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Spencer Compton – Westminster Walks

Monday, June 8th, 2009

On our Westminster London walks we take in the Banqueting House, all that survives of Whitehall Palace. It was outside this building that Charles 1st was beheaded on a bitterly cold January morning in 1649.

However, in the middle of the road that runs alongside the Banqueting House there stands a statue to Spencer Compton,  8th Duke of Devonshire, whose story we love telling people who join us on our London walks in this fascinating area.

An able politician, Spencer Compton was Known as Lord Hartington in Politics, although he was also nicknamed Harty Tarty.

During his maiden speech to the House of Lords he yawned. He went on to become known as the man who yawned at his own speeches. With commendable self awareness, however, he did point out in his own defence “some of them were damned dull.”

He is said to be the only peer who dreamt he was addressing the House and woke up to find he was doing just that!

Once when a speaker in House of Lords was expounding on his own political achievements Hartington turned to his neighbour and said loudly “The proudest moment of my life was when my pig won first prize and Skipton Fair.”

However he was an able statesman and politician.

He became an M.P in 1857, was made Under- Secretary for War in 1863,Postmaster general 1868-70, and Chief Secretary of State for Ireland 1870

He was Leader of Liberal Party 1875 -80 and was offered the Premiership by Queen Victoria but declined it.

He was Secretary of State for India and resolved the Afghan crisis 1880-2.

After that he was twice more offered the Premiership but declined it on both occasions.

When we stop alongside his statue on our Westminster London walks people often notice the serpent on its plinth and ask what it is. It is in fact the crest of the Cavendish family, Dukes of Devonshire and is known as “The Cavendish Serpent.”