William Cavendish, Marquis of Newcastle, 1593-1676

Cultured aristocrat who became commander of Royalist forces in the north of England during 1642-4. He lost heart and went into exile after his defeat at Marston Moor.

Portrait of the Marquis of NewcastleWilliam Cavendish was born at Handsworth Manor in Yorkshire. He was the eldest surviving son of Sir Charles Cavendish (d.1617) and a grandson of the Countess of Shrewsbury, better known as Bess of Hardwick who was reputed to be the richest woman in England after Queen Elizabeth I. His mother was Catherine Ogle, daughter of Baron Ogle of Ogle Castle in Northumberland.

Cavendish attended St John's College, Cambridge, but showed little aptitude for academic study. He entered the Royal Mews where, in company with Prince Henry, he was trained by the best instructors in fencing and riding. Cavendish's equestrian skills and expertise as a swordsman later became famous throughout Europe. He attended Prince Henry upon his investiture as Prince of Wales in June 1610 and was created a Knight of the Bath on the eve of the investiture ceremony.

Royalist Magnate

On the death of his father in 1617, William inherited the substantial Cavendish estates, including Welbeck Abbey in Nottinghamshire, where he built a famous riding school, and Bolsover Castle in Derbyshire, which he decorated exquisitely to reflect the late Renaissance ideals of chivalry, romance and classical myth. In 1618, Cavendish married the heiress Elizabeth Howard (née Bassett, d.1643), with whom he had ten children, though only five survived infancy. When his mother died in 1629, he inherited further extensive estates in the north that made him one of the wealthiest landowners in the kingdom.

Cavendish was eager to increase his prestige by gaining favour at court. He was created Viscount Mansfield by King James I in 1620 after a lavish entertainment at Welbeck which included a masque specially composed by Ben Jonson, who flourished under Cavendish's patronage. Thanks to his friendship with the Duke of Buckingham, Cavendish was appointed lord lieutenant of Nottinghamshire in 1626. King Charles I created him Earl of Newcastle-on-Tyne in 1628.

Newcastle spent large sums of money in pursuit of his ambition to gain an appointment at court. When King Charles travelled to Scotland in 1633, Newcastle staged a feast and entertainment for him at Welbeck that was reputed to have cost nearly £5,000. The following year, he spent over £14,000 on an even more spectacular series of entertainments which included a six-day feast for the King and Queen and the presentation of Jonson's masque Love's Welcome at Bolsover, specially commissioned for the occasion. Although Newcastle's reputation as a patron of the arts was enhanced, no court appointment was forthcoming until 1638 when he was appointed governor to the Prince of Wales.

Throughout the 1630s, Newcastle and his brother, the mathematician Sir Charles Cavendish, were at the centre of a philosophical and scientific circle that included Robert Payne, Walter Warner and Thomas Hobbes. Newcastle was also noted for his own accomplishments in literature, poetry and music.

War in the North

When the Bishops' Wars between England and Scotland broke out in 1639, Newcastle contributed £10,000 to the King's war-fund and raised a volunteer troop consisting entirely of knights and gentlemen, known as the Prince of Wales' Troop. He joined the King's army at Berwick under the command of the Earl of Holland. When Holland deployed the Prince of Wales' Troop at the rear of the cavalry, Newcastle took offence and challenged him to a duel. King Charles intervened to prevent it taking place.

In November 1639, Newcastle was appointed to the King's privy council. Parliament suspected him of involvement in the First Army Plot to rescue the Earl of Strafford from execution. Under political pressure, he was obliged to resign from his post as governor of the Prince of Wales in May 1641.

In January 1642, as tension grew between King and Parliament, Newcastle was secretly commanded to secure control of Hull—a major northern port and the site of an arsenal stocked with munitions from the Bishops' Wars. However, the citizens of Hull prevented him from entering the town, which was soon occupied for Parliament by Sir John Hotham.

Newcastle again raised troops to fight for the King when the English Civil War broke out in the summer of 1642. He was able to raise an army of 8,000 men from his extensive estates in northern England, including his famous infantry regiment, the Whitecoats or Newcastle's Lambs. The King appointed him commander-in-chief of the Royalist counties in northern England in June 1642. He was created Marquis of Newcastle on 27 October 1643.

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 George Goring. He marched south to secure the city of York for the King and established Royalist strongholds at Pontefract in Yorkshire and Newark in Nottinghamshire.

