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

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



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, by 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. 6da. cr. Earl of Burlington 10 Sept. 1831.

Offices Held

Capt. Derbys. militia 1778, col. 1 regt. 1783-1811.


Cavendish continued to sit for Derby on the family interest until, on the death of his uncle John in 1796, he succeeded to the county seat. Until his sons came of age, he was the only Cavendish left in the House. Outside it he was ‘very good humoured’ and talkative, but he did not shine in Parliament. A member of Brooks’s and the Whig Club accustomed to act with the Foxite Whigs, he was listed a supporter of repeal of the Test Act in Scotland in 1791. He adhered to Fox, allegedly against his own sentiments, 13 Dec. 1792, and the Duke of Portland queried whether he could expect Cavendish to follow him in the schism then arising. Not the most reliable of attenders, he spoke against the traitorous correspondence bill, 26 Apr. 1793, and presented his constituents’ petition for reform, 6 May, though he did not vote for it next day. He voted with Fox against the war with France on 17 June. In January 1794 Thomas Pelham noted that although Cavendish’s brother the 5th Duke of Devonshire was very eager for the war, he was inclined to be against it, ‘but I rather think he will not vote against’.1 He did object to the landing of German troops in England without prior indemnity, 10 Feb. 1794, and voted against the transportation of the radical Palmer, 24 Feb. On 17 Feb. he justified his voting against the suspension of habeas corpus: he disliked radical societies, but saw no ground for surrendering civic liberty. He remained opposed to it, 23 Jan. 1795. He seconded opposition to the real succession tax, 9 May 1796.

Cavendish was opposed to the imperial loan, 8, 14 Dec. 1796, critical of the conduct of the Bank of England on the stoppage of cash payments, 22 Mar. 1797, and of the Admiralty over the naval mutiny, 10 May. Although he disliked the timing of Grey’s motion for parliamentary reform, 26 May 1797, he voted for it. During the Whig secession he took no interest in promoting county meetings, but attended the House when Fox and his lieutenants did.2 He voted against the assessed taxes, 4 Jan. 1798, against the land tax, 9 May, and acted as a leading spokesman for opposition on the Irish rebellion in June. On 22 June he introduced resolutions calling for mercy, equity, Catholic relief and more competent government of Ireland; they were defeated, the first by 212 votes to 66. He voted against the Irish union in 1799 and in deprecation of the failure of peace negotiations, 3 Feb. 1800, as well as of the Helder expedition, 13 Feb. In the ensuing session he was regular in opposition. Both in 1801 and 1802 he was prepared to second the opposition choice of Charles Dundas for the Speakership. He voted for the Prince of Wales’s financial claims, 29, 31 Mar., and in endorsement of the removal of Pitt from office, 7 May 1802.

Cavendish followed Fox’s line during Addington’s ministry. He was spokesman and teller against the Nottingham election bill, 3 May 1803, sat on the civil list committee and in March and April 1804 joined the onslaught against the ministry, though he spoke only once, 6 Mar., and abstained on Pitt’s naval motion of 15 Mar. He opposed Pitt’s second ministry, but irritated Fox’s allies the Grenvilles by promoting his son’s candidature at Aylesbury in 1804, against their interest. He was named to the select committee to consider the tenth naval report, 25 Apr. 1805. He shared Fox’s misgivings on the death of Pitt. When his friends took office thereupon, he refused a peerage.3 They could count on his vote, not on his voice. There was some idea of his standing for Lancaster in 1806—residing at Holker, he occasionally spoke on Lancashire affairs in the House—but nothing came of it.4 He voted for Brand’s motion following his friends’ dismissal, 9 Apr. 1807.

