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.

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Guest post for Madame Guilflurt on Mary, Countess of Chatham

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

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

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

 

“From Day to Day”

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Contents of HA 119/562/688: letters from Lord Chatham to George Pretyman-Tomline, 1816-25 (Ipswich Record Office)

On 17 March 1818 John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham folded a sheet of foolscap, dipped his pen in ink, and began to write a difficult letter. His correspondent was George Pretyman-Tomline, Bishop of Lincoln. Tomline was an old family friend: he and John had been joint executors of John’s brother’s will and had become close over the years. Since 1816 John had been renting Abington Hall near Cambridge, which was very close to Tomline’s palace as Bishop of Lincoln in Buckden.

 

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Abington Hall, Cambridge

In writing his letter John was breaking a long silence. This was not unusual for John, who was not a particularly efficient correspondent at the best of times. As his letter made clear, however, this was not the best of times.

 

“I have been meditating a letter to you, for the purpose of saying, that whenever you move towards London, Abington is but a few miles out of ye road … But unfortunately I have from day to day been obliged to put off writing to you, from a cause, which I know you will be concerned to hear. Lady Chatham has now been for above three weeks extremely unwell, and still continues so. She had at first a severe bilious attack, attended with a good deal of fever, and which is not yet entirely removed, tho she is better, but it has so much reduced her, as to leave her in a very uncomfortably low and nervous state.”[1]

 

Six weeks later he wrote to Tomline to report the “low and nervous state” had not improved: “I had deferred writing to you … in the hope from day to day, that I shou’d have been able to have sent you a more favourable account of Lady Chatham … But I am sorry to say, that … Lady Chatham has … continued without gaining any ground”.[2]

 

John had no way of knowing, but he would continue to live “from day to day”, waiting for his wife to recover and return to normal, for more than two years. Mental illness is treated much more sympathetically today than it was in the eighteenth century, when it was labelled as “insanity” and treated horrifically. Rank was not proof against this: witness the treatment of George III– bled, purged, gagged, straitjacketed– in the desperate attempts to restore him to health. Ironically John’s own father, Pitt the Elder, was almost certainly bipolar, and John must have watched his wife sink into depression with a cataclysmic sense of deja vu.

 

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Mary, Countess of Chatham, in earlier years

John was a taciturn and deeply private correspondent; he generally kept his letters brief, factual and to the point, with perhaps a short discussion of the weather towards the end but little of a personal nature. After half a year, however, he could not keep his distress from showing, and words like “harassed” and “distressed” began to appear in his letters.[3]

 

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Sir Henry Halford

In September 1818 John persuaded Mary to see Sir Henry Halford, the King’s personal physician. Halford was optimistic: a change of air was required, so John took Mary to the fashionable spa at Leamington in Warwickshire. Unable to make any plans whatsoever– still drifting “from day to day”– this was the first time John had left Abington since spring. Understandably he needed a break, but Mary was having none of it. When John suggested she stay with her brother Lord Sydney at Frognall in Kent, she insisted she was getting better. In February, nearly a year after Mary first fell ill, John finally managed to get her to Frognall. Mary’s state can best be gauged from the tone of the letter John sent to Tomline, which he only placed in the post after leaving in case the plans fell through at the last minute: “I have remained here [at Abington] in one continual state of suspense, having fixed generally one or two days every week for removing to Frognall, and having been as constantly disappointed. We now intend going tomorrow … Lady Chatham, is I am sorry to say not the least better, and my situation has been most distressing”.[5]

 

John was finally able to have a rest: “after the confinement I have had, I trust [exercise] will be of use to me”.[6] He certainly needed it, for apart from Mary’s family he had nobody–no children, no remaining siblings– to assist him. Over the next few months he managed to get away from Mary’s sickbed long enough to go on a few hunting parties with friends, where presumably he took out his frustration on anything that had fur or feathers. But always he returned to Mary after a week or two, and the strain of living “from day to day” was taking its toll.

