CAVENDISH, Lord George Augustus Henry (1754-1834), of Holker, Lancs. and Burlington House, Piccadilly, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Constituency

Dates

19 Apr. 1775 - 1780
1780 - Dec. 1796
12 Jan. 1797 - 10 Sept. 1831

Family and Education

b. 31 Mar. 1754, 3rd s. of William Cavendish†, 4th duke of Devonshire (d. 1764), and Lady Charlotte Elizabeth Boyle, da. and h. of Richard, 3rd earl of Burlington, s.j. Baroness Clifford. educ. Hackney; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1770. m. 27 Feb. 1782, Lady Elizabeth Compton, da. and h. of Charles Compton†, 7th earl of Northampton, 4s. (2 d.v.p.) 6da. (4 d.v.p.). cr. earl of Burlington 10 Sept. 1831. d. 9 May 1834.1

Offices Held

Capt. Derbys. militia 1778, col. 1 regt. 1783-91.

Biography

Cavendish, the 6th duke of Devonshire’s uncle, had long been the most senior member of this leading Whig parliamentary family, having sat for Derbyshire on the Chatsworth interest since 1797. His two late sons, William and George, had once been Members, and from 1812 he had been joined in the Commons by his third, Henry, who was returned for Derby through Devonshire’s influence. Partly in consequence of his poisoned relationship with Henry, who had contracted what he considered a second unsuitable marriage in 1819, Cavendish was determined to see his other surviving son Charles, who had represented Aylesbury in the mid-1810s, resume his Commons career.2 This he attempted to do at the general election of 1820, when his own, usually automatic, return for the county was disrupted only by a token independent challenge.3 However, despite having refused to assist Henry in his electoral ambitions elsewhere, Cavendish was furious when Henry, who had hoped that his father would be ‘roused from that apathy which has deadened in him all just, liberal and affectionate consideration towards me’, was again seated by Devonshire for Derby in preference to Charles.4 Evidently declining to use the territorial interest deriving from his estate of Latimers, near Chesham, which had previously given him electoral influence against the Grenvilles in Aylesbury and Buckinghamshire,5 Cavendish recklessly precipitated Charles into a contest in Sussex, where his mother’s former property of Compton Place gave him a stake in an otherwise largely Tory county. In spite of his lavish expenditure (topping £26,000), he succeeded only in uniting landed opinion against Charles, the defeated candidate, whom he was forced to defend on the hustings against charges of being an aristocratic interloper.6 Devonshire, who had had to arbitrate between his uncle and his cousins, was advised by James Abercromby*, his man of business, 2 Mar. 1820, that Cavendish’s anger against the duke, at Charles being left unprovided for, was unjustified:

Lord George might have had a seat for Charles if he would have paid for it, but he will not ... I really think that his mind is irritated by his quarrel with Henry, and yet I am now convinced he will never be reconciled to him. He is himself unhappy and makes others so too. Charles ... finds it, I suspect, difficult to manage with his father.7

Nothing came of rumours later in this period that Cavendish would put up Charles (who sought refuge in a pocket borough) for Aylesbury or Sussex.

