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Marquis of Hartington (1833-1908)

This article has been adapted from an original article written by BH Holland in 1912.

HartingtonSpencer Compton Cavendish, Marquis of Hartington and eighth Duke of Devonshire, was born on 23 July 1833 at Holker Hall, Lancashire. He was the eldest of three sons of William Cavendish, second earl of Burlington, and later seventh duke of Devonshire and his wife, Lady Blanche Georgiana, daughter of George Howard, sixth earl of Carlisle. She died on 27 April 1840, leaving four children, three sons and a daughter.

The second son was Lord Frederick Cavendish and the third son was Edward (1838-1891). The daughter, Louisa Caroline, married Admiral Francis Egerton (1824-1895), and died 21 September 1907. The sons were educated at home, mainly by their father, whose attainments in both mathematics and classics were high. Hartington was sent to Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1851 when he was eighteen. He gained a second class in the mathematical tripos of 1854, graduating with an M.A. in the same year. During the following three years he led the life of a young man of high social position, hunted a good deal, and was an officer first in the Lancashire Yeomanry, and then in the Derbyshire militia.

In 1856 he went to Russia attached to the staff of his cousin, Granville George Leveson-Gower, second Earl Granville, who had been sent as a special ambassador to represent Queen Victoria at the coronation of the Tsar Alexander II. In the spring of 1857, at the age of twenty-four, Cavendish became MP for North Lancashire as a Liberal and a supporter of Lord Palmerston.

In January 1858 his cousin, the sixth duke of Devonshire, died. Cavendish's father succeeded to the dukedom and estates, and he himself became Marquis of Hartington. In June 1859, after a general election, Lord Palmerston, who had been forced to resign in 1858, was prepared to replace Lord Derby's government, and to resume power. He commissioned Lord Hartington to move a motion of no confidence intended to effect this object. The speech, made on 7 June, was very successful and the motion was carried on 10 June by 323 to 310. The resignation of the Derby government followed.

In August 1862 Lord Hartington toured the United States of America, where the civil war was now at its height. He visited the headquarters of both the northern and southern armies, and had an interview both with Abraham Lincoln and with Jefferson Davis. Hartington's sympathies were, on the whole, at this time on the side of the south.

He returned to England in February 1863 and on 23 March he was appointed by Lord Palmerston as a junior Lord of the Admiralty. In May he became Under-secretary at the War Office. In February 1866 he succeeded George Frederick Samuel Robinson (later Marquis of Ripon) as Secretary of State for War during the few months of Lord Russell's government, thus entering the Cabinet at the age of 33.

When Lord Russell's government fell in June, Hartington visited Germany, saw the entry into Berlin of the Prussian army after the Seven Weeks' War, talked to Bismarck and inspected the battlefield of Sadowa.

In April 1868 he supported Gladstone's resolutions in favour of the disestablishment of the Irish church. This policy was unpopular in Lancashire, and Hartington lost his seat at the general election of December. Three months later,he became MP for the Radnor Boroughs, in Wales. Gladstone offered Lord Hartington the post of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. He declined that post but accepted the office of Postmaster-General, with a seat in the Cabinet. His chief work in this office was the nationalisation of the telegraphs. He also had charge of the measure which established voting by ballot. This Bill was first introduced in 1870, but was not passed into law until 1872. At the end of 1870 Lord Hartington, much against his will, became Chief Secretary for Ireland. One of his first duties in this capacity was to pass through the House of Commons a special Coercion Bill, on the principle of suspension of Habeas Corpus, for the county of Westmeath and some adjoining districts, which were disturbed by a powerful ‘Ribbon Society.'

Hartington was not in sympathy with Gladstone's scheme of 1873 for settling the Irish University question, which, as he foresaw, would satisfy no party, and he felt no surprise when it was defeated in the House of Commons on 11 March. He wanted to nationalise the Irish railways, a measure which he believed ‘would do more good to Ireland than anything else,' but this desire was thwarted by the Prime Minister's want either of time or of inclination. Soon after the defeat of the Liberal Party at the elections of 1874 and the accession of Disraeli to power, Gladstone formally announced his intention to resign the leadership. At a party meeting held at the Reform Club on 3 February under John Bright's presidency, Hartington reluctantly agreed, at the request of the party, to fill the vacant place.

