This collection of correspondence largely comprises letters to and from William Cavendish, 4th Duke of Devonshire (1720-1764) and members of his family and his associates between December 1755 and September 1764. The most prolific years of correspondence are the earlier ones. This correspondence begins once the 4th Duke inherited the dukedom from his father and ends about a month before his death. The correspondence illuminates his roles as politician and courtier (Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, First Lord of the Treasury, Lord Chamberlain); brother, son and father; local landowner (and Lord Lieutenant of Derbyshire) in Derbyshire, and absentee landowner in Ireland and Yorkshire.
As well as correspondence, the collection includes other material that would have been enclosed with letters, such as minutes of meetings; memoranda; receipts; printed letters; and newspaper cuttings (from the London Gazette).
The letters cover political, social and personal matters of: the 4th Duke and wider Cavendish family; Kings George II and III; Prince Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick; Prince William, Duke of Cumberland; Princess Amelia; other royals; prime ministers; military personnel; privy councillors; members of the royal court; British, Irish, and other European politicians; ambassadors; government spies; architects; actors; poets; clergymen; lawyers; judges; educators; servants; land agents; and many members of the aristocracy and gentry.
The main correspondents with the 4th Duke in this collection are: Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle; Henry Fox; Wellbore Ellis, 1st Baron Mendip; Lord Frederick Cavendish; Henry Seymour-Conway; Sir Anthony Abdy; John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute; and William Ponsonby, 2nd Earl of Bessborough.
Other correspondents include: James Fitzgerald, 1st Duke of Leinster; Robert, 1st Viscount Jocelyn; John Bowes; Lord George Cavendish; Sir William Fitzherbert of Tissington; Dorothy Boyle (née Savile), Countess of Burlington; Katherine Cavendish (née Hoskins), Duchess of Devonshire; John Ponsonby; Sir Robert Wilmot; Thomas Edwards; William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham; Philip Yorke, 1st Earl of Hardwick; Prince Frederick, Duke of Brunswick; Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester; James Ralph; Arthur Rochfort; David Garrick; Alexander Barker; Anthony Coghlan; Sir George Howard; Joseph-Marie-François-Justin de Viry, comte de Viry; Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham; Lord John Cavendish; Dr Richard Newcome; and Mary Watson-Wentworth, Marchioness of Rockingham.
Women writers are underrepresented in this collection less than ten percent of the letters are written by women and, of these, most were from women to whom the 4th Duke was related (his mother, sisters and mother-in-law). The exceptions include: Mary Watson-Wentworth (née Bright), Marchioness of Rockingham; Amalie Sophie Marianne von Wallmoden, Countess of Yarmouth; Lady Mary Coke (née Campbell); Alicia Maria Wyndham (née Carpenter), Countess of Egremont; Mary Howard (née Blount), Duchess of Norfolk; Anne FitzRoy, Duchess of Grafton; and Princess Amelia. The topics of these letters vary from social arrangements to meetings concerning political matters and recommendations for vacant commissions.
The collection does include letters neither written to nor from the 4th Duke. In most cases, these letters were enclosures sent with correspondence addressed to the 4th Duke. The exceptions to this are the letters from his brother, Lord Frederick Cavendish, to Prince William, Duke of Cumberland.
