This is the second edition of my five-part series on the great 18th century racehorse Flying Childers. The first part can be found here.
Flying Childers, son of the famous Darley Arabian and out of Betty Leedes, was born in 1714 as the property of his breeder, Colonel Leonard Childers of Cantley Hall in Doncaster. Childers’ Betty Leedes was one of a select few outside mares who were covered by the Darley Arabian, and was said to have cost her owner only seven pounds. Most sources have the colt’s name at birth as simply “Childers;” The life and correspondence of the Right Hon. Hugh C. E. Childers by Edmund Spencer Eardley Childers describes the horse as “Bay Childers.”
Col. Childers, born in 1673, was a great-grandson of Hugh Childers, mayor of Doncaster who built nearby Carr House in 1604. While there is not a lot of information on Childers, there is a wealth of facts to be found about the man who purchased his future champion.
William Cavendish, 2nd Duke of Devonshire, was born in either 1672 or 1673 (sources vary). His father, the 1st Duke of Devonshire, was described as “a willful, flamboyant man who defied and created kings. . .picked quarrels at the drop of a hat” in Cavendish by Christa Jungnickel and Russell McCormmach. It was the 1st Duke who rebuilt the grand Chatsworth House, one of the finest estates in England and a popular tourist attraction today. In contrast, his son is remembered as quite level-headed and well-mannered.
He was married quite young, just 16, to 14-year-old Rachel Russell, daughter of Baron Russell, who was executed for treason on July 21, 1683. He embarked on a political career when he came of age and was elected to Parliament, representing Derbyshire, in 1695. Cavendish – known before his father’s death as the Marquess of Hartington – was a Whig, the political party that supported William and Mary’s ascension to the throne in 1689 and opposed the Catholic House of Stuart. Whigs looked down on absolute rule and were all in favor of an orderly constitutional monarchy.
Hartington was a dedicated member of Parliament and was quite opinionated, “acting often independently from party.” He served for Derbyshire until 1702, when he would represent Yorkshire upon Queen Anne’s succession and the new general elections.
On August 18, 1707, his father died, and Hartington became the 2nd Duke of Devonshire – the 1st Duke’s shoes would certainly be big ones to fill, indeed. He left his seat in the House of Commons to take his father’s place in the House of Lords, and found a place in Queen Anne’s court as a political advisor. He served as Lord President of the Privy Council on two occasions, including a four year period that ended with his death in 1729.
The Duke and Duchess of Devonshire had many children, most of whom survived to adulthood. There was the eldest son, William, who would succeed his father as the 3rd Duke of Devonshire, and Lord Charles, the father of Henry Cavendish, a famous chemist who recognized hydrogen as an element in a 1783 paper (he called it “inflammable air”). The 4th Duke of Devonshire, the 2nd Duke’s grandson, performed the duties of Prime Minister from 1756 to 1757.
But for all he did for British politics, his name is best known in Thoroughbred circles for not himself, but his outstanding horse. It is not known exactly when the Duke purchased the Childers colt, nor the price he paid, though one can imagine it must have been steep for such a well-bred youngster.
Then again, what horse could be too expensive for the master of Chatsworth?
The Darley Arabian never raced. Instead, he cemented his name in history by letting his sons and daughters do the running for him. On April 26, 1721, English racegoers would get their very first glimpse at the Duke of Devonshire’s Childers. There and then, they would see what the bay stallion was capable of.