Never before has one of my bucket lists involved becoming an Anglican for half an hour. With my main bucket list (visiting every UN-recognised country) on hold because of the international situation, I've had more time to pursue the more modest goal of tracking down British Prime Ministerial graves. A few days ago, I arranged to see the final resting place of the 4th Duke of Devonshire, who was briefly Premier in the mid-1750s.
He's interred with other members of the Cavendish clan at Derby Cathedral, but accessing it involved the sort of negotiation which was largely unnecessary Before Coronavirus (BC). My brother and I were passing through the Derbyshire city on a Thursday afternoon, but the cathedral was in the midst of a 'phased reopening' and thus not generally open to visitors. A helpful member of staff, however, suggested I join the lunchtime Eucharist service at 1pm, after which I'd be welcome to see the Devonshire tomb.
In the event, we got stuck in traffic and didn't reach Derby until halfway through the service. Luckily, I was able to sneak in after the Eucharist and, having masked up and had my temperature checked (by a sophisticated contraption which scanned my wrist), was directed towards a corner of the cathedral in which the brass coffin plates of various Cavendishes lined the walls. This seemed a modest memorial of the bodies in a burial vault underneath. My status as a lapsed Presbyterian, meanwhile, was left undisturbed.
William Cavendish was the MP for Derbyshire in the 1740s before becoming the 4th Duke of Devonshire upon the death of his father in 1755. The office of Prime Minister, which marks its tricentenary next year, was still rather loosely defined in the mid-18th century, although most historians consider Devonshire – as First Lord of the Treasury – to have been Premier between November 1756 and May 1757, in an administration effectively run by William Pitt. Devonshire's short-lived government sent some troops to the American colonies and passed a Militia Act, but that's about it.
The 4th Duke's brass coffin plate doesn't mention his Premiership; indeed, that part of the cathedral is dominated by a grand memorial to Bess of Hardwick, who rose from relative obscurity to found the Cavendish dynasty. Better known historically are also other occupants of the burial vault, the 5th Duke of Devonshire, his wife Georgiana and mistress Bess Foster who, unconventionally, were interred together. Georgiana, a society hostess, was played by Keira Knightley in a film a few years ago.
A panel in Derby Cathedral also commemorates the service that Bonnie Prince Charlie and his senior army staff attended in 1745. Have advanced as far south as Derbyshire, they decided against pressing home their advantage and returned to Scotland where they were later heavily defeated at Culloden. There's a largely ignored statue of the Young Pretender behind the cathedral, although his English sojourn is also recorded in other parts of the Peak District.
We stayed for a few days in Hartington, a village named after the courtesy title accorded to the eldest son of the Dukes of Devonshire. One evening we walked up to Hartington Hall, which is now a youth hostel but is said to have hosted Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745. Guests can stay in his (supposed) room, while a story is told of the ghost of a young girl, who he apparently seduced and promised to marry, which wanders its rooms. Close by, in the market place of Ashbourne, the Prince declared his father to be King James III.
The sprawling, preposterous Chatsworth House, built by the aforementioned Bess of Hardwick, was also on our staycation itinerary. Remarkably, the estate is still exclusively owned and inhabited by the Devonshires, who unlike many of their ilk were not compelled to hand over their property to the National Trust or English Heritage (the family is said to be worth £800 million). It too has Scottish connections, although of an earlier vintage than the '45.
One of Bess's husbands was George Talbot, the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, who Queen Elizabeth I appointed custodian of Mary, Queen of Scots, a prisoner at Chatsworth at between 1569 and 1584. Her lodgings were on the east side of the house and, although subsequently refurbished beyond recognition, are still called the 'Queen of Scots Apartments'. Tradition also holds that a 'bower' near the Chatsworth car park was constructed so that the Scottish Queen could exercise while in captivity.
From Derbyshire, it was onto the borderlands between England and Wales and, en route back to London, the cathedral town of Worcester and another former Prime Minister. This too involved negotiation, for the far west end of the Nave was not accessible to visitors in an attempt to cut down on cleaning. However, since I was making a 'special visit', a member of staff gave me access to Stanley Baldwin's memorial. I wasn't even required to be a temporary Anglican.
Unlike the 4th Duke of Devonshire, Baldwin's Premierships were long and noteworthy, although he shared with William a strong local connection. Born to a prosperous Worcestershire family, Baldwin was a county councillor before becoming the MP for Bewdley and Prime Minister in 1923-24, 1924-29 and 1935-37. Following his death in 1947, he and the ashes of his wife Lucy (who predeceased Stanley in 1945) were interred near the cathedral's West Door, beneath a modest memorial topped the Baldwin coat of arms.
To a London-based Scot, Worcester feels like a very English city and indeed Stanley Baldwin cultivated an image of the archetypal Englishman. In fact, he was half-Scottish, of which he made much on campaigning visits to Scotland during the 1920s and 30s. His mother Louisa was descended from Flora Macdonald, who helped Charles Edward Stuart evade government troops following the 1746 Battle of Culloden.