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.

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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.

With family like this…

There’s one thing that has bothered me for some time, and now is the time to blog about it because yesterday I made a discovery.

I have always had a strong feeling that Lady Hester Stanhope disliked her older uncle. She certainly didn’t have much time for him at the end of her life (read her Memoirs, as transcribed by Dr Meryon… “he was a man of no merit, but of great luck”: II, 76, to give only a short example). Until yesterday though the only thing I had found her saying about him prior to her leaving England for good was a comment about his nose being long, which at the time made me laugh.

Yesterday, though, I went to the British Library to check out the Dacres Adams papers. These were papers collected by Pitt the Younger’s last secretary, William Dacres Adams, from Walmer Castle after Pitt’s death, and kept in his family until recently. A couple of years ago the papers were sold and they ended up at the BL. It’s a mixed bag and quite a lot of it involves Adams’ correspondence with friends and family. Adams was very friendly with Lady Hester Stanhope and her brothers James and Charles, all of whom pretty much lived with Pitt in his last years.

After Pitt died Lady Hester was left homeless. She had fled her republican father Earl Stanhope and obviously couldn’t go back to him. The obvious person to take her in would have been her remaining uncle, John, Earl of Chatham, and the fact that he did not do so rankled. Only a few days after Pitt’s death, possibly 26 January 1806, Lady Hester wrote to Adams and referred to John’s failure to assist in scathing terms:

“[Charles] together with James [have paid a] visit to Ld C[hatham] which I deem quite improper, as we all despise him, & therefore ought not to toady him, or put any sort of confidence in him. Had his protection been thought advantageous, we s[houl]d have been recommended to his care” (BL Add MS 89036/2/1 f 10)

Wow, “despise”— that’s a strong word! Nor did she forget Chatham’s failure to rise to his duties as uncle. When her brother Charles was killed in action at Coruna in 1809, John wrote his niece a letter of condolence. Her response must have made him wish he hadn’t bothered: “I feel your kind attentions at this unhappy moment as much as I felt your neglect of me under similar affecting circumstances” (quoted in Tresham Lever, The House of Pitt (1947), p. 338). Ooookay.

And clearly Lady Hester was not the only one of the Stanhope brood to feel this way. Perhaps naturally, her brothers too felt John could have done more for their sister. Charles it seems had spent some time in John’s household when he had first joined the army, learning the trade as it were, and I haven’t found any direct evidence of his disliking John, but as for James… In 1807 he made a visit to Burton Pynsent, formerly the Somerset home of William Pitt the Elder and sold by John after his mother’s death in 1803. James wrote an epigram comparing John with his younger brother and sent it to Adams:

“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 country’s weal

The former Burton learnt to spoil

To shuffle, cut, and deal.”

(Add MS 89036/2/4 f 101)

On John’s behalf I say “OUCH”, not only because, well, *ouch* but because James was being rather unfair. I’ve no idea how far John’s gambling debts influenced the decision to get rid of Burton Pynsent (as Basil Williams, biographer of Pitt the Elder, concluded, using as his source this interview with William Beckford printed in the New Monthly Magazine of 1844, vol 71, 302). James certainly seems to believe this had a role. Maybe it did, although if John was a notorious gambler this is all I’ve heard on the subject. What I do know was that Burton Pynsent was mortgaged to the hilt when John inherited it in 1778, and (along with Hayes Place, also remortgaged at least once by Pitt the Elder) never really managed to be anything but a massive drain on Pitt funds. I think it would be uncharitable to conclude that John couldn’t wait to get his hands on the money for it. No denying he was a spendthrift (it was in the genes!), but the “fortune” he inherited from his father was far from being the amazing thing James obviously assumed it was.

And that brings me to a major point in John’s defence. Lady Hester Stanhope clearly never forgave him for his snub after Pitt’s death. Maybe he should have at least asked her to stay with him for a bit. But do you want to know why I think he didn’t? (Apart from the obvious grief at having just lost his brother?) Because John’s wife Mary was very ill. The Bishop of Lincoln wrote to his wife a week after Pitt’s death: “Lady Chatham is seriously ill; she has fretted herself with a delirious Fever; & Vaughan & Farquhar attend her.” (Ipswich Pretyman MSS HA119/T99/26, 31 January 1806) It’s clear from correspondence surrounding the arrangements for Pitt’s funeral that Mary was not considered out of danger until mid-February. Under those circumstances, maybe Hester might have been a bit more understanding…

 

John’s best friend, the ……. Prince of Wales?!?!?

