10 October 1756: birth of John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham

YES, 10 October. Yes. YES. No, it’s not a typo. Yes, I realise I am flying in the face of all other published sources, except Wikipedia (and there’s a good reason for that).

John, 2nd Earl of Chatham, in John Singleton Copley's "The Death of the Earl of Chatham" (1779)

John, 2nd Earl of Chatham, in John Singleton Copley’s “The Death of the Earl of Chatham” (1779)

Most people, when writing about someone less visible in the historical record, are at least able to say “Well, at least I know when he/she was born/died!” Unfortunately, my biography of the 2nd Earl of Chatham pretty much opens with a page-long footnote explaining why I have plumped for 10 October 1756 as his date of birth, and not the usually-recorded 9 October. (Some sources say 10 September, but, to misquote Monty Python, that’s right out.)

As far as I can see, there is one main reason why the sources focus on 9 October as Chatham’s birthday. It is a letter written by Pitt the Elder to Pitt the Younger on 9 October 1773, which opens with the following lines: “Thursday’s post brought us no letter from the dear traveller [Pitt was on his way to Cambridge]: we trust this day will prove more satisfactory. It is the happy day that gave us your brother…” [Chatham Correspondence IV, 290]

William Pitt the Elder by William Hoare

William Pitt the Elder by William Hoare

Well, that’s clear, isn’t it? Pitt the Elder should have known the date of birth of his own son, no?

Except we find Pitt the Elder writing to his brother-in-law, George Grenville, on 10 October 1756: “Dear Grenville, Lady Hester is as well as can be in her situation, after being delivered of a son this morning.” [Grenville Papers I, 173]

And also to his nephew, Thomas Pitt, later Lord Camelford, also on 10 October 1756: “Lady Hester was safely delivered this morning of a son.” [Letters written by Lord Chatham to his nephew Thomas Pitt (1804), p. 97]

Not to mention the fact that Chatham’s baptismal record in the parish register, entered on 7 November 1756, notes his date of birth as 10 October.

John, 2nd Earl of Chatham's baptismal record, Hayes, Kent

John, 2nd Earl of Chatham’s baptismal record, Hayes, Kent

So what happened? Why the discrepancy? I suppose the most likely possibility is that everything went so quickly (and Chatham’s birth was, apparently, very quick) that nobody troubled to take accurate note of his time of birth. Maybe the clocks in the room were fast. Maybe the midwife (or man midwife, as Chatham was delivered by William Hunter) made a mistake.

Clearly the family celebrated Chatham’s birthday on 9 October, although there could have been other reasons for this. In 1773, 10 October fell on a Sunday: possibly the family decided to celebrate a day early for that reason. I personally think this unlikely, however, as Pitt the Elder specifically says “THIS is the happy day that gave us your brother”. He could have misdated his letter, but this is unlikely, particularly as his son William replied a few days later making reference to “the rejoicings on the happy ninth of October”.

It seems most likely, therefore, that the family for some reason changed their minds about Chatham’s birthday and started celebrating it on 9 October. But he would not be the only 18th century figure surrounded with such confusion — the Duke of Wellington’s precise birthdate, for example, is also disputed.

This doesn’t make my task as biographer any easier, but I’ve plumped for 10 October rather than 9 October because Chatham’s baptismal record suggests that date. The entry was added on 7 November, nearly a full month after Chatham’s birth, so it seems most likely to me that any changes of mind occurred some time after his birth. I’ve therefore gone with the on-the-spot account, and shaved a day off the 2nd Lord Chatham’s age.

You may disagree with me, but I’m sticking to my guns.

Lord Chatham’s “unfortunate Narrative”

AN00078897_001_l

“Secret Influence, or a Peep Behind the Screen” (Charles Williams, March 1810) (from here)

In July 1809 nearly 40,000 troops and 200 sail were sent out under the joint commands of Lieutenant-General the Earl of Chatham and Admiral Sir Richard Strachan. Their ultimate object was to destroy the French navy and dockyards at Antwerp, but first they had to secure the entrance to the Scheldt River. For this purpose the British forces occupied the islands of Walcheren and South Beveland, but this process took nearly a month, by which time the French had brought in considerable reinforcements, strengthened the defences of Antwerp, and withdrawn their fleet upriver. Meanwhile, the British Army had begun succumbing to an illness that swept through the ranks at an alarming, and thoroughly devastating, pace. On 27 August 1809 Chatham, in accordance with his lieutenant-generals, agreed to call off the campaign.