In February 1643, Newcastle received Queen Henrietta Maria, newly returned from the Continent where she had been raising troops and supplies for the Royalist cause. She landed at Bridlington and accompanied Newcastle to York, where she remained for several months. The Queen was accompanied by James King, Lord Eythin, a Scot who had served in the Swedish army, who became Newcastle's lieutenant-general and chief military adviser.

Newcastle clashed with Lord Ferdinando Fairfax and his son Sir Thomas in Yorkshire during 1642-3 and defeated them at the battle of Adwalton Moor in June 1643, securing all of Yorkshire except the vital 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 under escort to join Fairfax at Hull.

Newcastle then advanced into Lincolnshire to strike at the Eastern Association, taking Gainsborough and Lincoln. London was threatened by a three-pronged attack, with Lord Hopton advancing from the west, the King's army from the midlands and Newcastle from the north. But rather than push on towards London, Newcastle resolved first to capture Hull, where he became bogged down in a six-week siege that he was finally forced to abandon. Despite his failure at Hull, 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.

Defeat and Exile

T he Scottish invasion of England in January 1644 forced Newcastle to fight a war on two fronts: the Scottish Covenanters to the north and Lord Fairfax's Parliamentarians to the south. Newcastle's manoeuvres early in 1644 delayed the Scottish advance for a time, but after Fairfax stormed and captured Selby in April 1644, Newcastle was obliged to fall back to defend York itself, where the combined armies of the Covenanters, Lord Fairfax and the Earl of Manchester surrounded and besieged him.

Prince Rupert marched to the relief of York and raised the siege on 1 July, but the next day Rupert engaged the Allied armies in battle, contrary to Newcastle's wishes. Newcastle had taken offence at the brusque nature of Rupert's communications with him and was uncooperative in preparing for the decisive battle of Marston Moor (2 July 1644). The allied victory broke the power of the Royalists in the north of England. Newcastle's own regiment of foot, the Whitecoats, made an heroic last stand during the battle, after which Newcastle himself became very despondent. With no army to command and acutely sensitive to criticism, he resigned his commission and went into exile on the Continent with most of his staff, saying: "I will not endure the laughter of the Court."

In all actions of the field he was still present, and never absent in any battle; in all which he gave instances of an invincible courage and fearlessness in danger; ... Such articles of action were no sooner over, than he retired to his delightful company, music or his softer pleasures, to all which he was so indulgent, and to his ease, that he would not be interrupted upon what occasion soever. He sometimes denied admission to the chiefest officers of the army for two days together; from whence many inconveniences fell out. From Clarendon's History of the Great Rebellion

Newcastle lived at Hamburg from July 1644 to February 1645, then moved to Paris where he joined Henrietta Maria's court-in-exile. Here he met his second wife, Margaret Cavendish (née Lucas), who later became famous as a writer. During his exile, Newcastle resumed his scientific and philosophical researches and was associated with Thomas Hobbes, René Descartes, Pierre Gassendi and others. 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 Sir Edward Hyde, he advocated the agreement with the Scottish Covenanters that precipitated the Third Civil War. Although he was eager to accompany Charles II to Scotland in 1650, the Covenanters objected to Newcastle's involvement and he played no part in the campaign.

After the Restoration

Newcastle returned to England at the Restoration in 1660. He was invested a Knight of the Garter in 1661, having had the honour bestowed upon him by Charles II in 1650. He was created first Duke of Newcastle in 1665. However, he never recovered all his estates or much of the fortune he had spent in the Royalist cause.

Disappointed at not being granted a major office, Newcastle devoted himself to horse breeding, writing and patronage of the arts. In 1664, he purchased Nottingham Castle, which he rebuilt as a ducal mansion, following the destruction of the medieval castle at the end of the civil war.

Newcastle died at Welbeck Abbey on Christmas Day 1676 and was buried in Westminster Abbey. He was succeeded as second Duke of Newcastle by his eldest surviving son from his first marriage, Henry Cavendish (1630-91).


C.H. Firth, William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle, DNB, 1886

Lynn Hulse, William Cavendish, first duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Oxford DNB, 2004

Roger Lockyer (ed), Clarendon's History of the Great Rebellion, Folio Society, 1967


See http://williamcavendish.co.uk/ for further details of Cavendish's life

The Cavalier in Exile: transcription of Margaret Cavendish's memoir of Newcastle's civil war career and subsequent exile.

Bolsover Castle