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Duke of Devonshire is a title in the Peerage of England held by members of the aristocratic Cavendish family. This branch of the Cavendish family has been one of the richest and most influential aristocratic families in England since the 16th century, and have been rivalled in political influence perhaps only by the Earls of Derby and the Marquesses of Salisbury.


Although in modern usage the county of Devonmarker is now rarely called 'Devonshire', the title remained 'Duke of Devonshire'. Despite the title of the dukedom and the subsidiary title, the earldom of Devonshire, the family estates centre in Derbyshiremarker. It is sometimes speculated that Derbyshire rather than Devonshire was intended on the original letters patent for the earldom, a hypothesis supported by the use on the patents of the Latin word for Derbyshire, "Derbonensis", which is believed to have been carelessly, if vaguely understandably, mistranslated as Devonshire.

Cavendish knights, and the 1st Earl of Devonshire

The Cavendish family descends from Sir John Cavendish, who took his name from the village of Cavendish, Suffolkmarker, where he held an estate in the 14th century. He served as Chief Justice of the King's Bench from 1372 to 1381, and was killed in the Peasants' Revolt. Two of his great-grandsons were George Cavendish, Thomas Cardinal Wolsey's biographer, and George's younger brother Sir William Cavendish. Sir William gained great wealth from his position in the Exchequer and also, as it was alleged, from unfairly taking advantage of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. He married as his third wife the famous Bess of Hardwick, with whom he had eight children. One of their sons, Sir Charles Cavendish (1553–1617), was the father of William Cavendish, 1st Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne (see the Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne for more information on this branch of the family), while another son, Henry Cavendish, was the ancestor of the Barons Waterpark. Yet another son, William Cavendish, was a politician and a supporter of the colonialization of Virginia. In 1605 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Cavendish of Hardwicke and in 1618 he was further honoured when he was made Earl of Devonshire. Both titles are in the Peerage of England.

The 2nd Earl of Devonshire and the first five Dukes of Devonshire

He was succeeded by his eldest son, the second Earl. He served as Lord-Lieutenant of Derbyshire and was a patron of the philosopher Thomas Hobbes. On his early death the titles passed to his son, the third Earl. He was also Lord-Lieutenant of Derbyshire. He was succeeded by his son, the fourth Earl. He was a strong supporter of the Glorious Revolution and later served under William III and Queen Mary as Lord Steward of the Household. In 1694 he was created Marquess of Hartington and Duke of Devonshire in the Peerage of England. He was succeeded by his eldest son, the second Duke. He held political office as Lord President of the Council and Lord Privy Seal and was also Lord-Lieutenant of Devonshire. His eldest son, the third Duke, served as Lord Privy Seal, as Lord Steward of the Household and as Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland.

On his death the titles passed to his eldest son, the fourth Duke, who was a prominent politician. He was summoned to the House of Lordsmarker through a writ of acceleration in his father's junior title of Baron Cavendish of Hardwicke in 1751 and served as First Lord of the Treasury and titular Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1756 to 1757. Devonshire married Charlotte Boyle, 6th Baroness Clifford, daughter of the famous architect Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington (on whose death in 1753 the earldom of Burlington became extinct). Their third and youngest son Lord George Cavendish was created Earl of Burlington in 1831. Devonshire was succeeded by his eldest son, the fifth Duke. He had already succeeded his mother as seventh Baron Clifford in 1754. He served as Lord-Lieutenant of Derbyshire from 1782 to 1811 but is best remembered for his first marriage to Lady Georgiana Spencer, the celebrated beauty and society hostess. Because of this marriage, when Prince William becomes king, the family will be related, although very distant, to the royal family because Georgiana was daughter of John Spencer, 1st Earl Spencer, who is a direct ancestor to Diana, Princess of Wales and thereby William.

