Margaret Cavendish, Duchess, nee Lucas (1625-1674)
Scion of a numerous family and, after the death of his elder brother, inheritor of the Cavendish estates, William grew up in privileged circumstances and early became acquainted with upper class advantages and obligations. He was more sportsman than scholar, but was possessed of ready wit and intelligence. He attained mastery of horsemanship at a young age, and became a recognized authority on “manege” as evidenced in his work on dressage, first published in France. He apparently disliked town-life and preferred country living with its agricultural attractions: hunting, farming, animal husbandry and the like.
When he was fifteen, he went to Venice with Sir Henry Wooton, Ambassador to Italy at the time, and was thereby introduced to the world of politics and high society. Upon his return several years later he had an off and on acquaintance with the court of James I and was knighted and entitled Viscount Mansfield, and Baron of Bolsover. He was also appointed tutor of a sort to Charles I when the latter was young, an association that determined to some extent the course of his future life and accounted for his loyalty to and admiration of the English King. Upon the death of James, William garnered more titles: Lord Warden of Sherwood Forest, Lieutenant of Nottingham and Lord Lieutenant of Derbyshire. Also Earl of Newcastle and member of the Privy Council.
There was a Scottish rebellion in 1639 that gradually grew into the Civil War, and William became embroiled in the military and political affairs of Yorkshire and the other northern counties as a result. For the next few years, he rose to be the principal Royal exponent in the area, providing most of the military resources, army, ammunition, guns, fodder, and rations, out of his own pocket. In addition, King Charles having abandoned London at the time, he gifted the Royal court to the extent of ten thousand pounds to offset the expenses of moving the royal family out of danger.
For the subsequent couple of years, William was kept busy playing general, quartermaster, and banker to most of the royalist factions in the northern counties. He won battles at Tadcaster, raised a siege of York, chased rebel forces hither and yon, and spent most of his money keeping the Roundheads in check. But at the engagement at Marston Moor, faced with a diverse force of over 22,000 men, and dealing with the desertion of a portion of his own host, (although he and a few loyal comrades performed heroically), he was defeated, and made to realize that the cause in which he had sunk all his resources was lost, so he made arrangements for leaving England with his family and retainers.
William and Margaret met at the court of Charles I in Paris, became enchanted with each other, and got married. He was sixty and she was 22, but it purportedly was a very happy arrangement, as both had similar interests. They both wrote plays and poetry, and had interests in philosophy and science, and were united in their support of the English crown. After a short time in France, they moved to Antwerp, where, except for brief interludes traveling back to England and other european countries, they lived until the restoration of Charles II. Most of the time they lived in a house previously owned by Rubens, located in a fashionable section of the city.
Money was a big problem for them. They tried to maintain their lifestyle, but were forced to eliminate some of the household help. And William was forced to sell a few of his horses, to his great dismay. He borrowed lavishly and surprisingly (and this might indicate something of his personality) he had not a lot of difficulty in obtaining funds from almost everyone he resorted to, including professional money-lenders and friends. They received news from the wars occasionally, and discovered that much of William’s property and estates had been confiscated and sold, or had been pillaged and razed. When they finally did return home, the cheapest transportation they could find was a rotten old frigate, aged and worm-eaten, and fit mainly for firewood, if that. And en route the ship was caught in a storm for six days and nights, to the terror of the passengers and the torment of the captain and crew. Home at last, at Castle Bolsover, they organized and combined their resources. Through careful and thoughtful management, they gradually re-assumed their preferred status as Lord and Lady, harboring their monies and restoring their properties to some semblance of their previous magnificence. When they finished re-establishing themselves, and finally realized their total losses over the war years, they found that they had lost over 930 thousand pounds worth of property and money.
William resumed his habitual routines, seeing to his horses, supervising his investments and agricultural interests, and re-connecting with his relations and neighbors. Over the years, he’d developed his regimen to suit his status and philosophical demeanor. He was clean, generous, witty and horse-crazy; he loved music, poetry, and had a fondness for all the arts; he ate one meal a day, and preferred to reward his servants and employees rather than chastise them. Here are some of William’s apothegms, as recorded by Margaret (paraphrased in part):
-newspapers overheat common brains
-it’s important to have lots of holidays
-there’s no treasure so great as a clear conscience
-Democracies are governed by secret power, kingdoms by one will
-government and religion don’t mix
-(when banished from England): “as he was subject to no king, so he was king of no subjects”
-wisdom lasts but a day, foolishness goes on forever
-to be wise is to be honest
And to be equitable, a few of Margaret’s:
-factions combine sooner than the well-intentioned can agree
-a clear conscience is better than wealth
-empty bladders make the most noise
-wise men meddle as little with the affairs of the world as ever they can
This was book was a porthole into another universe, but one which has a definite relation to our own. It made clear the similarities between people living 500 years ago and those living today. Margaret had a peculiar temperament: she was evidently quite brilliant and facile, but was unfortunate in having had little formal education. Women were not encouraged at that time to develop themselves, a great tragedy and one which robbed the world of half its intelligence and wisdom. She had access to other resources, however: Thomas Hobbes was a familiar friend, and she was the first lady ever to be invited to attend a meeting of the Royal Society, presently the oldest scientific association in the world.
Margaret wrote a science fiction book: “The Blazing World”, about a different planet with a female queen; she also wrote five additional books and two volumes of plays, but is most well known for her letters, which she collected and entitled “Sociable Letters”. My impression is that she would have been a delightful person to be around, witty and scatterbrained perhaps, but also replete with brilliant repartee and odd, thought-provoking ideas. It would have been a lot of fun to go to one of her and her husband’s get-togethers, just to hear the conversation… i liked this book and look forward to becoming better acquainted with her in the future…