Cavendish, William George Spencer, sixth Duke of Devonshire 1790-1858, only son of William Cavendish, fifth duke of Devonshire, and Georgiana, elder daughter of John Spencer, first earl Spencer, was born in Paris on 21 May 1790. His education was received at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated Bachelor of Arts 1811, and proceeded Bachelor of Law in the following year. Shortly after attaining his majority he succeeded to the dukedom and took his place in the House of Lords, where he assisted the whig party by his influence and his silent vote, for he never spoke in that assembly on any of the great political questions of the day. He was lord-lieutenant of Derbyshire from 1811 till death. His tastes were literary. He purchased in 1812 the library of Thomas Dampier, bishop of Ely, for 10,000l., and in 1821 John Kemble's dramatic collections for 2,000l. In 1826 he was sent on a special mission to Russia on the occasion of the coronation of the Emperor Nicholas, 25 April, when his retinue was of the most superb character.
This mission is said to have cost the duke 50,000l. beyond the allowance made to him by the government. The emperor, in acknowledgment of his liberality, conferred upon him the orders of St. Andrew and of St. Alexander Newski, and when in England, in 1844, paid him a special visit at his villa, at Chiswick, on 8 June (Illustrated London News, 15 June 1844, pp. 384-5). He was chosen a privy councillor on 30 April 1827 and made a K.G. on 10 May following, acted as lord chamberlain of the household of George IV from 5 May 1827 to 18 Feb. 1828, and served in the same capacity to William IV from 22 Nov. 1830 to 15 Dec. 1834. He was lord-lieutenant and custos rotulorum of Derbyshire, high steward of Derby, and president of the Horticultural Society. Mr. (afterwards Sir Joseph) Paxton was employed by the duke as manager of his Derbyshire estates, and under his hands a gigantic conservatory, 300 feet long, 145 feet wide, 60 feet high, and covering nearly an acre of ground, was erected at Chatsworth, and served to some extent as the model for the Great Exhibition of 1851. The duke was well versed in the old English dramatic literature, and added largely to his books from the library of the Duke of Roxburghe. After 1835 he removed many of his pictures from Devonshire House and Chiswick to increase the interest of his gallery at Chatsworth. His collection of coins and medals, which is said to have cost him upwards of 50,000l., was disposed of at Christie's in a twelve days' sale, commencing on 18 March 1844, and realised the sum of 7,057l. 1s. 6d. He died from the effects of a paralytic seizure at Hardwicke Hall on 17 Jan. 1858; he was never married, and the dukedom passed to his cousin, William Cavendish, second earl of Burlington.
Illustrated London News, 23 Jan. 1858, p. 75
Gent. Mag. February 1858, pp. 209-10
Waagen's Treasures of Art, ii. 88-96,iii. 344-71
Catalogue of the Library at Chatsworth, 1879, 4 vols.
Contributor: G. C. B. [George Clement Boase]