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Evelyn Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire

Evelyn Emily Mary Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, DStJ, GCVO, JP (née Petty-FitzMaurice; 27 August 1870 – 2 April 1960) was the wife of The 9th Duke of Devonshire. She was born the elder daughter of the politician and diplomat The 5th Marquess of Lansdowne, and grew up amidst public life. Evelyn's marriage to Cavendish, the heir of The 8th Duke of Devonshire, led to her becoming Duchess of Devonshire in 1908. With her position, she oversaw the reorganisation of the Devonshire estates and presided over four English houses and one Irish castle.

The Duchess of Devonshire

Sargent - Lady Evelyn Cavendish.jpg
Portrait of Lady Evelyn Cavendish, John Singer Sargent (1902)
Mistress of the Robes to
Queen Mary
In office
MonarchMary of Teck
Preceded byNone
Succeeded byThe Duchess of Sutherland
In office
MonarchMary of Teck
Preceded byThe Duchess of Sutherland
Succeeded byNone
Personal details
Born(1870-08-27)27 August 1870
Died2 April 1960(1960-04-02) (aged 89)

Evelyn held the position of Mistress of the Robes to Queen Mary from 1910 until 1916, when she accompanied her husband upon his appointment as Governor General of Canada. The Duchess held the position Viceregal Consort until the Duke's term ended in 1921. Upon returning to England, the Duchess again was appointed Mistress of the Robes to Queen Mary, holding the position until the latter's death in 1953. The Dowager Duchess, widowed since 1938, spent her final years living at Hardwick Hall, which was made over to HM Treasury in 1956, in part payment of death duties.

Family and early lifeEdit

On 27 August 1870, Lady Evelyn was born the elder daughter of the politician and statesman Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 5th Marquess of Lansdowne, and his wife, Lady Maud Hamilton, daughter of The 1st Duke of Abercorn.[1] The Petty-Fitzmaurice dynasty were an Anglo-Irish aristocratic family, while the Hamilton dynasty were, by origin, an Ulster-Scots aristocratic family. Lord Lansdowne, Lady Evelyn's father, served as Governor General of Canada from 1883 to 1888, as Viceroy of India from 1888 to 1894, and as Leader of the Conservative Party in the House of Lords from 1903 to 1916.[2] Lady Evelyn was consequently raised to public life.[3]


Evelyn was married on 30 July 1892 to Victor Cavendish, the nephew and heir of the 8th Duke of Devonshire[1][4] and the youngest member of the House of Commons.[5] They and their growing family resided at Holker Hall in Lancashire, and would be sad to leave it to Lord Richard Cavendish upon Victor's ascension as Duke of Devonshire in 1908.[5][6] The family eventually came to include two sons, five daughters,[1] and twenty-one grandchildren.[7]

As part of the celebrations for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897, Victor's uncle hosted the Devonshire House Ball, one of the event's most extravagant parties. Lady Evelyn attended in the dress of a Lady at the Court of the Empress Maria Theresa, while her husband dressed in sixteenth-century costume.[8]

Duchess of DevonshireEdit

Victor succeeded his uncle as 9th Duke of Devonshire in 1908, whereupon Evelyn became the Duchess of Devonshire.[1] The Devonshires were one of the country's richest families, thought by some to have more wealth than the royal family.[9] The Duchess was to oversee four large estates in England and one Irish castle.[3] With her new position, she oversaw the reorganisation of the Devonshire estates.[1] The Duchess strictly adhered to etiquette and her position,[9] being characterised by a brother-in-law as "accustomed to authority."[10] She was known for her abrasive personality; her granddaughter-in-law wrote that she "was not altogether easy to get on with,"[11] whilst another referred to her as "an unpleasant woman."[10] Her husband's biographer described her as "cold, authoritarian, and frugal,"[1] and a servant recalled that "she wouldn't speak to you unless she wanted something, and I can't say she ever thanked you either."[10]

In 1909, the Duchess founded the Derbyshire branch of the Red Cross and became its first president.[3][12] She was appointed Mistress of the Robes to the newly crowned Queen Mary in 1910.[13] In 1916, the Duke accepted the appointment of Governor General of Canada,[5] and his wife relinquished her position to accompany him,[14][15] along with six of their children.[16] While in Canada, their daughter Lady Dorothy met Harold Macmillan, the future prime minister. While the Duke was delighted with the match, the Duchess was unhappy that Macmillan, though wealthy, was the member of a mere tradesmen family. She favoured a match between her daughter and the heir to the Duke of Buccleuch instead.[17] Nevertheless, Dorothy and Macmillan were married in April 1920.[18]