 

By now John was beginning to guess Mary’s illness might never improve. “I fear she is losing ground,” he reported in June. In August, though, there was a glimmer of hope, and John thought she seemed a little more open to the idea of company. He wrote to the Tomlines hesitantly suggesting that “should it be convenient to you to give us the pleasure of your company … we shou’d be most happy to see you”.[7]

 

The Tomlines arrived on Friday 3 September. “Lady C[hatham] received us … in her usual manner,” Mrs Tomline later recorded for Mary’s physician Sir Henry Halford. All, however, was far from well, and Mary was unable to keep up the pretence of normality very long. “On Friday Evening, when Lord C[hatham] rose to ring the bell to remove the Tea tray supposing her [Mary] to have finished her tea, her eyes became frightfully wild”. As soon as she saw she was observed, however, Mary “recovered her composure– gradually became calm”.

 

This ability to impose self-control impressed Mrs Tomline, who noted that, “though rather Agitated, there was nothing in her manner to excite remark … We shoud have left [Abington] on Monday satisfied with this appearance of tranquillity had we judged only from seeing Lady C[hatham] in company.” But “the sad reverse, when alone” was “painful to describe”, and Mrs Tomline particularly dwelled on a disturbing conversation:

 

“She talked to me for some time about her illness in a way that affected me more than I chose to show. …. She was told exertion was necessary, but that she could not control herself when— and after a sudden stop, added in a wild way, ‘I must not talk of myself– but I often think it must end in madness’ – looking with eager eyes for my opinion.”

 

Tragically for Mary, Mrs Tomline did not recognise this as a cry for help from a desperately depressed woman. Her response was, essentially, that Mary should pull herself together:

 

“Of course I placed her feelings to the account of nerves & urged the absolute necessity of controuling her agitation when ever it occurred … and expressed perfect confidence that she would again recover, provided she kept herself calm, for controul in some way or other was absolutely necessary”.

 

Surrounded by unsympathetic listeners, Mary’s self-esteem was low and her frustration was extremely high. “She spoke with great concern of the trouble she gave Lord C[hatham] ‘to whom I am sure (she said) I ought not to give a moment’s pain’”. Having forbidden herself from confiding in her own husband, Mary found an outlet in self-harm. Mrs Tomline reported “her screams are often heard over the whole house” and how her maid had “to prevent the poor Sufferer from striking herself with a dangerous force … she is indeed covered with bruises she has given herself in various ways and with various things often with clenched hands and shut teeth”. Sleep was an issue: Mrs Tomline seemed to think it was not, but John reported her staying in bed most of the day– no doubt seeing her bedroom as a refuge from the need to put on a pretence of normality. She was certainly suicidal: “her threats respecting her own life are most alarming”.[8]

 

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John, Lord Chatham, in 1821, from Sir George Hayter’s “The Trial of Queen Caroline”

Something had to be done. John had never been robust, and his health was poor. “He cannot much longer support such a score of suffering,” in Mrs Tomline’s words. Halford’s response was not encouraging. “The matter appears to me to be coming to a Crisis,” he wrote, “and I can scarcely suppose that many weeks more will pass before the poor Creature is put under restraint.” His recommendation was to straitjacket the patient to save her husband’s health, for “it will be well if ever we see him Himself again”.[9]

 

John was horrified. He had spent eighteen months nursing his wife, and was amazed at Halford’s diagnosis: “I am at a loss to understand to what he coud allude … when he spoke of any Crisis to be expected in a few weeks”. He dreaded the idea of “any change of System, unless it were deemed indispensable”, and naturally feared the effect of such “severity and cruelty” on his wife, particularly, as he saw it, to little purpose. To his credit he never referred to his wife as anything other than just that– no subhuman “poor Creature” such as is found in Halford and Mrs Tomline’s letters– and invariably passed her best compliments to Tomline at the end of his letters. Even when Mary’s state was clearly poor, he always wrote of “we” rather than “I”. But however much he disapproved of Halford’s recommendations, John was desperate. Under pressure from Halford and the Tomlines, and half-staggered under the burden of Mary’s illness, he agreed to appoint a “companion” who had experience with insanity.[10]

