The death and funeral of John, 2nd Earl of Chatham, September-October 1835

In the evening of 3 October 1835 George Bentinck, a relative of the Duke of Portland, wrote to his mother from Westminster Abbey. The weather, he complained, “has been far from good here. It has rained every day, [and] it was very lucky I brought my umbrella”. Appended to this fascinating catalogue of adventures was a piece of news: “Lord Chatham was buried here in the Abbey to day[.] [T]here was a very great funeral and the King sent his carriage[.] [H]e is buried in the North Transept between Lord Mansfield and Mr Pitt.” (Portland MSS, Nottingham University Archives, PwM 205)

R. Ackermann, North Transept of Westminster Abbey (1809), from http://www.motco.com/index-london/imageone-a.asp?Picno=9902095

R. Ackermann, North Transept of Westminster Abbey (1809), from http://www.motco.com/index-london/imageone-a.asp?Picno=9902095

In September 1835 John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham was approaching his 79th birthday. He was the last remaining member of the Pitt family, and certainly one of the longest-lived (his mother got to 82 but neither his father nor his siblings even came close). In the summer of 1834 he had had a paralytic stroke but it seems made a reasonably full recovery. He was planning to spend the autumn, winter and spring in Brighton, as he had done nearly every year since returning from Gibraltar, and the newspapers reported in mid-September that his house was ready to receive him there.

John never made it. I’m not quite sure what happened to him exactly, but I would guess he suffered another, fatal stroke in the early hours of the morning of 24 September. His heirs, his great nephews William Stanhope Taylor and John Henry Pringle, were swiftly notified. One of the first things they had to do (apart from sort out the legal implications of John’s having completely forgotten Taylor’s name and got it wrong in his will) was to sort out John’s funeral.

John had not only been an Earl; he had also been a Knight of the Garter. As such, his rank entitled him to a grand funeral in the family vault in the north transept of Westminster Abbey. One day I will have to contact the Office of Heralds to see if they have any records on the subject, but according to precedent his funeral would have been held under the auspices of Garter King of Arms, who would have prescribed the precise order of the ceremony and also what sort of heraldic devices could be used.

The heraldic precedent for an earl’s funeral was that of the Earl of Derby in 1574. Reading over the account of the ceremony, I’m guessing John’s could theoretically have been as impressive as his heirs wanted it to be. John in life had always been very proud of his status and of his knighthood: he would, no doubt, have wanted the whole hog with the black velvet pall embroidered in escutcheons, the helmet (silver with five gold bars for an earl), crest, sword and target (crested shield), the great banner (the crest of the deceased), and the bannerolls (a square crest particularly designed for use in funerals).

Presumably he got at least some of these things, and the attendance of Garter King of Arms himself to preside. The fee to the Office of Heraldry for using all the heraldic devices required in an Earl’s funeral was £35, a not inconsiderable sum, but John’s heirs had to stump up a fair amount otherwise, as the bill for the funeral in the National Archives makes clear (PRO 30/8/370 f 152).

The bill was issued by Thomas Dowbiggin & Co (a company that made furniture for high society, with an undertaking business on the side) on 24 September 1835, so presumably Taylor and Pringle wasted no time in getting down to business. While John was not going to be buried in the same lavish fashion as his father and brother, who both received public funerals, he would be laid to rest in fine style.

The arrangements for the coffin alone were as follows:

A strong elm Coffin lined, and ruffled with rich White Satin – £7 7s 0d

A rich satin Winding Sheet – £4 18s 6d

A rich thick tufted Mattress and pillow – £2 12s 6d

A pair of silk gloves – £0 4s 0d

A strong outside leaden coffin soldered all round – £7 17s 6d

A Metal Plate of Inscription soldered on ditto – £0 7s 0d

Putting John into the coffin and soldering it closed cost just over a pound in total. Once he was in, the coffin was encased in another elm case, this time covered in crimson velvet attached with three rows of brass nails. Four pairs of “solid brass Handles with Octagon Rests” were attached to the side, and the whole was studded with “brass Coronets .., [and] Star to the order of the garter all richly gilt and burnished” [GARTER BLING!]. The decoration alone cost nearly thirty pounds. Unsurprisingly, it cost 15s just to carry the coffin downstairs.

