Bess of Hardwick disowned her eldest son Henry but he had still inherited Chatsworth despite the fact that Bess entailed what she could to William and his heirs. Due to his debts Henry sold Chatsworth to his brother William.
William was not what might be called dynamic. He was still living at home in Hardwick with his mum when he was a middle aged man with a family. Nor was he interested in a London based career as a courtier. Instead he concentrated on the role of administration traditionally allotted to the gentry. He was for example the Lord Lieutenant of Derbyshire.
In 1605 thanks to the auspices of his niece Arbella Stuart he became a baronet. In 1618 with the aid of £10,000 paid to James I he became an earl. In addition to his land holdings in Derbyshire he was also investing in foreign trade – the East India Company, the Muscovy Company, the Bermuda Company and also in the settlements in Virginia.
The first earl was Anne Keithley of Yorkshire with whom he had three children. Two of them died young. His daughter Frances married the first baron Maynard. His second wife was also from Yorkshire and this marriage produced one son, John, who was knighted in 1618 when Prince Charles became Prince of Wales. He died soon afterwards.
William’s eldest son was another William, called Wylkyn within the family. It was intended that he should marry Christian Bruce of Kinross when he was eighteen. She was only twelve but the matter had been arranged to King James’ approval. The dowry was a very lucrative £10,000. The problem was that young William didn’t want a wealthy bride of the kind that his father and grandmother Bess might have approved nor was he unduly concerned about the first earl’s political aspirations. No, what William wanted was his mistress Margaret Chatterton who had been one of Bess’s ladies. It didn’t help that Christian was still a child to William’s eighteen years. Despite Wylkyn’s dislike of the marriage he was wed to Christian Bruce. The Devonshires would not be known for their love matches.
By the time he was in his twenties young William was a polished courtier (pictured left). He also had a reputation of brawling, drinking and womanising. He also spent money as though it was water. This Cavendish was behaving as though he was a member of the aristocracy.
Perhaps in a bid to curtail his son’s rather un-Cavendish habits William senior appointed him a new tutor in the form of Thomas Hobbes. The reason for this was that married men could not attend university and William senior saw that his son required a layer of culture to add to his fashionable persona. The pair were sent on a tour of Europe. These days we tend to think of the Grand Tour as an eighteenth century phenomenon but despite the on-going religious wars the English were keen to visit foreign climes – especially when Prince Charles (to be Charles I) made it a fashionable thing to do.
In addition to all the gallivanting he found time to become the MP for Derbyshire and on account of the Cavendish investments was also Governor of the Bermuda Company. However he had managed to get himself into a huge amount of debt and ultimately an act of parliament would have to be sought to break Bess’s entail on part of the estate so that land could be sold to save the rest of the estate.
The second earl died in 1628 in London of “excessive indulgence.” His heir, another William, was a minor so for a while at least the Cavendish lands were in the hands of Christian Bruce who was by now thirty-two-years old and a canny woman managing to secure full wardship for her son. An economy drive was instituted and Thomas Hobbes was given the boot, only returning when finances recovered and there was further need for a tutor. William was knighted at Charles I’s coronation in 1625. His royalist credentials are evidenced by the fact that he spoke against the attainder on the Earl of Strafford in 1641. The network of family ties was strengthened with a marriage to Elizabeth Cecil, daughter of the Earl of Salisbury in 1639.
Which brings us to the English Civil War. Christian Bruce was a friend of Henrietta Maria. The Cavendishs were Royalists. In 1642 the 3rd Earl presented himself in York with his younger brother Charles who joined with Prince Rupert and his cavalry, took part in the Battle of Edgehill and ultimately became the Royalist commander for Derbyshire and Lincolnshire prior to his death at the Battle of Gainsborough. Meanwhile the earl, no doubt on his mother’s advice, took himself off to Europe until 1645 when he compounded for his Royalist sympathies – paid a fine of £5000 and returned to live in England at Leicester Abbey where his mother had her residence (it had been purchased by the first earl in 1613) and from there he went to Latimer Place in Buckinghamshire until the Restoration when he returned to Chatsworth.
The third earl laid the foundations for Chatsworth’s library, was a fellow of the Royal Society and a friend of the diarist John Evelyn. He does not seem much like his father, or indeed his son.
Born in 1641, yet another William became the fourth earl upon his father’s death in 1684. There had been an older brother but he died in his infancy. The third earl had preserved the Cavendish estates largely by keeping his head down and letting his cousin (William Earl, Marquis and the Duke of Newcastle) of and younger brother get on with Royalist soldiering. The fourth earl was described by Bishop Burnet as being of “nice honour in everything except the paying of his tradesmen.” Like his father he had been sent on the Grand Tour and like his Uncle William (Newcastle) he fancied himself as a bit of a poet. It is easy to see how this particular Cavendish fitted into the court of King Charles II who was also known for his late payments. Like his monarch Cavendish also had a reputation for womanising. He had several children by a mistress called Mrs Heneage. Apparently Charles II had told Nell Gwynn not to have anything to do with him – re-arrange the words pot, kettle and black into a sentence of your choice. It could be that Charles took against William Cavendish because he publicly snubbed the Duke of York (James) at Newmarket on account of his catholicism. Aside from seduction the fourth earl also seems to have spent a lot of time picking fights and duelling.
In 1661 the fourth earl entered Parliament and the following year married Lady Mary Butler the daughter of the Duke of Ormonde. Ormonde had been at the forefront of the Irish campaign against Oliver Cromwell and had been with Charles II in exile. Upon the Restoration he became a key political figure. In this instance the Cavendish alliance was for political advancement.
Somehow or other the brawling, womanising, verse-writing earl became a serious politician. By the 1670s he was using his position to wage war on behalf of Parliament against James III. This particular Cavendish was not a die-hard royalist like his father or uncles). The Fourth earl was a Whig – he was anti-court and anti-Catholic and, of course alongside that, he was first and foremost a Cavendish.
Part of the reason for his being involved in the Glorious Revolution, to depose James III in favour of his daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange, was because of a dispute over land. Colonel Culpepper, a supporter of James III, had made a claim to some Devonshire lands stating that they should have come to him as part of his wife’s dowry. The pair had a brawl when Culpepper called Cavendish’s loyalty to the Crown into question and Cavendish called Culpepper a liar.Culpepper ended up in the Marshalsea Prison was released and the pair met again. Culpepper having been imprisoned for fighting refused a further confrontation so the earl grabbed him by the nose and dragged him from the room before beating him about the head with his cane. It was the earl’s turn to be imprisoned unless he paid a £30,000 fine. The earl had no intention of paying so he simply walked out of the prison gates and headed for Derbyshire. A warrant for his arrest was issued but in the short term everything was smoothed out with a letter of apology and an I.O.U. – which the earl clearly had no intention of paying.
It was a short step from that event to conspiracy in Whittington and a letter inviting William of Orange to come to England – William Cavendish was able to stand up for Protestantism and get one over on Colonel Culpepper. It also made him one of the so-called “Immortal Seven” having signed the letter inviting William to come and take the crown. The new king was very grateful to the fourth earl who would shortly become the First Duke of Devonshire. The two times great grandson of Bess of Hardwick had moved the family further up the social hierarchy.
Hattersley, Roy. (2014) The Devonshires: The Story of a Family and a Nation. London:Vintage Books
Pearson, John. (1984) The Serpent and the Stag. New York: Holt Reinhart