possessed 'a power of speaking rarely shown by persons who have had so little practice.' In 1862, when his father was installed as chancellor of Cambridge University, he was created hon. LL.D.
In August 1862 Lord Hartington made a holiday tour through the United States of America, where the civil war was now at its height. He visited the headquarters of both the northern and southern armies, and had an interview both with Abraham Lincoln and with Jefferson Davis. Lincoln was struck by his visitor, and predicted to Sir John Rose, of Canada, that Lord Hartington would have a distinguished political career in his own country. Hartington's sympathies were, on the whole, at this time on the side of the south.
On his return to England in February 1863 Hartington was appointed by Lord Palmerston under-secretary at the war office, and in that capacity had much to do with promoting the organisation of the new volunteer force. In February 1866, in succession to Sir Charles Wood (afterwards first Viscount Halifax) [q. v.], he became secretary of state for war during the few months of Lord Russell's government, thus entering the cabinet in his thirty-fourth year. After the fall of Lord Russell's government in June, Hartington visited Germany, saw the entry into Berlin of the victorious Prussian army after the seven weeks' war, talked to Bismarck, and inspected the recent battlefield of Sadowa. In April 1868 he supported in the House of Commons Gladstone's resolutions in favour of the disestablishment of the Irish church. This policy was unpopular in the county divisions of Lancashire, and Hartington, like Gladstone himself, lost his seat there at the general election of December. Three months later, however, he obtained a new seat from the Radnor Boroughs, in Wales. Gladstone, on forming his administration, offered Lord Hartington the post of lord-lieutenant of Ireland. This he declined, but accepted the office of postmaster-general, with a seat in the cabinet. His chief work in this office was the nationalisation of the telegraphs. He also had charge of the measure which established voting by ballot. This bill was first introduced in 1870, but was not passed into law until 1872.
At the end of 1870 Lord Hartington, much against his will, became chief secretary for Ireland. One of his first duties in this capacity was to pass through the House of Commons a special 'coercion bill,' on the principle of suspension of habeas corpus, for the county of Westmeath and some adjoining districts, which were disturbed by a powerful 'Ribbon Society.' Hartington was not in sympathy with Gladstone's scheme of 1873 for settling the Irish University question, which, as he foresaw, would satisfy no party, and he felt no surprise when it was defeated in the House of Commons on 11 March. His own wish was to carry through the nationalisation of the Irish railways, a measure which 'he believed ' would do more good to Ireland than anything else,' but this desire was thwarted by the prime minister's want either of time or of inclination.
Soon after the defeat of the liberal party at the elections of 1874 and the accession of Disraeli to power, Gladstone at the beginning of 1875 formally announced his intention to resign the leadership, and at a party meeting held under John Bright's presidency at the Reform Club, London, on 3 Feb., Hartington reluctantly agreed, at the request of the party, to fill the vacant place. In 1876 Disraeli began to develop his forward imperial policy by the purchase of the Suez Canal shares, and the bestowal on the Queen of the title of Empress of India. Hartington approved, on the whole, of the first of these steps, and felt no great objection to the second, and his speeches on these occasions were confined within the limits of moderate criticism. During the following two years the great subject of party controversy was that of the attitude of England to the Turkish question, and the Russo-Turkish war. Hartington, while he maintained that the British government might have prevented the war and secured a pacific reform in the administration of the Turkish provinces by a cordial co-operation from the beginning with Russia and the other continental powers, was by no means disposed to go so far as Gladstone, who was, he thought, far too violent in his denunciations of the policy of the government, and too oblivious of the extent to which British interests were involved in the maintenance, to some degree, of the Turkish dominion, and the preservation of Constantinople from the hands of a stronger and more dangerous power. Hartington was, however, a more severe critic of the government in the matter of the policy which led to the Afghan war in 1878, and publicly stated his opinion that Lord Lytton [q. v.], the viceroy of India, ought to be recalled.
Hartington's position in the country was growing in importance. The city of Glasgow bestowed on him the freedom of the city on 5 Nov. 1877, and on 31 Jan. 1879 he was installed as lord rector of Edinburgh University. Meanwhile Gladstone had been recalled by the Eastern question to the fighting line; his speeches had an immense effect in destroying the government of Lord Beaconsfield, and after the liberal victory at the elections of 1880 it became evident that no one save Gladstone could successfully discharge the function of prime minister. In April 1880 Queen Victoria invited Lord Hartington, who had been returned M.P. for North-East Lancashire, to form a government, and showed herself extremely anxious that he should be prime minister, but he declared himself, in view of the position which Gladstone had reassumed in the liberal party, unable to meet her wishes (Morley's Life of Gladstone, ii. 621–4).
