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Spencer Cavendish, 8th Duke of Devonshire

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Title: Spencer Cavendish, 8th Duke of Devonshire  
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Subject: Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, Liberal Unionist Party, William Ewart Gladstone, William Cavendish, 7th Duke of Devonshire, Archibald Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery
Collection: 1833 Births, 1908 Deaths, Alumni of Trinity College, Cambridge, British Secretaries of State, British Secretaries of State for Education, Cavendish Family, Chancellors of the University of Cambridge, Chief Secretaries for Ireland, Directors of the Furness Railway, Duke of Lancaster's Own Yeomanry Officers, Dukes of Devonshire, Earls of Burlington (1831), Knights Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order, Knights of the Garter, Leaders of the House of Lords, Leaders of the Liberal Party (Uk), Liberal Unionist Party Mps, Lord Presidents of the Council, Lord-Lieutenants of Derbyshire, Lord-Lieutenants of Waterford, Lords of the Admiralty, Members of the Parliament of the United Kingdom for English Constituencies, Members of the Parliament of the United Kingdom for Welsh Constituencies, Members of the Privy Council of Ireland, Members of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom, Rectors of the University of Edinburgh, Uk Mps 1857–59, Uk Mps 1859–65, Uk Mps 1865–68, Uk Mps 1868–74, Uk Mps 1874–80, Uk Mps 1880–85, Uk Mps 1885–86, Uk Mps 1886–92, United Kingdom Postmasters General
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Spencer Cavendish, 8th Duke of Devonshire

His Grace
The Duke of Devonshire
Leader of the Liberal Party
In office
Preceded by William Ewart Gladstone
Succeeded by William Ewart Gladstone
Lord President of the Council
In office
29 June 1895 – 19 October 1903
Monarch Victoria
Edward VII
Prime Minister The Marquess of Salisbury
Arthur Balfour
Preceded by The Earl of Rosebery
Succeeded by The Marquess of Londonderry
Personal details
Born 23 July 1833 (2016-07-06T00:19:53)
Died 24 March 1908(1908-03-24) (aged 74)
Cannes, France
Nationality British
Political party Liberal
Liberal Unionist
Spouse(s) Louisa Frederica Augusta von Alten
Alma mater Trinity College, Cambridge

Spencer Compton Cavendish, 8th Duke of Devonshire KG GCVO PC PC (Ire) (23 July 1833 – 24 March 1908), styled Lord Cavendish of Keighley between 1834 and 1858 and Marquess of Hartington between 1858 and 1891, was a British statesman. He has the distinction of having served as leader of three political parties (as Leader of the Liberal Party in the House of Commons (1875–1880), as of the Liberal Unionist Party (1886–1903) and of the Unionists in the House of Lords (1902–1903), though the Conservatives and Liberal Unionists operated in close alliance from 1892–1903 and would eventually merge in 1912). He also declined to become Prime Minister on three occasions, not because he was not a serious politician but because the circumstances were never right.


  • Background and education 1
  • Liberal, 1857-1886 2
  • Liberal Unionist, 1886-1908 3
  • Military Services 4
  • Personal life 5
  • Legacy 6
  • Ancestry 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9

Background and education

Devonshire was the eldest son of William Cavendish, 2nd Earl of Burlington, who succeeded his cousin as Duke of Devonshire in 1858, and Lady Blanche Cavendish (née Howard). Lord Frederick Cavendish and Lord Edward Cavendish were his younger brothers. He was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated as MA in 1854. He later received honorary degrees as LLD in 1862, and as DCL at Oxford University in 1878.[1]

In later life he continued his interests in education as Chancellor of his old university from 1892, and of Manchester University from 1907 until his death. He was Lord Rector of Edinburgh University from 1877 to 1880.[1]

Liberal, 1857-1886

He entered Parliament in 1857 (his title "Lord Hartington" was a courtesy title - as he was not a peer in his own right he was entitled to sit in the Commons until 1891). Between 1863 and 1874 Hartington held various Government posts, including lord of the Admiralty and under-secretary for war under Palmerston and Earl Russell, then postmaster-general, and Chief Secretary for Ireland in Gladstone's first government. In 1875 — the year following the Liberal defeat at the General Election — he succeeded William Ewart Gladstone as Leader of the Liberal opposition in the House of Commons after the other serious contender, W. E. Forster, had indicated that he was not interested in the job. The following year, however, Gladstone returned to active political life in the campaign against Turkey's Bulgarian Atrocities. The relative political fortunes of Gladstone and Hartington fluctuated — Gladstone was not popular at the time of Benjamin Disraeli's triumph at the Congress of Berlin, but the Midlothian Campaigns of 1879–80 marked him out as the Liberals' foremost public campaigner.