In 1876 Disraeli began to develop his forward imperial policy by the purchase of the Suez Canal shares, and the bestowal on the Queen of the title of Empress of India. Hartington approved of these steps and his speeches on these occasions were confined within the limits of moderate criticism. During the following two years the great subject of party controversy was that of the attitude of England to the Turkish question, and the Russo-Turkish war. Hartington maintained that the British government might have prevented the war and secured a pacific reform in the administration of the Turkish provinces by a cordial co-operation from the beginning with Russia and the other continental powersr.

Hartington was a more severe critic of the government in the matter of the policy which led to the Afghan war in 1878, and publicly stated his opinion that Lord Lytton, the viceroy of India, ought to be recalled. Hartington's position in the country was growing in importance. The city of Glasgow bestowed on him the freedom of the city on 5 November 1877, and on 31 January 1879 he was installed as Lord Rector of Edinburgh University. Meanwhile Gladstone had been recalled by the Eastern question to the forefront of political life. His speeches were instrumental in destroying the government of Lord Beaconsfield [Disraeli], and after the Liberal victory at the elections of 1880 it became evident that only Gladstone could successfully be Prime Minister.

In April 1880 Queen Victoria invited Lord Hartington to form a government, but he said that he was unable to meet her wishes and Gladstone became Prime Minister on 23 April. Lord Hartington was appointed Secretary of State for India, a post to which the Afghan question now gave special importance.

In the previous September the war, which had seemed to be ended by the treaty of Gandamak, was rekindled by the massacre at Kabul of Sir Louis Cavagnari, the British envoy, with his staff and escort. Kabul, after some fighting, had been occupied, the Amir Yakub had been deported to India, negotiations were in progress with the exiled Prince Abdurrahman for the succession to the vacant throne, and a plan had been devised by Lord Lytton to separate the province of Kandahar from the rest of Afghanistan and to place it under a distinct native ruler, supported by a British garrison. The new government, with the co-operation of the new viceroy, the Marquis of Ripon, decided to reverse this decision, and Hartington explained the reasons in a speech in parliament on25 March 1881. Gladstone said was the most powerful speech that Hartington had ever made. After the defeat between August and October 1880, of the pretender Ayub by Sir Frederick (afterwards Lord) Roberts, Amir Abdurrahman was installed in power and all the British forces were withdrawn from Afghanistan, except from the Sibi and Pishin frontier districts, which with Quettah were permanently added to the Empire.

On 16 December 1882 Lord Hartington was transferred to the War Office, and was Secretary of State for War until Gladstone's government fell in the summer of 1885. He entered upon this office soon after the battle of Tel-el-Kebir in Egypt on 13 September 1882 and the virtual establishment of the British protectorate over Egypt. On 3 November 1883 the Egyptian army, commanded by General Hicks, was totally destroyed at El Obeid in the Sudan by the dervishh army which followed the Mahdi, and in the following January the British Government decided to compel that of Egypt to withdraw altogether from the Sudan, and sent General Gordon to carry out the evacuation.

Lord Hartington was one of the four ministers, the others being Lord Granville, Lord Northbrook, and Sir Charles Dilke, who were virtually responsible, in the first instance, for this step. When it became apparent in March that Gordon had failed, and that Khartoum and Berber would be taken by the Arabs unless they received military assistance, Hartington, supported by strong memoranda by Lord Wolseley, the adjutant-general, repeatedly urged the Prime Minister and the Cabinet as strongly as he could to come to a decision on the subject. He was not, however, able to induce the Cabinet to agree to any preparations until the end of July 1884, and then only by a threat of resignation. Consequently Lord Wolseley's Nile expedition arrived near Khartoum just too late to save that city from capture and Gordon from death on 26 January 1885. The Government decided at first to retake Khartoum, and on 25 February 1885, Hartington pledged himself in Parliament to this policy in the strongest terms. However, the feeling died away. The possibility of a war with Russia in connection with the Afghan frontier enabled Gladstone to withdraw from the undertaking, which he had never liked, and Hartington had the mortification of seeing the complete abandonment of the Sudan, even including the province of Dongola which had not as yet fallen into the power of the Mahdi.

In internal affairs during this period Hartington was the recognised leader of the Whigs or moderate Liberals, and came into frequent collision with Chamberlain and Sir Charles Dilke, who led the radical section. He acquiesced reluctantly in the great extension of the franchise carried out in 1884-5, especially with regard to Ireland, and was persuaded to remain in the Cabinet, when it was proposed to pass the extension at once, and a redistribution Bill, separately, at a later indefinite date. At the insistence of Queen Victoria, Hartington and Sir Michael Hicks Beach settled the conflict on this issue between the government and the House of Lords in the autumn of 1884, when it was arranged to pass the Redistribution Bill at the same time as the 1884 Reform Act. The scheme of redistribution was settled at a conference between Gladstone, Lord Salisbury, Lord Hartington, Sir Charles Dilke, Sir Michael Hicks Beach, and other leading men of both parties.