The Duke of Devonshire's tenure in Canada ended in 1921,[16] and the Duchess resumed her role as Mistress of the Robes to Queen Mary, holding the appointment from 1921 to the latter's death in 1953.[citation needed] Queen Mary invested the Duchess as a Dame Grand Cross of The Royal Victorian Order in May 1937.[19][20]


In April 1925, the Duke suffered a stroke that paralysed him and led to his gradual mental deterioration.[1][21] Previously a jovial man, the duke became miserable towards his family and others, and suddenly could not tolerate his wife.[22][23] Their granddaughter-in-law later recalled that "Granny Evie tried to carry on as if nothing had happened but the house and estate lacked a leader and it showed."[22] The Duchess gained more authority over his estates, destroying its Joseph Paxton-designed conservatory and saving expenses by introducing nettle soup to Chatsworth House,[1] but their affairs "gradually went downhill."[22] He died in May 1938;[22] after his death, the Duchess took up residence at Hardwick Hall, where she oversaw a significant amount of repair work of its tapestries and embroideries.[24]

In 1950, the unexpected death of the 10th Duke of Devonshire and the subsequent death duties (rated at 80%) caused the sale of many of the Devonshire assets and estates, including Hardwick. The decision was made to hand the house over to HM Treasury in lieu of Estate Duty in 1956.[25] The Duchess agreed to the plan despite her love for the estate. In 1959, the Treasury transferred the house to the National Trust.[26] The Duchess remained in occupation until her death on 2 April 1960.[27][28] Having done much to conserve the textiles in the house, she was to be its last occupant.[27]


The Duchess of Devonshire, with three of her children

They had two sons and five daughters.[1]

Titles, styles, honours and awardsEdit


  • 27 August 1870 – 30 July 1892: The Lady Evelyn Emily Mary Petty-Fitzmaurice
  • 30 July 1892 – 24 March 1908: The Lady Evelyn Emily Mary Cavendish
  • 24 March 1908 – 6 May 1938: Her Grace The Duchess of Devonshire
  • 6 May 1938 – 2 April 1960: Her Grace The Dowager Duchess of Devonshire

Honours and awardsEdit



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Davenport-Hines 2004.
  2. ^ Adonis 2004.
  3. ^ a b c Cavendish 2010, p. 218.
  4. ^ Simon Shkolnik 1996, p. 274.
  5. ^ a b c Cavendish 1999, p. 94.
  6. ^ Simon Shkolnik 1996, pp. 274–75.
  7. ^ Cavendish 2011, p. 320.
  8. ^ "Lady Evelyn Cavendish, later Duchess of Devonshire". Archived from the original on 21 February 2014. Retrieved 9 February 2014.
  9. ^ a b Olson 2007, p. 41.
  10. ^ a b c Olson 2007, p. 40.
  11. ^ Cavendish 2010, p. 143.
  12. ^ "100 years and Derbyshire Red Cross is still going strong" (Press release). Red Cross. 22 September 2009. Retrieved 13 February 2014.
  13. ^ "Queen Mary's New Right-Hand Woman". The Washington Post. 1 June 1910. Retrieved 9 February 2014. (subscription required)
  14. ^ "Peeress Whose Departure Will Deprive Queen Mary of One of Her Close Friends". The Washington Post. 16 July 1916. Retrieved 9 February 2014. (subscription required)
  15. ^ "Duchess of Sutherland is New Mistress of Robes". The Washington Post. 28 October 1916. Retrieved 9 February 2014. (subscription required)
  16. ^ a b Simon Shkolnik 1996, p. 275.
  17. ^ Olson 2007, p. 67.
  18. ^ Olson 2007, pp. 40–41.
  19. ^ "Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood" (PDF). Edinburgh Gazette. 14 May 1937. Retrieved 10 February 2014.
  20. ^ McCreery 2008, p. 109.
  21. ^ Cavendish 2010.
  22. ^ a b c d Cavendish 2010, p. 136.
  23. ^ Simon Shkolnik 1996, pp. 275–76.
  24. ^ Montgomery-Massingberd 1994, p. 178.
  25. ^ Chatsworth: Home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire; Derbyshire Countryside Ltd; 2005: p. 56.
  26. ^ Cavendish 2010, p. 141.
  27. ^ a b Hardwick Hall; The National Trust; 2006; ISBN 978-1-84359-217-4: p. 72
  28. ^ "Duchess of Devonshire Dead". The New York Times. 4 April 1960. Retrieved 9 February 2014. (subscription required)
  29. ^ a b c d e f g Burke 1914, p. 621.
Works cited

External linksEdit