Home to the Dukes of Portland, Welbeck Abbey is a landscaped park with much woodland, and documented as a deer park in 1301 and during the late 16th and early 17th century.
A Religious House for Premonstratensian Canons Founded 1153-4, Roger Deincourt gave to the church of Welbeck, for the sustenance of three canons who were to specially celebrate for himself and his family, all his lands and meadows and right of pasture except the advowson of the church in North Wingfield, Derbyshire. This gift was confirmed by John Deincourt, rector of North Wingfield, Roger's brother. Source: accessed: 18 July 2009
The gardens are documented in 1629 as comprising elaborate water gardens, which were later replaced with formal gardens by Francis Richardson. Alfred Parsons and Walter Partridge worked on the gardens from 1899 to 1905. The park was landscaped during the late 18th century by Francis Richardson with further landscaping by Humphry Repton.
The first Duke of Portland, attained Peerage of Great Britain in 1716. This was William Henry Bentinck (1682-1726), who was already Earl of Portland.
The duke had the first riding school built at Welbeck, by John Smithson.
The dukedom came into the possession of the Cavendish-Bentinck family by marriage.
In 1538, Welbeck was a flourishing seat in the White Canons of the Premonstratensian Order but by February of the next year it had fallen, like all other monastic houses, by order of Henry VIII. In 1584 the estate came into the possession of Gilbert Talbot, later 7th Earl of Shrewsbury, son of the 6th Earl, guardian of Mary Queen of Scots. He was, therefore, a stepson of Bess of Hardwick who arranged his marriage with her own daughter Mary Cavendish.
Through Bess's manipulations, Welbeck came into the hands of her third son Sir Charles Cavendish who settled there with his wife Catherine, daughter and heiress of Cuthbert Lord Ogle. The barony of Ogle and Welbeck Abbey were eventually inherited by the son of Sir Charles and Catherine. He was William Cavendish, a dedicated royalist, a skilled horseman and authority on equitation. He was showered with titles, including the Dukedom of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and was known as 'The Loyal Duke of Newcastle'. He entertained James I and Charles I both at Welbeck and his other seat, Bolsover Castle.
After the Civil War the Duke went to Holland and established a riding school in Antwerp. There he also published the first of his famous treatises on horses 'Nouvelle Methode de Dresser les Chevaux' in 1658. He returned home after the Restoration and retired to Welbeck to carry on training horses.
His son, the 2nd Duke, left a daughter, Lady Margaret Cavendish, who married John Holles, Earl of Clare. The dukedom became extinct but was recreated in John Holles' favour three years after his father-in-laws death. This dukedom also was short lived. When John Holles died, he, too, left an only daughter, Lady Henrietta Cavendish-Holles, who inherited Welbeck. The dukedom of Newcastle again became extinct, and although recreated later, it was no longer associated with Welbeck.
Lady Henrietta, a desirable heiress, married Edward Harley 2nd Earl of Oxford, the son of one of Queen Anne's most prominent Tory statesmen and collector of the famous Harleian Manuscripts in the British Museum.
Henrietta, Countess of Oxford, restored the old house of Sir Charles Cavendish and the west or Oxford wing is named after her. Once again there was no male heir, and on the death of Oxford in 1741 Welbeck once again became the inheritance of a woman. This was Lady Margaret Cavendish-Holles-Harley who brought Welbeck into the family of the present owners by marrying William Bentinck, 2nd Duke of Portland.
The Bentincks were a noble Dutch family descended from Hans Wilhelm Bentinck, Groom of the Bedchamber to William of Orange who created him Viscount Woodstock and Earl of Portland.
The 3rd Duke of Portland, William Henry Cavendish Bentinck, Marquess of Titchfield, Earl of Portland, Viscount Woodstock, Baron of Cirencester. (April 14, 1738-October 30, 1809) was the most famous, as statesman and Prime Minister, he inherited Welbeck from his mother, became Prime Minister twice in the reign of George III and Viceroy of Ireland. He married Lady Dorothy Cavendish, a daughter of the 4th Duke of Devonshire and herself also a descendant of Bess of Hardwick.
As representative of the junior branch of the Cavendish family through his great great great grandmother, the Duke assumed the name Cavendish-Bentinck, which has since been the full surname of most of his descendants.
With the 5th Duke, we come to one of the great enigmas of Victorian England. Lord William John Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck was born in 1800, a younger son of the 4th Duke. At the age of 21 he found himself heir when his brother, Lord Titchfield, died suddenly. He was thwarted in love by the celebrated Covent Garden singer Adelaide Kemble, and never married.
There were no early signs of eccentricity, and for a while he was M.P. for Kings Lynn but many rumours grew up in his lifetime because of his solitary habits. He shunned the company of his equals, became completely out of touch with the world around him (though not of world events) and well into the century wore clothes which had been fashionable in the previous reign. (See also The Eccentric Duke and his Underground Tunnels)
Memories of old servants record a kind and considerate man, handsome and taciturn. Although a recluse, he still managed to take an interest in international affairs and gave £4000 to help Turkish hospitals in the Russo-Turkish war of 1877. In the 1850s he had sent out a whole shipload of food and beer for the British troops in the Crimea.