An indifferent and only intermittently active parliamentarian, Cavendish, one of the more conservative of the opposition Whigs, had occasionally been thought of as a possibility for their Commons leader, but only as a dinner host, not as a spokesman in the chamber. He continued to be very unpredictable in his attendance, but of course voted against the Liverpool ministry, when present, on all major issues, especially for economies and reduced taxation.8 He divided against Wilberforce’s compromise motion on the Queen Caroline affair, 22 June, and the appointment of a secret committee, 26 June 1820. That December, apparently persuaded against the desirability of a Sussex meeting in her favour, he was also considered too ‘slow and timid’ to bestir himself to organize one in Buckinghamshire.9 Lord Darlington thought he should attend the Derbyshire meeting the following month, when Devonshire secured an address favourable to the queen, but Cavendish was not listed as being present.10 It was rumoured that it was he, wanting to stay a few days longer in Lancashire, who had advised George Tierney, the Whig leader, not to force a division against the address on this question.11 However, he joined the opposition campaign on Caroline’s behalf early that year and presented a hostile Sussex petition, 27 Feb. 1821.12 He voted in condemnation of the Allies’ revocation of the liberal constitution in Naples, 21 Feb. Convinced that the landed interest was overburdened by taxation, he spoke and voted for repeal of the additional malt duty, 21 Mar., and again divided in this sense, 3 Apr. He was granted three weeks’ leave on urgent private business, 7 May 1821. According to Thomas Creevey*, he was one of the Whigs shut out of the division on their motion for more extensive tax reductions to relieve distress, 11 Feb. 1822.13 He paired for parliamentary reform, 25 Apr., and divided for receiving the Greenhoe, Norfolk, reform petition, 3 June, and to condemn the present influence of the crown, 24 June. He presented and endorsed the Sussex petition complaining of agricultural distress, 29 Apr. 1822.14 He voted for inquiry into the legal proceedings against the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr., and to condemn the lord advocate’s conduct in the Borthwick case, 3 June 1823. He divided for parliamentary reform, 24 Apr., and reform of the Scottish representative system, 2 June. He was in the minority of 13 who opposed the holding of courts martial for capital offences under the East India mutiny bill, 11 July 1823.

Cavendish urged relaxation of the silk duties in order to relieve his constituents, 8, 18 Mar. 1824. He supported holding an inquiry into the building of the new law courts, 23 Mar., and opposed the grant for refurbishing Windsor Castle, 5 Apr., asking ‘who could say that double or quadruple that sum would not be demanded before the works were finished?’ He brought up the Derby petition for inquiry into the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 26 May, and voted in this sense, 11 June. In moving the first reading of the bill to permit the Catholic duke of Norfolk to exercise his office as earl marshal without taking the oath of supremacy, 21 June, he applauded its ‘liberal and tolerant spirit’, convinced that ‘the duties of this ancient office would be exercised, in all respects, with a due regard to the rights of individuals and to the constitution of the country’.15 That month Abercromby complained bitterly to Devonshire about Cavendish’s distressing intervention into the complex situation created by a loan made by his son Henry to the duke:

What would you have thought, if you had heard his conversation with me. Nothing ever happened to me which I find it so wholly impossible to throw off or to digest. The impression it has left on my mind is that Lord George will sooner or later take such a part as will render it very difficult for me to go on.16

In October 1824 Lord Holland was informed, in reference to a possible future contest in Derbyshire, that ‘I am sorry to say Lord George is not very popular, whatever the toad-eaters of the House of Chatsworth may tell him’.17 That winter it was supposed that Cavendish had launched a challenge to the duke of Buckingham’s interest by buying a major property near Wendover, Buckinghamshire, but this soon proved to be unsubstantiated and Cavendish was reported as saying that he had not even £10,000 in the funds to spare for such an acquisition.18 He divided against the Irish unlawful societies bill, 21, 25 Feb., and (as he had on 28 Feb. 1821) for Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825. On 29 Apr., speaking for making provision for the Irish Catholic clergy, he dismissed the alarmist misgivings of Thomas Courtenay, convinced that a respectable priesthood would ‘reform and civilize’ the Irish peasantry. He verified the signatories to the Derby Catholic petition, 5 May, and on the 9th took issue with Sir Thomas Lethbridge’s attribution of unsubstantiated anti-Protestant sentiments to a prominent Yorkshire Catholic layman.19 His vocal opposition to the Tees and Weardale railway bill, 4 Mar., was much to the chagrin of his friend Sir Ronald Ferguson*.20 He spoke in support of the Dissenters’ marriage bill, 25 Mar., and voted against the grant for the duke of Cumberland, 30 May, 10 June, pairing against it on 6 June 1825. He divided in minorities against giving a ministerial salary to the president of the board of trade, 7 Apr., and the corn importation bill, 11 May 1826.

