I’ve long known that one of the second Earl of Chatham’s closest friends was Charles Manners, 4th Duke of Rutland (1754-1787). John seems to have made a habit of befriending Lords Lieutenant of Ireland: along with Rutland, who was in Ireland 1784-7, John was also close to Lord Westmorland (1789-94) and Lord Camden (1795-8). Rutland, however, seems to have been an especially close friend. Rutland was close to both Pitt brothers, but I definitely get the impression that John was the one Rutland felt closest to.
(The Duke of Rutland, from here)
Politically and personally, Rutland was strongly drawn to the Pitt family. His father, Lord Granby, had aligned himself with the Earl of Chatham and, although Rutland entered Parliament under the auspices of the Marquis of Rockingham, Rutland’s political position seems to have placed him quite firmly in the Chathamite camp. I am not sure how he initially came into contact with the Pitt brothers— perhaps he met William at Cambridge, but then again he and John might have met first in the salons and clubs of London.
However they met, by 1778 John and Rutland had hit it off big time. John spent a lot of time visiting Belvoir and Cheveley, Rutland’s country estates, and when he was sent abroad in 1778 Rutland (then still Marquis of Granby) sent him the following letter, dated 8 December (PRO 30/8/368 f 231):
“My dear Friend, I wrote you a Letter from Liverpool dated Oct 6th, but not choosing that it should be quite so publick as if it was stuck up at Charing Cross or Published in ye Morning Post which it probably would have been had it passed thro’ ye Channel of ye Post Office, I sent it to Mr Thoroton [?] desiring that he would find out some safe Conveyance [to Gibraltar, where John then was]: but none offering, I rather choose to run any risk than be deemed deficient in any one Point of Friendship or attention to a man for whom I profess & most sincerely do feel so much”.
John returned to England in the late spring of 1779, at which point Rutland had succeeded to the Dukedom. The two men decided to take their seats for the first time in the House of Lords on the same occasion, and I have reason to believe John spent nearly all his time in England staying either with the Duke in London or at Belvoir Castle. In the autumn of that year Rutland raised a new regiment of foot (the 86th) and gave John a captaincy in it. Unfortunately the minute the regiment was raised it was sent abroad to the West Indies. In January of 1780, shortly after John had left with his regiment, Rutland wrote the following (PRO 30/8/368, f 233):
“My dearest Friend, I am most miserable in the thoughts of not seeing you once again previously to your departure … Lord Amherst has consented to call the Regiment after my name, & has written to me a Polite Letter on the Occasion; as if all the disappointments which I have experienced in raising the Battallion [sic] were to be Entirely Cancelled & obliterated by the single act of Empty Civility.
But now my dear Lord, give me Leave to thank you in the Sincerest Manner for the Great Honor you have done me in trusting me with your Proxy [vote in the House of Lords]. Such an unequivocal testimony such a Publick distinguished Demonstration of Confidence from one whose Good Opinion & Friendship is the Pride & Pleasure of my Life is a Circumstance too affecting, for me to be able to Express the Satisfaction I feel upon it in terms adequate to my Sensations.
I will trouble you no longer but to offer to you every wish that Sincere Friendship can possibly suggest. … Believe me my Ever dear Friend to be unalterably yours, Rutland.”
Over the next few years the friendship seems to have taken root and flourished. From perusing the HMC Manuscripts of the Duke of Rutland, it looks like John was a (not always very effective) point of contact for guidance for the Duke of Rutland’s MPs in the House of Commons while Rutland was away in Ireland. The Rutland MSS are full of references to John and the occasional letter from him (John, it seems, was not always the best of correspondents). That didn’t stop Rutland from writing the following, quite astoundingly familiar letter of February 1785 (PRO 30/70/3 f 145):
“I am of Lord Lansdown’s mind in regard to Polliticks [sic], preferring Planting & retirement, I confess I begin to grow ennui’d; My Habits lead me to Indolence & to live [?] & [?] & I would rather be at Belvoir breaking my neck all morning, & Bottles & Glasses all ye Evening than Disposing of Bishopricks Peerages &c, However Pleasant Power & Patronage most certainly is. But yet the Little Ambition I have in my Composition & the great attachment which I bear to yourself & your family bind me to my present Situation[.] As long as I can render Service to our Country & Strengthen your Brother’s able and Honorable Government I shall never desert you. & by the Strict Union which subsists between us we shall ever mutually assist each other. God Bless you my dear Friend & love you as much as I do. I am ever unalterably yours, Rutland”.
John had planned to visit Rutland in Ireland in the summers of 1784 and 1785, but on both occasions had to put off his plans due to the bad health of his wife. He eventually managed, alone, in the summer of 1786, and spent three weeks in Dublin. It was not a wholly successful visit— political relations between Dublin and Westminster had been fraught since the Irish Commercial Propositions had failed in 1785, and the newspapers were agog with the possibilities offered by the Minister’s brother making a personal visit to the Lord Lieutenant— but it was the last time John and Rutland were to meet. Rutland died on 24 October 1787 of a disease of the liver, probably due to the “Bottles & Glasses all ye Evening” he had confessed to prefer to the ins and outs of political life. In a final testimony to friendship Rutland made provision in his will for John and William to become joint guardians to his children.
Thus passed a great friendship. John maintained ties to the Rutland family long after the Duke died; he remained good friends with the Dowager Duchess, rented the Duke’s hunting lodge of Cheveley (more on this later) for ten years from 1787 to 1797, and continued to visit the Rutland children at Belvoir on a reasonably regular basis. As late as 1825 (7 November, the Times) he was to be found hunting with the Duke of Rutland on his estates.
I must say that until yesterday I was not fully aware of the extent to which John and Rutland were good friends. “Ever unalterably yours” indeed: I can truly say I have never seen anyone else signing off to John in such a manner.