The Cavendish Family at Slingsby

The construction of new large private country houses took off in the 16th century, built from profits of coal and agriculture, on land, which had been confiscated from the monasteries and redistributed by Henry VIII. The Cavendish family developed some of the most impressive houses of the time, mainly centred on the East Midlands. The manor lands and ruined medieval castle at Slingsby was bought by Sir Charles Cavendish (1553 – 1617) in 1594. He was the 5th of eight sons from the second marriage of Bess of Hardwick, the Countess of Shrewsbury. She amassed great wealth through her four marriages and built Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire, the most impressive and fashionable house of the age.

Sir Charles lived mainly at Welbeck Abbey, but also began to develop a new house based on an older castle at Bolsover, not far from Hardwick. It was not unusual then to be building several large properties at the same time. Attracted by the moated castle site in Slingsby, he commissioned a design for a new building from the most distinguished master builder / architect of the day, Robert Smythson. Sir Charles died before building started and it is recorded that the ruined medieval castle was still in place in 1611.

His second son, also Sir Charles, was responsible for building the present Slingsby Castle, to a design by Robert Smythson’s son John. Sir Charles was elected MP for the Borough of Nottingham and was also highly respected for his knowledge of philosophy and mathematics. The Cavendish family was very interested in the arts and wanted to follow new fashions in Renaissance classical building, which were being introduced into England from the continent. Archive records of Sir Charles’s building activities suggest that the castle at Slingsby was probably just about complete when the Civil War broke out. Sir Charles and his brother William Duke of Newcastle supported the king and William, who was very a skilled rider, is acknowledged as the inventor of modern dressage and equestrianism.

The two brothers were present when Charles I was defeated by Parliamentary troops led by the Lord Fairfax at Marston Moor in 1644. They had to flee to the continent to avoid punishment and likely death. After spending time in Belgium and France they managed to negotiate the return of some of their abandoned properties, but Charles Cavendish himself was dead by the time the family got the lands back at Slingsby. They passed from the ownership of the Duke of Newcastle into other hands though a series of complicated bequests and disputes, before being bought by the third Earl of Carlisle to add to the expanding estate around Castle Howard, where building had started in 1699. There is no evidence that the new Slingsby Castle was ever lived in.

The present Duke of Devonshire, who owns Chatsworth House and estate in Derbyshire, is now the best-known remaining Cavendish descendent, but he is from a different, but related line of the family.

Margaret Mackinder May 2017


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