CAVENDISH, Thomas (1560-92), of Trimley St. Martin, Suff.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer




Family and Education

bap. 19 Sept. 1560, 3rd or 4th but 1st surv. s. of William Cavendish I by Mary, da. of Thomas, 1st Baron Wentworth of Nettlestead. educ. Corpus, Camb. 1576; G. Inn 1577. unm. suc. fa. 1572.

Offices Held


Cavendish was a friend of Walter Ralegh who, though unlikely to have had any electoral patronage as early as 1584, was a member of the group surrounding the 2nd Earl of Pembroke, who controlled the patronage at Shaftesbury and Wilton.1

Little is known of Cavendish between 1577 and 1585, when he commanded a ship under Richard Grenville II in the expedition to Virginia. After the voyage Grenville complained of the behaviour of Cavendish, who seems already to have been showing the weakness that caused loss of life on his last voyage. Less than a year after returning from Virginia, Cavendish fitted out a squadron to sail through the Straits of Magellan. Hakluyt’s suggestion that he did this at his own expense is unlikely to be true. His family estates in Suffolk, though of considerable value, were hardly rich enough to finance an expedition of three ships with large crews. Lord Hunsdon (Henry Carey) has been suggested as one of his patrons, and since Cavendish sailed from Plymouth it is possible that he had some connexion with the Devon adventurers: Ralegh’s influence, though not obvious, might be inferred. Cavendish sailed in July 1586, passed through the Straits in the following January, and carried out a raid on Chile and Peru. Returning to Plymouth at the beginning of September 1588 with only one of the original three ships, the Desire, but with the bulk of his treasure intact, his track must have crossed that of Medina Sidonia, who was on his way back to Santander after the defeat of the Armada. Partly through generosity, partly from extravagance, his booty soon disappeared, a contemporary reporting that ‘although his great wealth was said to have sufficed ... for his whole life, yet he saw the end thereof within very short time’; and one of his relatives later blamed him for ‘dealing in sea-causes, for he thereby overthrew his house and fortunes’.2

In 1591 he set off again, this time with John Davis and Adrian Gilbert, for the south seas and China, being admitted a free burgess of Southampton just before he sailed. Supplies were short and Cavendish quarrelled with several of his subordinates, behaving in so unbalanced a way that it was thought his mind was becoming deranged. After losing touch with Davis (who searched unavailingly for his leader for some time) Cavendish died at sea in May or June 1592. His will, made at sea, and proved 14 Feb. 1596 by Tristram Gorges, bequeathed the ships to Sir George Carey. Apart from a bequest of 100 marks to one of the Queen’s surgeons, the residue of the property went to Cavendish’s sister Anne. His executor was to see that ‘every adventurer receive proportionably to his adventure.’ Cavendish had his will sealed in a packet and the man who delivered it to Gorges was to receive £40. Cavendish’s last message to Gorges reads: ‘I left none in England whom I loved half as well as yourself. I have no more to say, but take this last farewell, that you have lost the lovingest friend that was lost by any.’ 3

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. DNB; C142/162/151; Roanoke Voyages, ed. Quinn (Hakluyt Soc., ser. 2, civ), 123-4.
  • 2. CSP Col. 1574-1660, p. 3; C142/162/151; J. A. Williamson, Age of Drake, 337, 340; C. F. Smith John Dee, 221; Trevelyan Pprs. iii (Cam. Soc. cv), 21; Hooker’s Common Place Bk. ed. Harte, 38; HMC Hatfield, xii. 104.
  • 3. HMC 11th Rep. III, 21; PCC 16 Drake.