Fast-forward six months to Friday, 16 February 1810. The House of Commons was in the midst of a full House Committee appointed to look into the planning, execution and outcome of the Walcheren expedition. Admiral Sir Richard Strachan had been called up the previous day to give his evidence to the Committee, and George Tierney moved to call Lord Chatham to the Bar on Thursday the 22nd. When Tierney sat down, General William Loftus rose to move: “That an humble Address be presented to HM, that he be graciously pleased to order to be laid before the House a Copy of the Memorial presented to HM by Earl Chatham, explaining the proceedings of the late Expedition to the Scheldt”.

This innocuous motion, which was not even significant enough to warrant a mention in the official Parliamentary Debates, sparked off a massive political and constitutional controversy which came perilously close to bringing down Spencer Perceval’s new and tottering ministry. For there were several very irregular features to Chatham’s Narrative. The contents were bad enough: Chatham laid the blame for the delays in undertaking the expedition squarely at Strachan’s door. But this assault on the nation’s darling, the Royal Navy, paled before the way in which the Narrative had found its way to the public. Written on 15 October 1809, Chatham had not submitted it until 14 February: and instead of submitting his explanatory narrative to the Secretary of State for War, Chatham had submitted it directly to the King, without communicating it either to the Cabinet or to Sir Richard Strachan himself.

The opposition, already scenting Perceval’s blood, fell on Chatham’s memorandum with glee. Lord Folkestone led the attack on the 19th February. The Narrative “was such a document as that House ought not to receive or allow to remain on the table”: it was a potentially unconstitutional document, since it purported to be an official document submitted without the seal of ministerial responsibility. Within minutes the word “impeachment” was being flung about the House with much enthusiasm. Folkestone spoke of the Narrative as though it were something dirty that needed to be pushed out of the Commons on the end of a stick: “He really did not know how the House should proceed to get rid of such a paper; but it seemed highly desirable that it should do so”.[1]

Worse was to come. When Chatham was cross-examined on the 22nd, the Narrative inevitably came up. Chatham was asked if he had drawn it up on 15 October, which he confirmed: in answering the question of why he had not submitted the paper prior to the 14 February, however, Chatham — who was ill the day of his examination — let slip with “I thought it was better to presere the date at which it was in fact drawn up; there were after that time none but verbal or critical alterations”.[2]

“Is this the only Narrative or Memorial, or paper of any description, which has been delivered to His Majesty by your lordship on the subject of the Expedition?” was the obvious immediate response, which Chatham refused to answer — five times. When pressed as to whether he refused on the grounds of being a Privy Counsellor, he replied brusquely, “I refuse generally. I decline answering the question.”[3]

The fuss that greeted Chatham’s paper was immense. The Times (an oppositionist paper) considered that the Narrative “will be read, under all its circumstances, with more astonishment and suspicion than any thing that we ever recollect to have come before the public as an authentic document”.[4] According to the Morning Chronicle, the Narrative gave “rise to reflections by no means favourable to his Lordship”.[5] Even the Morning Post, a government paper, believed that “certainly nothing could be more irregular or improper” than the way in which Chatham had submitted his Narrative. “His Lordship cannot otherwise be considered than as standing convicted of a serious constitutional offence”.[6]

Clearly Chatham had had no idea what reaction his paper would provoke when he had requested Loftus to submit it to the Commons. These newspaper snippets, however, particularly that from the government paper, would have given him a good idea of the way the wind was blowing. The sequel was inevitable. On 23 February Samuel Whitbread — ominously, the man who had led the campaign to impeach Henry Dundas, Viscount Melville, the First Lord of the Admiralty, in 1805 — passed a motion requesting the King to lay before the House “copies of all reports, memoranda, narratives or papers submitted at any time to his Majesty by the Earl of Chatham, relative to the late Expedition”. There followed what was probably the most awkward cabinet meeting ever, in which Chatham (who was, after all, still Master General of the Ordnance) was pressed by his disgruntled colleagues to explain himself.

