CAVENDISH, Henry (1550-1616), of Tutbury, Staffs.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. 24 Dec. 1550, 1st s. of Sir William Cavendish by his 3rd w. and bro. of Sir Charles and William Cavendish II. educ. Eton 1560; privately; G. Inn 1567; travelled abroad. m. 9 Feb. 1568, Grace Talbot, yst. da. of his stepfather, George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, s.p. At least 8ch. illegit. suc. fa. 1557, mother 1607.

Offices Held

Capt. in Netherlands Apr. 1574, col. July 1574.

J.p. Derbys. from c.1573, Staffs. from c.1593; sheriff, Derbys. 1582-3, 1608-9.


Following his marriage to his stepfather’s eight year-old daughter, Cavendish was sent abroad, travelling to Padua and Venice with his brother-in-law Gilbert Talbot, later 7th Earl of Shrewsbury. Next he served as a soldier in the Netherlands, taking 500 men, mostly from the family estates. His expenses in the Netherlands were probably the initial cause of his debts, which amounted to £3,000 by 1584, and this despite his having inherited, on attaining his majority, the income from the lands settled on him by his father, income which had until then gone to his mother, Bess of Hardwick, who had been granted his wardship. By this time she had virtually disowned him, no doubt more on account of his failure to produce legitimate children than because of his debts or sexual promiscuity, so that, during her estrangement from her fourth husband the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, Cavendish was able to revenge himself by siding with his stepfather against her. Altogether, Cavendish had the remarkable record of representing his county in five successive elections, less a tribute to his character in the county than to the power exercised by the 6th and 7th Earls of Shrewsbury. Not a single reference has been found to him in the journals, though as a knight of the shire he was automatically appointed to subsidy committees on 24 Feb. 1585, 11 Feb. 1589 and 26 Feb. 1593, and to a legal committee 9 Mar. 1593. In all probability his repeated elections were excuses to visit London. Cavendish ‘the common bull of Derbyshire and Staffordshire’ was a notorious libertine.1

About 1585, when Cavendish was living at Tutbury, Amias Paulet was ordered to make arrangements for Mary Stuart to be sent there. Cavendish was unwilling to move out. He asked £100 a year for the use of the house, or alternatively, that the Queen should lend him £2,000 towards the payment of his debts. ‘This is his final answer’, reported Paulet, ‘and in my simple opinion is not much different from reason’. However, he added, ‘It may be, although he doth not say it, that he will be content with the loan of £1,500’.2

Though out of favour with his mother, it was probably she who sent him on a trading journey to Constantinople in 1589. His account—he thought Venice ‘a most foul stinking sink’—survives among the Hardwick manuscripts. At the very end of Elizabeth’s reign, Cavendish attempted to remove Arbella Stuart from his mother’s custody, for which he was cut out of her will. He was thought to be implicated in the Main or Bye plots early in the next reign. If it came to his mother’s ears in April 1604 that he had ‘lately charged her to be a harlot to some of his men’ it would have done nothing to mend relations between them. He is not known to have attended her funeral on 4 May 1608, and he received nothing at all in her will. Chatsworth came to him from his father on his mother’s death, but without its contents it was useless to him, and he sold it to William in the following year. Cavendish died on 12 Oct. 1616, and was buried at Edensor.3

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: P. W. Hasler


This biography is based upon D. N. Durant, Bess of Hardick.

  • 1. D’Ewes, 431, 474, 496; Lansd. 43, anon. jnl. f. 171.
  • 2. Lansd. 31, f. 20.
  • 3. Glover, Derbys. ii(1), pp. 242-3.