Really?

(The Prince of Wales to the Earl of Chatham, 2 September 1799, PRO 30/70/4 f 219)

Yes, really. Really really. Yes, THAT Prince of Wales. That very one.

For those who can’t make it out, the letter (written on the occasion of John’s departure for Holland during the Helder expedition of 1799) reads:

“Dear Lord Chatham,

I have this moment heard that your Brigade is under orders of March Tomorrow Morning; in all probability you will wish as well as Lady Chatham to be rid of me in that event. I hope in God that Lady Chatham meets this severe trial with proper fortitude, & that her good Sense & nerves will support her through it. My good wishes attend you always my Dear Lord, & I am ever with great truth,

Your very sincere Friend

George P.”

Apparently it wasn’t a passing fondness either. As King George IV in 1825, George was still writing letters to Lord Chatham calling him “my Dear Friend”, expressing himself “impatient to have the pleasure of seeing you” and signing off “your very sincere friend, GR” (George IV to Chatham, 4 July 1825, PRO 30/70/6 f. 420)

Forgive me if I am gobsmacked by this, but I never (never, never, NEVER) pictured Chatham and Prinny as best buds. :-/

John, you never stop amazing me!

Sticking up for John again

You may recall my post a while ago about my horror at reading Richard Glover’s fulminations against the second Lord Chatham in “Peninsular Preparation”. “Relatively very few documents attributable to [Chatham] are to be found in the Chatham Papers, or elsewhere,” Glover wrote, “and it is surely significant that among them lies a trim little notebook containing lists of garden flowers written in an admirably neat italic printing hand. This suggests where his real interests lay” (Peninsular Preparation, p 39) The flower book story even gets into the latest book on Walcheren, by Martin R. Howard (Walcheren 1809, 2012).

Embarrassingly trivial, yet kind of cute, huh? I was in the National Archives today, so decided to call that little book up.


(Garden Book, from PRO 30/8/370/51)

Well.

I am NOT happy with Richard Glover. John has been traduced. AGAIN.

Who knows what the book of flowers is all about, but one thing is for sure: IT NEVER BELONGED TO JOHN.

How do I know this?

Take a look at this page:

Anything in particular leap out at you? I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t spot it— it took me a moment. Here’s a clue:

King William the 4th came to the throne in 1830, Victoria in 1837. John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham died in 1835, so could never have owned a book about flowers with names like Queen Victoria.

Even supposing the name referred to another Queen Victoria (I suppose there could have been another Queen of that name on the continent), the notebook has a calendar on the inside of the cover. The calendar has no date, but lists Easter Sunday as falling on 26 March.

According to this website , Easter Sunday fell on 26 March during John’s lifetime in 1758, 1769, 1780, 1815, and 1826. We can safely discount the first three of those. 1815 is I suppose a possibility, as is 1826, but neither of them allows for the presence of a flower named after William IV. That leaves the final possibility: that the book was printed for 1837, the last year before 1967 that Easter Sunday fell on 26 March. This would certainly make it possible to name a flower after Queen Victoria, who came to the throne in 1837.

But if the book was printed for 1837 (presumably in 1836), Chatham was already dead. So he couldn’t have owned the book. And even if the flowers refer to the contents of the garden of his house at Berkeley Square, which is likely given the book is tucked up with a bundle of receipts, house inventories and life insurance documents, he never compiled it.

So much for this one of Glover’s reasons why Chatham was a useless waste of oxygen. Makes a nice story, but ultimately it’s a lie, and poor John comes out looking like an idiot again.

Can you tell I am very, very cross?

An extract from Richard Glover’s “Peninsular Preparation”

“The decline of the [Board of] Ordnance, which began under Cornwallis, continued unabated under his deplorable successor, John, the second Earl of Chatham. Fortescue has well and truly said that, when he chose, Chatham could both think and write. Unfortunately, however, he very rarely made this exacting choice, and in sheer laziness he eclipsed even [William] Windham [Pitt’s Secretary at War in the 1790s]. Any reader of Castlereagh’s military correspondence must be struck by the frequency with which Chatham is to be found at his country home when he ought to have been in London. Relatively few documents attributable to him are to be found in the Chatham Papers, or elsewhere, in the Public Record Office; and it is surely significant that among them lies a trim little notebook containing lists of garden flowers written in an admirably neat italic printing hand. This suggests where his real interests lay … Yet in spite of his lack of interest in the duties of his office, Chatham did his country the disservice of clinging like a limpet to [the Ordnance] from May 1801 to 1810, with only the break of the eighteen months when the Ministry of All the Talents was in power”.

