The 11th Duke of Devonshire – The Times obituary

Another obituary of Paddy´s friend. Note links to The Times may not work soon as it goes paid for within weeks.

First published in The Times May 4, 2004

Although descended from a line of dukes reaching back to the end of the 17th century, the 11th Duke of Devonshire did not expect to succeed to the title. Indeed, when he was 18, his father, the 10th Duke, took him to one side and told him that he would have to make his own way in the world. Chatsworth and the other great family houses, pictures and glorious gardens would all go to his elder brother, his father explained. This was the only way that the family’s valuable heritage could be preserved and passed down to future generations.

But things did not work out that way. The 10th Duke’s elder son, the Marquess of Hartington – who married Kathleen (“Kick”) Kennedy, sister of President Kennedy – was killed in action in the last months of the Second World War. His younger brother, Andrew, thus became Marquess of Hartington and heir to the vast ducal estates at the age of 24.

At the age of 21 he had married Deborah (“Debo”) Mitford, the sixth of the 2nd Lord Redesdale’s daughters. She was to prove a remarkable chatelaine, restoring the main family seat, Chatsworth, to the grandeur of 50 years earlier, when it was known as “the Palace on the Peak”. More than that, her salesmanship and the style of her refurbishment made Chatsworth a house that people from all over Britain and the world wanted to see (for decades it has notched up 300,000 paying visitors a year).

This was not something that anyone could have envisaged on their wedding day in 1941, least of all the young couple themselves. A few days beforehand the bride had written to her sister, Diana, then in Holloway prison (she was married to the leader of the British Union of Fascists, Sir Oswald Mosley), saying how sorry she was that they could not be together for her marriage and adding that she and her husband expected to be “very poor”.

But by 1950, at the age of 30, the Marquess of Hartington had become the 11th Duke. His father had died suddenly at the age of 55. The 10th Duke’s great interest had always been in country pursuits. One of these was cutting up fallen trees with a saw for the family fires. It was while doing this at Compton Place, his seaside house in Eastbourne, that he suffered a coronary thrombosis and died.

The 10th Duke was under the impression that he had, in 1946, divested himself of personal ownership of his estates, greatly lessening death duties, which were then the highest the country had ever known. Unfortunately, the arrangements did not pass muster with the Inland Revenue, and the arguments over the Devonshire inheritance went on for 17 years.

In the end, the bulk of the inheritance was saved, but formidable bills had to be met. Hardwick Hall, part castle and part Tudor fort in Derbyshire, with its High Great Chamber – which Sacheverell Sitwell called “the most beautiful room, not in England alone, but in the whole of Europe” – had to be sold to help meet the debts. The family had been living there until the 1950s. Old Masters and rare Italian drawings were also dispatched to the salerooms. Indeed, over the past 20 years alone, paintings from the Devonshire estate have realised more than £26 million, with books raising a further £600,000.

In 1952, two years after succeeding to the title, the Duke bought a pretty, small, terraced house in Mayfair. It was there he brought up his three children. The seller was Anthony Eden (later the Earl of Avon), who had moved to the Foreign Secretary’s official residence in Carlton Gardens.

It was 1959 before Chatsworth was in a condition for the family to move in. By then it was owned by a trust, of which the Duke was just one trustee, and he had leased a suite of rooms for his family. Most of the 175 rooms today bear the constant burden of the visitors who keep the place going. The family rooms are big and spacious, with glorious views and handsome pictures. In the private dining room are portraits of Mary Queen of Scots, Charles I and Henry VIII. But the Duke kept on the terraced house in Mayfair as a London bolt hole.

It is on the inherited landed estates that the commercial action has taken place. Shoots and well-known stretches of river are let. Two hotels have been developed: the fairytale castellated Lismore Castle in Ireland, pitched high above the River Blackwater and once the home of Sir Walter Raleigh, is in constant demand for renting by wealthy Americans.

In the 1980s the Duke came to an agreement with the Inland Revenue, allowing more public access to his estates in the Yorkshire Dales in response to a cut in death duties. This was made possible by a Land Act passed by the Labour Government in 1975. Neither side has disclosed the saving in death duties but it is believed to amount to some millions of pounds.

In the 1990s the Duke decided that if he could get planning permission on the Chatsworth estate for some open-cast coal mining, it would benefit financially for some years to come. Local traditional miners, who had lost their jobs when the mines were closed, were furious. Anne Scargill, married to the Yorkshire miners’ leader, led protesting miners’ wives to Chatsworth, loudspeakers blazing, in opposition to the whole idea. It was a cold day and the Duke met them carrying a large silver tureen of hot consommé laced with sherry. Afterwards, he said that he found Mrs Scargill “absolutely charming”, and added that if he was in her position he, too, would protest. Mrs Scargill’s verdict was: “Such a gent, we couldn’t get cross with him.” She added: “He was dead straight with us too, he said he wanted the open mining because he needed the money.”

He was a tall, slim, fit man and noticeable wherever he went. He wore suits of the finest lightweight worsted, always well brushed and pressed. And there was something else that made him recognisable: as a young man he took to wearing pale lemon socks, and it became a lifetime habit. He made no secret of the fact that he liked clothes and when he went on his summer holidays to Eastbourne he used to wear a boater. He had the youthful figure to carry it off.

Andrew Robert Buxton Cavendish was the younger son of the 10th Duke, who had held junior post in the Colonial and Commonwealth Offices, and his wife, Lady Alice-Mary Cecil (known as “Moucher”) a woman of note in her own right. She was the first Chancellor of the University of Exeter and in Coronation year, and for 16 years subsequently, she was the most senior of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting, as Mistress of the Robes. Her brother was the 5th Marquis of Salisbury (known as “Bobbity”), who resigned with Eden in 1938, going on to be Leader of the House of Lords and an influential presence in the Tory Party at least until his rash second resignation in 1957.

