Who was Lucy Cavendish?
'Sat June 7th. 1862. Set off for Cambridge with Papa at 10 1/4 (from London) came to Magdalene Lodge, finding it empty, we ate a (congealed) luncheon, and then set off for Charles' rooms, where he was not, then all about the lovely Backs. Visited the Provost of King's and went to the service at King's Chapel, where the organ was glorious and there was one of the best trebles I have ever heard. We dined with the Latimers at Trinity, meeting Sir E and Ly. Head, D. and Dss. of Argyll, Ly. L Cavendish, Ld. Bristol and Ld Jittervey etc. Singing in the evening. Home by11 1/2.
Lucy Caroline Lyttelton was born on 5th September 1841. She was the second daughter of George William, 4th Lord Lyttelton, and his first wife, Mary, nee Glynne. Her mother was the younger sister of Gladstone's wife, Catherine, referred to by Lucy as Aunty "Pussy". Lucy was one of a family of twelve children; eight sons and four daughters, besides the three more daughters of Lord Lyttelton's second marriage. She was brought up with her brothers and sisters on the Lyttelton estate at Hagley, Stourbridge, Worcestershire. Lucy was educated at home under a series of more or less competent governesses.
In 1863 she became Maid of Honour to Queen Victoria. Her Lyttelton grandmother,' Sarah Spencer, Lady Lyttelton, had been held in high regard by the Queen and Prince Albert when she had been in charge of the Royal Schoolrooms at Court between 1842 and 1850. In April 1864 Lucy became engaged to Lord Frederick Cavendish, the second son of the seventh Duke of Devonshire and the younger brother of Lord Hartington. They were married in Westminster Abbey on June 7th 1864. She and her husband were distantly related (they were third cousins) and were quite opposites in character. Lucy was chatty and talkative on all subjects, both serious and frivolous: Frederick seldom talked at all, and never on religious topics. Lucy had always been interested in the Church -indeed someone once remarked 'Church is Lucy's Public House, and it is impossible to keep her out of it'. She managed· to persuade Lord Frederick to accompany her to church often, even on weekdays, but she did not manage to prevent him voting in parliament for measures such as the Burials Bill and the Bill allowing marriage with a deceased wife's sister, which she found abhorrent. She always stood in awe of the Duke of Devonshire, and of her even more alarming brother-in-law, Lord Hartington.
The second visit to Cambridge which Lucy recorded in her diaries took place in March 1877 when she came with her husband, Lord Frederick, who himself had been educated at Trinity College, to see her youngest brother, Alfred:
'Cambridge Sunday March 18th. 1877. Walked about with F. afterwards and ended at Alfred's rooms for luncheon. …. He and we thence to St. Mary's where F and I had to stand all through a gorgeous rhetorical sermon by Dr. Farrar in aid of schools: there was not much in it, however, but what there was was good. A mighty mass of undergraduates. He caused a good deal of stir last Sunday by a great onslaught on drink. After this we went straightway to Newnham Coll. where they left me and I had a delightful troll with the nice old Principal (Miss Clough) and sight of the girls' rooms. It seems doing admirably, and the tone of the girls feminine and unaffected.
'They attend lectures in Cambridge and hear some in their College. Some go in for the whole University course, but the most part are content with the Higher Local Examination... F and Alfred returned for me, and were shown over the college, bedrooms and all by one of the students, to their great amusement; but Alfred looked so academic in his cap and gown that it seemed quite the right thing. There seems to be all proper care and chaperonage, and regular hours, but no stupid primness or unnecessary constraint. Went round by the Backs to call on Nora Sidgwick: then paid a visit to Mrs. Thompson~ The Master came up and was most kind and cordial; delighted us by saying that he would have given the Hulsean Essay Prize to Arthur, who was so nearly successful as to be printed full length as "proxime accessit" or whatever the sayin' is. Likewise the Master said that he greatly regretted Arthur's not getting the Fellowship, for which he was better suited, in every respect but pure learning, than the man who got it. Oh, how my mind turned at once to darling daddy, it seemed as if I must tell him.'
She stayed in Oxford with her sister Lavinia in early November 1879. Lavinia was married to Edward Talbot, the Warden of Keble College:
"Lavinia took me to see Ly. Margaret Hall (I wish it didn't sound like a lady who has made a dowdy marriage), which is full already, and will flourish finely when once they have paid off the debt on the house and the starting expenses. Miss Wordsworth is delightful. We also called at "Somerville Hall", which is the same thing, only colourless in religion, but the Head, Miss Lefevre (one of the daughters of old Sir John, who is lately dead), was out. Likewise visited Miss Bishop, late of Chelsea High School, now at the High School here; and Lavinia so took to her that she there and then nearly settled to send little May there some day. "
In May 1882 Lord Frederick was appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland and he left straight away to take up his new post; Lucy was to follow him when appropriate arrangements had been made. He had only been sworn in for a few hours when he and the Under Secretary, Mr Thomas Burke, were assassinated; stabbed to death by four men of the 'Invincibles' whilst walking home from Dublin Castle through Phoenix Park. When Lucy saw Gladstone at midnight on that fateful 6th of May, she greeted him by saying quietly 'You did right to send him to Ireland'. In the House of Commons Gladstone announced: 'The hand of the assassin has come nearer home; and though I feel it difficult to say a word, yet I must say that one of the very noblest hearts in England has ceased to beat, and has ceased at that very moment when it was just devoted to the service of Ireland, full of love for that country, full of hope for her future, full of capacity to render her service'.
