Lord Chatham … Lord Lieutenant of Ireland?

A bit of a puzzle this. Which is to say, no, it’s not a puzzle, but it is curious. When I was at the National Archives a few weeks ago I was thumbing in a bored and rather desultory manner through roughly four zillion equally illegible fluffy content-free letters from various members of the Royal Family to Mary, Countess of Chatham (“Your handkerchief at the drawing room yesterday was just sublime, can I borrow it?” “I love the way you do your hair— can we borrow your hairdresser?” “I hear dear Lord Chatham has a headache again” — the alarming thing is I am only slightly paraphrasing :-/). I was just about to switch my brain off in self-defence when I came across the following letter to Lord Chatham from King George III:

“Queen’s House Feby 18th 1801

The King is so much convinced of the Attachment and He flatters himself Affection of the Earl of Chatham that He prefers writing to the Lord President [Chatham was Lord President of the Privy Council] than in conversation calling upon Him (when the Marquess Cornwallis’s Resignation of the Lieutenancy of Ireland shall arrive) to accept that Office. The Manners, Integrity and Correct Line of Conduct of the Earl of Chatham certainly point Him out as the Person most proper for the Station; besides His having returned to His Military Profession, He as Lord Lieutenant must of course take the Supreme Command of the Troops stationed in Ireland, and the Commander in Chief only act under His Orders; the Military business must consequently be transmitted by the Lord Lieutenant to the Duke of York, as Commander in Chief of my Army, who when He has received my Approbation to the Successions proposed, will transmit them to the Successors of Mr Wyndham [sic – William Windham was Secretary at War], and the Commissions be prepared by the Secretary of State as those of the rest of the Army. – George R” (PRO 30/8/364 f 149)

Uhm, what now?

Some background, and I realise this is one of the most intricate and complicated topics in European history but I will have to be brief. In May 1798 Ireland (long disaffected and a target of repeated attempts of the French to invade the British Isles) exploded into rebellion. The rebellion was quickly put down, but the Lord Lieutenant at the time, Earl Camden, a civilian, was replaced by Lord Cornwallis, a military man. Pitt the Younger’s government decided to force through an Act of Union binding Ireland to Britain, dissolving the Irish Parliament and creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in January 1801. A great deal of patronage and corruption was required to persuade the Irish Parliament to dissolve itself (read Patrick Geoghegan’s The Irish Act of Union (2000) if you want to know more: it’s excellent). Part of the fallout was the collapse of Pitt’s own administration when the King got wind that Pitt was possibly considering making Catholic Emancipation (allowing Catholics in the United Kingdom to sit in Parliament and hold high office) part of the Union package. As far as the King was concerned this would lead to a violation of his Coronation Oath to defend the Anglican establishment. The resulting ruckus led to Pitt’s resignation and half his cabinet followed. Cornwallis, the Irish Lord Lieutenant and up to his ears in the Catholic business, was one of those who followed Pitt out of office. Lord Chatham, Pitt’s own brother and an opponent of Catholic Emancipation, stayed on under Pitt’s successor Henry Addington.

Given the circumstances it was clear Cornwallis was going to have to resign with Pitt, so to find the King ruminating on a possible replacement for him is not surprising. The main problem was that the shape of Ireland’s post-Union government was not clear. Very possibly there would not be a Lord Lieutenant at all, and if there was then he might well be of no more consequence than his county counterpart in Britain (county lords lieutenant still exist but on a purely ceremonial scale nowadays). One of the main reasons for the Union in the first place had been to tie Ireland’s government closer to London. Edward Cooke, one of the Irish under-secretaries of state, wrote to Lord Camden that “the Administration of the two Islands must be one” (18 July 1800, Kent RO, Camden MSS U840/C104/1). How this was to be achieved in practice was not clear, and remained in a state of lamentable confusion for decades after the Union was so hurriedly implemented, unfortunately much to Ireland’s detriment.