From the time when the ‘home rule for Ireland' movement began in about 1872, Hartington had always uncompromisingly opposed any plan of altering the Union of Great Britain and Ireland, and had publicly predicted in the House of Commons on 30 June 1874 that if any Liberal statesman was rash enough to embark upon this policy, he would break up the Liberal party. He had also been a strong supporter of measures necessary for preserving order and resisting the wave of agrarian crime and supersession of law by the edicts of the Land League, which swept over Ireland after 1880. This régime of violence culminated in the assassination of his brother, Lord Frederick Cavendish on 6 May 1882, when he was Chief Secretary of Ireland.

In all these Irish questions the views of Hartington diverged widely from those of Gladstone, especially after the latter inaugurated negotiations with the Irish leader, Charles Stewart Parnell in April 1882. Gladstone's administration fell in June 1885, and was succeeded by that of Lord Salisbury.

Gladstone's determination to embark upon a home rule policy was first made known in December 1885 after the election. Most of the members of the last Liberal Cabinet decided to follow Gladstone. A minority led by Hartington declined to accept office in the government, which Gladstone formed on the defeat of Lord Salisbury's government in the debate on the address in February 1886.

On the introduction of the Home Rule Bill on 8 April, Hartington declared his opposition to it. He also addressed outside meetings, of which the most famous was that at the Opera House in the Haymarket on 14 April, when he appeared upon the same platform with Lord Salisbury, thus laying the foundation of the unionist alliance between the Conservatives and dissentient Liberals. Lord Hartington said that there could be no guarantee that the supremacy of the imperial parliament over Ireland would be in practice maintained as Gladstone asserted. On the second reading of the Home Rule Bill on 10 May 1886, Hartington moved the rejection of the measure in a very powerful speech, which made a great impression upon the House of Commons and the country. Over ninety Liberal MPs followed Hartington and Chamberlain, and on 8 June 1886 the Bill was defeated on a second reading by a majority of 30.

Gladstone at once obtained a dissolution of parliament, and, in consequence of the recent addition of two million voters to the electorate there was some doubt as to the result. Hartington fought the most strenuous campaign of his life. The elections gave a sufficient majority to the combined Conservatives and the Liberal Unionists, who now were a distinct organised party under the presidency and leadership of Hartington. The Conservatives numbered 316, the Liberal Unionists 78, Gladstone's followers 191, and the Irish Nationalists 85. Salisbury, with Queen Victoria's consent, asked Hartington to form a government, in which he would serve, or to take office in a government which Salisbury should form. Hartington declined, for he considered that such a step would break up the Liberal party and probably lead to a reversion of part of it, in time, to the Gladstonian standard, thus imperilling the legislative union. Salisbury renewed the proposal in January 1887, after the crisis due to the sudden resignation of Lord Randolph Churchill, then leader of the House of Commons; but Hartington again, for the same reasons, declined. Thus he three times declined to be Prime Minister, in 1880, in 1886, and in 1887.

During the next five years Hartington sat upon the front opposition bench, giving an independent support to the government, which was largely kept in power by the Liberal unionists. Hartington's breach with Gladstone continued to widen under the influence of events in Irish history, and of the policy and tone adopted by Gladstone. During this period Hartington presided over two Royal Commissions, one on the ‘civil and professional administration of the naval and military departments, and their relation to each other, and to the treasury'; the other on the ‘relations between employers and employed, the combination of employers and employed, and the conditions of labour.' On 21 December 1891 Lord Hartington, now aged fifty-eight, became eighth duke of Devonshire on his father's death and after thirty-four years of service in the Commons, took his seat in the House of Lords.

The elections of 1892 produced a small majority of forty for the Liberal-Irish alliance. Gladstone, now in his eighty-third year, once more took office, and in 1893 introduced a second Home Rule Bill, differing in some respects from the first, notably in its retention of the existing mumber of Irish members in the House of Commons, but not more acceptable to Hartington. The Bill passed its third reading in the House of Commons on 29 July, but on 5 September Hartington moved its rejection in the House of Lords. It was thrown out on 8 September by 419 to 41. On 21 June 1895 Lord Rosebery, who had succeeded Gladstone as Prime Minister in March 1894, resigned upon a defeat in the House of Commons, and Lord Salisbury, called upon to form his third administration, invited the Liberal-unionist leaders to accept office. A coalition government was formed. The Duke of Devonshire [Hartington] became President of the Council and head of the educational department. He showed interest in the development of technical education, but had small acquaintance with educational duties. He also presided over the Cabinet ‘defence committee' as it then existed.

