The current Duke of Devonshire has joined the campaign against the British aristocracy – an exclusive club of which he is a leading member. Well OK, perhaps it’s more accurate to say he’s accepted what he sees as inevitable rather than actively joining the campaign. One might otherwise allude to turkeys and Christmas.
However, with a fat £500 million pound inherited fortune ($773 million) and a 297-roomed mansion, the beautiful Chatsworth House, as his home, the 65-year-old duke has told the UK press:
“I haven’t earned any of this. The British aristocracy is not dying. It’s dead…It doesn’t exist – except that people have titles.”
The duke should know what he’s talking about when he discusses Britain’s aristocrats. He’s the 12th duke in a line of titled British ancestors which goes back three hundred years. Naturally for the son of a duke he went to England’s best-known public school for boys, Eton, and then to university at Oxford. He’s held three titles since his birth in 1944: as a baby and young boy he was the Earl of Burlington (1944-1950) then became Marquess of Hartington (1950-2004) and on his father’s death in 2004 he became His Grace The Duke of Devonshire. As well as Chatsworth House the duke owns numerous other properties including Lismore Castle in Ireland and his principal residence the Bolton Abbey Estate.
Despite all this privilege, the duke declared he was happy to accept the Labour government’s move to abolish hereditary peerages in 2010 and sack the 90 hereditary peers who though unelected still sit in the UK’s House of Lords. That move, overturning 1,000 years of British parliamentary history and opposed by the Conservative opposition, was conceived as a way of replacing unelected peers with a more democratic elected Senate.
The duke says he’ll be happy to drop ‘His Grace the Duke’ and call himself plain Peregrine Cavendish in future and added that losing the peerage may reduce the teasing attention he attracts as a duke checking in for low-cost flights with Ryanair. (Why a duke with 500 million pounds in his account would fly Ryanair is curious however.)
Losing the title of Duke won’t strip Cavendish of a duke’s many privileges of course. The newly-styled Peregrine Cavendish will have plenty to console him and keep him busy when he loses his title. As well as managing his many millions of pounds, beautiful homes and many thousand acres of land, he’s a devoted fan of horse racing and is chairman of Ascot. He’s also keen on buying modern British art and sculpture and is a Director of Sotheby’s, one of the world’s oldest auction houses. He’s chancellor of the University of Derby too.
It would be interesting to know what Peregrine Cavendish’s three children think of the possibility of the family losing the ancient title. Lady Jasmine, Lady Celina and Earl of Burlington, William Cavendish, all stand to lose their titles too. The young earl may not mind too much however. He’s apparently already generally known as simple Bill Burlington.
*England’s first English duke was the Black Prince, Edward, given the title Duke of Cornwall in 1337 by his father Edward III. The Devonshire dukedom was created much later, in 1694. The family have long been among Britain’s most flamboyant and influential aristocrats, producing political heavy-hitters for centuries. Lady Georgiana Spencer was the wife of the 5th duke. Famous as a drinking, gambling society hostess she was played by actress Keira Knightley in the film The Duchess in 2008.*