Papers of William George Spencer Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire (1790-1858)

Scope and Content

This collection consists of the personal papers of the 6th Duke of Devonshire. It should be viewed alongside the Sixth Duke's correspondence series (GB 2495 CS6) and it includes letters that were not listed when that collection was listed.

The collection contains both incoming and outgoing letters of the 6th Duke of Devonshire (DF4/1) covering topics including, but not limited to, matters of a social, financial, family, estate or collection nature, such as: the death of Blanche Cavendish, the 6th Duke's favourite niece, in 1840; horticulture; local politics; the financial affairs of the 6th Duke's mother, Duchess Georgiana; and – in the correspondence with George Colman – issues relating to the licensing of plays dating from the periods when the 6th Duke served as Lord Chamberlain. There are also numerous letters to the 6th Duke from people requesting financial assistance, charity, patronage and friendship.

Some of the correspondents represented in the collection by one or more letters include: George Colman (1762-1836), playwright and theatre manager; Emily Eden (1797-1869), writer; Caroline Norton (1808-77), author and law reform campaigner; John Payne Collier (1789-1883), literary editor and forger, who also served as the 6th Duke's Librarian for a time; Blanche Cavendish, Countess of Burlington (1812-1840); Sir Jeffry Wyatville (1766-1840), architect; and Decimus Burton (1800-1881), architect. There are also some letters sent by the 6th Duke to Joseph Paxton.

As well as loose correspondence, there are scrapbooks of letters put together by the 6th Duke of Devonshire. The scrapbooks are arranged by topic, such as sculpture, or by the place where the 6th Duke of Devonshire received the letters, such as Brighton. One notable volume includes letters sent to the 6th Duke in response to receiving a lithographic print of the Duke's portrait by Charles Baugniet: there are letters from Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Edwin Landseer, and William Makepeace Thackeray amongst others.

In addition, there are petitions received by the 6th Duke in his role as England's Ambassador to Moscow, for the coronation of Tsar Nicholas I in 1826.

There are diaries kept by the 6th Duke during the periods 1821-1852, 1854 and 1856 (DF4/2/1), as well as date books kept by the Duke which show his whereabouts on different dates during each year (DF4/2/4). Alongside these are journals that were kept by the Duke, mostly covering the topic of travel (DF4/2/2), and address books noting friends and acquaintances in London, Brighton and Russia (DF4/2/3); amongst these are also examples of the Duke's personal calling card.

There is a series of guestbooks, scrapbooks and notes, which includes: guestbooks kept for the 6th Duke of Devonshire's properties at Chatsworth, Lismore, Chiswick and Kemp Town (DF4/3/1); scrapbooks of material collated by the 6th Duke of Devonshire and others, concerning people, places and events, such as Queen Victoria's visit to Chatsworth in 1843 (DF4/3/2); and a collection of ephemera, consisting of items such as lists and diagrams kept by the Duke (DF4/3/3).

In addition, there is a series of personal account books and papers kept by the 6th Duke of Devonshire and his solicitors (DF4/4). The format of these account records ranges from single summary sheets to volumes recording the Duke's private accounts. The Duke's passport (DF4/5) is a testament to his love of travel.

A series of manuscripts and publications (DF4/6) contains material of multiple authorship, including: plays by the playwright George Colman (DF4/6/1); poems, short stories and other creative works such as a joke book, music book and historical notes, authored by the 6th Duke of Devonshire and others (DF4/6/2); and material relating to the 6th Duke of Devonshire's Handbook to Chatsworth and Hardwick, published in 1844 (DF4/6/3).

There is also a series comprising papers of individuals associated with the 6th Duke of Devonshire that were found together with his own papers. These include a journal of Mrs (Robert) Arkwright (née Frances Kemble), actress, and two journals thought to have been authored by W.H. Frederick Cavendish.

Finally there are papers of the executors of the 6th Duke of Devonshire, including material relating to his estate, legacies, annuities, and so on.

The date range of material in the collection extends to before the Duke's birth, c.1780, as some material collected by the Duke was published at this time.

Administrative / Biographical History

William George Spencer Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire (1790-1858), was the youngest of three children of William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire, and Georgiana Cavendish. He and his sisters grew up in the curious menage à trois of their parents and Lady Elizabeth Foster. His early education was supervised by Selina Trimmer, daughter of the evangelical Mrs Sarah Trimmer, and he subsequently attended Harrow School before proceeding to Trinity College, Cambridge, from where he graduated in 1811.

