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Duke Of Devonshire

First Lord of the Treasury November 1756 - July 1757


William Cavendish, 4th Duke of Devonshire was born in 1720, eldest son of the 3rd Duke of Devonshire. Cavendish entered Parliament as MP for Derbyshire in 1751. He supported first the Walpole and then the Pelham administrations, and was promoted to lord-lieutenant of Ireland in 1755 in the Duke of Newcastle's government. Here he was an effective administrator, but was called back to England during the crisis that followed Newcastle's fall from office. At this point William Pitt, Parliament's most powerful figure, was a natural choice for the next prime minister. But Pitt's temperamental, ferociously energetic and abrasive personality did not win the support of the king, George II. The more diplomatic Devonshire was asked to form a government, while Pitt continued to wield the real power. In an age where royal authority was on the decline, prime ministers mimicked the monarchs they were supposed to be replacing. In Chatham: His Early Life and Connections Roseberry called Devonshire "prime minister under Pitt" (P289) which indicates the real state of power within Parliament. Devonshire as prime minister was a figurehead leader to give a sense of unity while other more powerful men got on with government. The problem with a "king" prime minister, however, lay in the lack of centuries of tradition and religious panoply which supported a monarch. A prime minister had to get by on plain old competence, which is always going to be a difficult venture.




Chatsworth - home of the Duke of Devonshire

Devonshire was fairly competent in his role, his tolerant personality allowing him to work with Pitt, and accept a subserviant position. Pitt continued to dictate policy, and worked relentlessly, organising British forces for the Seven Years War with France. But the wobbly structure of Devonshire's government fell apart within months. Admiral Byng's failure to save Minorca from French invasion during the previous Newcastle administration had led to Byng becoming a scapegoat. The unfortunate admiral was condemned to death, to take attention away from wider failings. Pitt tried to save Byng, and finding this was impossible, resigned. With Pitt gone, Devonshire was left with nothing. His resignation followed in July 1757. Devonshire the "king" prime minister had gone. His predecessor, the Duke of Newcastle returned, and just like Devonshire, he acted as a figurehead while Pitt did the real work. This team was more successful, and got on with fighting and winning the Seven Years War.