The Duke of Devonshire’s obituary from The Independent

Andrew Cavendish was the 11th Duke of Devonshire, Debo’s beloved husband and a close friend of Paddy for over half a century. Paddy and Andrew shared many long walks and expeditions together some of which are detailed in the book of letters ‘In Tearing Haste’ whilst the most comprehensive account of one of their shared journeys is ‘Three Letters from the Andes’ published in 1991 during which Paddy described his own responsibilities as ‘looking after the primus stove’. 

First published in The Independent Thursday, 6 May 2004 

 Rescuer of Chatsworth and reviver of the family tradition of patronage 

“I am a very rich duke, a most agreeable thing to be, even in these days,” said the hero in Nancy Mitford’s 1945 novel The Pursuit of Love. Her brother-in-law Andrew Cavendish, when he succeeded five years later as 11th Duke of Devonshire, had every reason to disagree. 

Andrew Robert Buxton Cavendish, landowner: born London 2 January 1920; MC 1944; styled 1944-50 Marquess of Hartington, succeeded 1950 as 11th Duke of Devonshire; Mayor of Buxton 1952-54; President, Royal Hospital and Home (formerly Royal Hospital and Home for Incurables), Putney 1954-91; President, Building Societies Association 1954-61; President, Lawn Tennis Association 1955-61; Chairman, Grand Council, British Empire Cancer Campaign 1956-81; Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations 1960-62; Minister of State, Commonwealth Relations Office 1962-64, and for Colonial Affairs 1963-64; PC 1964; Chancellor, Manchester University 1965-86; Steward, Jockey Club 1966-69; President, National Association for Deaf Children 1978-95; Chairman, Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association 1978-81; President, RNIB 1979-85; Patron in Chief, Polite Society 1991-2004; Vice-President, London Library 1993-2004; KG 1996; married 1941 The Hon Deborah Freeman-Mitford (one son, two daughters, and two sons and one daughter deceased); died Chatsworth, Derbyshire 3 May 2004.  

Born a second son on the second day of 1920, he grew up with no expectation of becoming a duke. His father’s premature death in 1950 left him with huge death duties to pay, and the extra liability of palatial Chatsworth, at a time when smaller houses were going down like ninepins. How he overcame all these difficulties, making Chatsworth habitable and a source of widespread enjoyment, discovering in the process new ways of helping all manner of people and institutions, as well as reviving the family tradition of enlightened patronage, is one of the success stories of our time. 

The Cavendish family roots were in Suffolk, but “Bess of Hardwick”, founder of the dynasty, was born in Derbyshire, in 1518. Successive marriages, the second to Sir William Cavendish, enabled her to expand her property. Quarrels with her fourth husband, the Earl of Shrewsbury, led her to leave the house she had built at Chatsworth, and build another, even larger, at Hardwick itself. Her sons built on this foundation, the second becoming father of the first Duke of Newcastle, the first buying back Chatsworth and created Earl of Devonshire in 1618 (the title came not from any territorial connection, but because it had just become vacant by the death without issue of the previous holder). 

They were royalists in the Civil War, when the family wealth was diminished – save in the library, watched over by Thomas Hobbes, the philosopher. The fourth Earl, of imperious disposition, fell out with the Stuarts and retreated to Chatsworth, which he rebuilt and enlarged. He supported William III, who elevated him to be the first Duke of Devonshire. His son, Steward of the Household to Queen Anne and later to George I, was the first great virtuoso of the family, and built up the collection of old master drawings at Chatsworth. He was the first, too, to succeed on the Turf, buying Flying Childers, “the fleetest horse that ever ran at Newmarket”. 

The second Duke’s son and grandson were both Lord-Lieutenants of Ireland, and between them remodelled the grounds at Chatsworth, the fourth Duke commissioning James Paine to build the new stables. By his marriage to the only daughter of the great Earl of Burlington, architect and connoisseur, more came to Chatsworth, from the Boyle Irish estates to the drawings of Inigo Jones. His son, husband of the famous Georgiana Spencer, was himself a notable figure. Their only son, the sixth Duke, the greatest collector of all, made Chatsworth what it is today. 