Chatham’s reasoning was that he had in fact submitted the same memorandum to the King prior to 14 February, on 15 January: he had then requested it to be returned on the 10th, to remove a few passages, and had resubmitted it on the 14th. The King corroborated this fact, and Perceval was able to use it to stave off an immediate assault on 2 March by Whitbread, who moved two Resolutions, one of which stated

that the Earl of Chatham … did unconstitutionally abuse the privilege of access to his Sovereign, and thereby afford an example most pernicious in its tendency to his Majesty’s service, and to the general service of the State.[7]

Perceval had given Chatham the weekend to resign and save his colleagues. There are a number of reasons why Chatham did not do so, which I will discuss at greater length in the biography, but on Sunday 4th March Perceval wrote a long, cold letter to Chatham pretty much informing him that if he did not resign, the government would likely fall with him.He finished on an ominous note, in which he made it quite clear that as far as the Narrative was concerned, Chatham was on his own: “I cannot conclude this note without assuring you how deeply I lament all the untoward circumstances which this unfortunate narrative has brought upon us all, and more particularly upon you.”[8]

Chatham ignored the letter. The next day, 5th March, George Canning saved the situation by proposing an amendment to Whitbread’s original motion, removing any imputation of unconstitutionality and dropping the buck squarely into Chatham’s lap as opposed to that of his colleagues:

That the House saw, with regret, that any such communication as the Narrative of lord Chatham should have been made to His Majesty, without any knowledge of the other ministers; that such conduct is highly reprehensible, and deserves the censure of this House.[9]

One by one Chatham’s colleagues got up to disassociate themselves from him. They had not known of the memorandum; they considered it a grave error; they could not defend him.  The ministry could not make its disinclination to defend Chatham any clearer. Chatham had been a liability to the government ever since he had returned from Walcheren: his colleagues were not prepared to defend him now he had attracted even more criticism. With the Walcheren inquiry still proceeding, Chatham had no choice but to resign. He did so at the King’s levee on 7 March.

Perceval wrote to him immediately:

I do most sincerely regret that any Circumstances should have occurred, what should have rendered this Step expedient either with a view to Yourself or to His Majesty’s Service … I am sensible that his Maj[esty]’s Service will experience great loss by your retirement; but in the temper of the House, upon the Subject of the late discussions, nothing could be well more embarrassing than the repeated revival of them with which we should unquestionably have been harassed.[10]

Chatham was not deceived by Perceval’s expressions of regret, which, after all the peremptory letters that had been written over the past fortnight designed to force Chatham to resign, did not ring true.

So ended the affair of Chatham’s Narrative. Obviously Chatham had had no idea it would cause such a stink or he would never have made it public. Why did he do it? Why did he draw up the memorandum in the first place? Both seem such a crassly stupid decisions for Chatham to have made, and contemporaries were shocked. “I confess, of all men alive, I shoud not have suspected Lord C of such a treacherous conduct,” the Duke of Northumberland wrote.[11]

Chatham did, of course, have his reasons for acting the way he did. Certainly there was a healthy dose of panic and short-sightedness in the way he submitted his Memorandum, and human nature needs to be factored into the equation. Still, Chatham had a justification to make for his actions. What that justification was, and why it was never made more public, will be examined in my forthcoming biography. For now, it’s perhaps enough to note how easily Perceval’s government was nearly overturned by what was, essentially, a question of formal cabinet procedure.

References

[1] Parliamentary Debates XV,482, 485

[2] Parliamentary Debates XV, Appendix, ccclxvii

[3] Parliamentary Debates XV, Appendix, ccclxxiii

[4] Times, 21 February 1810

[5] Morning Chronicle, 22 February 1810

[6] Morning Post, 6 March 1810, 8 March 1810

[7] Parliamentary Debates XVI, 7*

[8] Spencer Perceval to Lord Chatham, 4 March 1810, National Archives Chatham MSS PRO 30/8/368 f 145

[9] Parliamentary Debates XVI, 16

[10] Spencer Perceval to Lord Chatham, 7 March 1810, National Archives Hoare MSS PRO 30/70/283

[11] Duke of Northumberland to Colonel McMahon, 26 February 1810, quoted in A. Aspinall (ed), Correspondence of George, Prince of Wales, 1770-1812 (London, 1970), VII, 13-4

Lord Chatham in Gibraltar — the FIRST time

Still in Gibraltar. This morning I went up the Rock in a cable car (expensive but worth it) and sat on a bench overlooking the bay to write my chapter dealing with the 2nd Earl of Chatham’s active Governorship here, 1821-5. It was bliss, and I was completely untroubled by monkeys, lizards, seagulls, &c &c, which was a small mercy as I was surrounded by all the above. Nope, it was just me, my laptop, and John Chatham for three amazing hours.

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On my way down (clutching my laptop) I spotted an offroad track which was advertised as a walking route. In a moment of utter lunacy, I decided to take it. For a while, it was pretty nice, if narrow and with a deceptively deep drop on my right:

11390268_10101325764958560_6356821700362694301_n

About half an hour after I took this shot, however, the path took me round private property (steep uphill climb across limestone shards? Why not!) and then back down again (steep downhill across limestone shards? Even better!). At this stage the path just came to a . Thankfully I could see the paved road about ten metres below me, but somehow I had to get down to it. So I climbed. Well, you know, I had no alternative (other than walking back the way I came for 45 minutes … er no, thank you, and yes, I still had my laptop with me).

So there I was sliding down the side of the Rock, totally channelling my inner James Bond (well, I wasn’t sure whether or not I was trespassing on MoD property…) and it occurred to me to wonder whether the 2nd Earl of Chatham ever did anything like this while he was in Gibraltar. But no, of course not. He was in his late 60s.

Which was the inconvenient moment at which it hit me. He was in Gibraltar in the 1770s too. As aide-de-camp to General Robert Boyd, Sir George Elliott’s Lieutenant Governor.

How the heck could I have forgotten that?!

And, while I was clinging to the side of the rockface by my fingernails (OK yes, that’s a slight exaggeration … but not much), I had a flashback of walking past a shelf at the Gibraltar National Archives on Tuesday full of volumes of official Diaries kept by the Governor’s secretary from the early 1770s to about 1810. I’d passed it by thinking “Ooh how nice, too early”, but … what if John was mentioned?

I survived my descent, of course (I did say I exaggerated a bit) and, as it was only three o’clock, repaired as fast as I could to the Archives. I’m not 100% sure what they thought when I turned up all dusty, disshevelled and slightly sunburnt, but within a few minutes I had the 1778 and 1779 diaries open before me on the table.

Within about ten minutes I startled everyone in the room with my cry of triumph.

governors_diary_1778_chatham_arrives_snippet

Do you see what I see? (This is the entry for 7 July 1778). The entry goes on to list the accompanying convoy for about three pages, in some serious detail. But the relevant bit is this: “Arrived from England His Majesty’s Ship Romulus of 44 guns and 280 men, commanded by Capn. Gayton in 23 days from Spithead. Passengers, Lieut: General Boyd, Colonel Green, Colonel Ross, Lord Chatham and Mr Buckeridge, Lieutenants in the 39th Regt.”

William Buckeridge, incidentally, was Boyd’s other ADC.

I knew Chatham had arrived in Gibraltar early July 1778, but now I had a date — and also a ship, a departure point, and a journey length. 😀 But this is the mysterious bit. 23 days’ journey means the Romulus left Spithead on or about the 15 June 1778. So why did Chatham not attend his father’s funeral on the 8th? He must have had a cast-iron reason, otherwise people would have talked, but why not? I know the convoy was all embarked and ready to leave by mid-May: perhaps the ships were delayed by adverse winds? I find it hard to believe Chatham would have been refused permission to attend the funeral if it had been possible for him to go. And I find it even harder to believe he would not have wanted to go. Pageantry was John’s forté, and he did it very well.

Be that as it may, there was more. All letters sent from the garrison with the official Governor’s packet were recorded, and their recipients. So I know Chatham was writing home on 16 and 20 July, and also on 8 and 12 October:

governors_diary_1778_chatham_sends_letters_02_detailgovernors_diary_1778_chatham_sends_letters_03

On the left: letters listed to Mrs Mary Pitt, Lady Mahon (Chatham’s eldest sister), Thomas Pitt, and the Countess of Chatham; on the right, letters to the Hon. Mr Pitt, Pembroke Hall, the Marquis of Granby (later the 4th Duke of Rutland, Chatham’s best bud), and Lady Harriot Pitt, Chatham’s younger sister.

