Monday, June 20, 2011

Monarchist Profile: William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle

William Cavendish, First Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, was one of the leading royalists of the English Civil War. He was born at Handsworth Manor in Yorkshire to Sir Charles Cavendish and Catherine Ogle. He grew up at Welbeck Abbey with his younger brother Charles with whom he was very close. Intelligent and curious, as he grew up he showed himself to be something of a ‘Renaissance Man’ dabbling in a number of fields from architecture to poetry and diplomacy and politics to the art of warfare. He attended St John’s College in Cambridge and when Prince Henry Frederick became Prince of Wales in 1610 William Cavendish was made a Knight of the Bath. He dabbled more in the diplomatic field as he traveled with the English ambassador to the court of the Duke of Savoy and upon his return Elizabeth Bassett, widow of the First Earl of Suffolk. He inherited a considerable fortune in his turn and became close friends with both King James I and later King Charles I.

He used some of his vast wealth to help King Charles fund his wars in Scotland which served as a prelude to the English Civil War, in which he was quick to cast his lot with his King. In 1628 Charles I had created him Earl of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and there was no doubt that his prestigious position would warrant him a top command in the Royalist army. Some, then or since, argued that Cavendish was not a military man, though he had military experience and that he was not suited to a command position. However, if the Earl lacked a total mastery of warfare he made up for this by surrounding himself with expert veterans such as Sir Marmaduke Langdale and George Goring. Using his own money he raised his own troops, equipping and maintaining them at his own expense. One troop, known as the ‘whitecoats’ became quite famous over the course of the conflict. From Newcastle upon Tyne he was called back to York where the Fairfax father and son were harassing the local cavaliers (royalists). His attack on Fairfax was repulsed but Fairfax was still forced to retreat and Cavendish secured the area for the King for the remainder of the war.

One of the benefits of the occupation of Newcastle had been that the Earl was able to keep open communications with Queen Henrietta Maria in France and he also oversaw the importation of supplies from the continent through that area to aid the royalist cause. In 1643, having returned to York, he was joined for a time by the Queen in person and also gained the highly esteemed soldier, James King, as his second-in-command. On June 30 at the battle of Adwalton Moor he defeated a smaller parliamentarian force under Lord Fairfax, securing all of Yorkshire and even capturing Fairfax’s wife, whom he gallantly let pass through the lines to join her husband. At Gainsborough the arrival of his forces helped the royalists win the day but he failed to follow up the victory and ignoring orders to march on London diverted to besiege Hull, in what was probably his greatest mistake, and the result was a total defeat for the royalists.

Setbacks such as that were always an occasion for others to call into question the military ability of the Earl of Newcastle and, by most accounts, he did not react well to these, being rather quick to take offense. In 1644 his problems were doubled when the Scots entered the conflict on the side of Parliament and he had to deal with both the Scots and the refurbished forces of Lord Fairfax. He made some progress against the Scots initially but was forced to fall back to defend York which was soon besieged by superior Parliamentary forces. Still, he had prepared his defenses well and determined to hold out until a relief force under the “Mad Cavalier” Prince Rupert could arrive. Fairfax tried to block the Prince but he slipped by him, reached York and the city was saved. However, the prickly Newcastle had taken offense at some of the communications sent by Prince Rupert and some attribute this to his slowness to respond to the build-up for the battle of Marston Moor.

In that engagement, Newcastle fought fiercely, taking out several enemy soldiers himself in close combat, but abandoned the field once all seemed lost and his famous ‘whitecoats’ were virtually annihilated. Still fuming about what others were saying about him, in the aftermath he handed the King his resignation and went into exile in Holland. This was a disaster for the royalists as many gave up hope after the departure of Newcastle and defected to the Parliamentary side. Once in exile he resumed his previous peacetime pursuits and eventually settled in Antwerp where he remained until the restoration of the Stuart monarchy. After that happy occasion he was compensated for his financial losses, restored to all his previous posts by King Charles II, given the Order of the Garter and promoted to the status of First Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. He died at Walbeck Abbey on Christmas Day in 1676 and is buried in Westminster Abbey.

The Duke of Newcastle was certainly no Marlborough or Wellington, however, the efforts some have made to portray him as a complete incompetent are grossly unfair. He was of invaluable service to the royalist cause, won a number of important victories and if it could be said that he did not ‘play well with others’ the same could be said of many other men on both sides in those days when egos were large, pride easily wounded and dueling fairly common. More inclined to literary and artistic pursuits than anything else, Newcastle was a true conservative. He cared nothing for politics or ideology but knew simply that his first loyalty was to his King who was also his friend. It was that personal relationship that mattered most to him and it was that bond that he fought for to the best of his ability and he deserves to be remembered for that.

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