 

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27 April 1818, HA 119/562/688

This “companion” was intended to impose “a restraint which the presence of Lord C[hatham] no longer produces”,[11] but it may not have worked. In the new year Mary was “very unwell, so much so, as to render her state, a very anxious one for a couple of days”, and John morosely reported to Tomline that “her state of irritation seems rather encreased”. Had Mary attempted suicide? John’s letter is ambiguous, but perhaps it is significant that they were immediately visited by their niece, Harriot Hester, Lady Pringle, who had lived with them for three years prior to her marriage in 1806. At any rate he managed to get up to Belvoir to hunt with his former ward the Duke of Rutland in February, “for I stand much in need of some recruiting having passed a sad time here”.[12]

 

After that the correspondence breaks off until July 1821, when John reports, on black-edged paper, that he cannot attend George IV’s levee as “there is an Order for no Person, to appear in mourning, which precludes me”.[13] John was in mourning because Mary died on 21 May, aged 58. Her obituary in the paper simply states that she died at five o’clock in the evening “after an indisoposition of nearly two years”.[14]

 

Mary’s physical health had never been good, so it is possible she died of natural causes, but given her history and her age I cannot help wondering if she helped herself along a little. This is obviously speculation, and John never refers to her in his letters again. I’m not sure I will ever find out the answer for certain, but whatever the truth Mary’s last years were neither happy nor healthy.

 

So ends the tragic tale, at least for Mary. John was destined to outlive her fourteen years; his adventures can be read about in a previous blog post of mine in two parts, found here and here. He never complained of loneliness but there is more than an echo of it in his last letters to the Tomlines before leaving England to take up the governorship of Gibraltar in October 1821: “I have been but indifferent, indeed I cou’d not well expect otherwise”. “I can not say much for myself,” he wrote the following year. “I am tolerably well in health, but I do not gain much ground, otherwise … There is a great deal of constant business [as Governor], which occupies my mind, and from this, I think I have found most relief”.[15]

 

Poor Mary, and poor John. It’s no secret that I feel a strong bond with these two; they are, after all, the main characters of my work in progress. But until yesterday I had no idea their story ended so tragically. I cannot tell you how much I wish it had been otherwise.

 

References

 

All manuscripts are from the Pretyman-Tomline MSS, held at Suffolk Record Office (Ipswich).

[1] Chatham to Tomline, 17 March 1818, HA 119/T108/24/7

[2] Chatham to Tomline, 24 April 1818, HA 119/562/688

[3] Chatham to Tomline, 14 October 1818, HA 119/562/688

[4] Chatham to Tomline, 18 December 1818, HA 119/562/688

[5] Chatham to Tomline, 1 February 1819, HA 119/562/688

[6] Chatham to Tomline, 19 February 1919, HA 119/T108/24/8; same to same, same date, HA 119/562/688

[7] Chatham to Tomline, 2 June, 17 August 1819, HA 119/562/688

[8] Mrs Tomline’s letter to Sir Henry Halford is at HA 119/562/716. John’s observations on Mary’s lying later in bed are from HA 119/562/688, 22 and 27 September 1819

[9] Sir Henry Halford to Mrs Pretyman, 10 September 1819, HA 119/562/716

[10] Chatham to Tomline, 22 September 1819, HA 119/562/688; 27 September 1819

[11] Mrs Tomline to Sir Henry Halford, HA 119/562/716

[12] Chatham to Tomline, 19 January 1820, 5 February 1820, HA 119/562/688

[13] Chatham to Tomline, 25 July 1821, HA 119/562/688

[14] The European Magazine and London Review 1821, vols 79-80, 561; The Ezxaminer 1821, 335.

[15] Chatham to Tomline, 6 October 1821, 27 February 1822, HA 119/562/688

 

Picture of Abington Hall from here.

Picture of Sir Henry Halford from here.

“Master Billy’s return from Grocer’s Hall”

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(“Master Billy’s procession to Grocer’s Hall” by Thomas Rowlandson, from here)

It has just been brought to my attention that I missed an anniversary yesterday (28 February). On 28 February 1784, William Pitt the Younger received the Freedom of the City of London at a banquet held at Grocer’s Hall. This was towards the end of the so-called “constitutional crisis” triggered by George III’s dismissal of the Portland ministry and appointment of 24-year-old Pitt at the head of a minority government. Assisted by a combination of behind-the-scenes bribery, eloquence in Parliament, his reputation for purity, and downright luck, Pitt had been slowly gathering public support and chipping away the opposition’s majority throughout February. The Freedom of the City was a great coup for him, since the City traditionally held itself independent of the monarch and had a great deal of political influence. Pitt’s carriage was drawn from Berkeley Square, where he was living with his brother, to Grocer’s Hall by his supporters.

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(“Master Billy’s return from Grocer’s Hall”, anonymous, from here)

The way home was, unfortunately, not quite so uneventful. Once again Pitt was drawn through the streets “by a great concourse of people, many of the better sort … as well as by a considerable Mob” (in the words of Pitt’s brother Lord Chatham, who, along with Pitt’s brother-in-law Lord Mahon, later 3rd Earl Stanhope, was also in the carriage). Chatham later set down his recollections of what happened next for Pitt’s biographer, the Bishop of Lincoln, in 1821 (this can be found at Ipswich Record Office, Pretyman MSS HA119/562/688). Chatham wrote:

The Populace insisted on taking off the Horses and drawing the Coach. A Mob is never very discreet, and unfortunately they stopped opposite Carlton House and begun [sic] hissing, and it was with some difficulty we forced them to go on. As we proceeded up St James’s Street, there was a great Cry, and an attempt made to turn the Carriage up St James’s Place to Mr Fox’s house (he then lived at Ld Northingtons) in order to break his windows and force him to light, but which we at last succeeded in preventing their doing.

 

I have often thought this was a trap laid for us, for had we got up, there, into a Cul de Sac, Mr Pitts situation would have been critical indeed. This attempt brought us rather nearer in contact with Brooks, and the moment we got opposite (the Mob calling for lights) a sudden and desperate attack was made upon the Carriage in which, were Mr Pitt, Lord M[ahon] and myself, by a body of Chairmen armed with bludgeons, broken Chair Poles &c (many of the waiters, and several of the Gentlemen among them).

 

They succeeded in making their way to the Carriage, and forced open the door. Several desperate blows were aimed at Mr Pitt, and I recollect endeavouring to cover him, as well as I cou’d, in his getting out of the Carriage. Fortunately however, by the exertions of those who remained with us, and by ye timely assistance of a Party of Chairmen and many Gentlemen from Whites, who saw his danger, we were extricated, from a most unpleasant situation, and with considerable difficulty, got into some of the adjacent houses, without material injury, and from there to Whites. The Coachman, and the Servants were much bruised, and the Carriage nearly demolished.

I do not recollect having particularly seen Genl Fitzpatrick, but I distinguished Mr Hare, and the present Lord Crewe extremely active, and I think Lord Robert Spencer, standing at the Door. I remember when the Streets were a little clear, I walked over, with Mr McDowall to Brooks, and went up into ye Club Room, but the Party were either gone home, or gone to Supper.

 

The next morning I met Lord Ossory in St James’s Street, who attempted to make apologies for what had passed, and to lay it upon ye violence of the Chairmen, some of the Chairs having been broken by the Mob.

 

I never went to Brooks any more, and I was never able to ascertain further what passed or what first led to the Outrage that night.

Fair enough, I guess!

Ruminations on Mortality

More happy thoughts for a (sort of) sunny Wednesday afternoon, but yesterday (24 September, that is) was the 178th anniversary of John, 2nd Earl of Chatham’s death. I suspect I was the only one who noticed— that is until I posted about it on Facebook, when roughly 200 of my friends were given the chance to be thoroughly uninterested about it— but I thought it might be an appropriate time to write this post.

