William Cavendish - Marquis of Newcastle. Early Life.
Bess’s son, Sir Charles Cavendish, married Catherine Ogle, daughter of Lord Ogle, in 1591. Their first son, Charles, died in infancy. William was born 1593. His younger brother, also Charles, was born a year or two later although the exact date is unclear.
William was brought up at the family home at Welbeck Abbey. His father was an enlightened parent never forcing his two boys down a particular path. He was to impart his mastery and love of fencing, horsemanship and country pursuits to his son William. The youngest son, Charles, was equally loved. He had been born with a stunted physique but a good, kind and intelligent nature. Clarendon was to write of him
“ In this unhandsome or homely habitation there was a mind lodged that was very lovely and beautiful.”
Sir Charles gave his younger son every encouragement and opportunity to develop his education and mind. Aubrey records
“ Nature not having adapted him for court or camp, he betook himself to the study of mathematics, wherein he became a great master.”
Both brothers were very close and remained so throughout their lives.
The family seems to have been happy and secure. William and his brother were educated by tutors although study was not excessive and combined with enjoyment of music, riding and family pleasures. William developed a deep love for his home at Welbeck during his childhood. His father withdrew from much of public life after Elizabeth I died and was content to spend his time as a country gentleman and educating William in the responsibilities that would one day be his. When William’s grandmother, Bess of Hardwick died in 1608 she left the 2 boys 2000 marks each.
William was about 15 he entered St John’s College Cambridge. Amongst his contemporaries was Thomas Wentworth, later Earl of Strafford. William proved an unenthusiastic student preferring sport and the outdoor life. He left Cambridge without graduating, as did Thomas Wentworth. This was not an uncommon occurrence at the time.
In view of William’s interest in horses it is not unsurprising that he then went to the Royal Mews. Here he developed a life long fascination in dressage and the breeding and training of horses. On the occasion of the creation of Prince Henry as Prince of Wales in 1610 William was made a Knight of the Bath.
In 1612 he travelled with his brother Charles to Italy with Sir Henry Wotton, then ambassador to the Duke of Savoy. Wotton was to prove very influential with young William being a man of wide of interests and great depth of knowledge, particularly on literary and scientific matters in which he was deeply fascinated. He was also an excellent raconteur and wit who greatly enjoyed good company and music. An excellent role model and mentor for an impressionable young man.
During their leisurely travels through France and long stay in Italy William must have seen and learned many things that were to influence him in later years. William’s fascination with architecture and his own classic designs clearly show evidence of Italian inspiration, which he must have garnered during this period. Wotton was greatly impressed by William and wrote several times of his good opinion of the young nobleman under his care. The party returned to England to report to the King in late 1612, their diplomatic duties complete.
In 1614 William was elected as Member of Parliament for East Retford. His father was still disinclined to bother which such tedious and tiresome public duties but approved William’s candidature and the result was a formality. William took his seat at Westminster in April 1615 and renewed his acquaintance with both Thomas Wentworth and Henry Wotton who had also been elected to serve. Several men who were to become very influential in later years also took their seats for the first time, notably John Pym and John Hampden.
William favoured the monarchy, not so much by divine right but as the most satisfactory and practical way to govern a nation. He considered that the pyramid of King, nobles, landowners and people produced an orderly structure in which all knew their place.
William like his father quickly became disillusioned and bored with the day to day workings of Parliament and yearned for more pleasing pursuits. Bowls, tennis, bear baiting and cockfighting were all popular pastimes in London. The young bloods of the time enjoyed drinking, gaming and whoring , sometimes profligately, although there is no evidence that William took much part in any of these. It is known he never drank to excess and preferred more gentle pastimes like the theatre, music and conversation. During this period Henry Wotton introduced William to the well-known playwright of the time, Ben Jonson. They formed a firm and life long friendship
Parliament held the nation’s purse strings and had been at loggerheads with the King over financial matters. An impasse was reached and, in a fit of pique, King James I dissolved Parliament in June 1615. William returned home to Nottinghamshire. His first and last experience of the House of Commons left him greatly disillusioned and doubtless influenced his outlook in future years.
William’s father died in 1617 and was laid to rest in Bolsover church. William, then aged 23, inherited Bolsover and Welbeck and numerous other estates. His young brother, Charles, who never married, was also well provided for and spent much of his wealth on books and “learned men.“ William was soon busy with family affairs and the completion of Little Castle at Bolsover, a project started by his father.
His thoughts soon turned to the choice of a wife and in this he was particularly successful. Elizabeth, daughter of William Basset of Staffordshire and widow of Henry Howard, 3rd son of the Earl of Suffolk, was 19 years old. Elizabeth had an income of £3000 per annum, £7000 in cash and various estates in Staffordshire but this was not of great significance as William now had great wealth of his own.
She was much sought after and William had a keen rival in Kit Villiers, later Duke of Buckingham. Elizabeth much preferred the charming and cultured William to the dim witted drunkard Villiers and they were married in 1618. It was a good match. William and Elizabeth were devoted to each other and enjoyed a long and outwardly happy relationship. William’s mother greatly approved of the marriage and wrote
“God made them happy in marriage”
adding that Elizabeth was both a kind, loving and virtuous lady.