“He appears to be disposed to spend a great deal of money,” said the family auditor to his father. “So much the better,” was the memorable reply. “He will have a great deal of money to spend.” He did, enlarging and beautifying Chatsworth with the help of Jeffry Wyatville and Joseph Paxton. He bought wonderful books, marble and antiquities, including a fifth-century bronze head of Apollo, commissioned sculpture from Canova, and for him Paxton built the splendid conservatory at Chatsworth, forerunner of the Crystal Palace. 

But he remained the “Bachelor Duke”: dying childless in 1858, he was succeeded by a cousin who had fortunately inherited much himself, including the wealth and books of the scientist Henry Cavendish and the Compton family estates on the South Coast. He himself invested in industry, built up Eastbourne and gave Cambridge the Cavendish Laboratory. His son reverted to politics (he was the only person to refuse the premiership three times) and horse-racing. The ninth Duke became Governor-General of Canada during the First World War, when Chatsworth was inevitably neglected. All the plants in Paxton’s conservatory died and it had to be pulled down, but gradually life returned to normal. 

So Lord Andrew Cavendish grew up between the wars, when the hereditary peerage had not become a political plaything and leisure was a way of life, not a profession. Devonshire House in London had gone, pulled down to make way for a motor showroom, and so had Chiswick House (now in the care of English Heritage), but the family still owned four other great houses besides Chatsworth and Hardwick. The footmen still wore full livery (lemon coat, dark blue breeches and white stocking) if there were more than six to dinner. 

It was 1938 when his grandfather died, aged 69. Andrew’s father was Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs and abroad, and Andrew was about to leave Eton for Trinity College, Cambridge. He had taken neither very seriously. His father worried about this, as about his occasional flutters on and off the Turf. But an old friend said to him, “Surely you wouldn’t like your son to get good reports?”, and Newmarket turned youthful diversion into an abiding passion. Neither overcame an earlier, deeper and even more long-lasting love of books and reading. A year later his elder brother William, now Marquess of Hartington, came of age, with a series of parties – the last at Chatsworth in August 1939. Then came the war and goodbye to all that. 

Both brothers went into the Coldstream Guards, to be “sorted out” like many others by drill, boots and sergeant-majors. Caterham was varied by escape to London, where Andrew would take Deborah Mitford, the youngest of the six daughters of Lord Redesdale, out to dinner; in April 1941 they married. Then came posting abroad, via North Africa to Italy, where he first saw action; unable to sleep the night before, he read Nigel Balchin’s The Small Back Room, just out, from cover to cover. In the fierce fighting north of Rome in July 1944, he was awarded the MC. His company captured a hill south of Strada, and held it despite being cut off on all sides. The citation records his “endless cheerfulness, energy and disregard of danger”; he himself said, “I got it for being cheerful”, a characteristic self-depreciation. 

That same spring his elder brother married Kathleen Kennedy, sister of the future President of the United States; only four months later he was killed in action in France. This was a crushing blow, still remembered with pain almost 60 years later. Used, by gentle warning from his father, to accept the minor, less demanding role of a younger son, he now found himself pitchforked into new responsibility. When he left the Army, he dutifully stood in the Conservative interest for the neighbouring seat of Chesterfield in 1945 and again in 1950. 

Adjusting to post-war austerity and high taxation was another problem. His father, well advised like his forebears by Currey & Co, made over the estate, the gift dependent on his living for five years. In November 1950, 14 weeks short of this term, he died, aged only 55. 

His estate was then valued at £5.9m, and at the current rate of 80 per cent death duties came out at £4.72m. It was clear that huge economies would have to be made; the question was how to make them without diminishing the sources of revenue needed to maintain what was left. The 11th Duke and his Duchess counted their assets: they were both 30, young, energetic and, untrammelled by conventions now out of date, were prepared to do something different. Time was on their side, and Chatsworth, hitherto more a place just to visit, proved to be the key to the future. 

