Cavendish was born on 30 November 1836 at Compton House, a stately home, in Eastbourne, England, the second son of the 7th Duke of Cavendish. He was educated at home and then at Trinity College, Cambridge. He served as a cornet in the Duke of Lancaster’s Own Yeomanry Cavalry, before taking a post as private secretary to Lord Granville, who was then Lord President of the Council. He remained in that position from 1859 to 1864. In 1864, he married Lucy Caroline Lyttelton, the second daughter of the 4th Baron Lyttelton, and a niece of William Gladstone’s wife. They would have no children.
In 1865, Cavendish was elected to parliament as a Liberal MP for the Northern Division of the West Riding of Yorkshire. After serving as Gladstone’s private secretary, from July 1872 to August 1873, he became a junior lord of the Treasury until the 1874 election brought the Tories back into power. With Gladstone again PM in 1880, Cavendish was appointed financial secretary to the Treasury, until 1882 when he was offered, and accepted, the post of Chief Secretary to the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland (nominally subordinate to the
After her husband’s death, Lucy became an increasingly active campaigner for girls’ and women’s education. She was a member of the royal commission on education in 1894 (one of the first women to serve on a royal commission); and she was a long-serving president of the Yorkshire Ladies’ Council of Education (1885-1912). In 1904 she was awarded an honorary degree (Doctor of Laws) at the formal inauguration of Leeds University for ‘notable service to the cause of education’. She died in 1925, but was not forgotten - in 1965, Cambridge University named its first postgraduate college for women after her. Further information can be found at Wikipedia (Lord Cavendish, Lady Cavendish) or the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required, free with UK library card).
Lady Cavendish was an assiduous diarist for the first part of her life, from the age of 13 until the death of her husband. Her diaries were edited by John Bailey (her brother-in-law) and published by John Murray in 1927 as The Diary of Lady Frederick Cavendish. The diary is used as a major resource by Andrea Geddes Poole in her recent book Philanthropy and the Construction of Victorian Women’s Citizenship: Lady Frederick Cavendish and Miss Emma Cons (parts of this can be read online at Googlebooks). Also, a review of the published diary can be read in a 1927 edition of The Spectator.
The diaries, as published, however are all freely available online - at the Lady Lucy Cavendish Diary Blog - thanks to a shy lady, Denise H, who describes herself at ‘just an Anglophile in Minnesota’. The diary records, Denise says, ‘an exciting whirl of the best upper class life of the time both in town and in the country. From crowded London dinner parties to extended stays at the most famous British country manors (Chatsworth, Holker), to travels to the continent and the West Indies, her diary records a life that Anthony Trollope could only imagine.’ Apart from a full index of Lady Cavendish’s diary by date, Denise has also indexed the entries by topics and names. Her site also includes the editor’s introductions to each of the various diary volumes.
Here are several extracts from Lady Cavendish’s diary chosen because they shed light on the life of Lord Cavendish (F. or Fred.). The first includes her mention of her future husband, and another concerns her wedding day; Uncle W, being Gladstone, also appears in these extracts. (FN in square brackets indicate Bailey’s footnotes as inserted into the text by Denise.)
20 November 1862
‘A notable day; I came to Chatsworth chaperoned by At. Y. and Tallee, in default of Papa, who is too busy commissioning, besides he told me he had a romance abt Chatsworth, and wanted to see it in lovely weather, never having been here since ‘39. It is most delightful being again with my Tallee, and we have managed already a quiet sit and a spell of capping verses! I can’t judge of the house yet, only it seems immeasurable. We find the Duke of Devonshire, Ly. Louisa, and Ld. Frederic Cavendish, [FN: This is the first mention of her future husband.] Ld. and Ly. George Cavendish and daughter, Ld. and Ly. Fanny Howard and daughters, Mr. Charles Clifford, Mr. Vyner, etc., all family I fancy. Round game, at which I won 4s.’
11 March 1871
‘My precious Fred sent me a full account [FN: There had been a fire at Holker.]. Something in his dressing-room chimney did the mischief, but he suspected nothing till he was woke about 5 by a loud crash, and looking into the dressing-room, was driven back by suffocating hot smoke. He groped as fast as he could (no possibility of putting any clothes on!) to the other wing, alarmed the house, and set everyone to work saving pictures and books from the rooms below. The Duke and Uncle Richard worked hard, but when F. came down again from an expedition (commanded by the Duke in the advancing dawn!) to get on some borrowed clothes, the drawing-room and library were ungetatable, and alas some good pictures were lost: the Vernet (calm sea), the large Ruysdael, the Van der Cappelle, the Canaletto, and the S. Christopher by either Memling or Albert Dürer; engines came one after another and were efficacious in preventing the fire spreading to the old wing, which however was hardly to be averted except by the providential change of wind at the critical moment when the very doors of communication between the 2 wings were burnt. All is utter ruin of the new wing.’
