Sherry, please: the contents of the 2nd Earl of Chatham’s cellars

One thing’s for sure about the Pitts: they liked a drink or six. It started with Pitt the Elder, and got worse with the next generation. The Younger Pitt was famous for knocking back several bottles a day (although said bottles were, obviously, smaller then than they are now… still). The 2nd Earl of Chatham’s drinking habits are less obvious, but there were telling habits of his being, to use an appropriately nautical expression, “three sheets to the wind” during office hours while First Lord of the Admiralty.

While Governor of Gibraltar he was famous for his hospitality, and it seems he acquired a taste for Spanish wines while there. (It seems appropriate that one of Gibaltar’s biggest modern wine distributors trades from offices in the “Chatham Counterguard”.) When Chatham died in September 1835, his executors brought in a high-society wine merchant, Charles Bertram, of 162 New Bond Street, to value the late Lord Chatham’s cellars in Charles Street.

This is what Bertram found:

Chatham's cellars, from National Archives PRO 30/8/370 ff 78, 147

Chatham’s cellars, from National Archives PRO 30/8/370 ff 78, 147

I should say right off that I am no wine expert myself. Far from it — I’m virtually teetotal and have been for fifteen years. However, just a glance at this list tells me two things: first, that Chatham had a lot of wine in his cellar for a nearly-eighty-year-old widower, and second, that he really, really, really did not care for French booze.

I think it’s fair to say Chatham had a sweet tooth. Most of the wine in his cellar seems to have been the variety served up as an aperitif or dessert wine. Sherry seems to account for the majority of it, in the largest quantities (sixteen dozen bottles, plus eight, of “Sherry Cadoza”, whatever that is — it seems to have something to do with the kind of cask, but I would be grateful if anyone could explain further).

One variety in Chatham’s cellars, Haurie, had a sterling pedigree: the Haurie brand claimed to be the oldest exporters of sherry, having been founded during the War of the Spanish Succession. 19th century wine specialist Henry Vizetelly described Haurie sherry as a wine “over which Steele may have become more light-hearted, Swift more morose, Bolingbroke more eloquent, and Addison more didactic”. It probably already had a high reputation by the time Chatham acquired his eighteen bottles, but twenty years after his death Haurie sherry brought back four first-class medals from the Jerez Exhibition.

In addition to sherry, Chatham also had a great deal of Madeira. Much of this seems to have been received as a gift from other people (“Sir J. Bouten”, Lord Melville, Sir Andrew Hammond — an old friend from Chatham’s days at the Admiralty — and Lord Powis, the son of the famous Clive of India). Possibly it was a case of the following:

Lord Powis: Lord Chatham, I’ve brought you a gift.

Chatham: More Madeira. How kind.

Powis: I know how much you like it.

Chatham: Can’t you just bring me sherry next time?

So far, so sweet (although some of the sherry, I guess, might have been of the dry variety). But I suspect very little of it was, given most of the rest of the cellars’ contents was pretty sweet too. Chatham certainly favoured the sweeter varieties of Madeira: “Malmsey”, for example, described in 1858 as “a luscious sweet wine … used principally as a liqueur, or at dessert”. (Malmsey wine was described by the same source as being “a strong astringent, and used against dysentery”, although I suspect Chatham did not really use it for medicinal purposes.)

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He also, however, seems to have been partial to Sercial, an “exceedingly rare” variety of Madeira described by Vizetelly as “somewhat spiritous” and known by Portuguese locals as “the dog strangler”. One source from the 1840s was, however, more appreciative: “This fabulous nectar, with its mellifluous flavour, has the pungent aroma of a posy of sweet-smelling flowers.” It seems this one is best left in the bottle for ten years or so. Possibly Chatham brought it back from Gibraltar with him, along with the three bottles of “Campanario” (another variety of Madeira from the west cliffs of the island near Funchal), although the age of the wines is not mentioned.

One wine he definitely did bring back from Gibraltar was the “Paxarete”, or “Pajarete”, a variety of sherry made in the Jerez region of Spain. This would, in 1835, have been at least ten years old, and maybe Chatham was saving it for a special occasion. Paxarete, again, was exceedingly sweet, exceedingly strong, and exceedingly expensive, although one website described it as “considered more of a ladies’ drink” in early 19th century Britain. I suspect Chatham would have disagreed.

So far Chatham’s cellars can be summarised as: sweet, and Spanish (or Portuguese). (The presence of “Malaga wine”, another super-sweet fortified Spanish wine, bears out this hypothesis.) There were some exceptions, however. Chatham had fifteen dozen pints of Constantia, a South African (!) wine from near Cape Town — unfortified, it seems, but renowned for its strength, and described by The Oxford Companion to Wine as “legendary”. (Napoleon, apparently, also drank it while imprisoned on St Helena.) And of course Chatham had a dozen or so bottles of Sancerre, a modest number of champagne bottles, and claret — surprisingly little of it, though, given his apparent love of it in the 1780s and 1790s.

Only one vintage is dated, however: “Bertram’s claret”, specifically named as “1822”. (He had two dozen bottles of it.) I can’t, however, work out if this was a particularly good year for claret, or whether it was the only wine Chatham had purchased directly from Charles Bertram, who compiled the inventory and may just have recognised his own bottles.

1822ricketts

Apart from wine, Chatham had a few bottles of liqueur: “Noyau”, a crème liqueur made from apricot (or peach) kernels (hence its name). Chatham had both varieties in his cellar: the clear (“blanc”, or white) and the “pink”. One magazine from the 1830s described it as “the queen of liqueurs”, although it vastly preferred the white to the pink — which was in any case coloured, generally with cochineal. Chatham apparently agreed, as he had nearly twice as much white Noyau as he did pink.

Apparently Noyeau tastes similar to amaretto, although I have had neither so cannot comment. It is also, apparently, dangerous to drink elderly Noyeau, as apricot kernels degrade into cyanide. I’m fairly sure Chatham died from natural causes, but now I’m wondering.

Apart from “Cadoza sherry”, the only other item in Chatham’s cellars I have not been able to identify is the mysterious “Pardarolli”. Possibly it was another liqueur, but I cannot be certain. I would be grateful to anyone who is able to inform me what it is.

Bertram estimated the total value of all the bottles in Chatham’s cellars at £559.19.0, which is a sizeable sum, particularly as Chatham’s house itself only brought his executors £3000 (once the mortgage had been cleared). His heirs clearly divided the cellars between them, but they did put a small portion of the wines up to auction at Christie’s on 16 May 1836. They fetched £155.4.10.

References

Bertram’s handlist of Chatham’s cellars can be found at the National Archives, Chatham MSS PRO 30/8/370 f 78 (dated 1 October 1835).

The Christie’s sales catalogue, giving the list of the bottles put to auction and the amounts they fetched, is at PRO 30/8/370 f 147.

Information on Charles Bertram from Richard Ford Manuscripts.

Information on the wines and liqueurs mentioned in this blog was drawn from:

  • Henry Vizetelly, Facts about Sherry, gleaned in the vineyards and bodegas of the Jerez, Seville, Moguer, & Montilla districts … (London, 1876)
  • Henry Vizetelly, Facts about Port and Madeira (London, 1880)
  • Julia Harding, The Oxford Companion to Wine (Oxford, 2015)
  • The Magazine of Domestic Economy volume II (1837)
  • Robert Hogg, The vegetable kingdom and its products (London, 1858)
  • Richard Mayson, Madeira: the islands and their wines (London, 2015)
  • “Whisky Science: Pajarete and the wine treatment”, 3 March 2013, from here
  • Wikipedia pages on Constantia, Noyau, Malaga wine, and Sancerre

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.

Lord Chatham’s aides-de-camp at Walcheren, 1809

I’ve been reading the Monthly Army Lists recently. I know, I know… as a friend already told me, “Who reads the Army Lists, other than officers keen on getting promoted?” The answer is, “Historians who want to find out what district their subject was attached to during the Napoleonic Wars, and who their staff were”.

armylist2

I will give out no prizes for anyone who guesses which army officer I’ve been tracking through the army lists. In the 1790s Britain and Ireland were partitioned up into military districts, and each appointed a commander-in-chief with his own staff. Lord Chatham (YES! you guessed it!) spent most of his time attached to the Southern District, where he served under Sir David Dundas, before being promoted in 1806 to the command of the Eastern District.

His aides-de-camp have awfully familiar names:

  • Captain Bradford (October 1806 – December 1808)
  • Captain Hon. W. Gardner (as of June 1807)
  • Captain Hadden (as of January 1809)
  • Captain Falla (as of January 1809)

armylist

Another familiar name that crops up is that of Lt. Col. Cary, who appears for the first time as Assistant Adjutant General in June 1807.

Why do I say “familiar”? Because check out this list, printed in The Scots Magazine and Edinburgh Literary Miscellany (71), 623, of Chatham’s aides-de-camp at Walcheren:

  • Major Bradford (11th Foot)
  • Hon. Captain Gardner, RA
  • Captain Haddon [sic], 6th Dragoons
  • Major Linsingen, 1st Light Dragoons, KGL
  • Captain Felix, 36th Foot
  • Major Lord Charles Manners and Captain Lord Robert Manners, extra ADCs
  • Lt-Col. Carey, 3rd Foot Guards, Military Secretary

“Captain Felix” of the 36th is something of a mystery, not appearing in the Monthly Army List for 1809 or 1810 in that regiment. But note that the Tradesman, or Commercial Magazine (vol 3, 1809), 168 leaves Felix out and in his place is a certain “Capt. Falla, 25th Foot”.

Leaving out Major Linsingen, and the Manners brothers (both of them sons of Charles, 4th Duke of Rutland, Chatham’s old buddy), who were these men? Chatham would have known them well from the Eastern District, and was obviously inclined to trust them. Conversely, they would have known Chatham well and, presumably, been accustomed to his way of doing business (by which I mean his habit of getting up about 12 o’clock noon).

Below is some of the information I’ve managed to find on Chatham’s chosen men. They were not, after all, merely names in the Army Gazette, but real men with their own lives and stories to tell.

1. Sir Henry Hollis Bradford (1781-1816)

Bradford (with the 11th Foot in 1809) was the youngest son of Thomas Bradford of Ashdown Park, Sussex. He was born on 25 June 1781. He was Chatham’s longest-serving ADC in the Eastern District, although also the first to leave him, at the end of 1808, when he was sent out with Sir John Moore to Corunna. He had already previously served at Copenhagen in 1807.

He survived the retreat, and Chatham remembered him fondly enough to appoint him First Aide-de-Camp at Walcheren. Bradford was tasked with bringing home Chatham’s official dispatch reporting the fall of Flushing in August 1809, and received a reward of £500 for the job. After Walcheren he went back to the Peninsula, where he saw action as Assistant Adjutant-General at Salamanca and Vittoria, and Nivelles and Toulouse, among others. As a result he was created a Knight of the Bath in January 1815.

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Monument to Sir Henry Hollis Bradford, from here

He fought at Waterloo, but was badly wounded during the course of the battle. Unfortunately he never recovered, and died on 17 December 1816 at Lilliers, in France, as a result of the wound he had received over a year earlier. He reached the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.[1]

2. Hon. William Henry Gardner (1774 – 1856)

Gardner was the son of Admiral Alan, Lord Gardner, who had been Lord Chatham’s friend and colleague on the Board of Admiralty during Chatham’s tenure as First Lord. William Henry was thus also the brother of Alan Hyde, Lord Gardner, who commanded one of the naval divisions during the expedition to Walcheren. His connections to the Walcheren high command did not end there: in 1805 he had married Elizabeth Lydia Fyers, the daughter of William Fyers, who had served as Chief Engineer during the expedition.

He was born on 6 October 1774 and died 15 December 1856. He reached the rank of General.[2]

3. William Frederick Hadden (1789 – 1821)

Hadden was the son of James Murray Hadden, Chatham’s Surveyor-General of the Ordnance (and close friend). Hadden was in the 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons in 1809, as a Captain: interestingly, he appears in May 1814 as a Lieutenant in the 4th.

One reason for this demotion may have been his odd behaviour. According to anecdote, he was drummed out of the army for asking Queen Adelaide to dance without an introduction, but this doesn’t match up with his lifespan and I have not found any evidence of it. According to a website on the history of Harpenden in Hertfordshire, where his family had a house, Hadden threatened to muder his friend the Dean of Liverpool as a result of a vision and was subsequently locked away in a lunatic asylum. Whether the story is true or not is unclear, but like Bradford he certainly died young.[3]

4. Daniel Falla (1778 – 1851)

Falla came from an established Jersey family. His brother, Thomas, was also in the army, but killed at the siege of Seringapatam in 1799. He was in Egypt in 1801 before joining Chatham’s staff, and would follow Chatham to Gibraltar, where Chatham had him appointed Town Major in 1822.

Falla remained Town Major for twenty-five years: he retired in 1847, twelve years after Chatham himself had died. Falla then returned to his native Jersey, where he died at St Helier, on 14 March 1851. He reached the rank of Colonel.[4]

5. Thomas Carey (1778 – 1825)

Like Falla, Carey was a native of the Channel Islands — of Guernsey, to be precise. He was by far the most active of all the aides, and thus the easiest one to track in the records. He was the sixth son of a local magnate, and entered the army as an ensign in the 3rd Foot Guards (Chatham’s old regiment) in January 1794. He participated in the disastrous Flanders campaign of 1794-5. He was at the Helder in 1799, where he served as Adjutant for his regiment. Carey earned himself a reputation for hard work: a Horseguards official said, “Carey is one of the most zealous and efficient adjutants I ever knew: there is no nonsense about him; however irksome may be the orders he receives, he sets to work, and executes them on the instant with cheerfulness and alacrity, never starting or thinking of a difficulty”.

He was in Egypt in 1801, where he contracted the eye disease opthalmia and nearly lost his sight. Following his recovery, he accompanied the abortive British expedition to North Germany in 1805 as assistant adjutant general to the forces. He was also at Copenhagen in 1807.

Like Bradford, he served in the Peninsula in 1808 and 1809, and was present at both Vimeiro (where he was wounded) and Corunna. Although he joined Chatham’s staff on the Eastern District officially in 1807, he claimed to have been familiar with him since 1804, although in what capacity I have not been able to identify. By 1809, however, when Carey went with Chatham to Walcheren, the two men were close: as a short biography of Carey in the History of Guernsey put it, he and Chatham “enjoyed the most intimate and lasting friendship”. Carey was certainly devoted to Chatham: “The more I see of him, the more I am convinced that in understanding few equal him, & in Honor or Integrity He cannot be excelled”.[5]

Carey was militant in the defence of his commander after the end of the Walcheren campaign. He interceded on Chatham’s behalf with various political and military figures, but to no avail. Carey remained, apparently by choice, with Chatham in the Eastern District until 1814, when he was promoted to the rank of Major-General. Unfortunately at this time an old illness recurred (malaria, perhaps, from Walcheren?) and he was forced to leave the army. He was not, therefore, able to participate in the Waterloo campaign.

His health gradually failed until he died in London on 9 November 1825. I would very much like to know what Chatham’s reaction was to his death, for of all his aides Carey had been the most faithful.[6]

References

[1] Henry Hollis Bradford: London Gazette, 4 January 1815; Journals of the House of Commons LXV, 558; www.geni.com page on H.H. Bradford; Burke and Burke, The Knightage of Great Britain and Ireland (London 1841), 217; The New Monthly Magazine, VII (1817), 69; http://glosters.tripod.com/WInf.htm

[2] William Henry Gardner: J. Burke, A General and Heraldic Dictionary of the Peerage and Baronetage of the British Empire (London, 1832), I, 505-6; geni.com page on William Henry Gardner; genealogical page on the Gardner family

[3] William Frederick Hadden: article on the Haddens of Harpenden

[4] Daniel Falla: Gentleman’s Magazine, July 1851, 328; page on the Falla family monument; Annual Register (1851), 271

[5] Thomas Carey to William Huskisson, 3 May 1810, British Library Huskisson MSS BL Add MSS 38738 f 26

[6] Thomas Carey: Gentleman’s Magazine, vol XIX (July 1824), 563; Jonathan Duncan, The History of Guernsey, with occasional notices of Jersey, Alderney, and Sark (London, 1841), pp. 613-15

“As honorable to the Commander, as advantageous to the Country”: the Walcheren command

In mid-May 1809, the British government was pretty sure it was going to be sending a sizeable expedition to the Scheldt basin to reduce the island of Walcheren and destroy the dockyards of Antwerp. Horseguards was busily preparing a force of thirty thousand men (the number would later rise to nearly 40,000); the Admiralty was putting together a flotilla of over six hundred vessels, from the 80-gun HMS Caesar to a vast fleet of transports and flatboats. At this point, however, the military and naval commanders had not yet been appointed.

Lord Castlereagh, by Sir Thomas Lawrence

Lord Castlereagh, by Sir Thomas Lawrence

Lord Castlereagh, the Secretary of State for War, had been thinking about an expedition to the Scheldt for months. When he had first considered it, he had intended the command to go to Sir John Moore, but Moore had been killed at Coruña in January. For a while there was a rumour that Sir John Hope would take the command, as he was one of the more senior generals attached to the expedition, and there were other rumours that Sir Harry Burrard and even the Duke of York were considered,[1] In fact the job went to John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham, then a cabinet member as Master-General of the Ordnance.

Lord Chatham, engraved by Charles Turner, after  John Hoppner

Lord Chatham, engraved by Charles Turner, after John Hoppner

Why Chatham was chosen mystified contemporaries, and historians since. Chatham had joined the army in 1773, but, although a reasonably senior Lieutenant-General by 1809, had not served abroad since 1799. He had in fact not been militarily active at all between 1784 and 1798. There were the usual conspiracy theories – the King had nominated him; George Canning wanted Chatham to succeed so he could prop him up as a figurehead Prime Minister; Chatham needed the cash – and of course after the whole deal went wrong everyone at Horseguards and the War Office was busily accusing everyone else for the appointment.

From the evidence that wasn’t drawn from gossip, however, Chatham seems to have been Castlereagh’s own choice. Maybe Castlereagh remembered how Chatham had been leapfrogged for the Peninsular command the previous year. Maybe Castlereagh thought that, since the expedition was sure to succeed, a Cabinet member in command could only reflect glory on the rest of the government. Who knows? But on 18 May 1809 Castlereagh wrote the following letter to Chatham, who was ill at the time:

“Private & Confidential

Downing Street

18 May 1809

My Dear Lord

I am anxious to have the great Question on which we conversed yesterday put in a course of proper Investigation. The Admiralty are naturally pressing upon it, and Commodore Owen is come to Town for the purpose of giving his Assistance.

I do not conceive, that any Effectual progress can be made, till we have come to a decision, Who is to be Entrusted with the Execution of the Operation, if it should be determin’d on, nor indeed till this is fixed, can any of the Departamental [sic] Arrangements be satisfactorily proceded [sic] on.

Under these Impressions, and in the hope that the result may prove as honorable to the Commander, as advantageous to the Country, allow me to propose it for your acceptance. In Expressing my own wishes, that it may be confided to you, I am authorized to add the Duke of Portland’s, and I have no doubt those of all our Colleagues.

Until I am possess’d of your Sentiments, I shall not feel myself authoriz’d to mention the Subject to His Majesty, nor indeed can I well take any measures at the Horseguards in furtherance of our purpose.

Believe me my Dear Lord

Very Truly Yours

Castlereagh”[2]

Chatham’s response to Castlereagh’s offer didn’t exactly burn with enthusiasm:

“Private

Hill Street

May 18 1809

My Dear Lord,

I received your letter of this morning, and feel sensibly the kind manner, in which you have proposed to me, the command of the Expedition, now under consideration, and I am much gratified by the concurrence in your sentiments, expressed by the Duke of Portland. Of course, I shou’d be at all times, ready when called upon to obey His Majesty’s Commands, but considering this proposal, as an Option given to me, confidentially on your part, I can only say, that I shou’d be very anxious to have some further conversation with you on this subject, before I venture to give any decided answer to it. I am better, but still confined. I shou’d therefore be happy if you wou’d have the goodness to call here at any time most convenient to you.

Believe me,

My Dear Lord,

Yours Most Truly

Chatham”

Perhaps Chatham already had a premonition of what was to come. If so, I imagine both he and Castlereagh had reason to rue the day he overcame his reluctance and accepted the command of the Walcheren expedition.

