Looking at the remarkable career of Elizabeth Hardwick, one is convinced that to her great and sometimes unprincipled ability was due the rapid rise of the Cavendish family. "It is certain," says the historian of "Hallamshire," " that she was a woman of much address, had a mind admirably fitted for business, very ambitious, and withal over-bearing, selfish, proud, treacherous, and unfeeling; one object she pursued through a long life, to amass wealth and to aggrandise her family. To this she seems to have sacrificed every principle of honour or affection ; and to have completely succeeded."
Before she was fourteen she was married to Robert Barlow, the son and heir of Arthur Barlow, of Barlow, near Dronfield, in Derbyshire, by a sister of Sir John Chaworth. He died very shortly after the marriage, his large estates being settled on her and her heirs. By the death of her brother, she also inherited her father's lands and the old hall at Hardwick.
Sir William Cavendish is said to have had such great affection for his lady that at her desire he sold his estate in the southern part of England in order to buy land in Derbyshire where her kindred dwelt; of some of whom, the Leeches, he bought Chatsworth, and commenced the erection of a noble mansion there; but he died in 1557, leaving the work to be completed by Lady Cavendish, who was engaged in this occupation for many years. Her fortune had been greatly increased by this union, and she did not long remain a widow. Her third husband was Sir William St. Loe, of an ancient family in Somersetshire, one of the attendants on the Princess Elizabeth, on whose accession to the throne he was appointed Captain of the Guard. St. Loe, when not on duty at court, resided with his lady at Chatsworth. Through Lady St. Loe's influence with her husband (of which his relatives complained that she made an improper use), he was induced to settle the whole of his estate upon her in default of any issue by this marriage, to the exclusion of Sir William's daughters by a former union. The exact date of Sir William's death is not known, but his widow gave her hand to the Earl of Shrewsbury in 1568.1
Lady St. Loe must have had attractive qualities that are not to be found in her portrait at Hardwick, which shows only a shrewd, calculating woman of the world, without any indication of that winning grace of feature or bearing one might expect to find in this lady, who, being for the third time a widow, brought the great Earl of Shrewsbury, whose Countess, the daughter of the Earl of Rutland, had only been dead a few months, to her feet. Nor would Lady St. Loe entertain any notion of an alliance with the Earl except on her own terms. She is reported to have said to her suitor: " I would rather be Bess Hardwick again than the Countess of Shrewsbury, if you will not what I will." The fascination of the Earl was complete, Lady St. Loe's terms were agreed to, and before the nuptials of the Earl and Countess took place, the Earl's second son, Gilbert, who afterwards succeeded to the title, was married to Lady St. Loe's youngest daughter, Mary Cavendish, and the Earl's daughter Grace to Lady St. Loe's eldest son, Henry Cavendish. These marriages were celebrated with great state at Sheffield on the 9th of February, 1567-8.
The eldest daughter of Sir William and Lady Cavendish married Sir Henry Pierrepont, from whom are descended the Dukes of Kingston. Her second surviving daughter, Elizabeth, married Charles Stuart, Earl of Lennox, and was mother of Lady Arabella Stuart. Her second son William was created Earl of Devonshire. The youngest, Sir Charles Cavendish, was father of William, Duke of Newcastle.
The fourth marriage of Lady St. Loe, with the Earl of Shrewsbury, was anything but a happy one. The Earl's selection by Queen Elizabeth as custodian of the Queen of Scots at Sheffield was a source of great anxiety to him; between Shrewsbury and the Countess constant bickerings were going on, and, as Hunter says, probably the happiest days of the last three and twenty years of his life were those he spent in preparing his own sepulchre in the Parish Church at Sheffield. He died at the Manor on the 18th of November, 1590, and was buried with great state on the 10th of January following.
The Countess spent the last seventeen years of her widowhood in building, an occupation to which she was passionately devoted. She completed at Chatsworth the noble mansion which had been commenced by Sir William Cavendish, and erected Hardwick Hall, leaving the ancient seat of her family standing, "As if she had a mind to preserve her cradle, and set it by her bed of state." Whatever faults this lady may have had, a debt of gratitude is due to her for the erection of Hardwick. During the last three hundred years it has been the admiration of thousands of visitors, and has given convincing proof to many that the feeling for beauty was greater—though often rudely expressed—when this house was erected than at the end of the nineteenth century: for still, as when Northcote made the remark, "deformity is as often the fashion as beauty, yet the world in general sees no other beauty than fashion."