Again returned unopposed at the general election that summer, he confined his remarks on the hustings to a reasoned plea for alteration of the corn laws.21 Having presented the Derby petition for repeal of the corn laws, 8 Mar. 1827, he applauded William Whitmore’s exertions in this direction the following day, but added that ‘from the wise and liberal spirit which ministers had displayed on several occasions, he was disposed to place more confidence in them’.22 Disinclined to enter into any discussion on whether the pivot price should be fixed at 60s. or 64s., he declared his confidence in the impartiality of ministers and, after pressing for legislation to relieve the woollen interest, abstained from voting in the division against them, 9 Mar. He was granted three weeks’ leave on urgent private business, 14 Mar. He chaired one of the Whig meetings during the negotiations over the formation of Canning’s administration that spring, but, unlike Devonshire, he followed Lord Althorp’s* line in refusing to join the government with Lord Lansdowne.23 It is not known how he voted during the course of the ministry, but, unlike his sons, he did not divide at all on Canning’s bill to permit the temporary release of warehoused corn, 18 June.24 In September 1827 Mrs. Arbuthnot grouped him with the Whigs out of office who were exasperated at their former colleagues’ adherence to the new premier, Lord Goderich.25

Cavendish divided for repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb. 1828. His only other known votes that session were with opposition against the misapplication of public money on Buckingham House, 23 June, and for reducing the salary of the lieutenant-general of the ordnance, 4 July 1828. Although he had voted for Catholic relief on 6 Mar. 1827, he seemingly missed the division on this in 1828. However, unlike Henry, who was in Italy early that year, he was present to divide for emancipation, 6, 30 Mar. 1829.26 On the 12th, anxious to expose the ‘political notions and party prejudices’ of the True Blue Club, he cast aspersions on the validity of its Derby anti-Catholic petition. He clashed with his colleague Francis Mundy that day, and again, 23 Mar., when he peremptorily dismissed Arkwright’s desultory intervention. On bringing up a favourable petition from Chesterfield, 25 Mar., he was at pains to stress its validity, adding:

I have sat in Parliament for a great many years - I have fought up the battle of civil and religious liberty under very illustrious leaders in this House - and I am proud to remain still at my post to give my cordial vote in the promotion of so just and glorious a consummation of the long expressed wishes of so many of my enlightened fellow countrymen.

In the wake of his grandson and heir William Cavendish’s return for Cambridge University in June 1829, Cavendish was reckoned by George Lamb*, in a reassuring letter to Devonshire, to be

in high health, good for ten years in all probability, or indeed probably the success of Cambridge will have added five years more from the pleasure it gave him ... The county has ever been represented by younger brothers, nor do I see if Lord George is, as you say, disliked, how, as long as he represents the county, anything William Cavendish could do, would ever risk it.27

Apart from intervening in favour of the Dundalk roads bill, 30 Apr., the only evidence of Cavendish’s parliamentary activity in the 1830 session were his votes for information on privy councillors’ emoluments, 14 May, to prohibit the sale of beer for on-consumption, 1 July, and against Lords’ amendments to the forgery punishment bill, 20 July. At the general election that year he was returned unopposed but, outmatched by the eloquence of the Tories Sir George Crewe† and Sir Roger Gresley*, he declined to ‘offer his sentiments upon any public political subject’, save to underline his hostility to colonial slavery.28

Cavendish was, of course, listed by the Wellington ministry among their ‘foes’, but he was absent from the division on the civil list which brought them down, 15 Nov. 1830. He wrote to Devonshire, 20 Nov., that ‘I am favourable to moderate reforms, which to satisfy the county I presume must be brought forward’, but he was apparently only a lukewarm reformer.29 In an undated letter (probably written on the 21st), Devonshire commented to his sister Lady Carlisle, in relation to the intended opposition motion for parliamentary reform, which had since been rendered unnecessary:

What an odd man Lord George is. I wrote to him to ask him about seconding [Henry] Brougham, and he tells me he prevented it because he thinks it a disgrace to any man to have any close connection with Brougham. Now when I brought Brougham in for Knaresborough Lord George was one of the persons most pleased.30