References

[1] Henry Brougham to Lord Grey, 30 June 1809, from The Life and Times of Henry, Lord Brougham I, 439-40 (London, 1872)

[2] National Archives Chatham MSS PRO 30/8/366 ff 58-9

[3] PRONI, Castlereagh MSS D3030/3087

Lord Chatham in Gibraltar — the FIRST time

Still in Gibraltar. This morning I went up the Rock in a cable car (expensive but worth it) and sat on a bench overlooking the bay to write my chapter dealing with the 2nd Earl of Chatham’s active Governorship here, 1821-5. It was bliss, and I was completely untroubled by monkeys, lizards, seagulls, &c &c, which was a small mercy as I was surrounded by all the above. Nope, it was just me, my laptop, and John Chatham for three amazing hours.

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On my way down (clutching my laptop) I spotted an offroad track which was advertised as a walking route. In a moment of utter lunacy, I decided to take it. For a while, it was pretty nice, if narrow and with a deceptively deep drop on my right:

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About half an hour after I took this shot, however, the path took me round private property (steep uphill climb across limestone shards? Why not!) and then back down again (steep downhill across limestone shards? Even better!). At this stage the path just came to a . Thankfully I could see the paved road about ten metres below me, but somehow I had to get down to it. So I climbed. Well, you know, I had no alternative (other than walking back the way I came for 45 minutes … er no, thank you, and yes, I still had my laptop with me).

So there I was sliding down the side of the Rock, totally channelling my inner James Bond (well, I wasn’t sure whether or not I was trespassing on MoD property…) and it occurred to me to wonder whether the 2nd Earl of Chatham ever did anything like this while he was in Gibraltar. But no, of course not. He was in his late 60s.

Which was the inconvenient moment at which it hit me. He was in Gibraltar in the 1770s too. As aide-de-camp to General Robert Boyd, Sir George Elliott’s Lieutenant Governor.

How the heck could I have forgotten that?!

And, while I was clinging to the side of the rockface by my fingernails (OK yes, that’s a slight exaggeration … but not much), I had a flashback of walking past a shelf at the Gibraltar National Archives on Tuesday full of volumes of official Diaries kept by the Governor’s secretary from the early 1770s to about 1810. I’d passed it by thinking “Ooh how nice, too early”, but … what if John was mentioned?

I survived my descent, of course (I did say I exaggerated a bit) and, as it was only three o’clock, repaired as fast as I could to the Archives. I’m not 100% sure what they thought when I turned up all dusty, disshevelled and slightly sunburnt, but within a few minutes I had the 1778 and 1779 diaries open before me on the table.

Within about ten minutes I startled everyone in the room with my cry of triumph.

governors_diary_1778_chatham_arrives_snippet

Do you see what I see? (This is the entry for 7 July 1778). The entry goes on to list the accompanying convoy for about three pages, in some serious detail. But the relevant bit is this: “Arrived from England His Majesty’s Ship Romulus of 44 guns and 280 men, commanded by Capn. Gayton in 23 days from Spithead. Passengers, Lieut: General Boyd, Colonel Green, Colonel Ross, Lord Chatham and Mr Buckeridge, Lieutenants in the 39th Regt.”

William Buckeridge, incidentally, was Boyd’s other ADC.

I knew Chatham had arrived in Gibraltar early July 1778, but now I had a date — and also a ship, a departure point, and a journey length. 😀 But this is the mysterious bit. 23 days’ journey means the Romulus left Spithead on or about the 15 June 1778. So why did Chatham not attend his father’s funeral on the 8th? He must have had a cast-iron reason, otherwise people would have talked, but why not? I know the convoy was all embarked and ready to leave by mid-May: perhaps the ships were delayed by adverse winds? I find it hard to believe Chatham would have been refused permission to attend the funeral if it had been possible for him to go. And I find it even harder to believe he would not have wanted to go. Pageantry was John’s forté, and he did it very well.

Be that as it may, there was more. All letters sent from the garrison with the official Governor’s packet were recorded, and their recipients. So I know Chatham was writing home on 16 and 20 July, and also on 8 and 12 October:

governors_diary_1778_chatham_sends_letters_02_detailgovernors_diary_1778_chatham_sends_letters_03

On the left: letters listed to Mrs Mary Pitt, Lady Mahon (Chatham’s eldest sister), Thomas Pitt, and the Countess of Chatham; on the right, letters to the Hon. Mr Pitt, Pembroke Hall, the Marquis of Granby (later the 4th Duke of Rutland, Chatham’s best bud), and Lady Harriot Pitt, Chatham’s younger sister.

As you will know from previous posts, Chatham left Gibraltar in early 1779 to go back to Britain. I was a bit unsure about whether he left in February or March, and how much leave he was granted, but now I know the answer: he left on 2 March, and his leave was six months. (Within that period the siege had started, and he transferred to another regiment, so the next time he returned to Gibraltar was as Governor in 1821.)

governors_diary_1778_chatham_leave_detail

Apologies for the quality of the above photo — the 1779 Diary is in pretty darn poor nick — but it reads “Leave of Absence for 6 months granted Earl of Chatham. Travelling Pass E. Chatham, Honble. Captain Conway and Lieutenant Colt to go to Madrid, 3 Months; also Permit for said Gentlemen to pass to Cadiz, to morrow, with 3 Servants and Baggage.” It was issued on 1 March 1779.

I am so, so chuffed by this, you have no idea. It was totally worth nearly falling down the Rock for.

__________

References

All material from the Governor’s Diaries, March – November 1778 and 1778 – 1782, Gibraltar National Archives

190 years ago yesterday: Lord Chatham leaves Gibraltar

I am currently in Gibraltar, having the time of my life visiting the archives and chasing monkeys. I was wandering about the Upper Rock, taking in the Straits and very much enjoying the sun and the sights, when something struck me. It has been almost exactly 190 years since the 2nd Earl of Chatham — the man I am here to research — left Gibraltar.

Streets of Gibraltar

Chatham succeeded the Duke of Kent as Governor of Gibraltar in January 1820. I suspect he at first had very little intention of ever coming out (the Duke of Kent, after all, had been an absentee governor since his disastrous attempt to serve in person resulted in several mutinies) but was only forced into it by the fact the House of Commons started discussing expensive sinecures, and Chatham’s governorship came up. Ministers were all “Oh yes, Chatham has every intention of going out there”, probably all while wrestling Chatham bodily onto the boat.

Chatham was meant to have gone out in May 1821, but was held up by three things: 1) his wife’s death on 21 May; 2) King George IV’s visit to Ireland, which snarled up all available frigates; and 3) his own reluctance. He really did not want to go, and it did not help that he suffered from profound depression for months after his wife’s death. Nevertheless, as soon as all ships had returned from Ireland and he had run out of excuses, Chatham boarded the Active frigate at the end of October 1821 and arrived in Gibraltar on 15 November. I can’t imagine it was a pleasant trip, although, at 19 days, it was relatively short.

Having spent the day perusing the Gibraltar Chronicle with great care, I can now say a little bit more about what Chatham did in Gibraltar, but for the details you’ll have to wait till my book comes out next September. Suffice to say he never warmed to the place, possibly not helped by the fact Lord Maryborough, who had taken over Chatham’s old rented house of Abington, kept writing to tell Chatham about the abundance of game on the estate and what wonderful hunts he was missing. Chatham’s weak health did not get on with the climate, and by early 1825 his health was pretty much shattered.

He wrote for permission to return to England, which was granted. He stayed long enough to lay the foundation stone of the church that would become the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity on 1 June, then high-tailed it with all the speed his weakened frame could muster.

Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, Gibraltar

Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, Gibraltar

The Gibraltar Chronicle recorded Chatham’s departure in its 8 June edition. Chatham’s last day was a sunny, clear 23 degree day:

“Yesterday, at 12 o’clock, His Excellency General the Earl of Chatham, Governor of this Fortress, embarked on board HM Frigate Tribune, Capt. Guion, returning to England on leave of absence.

The streets from the Convent to Ragged-Staff [Wharf] were lined by the Troops composing the Garrison; and His Excellency, being received at the Convent Gate by a Guard of Honor from the 43rd Light Infantry, proceeded, accompanied by the Lieutenant Governor, General Sir George Don, and the Officers of the Military and Civil Departments. On arriving at Ragged-Staff, His Excellency was received by another Guard of Honor furnished by the 94th Regiment, and, at the moment of stepping into the Barge, was saluted with 19 Guns from the Garrison, which were repeated by the Frigate on His Excellency’s arrival on board.

The Tribune shortly after got under weigh, and sailed into the Straits with a light breeze at East.”[1]

Ragged Staff Gates, Gibraltar (Wikimedia Commons)

Ragged Staff Gates, Gibraltar (Wikimedia Commons)

In fact Chatham’s “leave of absence” was permanent, and he never returned. As late as 1829 there was talk that he might well come back, but, although Chatham recovered to a degree after returning to England, his health had been permanently damaged. He was, after all, nearly 69 in June 1825. He was seriously ill in 1829, and nearly died in 1831. Even so, when the Reform Bill came before Parliament in 1831, Chatham was terrified that he — as an opponent of reform — might be sent off to Gibraltar to prevent him causing trouble in the Lords: “Lord Chatham has the fear before his eyes of being ordered off to reside upon his government”.[2]

Grand Casemates Gate, 1824

Grand Casemates Gate, 1824

So it was that when Chatham died on 24 September 1835, he had been Governor of Gibraltar for fifteen and a half years, but only served there for four. Still, he did rather better than a number of Gibraltar histories imply (one I’ve seen flat out denied he ever went out there) and better than the Duke of Kent. At least there were no mutinies!

References

[1] Gibraltar Chronicle, 8 June 1825

[2] Duke of Buckingham to the Duke of Wellington, 27 September 1831, Southampton University Wellington MSS WP1/1196/18

Lord Chatham, Knight of the Garter

Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit St George’s Chapel Archives at Windsor Castle, where I spent an instructive morning perusing the Garter Registers and chasing Lord Chatham’s officially recorded movements as a Knight of the Garter.

Chatham was elected a Knight of the Garter in December 1790, as I explain in my guest post for English Historical Fiction Authors on the Order of the Garter during the reign of George III. The Garter should have gone to his brother Pitt the Younger, but Pitt wrote to persuade the King to give it to Chatham instead.

One of the most notable features of Chatham’s character was his love of pomp and status, so I can imagine he was thrilled to be admitted to Britain’s oldest and most prestigious Order. Although he was invested with the Garter in December 1790, he was not fully “installed” (for more on the distinction between the two ceremonies see my EHFA post) until May 1801, when the King dispensed with the full ceremonies for twenty-three uninstalled Knights.

Dispensation installing Chatham as a Knight Companion of the Garter (29 May 1801) (PRO 30/8/371)

Dispensation installing Chatham as a Knight Companion of the Garter (29 May 1801) (PRO 30/8/371)

After his “installation”, Chatham was finally permitted to enjoy the full privileges of the Order. Before, he had only been allowed to wear the ribbon and Lesser George: now he was allowed to wear the Star, or “Glory”, and surround his crest with the Garter insignia. He was allowed to attend Garter Chapters, and was allotted a stall in the quire of St George’s Chapel, although I am informed this would have changed according to Chatham’s seniority in the order (in other words, every time a senior knight died, Chatham’s stall would move one step closer to the Sovereign’s).

He was also allowed to affix a stall plate to the back of the stall, listing his “achievements”. I have been permitted to see Chatham’s plate, although not to photograph it, but it was put up shortly after his installation in May 1801 since it records him as being a Major-General and Lord President of the Council. The achievement is in French: “le noble et très puissant Jean, Comte de Chatham”.

A later Garter Stall Plate (1891); Chatham's was similar (Wikimedia Commons)

A later Garter Stall Plate (1891); Chatham’s was similar (Wikimedia Commons)

Many Knights of the Garter died without being installed, including Chatham’s good friend the Duke of Rutland, who was invested in 1783 and died in 1787. Rutland, though, was an exception to the rule: when he was made Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1784, the King gave him permission to use the Garter Insignia and wear the Star as though he had been fully installed.[1]

Plan of the stalls of the Knights of the Garter as they stood in 1828 , from "The Visitants' Guide to Windsor Castle" (thanks to regencyhistory.net for this)

Plan of the stalls of the Knights of the Garter as they stood in 1828 , from “The Visitants’ Guide to Windsor Castle” (thanks to regencyhistory.net for this)

My purpose in consulting the Garter Registers was to track Chatham’s attendance record as a KG at Chapters and official Dinners. By statute all Chapters were recorded in the official Registers, and all attendees’ names were noted down. I had been informed Chatham’s attendance was patchy: I wanted to see whether this was true. I must admit I was surprised to hear Chatham wasn’t a frequent attender. Despite his reputation for laziness, Chatham was very proud of his Garter.

I can now report that Chatham’s attendance was not as bad as it looks. He was elected to the Order at Chapter XV, held at St James’s Palace on Wednesday, 15 December 1790, at the same time as the Duke of Saxe-Gotha and the Duke of Leeds. Present at this Chapter were the King, the Prince of Wales, the Dukes of Gloucester and York, and the Marquis of Stafford, along with the Prelate, Chancellor, and Registrar of the Order (the Officers), and Garter King of Arms and Black Rod.[2] Members of the Royal Family seem to have been keen attenders of the Chapters, much as one would expect (and a Chapter could not be held without the Sovereign or his representative, so he is pretty much the only person with a 100% attendance record). But only fully installed members of the Order could attend Chapters, so Chatham’s name does not appear again until Chapter XXIII, the first Chapter after his installation, held on 25 November 1803 at St James’s Palace.

