When the First Duke of Devonshire (pictured left) was sixty-five, suffering from gout, troubled by his stretched finances (too much spent on the gee gees at Newmarket and rebuilding Chatsworth) and his popularity with Queen Anne was waining he found consolation in the daughter of his valet.
Mary Ann Campion had been born in 1687- the year before the first duke added his name to the document that invited William of Orange to invade. She was just seventeen when she became pregnant – a case of droit de signeur if there ever was one!
Mary Ann was an actress, or at any rate she sang, danced and played the harpsichord. She’d first appeared on stage when she was just eleven so it may be that she had natural talent rather than a reliance on eye-brow raising patronage. By 1703 she was singing in Italian, although some of the songs she were singing would, not by any account, be deemed suitable for a thirteen-year-old today, even a “little canary bird.”
History records her last public performance as the 14th March 1704. The reason behind this was that the duke wished her to leave the stage. He set her up in London in a property known in Bolton Street, St. Martin in the Fields – where she gave birth to a daughter named after her mother. The baby appears to have been healthy but Mary Ann either had a difficult birth or was already unwell. She made her will on the 23r April 1706. On the 16th May 1706 Mary died of something described as a “hectic fever.”
The duke was unfashionably grief stricken. Although he didn’t attend the funeral he had his mistress’s remains interred at the church near Latimers in Buckinghamshire where he owned a house and where other members of his family were buried. He even went so far as to put a monument up in her memory – enjoining readers to remember that the lovely young woman had a virtuous mind and that although her birth was lowly she had been a very sincere person more suited to nobility.
Mary Ann left her house to her daughter along with her jewellery and plate. The duke left his daughter £10,000.
It would be nice to know what happened to Mary Ann Cavendish.
Philip H. Highfill, Kalman A. Burnim, Edward A. Langhans A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers