24 September is the anniversary of the death of John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham, subject of my book The Late Lord. I have already written a post about his death and funeral, but I wanted to mark the occasion again with a new post.
Chatham (or, as I have started referring to him on social media, “Johnboy”) was two weeks off his 79th birthday when he died. He’d become increasingly frail in his last years. Famously, his father (William Pitt the Elder, 1st Earl of Chatham) had been felled by a stroke in the House of Lords in 1778; Johnboy went the same way, although rather less spectacularly. Like his father, he’d had a few warm-up events in recent years: one in 1831 nearly killed him (people started fighting over his sinecures, not realising he was not, in fact, dead yet). The effects of the stroke on his faculties can be most clearly seen from his handwriting, which went from confident to remarkably shaky in the space of a few months.
I didn’t manage to find any specific details about his last illness, but a lot of it can be deduced from a letter written to one of Chatham’s two heirs (William Stanhope Taylor, his great-nephew) by John Henry, Duke of Rutland. Rutland was the son of one of Chatham’s closest friends (the 4th Duke of Rutland, who had died in 1787): he was also probably the closest thing Chatham had to a son of his own. It sounds as though William Stanhope Taylor had some trouble tracking Rutland down, as Rutland was writing on 2 October 1835, the day before Chatham’s funeral. I referred to the letter in The Late Lord, but wanted to quote it in full because it really is the closest thing to a family letter I could have found:
Your Letter to me is on a most painful & distressing Subject, but I cannot help acknowledging your attention in favouring me with it. My Acquaintance with poor Lord Chatham was of longer Standing than any of which I am in the Enjoyment, and I should have been of all men the most ungrateful, if I had not loved him most sincerely, for I do not believe he has left behind him one single Person, who surpassed him in Attachment to my Family & to myself.
Every detail which you give of the last Days of his valuable Life, is to me most interesting. I sat with Lord Chatham for a short time on the day before I left London, & though he then complained of being ill, yet I did not perceive any Change in him, to occasion any Alarm or uneasiness to his Friends. It is a Consolation to find that he did not suffer much during the few Days of his last Seizure. I regret that I had not known till to day, that the Funeral is to take place tomorrow; for I am prevented from the capability of making Arrangements to enable me, to shew by attendance at the last mournful Ceremony, the extent of my Respect & Affection towards my poor deceased Friend.
I am very much gratified by the Intelligence that the Remains of poor Lord Chatham are to be deposited with those of his Father and Brother.
I have the Honor to be
Your very Faithful Servant RutlandJohn, 5th Duke of Rutland to William Stanhope Taylor, The National Archives PRO 30/70/6 f. 429
Thus ended a family connection between the Pitt and Manners families lasting about 60 years.