This government, which lasted till 11 July 1902, was remarkably strong and the extent of the Empire in north-east, west, and south Africa were widely extended. When Lord Salisbury resigned on 11 July 1902 and Mr. Balfour became Prime Minister, Devonshire continued to hold the office of president of the council, but surrendered his work with the education department, which was replaced by a Minister of Education. The duke also succeeded Lord Salisbury as government leader in the House of Lords but his connection with Mr. Balfour's government was a short one.

In the session of 1902, Sir Michael Hicks Beach, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, had imposed a small duty on all corn stuffs imported, partly with a view to the expenditure due to the war, but chiefly as a permanent source of revenue. In the autumn of 1902 Joseph Chamberlain proposed to the Cabinet that advantage should be taken of this tax to give to the colonies the preference in British markets, for which they had asked at the conferences of 1887 and 1897. He left for Africa, thinking that the Cabinet had accepted his proposal, but on his return, early in 1903, he found that the new Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed to repeal this unpopular tax. Chamberlain publicly declared his views in favour of duties for the sake of preference; his movement was supported by a majority of the Unionist Party and opposed by a minority. Chamberlain split the government.

On 14 September a Cabinet meeting took place, the result of which was the resignation of three Cabinet ministers, Mr. Ritchie, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, and Lord George Hamilton, who took strongly the free-trade view. Devonshire would have resigned at the same moment, had not Balfour informed him that Chamberlain had also resigned in order to carry on independently the propaganda of tariff reform, and that his resignation had been accepted. The duke continued to be in the Cabinet till 1 October, when he resigned because of support for a change in fiscal policy expressed by the Prime Minister in a speech at Sheffield.

During the remaining years of his life the duke opposed the new policy of tariff reform in the House of Lords. In the spring of 1904 he resigned his chairmanship of, and connection with, the Liberal Unionist Association, over which he had presided since its formation in 1886. The majority of its members followed Chamberlain, and it was remodelled upon new lines. Upon other matters of policy the duke still sympathised with Balfour. In debates on the new Liberal government's education Bill of 1906 he accepted, in opposition to the unionist point of view, the final position taken by the government. His last speech in parliament was on 7 May 1907 when he defined and defended the powers and functions of the House of Lords. His last public appearance was as chancellor at Cambridge, at a conferring of degrees, on 12 June 1907. A few days later he suffered a sudden collapse through weakness of the heart. Recovering to some degree, he left England on 24 October, and went to Egypt for the winter. On24 March 1908 while on his way home, he died suddenly at an hotel at Cannes. His body was brought to Derbyshire and buried at Edensor, close to Chatsworth.

The duke succeeded his father in 1892 as lord-lieutenant of Derbyshire, and the same year he was made Knight of the Garter by Queen Victoria. He also succeeded his father as chancellor of Cambridge University. In 1895 he became lord-lieutenant of county Waterford. In the summer of 1892 the duke married Louise, daughter of Count von Alten of Hanover, and widow of William Montague, seventh duke of Manchester. After his marriage he entertained freely at Devonshire House, Chatsworth, and his other seats, and was a good host. On several occasions the duke and duchess entertained King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra at Chatsworth, and once at Lismore Castle in Ireland.

The duke was recognised as an excellent landlord. He encouraged the development of his property at Eastbourne with great effect, and he was actively interested in the industrial progress of Barrow, where he owned much property. His chief recreation in earlier days was hunting, though he also liked shooting and fishing, and throughout life he was addicted to horse-racing. He built himself a house at Newmarket, and was, perhaps, never happier than when he was there. His success in racing was, however, hardly equal to his zeal for it and expenditure upon it. He never won the Derby. Devonshire never had much taste or leisure for either literature or the fine arts, though after his accession he took care that the library at Chatsworth should be kept up to date, and the sculptures and pictures carefully looked after. His tastes were mainly those of a country gentleman.

His favourite resort in London was the Turf Club and, after that, the Travellers and Brooks's Clubs. His speeches were well-constructed, logical, massive, most sincere and effective.

The duke left no children, and the title and estates passed to his nephew, Victor.

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