But Ireland could not really be considered as equivalent to an English county. So long as Ireland remained in a state of near unrest, it would also be best if the King’s representative in Ireland, Lord Lieutenant or no, was also a military man. In this context Chatham was to an extent a natural choice. In fact it was by no means the first time his name had been connected with Ireland. He was rumoured on numerous occasions in the 1780s to be a possible successor to the Marquis of Buckingham as Lord Lieutenant, although these were probably just rumours. In the summer of 1800, however, in the midst of the Union manoeuvrings, he seems to have been seriously considered. Lord Camden wrote to Lord Castlereagh on 30 June “that the Rumour you have heard of Ld Chatham coming over is not entirely without foundation” (PRONI, Castlereagh MSS D3030/1385). Camden later wrote to Pitt that Chatham’s “nomination [is] very desirable in many respects. His name & close connexion with you, His Manners & good sense would be advantageous there. The decided Preference He has for the Military Service would make it eligible for himself as the Command would be more considerable” (Camden to Pitt, 1 August 1800, Kent RO Camden MSS U840/C30/6). Having a military man who was also close to the Prime Minister in Ireland would have been of obvious benefit. (Incidentally Camden also mentioned that Chatham could do with the salary, although he seems to have struck that bit out of his draft to Pitt! 😉 )

What startled me most about finding the King’s letter was, firstly, the idea of Lord Chatham as Lord Lieutenant (…because let’s face it, this is John Pitt, 2nd Lord Chatham, known by all and sundry as the “Late Lord Chatham” we’re talking about) and, secondly, the fact that the King seems to have originated the proposal.

I checked with a friend of mine, Charles J. Fedorak, author of Henry Addington, Prime Minister 1801-4, to find out whether Addington had even been aware the King was offering Chatham the Lord Lieutenancy of Ireland (I’d say the above quoted letter suggests he was not). He referred me to Pellew’s Life of Henry Addington, Lord Sidmouth (1847, I, 301-4) in which it is clear that it was indeed the King who came up with the idea. Chatham wrote to Addington offering to continue in his office as Lord President of the Council on 8 February 1801, and on 11 February the King wrote to Addington as follows regarding “the natural, nay necessary, return of the Marquess Cornwallis from Ireland”:

“At present it is neessary to fill up that office [Lord Lieutenancy] with a person that shall clearly understand that the Union has closed the reign of Irish jobs; that the civil patronage may be open to his recommendation, but must entirely be decided in England. Earl Chatham, if he can be persuaded, is the man who, from his honour, rectitude of mind, and firmness, is best calculated for that station, particularly from his love for the military profession to which he is again returned; and though of too inferior a rank in the army for a separate command, his employment as Lord Lieutenant would of necessity place him above the commander in chief of the troops in Ireland. He would thus embrace both the civil and military command.”

Chatham was much more of a courtier than his brother was and had spent much of the previous summer drilling his regiment at a camp near Windsor. He and his wife seem to have been in charge of entertaining the Royal Family when they came to visit the encampment and Chatham had obviously made an impression. On 12 February 1801 the King wrote to Addington that “I truly bear the warmest affection for him [Chatham]” (Pellew I, 304).

Chatham had clearly already been quite definite in his refusal to serve in Ireland (and who can blame him— Ireland cannot have been a good place to go in 1800 or 1801). He replied to the King on 18 February declining the Lord Lieutenancy, politely but firmly in tones that evoke echoes of the “Hell no, not again!” that may have crossed his mind on first reading the King’s letter:

“Lord Chatham has been long persuaded that the office of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland was one which he cou’d neither hold with any comfort to himself or with any prospect ot advantage to your Majesty’s service. At the same time, if personal difficulties (however strong) alone stood in the way of the possibility of his undertaking that situation, Lord Chatham would have readily sacrificed them at such a moment as this, to a sense of dutiful obedience to your Majesty’s commands. But being firmly convinced, on considering all the circumstances of the present times, as well as on a review of the past, that he shou’d be, of all others, the most unfit to advance (what must be always nearest his heart) your Majesty’s service, he presumes to hope that he cannot more strongly evince the sincerity of his attachment or the warmth of those sentiments which he must ever gratefully entertain towards your Majesty, than by supplicating your Majesty to permit him to decline a station to which your Majesty’s partiality has induced you to call him.”

