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

Advertisements

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.

20140602_110853

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?

__________

* 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.

A letter from Lord Chatham, February 1806

I recently received a CD-ROM full of letters written by the 2nd Earl of Chatham, now in the possession of the National Army Museum. Mostly the letters dealt with Ordnance matters, since John was writing in his capacity as Master-General of the Ordnance at the time, but one letter in particular leapt out at me. It was written by John to Sir John Macleod, Deputy Adjutant-General of the Royal Artillery, on 9 February 1806.

snippet

At this point John was the outgoing Master-General. His brother, William Pitt the Younger, had died on 23 January, and his ministry had not long survived him. The “Ministry of All the Talents” under Lord Grenville had replaced John as Master-General with Lord Moira, and John was writing to Macleod to thank him for his service.

The letter is especially interesting because I have not seen many letters written by John in this period at all. All of them have a slight deer-in-the-headlights overtone, as though John had been partly crushed by the calamity of his brother’s death and loss of office. I get the impression he was finding it difficult to cope, and his situation was not helped by the fact his wife, Mary, Countess of Chatham, was suffering from a life-threatening illness at the same time.

Dover Street today (wikimedia commons)

Dover Street today (wikimedia commons)

John’s letter to Macleod bears all this out, and I will quote it in full here. The letter is written from Dover Street, the house to which John moved in a hurry when he lost his office, unable to afford his St James’s Square house any longer.

“Dover Street Feby. 9th 1806

My Dear Sir

I shou’d not have delayed, till now thanking you for your kind letter, but that a great deal of business of various sorts, added unfortunately, to Lady Chatham’s illness, has not left me a single moment, and indeed, as you will think not unlikely, under circumstances of so much distress, I have been far from well myself. I have only to assure you, My Dear Sir, that I shall always look back with great pleasure to the time of our confidential intercourse, and which I can most truly say has impressed me with sentiments of ye sincerest personal esteem and regard towards you. I certainly do not quit a department, to which I have so much reason to feel warmly attached, without considerable regret, but I assure you, that regret is much diminished from the consideration of the hands into which, I have surrendered it [Lord Moira]. I wish I cou’d have the satisfaction of enabling you to give Lady Emily, and your daughters, a better account of Lady Chatham, but her amendment, is, I am sorry to say, as yet but inconsiderable. Pray have the goodness to make my kindest remembrances to them, and I need not add how happy I shall be to see you, when you are enough recovered, which I hope will be soon.

Believe me

My Dear Sir

Yours Very Sincerely

Chatham”

[NAM 1977-01-13]

“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

“Likely to get frampy”: In which the 2nd Lord Chatham has trouble getting his act together

One of the things I love most about John, 2nd Lord Chatham is how endearingly pathetic he could be sometimes. I know that must sound odd, but I often find myself grinning while reading about him. The Pitt family can, in general, be seen as a little frigid, rather stuffy and full of themselves, and without a normal bone in their overachieving bodies. It’s a false impression that can be easily corrected by reading their private correspondence, but one of the reasons I fastened so happily on John as a research subject is that he is so refreshingly human.

I call them my “oh dear John” moments, mainly because that’s what I say out loud when I stumble across them. You know, the moments were “the late Lord Chatham” just lives up so much to his reputation that I have to suppress the urge to thud my head repeatedly against the desk. John turning up three hours late to the King’s birthday review? Oh dear, John. John never making an appointment to meet with anyone before two o’clock in the afternoon? Oh dear, John. John countersigning contracts for enormous loans during a brief luncheon break while hunting at Newmarket? Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear John… you get the picture.

johnprint

But sometimes John surpasses even himself. Like in his courtship of Mary Townshend, in which the twenty-six year old John seems to have displayed all the maturity and backbone of a teenager mustering the courage to ask a girl on a first date.

I think it’s fair to say John was not a reluctant suitor. As I discovered recently, John and Mary’s names had been paired up as early as May 1779, and probably earlier. The Pitt and Townshend families had been close since at least the 1760s: it’s fair to say that John knew Mary well, and vice versa. At some point, probably prior to John’s going off to Gibraltar in May 1778, friendship blossomed into young lurve.

