“My poor afflicted Sister”: Lady Chatham’s first mental illness, 1807-8

In May 1808 John, 2nd Earl of Chatham braced himself to write to his mother’s old companion, Catherine Stapleton. Mrs Stapleton (the “Mrs” was a courtesy title only, since she never married) had lived more or less permanently with the Dowager Countess of Chatham from 1782 until Lady Chatham’s death in 1803. She thus had a strong claim on John’s remembrances, although I have a feeling she never forgave him for selling Burton Pynsent in 1805.

By 1808, though, Mrs Stapleton was low on funds. I can only imagine sheer desperation drove her to request assistance from John, whom she must have known was not in a position to offer much assistance. He wrote back after a week or so with a draft of money for £150, the best he could do given his bank account was “strictly appropriated, in order to get rid gradually of some incumbrances, which ye misfortunes of late years have brought, to press very heavily upon me.”

Most of these “misfortunes” were clear enough. Many of them were self-inflicted, and for more see my post on the subject of John’s finances generally. I suspect, although I have not yet been able to substantiate this, that John had been sued over the sale of Burton Pynsent by the purchaser of the estate, John Pinney, and the fallout of this was no doubt one minor “misfortune” . The more significant ones were, most obviously, the death of John’s brother William Pitt in January 1806 and the subsequent break-up of his ministry, during which John Chatham lost the salary he had received as a Cabinet member in continuous service since July 1788. In May 1808 he was back in office, but presumably his credit had not yet recovered from eighteen months without a salary.

But there was one other misfortune of note, and John touched on it towards the end of his letter. “Lady Chatham is I hope essentially better, but far from well yet,” he wrote. “This has been a year of sad distress, and confinement to me, but upon the whole I am well” .[1] In November 1808, after another lengthy spate of correspondence (again on financial difficulties), John closed a letter to his banker Thomas Coutts by revealing his wife was still extremely unwell: “I have not seen Lady Chatham for some time, but form her letters I hope she is rather better than she was, tho’ her amendment, I am sorry to say, has been very slow.”[2]

Mary, Countess of Chatham

Mary, Countess of Chatham

Readers of this blog may recall my discovery, in April last year, that John’s wife Mary suffered from a severe mental illness towards the end of her life. Whether her illness was caused by schizophrenia or something metabolic I am not qualified to say, but it turns out her troubles from 1818 onwards were not unique. Mrs Tomline’s lengthy, somewhat voyeuristic letter to Sir Henry Halford describing Mary’s 1819 condition made a passing reference to a previous attack: “[I] reminded her [Lady Chatham] she had recovered from a former illness … and expressed perfect confidence that she would again recover.”[3] Sir Henry Halford himself recorded, in his diary kept during the period of his attendance on mad King George III, the King early on expressing confidence in Halford’s skill, for he had “saved Lady Chatham from being delivered over to the Mad Doctors.”[4]

Sir Henry Halford (Wikimedia Commons)

Sir Henry Halford (Wikimedia Commons)

A little digging revealed that Mary Chatham had, in fact, been ill for over a year by the time John wrote to Mrs Stapleton. She may in fact not have recovered from the “delirious Fever” that nearly prevented John attending his own brother’s funeral in February 1806, and which marks the beginning of the mental troubles that would plague her on and off for the rest of her life.[5] Certainly she was not well in April 1807, as is made clear in a letter, almost certainly written by her sister Georgiana, in the Leicester and Rutland Record Office Halford MSS.[6]

Georgiana Townshend was Mary’s only older sibling, born in 1761. She was unmarried, and seems to have spent much time as a live-in nurse to Mary during her lengthy periods of ill health, starting with Mary’s rheumatic episode in 1784. Her anonymous letter to Halford (then plain Henry Vaughan) of 14 April 1807 is especially interesting because it corroborates so many of the symptoms Mary suffered from during her relapse ten years later: this was clearly an attack of the same illness, whatever it was.

The letter, obviously written in distress by a woman at the end of her tether, makes difficult reading. As happened in 1818, Mary seems to have struck out, often literally, at those who were closest to her. Georgiana recorded Mary’s use of “violence” towards her sister and mother, as well as her use of “horrid language”, to the extent that the Dowager Lady Sydney had “really become quite afraid” of her own daughter. Georgiana did not, however, think her mother fully understood the severity of the situation. Lady Sydney kept waiting for Mary to snap out of it: “If she (my poor Sister is a little chearfull) her real illness is forgot, & ‘she can be well when she pleases’. Will any body of common Sense think she would not then always be so?”

Mary was clearly all too aware of her own condition, and that Georgiana was reporting everything to Halford. “I hope you never talk of my mind,” Georgiana quoted to Halford from Mary’s latest letter, adding, “that last word was hardly intelligible” . Mary knew she was caught up in a spiral of depression, but could see no way back out to the light, trapped as she was on a circular, claustrophobic path: “[She] has no better opinion of herself … saying she still lived too shut up a life feeling unfit for every thing & making herself more unfit by doing so” . Mary’s inability to break away from the blackness made her moods worse. Georgiana quoted another letter that was little more than a desperate cry for a help Mary knew did not exist:

My cold is better but I am shocking horrible in mind & spirits &c. Oh why, why write to write this so, keep it to yourself … or rather burn it, tell me I may be suddenly different. Nonsense my head can not go on so. God bless you.

She displayed suicidal tendencies, as she was to do ten years later, although Georgiana seemed to think there was no real danger. Georgiana reported her muttering “she could not live in this way (that you perceive is the old Story) [and] she must put an end to it” .

Mary was of course a married woman, and in every marriage there are two people. John had promised to support his wife in sickness and in health, but he cannot have known when he did so just how much sickness there would be in Mary’s life. He and Mary had always been a close couple. Her illness, and its nature, appears to have knocked him completely sideways. He dealt with it in much the same way as he dealt with most of the major problems in his life: by pretending it did not exist. Georgiana  referred to John’s wrapping himself up in his armour of denial:

She will not think he thinks her well, tho’ she tells my mother nobody thinks her well, but him. … She has regretted to me that poor L[or]d C[hatham] thought her getting better when she was as ill as ever, & alas! there is I fear too much truth in that.

johnprint

John’s stiff-upper-lip attitude may have helped him get by on the surface, but unfortunately it was exactly the worst thing possible for Mary. Inevitably their close marriage, subjected to almost unbearable pressure, began to crack. Georgiana’s letter gives an interesting, poignant vignette into the impact of Mary’s illness on her domestic arrangements. Either by medical advice, or because John, too, was not immune from Mary’s violent fits, they were living in different apartments for the first time in their marriage. “I am certain their being on separate floors must keep up the irritation,” Georgiana noted, “but that no-one can help, but she never can have confidence in his thinking her better, while she does not live as usual.”

If only John could wake up, smell the coffee and see what impact his attitude had, but Georgiana suspected it was impossible. The self-replicating nature of the issue distressed her: “She [Mary] cannot get back to where she was with him, & a most unhappy being she certainly is.”

Mary’s sense of entrapment must have been massively increased by her status as a cabinet minister’s wife. John had joined the Duke of Portland’s cabinet as Master General of the Ordnance and, as such, required to attend Court functions, hold dinners, and appear in public on a regular basis. It is clear from Georgiana’s letters that he expected Mary to appear with him, if only to keep up appearances of normality: the scandal, if news of her condition leaked out, would be great. “I dread her making her case more known,” Georgiana fretted to Halford. “… All her servants see it, & I live in dread of a scene.”

The attempts to keep Mary propped up and looking normal are horrifying to read. Georgiana described the hell in which Mary existed, as a public figure required to perform a social role. She quoted a letter from Mary’s maid:

I leave you to judge in what state she [Mary] must have been, before she would attempt to Strike me, which her L[ad]yship actually did on Tuesday at dressing time, fear made me shrink from her, & she immediately became conscious of what she had done, & kept on mumbling to herself … She was very bad in the afternoon, but much worse at dressing time, she never struck me before, but has many times gone off in a very violent way. I asked her L[ad]yship to take some Cordial, which she did[,] afterwards finished dressing, & went out very quietly with my L[or]d. … Since Tuesday her L[ad]yship has been upon the whole tolerably quiet, she complains of being very much tired in the Morning. Her L[ad]yship does not go to bed till after two in ye Morn[in]g.

As Georgiana noted, “She will be relieved by there being no Drawing Room Thursday.” Mary’s existence, drifting in a drug-induced fog from function to function, must have been unimaginable.

Nor was it enough to prevent gossip. By the end of the year Mary’s state was, unfortunately, the stuff of opposition tittle-tattle. “Lady Chatham is at Frognall … under some symptoms of a mental derangement,” Lord Auckland reported to Lord Grenville in November 1807, and in January 1808 Thomas Grenville wrote that Mary was “much disordered in her senses.”[7] These were family connections — the Grenvilles were John’s first cousins — but they were not friendly either to John or the ministry he represented. I find it hard to believe that Mary’s condition was not more widely known.

Mary’s 1807-8 illness may have had a long-term significance. I suspect very much it was a strong reason for Chatham pulling himself out of the running as a potential First Lord of the Treasury following the collapse of the Ministry of All the Talents and the Duke of Portland’s growing ill health. I suspect, too, it was one of the primary reasons why Chatham declined the command of the British Army in the Peninsula. Mary Chatham’s mental problems cast a long shadow. On the one hand they ensured that Arthur Wellesley was appointed in the Peninsula, a major step on the road to victory over Napoleon; but on the other they set John Chatham on his path to Walcheren, and disgrace.

______________

References

[1] Lord Chatham to Mrs Stapleton, 11 May 1808, National Army Museum Stapleton Cotton (Combermere) MSS 9506-61-3

[2] Lord Chatham to Thomas Coutts, 23 November 1808, Kent RO Pitt MSS U1590/S5/C42. I am grateful to Stephenie Woolterton for alerting me to this letter, and transcribing it for me.

[3] Elizabeth Tomline to Sir Henry Halford, undated but September 1819, Ipswich RO Pretyman MSS HA 119/562/716

[4] Sir Henry Halford’s diary [1831-2], Leicester and Rutland RO Halford MSS DG24/941 f 56

[5] Bishop of Lincoln to his wife, 31 January 1806, Ipswich RO Pretyman MSS HA 119/T99/26

[6] All quotations over the next few paragraphs come from [Georgiana Townshend] to Henry Vaughan [later Sir Henry Halford], 14 April 1807, Leicester and Rutland RO DG24/819/1; and [Georgiana Townshend] to Henry Vaughan [later Sir Henry Halford], 14 April 1807, Leicester and Rutland RO DG24/819/2

[7] Lord Auckland to Lord Grenville, 6 November 1807; Thomas Grenville to Lord Grenville, 9 January 1808, Manuscripts of J.B. Fortescue IX, 142, 171

The 2nd Earl of Chatham’s muddled finances

Had John, 2nd Earl of Chatham been asked which year of his life was his (to coin a phrase) “Annus Horribilis”, he would very probably and with good reason have replied 1809. He might equally, however, have replied 1821, and with just as much reason.

It was not a good year. He was pushed into taking up his government at Gibraltar, a place he disliked and which very nearly killed him. His wife, who had spent most of the past two and a half years mentally ill, died suddenly in May, leaving John profoundly depressed. And a King’s Bench judgment opened a free-for-all on John’s finances, laying bare a woeful tale of debt, default, and neglect that stretched back at least forty years.

“Money? What’s that?”

John was not exceptional in this. Improvidence was a family tradition. Paying bills, to the Pitts, was something that happened to other people. Amazingly they seem to have had a very close relationship with their banker, Thomas Coutts, whom I would not have blamed for running away screaming every time he saw a Pitt family member approaching his front door. Presumably the effect of the publicity of having Lord Chatham and Mr Pitt on Coutts’ books outweighed the disadvantages incurred by their being constantly overdrawn.

Thomas Coutts, after Sir William Beechey (Wikimedia Commons)

Thomas Coutts, after Sir William Beechey (Wikimedia Commons)

John had long been notorious for his money problems. Wraxall spoke of “his total want of economy” in his memoirs, and there were rumours he had only been appointed commander-in-chief of the 1809 Walcheren expedition because of his straitened finances.[1] He definitely loved pomp and luxury, and his lifestyle as a peer of the realm was a costly one. Here’s a description of a new carriage he had made in January 1801:[2]

morningpost20jan1801chathamcarriage

Swish, and no doubt expensive too.

“Debts contracted at play”?

Of course there’s a distinct possibility that John’s financial problems were not simply due to extravagance. Unlike his brother William, John may have been a keen gambler. To be honest I’ve not found any direct evidence of this, but it’s a possibility, and there are some hints. He definitely had an interest in horse racing, no doubt encouraged by his living at Cheveley Park near Newmarket for ten years. I’ve spotted him eyeing up a horse put up for sale by the Duke of Portland in 1780, and his wife definitely had a horse running at least one year for money:[3]

timesmarch261788ladychathamshorse

It wasn’t just horse racing, though. In 1793 John was rumoured “to sit up all night at a club”, and presumably this involved gambling.[4] In 1844 Cyrus Redding published “Recollections of the Author of Vathek“, that is to say William Beckford, who had spent his formative years with the Pitt children and informed his biographer that John had sold his father’s house of Burton Pynsent “to pay debts contracted at play”.[5] Interesting theory, although in fairness to John there were other demands on the estate forcing him to sell.

Most damning of all was the judgment of his step-nephew, James Stanhope. Stanhope visited Burton Pynsent, some years after John sold it, and was moved to write a bitter poem on the subject of his uncles’ comparative inheritances:

The immortal Chatham ee’r [sic] he died

These gifts he thus assigned

Take then my fortune John, he cried

Thou William hast my mind[.]

This son the Part improved with toil

That ’twas his Countrys weal;

The former Burton learnt to spoil

To shuffle, cut, and deal.”[6]

*cringe*

James Stanhope may have been a little unjust. Even if John was a gambling man, the “fortune” he inherited wasn’t much cop. Yes, Parliament settled a pension of £4000 on the Chatham earldom after Pitt the Elder’s death in 1778, and in 1803 John became the “third life” to hold the £3000 pension settled on his father for three lives in the 1760s, but the latter was hardly ever paid and the former barely offset the long-term effect of Pitt the Elder’s own spendthriftiness.

John’s inheritance

William Pitt the Elder, 1st Earl of Chatham by William Hoare (Wikimedia Commons) [b]

William Pitt the Elder, 1st Earl of Chatham by William Hoare (Wikimedia Commons) [b]

Pitt the Elder just didn’t give a damn. Not the slightest. He would quite happily borrow huge sums of money off family and friends– £10,000 in one go in 1777, for example– without the faintest intention of paying it back.[7] (His wife tried her best, but since she was never able to stop her husband spending it must have been like holding back the tide.) Both the properties John inherited, Hayes Place in Kent and Burton Pynsent, were heavily mortgaged: Burton for over £13,000, Hayes for £10,000. Burton supposedly brought in £3000 a year, but this was rarely realised and, in any case, barely paid for the upkeep of the estate itself. It did not help that all three of the younger Pitt children had been assigned various sums in their father’s will, to which they were entitled on the security of the mortgages taken out on the two properties.[8]

In short, when John inherited the estate, his “fortune” consisted almost entirely of debts. The £4000 pension attached to the earldom was the only thing standing between him and utter penury: it was a good sum, but without lands to back it up, did little but allow the Earl of Chatham to live according to his rank.