John, as I have mentioned before, had no children. The heir to the Chatham title was, therefore, his brother William, who would have been mightily brassed off to be swept away to the House of Lords as Third Earl of Chatham. (Not to mention how annoyed John would have been to have his candle snuffed out well before time… although I suppose he wouldn’t have cared much.) The fate of Pitt the Younger’s government pretty much rode on John’s shoulders, and everyone knew it. Under the circumstances John’s career in the army was rather unfortunate. He didn’t serve abroad much during the wars with France but when he participated in the Helder expedition to Holland in 1799 he was whapped in the shoulder by a spent ball. It was deflected by his epaulette and he survived more or less unscathed (although his coat and waistcoat, reportedly, did not). I don’t suppose he would have been very pleased to  know that his risking his life for his country called forth the typical following encomiums from his cousin the Marquis of Buckingham:

“Lord Chatham’s escape has, I trust, decided you [his brother Lord Grenville] and others to whom the public have a right to look, not to suffer yourselves to forego for his very proper feelings as a soldier the dearest interests of the public; and that, in one word, his further service on the Continent will be negatived; a sacrifice which, I must say, he owes to the public.” (Buckingham to Grenville, 15 October 1799, Dropmore MSS V, 473)

Even a number of Pitt’s earlier biographers had a bit of fun with poor John’s narrow squeak. P.W. Wilson, for example, joked that “Pitt’s career was safeguarded  by the fraternal gold lace” (William Pitt, the Younger (1933), p. 278). Forgive me if I remain straight-faced.

It wasn’t just John’s career that put him at risk, of course. Like all the Pitt children his health was delicate, and any prolonged periods of ill health always got the London newspapers into a state of excitement. Lord Rosebery tells the story of how, “while London was illuminating for the King’s recovery [after the Regency Crisis in 1789], Lord Chatham lay mortally ill. So grave was his malady that the hunters after Providence had fixed on Grenville as the new minister” (Pitt (1891), p. 93). I haven’t found any evidence of this actually happening, but it certainly could have done, although not in the spring or summer of 1789 when John’s movements were thoroughly accounted for. What Rosebery is probably referring to (and somewhat inflating) is the accident that happened to John in the summer of 1788 which I have decided to refer to as the Septic Shoebuckle Incident. From the London Chronicle, 14-16 June 1788:

“The Earl of Chatham has been confined to his room these two months, owing to the kicking of his buckle against his ancle [sic] bone, which, though apparently a trifling accident, has hitherto baffled the efforts of his surgeon to effect a cure.”

So apparently John injured his leg on his shoebuckle (how? ……… no idea: answers on a postcard please). Apart from the fact that the above sounds fairly painful (it almost sounds like the buckle got lodged in his leg, although I think that’s unlikely), the wound obviously went septic and in the absence of antibiotics, kept John under the weather for a good long while. Family and friends were also anxious about it, and apparently with good reason because John’s leg injury kept him unwell for months. “I think my brother is now really at the eve of being able to move again,” William wrote to his mother on 29 August (Stanhope I, 382), three days after the World reported John “nearly recovered” from “a very serious confinement”. By September John was recovering at Henry Dundas’s house in Wimbledon, although it was not until 25 October that the Public Advertiser announced that he was “perfectly recovered from his tedious lameness, occasioned by a wound on the shin from his buckles”. Even that wasn’t the last word: as late as 22 March 1789 the former Pitt family tutor Edward Wilson referred to the injury in a letter to John’s mother (PRO 30/8/67 f 115): “I am truly sorry to hear that anything is the matter with my Lord Chatham’s leg again, but I have rested my hope in your Ladyship’s account of it, as I am now unwilling to trouble his Lordship with enquiries”.