In 1880, after Disraeli's government lost the General Election, Hartington was invited to form a government, but declined — as did the Earl Granville, Liberal Leader in the House of Lords — after William Ewart Gladstone made it clear that he would not serve under anybody else. Hartington chose instead to serve in Gladstone's Second government as Secretary of State for India (1880–1882) and Secretary of State for War (1882–1885).

In 1884 he was instrumental in persuading Gladstone to send a mission to Khartoum for the relief of General Gordon, which arrived two days too late to save him.[2]

Liberal Unionist, 1886-1908

The Duke of Devonshire by Sir Hubert von Herkomer.

Hartington became increasingly uneasy with Gladstone's Irish policies, especially after the Duke of Devonshire in 1891 and entered the House of Lords, he eventually joined Salisbury's third government in 1895 as Lord President of the Council. Devonshire was not asked to become Prime Minister when Lord Salisbury retired in favour of his nephew Arthur Balfour in 1902. He resigned from the government in 1903, and from the Liberal Unionist Association the following spring, in protest at Joseph Chamberlain's Tariff Reform scheme. Devonshire said of Chamberlain's proposals:

I venture to express the opinion that [Chamberlain] will find among the projects and plans which he will be called upon to discuss none containing a more Socialistic principle than that which is embodied in his own scheme, which, whether it can properly be described as a scheme of protection or not, is certainly a scheme under which the State is to undertake to regulate the course of commerce and of industry, and tell us where we are to buy, where we are to sell, what commodities we are to manufacture at home, and what we may continue, if we think right, to import from other countries.[3]

Balfour, trying to juggle different factions, had allowed both Chamberlain and Free Trade supporters to resign from the government, hoping that Devonshire would remain for the sake of balance, but the latter eventually resigned under pressure from Charles Thomson Ritchie and from his wife, who still hoped that he might lead a government including leading Liberals.

Military Services

St Peter's Churchyard, Edensor - grave of Spencer Cavendish, 8th Duke of Devonshire KG, GCVO, PC (1833–1908)
Spencer Compton, 8th Duke of Devonshire: statue in Whitehall, London.

He served part-time as Captain in the Duke of Lancaster's Own Yeomanry from 1855 to 1873, and was Honorary Colonel of the 3rd (Militia) Battalion of the Derbyshire Regiment from 1871 and of the 2nd Sussex Artillery Volunteers from 1887.[4]

Personal life

Hartington took great pains to parade his interest in horseracing, so as to cultivate an image of not being entirely obsessed by politics. For many years the courtesan Catherine Walters ("Skittles") was his mistress. He was married at Christ Church, Mayfair, on 16 August 1892, at the age of 59, to Louisa Frederica Augusta von Alten, widow of the late William Drogo Montagu, 7th Duke of Manchester. Upon his death, he was succeeded by his nephew. He died of pneumonia at the Hotel Metropol in Cannes and was interred on 28 March 1908 at St Peter's Churchyard, Edensor, Derbyshire. A statue of the Duke can be found at the junction of Whitehall and Horse Guards Avenue in London, and also in the Carpet Gardens at Eastbourne.