Themes, historical events and topics covered thoroughly in the correspondence include:
- The death of the 3rd Duke of Devonshire correspondence includes condolences from political friends and family; arrangements for the funeral; and mourning liveries for the 4th Duke s household in Dublin where the 4th Duke remained (early 1756);
- The military career of Lord Frederick Cavendish as soldier and as Lord of the Bedchamber and aide-de-camp to Prince William, Duke of Cumberland, especially referencing battles and camps on the Continent (1756-1763);
- The 4th Duke s relationship with his mother, Katherine Cavendish (née Hoskins), Duchess of Devonshire, after the death of his father including offers of funds and accommodation (1756);
- Military recommendations for appointments for which the 4th Duke was responsible as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland; recommendations for estate livings and parliamentary seats on the Devonshire and Burlington estates; recommendations for royal household commissions under the responsibility of the 4th Duke as the Lord Chamberlain; other recommendations for appointments to Government;
- The political and personal friendships between the 4th Duke and Henry Fox; Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle; Henry Seymour-Conway; and Sir Robert Wilmot;
- The management and overseeing of the Irish estates of the Burlingtons via Mr Conner and Sir Anthony Abdy; and family affairs in Ireland relating to the Burlingtons, Boyles and Ponsonbys;
- The Seven Years War (1756-1763) including mention of: the catalyst for the beginning of war with France; the battle in Minorca and the eventual court-martialling of John Byng (CS4/522, CS4/523 and CS4/541); the Prussian Victory in Bohemia, October 1756; bad news from Bohemia and the King of Prussia s defeat, July 1757; Robert Clive and the East India Company in West Bengal (CS4/832); the convention signed by the Duke of Cumberland, September 1757; the failed expedition to Rochefort and the court of enquiry for Sir John Mordaunt in December 1757 (CS4/891, CS4/892); the embarkation at St Malo in June 1758 under Captain Howe (CS4/958, CS4/959); the capture of Lord Frederick Cavendish by the French at Montignon, September 1758 (CS4/1048, CS4/1053); the defeat of Montignon; the surrender of Guadeloupe (CS4/1138); the Battle of Minden, August 1759 (CS4/1148-1149); Prussian victory at Lunnerdorf, August 1759 (CS4/1161); the capture of Quebec, October 1759 (CS4/1176); the arrival of troops on Martinique 1761 (CS4/1334); failed peace negotiations with France, Summer 1761, with Duc de Choiseul, Bussy and Stanley; resolution to abandon the war in Germany in April 1762 (CS4/1627); renewed peace negotiations in May 1762 (CS4/1639); British and allied victory at Grebenstein, June 1762; the capture of Havana and 12 Spanish ships (September 1762);
- Reference to 18th-century cultural pursuits such as literature, balls and dancing, theatre, opera and architecture in correspondence with Garrick, George Canning, James Paine, William Mason, Horace Walpole, Joseph Spence and Elizabeth Chudleigh (e.g. CS4/1558);
- The political activities occurring in the British Parliament in London during the 4th Duke s secondment in Ireland (1755- May 1756);
- Financing of the war through a subscription for raising public supplies , with advice from the banker Sampson Gideon, 1757 (CS4/584, CS4/584, CS4/590, CS4/591);
- Irish Parliamentary politics relating to the 4th Duke s role as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, 1756-Jan 1757; and political updates from the Irish parliament and struggles of the administration involving the Speaker and Primate, November 1757, via various political allies including John Bowes, later Lord Chancellor of Ireland and James Fitzgerald, 20th Earl of Kildare (1756-58);
- The plague outbreak in Algiers and quarantining ships into Ireland in 1756 (CS4/187);
- The Paddington Road Bill, April 1756 and the battle between the Dukes of Grafton and Bedford on the matter;
- The 4th Duke s preparations to return to England from Ireland (May 1756);
- Reference to a French cargo ship from Santo Domingo [Dominican Republic] in the Caribbean Islands captured at Waterford, Ireland (CS4/235, CS4/236);
- Intelligence reports for the British Government from Thomas Edward via his friend on the continent and Anthony Coghlan (Summer 1756 onwards) and through Précis of the Dutch Mail (1761-62);
- Local matters occurring in Derbyshire reported to the 4th Duke by the landowner Sir William Fitzherbert at Tissington such as the flour mill rioters in Derby, September 1756, (CS4/355) and Hall s ballad on pulling down mills (CS4/881, CS4/889);
- Local riots at Chatsworth and Bakewell against the Militia Act and the perception of enlistment into the foreign war , handled by Alexander Barker, agent at Chatsworth in August 1757 (CS4/809, CS4/810, CS4/811, CS4/818) and arming Chatsworth in 1760 (CS4/1217);
- The corn scarcity in Ireland, December 1756 (CS4/451, CS4/472, CS4/500);