Mary, Countess of Chatham

Mary, Countess of Chatham

Nothing serious was initially expected to come of the pairing, at least while John was away so frequently on military service. By the summer of 1782, however, he had transferred from the 86th regiment serving in the Leeward Islands to the 3rd Foot Guards, a prestigious royal regiment with flashy gold braid serving in London. As early as 27 June 1782 John’s brother William wrote to their mother, “My brother, I believe, has not informed you of a match of which the world here is certain, but of which he assures me he knows nothing, between himself and the beauty in Albemarle Street” — that is to say Mary Townshend, whose father’s town house was just round the corner from John’s Grafton Street residence.[1]

William wasn’t the only family member gossiping about John’s attachment. Lady Harriot Pitt, John’s younger sister, also told her mother about a conversation she had had with a friend, in which “my Brother Chatham’s intended marriage … [was] brought upon ye Tapis.” By this time John seems to have been thoroughly sick of all the speculation, since Harriot reported him referring sarcastically to such rumours as “Stock Jobbing Reports,” possibly the closest I’ve ever seen John come to an outright joke.[2]

Whatever the truth, the next proper references to the courtship come in April and May 1783, at which point Harriot was confidently expecting her brother to propose at any moment. She wrote to her mother on 1 May 1783 of a jaunt with John to the family property at Hayes: “Hayes is just now in glory, and I think my Brother enjoyed very much ye contemplating his Pretty Place and thinking of ye Pretty Lady he means to give it”.[3]

Lady Harriot Pitt, ca 1779

Lady Harriot Pitt, ca 1779

Certainly John and Mary seemed very snug together at this time. “They were so amicable at ye Dutchess’s [of Buccleugh’s, where there had been a ball the night before] that I really was disappointed when I found ye matter was not settled there,” Harriot reported on 3 May.[4] But two days later Harriot reported in frustration that, despite “opportunities” during a trip to Mary’s father’s country estate at Frognal, John “had only very near done it once”.[5] (…. “Very near”? What on earth did that mean? “Mary?” “Yes?” “I wanted to ask you something…” “Yes?” “Something very important…” “Yeeeeeeeeeees?” “………… Could you please pass the salt?”) On the 6th Harriot described Mary as “not a little fidgetty [sic]”, and William, too, was getting fed up: “The scene in Albemarle Street has been carried on from day to day, till it is full time it should end. I rather hope it will be happily completed very soon, though it has lasted so long already that it may still last longer than seems likely.”[6]

Frognal House, Lord Sydney's country home

Frognal House, Lord Sydney’s country home, where John totally failed to propose to Mary in May 1782

William, apparently, knew John too well. On 19 May Harriot had had enough, and told John to pull himself together: he was mucking Mary Townshend about too much, and she might just kick him in the shins if he ever did manage to screw up the courage. “My Brother and I have been beating over ye same Ground again,” Harriot reported to her mother. “He is very much dissatisfied with their [Lord and Lady Sydney] precluding, as he says, all opportunities by not allowing of Tete a Tetes, and I wish him ye more to take some other sort of opportunity as I think in this sort of way all sides may be likely to get Frampy.“[7]

Whatever “Frampy” meant (… no, don’t Google it … well, don’t tell me I didn’t warn you), John managed to uhmm and aah and blush and shrug for another two weeks before finally diving in and proposing on the 5th of June. The reaction of both families involved can only be summarised as “OMG FINALLY!” As Harriot put it, the declaration “was received as you will imagine by every part of ye family with ye greatest Delight”.[8]

Lord Sydney wrote to John’s mother in sheer relief, apparently the minute John had walked out of his study:

Lord Chatham has today done me the honor to express his desire of proposing himself to my Daughter Mary … It would be an absurd piece of Affectation in me to attempt to conceal my feelings of Satisfaction & Pride in placing a Part of my Family, which deserves & possesses my warmest & most tender Affection, under the Protection of those, whose Alliance, I can truly say, I prefer to that of any Family in England.[9]

The marriage was celebrated on 10 July 1783, and seems (by and large) to have been happy for a very long time. Which was just as well, after John’s long hesitation.

Emotions of a schoolboy, eh?


