The Duke of Devonshire

Additional notice of the 'rescuer of Chatsworth and reviver of the family tradition of patronage''
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The Independent Online

Andrew Cavendish, 11th Duke of Devonshire, once said that his favourite picture at Chatsworth was Nicolas Poussin's masterpiece of a joyous group of three young shepherds coming upon a grave, and reading its message of mortality: Et in Arcadia Ego. A fourth, in the foreground, cast down with sorrow, might almost have served for the Duke himself, writes Hugh Cecil [further to the obituary by Nicolas Barker, 6 May]. This image of sadness amid perfection was very close to his heart.

Andrew Cavendish, 11th Duke of Devonshire, once said that his favourite picture at Chatsworth was Nicolas Poussin's masterpiece of a joyous group of three young shepherds coming upon a grave, and reading its message of mortality: Et in Arcadia Ego. A fourth, in the foreground, cast down with sorrow, might almost have served for the Duke himself, writes Hugh Cecil [further to the obituary by Nicolas Barker, 6 May]. This image of sadness amid perfection was very close to his heart.

His life was shaped by his fortuitous inheritance of fabled wealth - accompanied by family tragedy and the loss of many beloved properties - and his highly strung, passionate temperament. A dashing figure, celebrated on the racecourses, who might have stepped from the pages of Tolstoy's War and Peace, he was also a true son of the English Whig aristocracy, and in common with its greatest leaders, such as Charles James Fox, combined courage with independence of mind, toleration, unsentimental compassion, sense of public duty, open-handedness and full-blooded zest for enjoyment, even to a fault.

Physically, Devonshire was an unusual combination of opposites. Uncoordinated at games, and an inexpert, fearless horseman on the hunting field, he was upright and graceful in his bearing - and an accomplished fisherman. He had a natural unselfconsciousness - yet was inspiringly well dressed. Despite his delicate frame, his vigorous circulation could stand bitter cold. The Military Cross he earned in Italy for keeping up the spirits of his men in great danger was partly the result of inner resources - he responded unselfishly in a crisis - but also because he was an insomniac, a veteran of night-clubs, remaining lively when more apparently robust types were unable to cope with sleep deprival in battle conditions. His extraordinary physical stamina showed in middle age when he undertook epic walks with Robin Fedden and Paddy Leigh Fermor, through Greece and the Andes.

His gift for diplomacy was the secret of his solid success in his brief ministerial career in the early Sixties, with responsibilities for Commonwealth Relations and Colonial Affairs, as when he was despatched to deal with a tricky situation in the Maldives. Tact, too, was sometimes needed in handling the eccentric house guests, hordes of grandchildren, and politicians from round the world, whom he generously entertained at Chatsworth throughout his life.

Devonshire had great respect for books, not least because being an insomniac he read his way through many in the watches of the night. Memorable among his imaginative benefactions in recent years was the Heywood Hill Literary Prize for lifelong contributions to literature, which also commemorated the admirable bookshop in Mayfair owned by him and created just before the Second World War by his friends Heywood and Anne Hill. The annual prizegiving, at Chatsworth, exemplified how he reconciled his ducal role as leader of the local community with the grandeur of his life and his learned occupations. In rain or shine, two silver bands played and the house and its treasures were thrown open; mayors, weighed down with mighty chains, and a spectrum of other Derbyshire dignitaries joined the literati, shepherded from London by the indefatigable John Saumarez Smith, in a copious lunch in the huge marquee on the south lawn.

One of his notable successes was as an Irish landlord - not often a promising field for international understanding. His Waterford home at Lismore Castle which came to him from his uncle Charles Cavendish in 1944 had a special magic for him. For many years he spent family holidays there. The property, which was in a neglected state after the war, was restored to its present excellent condition by Devonshire and his heir Lord Hartington, with the high standards of Chatsworth as a model. He took a particular pride in the magnificent display of magnolias and camellias he planted in the gardens, which thrived, thanks to the mild Irish climate. Among his staff there he attracted great devotion. When John O'Brien, a fine ghillie with charm to match that of the Duke, was tragically drowned in the Blackwater river, Devonshire told another ghillie how fond he had been of the dead man: "He adored you" was the reply. Devonshire never felt quite the same about fishing there again.

Although not conventionally religious, Devonshire possessed - more than many - the sensibilities of the best Christians: generosity, fortitude, and most important, charity. He emphatically maintained that one should never pass judgement on people, for how was one to know - quoting a unflattering school report he himself had once received - that so-and-so was not, according to his lights, "which were very dim", doing his best? He could not be fully a believer, for he found himself up against Jesus's pronouncement about it being harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Much though he loved the language of King James's Bible, he was therefore thrilled to hear that a new translation had substituted "rope" for "camel". "There's hope for me yet!" he told his family gleefully.

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