William Cavendish, 2nd Duke of Devonshire (1672–1729), politician and art collector, was the second but first surviving son of William Cavendish, 1st Duke of Devonshire (1641–1707), and Mary (1646–1710), second daughter of James Butler, first duke of Ormond.
Following his father's accession to the earldom of Devonshire in 1684 he was known by courtesy as Lord Cavendish, and after his father's elevation to the dukedom in 1694 he was called Marquess of Hartington.
Lord Cavendish was educated privately. On 21 June 1688, he married Lady Rachel Russell (1674–1725), the eldest daughter of William Russell, Lord Russell, a political associate of his father, who had been executed for complicity in the Rye House plot, and Lady Rachel Russell. They had five children: William (1698-1755, who became 3rd Duke of Devonshire); Rachel (1699-1780); Charles (1704-82); James (d. 1741); and Elizabeth (d. 1747).
Hartington entered parliament as MP for Derbyshire at the election of 1695, becoming a prominent Whig politician; he held office in Derbyshire between 1695 and 1701, in Castle Riding in 1702 and in Yorkshire between 1702 and 1707. By the time of his father's death, on 18 August 1707, Hartington had acquired a considerable reputation; he succeeded his father in most of his offices and took his seat in the House of Lords on 23 October 1707.
When Queen Anne visited Cambridge University in April 1705 both Hartington and his father were awarded honorary doctorates of law. He was invested as a Knight, Order of the Garter (K.G.) in March 1709/10 and he held the office of Lord President of the Council from 1716 to 1717 and 1725-29.
The Hanoverian succession in 1714 saw Devonshire named as a lord justice to rule the country until the arrival of George I and in November 1727 George II chose Devonshire as his own replacement as a governor of Charterhouse.
Beyond politics, Devonshire maintained his interest in art. Having bought part of Lord Somers's collection at its dispersal in 1717, in 1723 he bought 225 drawings that had belonged to Nicolaes Anthoni Flinck, whose father Govaert Flinck had been a pupil of Rembrandt. In addition to Rembrandt, artists represented in the purchase included Rubens, Raphael, Mantegna, Barocci, and Annibale Carracci, contributing to the Devonshire collection's reputation as unequalled at the time in England.
In March and May 1729 Devonshire was still active in national affairs, but he was reported to be dangerously ill at the end of May 1729, and gout was blamed for his absence from cabinet. He died on 4 June 1729 at Devonshire House, Piccadilly, London, and was buried in All Saints' Church, Derby.
Rachel Cavendish, née Russell, Duchess of Devonshire (1674-1725), was born in January 1673/74. She married William Cavendish, 2nd Duke of Devonshire, on 21 June 1688. As a result of her marriage, Rachel Russell was styled as Duchess of Devonshire from 18 August 1707. She died on 28 December 1725 aged 51.
Principal source: Stuart Handley, 'Cavendish, William, second duke of Devonshire (1670/71-1729), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). By permission of Oxford University Press.