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John’s later years, Part 2

So yes, despite my radio silence over the past few days I still have quite a lot of stuff to share that came from my foray into the National Archives last week. Time, then, for my Part 2 of the insight I have gleaned into the later years of the second Earl of Chatham, and it doesn’t make for happy reading.

A cursory Google search will inform you that the Pitt family tree pretty much comes to a . with John’s death in 1835. Pitt the Elder’s late marriage to Lady Hester Grenville was a successful and surprisingly fruitful one, given that both parties were somewhat past their best (Pitt was 46, Hester nearly 34): they had five children in quick succession, Hester in 1755, John in 1756, Harriot in 1758, William in 1759 and James Charles in 1761. Unfortunately five children did not guarantee continuance of the family name. Hester and Harriot both had children (… and died having children), but none of the boys managed to pass on their genes. James died aged 19, William of course died a bachelor, and John’s marriage to Mary Townshend produced no live issue.

The Chatham title was granted in 1766 by letters patent (*I think*— I actually need to check this as I am not 100% sure: mention has been made in papers of “Acts of Parliament” but I think that refers to the pension granted to the title for four lives on Pitt the Elder’s death). It was strictly limited to “issue male of the body of William Pitt, Earl of Chatham”, which meant that Hester and Harriot’s fruitfulness was, from a dynastic point of view, useless. Since John outlived all his siblings he was, automatically, the last Earl of Chatham. In the course of my research I often winced at the entries in the volumes of Burke’s and Debrett’s Peerages when I turned to the section entitled “John, Earl of Chatham” and read the line “Heir Apparent – None”. Until now I had only been able to wonder at what John’s feelings might have been had he, too, read his own entry (which he must have done, on occasion). Now I have an inkling, and bloody hell, poor John.

I mentioned in my previous entry that John came close to death in 1830, aged 73. He seems to have been very ill for a long time, and his thoughts naturally turned to posterity. He had heirs in the grandchildren of his sisters, but he seems to have panicked at the prospect of the title becoming extinct. In the Hoare MSS (a kind of add-on to the Chatham Papers) I found a draft of the following letter (in the Earl of Clarendon’s handwriting) to the Duke of Wellington, then Prime Minister (PRO 30/70/4 f. 292):

“Charles St., August [blank] 1830

My dear Duke,

I would have asked the favor of an interview, if I had not thought that I shd give your Grace less trouble in addressing you by letter. I can assure you that it is not without extreme reluctance that I trespass at all upon your valuable time; But I am impelled by motives, for which I trust that no one can be more disposed than yourself to make allowance.

My own infirmities lead me to contemplate the no very distant extinction of my name & family; I may perhaps be allowed to say, considering my Fathers & my Brothers brilliant & important services (without any personal or unworthy feelings) that I do so with regret. Had the fortune of my eldest sister’s son, Mr Taylor [one of the main beneficiaries of his will], been adequate to the honor, I might perhaps have solicited your Grace to forward my respectful request to his Majesty to continue in the family the peerage which was granted to my mother [the Barony of Chatham, conferred on Lady Hester Pitt in lieu of her husband in 1761]; but I must not urge such a request. I confine myself to the object of soliciting some provision for my nephew Major Taylor … He is a most intelligent & pleasing young man, & wd not discredit any employment which you might be good enough to give him …

I will only add how deeply I shall feel any attention which you may have the goodness to shew to this application, & I remain ith the sincerest respect & regard,

My dear Duke,

Most truly & faithfully yours,

C.”

Wellington replied promptly enough, wholeheartedly agreeing to meet with Taylor to size him up for office (PRO 30/70/4 f. 293):

“London August 5th 1830

My dear Lord

I have received your Letter; and I am much concerned to hear of your continued Indisposition.

I am convinced that you will give Credit to the Existence of the anxious desire on my Part to forward any wish of Your’s for the promotion of the Interests of any of your Family.

I beg you to send Major Taylor to me in Downing Street on any day that may be convenient to him; in order that I may converse with him on his Views; and conclude with him the best mode of forwarding them. Believe me My dear Lord with the most sincre respect and Regard Your most faithful Servant

Wellington”

Not a word on the subject of the peerage, something John no doubt spotted because he seems to have dropped the subject for a while.

Interestingly, however, the Earl of Clarendon, who copied out the draft of John’s letter to Wellington, seems to have urged John to try again, this time with the highest authority. At PRO 30/70/4 f 295 d there is a draft of an unsent letter to King William IV in which John embroiders on the theme broached in his letter to Wellington:

“I am the last & almost expiring bearer of a Title, associated with the glory of this country, & of a name, borne by one, whose eminence & whose services, (under most trying circumstances for this country & for all Europe), it does not become me to point out. It is with regret that I feel the honors & the memorial of such services expiring with myself, at the same time that I have, in my niece’s [sic] Son, Mr Taylor, a nephew who wd not discredit any mark of your Majesty’s favor, and whose children will be educated in feelings of loyalty to your Majesty, & in principles worthy of their own descent. I cannot presume to say more. I submit myself to your Majesty’s gracious consideration”.

According to Clarendon (the erstwhile John Charles Villiers, close friend of both Lord Chatham and Pitt the Younger), the idea of petitioning to continue the Barony of Chatham came from him (Clarendon to Taylor, 20 March 1836, PRO 30/70/4 f 295e), although clearly John had already approached Wellington with the suggestion. Clarendon stated that only “Ld Chathams extreme illness” prevented further consideration of the subject. Presumably lack of response to repeated hints also discouraged John enough to let the subject drop. Either way the King does not seem to have become involved. Had he done so, would we still have a Lord Chatham to this day?

In conclusion, poor John, who clearly spent his last years dwelling over his failure to continue the family name, and probably also his failure to live up to the family reputation in general. In his attempt to save the title of Chatham from extinction he failed as well. Poor John indeed.

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