The newspapers were agog. (Had John succumbed, a modern newspaper would almost certainly have run the headline: “Ministry scuppered by a shoebuckle!”) I guess it wasn’t unreasonable to suppose that four to six months was a long time to take to recover from an injury. One can only imagine John’s feelings when he openedthe Morning Herald on 2 October 1788 and discovered that at least one journalist had written him off already:

“If the Earl of Chatham, whose health is much impaired, should die, Mr Pitt will succeed [to the Earldom], and of consequence go up to the House of Peers.”

In 1791 almost exactly the same thing happened (no, not his shoebuckle — that sort of injury surely only happens once in a lifetime). This time, apparently, John fell out of his carriage and broke his leg (according to the Geneve Post on 28 July 1791, anyway). Ouchies for sure, but once again it took months for him to recover, and the length of his recovery possibly owed something to another unspecified underlying illness as Reverend Wilson referred to “the palid [sic] hues that were really alarming” (18 November 1791, PRO 30/8/67 f 53). Either way, the newspapers ran amok again. “The Earl of Chatham was prevented from making his return of the navy, on account of his Lordship’s being confined to his room with a wound in his leg, which he received in stepping to his coach,” reported the London Chronicle on 2 July. Three days later the Star reported him “much recovered”, but on 14 July wrote that he continued “much indisposed at his house in the Admiralty”. On the 19th the Geneve Post announced that he was “so very ill, that is is prevented from leaving his room”. They refrained from printing the running odds on Pitt’s succeeding to the earldom within the month, but someone must have been calculating them by then. On the 21st the Morning Herald dashed the hopes of the gambling men by deeming John “so well recovered … as to be able to resume his Presidency at the Board of Admiralty”, but the account was premature. Pitt wrote to his mother on the same day (PRO 30/8/12 f 436) “My Brother as you probably know, is not yet released from his provoking Confinement; but he certainly mends, tho slowly”. Reverend Wilson also hastened to reassure Lady Chatham: “We receive frequent & undoubted assurances that there is no ground of danger or alarm” (22 July 1791, PRO 30/8/67 f 195).

If Lady Chatham had been following the newspapers she would have needed the reassurance. The Star reopened the odds on the succession of a third Earl of Chatham on 23 July with the news that “The Earl of Chatham continues much indisposed … His Lordship has not attended the Admiralty Board this fortnight”. Not until 12 August did the Evening Mail report that Chatham had gone “out in his carriage, for the first time these six weeks”, and it was not till the end of the month that he resumed his official duties. Probably John’s health was followed so closely because he was a member of the cabinet, but some of it almost certainly had to do with curiosity as to what would happen if he keeled over.

Of course after Pitt died in 1806 nobody cared quite so much whether John lived or died, but as he got older the vultures began to cluster around the various honorary positions and emoluments he held for life in the hopes of inheriting them in due course. In 1831 John’s health collapsed and he thought himself close to death. He wasn’t the only one: the Duke of Wellington received a letter, dated 15 March 1831, from General Sir William Clinton, asking for one of John’s official posts since there was a rumour he had died. The Duke had to write back to tell Clinton he had been misinformed. (University of Southampton Wellington Papers, WP1/1178/26)

Poor John, but it does rather put me in mind of Spamalot’s “Not Dead Yet” song… (…..which probably makes me just as bad as all those sniggering historians to be honest)

“A felicity inexpressible”: The Chatham Vase

The “Chatham Vase” is a sculpture commissioned by Hester, Dowager Countess of Chatham, in 1780-1 to commemorate her husband William Pitt the Elder, First Earl of Chatham. It was sculpted in the shape of a Grecian urn by John Bacon, the same man who designed Chatham’s monument in Westminster Abbey. The urn was erected at Burton Pynsent, Somerset, which Lady Chatham used as her dower house until her death.

The lines on the pedestal (largely weathered away now, but still just about legible) read:

“Sacred to pure affection, this simple urn stands a witness of unceasing grief for him who, excelling in whatever is so admirable, and adding to the exercise of the sublimest virtues the sweet charm of refined sentiment and polished wit, by gay social commerce rendered beyond comparison happy the course of domestic life and bestowed a felicity inexpressible on her whose faithful love was blessed in a pure return that raised her above every other joy but the parental one, and that still shared with him. His generous country with public monuments has eternised his fame. This humble tribute is but to soothe the sorrowing breast of private woe.”