Up until then, Chapters had been thinly attended (remember, only fully installed members could attend), and often only members of the Royal Family turned up. But the 1803 Chapter was rather different. The King was present, and the Dukes of Gloucester, York, Clarence, Kent, and Cambridge, but nine Knights Companion turned up too: apart from Chatham, the Dukes of Richmond, Portland and Roxburgh were there, as well as Lords Cornwallis, Salisbury, Westmorland, Spencer, and Camden. Presumably they needed a rather bigger room than they had been accustomed to using.[3]

After that, Chatham attended quite regularly. He was at Chapters XXIV, XXV and XXVII (17 Jan 1805, 27 May 1805, and 18 July 1807), and the Installation of April 1805. He missed Chapter XXVI, but since that took place on 22 March 1806 I’ll give him a break: his brother hadn’t even been dead two months, and his wife was still extremely unwell. He was not at Chapter XXVIII, on 3 March 1810, but I rather think he was otherwise engaged appearing at parliamentary enquiries and trying not to be impeached after Walcheren. Interestingly, though, he did attend the St George’s Day Dinner at Carlton House in April 1810. Given his name was mud at this stage, I cannot help wondering if it was a bit of a defiant gesture at the government: “Yah, yah, yah, I still enjoy royal favour.” Of course, maybe he just needed a bit of fun.

He may have attended the 1811 St George’s Dinner as well, but the attendees are not separately listed so there’s no way of knowing. Only one other Dinner is recorded, for 1812, and Chatham was not present.

Returning to the Chapters, he missed Chapter XXIX in March 1812, but he was at Chapters XXX-XXXI and XXXIII-XXXVII (he missed XXXII, on 4 March 1813, for no obvious reason that I can think of). He was absent from Chapter XXXVIII, on 24 July 1817, but this was around the time that his wife fell victim to her second bout of mental illness, so it’s not much of a surprise to see him absent until Chapter I of the reign of George IV (7 June 1820).

After this Chatham disappears almost completely from the record, but then Chapter II of George IV was not held till 1822, when Chatham was in Gibraltar. After his return in 1825, however, he never attended another Chapter, and there were 13 more Chapters and 2 St George’s Day Dinners held before Chatham’s death. Most of them were held during the reign of William IV, though, when Chatham’s health was poor, and he was mostly in Brighton when the Chapters were held. Still, Camden and Westmorland, his contemporaries (and close friends), were still attending nearly every Chapter.

The final mention of Chatham records his passing:

“On the 24th September 1835, in Charles Street Berkeley Square, Died, General The Right Honourable John, Earl of Chatham, Knight Companion of this Most Noble Order.”[4]

One last interesting note: one of the Statutes of the Order stipulates that no member of the Order should go out of the country without getting prior permission of the King. I found a few examples of this in the Register, mostly for Knights wishing to go abroad for their health, but permission was not recorded for Chatham to go abroad with the army either in 1799 or 1809 (or, indeed, to Gibraltar in 1821). I suspect this is probably because permission was not required to go abroad on military service, but possibly any permission given was not recorded.

So, in sum, of 26 Chapters during the reign of George III, 8 Chapters during the reign of George IV, and 9 Chapters during the reign of William IV, Chatham attended:

— his investiture (1790)

— the installation of April 1805 (the only proper Installation during his time as Knight)

— 11 Chapters from 1803 – 1820

— 1 (possibly 2) St George’s Day Dinners (out of a total of 5 recorded)

So no, not a brilliant record, but then Chatham was actually unable to attend 10 of the Chapters due to being either ineligible or out of the country, and missed a further 5 due to circumstances out of his control (family illness or bereavement, or — say — political disgrace). As a result, I make out he attended 11 out of 26 possible Chapters.

____________

References

[1] St George’s Chapel Archives, Register of the Order of the Garter, SGC G.5 (1688-1804) f 155

[2] St George’s Chapel Archives, Register of the Order of the Garter, SGC G.5 (1688-1804) ff 159-60

[3] St George’s Chapel Archives, Register of the Order of the Garter, SGC G.5 (1688-1804) f 168

[4] St George’s Chapel Archives, Register of the Order of the Garter, SGC G.6 (1805-1861) f 79

Lord Chatham in Colchester

I’ve known for a good while that the 2nd Earl of Chatham had close connections with Colchester. He spent a great deal of time there, connected with the military garrison. I believe he was, for a long while, Commander in Chief of the Eastern District, with headquarters in the town.

Colchester Barracks in the mid 19th century, from http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/essex/vol9/pp251-255

Colchester Barracks in the mid 19th century, from http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/essex/vol9/pp251-255

He was, however, in Colchester as early as 1798. John had not left the army since rejoining it in 1778, but between 1788 and 1798 he put politics first. In the summer of 1798, however, he received the rank of Major-General and clearly made a choice to return to his military career, appearing at the King’s birthday levee in his regimentals and moving to the Colchester garrison.[1] On 13 September 1798 Pitt the Younger wrote to his sister-in-law, Mary, Countess of Chatham: “I rejoice that my Brothers Military Life agrees so well with him, and that you like your Quarters, which I shall be very glad if I can visit … I shall direct this to Colchester.”[2]

From 1806 onwards John spent a significant part of the second half of each year in Colchester. Sometimes he seems to have been running away from something else — I suspect he spent so much time in Colchester in 1807 and 1808 because of his wife Mary’s illness, and after 1810 I would guess he had little to keep him in London — and how much his attraction to Colchester had to do with the local hunting scene, I could not say. He was a visible enough public figure, however, and in October 1807 the town Assembly appointed him High Steward of Colchester and gave him the Freedom of the Borough as “a new proof of the popularity of the [Duke of Portland’s] present vigorous Administration”, of which John was a member as Master General of the Ordnance.[3]

Colchester today (Wikimedia Commons)

Colchester today (Wikimedia Commons)

The post of High Steward was largely ceremonial (salaried, of course, although its £10 a year was hardly going to make much of a difference to John’s considerable debts). The post had been established in 1635, with a fairly vague brief “to advise and direct” the mayor, the twelve aldermen, twelve assistants, and eighteen councilmen who made up the Assembly, “to elect officers, make bye-laws, &c”.[4]

I imagine John much enjoyed the ceremonial aspects of the post, although these sometimes entailed more prosaic elements. Goodness knows how often he did this, and presumably this reflected John’s personal religious preferences (of which I have found no other sign so far), but I have tracked John down at a meeting of the Colchester and East Essex Auxiliary Bible Society in Colchester on 7 December 1812. I can only imagine John struggling not to fall asleep while the Reverend W. Dealtry thus concluded a long speech with reflections on the “noble patronage” Chatham brought to the meeting: “It is a patronage, of which, I am well persuaded, your Lordship never can repent; and I will venture to add, that by giving lustre to this society your Lordship will reflect lustre even upon your own illustrious coronet.”[5]

John was High Steward until 1818, when he was succeeded by John Round, a local barrister and MP. By this time Chatham had moved on: he settled at Abington Hall in Cambridgeshire in 1816, and his wife’s ill-health would in any case have kept him away from Colchester. But until 1815 he was frequently in the town, as is clear from all the correspondence dated from Colchester, as well as newspaper snippets following his movements.

But where did John stay in Colchester? It was quite obvious to me he must have had a reasonably permanent residence. For months I have been searching for it. Yesterday, quite by chance, I stumbled across a reference in a local Colchester journal in 1872, reminiscing about when “Lord Chatham lived in Head-Street”.[6] Further investigation revealed the name of his house in Head Street: Headgate House.[7]

Headgate House today (from Google Street View)

Headgate House today (from Google Street View)

Headgate House is now part of a shopping centre (H&M has moved in), but the frontage remains essentially unchanged from the house John Chatham would have known. It was described in an article as “possibly the finest family house in the town”, and the photographs reproduced in the article certainly suggest a house which, while rather less grand than what Chatham would have been used to, was grand enough. (The article is reproduced online here.)

Presumably this was the house where the following (somewhat dubious) anecdote was set:

It was the custom of Lord Chatham, when he commanded at Colchester, to invite every officer belonging to the garrison, in rotation, to his hospitable and elegant table. It happened, one day, that a raw Scotch lad, from some fastness of the Highlands, who had joined his regiment but a day or two previous, was placed opposite Lady Chatham, about midway between the noble host and his aid-de-camp, who sat at the bottom of the table. … A batter pudding was placed before her ladyship, when the sweets were paraded, and, with her usual urbanity, she invited Mr MacNab to partake … MacNab loved batter pudding, and he thought it a fitting occasion, in asking for more, to pay such a compliment to the elegant woman opposite to him as would make ample amends for his silence during the repast; without waiting, therefore, for a servant’s assistance, he pushed the plate across the table in a manner to attract her ladyship’s eye, and, with a countenance lit up by the brilliancy of the compliment he was about to pay, said, ‘Your pudden is sae excellent, my leddy, I needna ask ye wha made it.'[8]

I am still on the lookout for anything to do with Lord Chatham and Colchester: he spent so long there, and seems to have been so closely connected to the town, that I can’t believe he left absolutely no evidence of his being there. If anyone knows of anything, I would be grateful if you would contact me and let me know!

______________

References

[1] Express and Evening Chronicle, 2 June 1798

[2] William Pitt to Mary, Countess of Chatham, 13 September 1798, National Archives Chatham MSS PRO 30/8/101 f 141

[3] Bury and Norwich Post, 7 October 1807; Morning Post, 9 October 1807

[4] The History and Antiquities of the Borough of Colchester, in the County of Essex (Colchester, 1810), p. 74; A History of the County of Essex IX, Victoria County History (London, 1994) 156

[5] The Proceedings of the Colchester and East Essex Auxiliary Bible Society … (Colchester, 1812), unpaginated

[6] The British Flag and Christian Sentinel, 1 February 1872

[7] Philip Crummy, “The House that Ann and Hugh built”, Catalogue: New of Archaeological Excavations in Colchester, 18 (Winter 1985/6), 6-11

[8] Benson Earle Hill, Recollections of an Artillery Officer … I (London, 1836), 276-7

“My lot has indeed been a hard one”: Lord Chatham and his money problems, again

A while ago I quoted a short bit from one of John, 2nd Earl of Chatham’s letters to Mrs Stapleton, his mother’s former companion, in which he lamented the impact of his brother’s death and wife’s ill health on his finances. On that occasion John did manage to scrape together a loan of one hundred and fifty pounds; but it was not the first time Mrs Stapleton had cause to ask John for a loan … nor was it the last.

142c0-johnhayterlessblurreddetail

John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham (1821)

I found the May 1808 letter referred to above interesting in that John did a bit of muttering about his financial difficulties, but it was NOTHING compared to the two letters I found today. These are full-on hand-wringing affairs, quite uncharacteristic of John, and I imagine they would have made quite an impact on Mrs Stapleton for that reason. Whether it was the impact John wished to have is … debatable, because even I (and I freely admit I am more indulgent towards John than many people would be) found them a bit on the pathetic side. Still, there’s no doubt he was an unlucky enough chap, and even if he manages to blame everyone but himself for his predicament I have no doubt his woes were real enough.

I will quote the letters in full, because they make for impressive reading.

Letter One: Colchester, 13 December 1807

My Dear Mrs Stapleton,

Your letter of ye 3rd Inst[ant] from Wynnstay has been forward to me here, where I have been fixed for some time, going up occasionally to London for business, and to see Lady Chatham who is at Frognall. I shou’d be happy if I cou’d tell you, she was as much recovered as you so kindly wish her, but tho very much better, she had not regained her strength sufficiently, when I last saw her, to come down here with me, but I hope to find her better when I go up again which will be in a few days. I must now however painfull tell you, that I have delayed writing to you several days, from the reluctance I felt to return you the only answer in my power, which is, that at this time I really can do nothing. It is doubly painful to me to write on this subject, as it is scarcely possible I shou’d do it, without complaining of the past, which no one has ever yet heard me do. You know full well the manner in which my hands are tied up, and in which I was left, without the power of raising one single sixpence. The business of Burton, from the difficulties attending it, is not yet closed;[*] and when it is, the whole life Interest I have in it, is not worth much above half of what My Mother’s debts amount to. How I shall be able to deal with them I know not. I hope, but till I see my way, I can only hope, that I may have it in my power to make some arrangement about them. My own incumbrances, which from unfortunate events have pressed hard upon me, I can only get rid of gradually by devoting a larger Portion of my Income regularly to them, than I can well manage to do. Had my poor Brother lived, who was jointly with me called upon to pay My Mother’s debts it might have been more easily accomplished. He thought with me, that they might have been paid out of ye Money for which Burton sold, with ye consent of my Nieces. But now alas, as their prospect of inheritance is so much meaner, the thing is more difficult, nor have they the same temptation to agree to it. I mean by this the Stanhopes, for dear Mrs Pringle wou’d do any thing. Had the Estate, been mine, as it shou’d have been, in failure of my Brothers, I shou’d have desired the principal satisfaction, from its having put it in my power to have paid my Mother’s debts, and instead of the pain of this letter, to have had the happiness of doing at once what you wished. I can say no more, and will only add

That I am My Dear Mrs Stapleton

Your Very Affect[ionat]e

Humble Servant

Chatham

[*] I presume this is a reference to the fact Chatham was sued by the Pinney family over the terms of the sale of the Burton Pynsent estate.

