Learn more about the lives of the Dukes of Devonshire and their families

1. Sir William Cavendish and Bess of Hardwick

The history of Chatsworth begins with Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury, better known as Bess of Hardwick (1527-1608). A native of Derbyshire and from a modest background, she grew to become the second most powerful woman in Elizabethan England after the Queen. Bess married four times, and it was with her second husband, Sir William Cavendish (1508-1557), that the Cavendish line which continues today was established.

Sir William Cavendish came from Cavendish in Suffolk, and prospered during the 16th century as one of King Henry VIII's commissioners for the dissolution of the monasteries. When he married Bess in 1547 she persuaded him to sell the former monastic lands he had amassed and move to her home county. Despite its isolated location and the risk of flooding, they bought Chatsworth manor for £600 in 1549, and in 1552 began to build the first house on the site. The Hunting Tower, built in the 1580s, still stands on the hill above Chatsworth.

After Sir William died in 1557, Bess married Sir William St. Loe (d.1565) and lastly, in 1567, George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury (c.1522-90). Queen Elizabeth I appointed Shrewsbury as custodian of Mary, Queen of Scots, who was a prisoner at Chatsworth at various times between 1569 and 1584. Her lodgings were on the east side of the house where the rooms, although changed beyond recognition, are still called the Queen of Scots Apartments.

Bess also built Hardwick Hall, her surviving masterpiece. One of the greatest houses of the Elizabethan age, it has a unique collection of 16th and 17th-century embroideries, tapestries and furniture. It belonged to the Cavendish family until 1957, when it was given to the government in-lieu of death duties, and is now a National Trust property.

2. William Cavendish, 1st Earl of Devonshire (1551–1626)

William was the second, and favourite, son of Bess of Hardwick, and became her heir. On her death in 1608, he inherited a vast fortune and several important properties. Although Chatsworth was inherited by her eldest son Henry, its contents were left to William, who bought out his brother's interest in the house itself in 1609. 

He managed his estates carefully, purchased more land, and also invested in various overseas trading companies, such as the Virginia and Bermuda companies. He held positions as MP for Liverpool and Newport, High Sheriff of Derbyshire, and Justice of the Peace. In 1605, he was created Baron Cavendish of Hardwick, and in 1618 became Earl of Devonshire.

In 1581, William married Anne Keighley, daughter and co-heir of Henry Keighley, and together they had three sons and one daughter. After Anne’s death he had one further son with his second wife, Elizabeth, daughter and heir of Edward Boughton and widow of widow of Sir Richard Wortley. He died on 3 March 1626, and was buried at Edensor. 

3. William Cavendish, 2nd Earl of Devonshire (1590–1628)

The 2nd Earl of Devonshire was the second son of the 1st Earl. He was educated by Thomas Hobbes, the philosopher, who lived at Chatsworth as his private tutor for many years. Hobbes accompanied him across Europe on the Grand Tour from 1610. A leading member of court society, the 2nd Earl was also a close friend of King James I, and held positions as M.P. and Lord Lieutenant of Derbyshire.

In 1608 the 2nd Earl married Christian Bruce, daughter of Edward Bruce, 1st Lord Kinloss, and they had three children. He died in 1628 following what was described as "excessive indulgence in good living", and left behind a trail of debts and lawsuits. His son and heir, again called William, was aged just eleven, and as a result the widowed Christian obtained full legal guardianship of her son and set about resolving the financial and legal difficulties left behind by her husband.

4. William Cavendish, 3rd Earl of Devonshire (1617–1684)

Both the 3rd Earl of Devonshire and his mother, Christian Bruce, were staunch Royalists when the Civil War began in 1641, and the family dedicated large amounts of money to raising regiments for Charles I. Colonel Charles Cavendish, the 3rd Earl's younger brother, was celebrated for his bravery, but was killed on the battlefield in 1643. The 3rd Earl himself, mindful of his duty to protect his family name, departed for the safety of the continent and did not return until after the war was over.

Chatsworth was occupied by both sides during the Civil War, and the 3rd Earl did not return to the house until peace was restored with the Restoration of the monarchy. Although he reconstructed the principal rooms in an attempt to make them more comfortable, the old Elizabethan house was becoming increasingly out-dated and unsafe.

The 3rd Earl of Devonshire married Lady Elizabeth Cecil, daughter of William Cecil, 2nd Earl of Salisbury, on 4th March 1639. Together they had two children.

5. William Cavendish, 4th Earl and 1st Duke of Devonshire (1641–1707)

The 4th Earl of Devonshire did not inherit his title until he was 43, and by this time he had built a reputation of some notoriety. He was described by Horace Walpole as 'a patriot among the men, a gallant among the ladies', yet 'prone to take offence, ready with his sword as with his tongue, plaintiff and defendant in many lawsuits'. He married Lady Mary Butler (1646-1710), daughter of James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde, in 1662 and they had four children together.