Lord Frederick's funeral took place at Edensor, near Chatsworth, on May 11th, and it was attended by the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the House of Commons and more than 300 MPs. Crowds of spectators, all dressed in black and numbering over 30,000, had also assembled to pay their last respects. After a simple service he was buried in a grave lined with primroses and forget-me-nots, surrounded by his grieving relations, his father, his widow and his brothers.
Shortly afterwards Lucy wrote to Lord Spencer, the Viceroy in Dublin: 'I should be very glad if there could be any means of letting it be known in Ireland, so as to have some good effect, that I would never grudge the sacrifice of my darling's life if only it leads to the putting down of the frightful spirit of evil in that land. He would never have grudged it if he could have hoped that his death would do more than his life. There does seem to be some sort of hope in this and you are doing all you can to keep down that dreadful danger of panic and blind vengeance'. Mr Gladstone wrote to Lord Ripon in India (June 1st): 'The black act brought indeed a great personal grief to my wife and me; but we are bound to merge our sorrow in the larger and deeper affliction of the widow and the father, in the sense of public loss of a life so valuable to the nation, and the consideration of the great and varied effects it may have on immediate and vital interests'.
After the trial of the four 'Invincibles', in February 1883, Joe Brady was found guilty of the murder of Lord Frederick. Lucy Cavendish sent him a letter of forgiveness and an ivory crucifix whilst he was in prison awaiting execution. (Afterwards his widow complained that the hangman had stolen the crucifix.)
In the summer of 1884 Lucy Cavendish was approached about the possibility of becoming the Mistress of Girton College, Cambridge. It was obviously an idea much talked of in her family circle: Lavinia Talbot wrote to Mary Gladstone:
'She does not entertain the idea for an instant... I should say she would not be specially qualified for any of the main demands on a lady Principal … one may say why do these competent women think of her, if she is not qualified; but they have, so she says, seen her only on committees where she shines, and know of her as a beautiful, saintly character... She thought it ludicrously out of the question from the outset (She disapproves for one thing of the Girton system much prefers Newnham).'
She herself also wrote to Mary Gladstone from Bolton Abbey, Skipton (July 9th 1884) :
'I cannot see why, because my sorrow came upon me in that tremendous way, I should conclude that I am called to be dragged up prominent mountain tops. Dear Freddy would wish me rather to be useful in quiet, natural ways'.
Although she declined to be Mistress of Girton, she maintained a keen interest in education - especially in the education of women. One entry in her diary reads:
“Holker, Thurs. September 27th-October3rd, 1875. We went to Bradford, where I had to declare a Girls' Day Grammar-School open; the 1st of the sort, inasmuch as it has an endowment of £200 clawed from boys' education by the Endowed Sch. Commn. It has made a famous start, with over 160 pupils"
For twenty-seven years from 1885-1912 Lucy Cavendish was President of the Yorkshire Ladles Council of Education. In an address to the Council in 1884 she commended to them the history of the Girls' Public Day School Company, observing that "perhaps the most far-reaching result of all had been the recognition of the fact that girls' brains differed little in degree from those of boys and that their health gained rather than lost by plenty of regular hard work". Her brother-in-law, the Duke of Devonshire, was for some time the Minister of Education and she often made her strongly held views known to him. In 1894 she became a member of the Royal Commission on Secondary Education. Her father was a founder member of the Girls' Public Day School Trust and handed this position on to Lucy. Apart from attending meetings of the Trust she did a good deal of speaking on their behalf and took part in numerous school speech days and prizegivings.
In October 1904 her work in the field of education was marked by the conferment on her of the first Honorary Degree (LLD honoris causa) bestowed by the University of Leeds. The citation read: 'The first degree conferred in this university could have no more appropriate recipient than Lady Frederick Cavendish, who bears a name held in affectionate remembrance among us... We are glad of an opportunity of recognising the valuable assistance which Lady Frederick has personally rendered to Education as the indefatigable President of the Yorkshire Ladies Council of Education, which has with signal success promoted the training of women in many Departments of useful work'.
She died on April 22nd 1925, just two hours after her elder sister, Meriel Talbot, "and was buried in her husband's grave at Edensor near Chatsworth three days later. It was a quiet family funeral with her coffin draped in grey velvet and bearing a brass plate inscribed 'Lucy Caroline Cavendish, born September 1841, died April 1925'.
When the new college for women was taking shape in Cambridge in the early 1960s the question of its name was much discussed. The Founding Fellows settled on the name Lucy Cavendish College to commemorate the quiet, persistent, pioneering work which the aunt and godmother of the mother of one of their number (Margaret Masterman Braithwaite) had undertaken to promote the cause of women's education.