Spring 2023 Book Review

Spring Book Review 

CAVALIER by Lucy Worsley

cavalier book cover

‘Cavalier - The Story of a 17th Century Playboy’. by Lucy Worsley

This is the life story of Sir William Cavendish, first Duke of Newcastle, who was one of the 20 grandchildren of the remarkable Bess of Hardwick, most of whom either acquired or married titles. They included his cousin, another William (Wilkin) Cavendish, Earl of Devonshire who inherited Chatsworth House.

As a Cavalier, William took great care over his appearance, with long flowing hair, and elegant clothing. He was passionate about his great houses, horses and women, a cultured inhabitant of the courtly world of Charles I.  He wrote poetry as well as a definitive guide book on training horses in the art of ‘manege’, with balletic movements and leaps in the air. This amazing horse dancing can still be seen, in the very riding house that William built at Bolsover Castle.

If you have seen Lucy’s TV programmes, you will know that she is a mine of information and alongside pictures and plans of the houses and characters, has filled this book with the nitty-gritty and dirty reality of life in a great house of the time, the conspiracies, the sexual intrigue and the gossip.

After the defeat at Marston Moor, where most of his men were slaughtered, William escaped to France and then spent the years of the Commonwealth living in Rubens House in Antwerp.  There he tutored the young prince Charles in horsemanship, before returning with him when he became Charles II.

Like his father and grandmother before him, William was a great builder and Lucy describes them all as being ‘afflicted with an expensive mania for architecture and design’.  Like them, he too had a building project ongoing (Nottingham Castle) when he died at Welbeck Abbey.  Before he died of Parkinson’s Disease at the grand age of 83 years, he poured scorn on himself as an aged lover in a poem:

With a dry palm and crow’s feet in his eyes,

Stoops in his back and nothing by his thighs

Increasing belly and decreasing Member

And no wit left, but past sins to remember.

Lesley Sanders