As you will know from previous posts, Chatham left Gibraltar in early 1779 to go back to Britain. I was a bit unsure about whether he left in February or March, and how much leave he was granted, but now I know the answer: he left on 2 March, and his leave was six months. (Within that period the siege had started, and he transferred to another regiment, so the next time he returned to Gibraltar was as Governor in 1821.)

governors_diary_1778_chatham_leave_detail

Apologies for the quality of the above photo — the 1779 Diary is in pretty darn poor nick — but it reads “Leave of Absence for 6 months granted Earl of Chatham. Travelling Pass E. Chatham, Honble. Captain Conway and Lieutenant Colt to go to Madrid, 3 Months; also Permit for said Gentlemen to pass to Cadiz, to morrow, with 3 Servants and Baggage.” It was issued on 1 March 1779.

I am so, so chuffed by this, you have no idea. It was totally worth nearly falling down the Rock for.

__________

References

All material from the Governor’s Diaries, March – November 1778 and 1778 – 1782, Gibraltar National Archives

190 years ago yesterday: Lord Chatham leaves Gibraltar

I am currently in Gibraltar, having the time of my life visiting the archives and chasing monkeys. I was wandering about the Upper Rock, taking in the Straits and very much enjoying the sun and the sights, when something struck me. It has been almost exactly 190 years since the 2nd Earl of Chatham — the man I am here to research — left Gibraltar.

Streets of Gibraltar

Chatham succeeded the Duke of Kent as Governor of Gibraltar in January 1820. I suspect he at first had very little intention of ever coming out (the Duke of Kent, after all, had been an absentee governor since his disastrous attempt to serve in person resulted in several mutinies) but was only forced into it by the fact the House of Commons started discussing expensive sinecures, and Chatham’s governorship came up. Ministers were all “Oh yes, Chatham has every intention of going out there”, probably all while wrestling Chatham bodily onto the boat.

Chatham was meant to have gone out in May 1821, but was held up by three things: 1) his wife’s death on 21 May; 2) King George IV’s visit to Ireland, which snarled up all available frigates; and 3) his own reluctance. He really did not want to go, and it did not help that he suffered from profound depression for months after his wife’s death. Nevertheless, as soon as all ships had returned from Ireland and he had run out of excuses, Chatham boarded the Active frigate at the end of October 1821 and arrived in Gibraltar on 15 November. I can’t imagine it was a pleasant trip, although, at 19 days, it was relatively short.

Having spent the day perusing the Gibraltar Chronicle with great care, I can now say a little bit more about what Chatham did in Gibraltar, but for the details you’ll have to wait till my book comes out next September. Suffice to say he never warmed to the place, possibly not helped by the fact Lord Maryborough, who had taken over Chatham’s old rented house of Abington, kept writing to tell Chatham about the abundance of game on the estate and what wonderful hunts he was missing. Chatham’s weak health did not get on with the climate, and by early 1825 his health was pretty much shattered.

He wrote for permission to return to England, which was granted. He stayed long enough to lay the foundation stone of the church that would become the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity on 1 June, then high-tailed it with all the speed his weakened frame could muster.

Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, Gibraltar

Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, Gibraltar

The Gibraltar Chronicle recorded Chatham’s departure in its 8 June edition. Chatham’s last day was a sunny, clear 23 degree day:

“Yesterday, at 12 o’clock, His Excellency General the Earl of Chatham, Governor of this Fortress, embarked on board HM Frigate Tribune, Capt. Guion, returning to England on leave of absence.

The streets from the Convent to Ragged-Staff [Wharf] were lined by the Troops composing the Garrison; and His Excellency, being received at the Convent Gate by a Guard of Honor from the 43rd Light Infantry, proceeded, accompanied by the Lieutenant Governor, General Sir George Don, and the Officers of the Military and Civil Departments. On arriving at Ragged-Staff, His Excellency was received by another Guard of Honor furnished by the 94th Regiment, and, at the moment of stepping into the Barge, was saluted with 19 Guns from the Garrison, which were repeated by the Frigate on His Excellency’s arrival on board.