Immediately, much had to go. Good farmland in Ayrshire bought cheap in the First World War had to be sold, the pretty houses built by the fifth Duke in Buxton, even land in the High Peak bought by Bess of Hardwick, were sold. Claude Lorrain’s Liber Veritatis, bought by the second Duke, the Memling triptych, Holbein’s life-size sketch of Henry VIII and Rembrandt’s Philosopher, the sixth Duke’s head of Apollo and the greatest of all Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, the Benedictional of St Ethelwold, from the Compton family, and 141 early printed books went to the national collections. 

The great thing was to do it slowly: “We were in constant contact with the Inland Revenue and our strategy was to note how long they took to answer our last letter and then reply in a day less, so that nobody could accuse us of dragging our feet.” In the end, it took 17 years to reach a conclusion. The final touch came to him while waiting at Bedford station – to part with Hardwick itself. Almost as Bess had left it, lovingly restored by the sixth Duke, it was now handed over to the National Trust. He was delighted with the trust’s care for it: “No words of praise are too high for them.” 

There remained Chatsworth. Always a public attraction, visited once by Jane Austen, 80,000 visitors a year came to it in Paxton’s time. Even in 1949, 105,000 had come. What would make it irresistible, their agent, Hugo Read, suggested, would be if the family returned and lived in the house. The private rooms could be converted to make a modern habitable home, while the public could permanently enjoy the state rooms, the grounds and other delights. 

The Duke was doubtful, the Duchess not: gradually an army of cleaners, craftsmen and women, builders and engineers, went to work, aided by the foresight of previous generations who had stored and not disposed of much that was needed to furnish both parts adequately. In the autumn of 1959 the family moved back in. The Duchess rearranged the rooms now open to the public in new splendour, and the public was duly encouraged, coming in ever-increasing numbers. 

All this might have easily filled life to the exclusion of everything else: not so for the Duke. He had, “through the indulgence of my father”, bought his first racehorse in 1948, and from 1963 Bernard van Cutsem, met before the war and a close friend since, became his trainer. Over the next 12 years this became a singularly happy partnership, dominated by the surprising success of the great filly Park Top. To Lester Piggott, her most successful jockey, she was “the best of her sex I have ever ridden”. 

Her wins included the Coronation Cup and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes in 1969 – “Goodness, ma’am, it’s heavy,” said the Duke as the Queen presented him with the latter trophy: “Of course it is, it’s real,” she replied. Real too was the pleasure that the Duke got out of it. “To own a race mare who would find her place in the racing history of this century was beyond my wildest dreams,” he wrote in Park Top: a romance of the Turf (1976), a book to grip even those for whom racing means nothing. 

With James Toller for the last 20 years, he had other successes. In 1997 he had wins with all the seven horses he owned, with Compton Place winning the July Cup at Newmarket. Duck Row, another winner then, is still going strong at nine, and Bachelor Duke, doing well in the 2,000 Guineas last week, may yet redeem Park Top’s failure to win the Eclipse Stakes. But Park Top’s elegance was never to be forgotten; the Duke was an elegant figure himself, his socks the pale yellow of his racing colours. They made a fine sight together. 

He loved books and pictures too. He bought pictures by Gwen John and Lucian Freud before they became fashionable, Samuel Palmer, Lowry and Sickert, portraits of Duncan Grant by Vanessa Bell (and vice versa) and a favourite Gladys Cooper by Ambrose McEvoy, still underrated. Most of all, he loved William Nicholson’s White Tulips, bought in 1969 and given to the Chatsworth Trust. He liked commissioning works of art, too. It was Freud’s idea to paint the Duchess, but the Duke’s that Freud should paint him. 

He asked Jacob Epstein to make a bust of his baby daughter Sophy in 1959, and early saw the talent of Angela Conner. For him she sculpted heads of Freud, Harold Macmillan and other members of the family, John Betjeman, Elisabeth Frink (it now overlooks Frink’s bronze War Horse at the end of the Canal Pond at Chatsworth). Another of Drue Heinz (a much-admired friend) was given to the London Library, of which she was the great benefactor, and both of them Vice-Presidents. Even as he grew blind in old age, he wanted a picture on an easel where he could see it. 