2 February 1874
‘The meeting was in the Keighley Mechanics’ Institute, at 8. The fine big hall was crammed in every corner. F. spoke with rather less effect than at Halifax, confining himself almost entirely to finance, but the people listened famously well, and I enjoyed the sight of their keen, shrewd faces. At first there were symptoms of opposition, from Tory, extreme Radical, and Republican (! ! !) sections, but all this seemed to dwindle away. My proudest time was during the questions, in which my old Fred does certainly excel. He is thoroughly up upon all the subjects and one could see growing respect and confidence in the faces below. Jolly old Mr. Wilson followed suit with unbounded good-will and pluck, but not quite with all the knowledge of the various matters one could wish; occasionally taking wild Radical flights, occasionally coming out rather old Tory than otherwise; but always with straightforwardness and bonhomie. What with F.’s profound earnestness and his humorous hitting, they are a good deal like Tragedy and Comedy. The meeting ended with splendid enthusiasm, and was all but unanimous, barely 6 hands being held up against us.’
7 June 1864
‘Our wedding day. I cannot write about it. I can only look backwards with loving regret, and forward with bright but trembling hope. We were married in Westminster Abbey, by Uncle Billy, and came here [FN: The Duke of Devonshire’s house at Chiswick in which both Fox and Canning died. It is now the property of the Municipality.] about 4 o’clock, into peaceful summer loveliness and the singing of birds.’
31 January 1881
‘A very notable week of Parliamentary events. The “debate” on leave to bring in the Coercion Bill began afresh on Monday, and the House sat for 41 1/2 hours. The Speaker and Dep. Speaker (Dr. Playfair) relieved each other, and the House divided itself as before into relays. On Tues. night F. was to sit up, and to go to bed at 8 on Wednesday morning the 2nd Feb. Instead of which, when he turned up at that hour, he announced that after some breakfast and a tub he was to go back again, as a coup d’état was decided on. The Speaker had gone on patiently calling the wretches to order over and over again, and about midnight the Tories made a dead set at Dr. Playfair, who had taken the Chair, to “name” one of the lot. He wouldn’t do what the Speaker had declined to do, and a bear-garden ensued. The Front Opposition bench all stalked out of the House, and rest took to shouting. Only poor Mr. Childers was on the Government bench at the time; but after a bit Bright came in and made a good speech which quieted them. Meanwhile F. went off in a cab to Devonshire House and pulled unlucky Hartn. out of bed at 1 when he had just got there and was sound asleep. The rest of the night passed peacefully. Very few even of the Government knew what was planned between the Speaker, Uncle W., and Sir Stafford; but some notion of a decisive step impending must have prevailed, for at 9 a.m. the House was pretty full. I hurried matters at home, but couldn’t omit Prayers for any coup d’état! so that I was just in time at 9.30 to be too late. The Speaker took Playfair’s place at 9, and without sitting down made a stately little speech as to the obstructed condition of things, and proceeded to say that under the exceptional circumstances he should call on no member to speak, but should at once call for the division. Biggar, one of the most offensive of the Irish, like a hunched-back toad to look at, who was comfortably expecting to resume his speech (interrupted by Playfair’s leaving the Chair), was thus left high and dry! and, before any of them could say Jack Robinson, the division was taken and leave given to bring in the Coercion Bill, which was immediately read a 1st time. When I got there, a bit of the business was being got thro’ and then came the announcement that the House do adjourn (for only 2 1/2 hours!), received by a worn-out cassé cheer of joy as the hapless M.P.s rushed out of the House and home to bed. We came across Sir Bow-wow Harcourt and Cavendish by Westminster Hall in high feather, Sir Bow-wow saying that it was the 1st time in history that Cavendish had been known to be in bed at 1, and then he was pulled out of it! F. went to bed, but had to be back by 12. Motions for adjournment went on just as if nothing had happened, and so came 6 with no progress made. Uncle W. then gave notice of Anti-Obstruction Resolutions.’