A strong supporter of the 'Glorious Revolution' of 1688, the 4th Earl was one of the 'Immortal Seven', a group of English noblemen who signed the invitation to William of Orange and his wife Mary to accept the throne in the place of Mary's father, James II. He was a leading member of the Whig party, serving as Lord Steward for the new king, and in 1694 he was created the Duke of Devonshire and the Marquess of Hartington in recognition for his services.

By the 1680s Chatsworth had fallen into a poor state of repair, and the 4th Earl began some much-needed work on the old house. Initially the intention was only to alter the South Front, which was taken down in 1686 and replaced with new family rooms and a magnificent State Apartment. However, he found building so enjoyable that the East Front was soon after also rebuilt, including the Painted Hall and a long gallery (now the Library), followed by the West Front and finally the North Front. William Talman (1650-1719) was the architect for the South and East Fronts. The West was perhaps designed by the Duke himself, working closely with his masons, and the North, with its bow front, by Thomas Archer. The new Chatsworth was finished just before the Duke died in 1707.

6. William Cavendish, 2nd Duke of Devonshire (c.1672-1729)

The 2nd Duke of Devonshire was a prominent Whig, and became a member of the Privy Council in 1707, serving as Lord President of the Council on two occasions. He married the Hon. Rachel Russell (1674-1725), daughter of William, Lord Russell in 1688, and together they had five children.

The 2nd Duke made no changes to the house and garden that his father had created at Chatsworth. He was however a connoisseur of the arts, and was responsible for the formation of an outstanding collection which included paintings, Old Master drawings and prints, ancient coins and carved Greek and Roman gems.

7. William Cavendish, 3rd Duke of Devonshire (1698-1755)

The 3rd Duke of Devonshire, like his father, was active in politics, and served for seven years as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. He was also a Member of Parliament from 1721 until his father's death sent him to the House of Lords in 1729. The Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole was a friend of his and his father, and the Van Dyck portrait of Arthur Goodwin which hangs in the Great Dining Room at Chatsworth came from Walpole's collection. The 3rd Duke married Catherine Hoskins (d.1777) in 1718, and together they had seven children.

On 16 October 1733, Devonshire House, the London residence of the Dukes of Devonshire, was destroyed by fire. The 3rd Duke commissioned William Kent to rebuild and furnish the house in the Palladian style. Much of the furniture designed by Kent is now at Chatsworth, following the sale and demolition of Devonshire House in 1924.

8. William Cavendish, 4th Duke of Devonshire (1720-1764)

The 4th Duke of Devonshire was a prominent Whig politician, and served as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and, briefly, as Prime Minister of England (November 1756-May 1757). In 1748 the Duke married Lady Charlotte Boyle (1731-1754), the only surviving daughter and heiress of the architect and connoisseur 3rd Earl of Burlington. This marriage brought new estates to the Cavendish family, including Lismore Castle in County Waterford in Ireland, Londesborough Hall and Bolton Abbey in Yorkshire, and Burlington House and Chiswick House in London. The inheritance included all of Lord Burlington's architectural books and drawings as well as many paintings and the entire contents of his houses.

At Chatsworth the 4th Duke made great changes to the park and garden. Having decided that the house should be approached from the west, he pulled down the old stables and offices which interrupted with the view on this side, and razed the cottages of Edensor village which were visible from the house. The architect James Paine (c.1716-1789) was commissioned to build new stables, and he also designed a new bridge upstream of the house. Land to the west of the river, including what remained of Edensor village, was enclosed to become the park as it is today. Lancelot (Capability) Brown (1716-1783) was commissioned to replace the 1st Duke's formal garden and park with the natural, romantic look which he had helped bring into fashion.

9. Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington (1694-1753)

Although born into a wealthy aristocratic family, the 3rd Earl of Burlington took little interest in the traditional route of politics and instead chose to become a professional architect. He studied the works of Andrea Palladio and Inigo Jones, and advocated a revival of Palladian architecture. Through his studies he formed an important collection of architectural drawings and Inigo Jones masque designs, as well as Old Master paintings and furniture designed by William Kent for Chiswick.

In 1721 the 3rd Earl of Burlington married Dorothy Savile, daughter of William Savile, 2nd Marquess of Halifax. They had two daughters, the youngest of whom, Charlotte, married the future 4th Duke of Devonshire. The Burlingtons had no male heir, so it was through this marriage that the Cavendish family inherited the estates and collections of the 3rd Earl of Burlington.

10. William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire (1748 - 1811)

The 5th Duke of Devonshire served as Lord High Treasurer of Ireland and Governor of Cork, and Lord Lieutenant of Derbyshire. He was invited to join the Cabinet three times, but he declined on each occasion.