Gladstone became prime minister on 23 April, and Lord Hartington was appointed secretary of state for India, a post to which the Afghan question now gave special importance. In the previous September the war, which had seemed to be ended by the treaty of Gandamak, was rekindled by the massacre at Kabul of Sir Louis Cavagnari [q. v.], the British envoy, with his staff and escort. Kabul, after some fighting, had been occupied, the Amir Yakub had been deported to India, negotiations were in progress with the exiled Prince Abdurrahman for the succession to the vacant throne, and a plan had been devised by Lord Lytton to separate the province of Kandahar from the rest of Afghanistan and to place it under a distinct native ruler, supported by a British garrison. This policy the new government, with the co-operation of the new viceroy, the Marquis of Ripon [q. v, Suppl. II], decided to reverse, and Hartington explained the reasons in a speech in parliament (25 March 1881) which Gladstone said was the most powerful that he had ever made. After the defeat of the pretender Ayub by Sir Frederick (afterwards Lord) Roberts (Aug.–Oct. 1880), Amir Abdur-rahman was installed in power and all the British forces were withdrawn from Afghanistan, except from the Sibi and Pishin frontier districts, which with Quettah were permanently added to the Empire.
At the end of 1882 Lord Hartington was transferred to the war office, and was secretary of state for war until Gladstone's government fell in the summer of 1885. He entered upon this office soon after the battle of Tel-el-Kebir in Egypt (13 Sept. 1882) and the virtual establishment of the British protectorate over Egypt. On 3 Nov. 1883 the Egyptian army, commanded by General Hicks [q. v.], was totally destroyed at El Obeid in the Soudan by the dervish host which followed the Mahdi, and in the following January the British Government decided to compel that of Egypt to withdraw altogether from the Soudan, and sent General Gordon to carry out the evacuation. Lord Hartington was one of the four ministers, the others being Lord Granville, Lord Northbrook, and Sir Charles Dilke, who were virtually responsible, in the first instance, for this step. When it became apparent in March that Gordon had failed, and that Khartoum and Berber would be taken by the Arabs unless they received military assistance, Hartington, supported by strong memorandums by Lord Wolseley, the adjutant-general, repeatedly urged the prime minister and the cabinet as strongly as he could to come to a decision on the subject. He was not, however, able to induce the cabinet to agree to any preparations until the end of July 1884, and then only by a threat of resignation. Consequently Lord Wolseley's Nile expedition arrived near Khartoum just too late to save that city from capture and Gordon from death on 26 Jan. 1885. The Government decided at first to retake Khartoum, and Hartington pledged himself in Parliament (25 Feb. 1885) to this policy in the strongest terms. But the feeling died away; the momentary probability of a war with Russia in connection with the Afghan frontier enabled Gladstone to withdraw from the undertaking, which he had never liked, and Hartington had the mortification of seeing the complete abandonment of the Soudan, even including the province of Dongola which had not as yet fallen into the power of the Mahdi.
In internal affairs during this period Hartington was the recognised leader of the whigs or moderate liberals, and came into frequent collision, both within and without the cabinet, with Mr. Chamberlain and Sir Charles Dilke [q. v. Suppl II], who led the radical section. He acquiesced reluctantly in the great extension of the franchise carried out in 1884-5, especially with regard to Ireland, and with difficulty was persuaded to remain in the cabinet, when it was proposed to pass the extension at once, and a redistribution bill, separately, at a later indefinite date. Chiefly to him and to his consultations with Sir Michael Hicks Beach (afterwards Lord St. Aldwyn), at the instance of Queen Victoria, was due the pacific settlement of the conflict upon this point between the government and the House of Lords in the autumn of 1884, when it was arranged to pass the redistribution bill at the same time as the franchise bill. The scheme of redistribution was settled at a conference between Gladstone, Lord Salisbury, Lord Hartington, Sir Charles Dilke, Sir Michael Hicks Beach, and other leading men of both parties. From the time when the 'home rule for Ireland' movement began, about 1872, he had always uncompromisingly opposed any plan of altering the 'legislative union' of Great Britain and Ireland, and had publicly predicted in the House of Commons on 30 June 1874 that if any liberal statesman were rash enough to embark upon this policy, he would break up the liberal party. He had also been a strong supporter of measures necessary for preserving order and resisting the wave of agrarian crime and supersession of law by the edicts of the Land League, which swept over Ireland after 1880. This rigime of violence culminated in the assassination of his brother, Lord Frederick Cavendish [q. v.], when chief secretary of Ireland, on 6 May 1882. In all these Irish questions the views of Hartington diverged widely from those of Gladstone, especially after the latter inaugurated negotiations with the Irish leader, Charles Stewart Parnell [q. v.], in April 1882.