(Aspinall, Later Correspondence of George III, III, 504)

George III seems to have been anxious to see Chatham provided for under the new administration. His response to Chatham’s letter on 19 February suggests that, although he accepted Chatham’s answer on the Lord Lieutenancy, he was determined Chatham should have some reward. I wonder what Addington would have thought had he known the King was offering Chatham not only another cabinet office, but also a pay rise:

“The King should not do justice to His Affection for the Earl of Chatham if He Bid him farther on a Station in His Service which His Majesty is convinced the Earl of Chatham is more capable to fill with Efficiency than any Person. His Majesty thinks the Marquess Cornwallis will certainly resign the Office of Master General of the Ordnance, the Irish Ordnance ceasing, the King will think it but right on the encrease of business to raise the Salary of that Office to an equality with the President of the Council, iun which case He should hope the Earl of Chatham will accept of that Employment; His Integrity would be highly useful in Controuling that Great Branch of Military Service. – George R” (PRO 30/8/364 f 151)

Chatham did in fact take on the Ordnance but not for another few months. I do find it interesting that the King seems to have been taking it upon himself to make so many of the arrangements for his new government in February 1801, at least before he caught his chill and slid into a brief relapse of mental illness. I also find it interesting that the King obviously took such a personal interest in Lord Chatham— who, after all, took the King’s side in the Catholic Emancipation debate.

Sorry it’s so long, but I found this fascinating and felt I had to share.

*Falls off chair*

Was just scouring the AMAZING Wellington Database at the University of Southampton (http://www.archives.soton.ac.uk/wellington/) to see if I could find any reference to John’s correspondence with the Duke, and found this in regard to the Catholic Emancipation issue in 1829.

It’s from a letter to Lord Camden, 29 March 1829:

“I received your note last night. It is very difficult for me to find a moment to go to LordChatham again who is visible only at the time that others must see me upon business.” (WP1/1007/46)

In other words, John and the Duke of Wellington were only both awake for a short period of the day 😉 (In John’s defence it looks like his health was already poor.)

Incidentally it seems John opposed Catholic Emancipation, which doesn’t surprise me as he seems to have been rather against it in 1800-1801 when Pitt the Younger thought of proposing it. He sent a letter to Camden, 1 April 1829, asking Camden to make use of his proxy vote in the House of Lords in favour of the Bill, but explained “I cannot say that I am quite satisfied of the urgency there was of pressing forward the measure of concession, but I am clear that there is now but one course to be pursued and from my confidence in the Duke of Wellington and my anxious wish to support his government, I shall certainly vote for the bill.” (WP1/1008/8)

This does slightly sadden me as one of the things that initially attracted me to Pitt was his willingness to keep an open mind on the Catholic question (… oh, goodness what a contentious point: watch the reams of emails from outraged historians come rolling in!), but I’ve always known Chatham was the more conservative of the two brothers and after all I can’t judge him by modern standards. (And yet.)

By the way if you haven’t found this database … check it out. It absolutely rocks.

Very cute, John

Third post today, but why the hell not?

Without giving too much away (…….. if you want spoilers just check out the passages from Volume 2 of Ehrman’s biography of Pitt the Younger that first inspired my novel), the second Earl of Chatham and his brother had a relationship that was at times quite troubled. Lord Ashbourne wrote that “relations between the two brothers remained on the most affectionate and harmonious basis” (Pitt: Some chapters of his life and times (1898), p. 178), but Ashbourne can’t have read any of John’s correspondence because John was anything but subtle in expressing his feelings.

The breach was patched up well enough, and by September 1795 the two brothers were corresponding, perhaps ever so slightly stiltedly as the following signature from a letter from Chatham to William on 29 September 1795 suggests:

(PRO 30/08/122 f 137)

It’s not as sweet, though, as this letter from Chatham to Pitt on 20 May 1799. The first half of the letter is devoted to political ruminations and thoughts on upcoming cabinet discussions, and then all of a sudden Chatham comes over all “um, ah, I’ve run out of things to say” and starts talking about the weather:

“It is a good while since I have seen so much of the Spring in ye Country, and I have had but a bad specimen of the weather, as I think, with the exception of two or three days, it has been uncommonly bad, but the heavy rains of yesterday and today will I hope bring about, a favorable change”.

(PRO 30/08/122 f 142)

I presume John realised he had a page and a half of paper left to write on and wanted to make it worth his brother’s while, but still, pahahahaha, I had to laugh when I read that.

