The Devonshires: The Story of a Family and a Nation

Roy Hattersley

The Devonshires: The Story of a Family and a Nation

The story of the Devonshires is the story of Britain. William Cavendish, the father of the first Earl, dissolved monasteries for Henry VIII. Bess, his second wife, was gaoler-companion to Mary Queen of Scots during her long imprisonment in England. Arbella Stuart, their granddaughter, was a heartbeat away from the throne of England and their grandson, Lord General of the North, fought to save the crown for Charles I. Fifty years later, the First Duke of Devonshire conspired to depose James II, and make William of Orange king. For the next two centuries the Devonshires were at the heart of fashionable society and the centre of political power. The Fourth Duke became prime minister and Georgiana, wife of the Fifth, scandalised even the Regency. Spencer Compton, the last of the great Devonshires, was three times offered the preimership, and three times refused it. Even the Devonshire servants made history. Joseph Paxton was their gardner and Thomas Hobbes was the family tutor. With the help of previously unpublished material from the Chatsworth archives, The Devonshires reveals how the dynasty made and lost fortunes, fought and fornicated, built great houses, patronised the arts and pioneered the railways, made great scientific discoveries, and, in the end, came to terms with changing times. 3.2 out of 5 based on 6 reviews
The Devonshires: The Story of a Family and a Nation

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre History, Biography
Format
Pages
RRP
Date of Publication May 2013
ISBN 978-0701186241
Publisher Chatto & Windus
 

The story of the Devonshires is the story of Britain. William Cavendish, the father of the first Earl, dissolved monasteries for Henry VIII. Bess, his second wife, was gaoler-companion to Mary Queen of Scots during her long imprisonment in England. Arbella Stuart, their granddaughter, was a heartbeat away from the throne of England and their grandson, Lord General of the North, fought to save the crown for Charles I. Fifty years later, the First Duke of Devonshire conspired to depose James II, and make William of Orange king. For the next two centuries the Devonshires were at the heart of fashionable society and the centre of political power. The Fourth Duke became prime minister and Georgiana, wife of the Fifth, scandalised even the Regency. Spencer Compton, the last of the great Devonshires, was three times offered the preimership, and three times refused it. Even the Devonshire servants made history. Joseph Paxton was their gardner and Thomas Hobbes was the family tutor. With the help of previously unpublished material from the Chatsworth archives, The Devonshires reveals how the dynasty made and lost fortunes, fought and fornicated, built great houses, patronised the arts and pioneered the railways, made great scientific discoveries, and, in the end, came to terms with changing times.

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Reviews

The Times

Ian Kelly

It is Sunday evening history, for those with a serious interest in the past but also a seriously comfortable armchair, a magnificent old duffer of a book that deftly knits together a national story into the fabric of a family drama. It does this with all the warmth and affection for history that mark out a former statesman and first-class storyteller, but one who sees politics and history as measures not so much of grand ideas as of human foible and endeavour. The wit is never at the expense of the human colour that gives character and meaning to his history.

14/05/2013

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The Daily Express

Jenny Barlow

This is not a distillation of dry historical information. Although the political evaluations and commentary are as thorough and considered as you would expect from a man with such a broad experience of parliament and government, the genius of this work is that it serves up a feast of details from a whole dynasty of remarkable men and women.

10/05/2013

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The Sunday Telegraph

Noel Malcolm

Although Hattersley has spent some time in the Chatsworth archives, one would not call this a work of cutting-edge research. The standard biographies have been intelligently exploited, but many works of modern scholarship have sailed past this author like ships in the night. What the reader gets is an engaging account of a gallery of historical figures; and, to be fair, this socialist turned baron (whom I liked to think of, until his recent divorce, as Lady Hattersley’s Lover) has managed to tell it in a way that is neither censorious nor sycophantic.

13/05/2013

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The Spectator

Anne Somerset

No one would expect Roy Hattersley to write an adulatory chronicle of this ducal house, suggesting that everything the Devonshires did was praiseworthy or amusing; but sometimes he is so censorious one is surprised the subject appealed to him. Many readers will find his less than reverential attitude invigorating, but his failure to see any attractive qualities in so many of the individuals who feature here can be somewhat dispiriting.

04/05/2013

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The Evening Standard

Adam Nicolson

... an empty-hearted story, at times not unlike the account of several generations of a breed of much loved but not wildly impressive Labradors ... in his focus on maleness and politics, Hattersley, who is sniffy about “feminist historians”, has left aside what is really interesting here — the whole question of how much of the family identity in this elevated class was carried by the women, their sense of discipline and destiny, their control of money and men, their relationships to the heirs they gave birth to.

02/05/2013

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The Sunday Times

Miranda Seymour

[A] most peculiar book … It is in his attitude to the Cavendish women, though, that Hattersley proves most surprising. He’s never been known as a misanthrope and yet, time and again, his tone is one of raw contempt … Consigning Debo and her sisters to a footnote and a single line of text — included only in order to disclaim her role in saving Chatsworth — he sounds, almost, to be working to an agenda.

12/05/2013

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