Mary, Countess of Chatham (ca 1800) by Charles Rosenburg

Mary, Countess of Chatham (ca 1800) by Charles Rosenburg

Letter Two: Colchester, 2 December 1810

Private

My Dear Mrs Stapleton,

I did not venture here till yesterday, and had no opportunity of writing to you till this days Post, and I am quite vexed to find, that owing to some business which has engaged me till late, I shall not be in time. The subject of your letter is indeed, as you say, one mutually painful to us both. You do me but justice in believing that I feel, and most truly and sincerely I can assure you, I do, for your situation. But painful as it is to me to say it, I will not disguise the truth or deceive you by holding out expectations which, without some good fortune or other, I confess I do not see the prospect of being able to realise. Had my poor Brother been spared, I hardly know how, even together, we cou’d have met the heavy embarrassments which my Poor Mother left. Alone, I can have but little hope of bringing them to a satisfactory settlement. I have paid already more than I know how to deal with, & the consequence has been that it has so thrown me back in all my own payments, that I am pressed at this moment to a degree of inconvenience that I do not like to own, except in confidence to you. My lot has indeed been a hard one. Lady Chatham’s long Illness, in itself a source of the bitterest affliction, has been attended with an expence, that has more than counterbalanced all the efforts, which by a strict oeconomy I cou’d make to bring my affairs at all around, and it is on her account alone, that I am induced not to turn my back at once upon London, rather than to go on struggling with the difficulties I have to contend with. In this situation I am grieved to say I can do nothing. I have dwelt upon this unpleasant subject more than I had intended, but I felt anxious you shou’d be impressed, that nothing but utter impossibility shou’d prevent me from offering my assistance at this distressing moment, and doing that which it wou’d afford me the highest gratification to find in my power. I will not add more than that I am

My Dear Mrs Stapleton

Always Very Sincerely & Affect[ionatel]y Yours

Chatham

PS. I have said nothing to Lady Chatham about your letter. It wd too much distress her on your account, and I make every thing appear to the best. C

*   *   *

So there you have it. I’m not too sure what Mrs Stapleton’s reaction can have been to the line “my lot has indeed been a hard one”. Poor John had, indeed, had a bad time of it 1807-10, what with Mary being ill, Walcheren and the aftermath, and the loss of his lucrative salary as Master General of the Ordnance. But he was hardly badly off by any standards: he had a combined annual pension of seven thousand pounds, not to mention his salaries as Commander of the Eastern District, Governor of Jersey, and High Steward of Colchester.

I suppose I would have preferred him to say “Yes! Of course I’ll help, even if I can’t afford it!” But then I suppose learning to say no is, perhaps, one of the only ways to get oneself out of debt. And as we all know, John eventually did get himself out of debt, but not before he had learned his lesson the hard way

______________

References

Both Chatham letters are in NAM Combermere MSS 8408-114

They’re real people, you know…

I write about real people. I know, I know, every author writes about “real people”, in that fictional characters come alive on the page of the book they inhabit, but I write about real people. The main characters of The Long Shadow, William Pitt the Younger and his elder brother John, Earl of Chatham, really existed. And for some reason, whenever I find proof that they did so, I am amazed, and I still have no idea why.

Two hundred years or so ago my characters lived and breathed on the earth. They spoke the words that were recorded by journalists and diarists; they wrote the letters I have read in the archives; they lived in the houses I have visited. They went to sleep at night, got up in the mornings (…. or more probably early afternoon, in the case of my boy Chatham), ate huge meals, wore sumptuous clothes, walked the streets of London, relieved themselves, caught the common cold, laughed, and cried, and, well … lived.

I already know this, because I’ve read about it, and yet there is still a sort of dislocation in my head that makes me unable fully to grasp the fact my characters were both real and human.

johnprintWlmPittYngr

^^^ Real people ^^^

A few months ago I made a discovery, quite by accident.* I found this record on the finds.org.uk site, dedicated to recording archaeological finds of historical significance in the UK. I’ve blogged about it before, but I’ll talk about it again.

Why did this find stagger me so much? Because this, dear reader, is John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham’s personal seal. The one he affixed to private correspondence. And it dropped from his watch fob, probably sometime between 1783 and 1790, while he was visiting his mother at her Somerset house of Burton Pynsent, where it was found in 2006 — not, alas, by me, although every time I’ve been back there I’ve kept my eyes peeled in case, you know, he did it twice.

johnseal

Think about it. I knew Burton Pynsent belonged to the Pitt family; I knew the 2nd Lord Chatham would have gone there many times. But here is concrete evidence that he was there, in person: that he was capable of losing things, just like anybody else. I imagine he was pretty annoyed when he found out he had lost it, too. It’s like a glimpse into a timewarp, just a blink of a moment in which the walls of time and space come crashing down.

I’ve had the same feeling so many times while researching John Chatham in particular. I think it’s because he’s virtually invisible in the history books, so to find any evidence of his physical existence is doubly disorientating. Remember my visit to Abington Hall, near Cambridge, which he rented from 1816 to 1821 (possibly longer)? It’s now the headquarters of The Welding Institute (TWI) and the estate changed beyond recognition, covered with prefab offices, storerooms and laboratories, but walking through it was like being haunted by the past.

Perhaps it was because John’s time there was hardly happy, but visiting a house where he actually lived affected me a great deal. There’s not much of “his” house left, but with assistance I was able to piece John’s Abington together. TWI’s records officer showed me the remains of a bridge over Chatham’s stream, the last remnant of his walled garden, the location of his stables, and the double line of lime trees leading to the London road that would have been his drive.

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Chatham, moreover, left his mark. The house’s ground floor still has a flavour of John’s grand early-19th century reception rooms, and the outside still bears the peeling whitewash “inflicted on it by your boy” (as the records officer informed me, accusingly). The welders may have moved in, but I felt almost as though I could reach out through the centuries and brush Chatham’s sleeve with my fingers.

Sometimes, of course, the frisson I get from such a connection comes with a sense of embarrassment. I have often been reminded, while consulting the archives, that I am, essentially, reading someone’s private correspondence. I’m sure Pitt the Elder would have been horrified to know I would read the following line, written to his wife, Lady Hester, shortly after she had given birth to their third child: “How I long, now that you are out of the straw, to have you in the fragrant grass?” (National Archives Chatham MSS PRO 30/8/5 f 205) The historian always, of course, has something of the voyeur in him or her, but I still won’t be getting that image out of my head any time soon.

So yes: real. Not real in my head, but real in the flesh, two hundred years ago. I’ve stood over the Pitt family vault in Westminster Abbey and tried to come to terms with the fact that the people I have read so much about were there only a short distance beneath my feet. I can’t do it. I’ve touched things that belonged to them — I’ve seen John’s own miniature of his wife, held his cutlery, walked his estates, and I even have a letter he wrote hanging on my wall downstairs — but for some reason I can’t get over this barrier. I can’t comprehend that, even though they are my characters, they will never completely belong to me.

Surely I’m not the only one?

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* Most of my best discoveries have been made by accident: one day I will write a post about my own personal Historical Research Fairy, who tugs me by the skirts, hisses “Pssssst!” in my ear, and places the right document in my hands, or turns my eyes to just the right place on a gallery wall.