The Tribune shortly after got under weigh, and sailed into the Straits with a light breeze at East.”[1]

Ragged Staff Gates, Gibraltar (Wikimedia Commons)

Ragged Staff Gates, Gibraltar (Wikimedia Commons)

In fact Chatham’s “leave of absence” was permanent, and he never returned. As late as 1829 there was talk that he might well come back, but, although Chatham recovered to a degree after returning to England, his health had been permanently damaged. He was, after all, nearly 69 in June 1825. He was seriously ill in 1829, and nearly died in 1831. Even so, when the Reform Bill came before Parliament in 1831, Chatham was terrified that he — as an opponent of reform — might be sent off to Gibraltar to prevent him causing trouble in the Lords: “Lord Chatham has the fear before his eyes of being ordered off to reside upon his government”.[2]

Grand Casemates Gate, 1824

Grand Casemates Gate, 1824

So it was that when Chatham died on 24 September 1835, he had been Governor of Gibraltar for fifteen and a half years, but only served there for four. Still, he did rather better than a number of Gibraltar histories imply (one I’ve seen flat out denied he ever went out there) and better than the Duke of Kent. At least there were no mutinies!

References

[1] Gibraltar Chronicle, 8 June 1825

[2] Duke of Buckingham to the Duke of Wellington, 27 September 1831, Southampton University Wellington MSS WP1/1196/18

Lord Chatham, Knight of the Garter

Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit St George’s Chapel Archives at Windsor Castle, where I spent an instructive morning perusing the Garter Registers and chasing Lord Chatham’s officially recorded movements as a Knight of the Garter.

Chatham was elected a Knight of the Garter in December 1790, as I explain in my guest post for English Historical Fiction Authors on the Order of the Garter during the reign of George III. The Garter should have gone to his brother Pitt the Younger, but Pitt wrote to persuade the King to give it to Chatham instead.

One of the most notable features of Chatham’s character was his love of pomp and status, so I can imagine he was thrilled to be admitted to Britain’s oldest and most prestigious Order. Although he was invested with the Garter in December 1790, he was not fully “installed” (for more on the distinction between the two ceremonies see my EHFA post) until May 1801, when the King dispensed with the full ceremonies for twenty-three uninstalled Knights.

Dispensation installing Chatham as a Knight Companion of the Garter (29 May 1801) (PRO 30/8/371)

Dispensation installing Chatham as a Knight Companion of the Garter (29 May 1801) (PRO 30/8/371)

After his “installation”, Chatham was finally permitted to enjoy the full privileges of the Order. Before, he had only been allowed to wear the ribbon and Lesser George: now he was allowed to wear the Star, or “Glory”, and surround his crest with the Garter insignia. He was allowed to attend Garter Chapters, and was allotted a stall in the quire of St George’s Chapel, although I am informed this would have changed according to Chatham’s seniority in the order (in other words, every time a senior knight died, Chatham’s stall would move one step closer to the Sovereign’s).

He was also allowed to affix a stall plate to the back of the stall, listing his “achievements”. I have been permitted to see Chatham’s plate, although not to photograph it, but it was put up shortly after his installation in May 1801 since it records him as being a Major-General and Lord President of the Council. The achievement is in French: “le noble et très puissant Jean, Comte de Chatham”.

A later Garter Stall Plate (1891); Chatham's was similar (Wikimedia Commons)

A later Garter Stall Plate (1891); Chatham’s was similar (Wikimedia Commons)

Many Knights of the Garter died without being installed, including Chatham’s good friend the Duke of Rutland, who was invested in 1783 and died in 1787. Rutland, though, was an exception to the rule: when he was made Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1784, the King gave him permission to use the Garter Insignia and wear the Star as though he had been fully installed.[1]

Plan of the stalls of the Knights of the Garter as they stood in 1828 , from "The Visitants' Guide to Windsor Castle" (thanks to regencyhistory.net for this)

Plan of the stalls of the Knights of the Garter as they stood in 1828 , from “The Visitants’ Guide to Windsor Castle” (thanks to regencyhistory.net for this)

My purpose in consulting the Garter Registers was to track Chatham’s attendance record as a KG at Chapters and official Dinners. By statute all Chapters were recorded in the official Registers, and all attendees’ names were noted down. I had been informed Chatham’s attendance was patchy: I wanted to see whether this was true. I must admit I was surprised to hear Chatham wasn’t a frequent attender. Despite his reputation for laziness, Chatham was very proud of his Garter.