When the Whig opposition had to find a new leader in the House late in 1807, Cavendish assured Lord Grey that he was tired of politics, out of touch and despondent: ‘I always act in concert with my brother and in deference to his superior judgment’. He concurred in the choice of George Ponsonby. It was hoped that Cavendish would f’te Ponsonby and thus make him better known among the Whig stalwarts. He attended regularly 1807-8, speaking in defence of Windham’s military plan, but seldom in 1809, when he voted in the minority of 25 Apr. against ministerial corruption, but with ministers against Madocks’s motion on the subject, as did other conservative Whigs, 11 May. He was reported to be disappointed at Lords Grenville and Grey’s refusal to parley with Perceval when the latter became premier in September 1809, but he himself assured Grey that he approved their conduct with one quibble only, that Grey should perhaps have agreed to come to town. At this time Tierney, dissatisfied with Ponsonby’s leadership, was inclined to replace him by Cavendish (or Lord Henry Petty), but the idea was not taken seriously.5

Cavendish was reluctant even to attend in January 1810, though he mustered with opposition on the Scheldt question, against Burdett’s imprisonment, 5 Apr., for the release of Gale Jones the radical orator, 16 Apr., and for Tierney’s motion on the droits of Admiralty, 30 May. He did not favour a Whig junction with Canning and on 15 Nov. 1810 he was one of the Whigs who voted with ministers for an adjournment on the King’s illness, and on 13 Dec. one of the committee to examine the King’s physicians; but on 1 Jan. following he was in the opposition majority on the Regency bill. On 18 Jan. he proposed adding the Duke of York to the Queen’s council. He thwarted the Grand Southern Canal bill, 8 Apr. 1811. Although an invariable supporter of Catholic relief, he objected to the British and Irish militias interchange bill which he thought would make militia service unattractive, 23 May. On 14 Jan. 1812 George Ponsonby gave notice that Cavendish would move for an inquiry into the state of Ireland, but the death of his son William incapacitated him and it was undertaken by Lord Morpeth. He returned to the House to vote for Catholic relief, 24 Apr., and for a stronger administration, 21 May 1812. He had deplored the Prince Regent’s pusillanimity in deserting the Whigs on the expiry of the Regency restrictions and had to overcome a strong inclination to retire from the political arena. He was inconspicuous in the first two sessions of the Parliament of 1812 and Lord Holland reported, 18 Dec. 1813, that he was one of those who would actually defend ministers if their war effort were impeded in the House.6

Cavendish rallied to opposition when hostilities were resumed against Buonaparte in 1815: he informed Fitzwilliam, 31 Mar., that he sided with Grey against Grenville on this issue, believing that Buonaparte should be overthrown by his subjects, not by exterior force. On 25 May he moved an amendment to the Regent’s address, critical of the allied war aims. It was defeated by 331 votes to 92. The party leadership was impressed by his eagerness to contribute towards the payment of Tierney’s debts in September 1815, when he had already paid half the price of Tierney’s seat in that Parliament.7 In January 1816, when there were doubts of Ponsonby’s attendance, Brougham suggested to Grey that Cavendish should act as nominal Whig leader. This he said was the wish even of the Whig ‘Mountain’, as Cavendish might place Burlington House at their disposal: ‘In truth a house is more wanted than a leader, for half the contrarieties and misunderstandings among us arise from our never associating together’. In the session of 1816 he was a spokesman against the property tax and against the peacetime establishment. His motion for general retrenchment by government was defeated by 158 votes to 102, 25 Apr. He was most reluctant to come up for the next session, until Grey rallied him.8 On 28 Feb. 1817 he opposed the suspension of habeas corpus, objecting to allegations of disaffection in Derbyshire where, he maintained, unrest had been exaggerated. On 26 June, taking the same stand, he blamed agents provocateurs for recent incidents in the county.

On George Ponsonby’s death in July 1817, Henry Grey Bennet* wrote to Creevey:

Who is to lead us now? God knows. Some talk of Lord George Cavendish, whom I resist, because I think his politics are abominable and his manners insolent and neglectful: but also because the Cavendish system, with the duke at the head is not the thing for the present day. They are timid, idle and haughty.

Cavendish was averse to taking the lead: in fact, he was one of those who thought it ‘foolish to talk of choosing any leader’.9 Brougham thought opposition ought to come to some arrangement with Cavendish which ‘began and ended in Burlington House’ but added, ‘I fear he won’t agree to bestir himself and open his doors’. He could certainly afford to be ‘the dining and house meeting leader’, having in 1810 received a legacy of £700,000 from his uncle Henry Cavendish, and in 1817 he inaugurated the Burlington Arcade.10 By January 1818 the report was that ‘Tierney is to lead and Lord George Cavendish to feed the opposition’. His politics remained cautious or lukewarm: he disliked county meetings against the suspension of civic liberty, and although he took Ponsonby’s place on the secret committee in February, on 17 Mar. he was reported to have gone out of town after dividing only once (twice in fact). In mid April he was one of eight sporting Whigs who refused to leave Newmarket to vote against the Duke of Cumberland’s establishment bill.11 He turned up to vote for the resumption of cash payments by the Bank, 1 May.