Once the coffin was sorted, the accoutrements now had to be sorted out. At the head of the procession was a “Male Horse” (nice and specific there), covered in a velvet caparison and dressed with black ostrich feathers, and led by two grooms. John’s executors hired a velvet pall for 10s 6d, as well as more ostrich feathers (and a man to carry them, supported by two men in mourning with wands). The hearse was drawn by six horses, all also covered in velvet and ostrich feathers and attended by ten men in mourning carrying “truncheons”.

Behind the coffin was a “Velvet Chased Earl’s Coronet gilt and jewelled” with an ermine border carried on a velvet cushion, both of these presumably also hired as they only cost a total of £3 13s 6d. Of banners, bannerolls, targets etc etc there is no sign, so presumably these were skimped, but eleven official “mourners” were hired, each dressed in “ducasse” (? no idea: anyone know?) scarves and hatbands and wearing black silk gloves.

After this the list is mostly about kitting out the various officials, clergymen and porters who attended, and there must have been quite a procession. The provision of “rich silk pole covers” suggests that someone walked under a canopy, probably the Dean of Westminster, his Sub Dean, the Preceptor, the Clerk of Works, and “Mr Vincent & Mr Hayes” (I have no idea who these men were, alas). All of these men were also kitted out with “ducasse Scarves”, hatbands and gloves at the executors’ expense, as were the Chief Mourner (presumably the eldest heir, William Stanhope Taylor), “two vergers and a Beadle”. Some of the servants driving the mourning carriages in the procession also had to be kitted out, and no fewer than twenty grooms accompanied the “Royal Carriages”, presumably that of the King (William IV) mentioned by G.F. Bentinck and whatever other royals graced John’s funeral with their symbolic presence.

Behind the royal carriages were at least three empty “mourning coaches”, each drawn by four horses, also bedecked with the usual velvet and ostrich-feather combination. Two men in mourning walked beside each empty coach, carrying wands. The accompanying assemblage of porters, hearse pages, coach pages, foot pages, footmen, grooms, coachmen and postillions, all of them had to be kitted out in hatbands and gloves at the executors’ expense.

Finally came the “achievement”, in other words a hatchment designed to be attached above the door of John’s house in Charles Street (or perhaps attached over the grave in the Abbey: I’m not quite clear on where it ended up, but it could have been either of those places). I do not know where this has ended up, but it is described in the undertakers’ bill as “a Yard and half” in size, which seems to have been standard, “in double Shields supporters, Garter &c painted in Oil with Frame covered with fine black Cloth”. This, along with the “Wall Gooks, Nails &c” cost £8 8s 0d, not counting 7s for two men to fix it up.

John’s achievement would have been similar to the above, with his arms impaled with those of his wife Mary. Because Mary had died in 1821, however, both sides of the achievement would have been painted black.

Hatchment for the 4th Duke of Rutland (from http://www.bottesfordhistory.org.uk/page_id__796_path__0p1p30p45p.aspx). Like Rutland, John would have been entitled to surround his arms with a Garter. Unlike Rutland, his would have been completely black due to the fact he was a widower

Hatchment for the 4th Duke of Rutland (from http://www.bottesfordhistory.org.uk/page_id__796_path__0p1p30p45p.aspx). Like Rutland, John would have been entitled to surround his arms with a Garter. Unlike Rutland, his would have been completely black due to the fact he was a widower

After this the estate had to cover a number of additional expenses. “Fees to the Abbey” (presumably to all the officials, and for closing off the whole building and Abbey yard) came in at a whopping £130 17s 2d, nearly as much as the procession by itself. Masons were paid £4 13s 5d, and the royal servants received a tip of £3, while other servants received 9s. Carriage duty and “expenses for Men &c”, as well as a mysterious “Searcher”, made up the remainder. No fees were paid to any heralds or heraldry officers, so I am guessing Garter King of Arms did not directly attend.

The grand total for the whole funeral was £348 19s 7d, not counting £2 13s 5d for “removing [the] Marble Ledger … &c from the Family Vault”, relaying it, repairing the vault and “making good paving” (bill dated 3 October 1825, PRO 30/8/370 f 156).

I think John would have approved … although I also think he might have liked a surcoat or two. 😉


For further reading, you could do worse than to visit my friend Stephenie Woolterton’s webpage, where she discusses the funerals of John, Lord Chatham’s father and younger sister Harriot. (Please have a snoop at the rest of her excellent site, of course!)