The 5th Duke married twice, and it is perhaps for his private rather than political life that he is particularly remembered today. In 1774 he married Lady Georgiana Spencer, eldest daughter of the 1st Earl of Spencer, with whom he had three children. Although their marriage was a great dynastic match, their personalities were entirely unsuited. Georgiana was a celebrated beauty and socialite, and took an active role in political campaigning for the Whig party. She formed a close friendship with Lady Elizabeth Foster, which continued despite the fact that Lady Elizabeth became the mistress of the 5th Duke and had two children with him. The family lived together in a sometimes-uneasy ménage à trois until Georgiana's early death at 48 in 1806. Lady Elizabeth subsequently married the 5th Duke in 1809, three years after Georgiana's death.

The Devonshires' principal residence was in London, but when they did come to Chatsworth they filled it with friends and relations. The house was open to the public, and on one day a month dinner was provided for whoever came to visit. John Carr of York (1723-1807) was commissioned by the Duke to redesign the decoration and furnishings of the private drawing rooms of the first floor at Chatsworth, and to build the Crescent in Buxton.

11. Henry Cavendish (1731-1810)

Henry Cavendish was the grandson of William Cavendish, 2nd Duke of Devonshire. He was a distinguished scientist who is particularly noted for the recognition of hydrogen as an element, and was also the first man to determine the density of the earth. Despite his aptitude with science, Cavendish was described by his contemporaries as an eccentric, profoundly shy and asocial.

At his home in Clapham he amassed a collection of over 12,000 books; his library, and a collection of his scientific papers and equipment are now in the collection at Chatsworth.

12. William Spencer Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire (1790-1858)

The 6th Duke of Devonshire succeeded his father at the age of 21. He is remembered today as the 'Bachelor' Duke as he never married. Extravagant and charming, he loved entertaining his friends and spent 47 years improving his many houses. He engaged the architect Sir Jeffry Wyatville (1766-1840) to build the long North Wing at Chatsworth, and Lismore Castle in Ireland was also substantially enlarged and rebuilt. Such expenditure taxed even his resources and he was later forced to sell property in Yorkshire.

A keen collector in all areas, the Duke formed a particularly important collection of sculpture which was housed in the purpose-built Sculpture Gallery in the new North Wing. He was also a great book collector, making purchases at important auctions such as the Roxburghe sale of 1812 and, in the same year, acquiring the entire library of Thomas Dampier, the Bishop of Ely.

The Duke developed an intense interest in horticulture after he met Joseph Paxton (1803-1865), a young gardener working in the Horticultural Society's gardens at Chiswick. He appointed Paxton to be head gardener at Chatsworth in 1826 and together they changed the garden radically, introducing exotic species and giant rockeries. Paxton designed and constructed the Emperor Fountain in the Canal Pond and also the Great Conservatory, the forerunner of the Crystal Palace, built for the 1851 Great Exhibition. The Great Conservatory became derelict during the First World War as it became too costly to run, and it was demolished soon after. The maze now grows in its place.

The 6th Duke died at Hardwick Hall in 1858, aged 67. As he was unmarried the title passed to his cousin, William Cavendish, 2nd Earl of Burlington of the 2nd creation.

13. William Cavendish, 7th Duke of Devonshire (1808-1891)

William Cavendish, 2nd Earl of Burlington of the second creation, became the 7th Duke of Devonshire in 1858. He was grandson of the 6th Duke's uncle Lord George Cavendish. An accomplished scholar, he became Chancellor of London University at the age of 28, later Chancellor of Cambridge University and founder of the Cavendish Laboratory there. In 1829 the Duke married Lady Blanche Howard, granddaughter of the 5th Duke of Devonshire, and favourite niece of the 6th Duke. Together they had five children, but Blanche died in 1840, aged just 29. She was mourned by her husband and her uncle for the rest of their lives.

Chatsworth was a quiet place during the 7th Duke's tenure as he imposed strict economies after the extravagance of his predecessor. He did however invest heavily in the development of Eastbourne and Barrow-in-Furness.

14. Spencer Cavendish, 8th Duke of Devonshire (1833-1908)

The 8th Duke of Devonshire was a statesman who served in Parliament for over fifty years. A significant figure in the Liberal Party, he played a leading role in the cabinets of Gladstone and later Liberal governments as the Marquess of Hartington. He was asked three times by Queen Victoria to become Prime Minister, but each time he refused.

In 1892, at the age of 59, the Duke married Louisa Frederica Augusta von Alten (1832-1911), widow of the 7th Duke of Manchester and remembered today as the 'Double Duchess'. The Duke and Duchess entertained lavishly at Chatsworth, usually during the autumn and winter, and King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra were regular visitors. The couple never had children, and so on the Duke's death in 1908 the title passed to his nephew Victor Cavendish.