Like his ancestor, the 1st Duke of Newcastle, Portland loved horses and outdid the Cavalier Duke by building a riding school second only in size to the Spanish Riding School in Vienna and dwarfing the earlier riding school at Welbeck built by Newcastle.
He camped out in four or five rooms of the Abbey during the never-ending building operations and when the 6th Duke succeeded, he had to pick his way across planks to get to the inner rooms as there was no floor.
In December 1879 the 5th Duke died in his London home, Harcourt House. Later a celebrated lawsuit waged for some years in which a person named Druce claimed to be the Duke's legitimate son by his wife, a woman of low birth, whom he had secretly married under the name of Druce and in that name had run a bazaar in Baker Street. It was a cause celebre over a bogus claim almost as notorious as the Tichborne case a decade before.
The 5th Duke's brother, Lord George Bentinck, was not only a distinguished politician but also one of the most important figures in the history of 19th century racing. Apart from the task of cleaning up corruption in the Aegean stables of English racing of that time, Lord George's other achievement was to get his friend Disraeli into the upper hierarchy of Parliament by persuading his father the 4th Duke to put up a loan to purchase the estate of Hughenden for the young politician thus qualifying him as a 'landed Proprietor' to lead the Protectionist Party in the Commons and this led ultimately to the premiership. 'Dizzy' christened his benefactor 'Lord Paramount of the Turf'.
Lord George has himself led the Protectionist Party in the Commons for a time and during this brief period was a potential Prime Minister. While still in his 40s Lord George dropped dead while walking from Welbeck to Thoresby.
The late Duke raised a monument to him near the spot with a fitting inscription by Disraeli who had written Lord George's biography. It reads:
'To the memory of Lord George Bentinck, M.P. for King's Lynn, third son of the fourth Duke of Portland who died suddenly near this spot on the 24th September, 1848 in his 48th year. This monument is raised by his kinsman William Arthur sixth Duke of Portland K.G., A.D. 1912'.
Then follows a quotation from Disraeli:
'Born a natural leader of the people he was equal to the post free from prejudices, his large mind sympathised with all classes of the realm, his courage and his constancy were never surpassed by man. He valued life only as a means of fulfilling duty'.
The Duke of Newcastle, his neighbour at Clumber, wrote in his diary of Lord George that he was 'The only honest, fearless and unconquerable politician in public life whose career has been like a meteor, full of fire and transcending brightness and like fire, purifying all it touched…he was a patriot in public life and a real friend in private life'.
Another son of the 4th Duke was Lord Henry Bentinck, a hunting man and an authority on hound breeding.
When the 6th Duke succeeded, Welbeck entered the most exciting era of its history. From being the stark home of a strange recluse, it suddenly became one of the great social centres of England. The Duke and his Duchess entertained constantly for fifty years. Many kings, queens, heads of state and distinguished people from all over the world visited Welbeck during this period and the Duke recorded it all in one of the most entertaining books of memoirs of all time - Men, Women and Things.
The 6th Duke was, like his kinsman Lord George, a prominent racing man. He won the Derby twice and one of his thoroughbreds, St. Simon, sired numerous champions.
The Duke's successes brought him considerable amounts of money, much of which he spent on charitable objects. The Duchess did much good work for hospitals and the disabled and the Duke built almshouses at Welbeck called appropriately 'The Winnings'.
The Duke's half sister, Ottoline Bentinck, was raised to the rank of a duke's daughter and was better known as Lady Ottoline Morrell. She was a leading light in the Bloomsbury set and her home, Garsington Manor, near Oxford, was a hothouse of writers and artists, including people like Bertrand Russell, from 1915 to 1927. Her diaries and a biography were published.
The Duke himself died in 1943 and was succeeded by his elder son the 7th Duke of Portland who died in 1977. His successors, the 8th and 9th Dukes descended from the 2nd Duke. There was no heir to the Dukedom but Count Bentinck was heir to the Earldom of Portland.
Lady Anne Bentinck, eldest daughter of the 7th Duke of Portland, died at Welbeck on the 29th December 2008, aged 92. Lady Anne never married and is survived by her younger sister's son William Parente, his wife Alison and their children.
From 1951 until 2005, part of Welbeck Abbey was used by the British Army. Art Cockerill tells me that he remembers his stay at Welbeck in 1951 following his return from the Middle East and preparatory to resigning his commission. He comments "Welbeck was an army training and re-orientation centre for commissioned ranks leaving the army, it was a strange and almost weird experience after thirteen years of military life. The centre provided commissioned ranks with short tutorial courses in the humanities to prepare them for civvy street. Most took accounting, business administration etc. I was alone in choosing English Literature, so I got the sole attention of a Cambridge Don for two hours a day, and the full-time use of his massive library while he worked on his magnus opus. That, I suppose, was the seed that led me to writing in addition to engineering".
It is recorded that from 1953, Welbeck College was a sixth form boarding school for boys providing an education for A-Level candidates who planned on joining the technical branches of the British Army. who, after completing Welbeck would join either the Royal Engineers, the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, the Royal Artillery, the Royal Signals or the Royal Army Ordnance Corps.
The sunken ballroom, which at one time had 17 chandeliers in the ceiling, was turned into a gymnasium for the College. The college relocated in July, 2005 to Loughborough.
The sunken ballroom which lies under the lake taken in 1951
Welbeck Abbey in 1951
The Harley Gallery & Museum, May, 2009