This tribute was apparently written by Lady Chatham herself, with a little assistance from her son William Pitt the Younger. Pitt wrote to his mother on the subject on 20 April 1780 (Stanhope I, 39):

“All my feelings with regard to the paper enclosed I need not express. I am sure I should be far indeed from wishing to suggest a syllable of alteration. The language of the heart, of such a heart especially, can never require or admit of correction. May it remain as it deserves, a lasting monument of both the subject and the author.”

After Lady Chatham died in April 1803, her son John, second Earl of Chatham, was forced to sell Burton Pynsent for financial reasons. He made sure, however, to take the Vase away before selling the property. Where it went after Burton I do not know—I have found no record of John having access to any country property between 1805 and 1815, or from 1820 onwards. Presumably the Vase spent the time packed away in John’s attic. It was not forgotten, though. Richard, Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, the son of John’s cousin the Marquis of Buckingham and Hester Chatham’s great-nephew, wrote to John in March 1831:

“My Lord,

I feel that I am taking a great liberty in entering into the subject of this letter and must appeal to your kindness to excuse me for doing so. My veneration for the memory of the great men of the family from which I am descended, must plead my pardon, and I am sure that to no-one can that appeal be more forciby made than to the Son of the grand Earl of Chatham.

The monument erected by your Mother to her lamented Lord at Burton Pynsent has now no resting place where it can stand a memorial to her Piety and of your Father’s greatness. The want of a male heir should any thing happen to you in the uncertainty of human life, will, unless you will that monument away, leave it—or its value—to be divided amongst Co-Heiresses [presumably a reference to John’s then heirs, Lady Harriot Hester Pringle and Lady Lucy Taylor]. It ought to stand in some Scene which your Father visited and took interest in, during his life time. Will you allow me to put it up at Stowe? … Allow me to press the request upon you, and to express my hope that you will prove that you forgive me by coming this next Summer at Stowe, and then view with your own eyes the Urn placed amidst the Scenes in which your Father past so many of his days” [PRO 30/8/365 f 243, 3 March 1831]

I personally found that letter astoundingly cheeky—“You’re old and about to peg it, and have no children, so can I have your urn?”—and I don’t know how much eye-rolling John must have done on reading it, but he agreed:

“I beg that you will accept my very warmest thanks for the kind manner in which you have acquiesced in my request … With your permission I shall put an Inscription upon a side of the Pedestal different from that on which your Mother’s inscription is engraved, stating how it came to be placed at Stowe, and probably you will not be displeased if I request Lord Grenville to write the Inscription for me” [23 March 1831, PRO 30/8/365 f 241]

Lord Grenville’s inscription reads: “In the year 1831, this interesting memorial of a near and highly venerated relative was, by the kindness of his son John Earl of Chatham, presented to the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos by whom it is here placed in remembrance of the early and long attachment of that great man to these tranquil scenes, and of his close connexion with the family of their proprietors.”

The Vase, however, did not long remain at Stowe. It was sold at auction in 1848, and where it was between 1848 and 1857 I do not know. In 1857 it was sold again and purchased by James Banks Stanhope, son of James Hamilton Stanhope, who through various very complicated relationships was related to both the Grenvilles and the Pitts, and placed at Revesby Hall in Lincolnshire:

The Vase moved on one more time, when it was bought by the 7th Earl Stanhope in 1934:

The Vase is now at Chevening (and hopefully won’t go anywhere else as there are no more sides to engrave……). This is as appropriate a place as any given that the Stanhope family was closely bound to the Pitts by blood and marriage, and the first Lord Chatham lived there for a while in 1769 and helped lay out the grounds (nobody ever managed to stop him “improving” any house he stayed in). There is still a copy at Stowe, but the original can still be seen at Chevening, which holds annual garden Open Days if anybody is curious enough to want to see it.

The Cheveley mystery … solved!