(Richard Glover, Peninsular Preparation, 1963, p. 39)

Jeeeeeeeeeeez. To quote Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Where do I begin with the bad?”

It certainly had me snorting at certain moments— “he very rarely made this exacting choice”, “clinging like a limpet” in particular— but at base, there’s little evidence here to make such sweeping statements about Chatham’s uselessness. I was kind of hoping there might be more examples to work with, so that I could at least say “OK, fair enough”, but now I’m just left thinking, “Bleagh, poor John.”

And the lack of evidence is, at least in this instance, not overwhelming proof. I agree there are few of John’s papers anywhere; I haven’t had the opportunity to go to Michigan to see those at the Clements Library, nor have I managed to get to Manchester to see the ones held there. The National Archives (as the PRO is now called) is disappointing, but I really get the impression that John’s papers were either destroyed by his executors, who cared more about his father and brother, or they were destroyed by John himself (and let’s face it, he had 25 years of kicking his heels in the political wilderness to sort through his papers).

(Although I am soooo going to look up that gardening notebook next week when I’m at the National Archives. 😉 )

So what a value judgment: and the only concrete evidence for it is from the Castlereagh Papers, where he ought to have been in London but was at his country estate!

I confess I have not read Castlereagh’s correspondence cover to cover, but I have consulted them. Chatham doesn’t appear a great deal (except on the volumes covering Walcheren, obviously). I presume that Glover is mainly talking about the instance also cited by Wendy Hinde in her biography of Castlereagh (London, 1981, p. 119): after describing Chatham as “incurably idle” she relates how he “preferred to remain in the country potting pheasants” rather than come to town for a cabinet in October 1805 to discuss reeling Prussia into the Third Coalition. She continues: “Chatham’s irresponsibility is scarcely more surprising than Castlereagh’s polite—or philosophical—acceptance of it”, thereby implying that this sort of thing happened all the time, ho ho ho, it’s the Late Lord Chatham again, oh well, never mind.

Shall we take a look at this letter in the Castlereagh Correspondence? It’s from Volume 6, p. 19, dated 16 October 1805. I quote it in full:

“My dear Lord,

Colonel Hadden communicated to me this morning your kind offer to come up to town in the course of next week, if there was anything of importance. Things are grown so interesting, that I trust you will forgive me for availing myself of your proposal; and if you could appropriate Sunday to the journey, you would, without wasting a sporting day, catch your brother before his return to Walmer on Monday. I send you by the messenger the outline of our immediate measures, which has been approved by the King, and will be executed without delay. But this subject connects itself so much with the state of the Continent, and the general scheme of our future military views, that I feel extremely desirous of having a full conversation with you upon the whole of this interesting subject.

Believe me &c., Castlereagh.”

What leaps out at me from this immediately is:

1) John is not the only member of the Cabinet currently on holiday (Pitt is “RETURNING” to Walmer, so obviously has also come up for a debrief)

2) John had asked for permission to go (“your kind offer to come up to town in the course of next week, if there was anything of importance”: translates as “I’m off, but if you need me I’ll come back”)

3) Whether this was flattery or not I couldn’t say, but Castlereagh seems to imply he wants Chatham’s views as a military man rather than those as a cabint minister. No mention of ordnance, for example.

I certainly see nothing in the above to justify Glover’s character assassination of Lord Chatham, and I think Hinde was also writing with that good ol’ 20/20 historical hindsight.

After all, people will see what they want to see in anything. (And of course I guess this applies to me too, so I will take my own fulminations with a pinch of salt 😉 )

Ironically the book from which I took the reference to the Glover paragraph quoted above was much nicer to Chatham. I really thought that by following the reference I might find some concrete evidence of Chatham’s incapability … but I am once again disappointed. (And maybe a little relieved too!)

Edited to add:

WHAT country home? In 1805? :-/

The Second Earl of Chatham’s marriage settlement, Bromley Archives 1080/3/1/1/26

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I’ve missed the 230th anniversary of John, Second Earl of Chatham’s wedding to Mary Elizabeth Townshend by five days, but never mind. A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit Bromley Archives and check out the marriage settlement drawn up for them and signed by all parties on 5 July 1783 (the marriage took place five days later).

