10 October 1756: birth of John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham

YES, 10 October. Yes. YES. No, it’s not a typo. Yes, I realise I am flying in the face of all other published sources, except Wikipedia (and there’s a good reason for that).

John, 2nd Earl of Chatham, in John Singleton Copley's "The Death of the Earl of Chatham" (1779)

John, 2nd Earl of Chatham, in John Singleton Copley’s “The Death of the Earl of Chatham” (1779)

Most people, when writing about someone less visible in the historical record, are at least able to say “Well, at least I know when he/she was born/died!” Unfortunately, my biography of the 2nd Earl of Chatham pretty much opens with a page-long footnote explaining why I have plumped for 10 October 1756 as his date of birth, and not the usually-recorded 9 October. (Some sources say 10 September, but, to misquote Monty Python, that’s right out.)

As far as I can see, there is one main reason why the sources focus on 9 October as Chatham’s birthday. It is a letter written by Pitt the Elder to Pitt the Younger on 9 October 1773, which opens with the following lines: “Thursday’s post brought us no letter from the dear traveller [Pitt was on his way to Cambridge]: we trust this day will prove more satisfactory. It is the happy day that gave us your brother…” [Chatham Correspondence IV, 290]

William Pitt the Elder by William Hoare

William Pitt the Elder by William Hoare

Well, that’s clear, isn’t it? Pitt the Elder should have known the date of birth of his own son, no?

Except we find Pitt the Elder writing to his brother-in-law, George Grenville, on 10 October 1756: “Dear Grenville, Lady Hester is as well as can be in her situation, after being delivered of a son this morning.” [Grenville Papers I, 173]

And also to his nephew, Thomas Pitt, later Lord Camelford, also on 10 October 1756: “Lady Hester was safely delivered this morning of a son.” [Letters written by Lord Chatham to his nephew Thomas Pitt (1804), p. 97]

Not to mention the fact that Chatham’s baptismal record in the parish register, entered on 7 November 1756, notes his date of birth as 10 October.

John, 2nd Earl of Chatham's baptismal record, Hayes, Kent

John, 2nd Earl of Chatham’s baptismal record, Hayes, Kent

So what happened? Why the discrepancy? I suppose the most likely possibility is that everything went so quickly (and Chatham’s birth was, apparently, very quick) that nobody troubled to take accurate note of his time of birth. Maybe the clocks in the room were fast. Maybe the midwife (or man midwife, as Chatham was delivered by William Hunter) made a mistake.

Clearly the family celebrated Chatham’s birthday on 9 October, although there could have been other reasons for this. In 1773, 10 October fell on a Sunday: possibly the family decided to celebrate a day early for that reason. I personally think this unlikely, however, as Pitt the Elder specifically says “THIS is the happy day that gave us your brother”. He could have misdated his letter, but this is unlikely, particularly as his son William replied a few days later making reference to “the rejoicings on the happy ninth of October”.

It seems most likely, therefore, that the family for some reason changed their minds about Chatham’s birthday and started celebrating it on 9 October. But he would not be the only 18th century figure surrounded with such confusion — the Duke of Wellington’s precise birthdate, for example, is also disputed.

This doesn’t make my task as biographer any easier, but I’ve plumped for 10 October rather than 9 October because Chatham’s baptismal record suggests that date. The entry was added on 7 November, nearly a full month after Chatham’s birth, so it seems most likely to me that any changes of mind occurred some time after his birth. I’ve therefore gone with the on-the-spot account, and shaved a day off the 2nd Lord Chatham’s age.

You may disagree with me, but I’m sticking to my guns.

Leading by a…? : Lord Chatham’s nose

Come on. You *knew* this post was coming. (If you didn’t, you should have guessed…)

I have long been aware of Sir Nathaniel Wraxall’s description of John, Lord Chatham in his Posthumous Memoirs of his Own Time (volume 3, 129 if you’re interested). Shortly before launching into a fairly damning echo of all the nasty stories he’d ever heard about John, Wraxall states:

“Lord Chatham inherited … his illustrious father’s form and figure … The present earl so strongly resembles his father in face and person, that if he were to enter the house of peers, dressed after the mode of George the Second’s reign … the spectators might fancy that the great statesman was returned once more upon earth”.