At least he signs off in a slightly less abrupt and self-conscious way:

John’s later years, Part 2

So yes, despite my radio silence over the past few days I still have quite a lot of stuff to share that came from my foray into the National Archives last week. Time, then, for my Part 2 of the insight I have gleaned into the later years of the second Earl of Chatham, and it doesn’t make for happy reading.

A cursory Google search will inform you that the Pitt family tree pretty much comes to a . with John’s death in 1835. Pitt the Elder’s late marriage to Lady Hester Grenville was a successful and surprisingly fruitful one, given that both parties were somewhat past their best (Pitt was 46, Hester nearly 34): they had five children in quick succession, Hester in 1755, John in 1756, Harriot in 1758, William in 1759 and James Charles in 1761. Unfortunately five children did not guarantee continuance of the family name. Hester and Harriot both had children (… and died having children), but none of the boys managed to pass on their genes. James died aged 19, William of course died a bachelor, and John’s marriage to Mary Townshend produced no live issue.

The Chatham title was granted in 1766 by letters patent (*I think*— I actually need to check this as I am not 100% sure: mention has been made in papers of “Acts of Parliament” but I think that refers to the pension granted to the title for four lives on Pitt the Elder’s death). It was strictly limited to “issue male of the body of William Pitt, Earl of Chatham”, which meant that Hester and Harriot’s fruitfulness was, from a dynastic point of view, useless. Since John outlived all his siblings he was, automatically, the last Earl of Chatham. In the course of my research I often winced at the entries in the volumes of Burke’s and Debrett’s Peerages when I turned to the section entitled “John, Earl of Chatham” and read the line “Heir Apparent – None”. Until now I had only been able to wonder at what John’s feelings might have been had he, too, read his own entry (which he must have done, on occasion). Now I have an inkling, and bloody hell, poor John.

I mentioned in my previous entry that John came close to death in 1830, aged 73. He seems to have been very ill for a long time, and his thoughts naturally turned to posterity. He had heirs in the grandchildren of his sisters, but he seems to have panicked at the prospect of the title becoming extinct. In the Hoare MSS (a kind of add-on to the Chatham Papers) I found a draft of the following letter (in the Earl of Clarendon’s handwriting) to the Duke of Wellington, then Prime Minister (PRO 30/70/4 f. 292):

“Charles St., August [blank] 1830

My dear Duke,

I would have asked the favor of an interview, if I had not thought that I shd give your Grace less trouble in addressing you by letter. I can assure you that it is not without extreme reluctance that I trespass at all upon your valuable time; But I am impelled by motives, for which I trust that no one can be more disposed than yourself to make allowance.

My own infirmities lead me to contemplate the no very distant extinction of my name & family; I may perhaps be allowed to say, considering my Fathers & my Brothers brilliant & important services (without any personal or unworthy feelings) that I do so with regret. Had the fortune of my eldest sister’s son, Mr Taylor [one of the main beneficiaries of his will], been adequate to the honor, I might perhaps have solicited your Grace to forward my respectful request to his Majesty to continue in the family the peerage which was granted to my mother [the Barony of Chatham, conferred on Lady Hester Pitt in lieu of her husband in 1761]; but I must not urge such a request. I confine myself to the object of soliciting some provision for my nephew Major Taylor … He is a most intelligent & pleasing young man, & wd not discredit any employment which you might be good enough to give him …

I will only add how deeply I shall feel any attention which you may have the goodness to shew to this application, & I remain ith the sincerest respect & regard,

My dear Duke,

Most truly & faithfully yours,

C.”

Wellington replied promptly enough, wholeheartedly agreeing to meet with Taylor to size him up for office (PRO 30/70/4 f. 293):

“London August 5th 1830

My dear Lord

I have received your Letter; and I am much concerned to hear of your continued Indisposition.

I am convinced that you will give Credit to the Existence of the anxious desire on my Part to forward any wish of Your’s for the promotion of the Interests of any of your Family.

I beg you to send Major Taylor to me in Downing Street on any day that may be convenient to him; in order that I may converse with him on his Views; and conclude with him the best mode of forwarding them. Believe me My dear Lord with the most sincre respect and Regard Your most faithful Servant

Wellington”

Not a word on the subject of the peerage, something John no doubt spotted because he seems to have dropped the subject for a while.

Interestingly, however, the Earl of Clarendon, who copied out the draft of John’s letter to Wellington, seems to have urged John to try again, this time with the highest authority. At PRO 30/70/4 f 295 d there is a draft of an unsent letter to King William IV in which John embroiders on the theme broached in his letter to Wellington:

“I am the last & almost expiring bearer of a Title, associated with the glory of this country, & of a name, borne by one, whose eminence & whose services, (under most trying circumstances for this country & for all Europe), it does not become me to point out. It is with regret that I feel the honors & the memorial of such services expiring with myself, at the same time that I have, in my niece’s [sic] Son, Mr Taylor, a nephew who wd not discredit any mark of your Majesty’s favor, and whose children will be educated in feelings of loyalty to your Majesty, & in principles worthy of their own descent. I cannot presume to say more. I submit myself to your Majesty’s gracious consideration”.

According to Clarendon (the erstwhile John Charles Villiers, close friend of both Lord Chatham and Pitt the Younger), the idea of petitioning to continue the Barony of Chatham came from him (Clarendon to Taylor, 20 March 1836, PRO 30/70/4 f 295e), although clearly John had already approached Wellington with the suggestion. Clarendon stated that only “Ld Chathams extreme illness” prevented further consideration of the subject. Presumably lack of response to repeated hints also discouraged John enough to let the subject drop. Either way the King does not seem to have become involved. Had he done so, would we still have a Lord Chatham to this day?

In conclusion, poor John, who clearly spent his last years dwelling over his failure to continue the family name, and probably also his failure to live up to the family reputation in general. In his attempt to save the title of Chatham from extinction he failed as well. Poor John indeed.

Insight into John’s later years (Part 1)

John, Earl of Chatham is fast becoming my Best Research Buddy (BRB for short— and who’m I kidding? Let’s just call him John from here on in for concision’s sake. John, blog readers; blog readers, John. Excellent, now we can move on :-D).

The problem is John is one of the Invisible Men in history, unless, as you may have noticed, he is being laughed at/scorned/denigrated/otherwise-middle-finger-saluted by historians. Students of Pitt the Younger may spot him hanging around in a rather embarrassed fashion on the fringes, making the occasional appearance in correspondence, at cabinet meetings, or in Pitt’s private life. Military historians will remember his record at Walcheren in 1809 (STILL not ready to write that post, so just read this for now and then forget you ever heard of it). But otherwise nobody knows who he is, really, and he almost completely drops off the radar in 1810. This isn’t exactly surprising (I suspect John kept his head down as much as possible after Walcheren) but, given he survived until 1835, that’s 25 years unaccounted for— more than the 22 he spent in public office.

I’ve been trying to work out what happened to John after 1810. Not for my novel, obviously— a book about the relationship between John and his brother William naturally comes to a close somewhere around, ooh, say, 23 January 1806— but just for curiosity’s sake. My research is still very much a work in progress, and I suspect not much will come of it until I’ve finished my novel, but I’ve found a few interesting things so far.

The years 1810-20 are still something of a haze to me, so let’s start in 1820. In January of that year John was appointed Governor of Gibraltar. He didn’t go out for a good long while, though. I can’t be sure why, but it probably has something to do with his wife. Mary, Countess of Chatham was approaching the end of her life at this stage; according to her obituary in the Gentleman’s Magazine (1821, p. 565) she “had been indisposed nearly two years” prior to her death, so presumably she was suffering from cancer or some other gradually debilitating disease. At the end of April 1821 the newspapers rumoured that John was about to undertake his official duties at last (Times, 30 April 1821), but by the beginning of May John was still in London and still appearing at public functions (for example the King’s birthday dinner on the third). Mary died on 20 May, and although there were rumours that John was about to go out to Gibraltar he did not actually arrive until November 1821.

What he did there I couldn’t tell you now, although I suspect that, too, will be a research object in the future. He stayed in Gibraltar until July 1825. At the beginning of that month he landed back in England “on leave of absence” (Times, 1 July 1825). By the fourth he was in London and the King wrote to him inviting him to attend a “dress ball” at St James’s Palace that evening (PRO 30/70/6 f 420).