Some sources used in putting up this blog post:

Chatham Papers, National Archives PRO 30/8/370 ff 152, 156

Portland MSS, Nottingham University Archives, PwM 205

William Berry, Encyclopaedia heraldica; or, a complete dictionary of heraldry (London, 1828)

James Parker, A glossary of terms used in heraldry (London, 1894)

The Earl of Chatham’s weight

johnsweight

A year or so ago, my good friend A Noon-Day Eclipse and I visited Berry Brothers & Rudd in London. BB&R (as I shall henceforth call them) obviously sell wine, but they also have ledger books dating back to the 18th century recording the weights of various patrons who visited over the years. BB&R, then Clarke’s, sold coffee as well as wine, and had an enormous pair of coffee weighing scales. Wealthy patrons frequently came to Clarke’s to be weighed. Pitt the Younger was weighed numerous times in the 1780s. What we wanted to see, however, was the weight of his brother, John, 2nd Lord Chatham.

John was weighed eight times over the course of ten years. I’ve attached a photograph of the relevant ledger at the top of this post, but his weights were as follows:

1816 June 20 – 11st 13lb in boots

1818 July 17 – 11st 1lb in boots

1821 Sept 29 – 11st 13 1/2lb in boots

1825 Aug 3 – 9st 10 1/4lb in boots

1825 Nov 8 – 10st 13 1/2lb in boots and greatcoat

1825 Nov 25 – 10st 12lb in boots and greatcoat

1825 Dec 16 – 10st 12lb in boots and greatcoat

1826 Jan 20 – 11st 3 1/2lb in boots and greatcoat

From this I deduce that John was rather a spare man. I don’t know how tall he was exactly, but he was described physically as “tall”, so I think it’s fair to say he was above average height: maybe 5’11” or so (possibly taller). According to the NHS BMI calculator, in September 1821 John had a BMI of 23.4, comfortably on the upper range of healthy for a man of his age (of course he would have been fully clothed with boots when he was weighed, which I cannot correct for, but it’s an accurate enough guess). At his lowest weight in August 1825, however, he had a BMI of 18.9, which is right on the cusp of underweight.

Why the fluctuation? I can hazard some guesses. John’s “normal” weight was obviously about 11st 13lb or thereabouts. The dates above are suggestive. At the start of the records, in 1816, John was a couple of months shy of his 60th birthday, presumably in good health, happy enough. He had few official responsibilities as he had been out of office for six years, and I’m guessing his military duties were not especially onerous.

Two years later, however, he’s dropped nearly a stone in weight. This is perhaps not surprising: his wife Mary’s mental issues had begun, and John had been nursing her for some months. This was to carry on over the next few years with very little intermission, and from his letters (I’ve blogged about them in the past) it’s clear it took a toll on his health.

Three years later, in September 1821, John was a widower and about to leave for Gibraltar. He had some issues with depression after his wife’s death, but that doesn’t seem to have affected his weight: this is his heaviest ever, just shy of 12 stone.

It’s a different story in August of 1825. John left for Gibraltar in November 1821. He left there in May 1825. I have not yet managed to work out exactly why he left when he did, but there’s a hint in the newspapers of the time:

Morning Post, 20 May 1825

Morning Post, 20 May 1825

The fact that John’s “health [had] suffered materially” is reflected in August’s weight record: 9st 10 1/4lb fully dressed in boots. Clearly he was not a well man even after returning to England. He arrived in London on 1 July 1825. A friend who had not seen him for four years was shocked:

Years have bent him much. Time has made him, who was once a very fine-looking man in face and person, no longer, as to the latter, upright and straight as an arrow, and in countenance it has left him certainly fine remains of what he was, but only remains. (Lord Eldon to his son, 24 July 1825, H. Twiss, Life of Lord Eldon II, 559-60)

John obviously kept an eye on his weight for some time afterwards, and he was weighed four times between November 1825 and January 1826. His weight had clearly recovered to a certain extent, although he never seems to have gone beyond 11st 3lb in full winter greatcoat and boots. Still, I think it’s fair to say he went from “too thin” to “about OK”.

I have a feeling there are a few more John records at BB&R, which we did not find on the day we visited. Perhaps one day I will find them. It would be interesting to see how heavy John was in his younger days, although I suspect (like his brother, who was about 12st in his late 20s) he was never overweight.