The shock, therefore, is that Burton Pynsent remained so long in Pitt family hands, gambling debts or no. John sold Hayes in May 1785 to Sir James Bond (… no, not that one) for £8540, which didn’t even cover the mortgage. Even so, the funds were divided between members of the Pitt family (William, for example, received just under £4400).[9] His mother used Burton Pynsent as a dower-house until her death in April 1803, but even as early as February 1803 John was clearly getting itchy: he had the farms and lands valued, clearly with the intention of selling as soon as possible.[10] He finally managed to sell it in 1805, and became officially “landless”.

Fire your accountant, John

Small wonder, then, that John was so much in debt. He and his brother William started early, and often together. In December 1780 (around the same time, in fact, that John was eyeing up the Duke of Portland’s racing horse) they jointly paid a lump sum of £3500 to the Duke of Rutland in return for an annuity of £300 derived from three of Rutland’s Cambridgeshire estates. (John rather cavalierly countersigned the agreement from Newmarket, where he was hunting at the time.)[11] This lump sum was acquired partly through two separate loans for £1500, secured on two chamber sets at Lincoln’s Inn belonging jointly to William and John (the sets themselves were purchased with at least two separate loans).[12] Yes, you read that right: a loan secured on a loan, to pay for a loan.

head-desk-1In 1785 John was at it again, borrowing a total of £3150 from three separate moneylenders. In the 1790s John and William again jointly borrowed two separate sums of £6000 and £7000 from Coutts, the first through his bank and the second on a private basis. At least John seems to have paid most of the second loan back in 1804.[13]

And this is presumably only skimming the surface: like his father, John was quite happy to accept money from whoever was willing to give it, although I’d like to think he had a *leeeeetle* more of an intention of paying it back. His official cabinet salary, which he received 1788-1806 and 1807-10, did not make much difference to his borrowing habits. He borrowed money from his (himself heavily indebted) brother William, and entered into a number of bonds with his friend Lord Camden: one in October 1797 for £1500 at 5%, and one in 1806 for £4000, also at 5%. All these loans were secured on the same source (and anyway John had no property by 1806): the £4000 Chatham Earldom pension, itself already signed over a thousand times over to Thomas Coutts, the fashionable moneylenders the Goldsmid brothers, and others.[14]

Abraham Goldsmid, one of Lord Chatham's many moneylenders (Wikimedia Commons)

Abraham Goldsmid, one of Lord Chatham’s many moneylenders (Wikimedia Commons)

Small wonder, then, that when John was out of office in 1806 he had to resort to selling off a selection of his father and brother’s books:[15]

morningpost25dec1806johnsellsbooks

At this point I must stop before I beat my head against the desk so often I lose consciousness, but it’s literally a flavour of what was going on, not a comprehensive list.

The King’s Bench Judgment

Astoundingly, nothing much seems to have come of all this borrowing and mortgaging and shifting until sometime in late 1820 when John finally found a creditor who put his foot down and demanded his money back. It must have come as a shock, particularly when the man dragged John to court– especially when John lost.

Court of King's Bench in the 19th century (Wikimedia Commons)

Court of King’s Bench in the 19th century (Wikimedia Commons)

I’m not clear on the details, as I haven’t managed to find the court case in question, but it seems John borrowed £8126 from Mr John Burke. I’m not clear on who Mr Burke was, but what he was was determined, and when he discovered John did not have the means to pay him back, he sued. The resulting King’s Bench judgment clearly required John to pay Burke appropriate damages, in default of which the bailiffs would be sent in to seize his property. As a cherry on the cake, John was also required to pay Burke’s legal costs.[16]

Needless to say, John did not have the ready money. He had not had a government salary since 1810, although he did have his emoluments as Governor of Jersey, High Steward of Colchester (till 1817), and Colonel of the 4th Regiment of Foot. Still, his wife had been constantly ill for two years: whatever ready cash he had, presumably, had mostly gone on her healthcare. In January 1820 John had been made Governor of Gibraltar, with a salary of £2800, and perhaps it was this circumstance that inspired Burke to try his luck.[17]

To avoid the embarrassment of the bailiffs, John had no choice but to negotiate. His agent, Joseph Ward, met with Burke’s agent, Francis Robertson, and hammered out a compromise. The result was a bond, signed 11 January 1821:

Whereas the said John Earl of Chatham hath contracted and agreed with the said John Burke for the absolute sale to him the said John Burke of One Annuity or clear yearly Sum of Six hundred and ninety one pounds two shillings and six pence to be paid to the said John Burke his Executors Administrators and Assigns during the natural life of the said John Earl of Chatham…

The money was due to be raised from the poor £4000 pension attached to the Chatham earldom, already mortgaged in all directions beyond its ability to bear. This time, however, John was caught coming and going: if he defaulted on his quarterly payments by 28 days, in went the bailiffs, out came his pretty furniture.[18]

At some point after this date, however, Burke remembered that there were further damages to consider, because the money Chatham had borrowed had been raised from selling the £10,000 worth of stock Burke’s wife, Louisa Angelo Tremamondo, had brought as her dowry. The £600 annuity was therefore raised to £1196, and the money claimed in damages to £13,075.[19] Possibly this was due to interest, but it does not appear to be a separate agreement.

I cannot imagine the face John made when he put his pen to that bond, but sign it he did.

…. And it just keeps getting worse

So what did John do to finance his brand spanking new debt? You guessed it. He took out three life insurance policies, with three insurance companies: one with the Fire and Life Insurance Company for a total of £5000, one with the Provident Institution for £1800, and one with the Union Life Office for £400. A total of £7200 to be paid on his death to Joseph Ward, who would presumably then turn the proceeds over to Burke and clear the debt.[20]

Unluckily for Burke, he did not live long enough to benefit from the arrangement and died in December 1824. John, however, didn’t benefit either: he was bound to continue his quarterly payments to Burke’s “Executors Administrators and Assigns” during the term of his “natural life”, which meant continuing payments to Burke’s widow Louisa. Mrs Burke, therefore, received nearly eleven years’ worth of payments of £1196– about £13,000 in all. She received her last payment of £336 in October 1835 from John’s executors.[21]

Open season!

At around this time– probably not coincidentally– the husband of John’s niece, Harriot Hester, suddenly remembered something VERY important.

Sir William Pringle had married Harriot Hester Eliot, only daughter of John’s sister Harriot, in May 1806. Harriot Hester had lived for two and a half years with her aunt and uncle in London and remained close to the Chathams. Although there had been issues with her marriage to Pringle– John seems to have considered the man, who was fifteen years older than Harriot Hester, to be a fortune hunter– the couple were always welcome at John’s house, and Sir William and John frequently went hunting together.[22]

In February 1821, though, Sir William Pringle wrote to George Pretyman-Tomline to express concern about the terms of his wife’s fifteen-year-old marriage contract. By the terms of her marriage contract, Harriot Hester was due £3795 plus interest, which was to have been her mother’s “portion” or dowry, a sum that had not become fully available until Burton Pynsent was sold in 1805.[23] By 1821 this sum had not yet been paid, and Sir William wrote to ask Tomline to press Lord Chatham on the matter as Pringle’s solicitor had advised him to open a case of “culpable neglect”.[24]

I find it very hard to believe that Sir William Pringle had spent fifteen years not noticing that his wife (who was, incidentally, worth a vast amount of money, both in terms of property and ready cash– well over £10,000 in fact) was owed a whisker under £4000. I strongly suspect he chose February 1821 to press the point, because his solicitor reminded him there was now a precedent of Lord Chatham being taken to the legal cleaners and scrubbed till it damn well hurt.

Again, Chatham had no money; again, he had no choice. His solution was wearingly familiar, as Pringle informed Tomline: Chatham had proposed to secure

the reversion of the produce of the Burton Pynsent Estate to Lady Pringle & her Children, by assigning to trustees two policies of insurance on his life made at the Equitable Insurance Office, which are valued at £11,000, & by vesting the remainder of the money [from Burton Pynsent] in trustees, so that at his death the sum of about £16,000 would be forth coming to those entitled to it.

This arrangement tho’ certainly not so satisfactory as if the whole money had been vested, Lady Pringle & I have as far as we are concer’d, acceded to, from having been advised so to do, by our Solicitors & from being informed, & having every reason to believe, it was the best & indeed the only security Lord Chatham had to give.[25]

I imagine hunting visits at Lord Chatham’s house were rather more strained after this.

And yet…

The events of 1821 seem to have been a caution to John. He did take out at least one more life insurance policy on behalf of his other heir, William Stanhope Taylor, grandson of John’s sister Hester, and on John’s death at least one of the life insurance policies remained unpaid because John had (unsurprisingly) failed to keep up his annual payments, but all in all he seems to have behaved himself.[26]

He lived much more simply than he had done, renting a house in Brighton and mortgaging a (comparatively modest-sized) house in Charles Street. When he expired in that house on 24 September 1835, his heirs sold everything they could– even the servants’ bedlinen– but they balanced the books within a month.[27]

johnsfuneralby10nov1835times

In the end, the “improvident Lord Chatham” was virtually the only member of his family to die solvent.


References

[1] Sir Nathaniel Wraxall, Posthumous Memoirs of my Own Time, III (London, 1836), 130; H.B. Robinson, Memoirs of Sir Thomas Picton, I (London, 1836), 231

[2] Morning Post, 20 Jan 1801

[3] Edward Thoroton Gould to the Duke of Portland, 27 Nov 1780, Nottingham University Archive Portland MSS PwF 4.284; Times, 26 March 1788

[4] Sir Gilbert Elliot’s diary, 11 September 1793, quoted in Paul Kelly, “Strategy and Counter-Revolution: the Journal of Sir Gilbert Elliot, 1-22 September 1793”, EHR 98 (387) April 1974 328-348, 342

[5] Cyrus Redding, “Recollections of the Author of Vathek“, printed in The New Monthly Magazine 71 (2) 1844, 302

[6] Dacre Adams MSS, British Library Add MSS 89036/2/4 f 101

[7] Stanley Ayling, The Elder Pitt, Earl of Chatham (London, 1976), p 406

[8] John Ehrman (Ehrman I), The Younger Pitt: The Years of Acclaim (London, 1969), p. 19

[9] Ehrman I, 19

[10] National Archives Chatham MSS PRO 30/8/371 f 158

[11] Ehrman I, 20; the bond is dated 1 December 1780 and is at Ipswich RO, Pretyman MSS, HA 119/4/4/9/3/2

[12] Ehrman I, 20

[13] Tresham Lever, The House of Pitt (London, 1947), p. 359; Ehrman I, 601-2, 602 n 1

[14] Bond between Chatham and Camden, 3 October 1797, Kent RO Camden MSS CKS-U840/E20; bond between Chatham and Camden, 24 June 1806, Kent RO Camden MSS CKS-U840/E21; and National Archives Chatham MSS PRO 30/8/371 for the deeds mortgaging the Chatham pension

[15] Morning Post, 25 December 1806

[16] Bond between the Earl of Chatham, John Burke and Joseph Ward, 11 January 1821, National Archives Chatham MSS PRO 30/8/370 f 183

[17] Report from the select committee on the colonial military expenditure… (London, 1834) VI, 7

[18] Bond between the Earl of Chatham, John Burke and Joseph Ward, 11 January 1821, National Archives Chatham MSS PRO 30/8/370 f 183

[19] Bond between Francis Robertson and Louisa Angelo Burke, 17 June 1828, National Archives Chatham MSS PRO 30/8/370 f 238

[20] Bond between Francis Robertson and Louisa Angelo Burke, 17 June 1828, National Archives Chatham MSS PRO 30/8/370 f 238

[21] National Archives Chatham MSS PRO 30/8/370 f 152

[22] Chatham to George Pretyman-Tomline, 22 September 1819; Chatham to George Pretyman-Tomline, 19 January 1820, Ipswich RO Pretyman MSS HA 119/562/688

[23] Marriage settlement of Harriot Hester Eliot and William Pringle, 16 May 1806, Cornwall RO EL/647. I am grateful to Stephenie Woolterton for putting this document my way

[24] Sir William Pringle to George Pretyman-Tomline, 12 February 1821; William Eliot to George Pretyman-Tomline, 5 March 1821, Ipswich RO Pretyman MSS HA/119/562/688

[25] Sir William Pringle to George Pretyman-Tomline, 27 April 1821, Ipswich RO Pretyman MSS HA 119/562/688

[26] Life insurance policy dated 17 August 1833, National Archives Chatham MSS PRO 30/8/370 f 89

[27] Times, 10 Nov 1835

Lord Chatham’s seal

It’s rare to find any John-related artefacts out there, perhaps because people didn’t think his things worth keeping (the “wrong Lord Chatham”, as it were). A few months ago, however, I discovered something on the web that actually belonged to him.

johnseal

Amazingly, the above was John’s seal. I found it on the finds.org.uk site for the public to register finds of archaeological/historical interest. The website notes:

Part of a late eighteenth century gold fob seal set with a cornelian intaglio. The struts and suspension loop are missing. The fob seal is oval in shape and measures 33.81mm by 28.08mm by 5.24mm. It weighs 11.25g. The arms engraved on the intaglio are those of John Pitt, 2nd earl of Chatham (1756-1835), impalling those of his wife, Mary Elizabeth Townshend (1762-1821), daughter of Thomas Townshend, 1st Viscount Sydney. It encorporates the coronet, supporters and motto, BENIGNO NUMINE (‘by favour of the heavens’) of the earls of Chatham. The seal must date from between the marriage of John Pitt in 1783, and 1805, when the Pitt family sold their estate at Curry Rivel. (From here)

It was found on 1 February 2006, somewhere “in the Curry Rivel area” in Somerset, presumably on the Burton Pynsent estate, where the Pitt family had a house.

What remains of Burton Pynsent (from http://www.panoramio.com/photo/10263323)

What remains of Burton Pynsent (from http://www.panoramio.com/photo/10263323)

I’d guess John was out walking or riding around his estate and lost part of his seal. It’s just one of those reminders that the people I read and write about were actually human beings, who were liable to lose things (and probably quite annoyed about it afterwards).

I have not seen any manuscripts sealed with this particular design, although to be fair most MSS do not include the envelopes along with the letters (some do, particularly if the inside of the envelope formed part of the letter). I do wonder if it is a pre-1790 seal, since John was invested with the Garter in December of 1790 and was so proud of it he put his star/garter symbol on absolutely EVERYTHING. Without knowing more about heraldry, however, I could not say for sure.

As the find.org.uk website notes, the crest on the seal is composed of Chatham’s arms impaled with those of his wife, Mary Elizabeth Townshend. The Chatham arms are below:

pittcrest

And this is the crest of Lord Sydney, Mary’s father:

townshendcrest

I would very much like to see a colour version of the Pitt/Townshend crest. I may have to make one myself!

Happy 258th birthday John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham

As those who have followed this blog since its beginning will know, I do not follow the majority view that John, 2nd Earl of Chatham was born on 9 October 1756. As far as I can see the only justification for this is that John’s father wrote a letter to William Pitt (John’s brother) on 9 October 1773 in which he talked of it being “the happy day that gave us your brother”.[1] Possibly it was John’s birthday, as certainly John read Tomline’s draft before the book was published and might have been expected to correct the error, but I tend to think Tomline mistranscribed.

This is why:

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

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

Even given this is a partial record, I think it’s fairly obvious that I have good grounds for commemorating John’s birthday on the 10th and not the 9th.

Anyway, moving on… in celebration of John’s 258th (he always looked younger than his years), today’s post is about his childhood. I’ve been posting a lot about his later years recently, so it seems fitting to go right back to the beginning for once.

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

John, 2nd Earl of Chatham, aged 21/2, in John Singleton Copley’s “The Death of the Earl of Chatham”

John was, like his younger brother William, born at Hayes Place, his father’s country house in Kent. (The other three children were born in London.) “We are all well here … and intend that our little colony shall, God willing, receive its increase in the pure air of our village,” Pitt the Elder wrote to his brother-in-law George Grenville on 20 August 1756.[3]

In accordance with his later reputation, it seems John arrived a little later than expected, but when he did decide to make his appearance he was in a hurry.[4] It was probably the quickest entrance he made in his entire life. A delighted Pitt the Elder gushed to George Grenville on the morning of 10 October 1756 about John’s health and size:

Lady Hester is as well as can be in her situation, after being delivered of a son this morning, who is also well. She had a sharp time, but not longer than two hours and a half. There was enough notice to have [William] Hunter [the fashionable accoucheur] and all comforts about us. … Mrs Grenville, I am sure, and perhaps you, will excuse my talking nursery: the young man meets with general applause for stature and strength … He is, however, as they flatter me, without appearance of heaviness, notwithstanding his size.[5]

Pitt was evidently delighted to have a son at last. “[Lady Hester] and the child are as well as possible,” he reported to his nephew Thomas Pitt, “and the father in the joy of his heart”.[6]

William Pitt the Elder by William Hoare

William Pitt the Elder by William Hoare

Most books focus on the childhood of John’s brother William, but there are occasional glimpses of John in the family correspondence. The impression drawn from history is that Lord and Lady Chatham favoured their second son above all the other children, and there is probably some truth in this, but John, too, was much loved. In 1770 Lord Chatham spent some quality time at Burton Pynsent with John, who was going to travel on with his tutor Mr Wilson to Cornwall, while Lady Chatham remained with the four others at Hayes:

Pray tell all at Athens, professors, and scholars, how truly charmed I am with their performances [ie, as correspondents] … They may all rest satisfied that Pitt [John, whose courtesy title as heir was Viscount Pitt] is every thing that can please: he is a sweet, idle boy; he is a sensible, conversable, discreet man: sense or nonsense, verse or prose, Homer, mouse, taste, all shine alike, and draw perpetual applauses from papa and Mr Wilson.[7]

Along with his four siblings Hester, Harriot, William, and James Charles, John was educated at home by a tutor, Reverend Edward Wilson. There were some thoughts of sending him to Eton, where his father had gone, but apparently these came to nothing.[8] He seems to have been a bright boy: he often bested William in his studies, and their tutor Wilson’s comments on the subject can be followed in the Chatham MSS at the National Archives .[9] “John was distinguish’d first for his Mathematicks, and then for his Latin Lesson,” Lady Chatham wrote to her husband in July 1766. “… Mr Wilson imputed their success [John and Hester’s], to the subject, which he told me they took to, with a Taste and an ardour of Application that was quite fine. The subject, was an account of Aristides, and his great Virtues”.[10]

From W.A. Shuffrey, "Some Craven Worthies" (London, 1903)

Rev. Edward Wilson and his brother Thomas, From W.A. Shuffrey, “Some Craven Worthies” (London, 1903)

In terms of his likes and dislikes, John was pure boy. He was never happier than when out riding or shooting, two pastimes he kept up for the rest of his life. In 1777 his mother apologised to a correspondent for John’s not adding his good wishes to a letter, because he was “following the Fox Hounds, for the first day this season”.[11] It seems, however, that he was proficient at drawing, and his tutor Mr Wilson often referred to the vividness of his imagination.[12] Dancing was also a passion: he and his siblings were under the tutelage of the fashionable dancing master Giovanni Gallini, and there are frequent mentions in the correspondence of John staying out late dancing or accepting invitations to Pantheon balls.[13] On at least one occasion Lord Chatham referred to his eldest son as “the powdered beau”, suggesting an early inclination to dressing fashionably and well which he never entirely outgrew.

John was early destined for a career in the army (… which has always struck me as a little unusual as the destination for an older son, but there you go). His future was already determined before he was 14: Lord Chatham joked he was learning “how to live in a March, or bad quarters” when they made a bad journey from London to Somerset in July 1770.[15] John spent the summer of 1773 applying himself assiduously to his studies, Lord Chatham having procured him an ensigncy in the 47th Foot. John was due to go out with General Guy Carleton to Quebec the following year, but in the meantime the sixteen-year-old spent most of a holiday spent at Lyme in Dorset studying with a local military engineer.

Lord Chatham wrote to his wife referring to his eldest son as “young Vauban” and described how he was kept from joining his father and second brother on a ride because “he was generously occupied in learning to defend the happy land we were enjoying. Indeed, my life, the promise of our dear children does me more good than the purest of pure air”.[16] John’s brother James Charles was slightly less generous  when the travellers returned to Burton Pynsent, expressing astonishment “that Pitt has made so amazing a progress in the military art, in so short a time”– but that’s siblings for you.[17]

When he left England for Canada in June 1774 John, theoretically, stopped being a boy and became a man. He was still only 17, though, and he had spent all his childhood at home with his family. Travelling abroad must have been a big shock for a boy who had, essentially, rarely gone much further north than London. Apart from his brother James, he was by far the most well-travelled of the Pitts, travelling with the army to North America, Gibraltar, and the Leeward Islands, as well as in due course the Netherlands.

He was, also, and less positively, the man responsible for selling the house in which he had been born, Hayes Place, and the house in which he spent much of his childhood, Burton Pynsent. Hayes was sold in 1785, Burton Pynsent in 1805, after his mother’s death, both to settle John’s debts– although he had inherited both of them mortgaged to the hilt. John never had children of his own; nor would he, strictly speaking, fulfil the promise his father clearly felt he showed in his youth. But promise he had, and it is well worth remembering that the man who would, in later life and posthumously, be castigated as an idiot, once bested his brother in mathematics.