Upon receiving news of the Duke's death, the House of Lords took the unprecedented step of adjourning in his honor.[5] Margot Asquith said the Duke of Devonshire "was a man whose like we shall never see again; he stood by himself and could have come from no country in the world but England. He had the figure and appearance of an artisan, with the brevity of a peasant, the courtesy of a king and the noisy sense of humour of a Falstaff. He gave a great, wheezy guffaw at all the right things and was possessed of endless wisdom. He was perfectly disengaged from himself, fearlessly truthful and without pettiness of any kind".[6] Jonathan Parry claimed that "He inherited the whig belief in the duty of political leadership, afforced by the intellectual notions characteristic of well-educated, propertied early to mid-Victorian Liberals: a confidence that the application of free trade, rational public administration, scientific enquiry, and a patriotic defence policy would promote Britain's international greatness—in which he strongly believed—and her economic and social progress...he became a model of the dutiful aristocrat".[7]



  1. ^ a b "Cavendish, Spencer Compton, Lord Cavendish (CVNS850SC)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  2. ^ Lytton Strachey, Eminent Victorians, Chato & Windus, 1918; pg 289
  3. ^ The Fiscal Question, HL Deb 22 February 1906 vol 152 cc456-86.
  4. ^ Kelly's Handbook of the Titled, Landed and Official Classes, 1895. Kelly's. p. 368. 
  5. ^ Hansard, THE LATE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE HL Deb 24 March 1908 vol 186 cc1178-83 [2].
  6. ^ Margot Asquith, The Autobiography of Margot Asquith. Volume One (London: Penguin, 1936), p. 123.
  7. ^ Jonathan Parry, ‘Cavendish, Spencer Compton, marquess of Hartington and eighth duke of Devonshire (1833–1908)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008, accessed 5 Jan 2014].

External links

  • Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by the Duke of Devonshire
  • Marquess of Hartington (Duke of Devonshire) 1833-1908 biography from the Liberal Democrat History Group
  • Archival material relating to Spencer Cavendish, 8th Duke of Devonshire listed at the UK National Archives
Parliament of the United Kingdom
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John Wilson-Patten
James Heywood
Member of Parliament for North Lancashire
With: John Wilson-Patten
Succeeded by
John Wilson-Patten
Frederick Stanley
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Richard Green-Price
Member of Parliament for Radnor
Succeeded by
Samuel Charles Evan Williams
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James Maden Holt
John Pierce Chamberlain Starkie
Member of Parliament for North East Lancashire
With: Frederick William Grafton
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for Rossendale
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John Henry Maden
Political offices
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The Earl De Grey and Ripon
Under-Secretary of State for War
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The Lord Dufferin and Clandeboye
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The Earl De Grey and Ripon
Secretary of State for War
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Jonathan Peel
Preceded by
The Duke of Montrose
Succeeded by
William Monsell
Preceded by
Chichester Fortescue
Chief Secretary for Ireland
Succeeded by
Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, Bt
Preceded by
The Viscount Cranbrook
Secretary of State for India
Succeeded by
The Earl of Kimberley
Preceded by
Hugh Childers
Secretary of State for War
Succeeded by
William Henry Smith
Preceded by
The Earl of Rosebery
Lord President of the Council
Succeeded by
The Marquess of Londonderry
Preceded by
The Marquess of Salisbury
Leader of the House of Lords
Succeeded by
The Marquess of Lansdowne
Party political offices
Preceded by
William Ewart Gladstone
Leader of the British Liberal Party
he was generally regarded as such though such a
position did not formally exist until 1916

Succeeded by
William Ewart Gladstone
Leader of the British Liberal Party in the House of Commons
The Earl Granville
was Leader in the House of Lords

New office Leader of the Liberal Unionist Association
Succeeded by
Joseph Chamberlain
Preceded by
The Marquess of Salisbury
Leader of the Conservative Party in the House of Lords
Succeeded by
The Marquess of Lansdowne
Honorary titles
Preceded by
The Duke of Devonshire
Lord Lieutenant of Derbyshire
Succeeded by
The Duke of Devonshire
Preceded by
The Marquess of Waterford
Lord Lieutenant of Waterford
Succeeded by
Henry Villiers-Stuart
Academic offices
Preceded by
Earl of Derby
Rector of the University of Edinburgh
Succeeded by
Earl of Rosebery
Preceded by
The Duke of Devonshire
Chancellor of the University of Cambridge
Succeeded by
The Baron Rayleigh
Peerage of England
Preceded by
William Cavendish
Duke of Devonshire
Succeeded by
Victor Cavendish
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