Cavendish presented anti-slavery petitions, 16, 19, 25 Nov., and recommended postponing the Sussex juries bill, 22 Nov. 1830. Apparently too ill to attend the House, he failed to vote on the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar., but was credited with a vote against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. At the ensuing general election he briefly affirmed his enthusiasm for the reform bill, ‘not having strength to say more’, and was again returned unopposed. In June he was forced to issue another address after several prospective candidates had announced their future intention to contest the county.31 He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and divided or paired for some of its details during the following weeks, his last recorded vote being in the minority against the Chandos amendment to enfranchise £50 tenants-at-will, 18 Aug. 1831. That year he was described as belonging to ‘the old Whig school’ and, having sat for over 56 years, as almost the Father of the House.32

Cavendish accepted a coronation peerage in September 1831, being the best of what the diplomat Lord St. Helens described as a ‘most curious list’, the selection of which was mainly motivated by the necessity of increasing the number of reformers in the Lords.33 Ralph Sneyd observed to George Fortescue* on the 12th that ‘Cavendish I admit is unexceptionable. His birth, riches, and long and steady political career entitle him to die an earl if he likes it, but after him what remains?’34 Devonshire had no objection to his uncle reviving the title of Burlington, but was piqued that he had not been consulted and, predicting that William Cavendish’s tenure of the seat for Derbyshire which he now took over would be foreshortened, complained to the prime minister at having to make ‘another sacrifice in support of your administration’.35 Feeding the duke’s sense of resentment, on the 11th Abercromby opined that Cavendish

would not make up his mind to retire, and being uneasy in his position he gladly seized on the proffered means of escape. It is self from beginning to end. That he knew he was doing you an injury is proved by his silence. If he had really thought that he was gaining a point for the family, he would have been ready enough to talk and even to boast of it.36

Burlington voted for the reform bill by proxy, 7 Oct. 1831, 13 Apr. 1832. He died in May 1834, when the earldom was inherited by his grandson William, who thus became the heir presumptive to the dukedom. According to an obituary, ‘he always maintained the firmest Whig principles, and was ever regarded as a model of consistency and honour’.37 By his will, dated 23 Oct. 1829, he left only the settled estates to his elder surviving son Henry, who soon left Parliament, and bequeathed the bulk of his property, which included personalty sworn under £140,000, to his favourite son Charles, who since 1832 had sat for Sussex East.38 When his widow died in April 1835, Devonshire remarked laconically, ‘poor Aunt George, only one year of happiness’.39

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Authors: Stephen Farrell / Simon Harratt

Notes

  • 1. Not 4 May, as widely misstated (e.g. CP, ii. 434).
  • 2. Chatsworth mss 6DD 417, Lord G. to H. Cavendish, 10 Jan., reply, 17 Jan. 1820.
  • 3. Derby Mercury, 1, 22 Mar. 1820.
  • 4. Chatsworth mss 417, Cavendish to Devonshire, 4 Feb. 1820.
  • 5. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 17-22.
  • 6. Petworth House Archives mss 69, Sheffield to Egremont, 8, 17 Mar.; Devon RO, Sidmouth mss, Sheffield to Sidmouth, 17, 22 Mar. 1820; J.R. McQuiston, ‘Suss. Aristocrats and County Election of 1820’, EHR, lxxxviii (1973), 540-1, 557.
  • 7. Chatsworth mss.
  • 8. HP Commons, 1790-1820, iii. 415-18; Black Bk. (1823), 145; Session of Parl. 1825, p. 455.
  • 9. Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 13 Dec.; Add. 51662, Bedford to Holland, 15 Dec. 1820.
  • 10. Grey mss GRE/B10/9/19; The Times, 11 Jan. 1821.
  • 11. HLRO, Hist. Coll. 379, Grey Bennet diary, 120.
  • 12. The Times, 28 Feb. 1821.
  • 13. Creevey Pprs. ii. 34.
  • 14. The Times, 30 Apr. 1822.
  • 15. Ibid. 27 May, 22 June 1824.