Books were, first and last, his greatest passion. The sorrow of parting with yet more treasures from Chatsworth between 1970 and 1985 to build an endowment to secure its future was alleviated by the fact that he now had more space for his own books. Balzac, Dostoevsky, Turgenev, Chekhov, Maupassant and two sets of Proust rubbed shoulders with Henry James, Kipling, Hardy, Wells, Trollope, Galsworthy, Waugh, Greene, Maugham and Lawrence. Winston Churchill and P.G. Wodehouse complete were next to the “Everyman” series and Horizon. He had collections on the world wars and “Great Disasters”, from the Black Hole of Calcutta to the Titanic, and quite recently had started a new library on Ireland. 

Like the sixth and seventh Dukes, he was a major collector of botanical picture-books, buying both English and American editions of work on the Victoria Regia, the colossal water-lily that Paxton first grew at Chatsworth. This led to friendship with the booksellers Heywood Hill, round the corner from his London house in Mayfair. In 1991 he volunteered to become the major shareholder in the firm. It made buying books even easier, he said, and he added to its delights the establishment of the “Heywood Hill Prize” in 1995, awarded annually at Chatsworth to authors or publishers who have done good to the world of books. 

He had also written and delivered a second book, following Park Top, a series of autobiographical vignettes entitled Accidents of Fortune, to be published by Michael Russell in July. 

But the 11th Duke never let any of these diversions, or even rescuing Chatsworth, distract him from more serious tasks. Never one to say no to anyone or anything if he could help it, he was an outstandingly popular Chancellor of Manchester University and a benefactor to it. President of the Lawn Tennis Association, the RNIB, the Royal Hospital and Home, Putney (now the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability), the National Association for Deaf Children and the Building Societies Association, Steward of the Jockey Club and member of the Totalisator Board, he gave to all these bodies enthusiastic and informed support. 

If he never got into Parliament, he was successively Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and Minister of State, Commonwealth Relations Office, from 1960 to 1964, loyally serving “Uncle Harold” Macmillan. He liked to put it about that his political success was entirely due to Pratt’s Club, which his father had bought and which became a sort of hive of Tory dignitaries, so characteristically playing down his own serious and continuing interest in the Commonwealth (he had been in Australia when his father died). 

This did not extend to Europe, and he became progressively disenchanted with political rapprochement with it, as he did with what he saw as equally political attacks on the countryside of Britain and its way of life, last year turning to the UK Independence Party. He strongly supported the Countryside Alliance and was deeply shocked by official failure to realise the impact of the foot-and-mouth epidemic in 2001. To make up for the damage it had done to tourism, he opened Chatsworth as soon as feasible and kept it open till Christmas. 

Christmas at Chatsworth became only the latest in a series of attractions that drew more and more people to the house every year. (The figure for paying visitors in 2003 was 687,000.) The Duchess has contributed a genius for retailing that has seen the Orangery and the Farm Shop become models of their kind, and Paine’s Carriage House has become a busy restaurant. The 1.3 acres of roof have been releaded, the Cascade House repaired, the sixth Duke’s brocade in the Yellow Dining Room rewoven, the Victoria Regia flowers again. The grounds are full of people, who do not guess how much of what they see is due to nature, how much to art. 

All this has put Chatsworth in the forefront of the revival of the country house, not just as private domain but as a great public amenity. At the moment, some of its grandest treasures are on tour in America, away for two whole years. “I wonder if I shall ever see them again,” the Duke said wistfully last time we met. Alas, he will not, but they and the great house will, thanks to him, enjoy a new life and spread the benefit of his energy and wisdom further and further abroad. 

Nicolas Barker 


1 thought on “The Duke of Devonshire’s obituary from The Independent

  1. Pingback: Debo, Chatsworth, Andrew Cavendish and All That | ukgovernmentwatch

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.