So. I have one post (… and maybe a bit of another post) attempting to rehabilitate the reputation of John, Lord Chatham. The man known to history (if he’s at all remembered) as the “late” Lord Chatham, so called during his lifetime, obviously. I still stand by my assertion that he wasn’t as bad as hindsight claims (most quoted accounts of his laziness come from post-Walcheren accounts, and so almost certainly benefit from 20/20 hindsight).
And then I found this. *sinks head in hands*
(Public Advertiser, 5 October 1791)
I’ve only just discovered the existence of John’s residence at Cheveley— and that’s a big enough mystery as it is, but I won’t go into that here— and, from my searches on the subject, it seems John went off there to hunt for about a month each year over January and February, and for another month over the period of October/November. This certainly fits in with the hunting seasons. But it looks, from my searches, as though he did it EVERY year, REGARDLESS of what was going on.
But to continue: let’s give John the benefit of a doubt. OK, he was going on holiday. Pitt was obviously going on holiday too. I presume John said “Do you mind if I go now?” and William said “Sure, you go— I’ll chair that last Admiralty meeting for you, don’t worry”. Certainly I cannot imagine Pitt letting his brother go without permission, and if he chaired the Admiralty Board I presume John asked him to do so. Still, asking the busy PM to take on extra work …
If only it was a one off…
(Star, 16 October 1792)
Note how the newspaper makes a point of saying John was not there.
And it’s not even a two-off:
(London Packet or New Lloyd’s Evening Post, 6 September 1793)
Let’s not mention all the times I’ve seen John having to be summoned back to town for an emergency cabinet … although, to be fair, John could not necessarily have foreseen all those occasions, and often other cabinet ministers also had to be recalled (and John always turned up within 24 hours so could apparently hot-foot it if required).
I’m not sure what to make of all this. Perhaps my hindsight is also 20/20, given John’s reputation. Still, it seems to me that the diligence of John’s early years at the Admiralty— he seems not to have missed Admiralty Board meetings very often between 1788 and 1791, or at least that’s my impression— did not last more than a few years. I’m sure he still pulled his weight when required, but it looks like the lure of the countryside, and of sport, was occasionally too much for John.
My verdict? The above extracts suggest that John’s reputation for laziness was not undeserved (something I am certainly not trying to contradict). Whether it suggests he was also irresponsible is a different matter. I get the feeling that’s what the papers are trying to establish (particularly the second extract above). I’d say John was definitely doing himself no favours by putting his love of shooting ahead of his duty as a member of the cabinet.
Oh dear, John. *tuts*