Spencer Cavendish, 8th Duke of Devonshire

Spencer Cavendish, 8th Duke of Devonshire

Spencer Compton Cavendish, 8th Duke of Devonshire, KG, GCVO, PC (23 July 183324 March 1908) was a British statesman, previously known (1858–1891), whilst heir to the Dukedom, as Marquess of Hartington (a courtesy title - as this was not a peerage in its own right he was free to sit in the House of Commons, as was not uncommon for the sons of peers at the time). He has the distinction of having served as leader of three political parties (in succession- as Leader of the Liberal Party in the House of Commons, 1875-1880; 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.

He was the son of Lord Cavendish of Keighley, who succeeded his cousin as Duke of Devonshire in 1858, and Lady Blanche Howard. Cavendish was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge and entered Parliament in 1857. 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).

Hartington became increasingly uneasy with Gladstone's Irish policies, especially after the murder of his younger brother Lord Frederick Cavendish in Phoenix Park. In 1886 he broke with Gladstone altogether. He declined to serve in Gladstone's third government, formed after Gladstone came out in favour of Irish Home Rule (unlike Joseph Chamberlain, who accepted the Local Government Board but then resigned), and after voting against the First Home Rule Bill became the leader of the Liberal Unionists.

After the General Election in 1886 Hartington declined to become Prime Minister, preferring instead to hold the balance of power in the House of Commons and give support from the back benches to the second Conservative government of Lord Salisbury. Early in 1887, after the resignation of Lord Randolph Churchill, Lord Salisbury offered to step down and serve in a government under Hartington, who now declined the premiership for the third time. Instead the Liberal Unionist George Goschen accepted the Exchequer in Churchill's place.

Having succeeded as 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; 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 C. T. Ritchie and from his wife, who still hoped that he might lead a government including leading Liberals.

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 Edensor, Derbyshire.

A statue of the Duke can be found on the east side of Whitehall, London.


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1= 1. Spencer Cavendish, 8th Duke of Devonshire
2= 2. William Cavendish, 7th Duke of Devonshire
3= 3. Blanche Georgiana Howard
4= 4. William Cavendish
5= 5. Louisa O'Callaghan
6= 6. George Howard, 6th Earl of Carlisle
7= 7. Georgiana Cavendish
8= 8. George Cavendish, 1st Earl of Burlington
9= 9. Elizabeth Compton
10= 10. Cornelius O'Callaghan, 1st Baron Lismore
11= 11. Frances Ponsonby
12= 12. Frederick Howard, 5th Earl of Carlisle
13= 13. Margaret Caroline Leveson-Gower
14= 14. William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire
15= 15. Georgiana Spencer
16= 16. William Cavendish, 4th Duke of Devonshire
17= 17. Charlotte Boyle, 6th Baroness Clifford
18= 18. Charles Compton, 7th Earl of Northampton
19= 19. Ann Somerset
20= 20. Thomas O'Callaghan
21= 21. Sarah Davis
22= 22. John Ponsonby
23= 23. Elizabeth Cavendish
24= 24. Henry Howard, 4th Earl of Carlisle
25= 25. Isabella Byron
26= 26. Granville Leveson-Gower, 1st Marquess of Stafford
27= 27. Louisa Egerton
28= 28. William Cavendish, 4th Duke of Devonshire (= 16)
29= 29. Charlotte Boyle, 6th Baroness Clifford (= 17)
30= 30. John Spencer, 1st Earl Spencer
31= 31. Margaret Georgiana Poyntz

External links

* [http://www.liberalhistory.org.uk/item_single.php?item_id=11&item=biography&PHPSESSID=32f74420ec33 Marquess of Hartington (Duke of Devonshire) 1833-1908] biography from the Liberal Democrat History Group

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