King Charles I.
William Cavendish - Marquis of Newcastle. 1618 to 1636.
William settled down at his Nottinghamshire estates enjoying the life of a country gentleman. Occasionally he would visit London to attend to matters at Court but these visits were infrequent and the stays kept as brief as possible.
During the summer of 1619 he entertained James I at Welbeck. James was noted for his love of hunting and the Cavendish estates in Nottinghamshire were famous in this respect. Though not a passionate huntsman William participated, mainly for social reasons.
Younger brother Charles was knighted the same year paying the princely sum of £30 for the privilege. Uncle William at Chatsworth paid £10,000 into the royal purse to become the Earl of Devonshire. Elizabeth gave birth to a son in 1619 which died in infancy and, a year later another son was born. Prince Charles, later Charles I, agreed to be godfather. The second son died within months and it was 2 more years before Elizabeth finally gave birth to a child that grew to adulthood.
William was created Viscount Mansfield in November 1620. This title that was awarded without payment in part settlement of a debt dispute. He attended opening of the new Parliament in 1621 as a member of the Upper House for the first time and found the atmosphere there more agreeable than the Commons with many old friends and relatives also in attendance.
Elizabeth writes of her husband at this time :-
“Though my Lord love not business, especially those of State ( though he understands them as well as anybody) yet what business or affairs he cannot avoid, none will do better than himself.”
William listened to the debates carefully and took a practical and realistic view on all matters of state. A cautious conservative man, even in his younger years, the family motto suited him well. Cavendo Tutus. Safety by caution.
William left for Welbeck in March when his wife became ill. He spent the rest of the year caring for Elizabeth and supervising the completion of the Little Castle at Bolsover. Elizabeth gave birth to a daughter, Jane, the following year. James I was again guest at Welbeck in 1624. It was his last visit to Sherwood. He died in 1625.
The new King, Charles I, opened his first parliament in June 1625. William was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire in July and left for Welbeck to apply himself to his new responsibilities, the maintenance of public order and the training and recruitment of the militia which had largely been neglected under James I. William set about rectifying this and made up deficiencies in equipment out of his own pocket. In 1626 Elizabeth gave birth to a son, Charles who survived to manhood followed the next year by a daughter, Elizabeth.
William’s growing reputation and good work on behalf of the Crown in the north were rewarded with the titles Earl of Newcastle and Baron Cavendish of Bolsover in 1628. He was introduced as such at the Parliament to 1628 following Buckingham’s La Rochelle fiasco.
Following the death of his cousin William, Earl of Devonshire, in 1630 William was nominated as Lord Lieutenant of Derbyshire until the heir was old enough to take up these responsibilities. At this time he met the philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who had taught his father. One of the great “ natural law” philosophers of the 17th century the writings of Hobbes were to have enormous impact on later British political and social theory. The 2 shared a mutual friendship with Ben Jonson and both were blessed with great intellectual curiosity and a fascination with science. They formed a close friendship.
In 1630 William’s mother died and was buried with her late husband at Bolsover. Also that year the Little Castle at Bolsover was finally completed although lacked the accommodation for guests that the lavish hospitality of the nobility demanded in the 17th Century. A separate range of grand apartments were commissioned running for 100 yards due south from the main house itself.
William visited London little in this period, sending his proxy for the 1629 Parliament to the Duke of Buckingham who was murdered by a fanatic before he received it. The King refused to call any further Parliaments for 11 years.
William became rather impatient with country life and his administrative duties in the provinces at this time and yearned for a more central role. He commissioned the building of a town house in Clerkenwell London and started to spend more time in the capital and at the Court of King Charles I. He soon became a regular visitor to the Royal Palace at Whitehall and accepted member of the inner circle. Both the King and William shared a common interest in paintings and the theatre and he presented the King with several pictures by notable European artists of the period. William was to develop a lasting friendship with the Monarch which survived through the coming years of conflict. He did not, however, share the King’s enthusiasm for religious affairs.
The Queen’s papal agent informed Rome.