I can now report that Chatham’s attendance was not as bad as it looks. He was elected to the Order at Chapter XV, held at St James’s Palace on Wednesday, 15 December 1790, at the same time as the Duke of Saxe-Gotha and the Duke of Leeds. Present at this Chapter were the King, the Prince of Wales, the Dukes of Gloucester and York, and the Marquis of Stafford, along with the Prelate, Chancellor, and Registrar of the Order (the Officers), and Garter King of Arms and Black Rod.[2] Members of the Royal Family seem to have been keen attenders of the Chapters, much as one would expect (and a Chapter could not be held without the Sovereign or his representative, so he is pretty much the only person with a 100% attendance record). But only fully installed members of the Order could attend Chapters, so Chatham’s name does not appear again until Chapter XXIII, the first Chapter after his installation, held on 25 November 1803 at St James’s Palace.

Up until then, Chapters had been thinly attended (remember, only fully installed members could attend), and often only members of the Royal Family turned up. But the 1803 Chapter was rather different. The King was present, and the Dukes of Gloucester, York, Clarence, Kent, and Cambridge, but nine Knights Companion turned up too: apart from Chatham, the Dukes of Richmond, Portland and Roxburgh were there, as well as Lords Cornwallis, Salisbury, Westmorland, Spencer, and Camden. Presumably they needed a rather bigger room than they had been accustomed to using.[3]

After that, Chatham attended quite regularly. He was at Chapters XXIV, XXV and XXVII (17 Jan 1805, 27 May 1805, and 18 July 1807), and the Installation of April 1805. He missed Chapter XXVI, but since that took place on 22 March 1806 I’ll give him a break: his brother hadn’t even been dead two months, and his wife was still extremely unwell. He was not at Chapter XXVIII, on 3 March 1810, but I rather think he was otherwise engaged appearing at parliamentary enquiries and trying not to be impeached after Walcheren. Interestingly, though, he did attend the St George’s Day Dinner at Carlton House in April 1810. Given his name was mud at this stage, I cannot help wondering if it was a bit of a defiant gesture at the government: “Yah, yah, yah, I still enjoy royal favour.” Of course, maybe he just needed a bit of fun.

He may have attended the 1811 St George’s Dinner as well, but the attendees are not separately listed so there’s no way of knowing. Only one other Dinner is recorded, for 1812, and Chatham was not present.

Returning to the Chapters, he missed Chapter XXIX in March 1812, but he was at Chapters XXX-XXXI and XXXIII-XXXVII (he missed XXXII, on 4 March 1813, for no obvious reason that I can think of). He was absent from Chapter XXXVIII, on 24 July 1817, but this was around the time that his wife fell victim to her second bout of mental illness, so it’s not much of a surprise to see him absent until Chapter I of the reign of George IV (7 June 1820).

After this Chatham disappears almost completely from the record, but then Chapter II of George IV was not held till 1822, when Chatham was in Gibraltar. After his return in 1825, however, he never attended another Chapter, and there were 13 more Chapters and 2 St George’s Day Dinners held before Chatham’s death. Most of them were held during the reign of William IV, though, when Chatham’s health was poor, and he was mostly in Brighton when the Chapters were held. Still, Camden and Westmorland, his contemporaries (and close friends), were still attending nearly every Chapter.

The final mention of Chatham records his passing:

“On the 24th September 1835, in Charles Street Berkeley Square, Died, General The Right Honourable John, Earl of Chatham, Knight Companion of this Most Noble Order.”[4]

One last interesting note: one of the Statutes of the Order stipulates that no member of the Order should go out of the country without getting prior permission of the King. I found a few examples of this in the Register, mostly for Knights wishing to go abroad for their health, but permission was not recorded for Chatham to go abroad with the army either in 1799 or 1809 (or, indeed, to Gibraltar in 1821). I suspect this is probably because permission was not required to go abroad on military service, but possibly any permission given was not recorded.

So, in sum, of 26 Chapters during the reign of George III, 8 Chapters during the reign of George IV, and 9 Chapters during the reign of William IV, Chatham attended:

— his investiture (1790)

— the installation of April 1805 (the only proper Installation during his time as Knight)

— 11 Chapters from 1803 – 1820

— 1 (possibly 2) St George’s Day Dinners (out of a total of 5 recorded)

So no, not a brilliant record, but then Chatham was actually unable to attend 10 of the Chapters due to being either ineligible or out of the country, and missed a further 5 due to circumstances out of his control (family illness or bereavement, or — say — political disgrace). As a result, I make out he attended 11 out of 26 possible Chapters.

