The Second Earl of Chatham may be virtually invisible in the history books, but he appeared more or less frequently in the newspapers of the day. Clearly his activities—dull and pedestrian as they often were (“Lord Chatham has gone to his estates/to take the waters/visit a friend/gone hunting” etc etc etc)— were of interest to some. Here are two little snippets that are somewhat illuminating:
I’m afraid I can’t remember where this little snippet comes from (might have been the Morning Chronicle for June 1779), but it’s interesting to note that, before William Pitt became known as a politician (in 1779 he was just beginning his law studies), John was expected to continue the family tradition in Westminster. John’s primary career (as the above extract suggests) was military rather than political; I have not seen any evidence that he had much interest in political affairs prior to becoming First Lord of the Admiralty under his brother in July 1788. And on that note:
(from The World, 15 July 1788)
A slightly ironic one this, as “punctual” is not a word one sees associated with the Second Earl of Chatham very often. A positive and indeed rather defensive paragraph— obviously someone thought it necessary to defend Pitt’s choice of his brother to replace Lord Howe at the Admiralty. Particularly, as I said, because until then John had shown no sign that I can see of being interested in politics, at least not in a participatory manner. I will give a medal to anyone who can find an instance of his speaking in Parliament, either before or after he took office.
On the other hand I am more than willing to concede “diligent”, at least insofar as he genuinely seems to have cared about business. Chatham attended most cabinet meetings, was a regular attendee at Court functions and levees, and the gazette of his movements in the papers is full of accounts of him attending Admiralty Board meetings, acting on committees and participating in general House of Lords business. He may have been silent but he wasn’t invisible.
Perhaps if he hadn’t been Pitt’s brother his reputation would have been better? But then he would almost certainly not have reached high office in the first place. And I would not be discussing him here.