Cavendish readily supported the requisition to Tierney to lead the opposition in July 1818. He himself was as lax as ever: he did not come up to town until 2 Feb. 1819, and then too late to take the oath and vote that day.12 Appointed to the Windsor establishment committee, he then attended fairly regularly, but threatened to go to Italy before the 1819-20 session, having refused to support county meetings against government repression. Nor could the Whig leaders count on having Burlington House at their disposal.13 At least he was induced to attend and vote and voice his objection to some of the ministerial measures against sedition. On 14 Dec. 1819 he complained about the seizure of arms bill, with particular reference to Derbyshire: ‘in that county, there had not been the slightest disturbance for some years’, except ‘that partial insurrection which took place a short time ago’.

Cavendish accepted a coronation peerage in 1831, without consulting his nephew the Duke of Devonshire.14 He died 4 May 1834.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Leveson Gower, ii. 119; Malmesbury Diaries, ii. 476; Add. 51706, Pelham to Lady Webster, 21 [Jan. 1794].
  • 2. Prince of Wales Corresp. iii. 1264; Grey mss, Grey to Rev. Wyvill, 3 Feb. 1798.
  • 3. Add. 41856, f. 153; D. M. Stuart, Dearest Bess, 134; Holland, Mems. Whig Party, 219; Chatsworth mss, Duchess of Devonshire to Hartington [14 Feb. 1806].
  • 4. Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 19 Oct. 1806.
  • 5. Carlisle mss, Lady E. Foster to Lady Morpeth, 22 Dec.; Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 7 Dec., Cavendish to Grey, 23 Dec. 1807, Ld. to Lady Grey, 12 May, Rosslyn to Grey, 29 Sept., Cavendish to Grey, 30 Sept.; Lonsdale mss, Long to Lonsdale, 11 Oct. 1809; Rose Diaries, ii. 393; Creevey Pprs. ed. Maxwell, i. 112; HMC Fortescue, ix. 365.
  • 6. Grey mss, Cavendish to Grey, 9 Jan., Ld. to Lady Grey, 16 Nov. 1810, 23 Feb.; Blair Adam mss, Cavendish to Adam, 12 Jan. 1812; Jnl. of Lady Holland, ii. 286; Add. 51545, Holland to Grey, 18 Dec. 1813.
  • 7. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F32/73; Grey mss, Grey to Holland, 10, 30 Sept., Holland to Grey, 27 Sept. [1815].
  • 8. Creevey Pprs. i. 247; Brougham mss, Brougham to Grey [11 Jan.]; Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 12, 19 Dec. 1816, 4, 13 Jan., reply 15 Jan. 1817.
  • 9. Creevey Pprs. i. 257; Add. 40217, f. 322; 51585, Tierney to Lady Holland, 21 July 1817.
  • 10. Add. 51565, Brougham to Lady Holland, 1 Aug.; Fremantle mss, Buckingham to Fremantle, 30 July 1817; Farington, vi. 23; Gent. Mag. (1817), ii. 272.
  • 11. Dorset RO, Bond mss D367, Jekyll to Bond, 26 Jan. 1818; Add. 48225, f. 20; 51828, Cavendish to Holland, 5 Jan. 1817 [recte 1818]; Buckingham, Regency, ii. 237; Grey mss, Lambton to Grey, 17 Apr. 1818.
  • 12. Bagot mss, Lyttelton to Bagot, 4 Aug. 1818; Grey mss, Lambton to Grey, 3 Feb., Tierney to same, 3 Feb. 1819.
  • 13. Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 7, 12 Oct., 5 Nov.; Fitzwilliam mss, box 99, Cavendish to Milton, 2 Oct. 1819.
  • 14. Chatsworth mss, Devonshire to Grey, 6 Sept. 1831.