William Cavendish

William Cavendish was born in Paris, France in 1790. His father was the 5th Duke of Devonshire and his mother was a daughter of the 1st Earl of Spencer (the line of Spencer’s that Princess Diana came from). At age 21, he became the 6th Duke of Devonshire after both parents had passed away.

Upon his ascension to dukedom, he inherited 8 mansions and 200,000 acres of land. With such a privileged background, one would normally assume that William led a life devoted to the protection of the noble class. But that was not the case.

He was a strong supporter of the abolition of slavery. He believed that those who worked in factories should have their hours reduced.

In addition to his progressive political views, he held a number of important positions in the British government. He was a member of the Order of the Garter, the most senior category of knighthood. He was also an advisor to the King of England through his membership in the Privy Counsel.

His loss of hearing at an early age and the resultant reluctance to participate in public life ironically have led to his importance in our society today. He was devoted to horticulture and created the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. The Kew Gardens house the largest and most diverse botanical collections in the world.

William Cavendish acquired an early specimen of a banana which he raised in his glasshouse. That banana then became the progenitor of the banana sold in stores around the world. While there are many varieties of bananas, the Cavendish banana is the one that is universally available in grocery stores today. Over 100 billion bananas are consumed each year. The Cavendish banana is now threatened.

A fungal disease is threatening the Cavendish banana. Genetic modifications are being attempted to fight the fungus. Scientists have about a decade to find a solution. Others are promoting other varieties of bananas like we see with apples. One wonders what the 6th Duke of Devonshire would do.

William Cavendish never married so we might think of the Cavendish banana as his heir.

Hidden heroes are often little recognized in their lifetimes. For William, his banana became the way we know of him today. But that may not have been the case if another banana variety had not been eliminated by the 1950’s.

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“Life is full of banana skins. You slip, you carry on.” – Daphne Guinness  

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