CAVENDISH, Henry (1732-1804), of Doveridge Hall, Derbys. and Phoenix Park, Dublin.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1768 - 1774

Family and Education

b. 29 Sept. 1732, 1st s. of Sir Henry Cavendish, 1st Bt. by his 1st w. Anne, da. and h. of Henry Pyne of Waterpark, co. Cork (by Anne, da. of Sir Richard Edgcumbe, K.B.). educ. Eton 1747-8; Trinity, Dublin 1750. m. 29 Aug. 1757, Sarah, da. and h. of Richard Bradshaw of Cork, 4s. 4da. suc. fa. 31 Dec. 1776. His w. was cr. Baroness Waterpark [I] 15 June 1792.

Offices Held

M.P. [I] 1764-8, 1776-97, 1798-1800.

P.C. [I] 1 July 1779; commr. of the Treasury for Ireland 1793-5; receiver gen. for Ireland 1795-1801.


Henry Cavendish was descended from an illegitimate son of Henry, elder brother of William Cavendish, 1st Earl of Devonshire. The family had estates in Derbyshire, and Cavendish’s father had some connexion with the 3rd Duke of Devonshire, who, after Cavendish had settled on his wife’s estates in Ireland, returned him to the Irish House for Lismore, which Henry Cavendish also in turn represented.

In 1768 Cavendish was returned for Lostwithiel on the interest of his cousin, Lord Edgcumbe. From the beginning of the Parliament he took shorthand notes of the debates, which he intended one day to publish.1 His pertinacity and industry were remarkable, yet the record he left has many gaps and omissions and is by no means a verbatim account of the debates.

In Parliament Cavendish regularly voted with the Opposition, and spoke against Administration on every political issue during his first years in the House. He vigorously attacked the Government’s handling of the Middlesex election, and on 8 May 1769 declared:2

I lay it down as a principle that no order of the House of Commons can make a minority a majority; that no resolution of the House of Commons can ever make Mr. Luttrell the legal representative of the county of Middlesex. For I do from my soul abhor, detest, and abjure, as unconstitutional and illegal that damnable doctrine and position that a resolution of the House of Commons can make, alter, suspend, abrogate or annihilate the law of the land. I think myself bound in duty to support the violated privileges of the freeholders. I will take every moderate, legal, and constitutional step for that purpose; if all these means will not succeed, rather than they should be thus wantonly and illegally torn from them, I would arm in their defence.

Cavendish, whom Horace Walpole described as ‘hot-headed and odd’,3 was equally forthright on other matters. In the debate of 2 Mar. 1769 on the resolution to pay the civil list debt, he said: ‘It seems to me an absurdity, notwithstanding all the precedents that have been mentioned, to pay first and examine accounts afterwards.’4 Cavendish paid great attention to procedure and frequently spoke on points of order. On 3 May 1770, when Boyle Walsingham moved for papers relative to the sudden prorogation of the Irish Parliament, Cavendish argued that the House ought not to bring the affairs of Ireland before it, thus risking a censure of the Irish House;5 and on Sawbridge’s motion of 26 Apr. 1771 for shorter Parliaments, Cavendish, ‘though believed to be a friend to the question, opposed it as improper, on account of the near conclusion of the session’.6 During the proceedings against the printers in 1771 Cavendish’s political views clashed with his regard for the dignity of the House; on 12 Mar. he voted with the small minority against the motions for the attendance of printers, but on 18 Mar., while protesting that the whole business had been ‘wantonly introduced’, he declared that since the problem was before the House he thought it his duty to vote for reprimanding the printers for their misrepresentations of the proceedings of the House,7 but opposed any punishment of the City officials. Cavendish took an active part in opposing the royal marriage bill, March 1772, but subsequently took little part in debate till the following session, when East India affairs were debated by the House. During the debate of 10 May 1773, when Wedderburn, acting in defence of Clive, moved the order of the day, Horace Walpole reported that, just as it seemed the motion would fail for want of a seconder, ‘young Mr. Cavendish ... said he seconded Wedderburn’s motion, but being a very absurd man, he only drew ridicule on what had no other support’.8 When the East India regulating bill came before the Commons, Cavendish, like other Rockingham speakers, opposed it for depriving proprietors of their rights and for the increased patronage it put at the ministry’s disposal.9

After the outbreak of disturbances in America, Cavendish, who had not previously spoken on American affairs, supported the Administration’s punitive measures. On 14 Mar. 1774 he came out in favour of the motion for leave to bring in the Boston port bill,10 and on 6 May during the last debate on the second Massachusetts bill said: ‘I am happy to think that these measures have met with a large majority in this House; I am doubly happy to think that the greatest part of the nation approve them.’11 Cavendish also apparently favoured the Quebec bill.12 Though Cavendish had sided with the ministry on these measures, Robinson in his survey drawn up before the general election of 1774 still reckoned him an Opposition supporter. In 1774 Edgcumbe put his seats at the disposal of Administration, and Cavendish was not returned again.

During his term at Westminster, Cavendish paid considerable attention to Irish interests. But when on 11 Dec. 1770 his complaints about the high price of provisions in Ireland drew a taunt from Dempster, Cavendish at once answered: ‘I rise as an English Member, though I am not ashamed to say I drew my first breath in Ireland; but my stake, such as it is, is much greater in England than in Ireland. I speak for the good of the community. I hope no distinctions will prevail as to English or Irish Members.’13 Nevertheless, the rest of his political career was spent in Ireland, as Member of the Dublin Parliament, where he again kept a diary of debates. He was ‘a perfect adept in the rules and orders of Parliament’, countering arguments with precedents and raising points of order to interrupt opponents or merely to gain time. In a Government list of Members in 1783, the remark is placed against his name: ‘A good shorthand writer but a tiresome speaker.’14

He died 3 Aug. 1804.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Peter D.G. Thomas


  • 1. A transcript of the major portion of these shorthand notes is in Egerton mss 215-262 and 3711. See also P. D. G. Thomas, Sources for Debates of the House of Commons, 1768-74.
  • 2. Egerton 219, pp. 408-11.
  • 3. Mems. Geo. III, iii. 145.
  • 4. Egerton 218, pp. 294-6.
  • 5. Egerton 222, pp. A165-6.
  • 6. Almon, ix. 299.
  • 7. Egerton 226, pp. 256-8.
  • 8. Last Jnls. i. 201.
  • 9. Egerton 239, pp. 123, 189.
  • 10. Brickdale’s ‘Debates’, x. 20.
  • 11. Egerton 257, p. 142.
  • 12. Egerton 262, p. 12.
  • 13. Egerton 223, p. 313.
  • 14. Proc. R. Irish Acad. lvi. 268.