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William Cavendish

Marquis of Newcastle, William Cavendish, 1593-1676

Royalist magnate and commander of Royalist forces in the north of England 1642-4. He lost heart and deserted the King after the defeat of the Royalists at Marston Moor.

Son of millionaire Sir Charles Cavendish of Welbeck, he became immensely wealthy through inheritances and royal favour. Cultured and chivalrous, Newcastle was a superb horseman, scholar and poet, also a patron of Ben Jonson, John Dryden, Thomas Hobbes, René Descartes and others. James I created him Viscount Mansfield in 1620; Charles I created him Earl of Newcastle in 1628 and appointed him governor to the Prince of Wales.

Newcastle lent the King £10,000 and raised troops when the Bishops' Wars broke out. He was appointed governor of Hull in January 1642, but the town remained staunchly Parliamentarian and he was unable to take up his appointment. On the outbreak of the First Civil War in 1642, Newcastle again raised troops to fight for the King, including his famous regiment, the Whitecoats. He was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Royalist counties in northern England, with powers to confer knighthoods and coin money. He was created Marquis of Newcastle in 1643.

Although derided for his romantic spirit - and for appointing the poet William Davenant as his Lieutenant-General of Ordnance - Newcastle compensated for his lack of military experience by employing professional soldiers as his officers. These included the Yorkshire veteran Sir Marmaduke Langdale and the dashing Lord Goring. In March 1643, Newcastle was joined at York by Queen Henrietta Maria, newly returned to England from the Continent where she had been raising troops for the King. With the Queen was James King, later Lord Eythin, a Scot who had served in the Swedish army and who became Newcastle's chief military advisor.

In June 1643, Newcastle was in secret negotiations with Sir John Hotham, the Parliamentarian governor of Hull. Hotham was about to surrender Hull to the Royalists when he was arrested with his son. The Hothams were executed after Marston Moor when the capture of Newcastle's letters revealed the extent of their talks.

Newcastle clashed with Lord Ferdinando Fairfax and his son Sir Thomas in the north of England 1642-3 and defeated them at the battle of Adwalton Moor in June 1643, securing all of Yorkshire except the port of Hull for the Royalists. After the battle, Newcastle's troops captured Sir Thomas Fairfax's wife, but in a gesture typical of his chivalrous attitude, she was sent to join Fairfax at Hull. Newcastle then advanced into Lincolnshire to attack the Eastern Association army, taking Gainsborough and Lincoln. Rather than push on towards London, Newcastle besieged Hull. This was a strategic error, but Newcastle had little choice because his troops refused to march far from their native Yorkshire. Newcastle's military success in the north greatly worried the Parliamentarians, and encouraged them to push rapidly ahead with negotiations for an alliance with the Scottish Covenanters.

When Lord Leven's Scottish army invaded England in January 1644, Newcastle's manoeuvres delayed their advance southwards but he was forced to fall back to York in April 1644, where the combined armies of Leven, Fairfax and Manchester surrounded him. Prince Rupert raised the siege of York on 1 July but next day engaged the Allied armies in battle, contrary to Newcastle's wishes. Newcastle had taken offence at the nature of Rupert's communications with him and was uncooperative in preparing for the decisive battle of Marston Moor, 2 July 1644. Rupert's defeat at Marston Moor ended Royalist influence in the north of England. Newcastle's own regiment of foot, the Whitecoats, made a heroic last stand during the battle, after which Newcastle himself became very downhearted. He decided to resign his command and go into exile on the Continent, saying: "I will not endure the laughter of the Court." This prompted a wave of defections from less dedicated Royalists.

Newcastle lived at Hamburg from July 1644 to February 1645, then moved to Paris. During the Second Civil War (1648), he joined Prince Charles in command of the Navy, which had revolted from Parliament. He settled at Antwerp after the execution of King Charles I and in April 1650 was appointed a member of Charles II's privy council. In opposition to Edward Hyde, he advocated the agreement with the Scottish Covenanters that precipitated the Third Civil War.

Newcastle returned to England at the Restoration 1660 and was reinstated to the offices he had held under Charles I. He was invested a Knight of the Garter in 1661 and created Duke of Newcastle in 1665, but he never recovered all his estates or much of the fortune he had spent in the Royalist cause. He wrote various treatises and several comedies; with John Dryden's assistance, he translated Molière's L'Étourdi into English in 1668.

David Plant


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