William Cavendish - Marquis of Newcastle. Final Years.
To the astonishment of all Margaret died on the 15th December 1673. The nature of her illness is not recorded. She was 50 years of age. Margaret’s health had long given rise to concern. Her lack of exercise and insistence at taking self prescribed medications and treatments could not have helped.
She was buried at Westminster Abbey on the 7th January 1674. William had made all the arrangements with customary thoroughness but did not attend. The 150 mile journey by coach to London in mid winter would have clearly been too much for an old man. William’s reactions to the death of his beloved second wife are not recorded but clearly this must have been a terrible blow.
Margaret, “ Mad Madge”, was somewhat unconventional and ridiculed by many but she left a legacy and memory which lasts to this day. She was a philosopher, poet and playwright. Her work was published under her own name which flouted the customary ideas of propriety in the 17th century. Amongst her many books and plays, New Blazing World, can be described as the first science fiction novel. Margaret was the only woman of that time to have published more than one book.
William now set out the arrangements for his own funeral and composed a suitable epitaph. It was already agreed that he would be buried at Westminster Abbey alongside Margaret.
In spite of his grievous loss and great age he still had the energy and imagination to undertake new projects and turned his attention to Nottingham where he had long wished to build a new house on the impressive site of the former castle. He ordered the site to be cleared of the previous ruins for his latest creation. William had a long interest in architecture and supervised the project himself. Over the years he had learnt much from the Smythson family who had served the Cavendishes as architects on various building projects over 3 generations. The building had a continental Baroque style but was fundamentally English in character. The 14th century gatehouse was retained at the foot of the slope. On the hill above stood the main building looking down from its magnificent location onto the town below. It was completed in 1678 by his son Henry following his father’s death.
As building work continued William resumed his writing and produced a rather bizarre series of erotic verse. These seem to have been inspired by various female members of his staff at Bolsover, serving and laundry wenches and the like. Several of the poems give the impression of being composed for some lady of his acquaintance. Always a passionate man it is thought possible he was contemplating a third marriage in spite of his great age. This is not as ridiculous as it may seem as his remaining son Henry had now only one surviving son, young Harry, on whom the continuance of the Cavendish line now solely depended. Whatever William’s ambitions in this direction it all came to nought. Perhaps it was just as well.
William made another will in October 1676 and made specific provision for the completion of the work on his house at Nottingham. As trustees for this work he appointed March his builder, Mason his lawyer from Newark, Richard Neale one of his stewards and Thomas Farr. £2000 a year was allocated for completion.
On Christmas Day 1676 William finally passed away. He was laid to rest at Westminster Abbey on the 22nd January 1642 next to Margaret as he had wished. The Loyal Duke was no more.
He was a man of many and varied parts with a multitude of interests. Literature, science, music, art, architecture, fencing and, of course, his love of equestrian pursuits in which he excelled. He was well known to some of the most prominent philosophers and writers of the time and a patron to many.
A charming and amusing gentleman of the old school of aristocrats he remained loyal to his King and the Royal family throughout the Civil War and in the subsequent long period of exile and suffered greatly because of it. His military record in the north was and still is denigrated by many, including supporters of Prince Rupert. Clarendon refers to William as
"a very lamentable man, and as fit to be a general as a bishop".
This is clearly an unfair and biased judgement. William was certainly an inexperienced soldier and lacking in a certain robustness and dash essential for the finest generals. However, in spite of this, his achievements in the north were of great military value to the Royalist cause and won with little or no constructive support from his monarch or anyone else. He was forced to do the best he could with what was available and was, in the end, overwhelmed by forces beyond his control. His personal courage is undeniable.
Sir Philip Warwick, who knew William well recalls him as
“a gentleman of grandeur, generosity. loyalty and forward courage” adding that “his edge had too much of the razor in it, for he had a tincture of a romantic spirit, and had the misfortune to have somewhat of the poet in him”
William had no liking for politics and adhered to the King's cause from motives of personal loyalty and from hatred of whatsoever was likely to disturb the public peace.
Even Clarendon admits that he was "a very fine gentleman," which, in the final analysis, is perhaps the best summary of his character.