 

References

[1] Tomline, Life of Pitt I, 15

[2] Thanks to Stephenie Woolterton for the picture

[3] Grenville Papers I, 171

[4] Letters written by the late Earl of Chatham to his nephew Thomas Pitt… (London, 1804), p. 96

[5] Grenville Papers I, 173-4

[6] Letters of Lord Chatham to Thomas Pitt, p. 97

[7] Lord Chatham to Lady Chatham, 3 August 1770, Chatham Correspondence III, 470

[8] Lady Chatham to Lord Temple, 23 September 1769, Grenville Papers 5, 463

[9] PRO 30/8/67

[10] Lady Chatham to Lord Chatham, 11 July 1766, PRO 30/8/9

[11] Lady Chatham to Mrs Thomas Pitt, 25 October 1777, Dropmore Papers, British Library Add Ms 59490, ff 61-2. Thanks to Stephenie Woolterton for the reference

[12] James Charles Pitt to Lord Chatham, 21 June 1773, PRO 30/8/13; Edward Wilson to Lady Chatham, 23 August 1766, PRO 30/8/67

[13] Vere Birdwood, So dearly loved, so much admired (London, 1994), p. 9; Marie Peters, The Elder Pitt (London, 1998), pp. 211-2

[14] Ghita Stanhope and G.P. Gooch, Life of Charles, 3rd Earl Stanhope (London, 1914), p. 10

[15] Lord Chatham to Lady Chatham, 31 July 1770, PRO 30/8/9

[16] Quoted in Tresham Lever, The House of Pitt (London, 1947), pp. 192-3

[17] James Charles Pitt to Lord Chatham, 21 June 1773, PRO 30/8/13

 

Short story: From Day to Day

This is a bit of a departure for me in this blog, but I recently wrote a short story for the Historical Novel Society conference competition. I didn’t make the shortlist, but I’m quite proud of it, so wanted to share it here.

It’s called From Day to Day, and takes place over the disastrous weekend in September 1819 when the Bishop of Lincoln and his wife Eliza Tomline came to visit Lord and Lady Chatham at Abington Hall. If the title seems familiar, it’s because I wrote a post about the historical background to this story back in April.

Without further ado…


From Day to Day

I stand outside Abington Hall and watch for his return from the hunt. He is late and my anxiety rises when John is not beside me. I feel for the locket he gave me on our wedding day with a lock of his black hair inside. My fingers trace the filigree pattern, smoothed by daily wear and warm from the heat of my skin. I know he wants to send me to my family until I am better. I must show him I already am, for if I lose him I never will get well.

John comes home at dusk. Relief courses through me at the sight of his tall, straight form in the saddle, but the moment he sees me his expression changes. Once his heavy-lidded eyes rarely looked upon me with anything but affection. Now they are full of a suspicion I never saw there before I became ill.

‘What are you doing here?’ His voice is low but firm. He turns me away from the sight of the stable-hands. ‘You should be resting.’

I bite back tears of shame, for I know he does not mean to hurt me. Ever since he commanded that infernal expedition to Antwerp he has suffered humiliation upon humiliation: the “late Lord Chatham”, Mr Pitt’s useless elder brother. Even his valet damns him as “the hero of Walcheren” behind his back. If word spreads that Lady Chatham is insane, he will lose his last shreds of dignity. I love him too much to wish for that.

Once I am safely in my room John relaxes. He rings for Sally to undress me, then holds my hand while I take my laudanum. If I close my eyes I can pretend all is as it was before madness came between us.

‘What time do you expect the Bishop tomorrow?’ I ask.

His hand tightens round mine. He knows I hate the self-serving Bishop of Lincoln and his vapid wife. John tolerates them only because of his poor brother, for the Bishop was Mr Pitt’s intimate friend. ‘Are you certain you are equal to their visit?’

As much as I dislike the Tomlines, I want them to come. Receiving them will be a trial, but it will prove to John that I am well again. I will not let him send me away. ‘I will be happy to receive them. I feel better, my love. I am better.’

He smiles and kisses my forehead. The warmth of his love floods through me. For over a year we have lived from day to day, but now we can look forward to the future again. I know it.

***

I open my eyes. Slowly, the fog of misery descends. My husband is not beside me, and today the Tomlines will come.

A stranger stares at me from the mirror. I was beautiful once, but this disease ravages the face as much as the mind. Sally brushes out my hair. She snags at a stubborn knot and I raise my hand. In the mirror I see her shrink back. With effort I quash the instinct to strike her. If I can get through the Bishop’s visit I will show John that I truly am better, and perhaps then he will keep me by his side, where I belong.

The Tomlines arrive in the afternoon. I receive them in the Jacobean drawing room and try to ignore the openness with which they peer about in contempt. Abington must seem a small house for the son of the great Chatham and brother of Mr Pitt.

‘Our thanks for your hospitality, my lady,’ the Bishop says. ‘I am glad to find you so well.’ He is nearly seventy, fat and balding, with a broad face and tiny eyes like black pebbles. His wife is thin and shrivelled.

I want to recoil from them, but I smile politely. ‘Thank you. My health is much improved.’

I raise my eyes to my husband. He watches me anxiously, but his lips curve in response to my smile. In his relief he looks almost young again.

***

Sunday comes. We cross the bridge and walk to church. Rain falls in the long grass with a sound like a sustained sigh.

The villagers gawp at me and I want to sob into my Book of Common Prayer, but John holds my hand and his touch gives me confidence. He is my strength. With him I might conquer anything.

John takes the Bishop riding towards Cambridge. Mrs Tomline and I are alone. The thought of her revolts me, but the old Mary Chatham would not snub a guest.

Sally fetches my workbox. Mrs Tomline brings out her tambour frame. Rain drums against the window like nails.

‘The men will be soaked through,’ Mrs Tomline observes.

‘Lord Chatham is accustomed to riding in all weather.’ I wonder if he prefers being away from his sick wife, but such doubts belong to my malady and not to me.

‘You must speak more of your illness,’ Mrs Tomline says. I straighten. I do not wish to talk about what is past to anyone, least of all a woman for whom I have no regard. She frowns. ‘Keeping it shut up inside will make you worse. I am a friend. Your confidence will go no further.’

I burst into a bitter laugh. I am sure Mrs Tomline would be all too delighted to linger over every last detail. ‘It is of no interest to anyone but Lord Chatham and myself.’

Mrs Tomline purses her lips. ‘You cannot burden Lord Chatham with your ill health. Has he not suffered enough?’

The needle lies idle in my hand. She is more right than she knows. I am the reason we sit in Abington Hall’s tiny parlour in a Cambridgeshire exile. Had it not been for me and my wretched mind John might still be in government. He need not have accepted the commission to take Antwerp; his disastrous retreat before Walcheren would never have occurred. He would never have been mortified before army, Parliament and nation. A wave of isolation takes me unawares. ‘I know I must not give Lord Chatham a moment’s pain.’

‘I am glad you recognise his goodness towards you, but you do not fully comprehend the difficulty under which you put Lord Chatham when you are in this state. You must control yourself.’ I stare at her. Does she not see how hard I am trying? Does she not realise this is the best I can do? She leans forward and takes my hand. Her skin is as scaly as a lizard’s. ‘I know you can be well if you choose to be so.’

‘You know nothing of it,’ I snap, and whip my hand back.

‘Of course not, but it is not enough to control yourself for us. You must control yourself for the whole world, for Lord Chatham’s sake. Should your state become general knowledge–’

Does she think she is helping? Perhaps she wishes I would act more like a lunatic. Then she might fill her letters with accounts of a Countess raving and foaming at the mouth. Her gaze moves down and I become aware I am scratching at my hands, drawing blood.

‘Oh my dear Lady Chatham,’ she says, and I know if I remain a moment longer I will scream. My sewing falls to the floor and I flee.

I slam the door to the parlour. I clutch my head to stop it spinning.

‘Mary?’ It is my husband. Rain drips from his coat. He leaves the Bishop in the pillared hallway and rushes to my side, spurs clattering across the stone floor. He takes my hand. His fingers rub the bloodied scratchmarks and I see his dismay. No! I whip my hands out of his and bury them in my skirts.

I must not allow Mrs Tomline to discompose me. I must not let John see that she does, for I might lose him and his proximity is all that sustains me.

