The 2nd Earl of Devonshire was the son of the 1st Earl and 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, Countess of Devonshire (1595-1675), daughter of Edward Bruce, 1st Lord Kinloss, and they had three children.
William 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.