Gladstone's administration fell in June 1885, and was succeeded by that of Lord Salisbury. The general election at the end of the year resulted in a return of conservatives and Irish nationalists about equal in number, when added together, to the liberals. Hartington stood and was elected for the new electoral division of Rossendale, in Lancashire, for which he sat henceforth, while he remained in the House of Commons. Gladstone's determination to embark upon a home rule policy was first made known in December 1885 after the election. Most of the members of the last liberal cabinet, despairing of further resistance to home rule, decided to follow Gladstone. A minority, however, led by Hartington, declined to accept office in the government, which Gladstone formed on the defeat of Lord Salisbury's government in the debate on the address in February 1886. Chamberlain and (Sir) George Trevelyan joined the new government provisionally, but on ascertaining the character of the measure proposed, left it, and made common cause with Hartington. On the introduction of the home rule bill (8 April), Hartington declared his opposition to it. He also addressed outside meetings, of which the most famous was that at the Opera House in the Haymarket (14 April), when he appeared upon the same platform with Lord Salisbury [q. v. Suppl. II], thus laying the foundation of the unionist alliance between the conservatives and dissentient liberals. The great difficulty urged by Lord Hartington his speeches was that there could be no guarantee that the supremacy of the imperial parliament over Ireland would be in practice maintained as Gladstone asserted. 'Mr. Gladstone and I,' he said, 'do not mean the same thing by the word "supremacy." ' Hartington on the second reading of the home rule bill, on 10 May 1886, moved the rejection of the measure in a very powerful speech, which made a great impression upon the House of Commons and the country, Over ninety liberal members of Parliament followed Hartington and Chamberlain, and on 8 June 1886 the bill was defeated on a second reading by a majority of 30. Gladstone at once obtained a dissolution of parliament, and, in consequence of the recent addition of two million voters to the electorate there was some doubt as to the result. Hartington fought in the country the most strenuous campaign of his life. The elections gave a sufficient majority to the combined conservatives and the liberal unionists, who now were a distinct organised party under the presidency and leadership of Hartington. The conservatives numbered 316, the liberal unionists 78, Gladstone's followers 191, and the Irish nationalists 85.
Salisbury, with Queen Victoria's consent, asked Hartington to form a government, in which he would serve, or to take office in a government which he (Salisbury) should form. Hartington declined, for ho considered that such a step would break up the liberal party and probably lead to a reversion of part of it, in time, to the Gladstonian standard, thus imperilling the legislative union. Salisbury renewed the proposal in January 1887, after the crisis due to the sudden resignation of Lord Randolph Churchill, then leader of the House of Commons ; but Hartington again, for the same reasons, declined. Thus he three times declined to be prime minister, in 1880, in 1886, and in 1887. During the next five years he sat upon the front opposition bench, giving an independent support to the government, who were largely kept in power by the aid of the liberal unionists. His breach with Gladstone continued to widen under the influence of events in Irish history, and of the policy and tone adopted by that statesman. During this period Hartington presided over two royal commissions, one, constituted in 1890, upon the 'civil and professional administration of the naval and military departments, and their relation to each other, and to the treasury' ; the other, constituted in 1891, upon the 'relations between employers and employed, the combination of employers and employed, and the conditions of labour.'
On 21 Dec. 1891 Lord Hartington, now aged fifty-eight, became eighth duke of Devonshire on his father's death and left the House of Commons after thirty-four years of service there. The elections of 1892 produced a small majority of forty for the liberal-Irish alliance. Gladstone, now in his eighty-third year, once more took office, and in 1893 introduced a second home rule bill, differing in some respects from the first (notably in its retention of the existing mumber of Irish members in the House of Commons), but not more acceptable to the duke. The bill passed its third reading in the House of Commons on 29 July, but the duke on 5 Sept. moved its rejection in the House of Lords in a lucid and able speech, and it was thrown out on 8 Sept. by 419 to 41. On 21 June 1895 Lord Rosebery, who had succeeded Gladstone as prime minister in March 1894, resigned upon a defeat in the House of Commons, and Lord Salisbury, called upon to form his third administration, invited the liberal-unionist leaders to accept office. A coalition government was formed. The duke of Devonshire became president of the council, to which office at that time the educational departments were attached. He showed interest in the development of technical education, but had small acquaintance with educational duties. He also presided over the cabinet 'defence committee' as it then existed. This government, which lasted till 11 July 1902, was remarkably strong and upon most points harmonious, and under it the limits of the Empire in north-east, west, and south Africa were widely extended.