4 November 1881
‘—F. had talks with Uncle W. about his resignation, which he is very seriously contemplating about Easter, on the strength of having carried out all the great foreign matters of policy that he took office to do. The conversation as I have it from F. was pretty much as follows. Uncle W. began by saying that resigning the Chancellorship of the Exchequer would have the great drawback of in a manner binding him to remain on as P.M. for an indefinite time. His reasons for wishing to give it up altogether he then went into.
(I ought to have put in, after his words about the Exchequer, what he then proceeded to say as to his having been called to office. All the special reasons which justified his taking office were at an end or nearly so: the Berlin treaty carried out, Afghanistan evacuated, Transvaal settled, finance put on a satisfactory footing. Two matters that had since arisen no doubt still required his care - the state of Ireland, and Parliamentary Obstruction; but these were, he trusted, in a hopeful way of being settled.)
Never liked the tone even of Sir Robert Peel, when he used to complain of the severity of public service; which, in his (Uncle W.’s) opinion, was fairly requited and not heavier than duty called for. At the same time, he considered that after 50 years of public service it was not well to be obliged to work with the intensity which office now entailed, nor was it desirable to look forward to end one’s days in the contentions necessarily entailed by the office of P.M. In the next place, his position towards the Queen was intolerable to one who throughout life had reverenced her as a constitutional sovereign, inasmuch as he now had to strive daily with her on the side of liberty as opposed to jingoism. In the 3rd place he said it was only fair to Lord Granville and Hartn., who had led the party thro’ difficult and disagreeable times. F. acknowledged the force of all this, but represented the practical impossibility. While he retained his full powers, the country would not let him resign and nobody else could lead. Uncle W. then suggested temporary abstention on his part as meeting these difficulties; though he acknowledged that a retired Minister was inevitably the centre which attracted all discontent.
Subsequently, he mentioned the House of Lords, but said he thought of that with great reluctance. F. replied that to take a peerage was his only possible course if he was bent on retiring; that the country would otherwise always be turning to him and clamouring for him; that in the H. of Commons he could never occupy a 2nd place. Uncle W. laughed and said, “You have indeed put a serious bar in the way of my retiring.” When he spoke of Ld. Granville, F. said he had heard on good authority (which he did not quote - it was a letter from Lord Acton to Mazy) that Ld. G. meant to retire whenever Uncle W. did. At this he was greatly surprised; but said he did fear Ld. G.’s life was not a good one. He spoke of the effects of old age: said he was constantly reminded of Cobden’s remark about Ld. Palmerston - that with age authority was apt to increase as powers of judgment decreased; and quoted the D. of Wellington as another instance of harm done by old men. Nevertheless he was obliged to confess that he had stood the hard work of the last session without harm, and was in perfect force, and better than he had been. Spoke of a former time when he could not sleep on one side without disquiet and bad dreams - was now quite free from that. He tried to make out that Ireland might be quiet and the regulation of the House all settled by Easter. F. thinks there is hardly any chance of this. Within this very week he has given F. to read an able and exhaustive paper (such as might furnish matter for a 3 hours’ speech) on Local Government for the guidance of Mr. Dodson. How could this be launched and then left to others? (F., however, has learnt since that it is to be laid before a special Committee on which Uncle W. will not sit.) The talk ended by his saying he would consult Lord Granville.
The impression F. gathered from the whole conversation was that the thought of retirement was not so much prompted by the personal longing for it (tho’ without doubt it is a vision which refreshes and cheers him to turn to) as by conscientious scruples with regard to Ld. G. and Hartn., and as to his own conviction against old men going on at politics till they drop. He hates making himself the exception. (But N.B. what an exception he is, as a matter of fact!)
The upshot seems to me that he will find it impossible to retire before there is some indication of serious overstrain in him, either mental or bodily. That otherwise, however he might seclude himself he would remain a great power in the country, such as would necessarily hamper his successors. That the only feasible way, supposing his powers anything like what they are at present, would be by taking a peerage. That, unless he should be in real danger of breaking down, it could not be right for him to leave the helm in the present state of politics; nor can the moment be foreseen when it would be right. I think the hope of being able to retire soon will continue to please him; but that he will find it impossible at any given moment except under the above-mentioned conditions. Taking a peerage and continuing to be P.M. might do; but it could hardly be bearable for him to be P.M. with no power over the H. of C. and in a minority in the H. of Lords.’