Even if the nearly sixty-nine year old John had managed to recover from his journey in such a short time, I doubt whether he was in any condition to attend that ball. I have a suspicion, in fact, that ill health influenced his decision to leave Gibraltar in the first place. John was treated at home by an apothecary on four occasions from 11 to 14 July for fever (PRO 30/8/370 f. 63). His health doesn’t seem to have recovered for a while, either. A good friend and I recently visited Berry Brothers & Rudd, the wine merchants in St James’s, London, where rich and famous customers came throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to be weighed on the enormous coffee scales there. We discovered that John was weighed there on 29 September 1821, just before setting out for Gibraltar. His weight then was 11st 13.5lb, comfortably within a healthy BMI range for a 65-year-old tallish man. On 3 August 1825 it was 9st 10.5 lb, fully clothed and with boots. He was weighed a further four times over the next six months so clearly seems to have been keeping an eye on his weight. By November he seems to have fully recovered— his weight plateaued at about 10st 13lb, and he was well enough to go shooting with friends (Times, 7 November 1825). At the end of 1829 the Times reported categorically that his ill health would prevent him going out again and, although he was occasionally sighted thereafter transacting official business at the Colonial Office, he did not return to Gibraltar (Times, 18 June 1828, 15 January and 20 August 1829).

After that he really does almost completely disappear from the radar. In August 1830 it seems he came so close to death he started to panic about what would happen to his title and estate (more on this later). He was not yet at the end of his life, but clearly had a shock: he took out at least two life insurance policies (……one of which he may or may not have ever actually paid for…) and set about drawing up his will, naming his great nephews William Stanhope Taylor (grandson of his sister Hester) and John Henry Pringle (grandson of his sister Harriot) as joint beneficiaries and executors. In classic John style he got at least one of the names wrong in the official paperwork, which led to a comparatively lengthy period of legal discussion after his death as his heirs patiently tried to explain to the authorities that “Thomas William Taylor” did not in fact exist (the will is available to download from the National Archives, PROB 11/1852).

Although it looks like his health never did fully recover, he still managed to find time for court duties. The latest I have seen him appear in public was at a function for military gentlemen held in Brighton on 13 January 1835. He died on 24 September 1835 at his house in Charles Street, and was buried towards the end of October. I have no idea how much in debt he was but according to the Times of 10 November “all claims on the estate were paid immediately subsequent to the funeral”. How Messrs Taylor and Pringle managed this minor miracle I could not tell you, but in the National Archives there is a catalogue of an auction selling the late Earl of Chatham’s belongings at Christie’s, 16 May 1836 (PRO 30/8/370 f 147). Everything appears to have been sold, from the contents of Chatham’s cellar to the servants’ bedlinen. The leasehold of the house itself— mortgaged from the Dowager Countess of Suffield— was sold for £3000 (PRO 30/7/370 f 137).

John was, of course, long beyond caring by then. He got an earl’s funeral in the family vault at Westminster Abbey, where he joined his father, mother, brother William, sister Harriot and wife. His father and brother got public funerals, but John’s must have also been quite impressive. He was buried in a “strong elm” coffin lined in white satin, enclosed in soldered lead and an outer coffin, also made of elm, studded with brass nails and “richly gilt and burnished” earl’s coronets and garter stars. The funeral train included all the accoutrements of a medieval earl’s funeral, three mourning coaches, “a caparisoned horse” and a hearse drawn by six horses (PRO 30/8/370 f 152). But with that final burst of glory John subsided into obscurity.

Apologies for the gush fest, but I have a very definite feeling that I am the first person since, ooh, 1835, to have looked at half these documents. I feel kind of privileged. 😉

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.)

I am suddenly J.W. Fortescue’s biggest fan

(No reference to Stephen King’s Misery to be made here.)

“In truth Pitt’s brother was no ordinary man. He was very clear-headed, possessed excellent judgment and great firmness of character. In the Cabinet, where he seldom spoke until others had finished speaking, his counsel was sound, independent, and weighty to a remarkable degree. At the Office of Ordnance his administration brought the British Artillery up to a pitch of excellence unknown until his day. His great fault was an incurable indolence, and an unpunctuality which gained for him the nickname of the late Lord Chatham”.