The Duchess made the bigger impact of the two on their second son. From her he derived his interest in politics and current affairs, a love of books, gardening and much else. She also encouraged him to speak out and question things. Harold Macmillan, who married her husband’s sister, Lady Dorothy Cavendish, had written about how hard the Duchess found it when she moved from the Salisbury seat at Hatfield to Chatsworth: “The Cavendishes went in for long silences which she found trying; the Cecils talked all the time about everything under the sun and had animated and furiously contested verbal contests.”

Andrew Cecil went to Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, but at the age of 20 he was in the Coldstream Guards and training for the Second World War. In 1944 he led his company to capture a hill during the Italian campaign and held onto it with dwindling supplies and under fire from three sides until relieved. For this he was awarded the Military Cross.

In 1945 and in 1950 he contested Chesterfield unsuccessfully for the Tories in two hard-fought general election campaigns. During one his car was overturned: the Cavendishes had not yet become the popular figures they are today. Harold Macmillan made his wife’s nephew Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations in 1960, and in 1962 promoted him to be Minister of State. (The Prime Minister would murmur as he made his evening tour of the Smoking Room: “You know, Andrew is awfully good with natives.”) Inevitably the cry of nepotism was raised – never more effectively than in a political pamphlet prepared by the Daily Mirror, which listed all the relatives, whether through blood or marriage, to whom Macmillan had given jobs in his Government. At the time such criticism seemed to be water off a duck’s back so far as the Duke was concerned. But more than 30 years later, in 1996, the Duke criticised the ministerial appointments made by Macmillan as “nepotism of an unacceptable kind in the 20th century”. But by then he had left the Tories, having tired of Margaret Thatcher’s dictatorial tendencies, and become an early member of the Social Democratic Party (actually entertaining Roy Jenkins during one SDP annual conference held in Derbyshire). He never enrolled as a Liberal Democrat, and on his rare visits to the House of Lords sat on the cross benches.

He was a man of many interests, the principal one, perhaps, being books. Requests to his bookseller, Heywood Hill in Curzon Street (which he owned) would frequently come on Monday mornings in the wake of his weekend house guests, one of whom had probably aroused his interest in some subject. Biographies of British prime ministers and American presidents could always be counted upon to appeal. Even so his tastes were catholic. One morning he called up and said: “I want to start a shelf of really good, interesting rogues.” He had been a customer at Heywood Hill since the end of the war, during which it was run for a while by Nancy Mitford, his sister-in-law. He was a little irritated in 1971 when the shop was sold without his being warned beforehand. No one, however, realised that he wanted it. But, in 1991, when it came up for sale again, he promptly bought it, also founding in 1995 the Heywood Hill literary prize of £10,000. This is awarded annually for style, wit and elegance, and is open to publishers, writers, collectors, reviewers and even cartoonists. For years he was a pillar of support to the London Library. When the library raised more than £3 million for its work in 1991, the Duke had helped in various ways, not least lending a room in Pratt’s Club in St James’s where he was proprietor, for use during the appeal. The library made him a vice-president in 1993.

Few other things gave the Duke greater pleasure than the successes of Derby County or Chesterfield in the League or the FA Cup. Their colours were sported and banners unfurled at Chatsworth and over the years there were parties and celebrations. “It is no pose,” he insisted. “When Derby or Chesterfield do well people go around with a spring to their step – I do myself.”

Racing was a challenge that fascinated him, though running horses was never as great a preoccupation for the Cavendishes as it was with the Derbys or the Roseberys. But the Duke won top races, and with horses for which he had not paid a vast sum of money. His best horse was the chestnut mare Park Top, the winner of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes and the Coronation Cup in 1969. His only book was written about her. It was Park Top’s failure in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe which resulted in the Duke’s good manners snapping. On form, the mare was expected to win, but she failed and the French crowd booed. This annoyed the Duke as she was clearly off-form and he gave them the V-sign, saying afterwards: “The crowd were so unfair to the horse and I did what I saw Harvey Smith do to the establishment at Hickstead.”

Tennis was another interest and well into middle age the Duke had a coach come regularly to give him a game at Chatsworth. He was president of the ruling body, the Lawn Tennis Association, for six years and had been a vice-president of the All England Club at Wimbledon since 1965.

In 1991 the Duke and Duchess celebrated the 50th anniversary of their wedding in an imaginative and original way. It was a great success. They invited all the couples in Derbyshire who had married in 1941 to come to Chatsworth for a full afternoon tea, with bands playing. Some 3,700 people sat down to tea, which was provided by eight field kitchens. Traffic jams were predicted but were minimal as marshals patrolled the approach roads with two-way radios and coloured flags.

In a speech the Duke said that he and his wife had been very lucky in life and they were very happy to share their good fortune with the people of Derbyshire. His speech was cut short by the Duchess, saying in an audible aside: “Come on dear – you are sounding like President Ronald Reagan.”

The Duke served as trustee of the National Gallery, 1960-86; he was Mayor of Buxton, 1952-54; and a member of the Horserace Totalisator Board, 1977-86. He was appointed one of the 24 Knights of the Garter in 1996. Every head of his family from the 1st Duke in 1698 had held this honour before him.


The 11th Duke of Devonshire, KG, MC, was born on January 2, 1920. He died on May 3, 2004, aged 84.


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