“Upon my Honor”: the 2nd Earl of Chatham’s Pedigree

20151020_155147

On Tuesday I was lucky enough to have the opportunity of visiting the Parliamentary Archives. My research purpose was to check out the Proxy Books covering the House of Lords career of the 2nd Earl of Chatham (1778 – 1835), but since I was on the spot I decided to order up Chatham’s official House of Lords Pedigree as well.

Courtesy of Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JO/22/1/3 f 42

Chatham’s pedigree (Courtesy of Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JO/22/1/3 f 42)

The practice of delivering Pedigrees when a new peer took his seat in Parliament dates back to a House Standing Order of 11 May 1767, designed to put an end to succession disputes and confusion over descent. The practice of record-keeping by the Office of Heralds had lapsed over the centuries, and the importance of tracing accurate lineage was increased by the fact the House of Lords was both a political and a legal institution.[1]

The Standing Order required “that Garter King of Arms do officially attend this House upon the day and at the time of the first admission of every Peer, whether by creation or descent, and that he do then and there deliver in at the table a Pedigree of the Family of such Peer, fairly described on vellum”, covering the peer’s parents, siblings, spouses, children, and so on, “according to seniority, down to the day on which such Pedigree shall be so delivered in”. Each peer was permitted to prove his Pedigree before the Committee of Privileges, and a copy of the Pedigree would be kept with the Records of the House of Lords and the Office of Arms.[2]

I was hoping to settle a point that has been bothering me for a long time. A few days ago I blogged for Chatham’s birthday, and explained my reasons for believing him to have been be born on 10 October 1756. His father wrote several letters on that date announcing his birth, and when he was baptised on 7 November, the 10th October was recorded as his date of birth. However, his family celebrated his 17th birthday on 9 October 1773, and nearly everyone since has followed that lead.

I therefore hoped that seeing the Pedigree might help settle the issue, and I was not disappointed. It seems Chatham’s registered date of birth is incorrect: the date of birth he provided the House of Lords, and declared “to be true to the best of my knowledge Information and Belief, upon my Honor” was — 9 October 1756. This, to me, seems to be a clear-cut case. It does not matter if Chatham was actually born on the 9th, or 10th, October, or bang on midnight (which is the most likely explanation of what happened): he believed his birthday to fall on 9 October, and that’s good enough for me.

Courtesy of Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JO/22/1/3 f 42

Chatham’s declaration (Courtesy of Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JO/22/1/3 f 42)

If that was all, this post would be much shorter than it is. But I was so utterly breathtaken by the sheer beauty of the thing laid before me on the desk that I felt moved to purchase a photograph licence, and then to request permission to reproduce the images on this blog (graciously granted).

The Pedigree, on fine vellum as required by the 1767 Standing Order, was bound in tooled leather with fifty others spanning the period 1784-91. I am not kidding when I tell you it took both my strength and that of one of the archivists to wrestle it out of the box and onto the table.

Courtesy of Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JO/22/1/3 f 42

With silk cords and gold tassels (Courtesy of Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JO/22/1/3 f 42)

And truly, these photographs do not do it justice. The whole thing — every one of the fifty-one pedigrees in the box — was painted and written by hand. (They cost £20 to draw up, not an inconsiderable sum.) There was shiny gold leaf. There was calligraphy. There was — beauty. There is no other word for it.

Here is Chatham’s crest, complete with Garter.

Courtesy of Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JO/22/1/3 f 42

Courtesy of Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JO/22/1/3 f 42

The photograph does not really show the gold leaf on the Earl’s coronet and Garter, which frankly elevated this from “gorgeous” to “stunning”, in my opinion.

But what totally melted me was the combined Chatham/Townshend crest to represent any future offspring of Chatham’s marriage to Mary Elizabeth Townshend (there wouldn’t be any, of course, but since Mary was only 28 in March 1791, nobody could have known that):

Courtesy of Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JO/22/1/3 f 42

Courtesy of Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JO/22/1/3 f 42

The other Pedigrees in the book were equally beautiful, but as this was the one I wanted to see, I spent a good long while examining it and just drinking it in. I do not think I have been so entranced by a historical document for a long time.

Beautiful — just beautiful. I’m so glad I’m able to share it.

References

The Earl of Chatham’s Pedigree (endorsed 11 May 1791) is in the Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JO/22/1/3 f 42. All photographs used here were taken by me and reproduced with kind permission of the Parliamentary Archives.

[1] William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England III, 11th edn (London, 1791), pp. 105-6

[2] John Palmer, The Practice in the House of Lords of Appeals, Writs of Error, and Claims of Peerage … (London, 1830), pp. 341-3

Advertisements

Earl Camden on the collapse of Pitt the Elder in the House of Lords, Kent RO CKS-U840/C173/30

I have been looking for an eyewitness account of the first Earl of Chatham’s spectacular collapse in the House of Lords in April 1778 for some time, and have finally found this account from Lord Camden to his daughter Elizabeth (“dear Betsey”, as the letter begins). I know there is a longer account from Camden to Grafton elsewhere, but I have not seen it so this is as close as I get right now.

The letter is dated 9 April 1778, so two days after Chatham collapsed.  Camden starts with some inconsequential gossip and platitudes (“the plumbs were excellent”) then moves on to the meaty stuff. Camden was present on the occasion: Chatham went to the House of Lords to oppose the Duke of Richmond’s motion for peace with America, and suffered from a stroke halfway through.

Camden writes:

“All our hopes of any material Change of Ministry are checked at once by the fatal Accidt. that happen’d on Tuesday Last in the House of Lords by a sudden fit that seiz’d the E. Chatham just as he was rising to reply to the D. of Richmond. You may conceive better than I can describe the Hurry & Confusion the Expressions of Grieff & astonishment that broke out & actuated the whole Assembly. Every man seemed affected more or less except ye E. of M[ansfield] who kept his seat & remained as much unmoved as the Poor Man himself who was stretch’d Senseless across a Bench. He continued some time in that posture till he was removed into the Painted Chamber. Assistance was sent for in an instant, & Dr Brocklesby was the first Physician that cd be got. In about an hour Addington [Dr Anthony Addington, Chatham’s personal physician] came, & soon after the Earl [revived?] the first Symptom of life being an Endeavour to reach, wch at last had its effect by discharging a Load from his Stomach wch probably was the Occasion of the fit, for it was actually no Apoplexy, but in truth very similar to that Seizure wch took him the beginning of last Summer, for all the Appearances were the same in both. He recover’d, if you remember, from the first very soon; & was better afterwds than we had seen him for many years. I pray to God this may have no worse Consequence. He was carry’d that Eveng to Mr Strutt’s in Palace Yard, where he still remains & is this day to be removed to Serjeant’s in Downing Street. He recover’d his Senses perfectly that Eveng & slept remarkably well. He continued well all yesterday & I hear he slept this morng till ½ past 6 o’clock. I hope the best, but according to my desponding temper, I fear the worst.”

Camden was right to “fear the worst”: Chatham never fully recovered and died on 11 May 1778.