The sixth, seventh and eighth Dukes

Victor Cavendish, 9th Duke of Devonshire
Their only son, the sixth Duke, served as Lord Chamberlain of the Household from 1827 to 1828 and from 1830 to 1834. Known as the "Bachelor Duke", he never married and on his death in 1858 the barony of Clifford fell into abeyance between his sisters. He was succeeded in the other titles by his first cousin once removed, the second Earl of Burlington, who became the seventh Duke (see the Earl of Burlington for earlier history of this branch of the family). He was the son of William Cavendish, eldest son of the aforementioned first Earl of Burlington, youngest son of the fourth Duke. He was Lord-Lieutenant of Lancashire and Derbyshire and Chancellor of the University of London and of the University of Cambridgemarker. He was succeeded by his second but eldest surviving son, the eighth Duke. He was a noted statesman and the most famous member of the Cavendish family. Known under his courtesy title of Marquess of Hartington until 1891, he held political office for a period spanning 40 years, notably as Secretary of State for India and as Secretary of State for War, and three times declined to become Prime Minister. He married Louisa, Dowager Duchess of Manchester, who became known as the "Double Duchess".

The ninth, tenth and eleventh Dukes

Devonshire died childless and was succeeded by his nephew, the ninth Duke. He was the eldest son of Lord Edward Cavendish, third son of the seventh Duke. He was a Conservative politician and served as Governor General of Canada from 1916 to 1921 and as Secretary of State for the Colonies from 1922 to 1924. His eldest son, the tenth Duke, was also a Conservative politician and served as Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, as Under-Secretary of State for India and Burma and as Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies. His eldest son and heir apparent William Cavendish, Marquess of Hartington, married Kathleen Kennedy, daughter of Joseph Kennedy and sister of the future President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Lord Hartington was killed in the Second World War in 1944 shortly after the marriage. The couple had no children. Devonshire was therefore succeeded by his second but eldest surviving son, the eleventh Duke. He sat on the Conservative benches in the House of Lords and held political office under his uncle Harold Macmillan and later Sir Alec Douglas-Home from 1960 to 1964. Devonshire married the Hon. Deborah Mitford, the youngest of the famous Mitford sisters. As of 2009 the titles are held by their second and only surviving son, the twelfth Duke, who succeeded in 2004.

Other notable members of the Cavendish family

Numerous other members of the Cavendish family have also gained distinction. Lord Henry Cavendish, second son of the first Duke, was Member of Parliament for Derby. Lord James Cavendish, third son of the first Duke, also represented this constituency in the House of Commonsmarker. Lord Charles Cavendish, second son of the second Duke, was a politician and scientist. His son Henry Cavendish was an influential scientist noted for his discovery of hydrogen. Lord James Cavendish, third son of the second Duke, was a soldier and briefly represented Malton in Parliament. Lord George Cavendish, second son of the third Duke, was a long-standing Member of Parliament and served as Comptroller of the Household from 1761 to 1762. Lord Frederick Cavendish, third son of the third Duke, was a Field Marshal in the Army. Lord John Cavendish, fourth son of the third Duke, was a politician and served as Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1782 and 1783.

Chatsworth House, the ancestral seat of the Dukes of Devonshire
Lord Richard Cavendish, second son of the fourth Duke, represented Lancaster and Derbyshire in the House of Commons. Lady Dorothy Cavendish, daughter of the fourth Duke, married Prime Minister William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland (who assumed the additional surname of Cavendish) and was an ancestor of Queen Elizabeth II. Augustus Clifford, illegitimate son by the fifth Duke and his mistress and later second wife Elizabeth Hervey, was a naval commander and was created a Baronet in 1838 (see Clifford Baronets). William Cavendish, eldest son of the first Earl of Burlington and father of the seventh Duke, represented Aylesburymarker and Derby in Parliament. George Henry Compton Cavendish, second son of the first Earl of Burlington, was Member of Parliament for Aylesbury. The Hon. Henry Frederick Compton Cavendish, third son of the first Earl of Burlington, was a General in the Army. The Hon. Charles Compton Cavendish, fourth son of the first Earl of Burlington, was created Baron Chesham in 1858.

