Papers of Spencer Compton Cavendish, 8th Duke of Devonshire (1833-1908)

Scope and Content

The largest component of the collection comprises political, personal, estate and other correspondence of Spencer Compton Cavendish, Marquess of Hartington and 8th Duke of Devonshire, extending to over 1,000 letters.

Amongst the political correspondence are letters from some prominent political figures of the time, including William Gladstone. There are letters relating to Hartington's roles as Irish Secretary (1871-1874), Secretary for India (1880-1882) and Secretary of State for War (1882-1885) and letters concerning topics such as the Franchise Question, the Liberal Unionist Association and Free Trade.

The personal correspondence includes letters the Duke wrote to his mistress, Catherine Walters ('Skittles'); letters from the Duke's relatives, including his brothers Edward Cavendish and Frederick Cavendish (and their wives, Lady Edward (Emma) Cavendish and Lady Frederick (Lucy) Cavendish); his sister, Louisa Egerton; and his father William Cavendish, 7th Duke of Devonshire.

Estate correspondence includes letters from the Duke's agent F.H. Manners-Sutton and the family solicitors Currey and Co.; topics covered include the estates of Lismore in Ireland and Hardwick in Derbyshire, as well as property and interests in Eastbourne and Newmarket. There is also material relating to the Manchester Settled Estate Trust concerning the property of Louise Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire's first husband, William Montagu, 7th Duke of Manchester.

There are letters concerning the 8th Duke's roles as Chancellor of Cambridge University and President of Owens College, Manchester, as well as correspondence relating to the National Association for the Promotion of Technical and Secondary Education. There are also letters sent to the Duke in an official capacity, including appeals for assistance, letters sent on behalf of societies and associations, and letters concerning subscriptions to charitable funds.

There is a single journal kept by Cavendish during 1856-58 as well as a briefer diary dating from 1862. There are also some financial records, including: a volume recording donations and subscriptions made by the 8th Duke of Devonshire in the years 1892-1908; a Secret Service account book; records of election expenses for 1857-1869; an account book for the 7th Duke of Devonshire's Trust Legacy Account; and a single balance sheet for an account held by the 8th Duke.

Official papers include formal addresses presented to the 8th Duke, as well as warrants and certificates issued to him for a variety of roles, including becoming Keeper of the Rolls of Derby, Lord President of Her Majesty's Privy Council and Grand Master for Derbyshire.

There are also some additional papers, including: a plate inventory for Devonshire House (the Duke's London residence); newspaper cuttings; political pamphlets; notes thought to have been copied from those of W.E. Gladstone; and an address given by the Duke as Marquess of Hartington on his inauguration as Lord Rector of the University of Edinburgh.

The overall covering dates for the collection extend beyond the 8th Duke's death as there is a single letter dating from 1911; this was filed with the 8th Duke's papers, although it would have been sent to Victor Cavendish, 9th Duke of Devonshire.

Spencer Compton Cavendish was styled as Lord Cavendish between 1834 and 1858; as Marquess of Hartington between 1858 and 1891 and as the 8th Duke of Devonshire between 1891 and 1908. The changes in his title are reflected in the catalogue descriptions; for example he is referred to as the Marquess of Hartington in correspondence dated 1860 but as the 8th Duke of Devonshire in correspondence dated 1893.

Administrative / Biographical History

Spencer Compton Cavendish, Marquess of Hartington and 8th Duke of Devonshire (1833-1908), politician, was the eldest son of William Cavendish, 7th Duke of Devonshire and Lady Blanche Cavendish (née Howard). His mother died on 27 April 1840, also leaving two younger sons, Frederick and Edward, and a daughter, Louisa.

Known at first as Lord Cavendish, he was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, graduating MA in 1854. In January 1858 his cousin, the 6th Duke of Devonshire, died. Cavendish's father succeeded to the dukedom and estates, and he himself became Marquess of Hartington, the name by which he became famous (frequently shortened, in political gossip, to Harty or Harty-Tarty, though to his family he remained Cav or Cavvy).

At a young age Hartington discovered an addiction to the turf, and many of his happiest hours were spent at Newmarket, where he later built himself a house. Hartington continued to indulge these tastes throughout his life, playing bridge most days until the small hours at one of his clubs. From a young age he was a member of the social circle of the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII. His high social position worked together with his natural secretiveness to obscure from contemporaries and posterity much of his early private life, though he is known to have had an affair with the young society courtesan Catherine Walters ('Skittles', 1839–1920) between 1859 and 1863.

