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 (1757-1806), 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 Buxton Crescent.

The Duke died in 1811 and was succeeded by his eldest son, William Spencer Cavendish.

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