Hmmm, really? I’d never really thought of John being a spit for his father. (Although I will admit he inherited Daddy’s jaw… compare the original Hoppner of John, not the Valentine Green print, with the Hoare painting of Pitt the Elder, and the resemblance in the lower half of the face is astounding.)

And yet clearly there was something in it. Witness the philosopher Jeremy Bentham, writing to George Wilson in 1781 (quoted in Benthamiana, or select extracts from the works of Jeremy Bentham… London, 1843, p. 333): “Do you know Lord Chatham? … He has his father’s Roman nose…”

Wait, what?!

I always assumed the two older Pitt brothers looked like their mother (John’s jaw notwithstanding). John definitely had his mother’s eyes, and I thought her nose (and probably her dress sense, although I digress):

image

(from here)

And yet Bentham got me thinking (and yes, Wraxall too, although mostly I’d like to slap him silly, but I’m digressing again). John being the main character in my novel, I’d like to think I know what he looks like. I have seen five bona fide John-sat-in-person-for-this-portrait paintings of Lord Chatham now in addition to three derivatives, all of the Hoppner. They are all sufficiently similar that I can say, with absolute certainty, that John had sleepy blue almond-shaped eyes, a strong chin, and VERY dark hair (those eyebrows…!). BUT HIS NOSE KEEPS CHANGING SHAPE.

I’m inclining now to think that John’s nose was not as straight and pointy as I first thought. I’m not sure I can go quite so far as Bentham and say he had a “Roman nose” like his father:

image

… but I think he definitely did not have a perfectly straight nose.

Of the two paintings I have seen of John, two depict a short, straight nose:

image

(from The Death of the Earl of Chatham by John Singleton Copley: sorry it’s a bit blurred, but I was trying to look like I was checking my phone messages at the time :-D)

and

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

(studio of John Hoppner, courtesy of the Royal Marines Commando Barracks Officers’ Mess, Plymouth)

So far, so similar to Hester, Countess of Chatham and … definitely … NOT Roman.

But how about this?

image

(from the Martin Archer Shee portrait, which I otherwise loathe… you can see it in its full glory here)

Or this?

image

(from The Trial of Queen Caroline by Sir George Hayter: you can see the full painting [and good luck picking out John in THAT!] here)

I think the Hayter one, particularly, gives a flavour of why Wraxall might have thought John might look like Pitt the Elder if dressed up in a periwig, although it’s still not quite a classic “Roman” nose in my opinion.

And incidentally the Valentine Green print of the Hoppner gives John’s nose a rather less straight aspect than the original appears to:

image

For bonus points, here’s Gillray’s depiction of John in “The Death of the Great Wolf” (1795), in which John’s nose is clearly not straight:

image

There is another portrait of John that falls somewhere midway between straight and not straight:

image

It’s pretty straight on the whole and could easily be mistaken for his brother’s. And on that note, here’s Pitt the Younger’s nose by the same artist (George Romney):

image

… from which you can see that John and William’s noses were, basically, the same shape. So if John had a Roman nose… maybe William did too?

Or maybe it was just the name “Chatham” that made people think he *must* take after his father in some way?

Either way, I’m going to have to stop here, because I’ve run out of noses to post……..

Guest blog for Madame Gilflurt: Collapse of the Earl of Chatham in the House of Lords, 7 April 1778

Busy doesn’t cover it, but I have been guest blogging again for madamegilflurt. Check out my piece on Pitt the Elder’s collapse in the House of Lords on 7 April 1778 at:

http://www.madamegilflurt.com/2014/04/a-salon-guest-collapse-of-earl-of.html?spref=tw&m=1

“A felicity inexpressible”: The Chatham Vase

The “Chatham Vase” is a sculpture commissioned by Hester, Dowager Countess of Chatham, in 1780-1 to commemorate her husband William Pitt the Elder, First Earl of Chatham. It was sculpted in the shape of a Grecian urn by John Bacon, the same man who designed Chatham’s monument in Westminster Abbey. The urn was erected at Burton Pynsent, Somerset, which Lady Chatham used as her dower house until her death.