Lord Frederick Cavendish, third son of the seventh Duke, was a Liberal politician. He had just been appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland in 1882 when he was assassinated by nationalists in Phoenix Parkmarker, Dublinmarker. His wife Lady Frederick Cavendish was a pioneer of women's education. Lord Edward Cavendish, fourth and youngest son of the seventh Duke, sat as Member of Parliament for several constituencies. His second son Lord Richard Cavendish represented North Lonsdale in Parliament. In 1911 he was one of the proposed recipients of peerages in case the Bill that was become the Parliament Act 1911 was not accepted by the House of Lords. His grandson Hugh Cavendish was created a life peer as Baron Cavendish of Furness in 1990. Lady Dorothy Cavendish, daughter of the ninth Duke, was the wife of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan.

Courtesy titles; family seats

The Duke of Devonshire's eldest son may use the courtesy title Marquess of Hartington, whilst the eldest son of the eldest son may use the title Earl of Burlington; any sons he may have would use the title Lord Cavendish.

The family seats are Chatsworth Housemarker, Bolton Abbeymarker in Yorkshiremarker, and Lismore Castlemarker in Co Waterfordmarker, in the Republic of Irelandmarker. Compton Placemarker in Eastbournemarker belongs to the family (which developed Eastbourne as a seaside resort in the 19th century) but is let. Holker Hallmarker in Lancashiremarker was left to a junior branch of the family in 1908. The family previously owned Londesborough Hallmarker, Yorkshiremarker, Hardwick Hallmarker, Derbyshiremarker, Chiswick Housemarker, Middlesexmarker, and two Londonmarker mansions on Piccadillymarker, Devonshire Housemarker and Burlington Housemarker.

Earls of Devonshire (1618)

Dukes of Devonshire (1694)

The Heir Apparent is the present holder's only son William Cavendish, Earl of Burlington (b. 1969)

Earls of Devon

The earldom of Devonshire was originally granted as a recreation of the title of Earl of Devon, then held to be extinct; but which was found to have been in existence de jure in 1831. These are held by different families, and are now held to be distinct titles.

When the earldom of Devonshire was created, there was already in existence an earldom of Derby. It would therefore have been unlikely that the Cavendish family would have chosen Derbyshire as their new honour. It is much more likely that the title of Devonshire was chosen deliberately. The Cavendish peerage was granted in 1618, 12 years after the last holder of an earlier creation of the earldom of Devonshire, Charles Blount, 8th Lord Mountjoy had died.

The Devon earldom had earlier been held by the ancient de Redvers family and by the Courtenay family who had married in the Tudor era the daughter of King Edward IV, Princess Katherine of York and whose son was later made Marquess of Exeter. The Marquess of Exeter was executed for treason and his son was probably poisoned in 1556. From that date, the peerage was vacant. By choosing Devonshire the Cavendish family, who had only recently arrived socially on the political scene, were aligning themselves with among the oldest families in England. It must also be stated that Devon and Devonshire are alternating terms and as late as the eighteenth century, Lady Georgiana Spencer was sometimes referred to as the Duchess of Devon.

In fiction

The fifth Duke and Duchess of Devonshire are portrayed in the 2008 film The Duchess directed by Saul Dibb, starring Ralph Fiennes as the Duke and Keira Knightley as the Duchess. The film is based on Amanda Foreman's biography of the scandalous 18th-century English aristocrat Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire.

Along with Jane Austen, Elizabeth and the fifth Duke appear, soon after Georgiana's death, in Jane and the Stillroom Maid, a murder mystery by Stephanie Barron.

See also

Further reading

  • Pearson, John. The Serpent and the Stag. Holt, Rinehart, & Winston, 1984.


  • Kidd, Charles, Williamson, David (editors). Debrett's Peerage and Baronetage (1990 edition). New York: St Martin's Press, 1990.

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