Happy 252nd birthday Mary, Countess of Chatham

Mary, Countess of Chatham

Mary, Countess of Chatham [1]

Today (2 September) is Mary, Countess of Chatham’s 252nd birthday. Everyone who reads this blog will know how much I love her, and how much I wish her story had had a happier ending. For today, though, we’ll stick to the positives.

I haven’t got much to add to the biographical post I wrote for Madame Gilflurt in May, but I wanted to quote two pieces I have referred to in the past. There’s precious little about Mary in the historical record, which I think is at least partly a tribute to her retiring nature. The following poem, found among the Marsham-Townshend papers at Bromley Archives, certainly corroborates this. I have no idea who wrote the poem (presumably either a family member or a friend), and Shakespeare it ain’t, but it encapsulates my view of the private nature of Mary’s character perfectly:

The Countess of Chatham

Aye! There’s a creature feminine, of whom

The world may proudly boast, with store of charms,

And blandishments that so bedeck the Sex;

She from the yielding of her gentle heart,

Hath walked fair honor’s handmaid, early shunned

The flaunting scenes of Court parade, to act

The humble duties of Domestic life.

Simply attired as innocent in Mind,

With all the Sweet benevolences graced,

Her polish came by habit so engrained

That slander’s biting file cd. never touch it. [2]

The other piece I’d like to quote is one of the few letters I have seen written by Mary not petitioning for patronage for a family member or servant (and she had such a wonderfully embarrassed way of doing it too). I daresay there are large piles of Mary correspondence hiding away in private collections, but I was staggered to find six or seven letters which she wrote to Catherine Stapleton quoted in The correspondence of Field Marshal Viscount Combermere (London, 1866), vol 2. Mrs Stapleton was the companion of Mary’s mother-in-law, Hester, Dowager Countess of Chatham. One day I will try and track down where the originals of these letters actually are, but in the meantime I will be satisfied with the doctored snippets found online.

Mary, Countess of Chatham (ca 1800) by Charles Rosenburg of Bath; in the possession of Ron Mills

Mary, Countess of Chatham (ca 1800) by Charles Rosenburg of Bath; in the possession of Ron Mills

Clearly Mary was capable of writing of other things than patronage, and one or two of her letters even contain a fair amount of politics. While she never tried to assert herself as a political hostess, I suppose it was inevitable that the prime minister’s sister-in-law would be interested in current affairs. The following letter was clearly written in 1794, either just before or just after Pitt the Younger coalesced his government with the followers of the Duke of Portland, former oppositionists who had broken with Charles James Fox over the French Revolution.

Mary starts off with a dryly humourous account of a ball, at which the former Oppositionists showed their faces at Court for the first time in many years. She then makes some brief observations on the inconveniences of Courtly fashion.

We had a very grand ball at the Queen’s house on Monday, and a very good one, as they always are. Among the company a great many repentant sinners. Portlands — it was comical enough that the first ball Lady M. Bentinck should go to should be at the Queen’s house — Fitzwilliams, Carlisles, Spencers, Jerseys, Mansfields — it seemed quite odd to see them all. … Lord Carlisle and Lord Spencer are my two favourites, though, of them, nothing can be more thoroughly manly and honourable than their conduct. … The feathers in the Queen’s face is what now always happens with all young ladies who kiss her hand, for in the way in which they now wear them it is unavoidable, though the Queen leans as far back as she can; to be sure it annoys her, but she’s always good-humoured to young ladies … The Cabinet dine here, and I must get out of their way; so I go to keep a long standing promise to my brother and Mrs T[ownshend], and my carriage is now come. Adieu! Yours affectionately, MEC. [3]

I can’t help wondering what Mary would have said about Lord Spencer, had she known he would shortly supplant her husband as First Lord of the Admiralty…

The above, then, is a tantalising taste of Mary’s epistolary style. I would give anything to find more of Mary’s letters. From what I have seen she had a very similar tone and outlook to her husband: clearly they were a good match in terms of personality.

So happy birthday, Mary. I think it’s about time you received some recognition!


Notes and References

[1] Mary, Countess of Chatham, from an unknown source. I am trying to track down further information on this miniature, the only known portrait of Lady Chatham (apart from the Rosenburg silhouette) that I know of. (The Reynolds portrait you will find elsewhere on the internet is not of Mary, but her aunt.) If anyone has any information on this miniature, please contact me using the form on the About Me page.

[2] Bromley Archives, 1080/3/6/6 f 10

[3] From The correspondence of Field Marshal Viscount Combermere (London, 1866), vol 2, 426