When Lord Salisbury resigned on 11 July 1902 and Mr. Balfour became prime minister, the duke continued to hold the office of president of the council, but surrendered his functions in connection with the education departments, which were now placed under a distinct board and a minister of education. The duke also succeeded Lord Salisbury as government leader in the House of Lords. But his connection with Mr. Balfour's government was a short one. In the session of 1902, Sir Michael Hicks Beach, then chancellor of the exchequer, with the assent of the cabinet, had imposed a small duty on all corn stuffs imported, partly with a view to the expenditure due to the war, but chiefly, he explained, as a permanent source of revenue. Mr. Chamberlain, in the autumn of 1902, proposed to the Cabinet that advantage should be taken if this tax to give to the colonies the preference in British markets, for which they had asked at the conferences of 1887 and 1897. He left for Africa, thinking that the cabinet had accepted his proposal, but on his return, early in 1903, he found that the new chancellor of the exchequer, Charles Thomson Ritchie (afterwards Baron Ritchie of Dundee) [q. v. Suppl. II], proposed to repeal this unpopular tax. Mr. Chamberlain, then, in speeches, publicly declared his views in favour of duties for the sake of preference ; his movement was supported by a majority of the unionist party and opposed by a minority. The government at first set on foot an inquiry into statistics, and the duke of Devonshire supported this course in a speech on 15 June 1903 in the House of Lords. It was, however, found to be impossible to stave off a schism later than September 1903. On 14 Sept. took place a cabinet meeting, the result of which was the resignation of three cabinet ministers, Mr. Ritchie, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, and Lord George Hamilton, who took strongly the free-trade view. The duke was acting in unison with these ministers, and would have resigned at the same moment, had not Mr. Balfour informed him that Mr. Chamberlain had also resigned hi order to carry on independently the propaganda of tariff reform, and that his resignation had been accepted. The duke continued to hold his place in the cabinet till 1 October, when he resigned in consequence of the strong expressions in favour of a change in fiscal policy which were used by the prime minister in a speech at Sheffield. The duke's own explanation of his conduct in this matter was given in a speech which he made in the House of Lords on 19 Feb. 1904. During the remaining years of his life the duke opposed the new policy of tariff reform in the House of Lords (especially in speeches of 19 Feb. 1904 and 22 July 1905). In the spring of 1904 he resigned, after a meeting held on 18 May 1904, his chairmanship of, and connection with, the Liberal Unionist Association, over which he had presided since its formation in 1886. The majority of its members followed Mr. Chamberlain, and it was remodelled upon new lines. Upon other matters of policy the duke still sympathised with Mr. Balfour as prime minister, or, as he became in December 1905, leader of the opposition. But in debates on the new liberal government's education bill of 1906 he accepted, in opposition to the unionist point of view, the final position taken by the government.
The last speech in parliament made by the duke was on 7 May 1907, when he defined and defended the powers and functions of the House of Lords. His last public appearance was as chancellor at Cambridge, at a conferring of degrees, on 12 June 1907. A few days later he suffered a sudden collapse of health through weakness of the heart. Recovering to some degree, he left England on 24 October, and went to Egypt for the winter. On his way home, on 24 March 1908 he died almost suddenly at an hotel at Cannes. His body was brought to Derbyshire and buried at Edensor, close to Chatsworth.