“ The Earl is too indifferent, He hates the Puritans, he laughs at the Protestants and he has little confidence in the Catholics.”
William was also able to gain the approval of the Queen, Henrietta Maria. He spoke fluent French which impressed the Queen who had been slow to gain command of the English language. The two also shared a passion for horses. Henrietta Maria rode well, most unusual for ladies in England at that time. Although clearly in favour in the Royal household more formal recognition failed to materialise.
At this time he was able to become closely acquainted with several leading figures in the art and literary world. Notable amongst these were Anthony Van Dyck, his mistress Margaret Lemon and Sir Endymion and Lady Olive Porter.
Sir Endymion Porter and Anthony Van Dyck
In May 1632 Charles I headed north with his retinue for his long deferred coronation in Scotland. The Queen was with child and remained in London. William entertained His Majesty in lavish style in Nottinghamshire during the journey. Charles greatly enjoyed a masque and was certainly not disappointed at Welbeck . William commissioned Ben Jonson to write a suitably grand entertainment for the royal guest and his entourage. Clarendon wrote years later the
“Both King and Court were well received and entertained by the Earl of Newcastle in such a wonderful manner, and in such an excess of feasting, as had scarce been known in England.”
The Duchess recorded that the entertainments
“Cost my Lord between £4,000 and £5,000.”
King Charles I and family
The King continued his journey, no doubt royally impressed with the hospitality at Welbeck, but William was disappointed as no tangible favour was forthcoming.
He became rather disillusioned and undecided as to whether he actually desired a court appointment at all as it would certainly be “ a more painful life “ and might even ruin him. He was now heavily in debt due to his lavish lifestyle and the continual building at Bolsover and Welbeck. Life at home in the Nottinghamshire countryside with family and horses was looking a much more attractive, practicable and economical proposition.
However fate was to take a hand and, several weeks later, the King hinted that Queen Henrietta Maria would also welcome a similar entertainment in Nottinghamshire having missed the first. A royal hint was as good as a command so William bit the bullet and set to with a will organising an even more splendid series of events. Perhaps this would bring better results.
Ben Jonson was to write another masque. The hospitality and feasting were unsurpassed, even in those days. Clarendon sardonically referred to the week’s events as
“ a more stupendous entertainment , which ( God be thanked ), though possibly it might too much whet the appetite of others to excess, no man ever after those days imitated.”
The Duchess again comments on the cost. Between £14,000 and £15,000. A significant dent in her housekeeping money no doubt.
William had set his heart on an appointment as the governor of the young Prince Charles the King’s eldest son who was 4 years old. It was an office of great consequence and standing answerable only to the King . An important and agreeable post but away from the affairs of state and political arena for which he had little time or enthusiasm. However the King was reluctant, at this stage, to allow the upbringing of his eldest son to be undertaken outside his own family.
As a consequence of his patronage of Jonson and the masques that William had commissioned he won a reputation as a benefactor of the arts and several writers and poets of the time sent him works of varying degrees of merit. Among the best of these was James Shirley with whom William was to enjoy another long friendship.
Along with his literary interests and amateurish if enthusiastic endeavours in that sphere William was also possessed of more that a passing fascination with science as was common at that time. He conducted experiments at Bolsover regarding the composition of the sun, a somewhat ambitious project even by today’s standards. His conclusions were interesting if a trifle bizarre. He was particularly fascinated by optics and astronomy.
Sometime in 1634 William was seriously ill, quite possibly with the plague. The disease was rampant throughout England at this time and struck at rich and poor alike. His health however improved and there is no record of further problems of this nature.
He became more downhearted over the next few years as the King and Queen still had made no decision over the appointment of a governor to the Prince. As rivals for this post either died or received other appointments he became more optimistic for a time but in May of 1636 wrote to his wife Elizabeth that
“ I am very weary and mean to come down presently ... it is a lost business.”
At Welbeck that summer William entertained Prince Rupert and his brother Maurice to another masque although not on the grand scale of previous productions.