CAVENDISH, William II (1551-1626), of Chatsworth and Hardwick, Derbys.

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

b. 27 Dec. 1551, 2nd s. of Sir William Cavendish by his 3rd w. and bro. of Sir Charles and Henry Cavendish. educ. Eton 1560; Clare, Camb. 1567; G. 1572. m. (1) 21 Mar. 1582, Anne, da. and coh. of Henry Keighley of Keighley, Yorks., 3s. 3da.; (2) Elizabeth, da. of Edward Boughton of Cawston, Warws., wid. of Sir Richard Wortley, 1s. ?Kntd. 1580;1 cr. Baron Cavendish May 1605; Earl of Devonshire 1618.

Offices Held

J.p.q. Derbys. from c.1583, sheriff 1595-6; bailiff of Tutbury castle 1615; custos rot. Derbys.; jt. (with his son) ld. lt. Derbys. 1619-26.


When in the 1580s Bess of Hardwick became disillusioned with Cavendish’s elder brother Henry, she transferred her dynastic ambitions to her second son William, who necessarily became involved in the notorious estrangement between her and her fourth husband the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury. Indeed, it was the sums she spent on land for William, estimated at £15,900 by 1584, at a time when Shrewsbury was short of cash, together with the deed of gift Shrewsbury signed on 22 Apr. 1572 making over to Charles and William Cavendish the lands Bess had brought to him on their marriage, that caused the rupture between Earl and Countess. Throughout his life Cavendish remained dependent upon his mother, and it is interesting that on both the occasions he was returned to the Commons, it was for boroughs remote from Derbyshire. Indeed the remoteness of these two constituencies, together with the doubt about the knighthood, raises the question whether the right William Cavendish has been identified as the MP who sat for one or both of these constituencies. It must have been Sir Ralph Sadler, chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, who arranged matters at Liverpool in 1586. The patron at Newport is not obvious: the MP was described on the return as ‘of London’. William had a town house and no doubt a court connexion of Bess of Hardwick’s could have been responsible. It is entirely possible that, at the height of her quarrel with her husband, in November 1585, when affairs between the Earl and Countess were being investigated by Walsingham and Burghley, she should have wished William to be in the House of Commons. He could not have come in for a local constituency in the face of certain opposition from Shrewsbury, who had already been responsible for putting him in the Fleet prison after he had shown armed opposition to his stepfather’s occupation of Chatsworth in July 1584, and who had instructed an agent to canvass the county to prevent the election of Charles for Derbyshire in that same year. On balance it is probable that it was the Countess of Shrewsbury’s son William who was returned at both Liverpool and Newport to protect her interests, and his having to go as far afield for borough seats demonstrates the power of the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury in Derbyshire and the weakness, politically, of his wife, despite all her local and central connexions. However, Sir Ralph Sadler might well have been prepared to assist her by providing her favourite son with a borough seat well away from the Earl’s sphere of influence. There was widespread sympathy for the Countess and her children against the tyranny of Shrewsbury, who however was too powerful centrally (as Earl Marshal) and locally to be publicly humiliated. His persecution of the Countess after their separation has been described as a ‘mania’.

Shrewsbury died in 1590, and from November 1591 to July 1592 both Charles and William Cavendish were with their mother on her last and triumphant visit to the court, residing at Shrewsbury House, Chelsea. Thereafter Cavendish remained close to his mother for the remainder of her life, sharing the renovated Hardwick Hall with her while in the country, and sending her detailed court gossip while trying to secure his peerage early in the new reign. In this he was thought likely to be unsuccessful, being ‘very sparing in his gratuity’, 2 but in the end it was obtained, at a price, through the intervention of Arbella Stuart as part of that lady’s reconciliation with her grandmother. Cavendish’s further step in the peerage was thought to have cost him £10,000, but having inherited vast wealth and estates from his mother, who died in 1608, he could well afford it, as he could also to purchase Chatsworth in 1609 from his brother Henry on whom it had been entailed. William Cavendish’s descendants still live there, but it was at Hardwick that he died, 3 Mar. 1626. He was buried at Edensor.3

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: P. W. Hasler


  • 1. The above work and CP both state that Cavendish was knighted in 1580. Shaw, Knights, give a William Cavendish (no further description or address) as knighted in that year. The identification of this William Cavendish as the 2nd s. of Sir William Cavendish is suggested by the fact that Charles Cavendish, the 3rd s. was knighted some two years afterwards, i.e. the brothers were knighted in the right order of seniority. But Sir Charles is regularly so-called after 1582, whereas William's name is not prefixed by 'Sir' after 1580. Even in 1605 when he was trying to buy his peerage in London he is still plain William Cavendish (HMC Shrewsbury and Talbot, ii. 242). True enough the Elizabethans were slack about using titles, but it is straining credulity to suppose that William's knighthood would invariably be overlooked had he received one. The parliamentary returns for 1586 and 1588 describe the man or men elected as 'esquire'. No other William Cavendish has been traced who might be the recipient of Shaw's knighthood, and in view of William's known thirst for honours, it is difficult to believe that Charles was knighted and he was not. The matter must remain open.
  • 2. HMC Shrewsbury and Talbot, loc. cit.
  • 3. Glover, Derbys. ii(1), pp. 242-3.