***

Dinner is served at six. The strain of pretence is beginning to tell. When I make my appearance I see the concern on my husband’s face. I make an effort so strong I can almost feel the earth shift beneath my feet and give him my arm. He looks doubtful but says nothing.

We dine in the largest room of the house, overlooking the lawn. The footmen lay the dishes on the table: roast beef, Cambridgeshire mutton, a venison pie. The Bishop and John talk about the reform meeting in St Peter’s Field and its terrible aftermath. ‘Mr Pitt would not have allowed matters to reach such an extremity,’ the Bishop says and my husband nods. I pick at my food and try not to listen. The Tomlines leave in the morning, and then I can concentrate on getting better.

I hear the Bishop say my name. ‘I fear we are tiring Lady Chatham with our talk.’

John stops chewing. I see wariness on his face, as though I am a loaded fowling piece on full cock.

The Bishop smiles at me. ‘My wife and I understand if you have not the strength to remain at table.’

‘I am quite equal to company,’ I say, but it is as if I have not spoken. Mrs Tomline looks across at her husband.

‘To tell the truth, my love, I wonder if we have imposed upon Lady Chatham by our visit and set back her convalescence.’

I glance desperately at my husband, willing him to leap to my defence. He still watches me with that strange expression.

The Bishop looks uncomfortable. ‘We are of course fully sensible of the honour you have done us in inviting us to Abington, but my wife is right. A little more rest will set you up, Lady Chatham.’

‘I am well now!’ I insist.

‘With God’s grace your ladyship will be so very soon,’ Mrs Tomline says.
John has not taken his eyes off me for a moment. I scratch at my hands. The pain is distracting and strangely comforting.

Mrs Tomline sees what I am doing. She whispers loudly, ‘Remember what I told you, my dear. You must control yourself.’

She reaches out and holds my arm. I do not know what angers me more, her familiarity or the implication that, once again, I have fallen short of expectations. I will not be scolded like a child. I am not an animal to be manhandled. She thinks I am not in control? Well then, I shall show her what happens when I give full rein to my madness.

I feel as though I am watching myself from a distance. I stand, grasp the gravy bowl in both hands, and throw its contents over Mrs Tomline.

She screams. I want to laugh at her for being so foolish– the gravy isn’t even hot. The Bishop leaps to his feet. The footmen stare.

Someone is shouting. ‘Bitch! You cannot understand! I despise you!’ Suddenly I realise the person shouting is me. I shut my mouth so sharply I feel the impact in the pit of my stomach, but it is too late.

My husband’s face is as hard and grey as stone, his mouth thin with dismay. He looks me in the eye and pushes his chair back. He pins my arms to my side and hurries me past the servants gathering outside the dining room, attracted by Mrs Tomline’s cry.

He enters the bedroom, rips back the hangings and throws me onto the bed. My head bounces off the bolster. When I open my eyes I see him leaning heavily against the bedpost. I can see every line on his face, scored deeply into his skin by strain, humiliation and disappointment.

Tears fill my eyes. ‘I am sorry. So sorry.’ I have failed him and I have failed myself. My limbs feel heavy, as though my self-hatred has turned them to lead.

‘Our guests,’ he says. He is too distraught to form a sentence. ‘Our guests. In front of the servants.’

‘I am trying,’ I manage. ‘I am trying so very hard to be well.’

‘I am beginning to doubt you will ever be well again,’ he says. I stare at him over my bent knees. His mouth curves downward and his hand against the bedpost tightens into a fist. ‘I will write to your brother next week. You must go to him at Frognal.’

‘No!’ I leap off the bed. He jumps back and I see, clearly, the fear in his eyes. Like Sally, he thinks I will strike him. I wonder how he can believe he is in the slightest danger from me, then I look down at my clenched fist and realise I am not fully in control of my own body. I want to laugh. How could I ever think I could conquer this malady? It knows me better than I know myself.

‘The change of air will make you better,’ he says.

I throw myself to the floor. He flinches. I grasp his knees and press my face against his fine cotton stockings. ‘Do you not understand, John? I can only get better if I am with you.’

He disengages himself and steps back. There is no response in his face to my plea. He knows he will be better off without me. He will send me away for his sake, not mine.

All my attempts to keep him by me have been useless. I might as well go to Frognal, for I see now that I lost my husband years ago.

The door closes behind him. For a moment I sit on the floor in uncomprehending silence, then panic spreads through me like a poison. My breath chokes in my throat. I claw at my neck and my fingers catch the chain of my locket. It flies through the air and bounces under the bed.

I pick it up with trembling fingers. It falls open in my hands. I see his black hair and our initials written in his hand. JC MEC. The locket slips through my fingers to the floor.

I fall back, put my hands to my face, and weep.

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.

Marriage of the 2nd Earl of Chatham and Mary Elizabeth Townshend, 10 July 1783

Mary, Countess of Chatham and John, 2nd Earl of Chatham by Charles Rosenburg (ca 1800)

Mary, Countess of Chatham and John, 2nd Earl of Chatham by Charles Rosenburg (ca 1800)

I know it’s a day early, but I’d like to post in honour of the 231st wedding anniversary of John, 2nd Earl of Chatham and his wife Mary Elizabeth Townshend and I can’t guarantee I’ll manage tomorrow. They are obviously the main characters of my WIP and I have done a lot of research on their lives in the past year. Not all my discoveries have been pleasant, but I have learned a lot about them and I feel much closer to them now than I did this time last year. (You can read last year’s post about their marriage settlement here.)

John and Mary were married by special licence at the house of Mary’s father, Thomas Townshend, Lord Sydney, on 10 July 1783. John was twenty-six, Mary twenty. They had known each other since they were children and it was a love match between longtime sweethearts. Despite rumours that John had a mistress I have not been able to substantiate them, and on the contrary all the evidence points to the closeness of their relationship. The marriage was destined to last nearly thirty-eight years, coming to an end when Mary died on 21 May 1821 at the age of fifty-eight.

As husband and wife the pair suffered more than their fair share of trials and tribulations. Mary’s health was always poor. She suffered from some sort of premature-onset arthritis in her hip that left her permanently lame, and never managed to carry a child to term, although she miscarried at least once. She shared in all her husband’s twists and turns of fortune, accompanying him as much as she could on his military postings throughout Britain, and retiring with him into political obscurity after he commanded the disastrous Walcheren expedition in 1809. In 1807 Mary suffered a prolonged mental breakdown, and although she recovered she relapsed more or less permanently in 1818. You can read more about John and Mary in my guest posts for “Madame Gilflurt’s” excellent blog.

I’d like to leave you with a short excerpt from my WIP in which I describe John and Mary’s wedding. Please join me in raising a glass of claret to the happy couple!

 


 

Albemarle Street, July 1783

`My lord Chatham, if you will repeat after me…’

Mary’s heart beat a hectic rhythm in her chest as Dr Courtenay, the parish rector, took the ring off the Bible and slipped it onto her finger. She did not take her eyes off John for a moment. He wore a cream silk suit trimmed with silver to match her gown. His hair was immaculately curled and powdered and his eyes held hers with an intensity that made her heart beat faster. He echoed Courtenay’s words, precisely and with great concentration.

`With this ring I thee wed. With my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.’

`Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder,’ Courtenay said. John put his hand over Mary’s; the sensation of his warm flesh pressing the cold band of the ring into her finger sent a shiver of excitement through her. `I pronounce that they be man and wife together. My lord, you may kiss your bride.’

The wedding guests applauded as John leaned down to bestow a chaste kiss on his wife’s lips. Mary saw his eyes dart towards the chairs arranged before the windows of her parents’ drawing-room. Her father, created Viscount Sydney in one of Lord Shelburne’s parting acts as minister, sat beaming a few feet away. Arrayed beside him were his wife and Mary’s six siblings, from Georgiana to three-year-old Horatio, sucking his thumb on his eldest sister’s lap. Behind were William and Harriot, both grinning broadly.