15. Victor Cavendish, 9th Duke of Devonshire (1868 - 1938)

When the 8th Duke of Devonshire died in 1908 he was succeeded by his nephew Victor Cavendish. Like most of his predecessors he was a keen politician and was a Member of Parliament from 1891. He held office as Financial Secretary to the Treasury and from 1916 to 1921 was Governor-General of Canada. In 1892 the Duke married Lady Evelyn Fitzmaurice, daughter of the 5th Marquess of Lansdowne (Viceroy of India, 1888 - 1894), and together they had seven children.

When the Duke and Duchess moved to Chatsworth in 1908 the house required a lot of work, including the complete renewal of the drainage system. Duchess Evelyn became very knowledgeable about the contents of their various houses and the care and conservation they required, while the Duke was an attentive landlord. The 9th Duke was the first to have to pay death duties, amounting to over half a million pounds. This, in addition to the running debt resulting from the failure of the 7th Duke's business ventures, forced some major sales from the collection. All the Caxton books in the Library and the John Kemble collection of plays, including  rare Shakespeare folios and quartos, were sold in 1912, and Devonshire House in Piccadilly was sold in 1920.

16. Edward Cavendish, 10th Duke of Devonshire (1895-1950)

When Edward Cavendish succeeded his father as 10th Duke of Devonshire in 1938 he and his wife, Lady Mary Cecil, daughter of the 4th Marquess of Salisbury, planned to make many alterations and improvements at Chatsworth. Just a year later however, the Second World War broke out and Chatsworth was occupied by Penrhos College, a girls' boarding school in Colwyn Bay. In 1949 the house was re-opened to visitors and, in spite of petrol rationing, 105,000 people visited within a year.

In May 1944 the 10th Duke's eldest son and heir William, Marquess of Hartington (1917-1944) married Kathleen Kennedy, sister of the late President J. F. Kennedy. Just four months later he was killed in action in Belgium while serving with his regiment, the Coldstream Guards. Kathleen died in an aeroplane accident in 1948. They had no children, so the 10th Duke's second son Andrew succeeded his father following his sudden and unexpected death in 1950 at the age of 55.

17. Andrew Cavendish, 11th Duke of Devonshire (1920-2004)

The 11th Duke of Devonshire served in the Coldstream Guards during the Second World War, and was Mayor of Buxton from 1952 - 1954. He later served as a minister in the Conservative government of 1960 - 1964.

In 1941 the 11th Duke married the Hon. Deborah Mitford, daughter of Lord Redesdale. Together they had three children, Emma (b. 1943), Peregrine (b. 1944) and Sophia (b. 1957). The Duke and his family lived at Edensor House in the park at Chatsworth from 1947. In 1957 the decision was taken to move back to Chatsworth. Some internal modernisation was required, including a new central heating system and the adaptation of rooms for modern living. In November 1959 the work was completed and the family moved in.

Following the 10th Duke's unexpected death in 1950, the maximum rate of death duties at 80% had to be paid. Some of the most important works of art and many rare books, as well as Hardwick Hall and its estate, were given to the Treasury in lieu of cash. Thousands of acres of land and other assets were sold. The ownership of all remaining Derbyshire estates then passed to the Trustees of the Chatsworth Settlement. In 1981 the running of Chatsworth was taken over by the Chatsworth House Trust, a charitable foundation established by the 11th Duke to help ensure the preservation of the house, its essential contents, the garden and the park for the benefit of the general public.

18. Peregrine Cavendish, 12th Duke of Devonshire (b. 1944)

The 12th Duke of Devonshire, Peregrine Cavendish, succeeded his father in 2004. He married Amanda Heywood-Lonsdale (b.1944) in 1967 and they have three children, William, Earl of Burlington (b.1969), Lady Celina (b.1971) and Lady Jasmine (b.1973), and ten grandchildren.

The Duke and Duchess, and their son, Lord Burlington, share a passion for collecting contemporary art and sculpture. Many of these works of art are displayed around the house and garden for visitors to enjoy alongside the historical collection.

During 2008-2018 there was a major Masterplan to make improvements to the house. Informed by painstaking research and analysis, this work ensured that the building's services were brought up to modern standards. Improvements were made to the visitor route and extensive external stone conservation carried out. Find out more about the Masterplan.

Further information

If you would like to learn more about Chatsworth, the Cavendish family or the Devonshire Collection, we have compiled a list of further reading.

You can also find out more about the various properties and estates that have been owned by the Dukes of Devonshire on our Devonshire Properties Timeline

For information about servants and staff who have worked for the Cavendish family in past centuries, visit our Historic Servants and Staff database. 

You may also be interested in learning about the history of the garden.

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