Hart (as he was known to his family) succeeded to the Dukedom on 29 July 1811, shortly after reaching his majority. In the House of Lords, he was a consistent supporter of the Whigs, although he seldom spoke there. Despite his youth, he rapidly stepped into the role of elder statesman and party grandee, advancing the political careers of the Whig cousinhood through his extensive political patronage, and using his influence with William IV in the interests of reform in the 1830s.

In 1826 the Duke was sent to St Petersburg for the coronation of Nicholas I, on which occasion he spent £26,000 of his own money on his entourage, and was decorated by the Tsar with the orders of St Andrew and St Alexander Nevsky in recognition of his liberality. The Duke was sworn of the privy council in April 1827 and was made Knight of the Garter the following May. He served as Lord Chamberlain to George IV from May 1827 to February 1828, and to William IV from November 1830 to December 1834. He was Lord Lieutenant and custos rotulorum of Derbyshire and High Steward of Derby.

Known as the 'Bachelor Duke', Devonshire never married, despite being one of the country's most eligible bachelors and his pursuit by many mothers ambitious for their daughters. In November 1827 he began an alliance with Eliza Warwick, about whom little else is known, which remained a well-kept secret throughout its ten-year duration.

Devonshire's principal interests were cultural and literary. He was a great bibliophile, and a major purchaser at the Roxburghe sale of 1812; he also acquired a number of important libraries, including those of Thomas Dampier (bishop of Ely), and of his relation, the scientist Henry Cavendish (1731-1810). He commissioned the architect Sir Jeffry Wyatville to convert what had been the Long Gallery at Chatsworth into a Library in order to house his collection. This was just part of a vast programme of redevelopment at Chatsworth; Wyatville designed the huge North Wing, containing a dining room, orangery, private theatre, staff rooms and service areas. It also included a purpose-built sculpture gallery to house the Duke's outstanding collection of modern sculpture; this featured work by leading sculptors of the day, including six works by Antonio Canova (1757-1822).

The Duke developed a great interest in horticulture after appointing Joseph Paxton (1803-1865) as head gardener at Chatsworth in 1826. Paxton transformed the gardens at Chatsworth, introducing exotic species and giant rockeries, designing the Emperor Fountain, and the famous Great Conservatory – forerunner of Paxton's Crystal Palace which housed the 1851 Great Exhibition.

The Duke suffered a paralytic seizure in 1854, from which he never fully recovered, and died at Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire, on 18 January 1858. He was buried at Edensor, Derbyshire.

Principal source: K.D. Reynolds, 'Cavendish, William George Spencer, sixth duke of Devonshire (1790-1858)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). By permission of Oxford University Press.


The archive has been arranged into the following sections:

  • DF4/1: Correspondence
  • DF4/1/1: Letters sent and received by the 6th Duke of Devonshire and others, 1831 - 1854
  • DF4/1/2: Outgoing letters of the 6th Duke of Devonshire, 1827 - [1857]
  • DF4/1/3-8: Letters sent to the 6th Duke of Devonshire, grouped by name of sender, including George Colman, Emily Eden, Caroline Norton, John Payne Collier, Blanche Cavendish, Countess of Burlington and Benjamin Currey, 1827 - 1855
  • DF4/1/9: Letters concerning financial matters, 1824
  • DF4/1/10-12: General incoming letters, 1800 - 1858
  • DF4/1/13: Miscellaneous letters, 1798 - 1830
  • DF4/1/14: Albums of correspondence compiled by the 6th Duke of Devonshire, 1818 - 1850
  • DF4/2: Diaries, Journals and Address Books, 1811 - 1858
  • DF4/3: Guestbooks, Scrapbooks and Notes, 18th century-19th century
  • DF4/4: Accounts, 1810 - 1858
  • DF4/5: Official Papers, 1838 - 1842
  • DF4/6: Manuscripts and publications, mid-18th century - 19th century
  • DF4/7: Papers of associated individuals, 1831-1857
  • DF4/8: Papers of the executors of the estate of William Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire, 1834-1888

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 largely extant in The Devonshire Collection prior to 1 August 2011. Two later accessions were made in 2012 and 2013 and items added to the collection.

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 William Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire, and remained within the family; its exact archival history is unknown.

Related Material

Related material also held at Chatsworth includes:

  • The 6th Duke's Correspondence Group (GB 2495 CS6), which contains correspondence of the 6th Duke dating from 1811-1839.
  • The Second Correspondence Series (GB 2495 CS2) which contains further correspondence from 1840-1858.
  • Papers of Blanche Cavendish (GB 2495 DF13), which include some of her correspondence with the 6th Duke.