Jan Siberechts:Cheveley Park, near Newmarket

(Cheveley Park in the 17th century by Jan Siberechts, from here)

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(From Public Advertiser, 18 January 1790)

I have mentioned a few times on here the mystery that was John, Earl of Chatham’s “seat” of “Cheveley Park/Hall/House/Whatever”. This was first flagged up to me when searching for references to John in the Burney Newspaper Collection. From the summer of 1787 John and his wife could regularly be found at this “Cheveley” over the sporting season, up until John “disposed” of the estate in July of 1797 (Times, 2 July 1797, although the Morning Post recorded him as being at Cheveley as late as 6 October 1797). 

What confused me was this. The Cheveley in question (named “Hall” or “Park” interchangeably) was always stated to be “near Newmarket”, as in the snippet above; it was always mentioned as being John’s “seat”; it never seems to be mentioned in context with anybody else. Why would I be confused about this? Because Cheveley Park, Newmarket, was a hunting lodge belonging to the Duke of Rutland.

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(From the Gazette and New Daily Advertiser, 22 January 1791)

So what was going on here? Did the Duke of Rutland rent out, or lend, his Cheveley Park, Newmarket, to the Earl of Chatham? They were after all very good friends— see my post on the subject the other day). Moreover, although John first started using Cheveley in the autumn of 1787, his bosom buddy the 4th Duke was at that point still alive and in Ireland, so no doubt might well have given John permission to use one of his estates for a bit. After the Duke died in October of that year, his son the 5th Duke was all of nine years old and, no doubt, a bit young to need a hunting lodge all to himself. It could very possibly have been the Cheveley Park, Newmarket.

But surely there would be some record of it? And I couldn’t find anything—nothing at all. A Google search for “Cheveley Hall” (on the supposition that the Hall and the Park were two different places) came up with nothing but a small half-timbered house in the centre of Cheveley village that John would have looked down his (very impressive and well-formed) nose at, and had no land attached whatsoever to hunt in. An email to the Newmarket Local History Society turned up nothing. ardentpittite very helpfully assisted me in finding some references to Cheveley Park in the Victoria County History of Cambridgeshire, but although the history stated that the house “stood empty” between 1784 and 1799 the evidence given for this statement was a couple of newspapers published over late 1786 and early 1787 (before John moved in) and a letter of 20 August 1799 from William Windham in the Dropmore MSS (after John moved out). By that reckoning John could certainly have been using Cheveley between 1787 and 1797—but I still had no proof.

My latest visit to the Archives made me more certain than ever that I was definitely looking at the Cheveley Park. Apart from John and Rutland’s gushy manlove letters, I found several references to John being at Cheveley Park, Newmarket:

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Surely there being two Cheveley Parks in Newmarket would give rise to confusion at the Post Office? And let’s not forget this letter from Pitt the Younger to his mother, from PRO 30/8/12 f 389, dated 13 September 1787, as usual very modest about his abilities in the sporting field: “I returned yesterday from Chevely [sic] which I reached on the preceding Monday, and had the pleasure of finding my Brother and Lady Chatham established very much to their Satisfaction. My visit was not a long one but afforded me a good deal of Riding in the way there and back, and as good a Day’s Sport of Shooting as could be had without ever killing.” (Interestingly John Ehrman, who refers to this letter in The Younger Pitt: The Years of Acclaim p. 590, does not seem to have cottoned on to the fact that John was using Cheveley independently of Rutland.)

So was it the same Cheveley? “All I need,” I cried, “is a newspaper article saying something like “Lord Chatham has taken over the Duke of Rutland’s seat at Cheveley”. So a thousand thanks to my fellow Pittster and sister-in-research Steph, who within minutes came back with the following: “The Duke of Rutland’s house at Cheveley Park is taken by Lord Chatham during the sporting season” (From Norfolk Chronicle 7 July 1787).

Many, many thanks to Steph are due, therefore, for putting me out of my misery. And now I really must write a lengthy email to Newmarket Local History Society. 😉