The lines on the pedestal (largely weathered away now, but still just about legible) read:

“Sacred to pure affection, this simple urn stands a witness of unceasing grief for him who, excelling in whatever is so admirable, and adding to the exercise of the sublimest virtues the sweet charm of refined sentiment and polished wit, by gay social commerce rendered beyond comparison happy the course of domestic life and bestowed a felicity inexpressible on her whose faithful love was blessed in a pure return that raised her above every other joy but the parental one, and that still shared with him. His generous country with public monuments has eternised his fame. This humble tribute is but to soothe the sorrowing breast of private woe.”

This tribute was apparently written by Lady Chatham herself, with a little assistance from her son William Pitt the Younger. Pitt wrote to his mother on the subject on 20 April 1780 (Stanhope I, 39):

“All my feelings with regard to the paper enclosed I need not express. I am sure I should be far indeed from wishing to suggest a syllable of alteration. The language of the heart, of such a heart especially, can never require or admit of correction. May it remain as it deserves, a lasting monument of both the subject and the author.”

After Lady Chatham died in April 1803, her son John, second Earl of Chatham, was forced to sell Burton Pynsent for financial reasons. He made sure, however, to take the Vase away before selling the property. Where it went after Burton I do not know—I have found no record of John having access to any country property between 1805 and 1815, or from 1820 onwards. Presumably the Vase spent the time packed away in John’s attic. It was not forgotten, though. Richard, Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, the son of John’s cousin the Marquis of Buckingham and Hester Chatham’s great-nephew, wrote to John in March 1831:

“My Lord,

I feel that I am taking a great liberty in entering into the subject of this letter and must appeal to your kindness to excuse me for doing so. My veneration for the memory of the great men of the family from which I am descended, must plead my pardon, and I am sure that to no-one can that appeal be more forciby made than to the Son of the grand Earl of Chatham.

The monument erected by your Mother to her lamented Lord at Burton Pynsent has now no resting place where it can stand a memorial to her Piety and of your Father’s greatness. The want of a male heir should any thing happen to you in the uncertainty of human life, will, unless you will that monument away, leave it—or its value—to be divided amongst Co-Heiresses [presumably a reference to John’s then heirs, Lady Harriot Hester Pringle and Lady Lucy Taylor]. It ought to stand in some Scene which your Father visited and took interest in, during his life time. Will you allow me to put it up at Stowe? … Allow me to press the request upon you, and to express my hope that you will prove that you forgive me by coming this next Summer at Stowe, and then view with your own eyes the Urn placed amidst the Scenes in which your Father past so many of his days” [PRO 30/8/365 f 243, 3 March 1831]

I personally found that letter astoundingly cheeky—“You’re old and about to peg it, and have no children, so can I have your urn?”—and I don’t know how much eye-rolling John must have done on reading it, but he agreed:

“I beg that you will accept my very warmest thanks for the kind manner in which you have acquiesced in my request … With your permission I shall put an Inscription upon a side of the Pedestal different from that on which your Mother’s inscription is engraved, stating how it came to be placed at Stowe, and probably you will not be displeased if I request Lord Grenville to write the Inscription for me” [23 March 1831, PRO 30/8/365 f 241]

Lord Grenville’s inscription reads: “In the year 1831, this interesting memorial of a near and highly venerated relative was, by the kindness of his son John Earl of Chatham, presented to the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos by whom it is here placed in remembrance of the early and long attachment of that great man to these tranquil scenes, and of his close connexion with the family of their proprietors.”

The Vase, however, did not long remain at Stowe. It was sold at auction in 1848, and where it was between 1848 and 1857 I do not know. In 1857 it was sold again and purchased by James Banks Stanhope, son of James Hamilton Stanhope, who through various very complicated relationships was related to both the Grenvilles and the Pitts, and placed at Revesby Hall in Lincolnshire:

The Vase moved on one more time, when it was bought by the 7th Earl Stanhope in 1934:

The Vase is now at Chevening (and hopefully won’t go anywhere else as there are no more sides to engrave……). This is as appropriate a place as any given that the Stanhope family was closely bound to the Pitts by blood and marriage, and the first Lord Chatham lived there for a while in 1769 and helped lay out the grounds (nobody ever managed to stop him “improving” any house he stayed in). There is still a copy at Stowe, but the original can still be seen at Chevening, which holds annual garden Open Days if anybody is curious enough to want to see it.

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.