(J.W. Fortescue, History of the British Army volume 7, pp. 54-5)

Always good to know I’m not the only person who thinks Chatham was not utterly useless— even if Fortescue’s main source above is the throwaway comment from Lord Eldon I had previously mentioned:

“Speaking of public men, Lord Eldon said, ‘The ablest man I ever knew in the cabinet, was Lord Chatham. He sat apparently inattentive to what was going on ; but when his turn came to deliver his opinion, he toppled over all the others.’ (I particularly observed his use of the word toppled.)”

(Horace Twiss, The Public and Private Life of Lord Eldon, p. 326: read it here)

Fortescue, of course, was a military historian with a notorious bias towards the land forces and against the navy. This rather helps in his assessment of Chatham, whose performance at Walcheren (an amphibious campaign undermined by lack of communication between the army and navy) is certainly not condemned: “I cannot see that Chatham, in spite of his notorious indolence, showed inactivity or want of judgment; nor do I believe that any man in his place would have acted otherwise than he did” (Fortescue, p. 95). Sir Richard Strachan, the naval commander, is on the other hand roundly castigagted. 😉 I’d say that Fortescue’s agenda in favour of the army is speaking here at least in part, but it is nice to have a military man’s opinion in support of my theory that John was not the useless idiot he is often portrayed to be.

As he is, for example, in the following caricature by George Cruickshank:

Oh dear... ;-) I shall have to find more about this (I.e. who drew it), but it is pretty typical of the scatological humour of cartoons of the time. I haven't seen too many caricatures of John. This one is probably the *cough* least flattering that I have seen. Refers to the Walcheren expedition of 1809 and Lord Chatham's indolence.

I think the less said about this the better, but it is definitely the *least flattering* caricature of John I have ever seen (… and I’ve only seen about five in total…) :-/

Oh, John, John, John… *shakes head*

So. I have one post (… and maybe a bit of another post) attempting to rehabilitate the reputation of John, Lord Chatham. The man known to history (if he’s at all remembered) as the “late” Lord Chatham, so called during his lifetime, obviously. I still stand by my assertion that he wasn’t as bad as hindsight claims (most quoted accounts of his laziness come from post-Walcheren accounts, and so almost certainly benefit from 20/20 hindsight).

And then I found this. *sinks head in hands*

(Public Advertiser, 5 October 1791)

I’ve only just discovered the existence of John’s residence at Cheveley— and that’s a big enough mystery as it is, but I won’t go into that here— and, from my searches on the subject, it seems John went off there to hunt for about a month each year over January and February, and for another month over the period of October/November. This certainly fits in with the hunting seasons. But it looks, from my searches, as though he did it EVERY year, REGARDLESS of what was going on.

But to continue: let’s give John the benefit of a doubt. OK, he was going on holiday. Pitt was obviously going on holiday too. I presume John said “Do you mind if I go now?” and William said “Sure, you go— I’ll chair that last Admiralty meeting for you, don’t worry”. Certainly I cannot imagine Pitt letting his brother go without permission, and if he chaired the Admiralty Board I presume John asked him to do so. Still, asking the busy PM to take on extra work … :-/

If only it was a one off…

(Star, 16 October 1792)

Note how the newspaper makes a point of saying John was not there.

And it’s not even a two-off:

(London Packet or New Lloyd’s Evening Post, 6 September 1793)

Let’s not mention all the times I’ve seen John having to be summoned back to town for an emergency cabinet … although, to be fair, John could not necessarily have foreseen all those occasions, and often other cabinet ministers also had to be recalled (and John always turned up within 24 hours so could apparently hot-foot it if required).

I’m not sure what to make of all this. Perhaps my hindsight is also 20/20, given John’s reputation. Still, it seems to me that the diligence of John’s early years at the Admiralty— he seems not to have missed Admiralty Board meetings very often between 1788 and 1791, or at least that’s my impression— did not last more than a few years. I’m sure he still pulled his weight when required, but it looks like the lure of the countryside, and of sport, was occasionally too much for John.

My verdict? The above extracts suggest that John’s reputation for laziness was not undeserved (something I am certainly not trying to contradict). Whether it suggests he was also irresponsible is a different matter. I get the feeling that’s what the papers are trying to establish (particularly the second extract above). I’d say John was definitely doing himself no favours by putting his love of shooting ahead of his duty as a member of the cabinet.

Oh dear, John. *tuts*