Victor Cavendish
The Duke of Devonshire

Victor Cavendish was a Liberal-Unionist who drifted closer to the Conservative party in his lifetime but never fully losing his Whiggish proclivities. In a varied career the one common theme seemed to be his revolving around imperial affairs. For example, from 1908, he became president of the British Empire League.

In 1916 he succeeded the duke of Connaught as governor-general and commander-in-chief of Canada. He was created GCMG in July, and after landing in Canada in November during a critical phase of the war, consistently strove to sustain patriotic morale. The imposition of conscription had been resented, especially among the Quebecois, and the wartime upheaval was followed by economic dislocation and social unrest. Devonshire's skilful treatment of different sections of Canadian opinion was widely acknowledged. His interventions in the intricacies of post-war Canadian party politics were deft and harmonious. He enjoyed discussing political tactics with his aide-de-camp Harold Macmillan, who married his daughter Dorothy Evelyn Cavendish in 1920. The prince of Wales, touring the dominion in 1919, thought the duke was 'a damned good fellow and has no side', although stuck in a 'hopelessly narrow groove'. His appointment expired in August 1921.

His refusal in March 1922 to serve as secretary of state for India under Lloyd-George damaged the prestige of the coalition government. An evolved whig rather than a tory die-hard, he supported the Irish settlement of 1922. After the fall of the coalition Devonshire joined Bonar Law's cabinet as secretary of state for the colonies in October 1922. As colonial secretary he issued the Devonshire declaration of 1923 that the interests of African natives must be paramount over those of immigrant settlers in Kenya colony. This announcement was pregnant with significance for future colonial policy, and was generally unexpected. It accorded with Devonshire's generous whiggish inclinations, and he withstood pressure to withdraw or amend the principle of paramountcy.

In cabinet he resisted attempts by Amery and other protectionists to extend safeguarding of industry. Baldwin's handling of the American debt question disquieted him, and he deplored the new prime minister's decision to go to the country on a protectionist platform. He left the Colonial Office in January 1924, and was not invited to hold office when Baldwin resumed power in November. It was believed that Baldwin contemplated offering him the lord presidency of the council until Curzon insisted on that office.

During 1924-5 he served as chairman of the British Empire Exhibition held at Wembley and became one of its financial guarantors.

He died in 1938.

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by Stephen Luscombe