In a nutshell, the settlement designates various sums of money which, together, make a larger sum intended to purchase of stocks on behalf of any younger children born of the marriage. This was two sums of £1000 (an inheritance left to Mary by a relative, and a similar sum of money left to her sister Georgiana, who signed it over), to form a dowry of £2000; plus a little over £3000 expressly set aside to plump up the sum. Lucky John: that was quite a dowry, although John wasn’t allowed to touch the £2000 as it was intended to be Mary’s “pin money” and therefore belonged to her (in the words of the legal text, “for her own separate and peculiar use in the nature of pin money and exclusively of the said John Earl of Chatham who is not to interfere or intermeddle therewith nor is the same or any part thereof to be exposed subject or liable to his debts controul or interference”: get told John!).

The eldest child of the marriage, obviously, stood to inherit the £4000 pension settled by Parliament on John and his mother for four lives in memory of his father William Pitt (the Elder), First Earl of Chatham. John was second in line to receive the pension after his mother, and his eldest son (had he had one … which he didn’t) would have been third. The £4000 pension was also meant to provide for Mary’s jointure of £1000, to be paid out annually in quarterly instalments should John predecease her.

The contract (all ten whopping vellum pages of it) was signed by the bridegroom, the bride, the prospective father-in-law, and four trustees (two on the bridegroom’s side and two on the bride’s), who agreed to make sure the terms were adhered to, and basically to stop John running off with the money intended to provide for his wife and children in case of his early death. The trustees in question were John’s brother William Pitt the Younger, who had just finished a stint as Chancellor of the Exchequer and was yet to become Prime Minister; John’s first cousin Thomas Pitt, later Lord Camelford; Mary’s uncle Charles Townshend; and Mary’s cousin Thomas Brodrick.

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(Above: signature and seal of Pitt the Younger as trustee of his brother’s marriage settlement)

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(Above: John, Lord Chatham (bridegroom) and Thomas Townshend, Lord Sydney (the father of the bride) sign and seal the contract)

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(Above: Mary Elizabeth Townshend (the bride) signs and seals the contract)

We know Mary’s father, Lord Sydney, was a wealthy man (his biographer, Andrew Tink, in Lord Sydney: the life and times of Tommy Townshend (Melbourne, 2011, p. 150). The settlement certainly bears that out. John was … less wealthy, and I imagine the £5000 sum made a sucking sound as it entered his bank account and then, instantly, left it again. :-/

I did wonder if drawing up a marriage settlement contract was, in fact, a reflection of John’s impoverished status— Lord Sydney pretty much saying “OK, you can marry my daughter, but only if you pledge to be sensible with the money I’m giving her!” I was therefore happy to find that marriage settlements were de rigeur in aristocratic families with money and property to pass on.

According to H.J. Habbakuk in “Marriage settlements in the 18th century” (Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 4th series, 32 (1950), 15), the settlement was intended to limit “the interest in the estate of the father of the husband and, after him, of the husband himself, to that of a life-tenant, and entailing the estate on the eldest son to be born of the marriage”. This is especially interesting because John’s estate is not mentioned at all in the settlement: the only thing that is mentioned is that the title is to descend down the male line, and that the £4000 pension will go with it. In 1783 John had two estates— Hayes Place, in Kent, and Burton Pynsent, in Somerset, which according to the provisions of his father’s will he held jointly with his mother. Neither estate is mentioned in the contract. Hayes and Burton came with very little land, comparatively speaking— although Burton at least had a farm, which brought in some income— but they were both mortgaged (and in the case of Hayes at least, remortgaged) to the hilt, which may be why they were not mentioned. John sold Hayes two years later in any case: perhaps he had already intended to do so in 1783, which is why it is not included in the settlement. This may also be why Sydney stipulated the enormous sum of £1000 to be set aside for Mary’s jointure.

One last interesting fact: Mary was under the age of twenty-one when she married John (her birthday was in September). The contract therefore notes that “the said Mary Elizabeth Townshend is now an Infant under the Age of Twenty one Years (that is to say) of the Age of Twenty years and upwards of the second part”. I’m not sure what I would have thought if I were referred to as an “infant”! (Not to mention the fact it makes John look like an absolute cradle-snatcher!) Sydney, by signing the contract, gave his permission for his daughter to marry even though by law she was under-age.

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(Above: the parties of the marriage are named)

All in all, I passed a very pleasant morning in Bromley Archives… even though I very nearly got eaten by the document I was reading. (It took up two desks, and I am not exaggerating.)