He entered Parliament as a Liberal in 1857. Between 1863 and 1874 Hartington held various Government posts, including Chief Secretary for Ireland in Gladstone's first government. In 1875, the year following the Liberal defeat at the General Election, he succeeded William Gladstone as Leader of the Liberal opposition in the House of Commons. In 1880 Hartington was invited by Queen Victoria to form a government, but declined. He chose instead to serve in Gladstone's second government: he was Secretary of State for India from 1880 to 1882, where his most important work was to help settle the Afghan question; 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. Hartington became increasingly uneasy with Gladstone's Irish policies, especially after the murder of his younger brother Lord Frederick Cavendish in Phoenix Park, Dublin. In 1886 he broke with Gladstone altogether and became the leader of the Liberal Unionists. 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.

From 1895 he was chairman of a cabinet committee on defence, and he also chaired the committee which oversaw the conduct of the South African War; this resulted in a new Committee of Imperial Defence, which he chaired until he resigned from government in October 1903.

As Lord President of the Council, the Duke was in charge of government educational policy. He promoted the establishment of a systematic policy for secondary education. After several abortive attempts, local education authorities for secondary education were established by the 1902 Education Act. The Duke was the politician most responsible for this act, and in particular for insisting that it should also deal with elementary education.

Like his father, the Duke was also keen to encourage technical, scientific, and higher education. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1892, and was president of the Royal Agricultural Society for 1893–4. He succeeded his father as Chancellor of Cambridge University in 1891, and discharged his duties there with energy, being especially interested in promoting the teaching of applied science. He was also interested in the university extension movement and, at the Privy Council, facilitated the grant of charters to Birmingham, Manchester, and Liverpool universities. He was Chancellor of Manchester University from 1907.

In the early 1860s, he formed a lifelong attachment to Louise Montagu, Duchess of Manchester (1832–1911), the daughter of Count von Alten of Hanover and husband of William Drogo Montagu, 7th Duke of Manchester; their affair was common knowledge in aristocratic circles, though successfully shielded from the world at large at a time when it would have damaged his political prospects.

The Duke of Manchester died in 1890, and in 1892, his widow married the Duke of Devonshire, when she was 60 and he 59; she became known as the 'Double Duchess'. She developed Devonshire House in London and Chatsworth as prestigious social centres. Probably the most famous festivity was the historic fancy-dress ball given at Devonshire House in 1897, in celebration of Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee, which was regarded as the most splendid London social event for over twenty years.

In June 1907 the Duke suffered a sudden collapse of health through weakness of the heart. Having recovered to some degree, he left England on 24 October and went to Egypt for the winter. On his way home, on 24 March 1908, he died suddenly at the Hotel Metropole at Cannes. His body was brought to Derbyshire and buried at Edensor, close to Chatsworth. He left no children, and the title and estates passed to his nephew Victor, son of the late Lord Edward Cavendish.

Source: Jonathan Parry, 'Cavendish, Spencer Compton, marquess of Hartington and eighth duke of Devonshire', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). By permission of Oxford University Press.


The archive has been arranged into the following series:

  • DF6/1: Correspondence, 1859 – 1911
  • DF6/1/1: Personal Correspondence
  • DF6/1/2: Political Correspondence
  • DF6/1/3: Estate and Property Correspondence
  • DF6/1/4: Letters concerning the 8th Duke's involvement in Education
  • DF6/1/5: Official Correspondence
  • DF6/1/6: General Correspondence
  • DF6/2: Diaries, 1856 - 1862
  • DF6/3: Accounts, 1857 - 1908
  • DF6/4: Official Papers, 1858 - 1898
  • DF6/5: Other Papers, Mid-19th Century - Early 20th Century

Access Information

The collection is open for consultation. Access to the archive at Chatsworth is by appointment only. For more information please visit the website .

Acquisition Information

The material was extant in The Devonshire Collection prior to 1 August 2011.

Other Finding Aids

An item-level catalogue of the collection in PDF format can be found on the Chatsworth website .

Conditions Governing Use

Copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study and personal research purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

Much of the material remains in the copyright of Chatsworth House Trust, but some is also subject to third-party copyright. It is the responsibility of researchers to obtain permission both from Chatsworth House Trust, and from the any other rights holders before reproducing material for purposes other than research or private study.

Custodial History

Most of the material in the collection was created or acquired by Spencer Compton Cavendish, 8th Duke of Devonshire, and remained within the family; its exact archival history is unknown.

Related Material

Other correspondence of Spencer Compton Cavendish, 8th Duke of Devonshire, can be found in the 2nd Correspondence Series (GB 2495 CS2) and the 8th Duke's Correspondence Series, 1841-1908 (GB 2495 CS8).