Mary knew how self-conscious John could be in front of an audience, but she had no intention of letting him get away with that kiss. She wrapped her arms around her husband’s neck and murmured into his ear. `Does Mary, Countess of Chatham not return your kisses so sweetly as Miss Mary Townshend?’

His face cleared instantly. `I do not know. Perhaps we should put it to the test?’

He cupped her chin and kissed her again. In an instant her world narrowed down to the sensation of his lips against hers and Lord Sydney’s elegant drawing-room, with all its inhabitants, was lost to her.

Mary kept her hand in John’s as the guests came over to congratulate them. Her father and mother led the way, enormous smiles on their faces. Lady Sydney kissed John on each cheek. Lord Sydney pumped John’s hand up and down, unable to say anything other than `Well done, Chatham, well done indeed,’ for all the world as though John had just won Mary in single combat.  Last came William and Harriot. Harriot slipped her hand through her new sister-in-law’s arm and William clasped John’s hand with genuine pleasure.

`You look fine, John, very fine,’ William said.

`Marriage suits you,’ Harriot observed. Her eyes were like John’s: they had the same heavy-lidded, almond shape, the same shade of greyish-blue flecked with brown, fringed with the same dark lashes, but Harriot’s were full of a mischief Mary had never seen in her husband’s. `Why, you nearly look handsome.’

`Only nearly?’

`You know Harriot,’ William said. `She never flatters. But as far as I am concerned you look splendid. Lady Chatham too.’ Mary glanced over her shoulder, half-expecting to see that John’s mother had just entered the room, then realised William was talking about her and felt the blood rush to her cheeks. `Congratulations, my lady. Welcome to our family.’

`Too late to change your mind I’m afraid,’ Harriot put in.

`I don’t think I want to,’ Mary said. She could not help slanting a mischievous look up at her husband. John smiled back and dropped a brief kiss on her lips.

`I am glad to hear it!’

He spoke flippantly and Harriot and William laughed, but Mary detected strain in his voice. When he was not paying attention she looked at him more carefully, peeling away the silver-lined coat, the pomaded, curled hair, and the aura of quiet gentility and pride he wore like a cloak. She saw the pallor of his skin and the tightness around his eyes and thought: He is as nervous as I am. She wondered if she was the only one to notice, for even William and Harriot continued to jest at him as though they did not see his jaw tighten further with each joke.

It was as though she could see him better than anyone else in the room, as though her love were a filter stripping away everything but the raw thoughts and emotions that made him John. She took his arm and he turned to her with a smile she was beginning to recognise belonged only to her. The connection between them felt more than physical, as though if Mary withdrew her arm she would still be holding him, even if they were hundreds of miles apart.

Guest post for Madame Guilflurt on Mary, Countess of Chatham

A few days ago I guest blogged again for Madame Gilflurt. The subject of my post was Mary, Countess of Chatham, and the post went up on the 193rd anniversary of her death:

http://www.madamegilflurt.com/2014/05/a-salon-guest-mary-elizabeth-countess.html

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As regular readers know, I am very fond of Mary, the more so given my recent discoveries about her later life. She is a totally underrated and ignored historical figure: you will not find this much about her anywhere else, I guarantee it.

 

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):

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(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:

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… 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:

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(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

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(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?

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

Or this?

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(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:

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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:

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

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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):

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… 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……..

John’s later years, Part 3: “the venerable Earl”

Yesterday I thoroughly pillaged the British Library’s excellent 19th Century Newspapers database (… well, *nearly* excellent: I have one or two reservations about the search interface, but that’s another story). I habven’t used it much before, largely because I keep forgetting the 2nd Earl of Chatham clung to life until September 1835, but I found some excellent stuff about John’s later years. Slowly but surely it’s all fleshing out for me, although I still need to find more manuscript sources on the subject.

Beginning, then, with John’s return from Gibraltar in July 1825— because I’m still not quite sure what he actually did while in Gibraltar as governor— I can confirm a few things I already knew, which was that he spent August at Leamington Spa, presumably recovering from whatever illness completely floored him and knocked two and a half stone off his weight (for more see my first post on John’s later years). When in London he stayed at Thomas’s Hotel, 25 Berkeley Square, a fashionable establishment in an area he knew very well indeed.

He then moved on to Brighton, where he rented a house on Marine Parade— from 1830, and possibly earlier than that, it was Number 20 (now a hotel and nightclub— appropriately the kind of place where the patrons probably sleep all day)— and frequented Molineux’s Turkish Baths on East Cliff.

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(This photo of New Madeira Hotel is courtesy of TripAdvisor)

He clearly enjoyed Brighton, as he went back every year from September or October until as late as March or April (one year he was there until May). Although his proxy vote was still deployed in the House of Lords, he does not appear to have attended, and seems to have considered himself retired: fair enough I suppose, since he was by this time seventy years old. What his health was like generally I couldn’t say: the newspapers talk about him being in “pretty good health”, for his age at least, and his main activities at Brighton seem to have included riding along Marine Parade and walking on the new pier. By the end of 1832, however, he was described as having a “weakness in his legs” that prevented him walking unaided: he still managed to ride every day though, at least until 1834, when his strength was described as “failing”.

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Marine Parade, Brighton, ca 1830, from here

(No idea what might have caused the leg weakness, but you will recall from a previous blog post that John seriously injured his leg on two occasions, in 1788 and 1791: perhaps that had something to do with his later inability to walk?)

Otherwise the information pretty much accords with what I had previously found about John. He was reported as having died in March 1831: the newspapers, red-faced, later had to retract their incorrect statement. In August 1834 he had “a paralytic stroke”, but he completely recovered and spent the winter and spring in Brighton as usual. His death in September 1835 seems to have been sudden: he was reported just under a week before his death as being daily expected at his house in Brighton. I suspect another stroke may well have carried him off, as he had supposedly been in pretty good health before that.

Interestingly he seems to have been well-regarded in the press, described from 1830 onwards without fail as “venerable”. The state of his health was assiduously followed, partly perhaps because of all the pensions and emoluments that would fall vacant when he died but also, it seems, because people cared about the last surviving member of the Pitt family. The journalists’ tone was often respectful, even fond, which I found somewhat surprising given John’s reputation even in his own lifetime. The Standard wrote on 8 November 1833:

“The venerable Earl of Chatham is gone to Brighton for six months. This amiable nobleman, notwithstanding the retired habits of his life, and his extreme taciturnity in general society, was held in the highest esteem by his brother, the Right Hon. William Pitt. It was always understood that Mr. Pitt took the advice of Lord Chatham on all important measures relating to finance.”

Admittedly the first occasion I have seen of anyone suggesting John might have had input into Pitt’s financial measures, and I certainly haven’t seen any evidence to support that assertion, but I’d say there is a flavour of truth in the suggestion that Pitt was in the habit of talking things over with John and in any case it makes a nice change from “he was a complete idiot”. (And a quiet giggle at the “taciturnity” comment…)

So much for John’s very last years. I get the impression he faded away, spending most of his life on the seafront at Brighton, contributing funds to local building efforts (he was a subscriber to the chain pier, for example), occasionally using the Turkish baths and hauling himself on horseback long after he lost full use of his legs. His last years won’t make a novel any time soon: but it’s interesting to read, at least for me. I like to think that, after the horror that must, for him, have been the late 1810s, his wife’s death, and the homesickness and depression he experienced in Gibraltar, John finally found his peace on Brighton seafront.