The walls of nearly every room, staircase, and hall of entrance are hung with costly tapestry; indeed, there are probably more wall hangings of this description at Hardwick than in any other house in the kingdom. The delight the Countess took in pomp and show is exemplified in that noble apartment, the Presence Chamber, at one end of which, on a raised dais, her chair of state stands, while "on the walls thereof," as she says in her will, " are six pieces of fair tapestry hangings of the story of Ulysses." 2
The Countess died on February 13, 1608, in the eighty-seventh year of her age, and she was buried at All Saints, Derby, under a stately monument erected by herself.
Sir Charles, the youngest son of Sir William and Lady Cavendish, was born in the first year of the reign of Queen Mary, who was his god-mother. Being educated along with the sons of the Earl of Shrewsbury, he became the friend and almost inseparable companion of Gilbert Talbot, who succeeded to the earldom; with him he travelled abroad. At an early age he served in the army sent by Queen Elizabeth to aid the States of Holland in the war with Spain, where he held an important command. He was knighted in 1582.
Among the papers in the collection of the Dowager Countess of Oxford at the time when Collins compiled his record of the Cavendish family was an outrage committed by John Stanhope against the above Sir Charles Cavendish, in which some light is thrown on the lawless state of society in England at the close of the sixteenth century. "On Monday last, being the 18th of June, 1599, about ten of the clock in the morning, Sir Charles Cavendish being at his new buildings at Kirkby, which is some quarter of a mile from his little house where he and his lady did lye; and going from thence to a brick kiln, as far distant from that building, as that from the house, being attended on only by these three persons, Henry Ogle, Launce Ogle, his page, and one horsekeeper; he descried to the number of about twenty horse upon the side of the hill, which he thought to be Sir John Byron, with company hunting; but, suddenly they all, galloping apace towards him, he saw that he was besett, whereupon being upon a little nag, he set spurs to him, thinking to recover the new buildings, but the titt fell with him, and before he could recover out of his stirrop, he was overtaken, and, ere he could draw his sword, two pistols were discharged upon him, the one of them with two round of two bullets, hit him on the inside of his thigh, but missed the bone, and yet lyeth in the flesh. He hath also divers small shot in several parts of his thigh and body thereabouts, which are thought came out of the same pistol. Notwithstanding so strong was the hand of God with him, as after his wounds received, he, with two poor men and boy, unhorsed six of them, and killed two of them in the place; a third fell down in the forest, and is thought dead also; a fourth was left behind them in the same place, so sore wounded as it is not thought he can recover, and lyeth at the village adjoining. Upon this, some of the workmen coming towards them, though without any weapons, John Stanhope was now the foremost in running away, carrying all the rest of his hirelings with him. Sir Charles is hurt also on the head, and on the hand in divers places, but those not dangerous hurts. The surgeons do assuaradely hope, also, that there is no great danger in the other wounds with the pistol, although by incision they intend to take out the bullet which is within an inch and a half of the skin. Sir Charles and his three had rapiers and daggers only; those who assaulted them left behind them six good geldings, whereof some were worth twenty pounds a piece, two or three cloaks, two pistols, two rapiers, and some of their hats, all of which are safely kept by Sir Charles. This company all that morning were in the forest, seeming as though they had been hunting; one of them that was killed was a keeper, whom Stanhope the same morning took with him, as he found him in his park being without boots, or other weapon but a pyked staff which he had; and, as the fellow confessed before he dyed, he knew not whether he was carried, or what to do, until he came to the hill side where they stayed so long. And this is the truth of that accident, being written the second day after this villainy was done"3 (Collins' Historical Account of the Cavendish Family).
About 1595 Welbeck Abbey and the estate passed into the hands of the Countess of Shrewsbury for her youngest son, Sir Charles Cavendish—the subject of the above outrage —who settled there.4 He married Catherine, daughter of Cuthbert, Lord Ogle, and had by her two sons. Charles, the eldest son, was buried at Sheffield in 1594. William, afterwards Duke of Newcastle, born at Handsworth, near Sheffield, in 1592; also another son Charles, who was knighted by the King in 1619.
On James the First's progress through England when he succeeded to the crown we find the Earl of Shrewsbury sending invitations to his neighbours and friends in various parts of the country to meet the King at Worksop Manor, where a noble entertainment was prepared for him.5 When the young Prince, afterwards Charles I., was on his way to join the King in London, William Cavendish, though only twelve years of age, was deputed by his uncle, the Earl of Shrewsbury, to entertain the Prince and his suite at Worksop Manor. Though so young, Cavendish was evidently well fitted for the task, and that he was gratified by the trust reposed in him is shown by his letter of September, 1604, in which he says to his father:—
"I must inform you of the honourable entertainment received by the duke (Prince Charles), and his company at Worksop. My brother and I received much honour for our good training, which surprised the scotch gentlemen,, and especially our proficiency in the French language, in which the president (Lord Fyvie), is perfect, as well as several gentlemen of his suite. I beg that you will kiss the hands of my uncle and aunt, and thank them for the honour they have done me in thinking me capable of entertaining such a prince."6
In 1610, when Prince Henry received the title of Prince of Wales, William Cavendish, along with Henry Vere, Earl of Oxford, and other nobles, was made a Knight of the Bath.