The duke succeeded his father in 1892 as lord-lieutenant of Derbyshire, and the same year he was made K.G. by Queen Victoria. He also succeeded his father as chancellor of Cambridge University. He discharged his duties with energy, and did his best to raise a large fund for the better endowment of the university, towards which he himself gave 10,000l. He took special interest in the promotion of the teaching of applied science in the university. In 1895 he became lord-lieutenant of county Waterford. In the summer of 1892 the duke married Louise, daughter of Count von Alten of Hanover, and widow of William Montague, seventh duke of Manchester. After his marriage he entertained freely at Devonshire House, Chatsworth, and his other seats, and was, as Lord Rosebery said in his speech in the House of Lords upon the occasion of his death, the 'most magnificent of hosts.' One of the most famous festivities was the historic fancy dress ball given at Devonshire House in 1897, the year of the 'diamond jubilee,' when the duke himself appeared as the Emperor Charles V, there being a certain resemblance of type between the houses of Hapsburg and Cavendish. With Edward VII, both as Prince of Wales and as King, he was long on intimate terms of friendship. On several occasions the duke and duchess entertained King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra at Chatsworth, and once at Lismore Castle in Ireland. Annually during this reign there was a ball on Derby Day at Devonshire House which was attended by the King and Queen and other members of the royal family. In the control and management of his large estates in England and Ireland the duke was recognised as an excellent landlord and public-spirited benefactor. He encouraged the development of his property at Eastbourne with great effect, and he was actively interested in the industrial progress of Barrow, where he owned much property. No man had a stronger sense of duty or of all that is implied in the maxim 'Noblesse oblige.' His chief recreation in earlier days was hunting, though he also liked shooting and fishing, and throughout life he was addicted to the turf. He built himself a house at Newmarket, and was, perhaps, never happier than when he was there. His success in racing was, however, hardly equal to his zeal for it and expenditure upon it. He never won the Derby, though in 1898 a horse of his, Dieudonné, was the favourite for that race. His best horses at different times were Belphœbe who won the One Thousand Guineas in 1877 and was second to Placida for the Oaks—Morion, Marvel, Cheers, and Dieudonné.
The duke of Devonshire at no time in his life had much taste or leisure for either literature or the fine arts, though after his accession he took care that the library at Chatsworth should be kept up to date, and the sculptures and pictures carefully looked after. Sandford Arthur Strong [q. v. Suppl. II] was his capable librarian and keeper of art collections from 1895 to his death in 1904. His tastes were mainly those of a country gentleman. His favourite resort in London was the Turf Club and, after that, the Travellers and Brooks's Clubs. His speeches were not marked by brilliancy, rhetoric or imaginative wit, but they were well-constructed, logical, massive, most sincere and effective. A lethargic manner gave rise to the story that he yawned during one of his early orations. But an American orator, after hearing the foremost speakers in England, said that he thought the duke was the most effective of all, and likened the way in which he laid down his arguments to the operation of ‘driving in piles.’ But the weight which he carried in the country was due to the character revealed through the speeches. Mr. Balfour, when speaking in the House of Commons on the announcement of his death, ascribed the great political influence which the duke possessed not only to his abilities but ‘to that transparent honesty and simplicity of purpose … obvious to every man with whom he came into personal contact.’ He said that of all the great statesmen he had known the duke was the most persuasive speaker, and that ‘because he never attempted to conceal the strength of the case against him’ and because he ‘brought before the public in absolutely clear, transparent and unmistakable terms the very arguments he had been going through patiently and honestly before he arrived at his conclusion.’ Mr. Asquith said of the duke that ‘in the closing years of his life he commanded in a greater degree than perhaps any other public man the respect and confidence of men of every shade of opinion in this kingdom’ by virtue of simplicity of nature, sincerity of conviction, directness of purpose, intuitive ‘insight into practical conditions, quiet and inflexible courage, and, above all, tranquil indifference to praise and blame, and by absolute disinterestedness.’
The duke left no children, and the title and estates passed to his nephew, Victor, son of the late Lord Edward Cavendish. The duchess survived him, dying suddenly at Esher Place on 15 July 1911, and being buried at Edensor. The present duke has two younger brothers, Lord Richard Cavendish and Lord John Cavendish, and two sons, the present marquis of Hartington and Lord Charles Cavendish.
There is a portrait of the eighth duke (as marquis of Hartington) by Sir John Millais at Chatsworth. His portrait was also painted by G. F. Watts, R.A. (1882), and by A. S. Cope (1889). In the National Portrait Gallery there are two portraits, one painted by Lady Abercromby in 1888, and one by Sir Hubert von Herkomer, R.A., in 1892. The last-mentioned is by far the most exact and life-like picture of the five. Statues were erected by public subscription in both London and Eastbourne. The former, which is by Mr. Herbert Hampton, is in Whitehall Avenue, beside the war office.
[Life of the Eighth Duke of Devonshire, by Bernard Holland, C.B., 1911; Election Speeches, 1879–80, by the Marquis of Hartington, M.P., 1880; see also Morley, Life of Gladstone; Lord (Edmond) Fitzmaurice, Life of Lord Granville, 1905, 2 vols.; Wemyss Reid, Life of W. E. Forster, 1888; Earl Selborne's Memorials, 1898, 2 vols.; B. Mallet, Life of Lord Northbrook, 1908; Hansard's Reports; Proc. Royal Soc. 82a, 1909, by Prof. G. D. Liveing; Sir Wilfrid Lawson and F. C. Gould, Cartoons in Rhyme and Line, No. 53, 1904.]