- Multiple resignations from Government including: Newcastle and Fox in October 1756; the negotiations between the King and ministers surrounding appointing a new administration in 1757 and 1762 including the issue of certain individuals not being willing to work with other candidates (CS4/726);
- The Countess of Yarmouth s involvement in the negotiation of a new administration and the 4th Duke s appointment as First Lord of the Treasury (Summer 1757);
- Royal matters including holding court at Windsor (CS4/1685); funerals; closet meetings; commissions; the administration of the 4th Duke s role as Lord Chamberlain (1757-1762) through Sir Robert Wilmot; the King s jewellery (CS4/1372); the birth of Queen Charlotte s first child (CS4/1707); and the King s sentiments on political matters and foreign affairs;
- The case of soldiers tried for the death of George Headley in 1758 (CS4/915, CS4/991, CS4/999);
- The demise and death of Dorothy Boyle, Countess of Burlington and her will and estate, Summer 1758 (CS4/1050, CS4/1064);
- Reference to the Lord Chamberlain s unpopular power to prohibit performances of plays in response to Samuel Foot s plays The Author and The Minor (CS4/111, CS4/1116, CS4/1284);
- A description of the King meeting Kitty Fisher (CS4/1142);
- The case of murder by William Andrew Horne (CS4/1171);
- The dissolution of parliament after the King s death and letters to the Lord Chamberlain from post-holders requesting to keep commissions, Autumn 1760;
- Horace Walpole s description of his visit to Haddon and Hardwick in 1760 (CS4/1265);
- National politics and the election of MPs, including the Harwich seat concerning Mr Davy and Lord Coke s objections to him; the general election 1761 and Derbyshire seats;
- A description of unpleasant conditions in Senegal where troops were posted in 1761 (CS4/1373);
- Political wrangling between Newcastle, Bute and Pitt over the peace negotiations with reference to the Newfoundland fisheries, Summer 1761;
- The administration of the Royal Wedding and Coronation of King George III and Queen Charlotte, by the Lord Chamberlain, Summer 1761 (e.g. CS1/1495);
- Accounts of parliamentary debates concerning the continuation of the War in 1761, by Lord John Cavendish (e.g. CS4/1568);
- The Russian Palace Revolution involving the deposition of Peter III of Russia by Catherine, Empress of Russia, June 1762 (CS4/1707, CS4/1713);
- The declining mental and physical health of the 4th Duke and his recuperation at Bath, Summer 1762 (CS4/1758);
- The 4th Duke s absence from privy council meetings (CS4/1759);
- The death of Sampson Gideon in October 1762 and his will and estate (CS4/1791);
- The 4th Duke s own resignations in November and December 1762 as Lord Chamberlain and Lord Lieutenant of Derbyshire and the response from ministers and King George III to the 4th Duke s actions (CS4/1795, CS4/1773, CS4/1840, CS4/1802, CS4/1854);
- The case of Wilkes provoked by his publication of the North Briton in 1763 and arguments surrounding Parliamentary Privilege and Sir Charles Pratt s judgement as Lord Chief Justice, February 1764 (1898, CS4/1904, CS4/2002.1);
- Political manoeuvres and conversations between the Duke of Newcastle, William Pitt and other politicians to negotiate new commissions for political allies, following the prediction of the collapse of another Government Administration in Summer 1763.
Many of these letters provide evidence of the esteem in which the 4th Duke was held and his reputation as a diplomatic, fair and popular politician during a particularly turbulent decade of British politics (for example, CS4/473). These letters show he was kept informed of decisions and conversations even when they did not directly affect his own work, and demonstrate his colleagues use of him as a sounding board.
The letters shed light on the inner-workings of parliament and court through the Seven Years War and the opinions politicians at the time held of each other and the situation. It shows the chaotic nature of foreign affairs and home politics in the management of a war that is now considered integral to the British colonisation of large parts of Canada, South Asia and the Caribbean.
There is a lack of surviving letters in this collection between the 4th Duke and his children William nicknamed Cann (Lord Hartington), Dorothy, Richard and George. The letters between the 4th Duke and Lady Burlington (their grandmother) provide the most references to his children and show that they were living apart from their father at Chiswick at least until her death in 1758. There is also mention of the children living at Devonshire House and Lord Hartington going to school at Harrow (according to letters between Dr Newcome and the 4th Duke). The letters between Dr Newcome and the 4th Duke shed light on the 4th Duke s concern for Lord Hartington s education and his reserved nature (CS4/98, CS4/328, CS4/788, and CS4/2027). There is also a letter between Lady Rockingham and the 4th Duke where Lady Rockingham requests a visit from Lady Dorothy (CS4/1996).
The peripatetic nature of the 4th Duke's existence and his enjoyed past-times such as hunting and horseracing are also captured in these letters.