Sir Charles Cavendish died at Welbeck in 1617, and was buried in the Cavendish Chapel attached to the church at Bolsover. He was succeeded by his eldest surviving son, Sir William, who was afterwards created Earl, Marquis, and Duke of Newcastle.
Sir William afterwards travelled abroad under the care of Sir Henry Wotton, who was at that time ambassador extraordinary to the Duke of Savoy. The Duke took a great liking to Sir William, offering to confer titles of honour upon him, as well as a command in the army if he would remain at his court. But Sir Henry Wotton, not having his friends' consent, was unable to leave Cavendish, to whom on his departure the Duke made several sumptuous presents.
After Sir William's return to England, his mother pressing him to marry, he chose, " both to his own and her good liking," Elizabeth, daughter and sole heir of William Basset, of Blore in Staffordshire, the widow of Henry Howard, son of Thomas, Earl of Suffolk, who brought him a yearly inheritance of £2,400, besides a jointure for life of £800 a year.7
In 1619 King James was entertained with great magnificence at Welbeck, and in the following year Cavendish was created Viscount Mansfield. The King also conferred the honour of knighthood on Charles Cavendish, his younger brother.
1 Hunter's Hallamshire.
2 In her will the Countess leaves two hundred pounds to purchase a cup of gold, to be presented to the Queen, " most humbly beseeching her sacred majesty to accept that poor widow's mite, as a remembrance from her that has always been a dutiful and faithful heart to her highness. To whose most excellent majesty I make this most humble earnest and last request, that it would please her highness to have compassion, and to be gracious to my poor grand child, Arabella Stewart, accordingly as her majesty hath most graciously oftentimes said unto me, that she would do for the poor orphan."—Collins' Historical Account of the Cavendish Family.
3 No reason is given by Collins for this assault, but in Thoroton's Nottinghamshire (Throsby's edition), we find "Sir Charles Cavendish, youngest son of Sir William, and the father of the Duke of Newcastle, had begun to build a great house on a hill by the forest side, near Annesley Woodhouse, when he was assaulted and wounded by Sir John Stanhope and his men, as he was viewing the work, which was therefore thought fit to be left off, some blood being spilt in the quarrel, then very hot between the two families."
This John Stanhope was brother of the first Countess of Clare, and uncle of Denzil Holles, at whose christening the duel took place between Sir John Holles and Gervase Markham. The exact date of the christening is not given, but would probably be 1597, and there is every likelihood that this outrage by John Stanhope on the son of the Countess of Shrewsbury was a continuation of the family feud in which Gervase Markham so nearly lost his life.
On the accession of James I. to the crown in 1603 this John Stanhope was knighted by the King at Belvoir Castle.
4 In 1538 Welbeck Abbey and the estate were granted by Henry VIII. to Richard Whalley, ancestor of the famous General Whalley of the Commonwealth. Richard Whalley, however, did not long retain it, for in 1558 leave was obtained from Queen Elizabeth to transfer the property to Edward Osborne, citizen and clothworker, of London, whose descendants, the Dukes of Leeds, were afterwards settled at Kiveton Park. In 1595 it again changed hands, Robert Booth and Ranulph Caterall becoming the owners, by whom it was shortly afterwards transferred to the Countess of Shrewsbury.
5 "Not far from Worksop Manor, his Majesty ate his luncheon on a green bank pleasantly under the opening buds and birches, and anon in Worksop Park was accosted by kneeling huntsmen in Lincoln coats, who offered to show him some game thereabouts, a very welcome offer" "at Newark with still more interest I witnessed the seizure of a ' cutpurse,' and instant warrant with sign-manual to the Recorder of the town to have him hanged; which was straight way done, without judge or jury: a 'well-dressed cutpurse' who had attended us with profit for a tract of days; probably a London artist; the oldest member of the swell mob taken notice of by history. He swings in Newark there on the sudden, being seized flagrante delicto; a warning to men."— Carlyle's Historical Sketches.
He confessed "that hee hadde from Berwicke to that place played the cutpurse to the courte."—Stow.
6 Historical Manuscripts Commission, Welbeck Papers.
7 Collins' Historical Account of the Cavendish Family.