Review of ‘Accidents of Fortune’, by Andrew Devonshire

This review is by Julie Bunting, and was published originally in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 20th September 2004, and is reproduced with Julie's kind permission.

by Andrew Devonshire
Published by Michael Russell
ISBN 0-85955-286-1 (2004)

Almost 10 years ago we published a feature on the Duke of Devonshire following an informal interview at Chatsworth, during which the Duke confided that although he had made a tentative start on his autobiography it was 'not too likely to see the light of day'.

The Duke did, in fact, complete the task but how sad that he died just after the text was finalised and never saw the book in print. A keen bibliophile himself, his autobiography could easily have produced a massive volume, but in typically modest style he confined himself to 13 concise chapters quite devoid of self importance. Readers will look in vain for any mention of the Military Cross he won in the Second World War.

Accidents of Fortune is candid, warm, observant, tactful and often funny - musings on British ceremonial raise the wicked thought that 'perhaps we are a nation of suppressed transvestites'.

Andrew Robert Buxton Cavendish never took his silver spoon for granted. He possessed an often brutally self-deprecating style, venturing in his later years that 'poor old dukes are considered more freakish by the day'. Perhaps being referred to by his ducal grandfather as 'the brat' did not help his self image. In his own eyes he had been a dirty, lazy schoolboy who passed into Eton at a level above his ability - though he did enjoy brief status as the school bookmaker, rotten at football, slightly better at boxing (but only because he had very long arms) and anguished by the bugbears of examinations and, increasingly, 'the old enemy' - drink.

That one word heads the shortest chapter in the book, a soul-bearing account of a fight finally won but leaving regrets for the way too much alcohol had affected his manners. And manners were all important to the man who was founder and Patron-in-Chief of the Polite Society.

Political recollections from his time in government are incisive while personal observations are softened by tact. Of brusque old Joe Kennedy, for example: 'I shall restrict myself to saying that he hadn't the charm of his older children'. Foreign travel brings entertaining anecdotes. Instead of pulling rank to hitch a lift on a 'plane following the funeral of Bobby Kennedy, the Duke reinvented himself as a reporter from the Daily Mail. In Australia he was put in his place as an unwelcome 'ducal Pom' and in Malaysia he had to judge a topless beauty competition - taking his time to come to the right decision!

Accidents of Fortune is dedicated to Debo (now Dowager Duchess of Devonshire) and illustrated with 40 mainly informal photographs.

Review by Julie Bunting

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