References

[1] Lord Stanhope, Life of Pitt I, 81 (Pitt to Lady Chatham, 27 June 1782)

[2] Lady Harriot Pitt to Lady Chatham, undated, Manchester University Archives GB 133 Eng MS 1272 f 45

[3] Lady Harriot Pitt to Lady Chatham, [1 May 1783], Manchester University Archives GB 133 Eng MS 1272 f 32

[4] Lady Harriot Pitt to Lady Chatham, [3 May 1783], Manchester University Archives GB 133 Eng MS 1272 f 33

[5] Lady Harriot Pitt to Lady Chatham, [5 May 1783], Manchester University Archives GB 133 Eng MS 1272 f 34

[6] Lady Harriot Pitt to Lady Chatham, [6 May 1783], Manchester University Archives GB 133 Eng MS 1272 f 35; Pitt to Lady Chatham, 15 May 1783, Stanhope I, 121-2

[7] Lady Harriot Pitt to Lady Chatham, [19 May 1783], Manchester University Archives GB 133 Eng MS 1272 f 38

[8] Lady Harriot Pitt to Lady Chatham, [23 June 1783], Manchester University Archives GB 133 Eng MS 1272 f 43

[9] Lord Sydney to Lady Chatham, 5 June 1783, National Archives PRO 30/8/60 f 205

“A most precious Jewel”

Another super quick blog post, since I’ve finally received the last piece of a little puzzle that has been needling at me since I got hold of a batch of photocopied correspondence between Lord Grantham and his brother Frederick Robinson from Bedford & Luton Archives. I am still ever so slightly mystified, although I think I know what it means. If anyone else can help shed some light on the mystery, though, I’d be grateful.

The Robinson brothers were prominent movers in Whig political circles, and their letters are full of references to the big names of political life. One of the families they were close to was the Townshend family, including Thomas Townshend, the future Lord Sydney, his wife Elizabeth Powys, and their growing family. Frederick and Anne Robinson, Lord Grantham’s siblings, frequently dined and socialised with the Townshends. On 4 May 1778 Frederick Robinson wrote to Lord Grantham: “I was at the Opera at night & supped at Mrs Townshends[.] Georgiana [Thomas Townshend’s eldest daughter, born April 1761] is much grown though little alter’d[.] The second daughter [Mary Elizabeth, later Countess of Chatham, then fifteen] will be pretty”.[1]

Mary, Countess of Chatham

Mary, Countess of Chatham

Almost exactly a year later, Mary’s future husband John, Earl of Chatham paid the visit to Grantham in Spain that I blogged about in a previous post. After John had left Madrid, Grantham wrote to Frederick Robinson with further thoughts about the three “English” who had been his guests for over a fortnight: “I believe he [Captain Colt] & Conway found out new Acquaintances at Madrid, but Lord Chatham never went with them, & I would not swear that he is not in possession of a most precious Jewel”.[2]

One thing is for sure about this curious turn of phrase: it was not meant literally. This “precious Jewel” was a euphemism for something, and something that made Chatham forego the pleasure of sharing Conway and Colt’s “new Acquaintances”. What was the nature of this jewel? Frederick Robinson’s response gives a clue:

I believe L[or]d Chatham is not in town, Nanny [Anne Robinson] met him at Tommy Townshend’s who gave him a dinner [upon Chatham’s return from abroad], I think it very probable that his Father recommended T[homas] T[ownshend] to him; if he has a mind to set that Jewel which you suppose him possess’d of very beautifully, he might consult Miss Mary Townshend.[3]

From which I gather that Lord Grantham guessed Chatham’s reluctance to visit Colt and Conway’s “Acquaintances” derived from some sort of attachment, and Robinson connected that attachment to Miss Mary Townshend, Tommy Townshend’s “pretty” second daughter. He certainly wasn’t wide of the mark, for four years later John and Mary were indeed married.

Could it be that John already had a thing for Mary in May 1779, when he was 22 and she was 16? Could it be that he had had a crush on her even before he left for Gibraltar, since Lord Grantham seems to have picked up on it even before John’s return to England? And if so, isn’t that kind of sweet?

Do you agree, or do you think Grantham was talking about something else?


References

[1] Frederick Robinson to Lord Grantham, 4 May 1778, Wrest Park (Lucas) MSS, Bedford and Luton Archives, L30/14/333/91

[2] Lord Grantham to Frederick Robinson, 2 May 1779, Wrest Park (Lucas) MSS, Bedford and Luton Archives, L30/15/54/139

[3] Frederick Robinson to Lord Grantham, 25 May 1779, Wrest Park (Lucas) MSS, Bedford and Luton Archives, L30/14/333/211

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The arrangements for the coffin alone were as follows:

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

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

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

A pair of silk gloves – £0 4s 0d

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Some sources used in putting up this blog post:

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

Portland MSS, Nottingham University Archives, PwM 205

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

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