____________

References

[1] St George’s Chapel Archives, Register of the Order of the Garter, SGC G.5 (1688-1804) f 155

[2] St George’s Chapel Archives, Register of the Order of the Garter, SGC G.5 (1688-1804) ff 159-60

[3] St George’s Chapel Archives, Register of the Order of the Garter, SGC G.5 (1688-1804) f 168

[4] St George’s Chapel Archives, Register of the Order of the Garter, SGC G.6 (1805-1861) f 79

Lord Chatham in Colchester

I’ve known for a good while that the 2nd Earl of Chatham had close connections with Colchester. He spent a great deal of time there, connected with the military garrison. I believe he was, for a long while, Commander in Chief of the Eastern District, with headquarters in the town.

Colchester Barracks in the mid 19th century, from http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/essex/vol9/pp251-255

Colchester Barracks in the mid 19th century, from http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/essex/vol9/pp251-255

He was, however, in Colchester as early as 1798. John had not left the army since rejoining it in 1778, but between 1788 and 1798 he put politics first. In the summer of 1798, however, he received the rank of Major-General and clearly made a choice to return to his military career, appearing at the King’s birthday levee in his regimentals and moving to the Colchester garrison.[1] On 13 September 1798 Pitt the Younger wrote to his sister-in-law, Mary, Countess of Chatham: “I rejoice that my Brothers Military Life agrees so well with him, and that you like your Quarters, which I shall be very glad if I can visit … I shall direct this to Colchester.”[2]

From 1806 onwards John spent a significant part of the second half of each year in Colchester. Sometimes he seems to have been running away from something else — I suspect he spent so much time in Colchester in 1807 and 1808 because of his wife Mary’s illness, and after 1810 I would guess he had little to keep him in London — and how much his attraction to Colchester had to do with the local hunting scene, I could not say. He was a visible enough public figure, however, and in October 1807 the town Assembly appointed him High Steward of Colchester and gave him the Freedom of the Borough as “a new proof of the popularity of the [Duke of Portland’s] present vigorous Administration”, of which John was a member as Master General of the Ordnance.[3]

Colchester today (Wikimedia Commons)

Colchester today (Wikimedia Commons)

The post of High Steward was largely ceremonial (salaried, of course, although its £10 a year was hardly going to make much of a difference to John’s considerable debts). The post had been established in 1635, with a fairly vague brief “to advise and direct” the mayor, the twelve aldermen, twelve assistants, and eighteen councilmen who made up the Assembly, “to elect officers, make bye-laws, &c”.[4]

I imagine John much enjoyed the ceremonial aspects of the post, although these sometimes entailed more prosaic elements. Goodness knows how often he did this, and presumably this reflected John’s personal religious preferences (of which I have found no other sign so far), but I have tracked John down at a meeting of the Colchester and East Essex Auxiliary Bible Society in Colchester on 7 December 1812. I can only imagine John struggling not to fall asleep while the Reverend W. Dealtry thus concluded a long speech with reflections on the “noble patronage” Chatham brought to the meeting: “It is a patronage, of which, I am well persuaded, your Lordship never can repent; and I will venture to add, that by giving lustre to this society your Lordship will reflect lustre even upon your own illustrious coronet.”[5]

John was High Steward until 1818, when he was succeeded by John Round, a local barrister and MP. By this time Chatham had moved on: he settled at Abington Hall in Cambridgeshire in 1816, and his wife’s ill-health would in any case have kept him away from Colchester. But until 1815 he was frequently in the town, as is clear from all the correspondence dated from Colchester, as well as newspaper snippets following his movements.

But where did John stay in Colchester? It was quite obvious to me he must have had a reasonably permanent residence. For months I have been searching for it. Yesterday, quite by chance, I stumbled across a reference in a local Colchester journal in 1872, reminiscing about when “Lord Chatham lived in Head-Street”.[6] Further investigation revealed the name of his house in Head Street: Headgate House.[7]

Headgate House today (from Google Street View)

Headgate House today (from Google Street View)

Headgate House is now part of a shopping centre (H&M has moved in), but the frontage remains essentially unchanged from the house John Chatham would have known. It was described in an article as “possibly the finest family house in the town”, and the photographs reproduced in the article certainly suggest a house which, while rather less grand than what Chatham would have been used to, was grand enough. (The article is reproduced online here.)

Presumably this was the house where the following (somewhat dubious) anecdote was set:

It was the custom of Lord Chatham, when he commanded at Colchester, to invite every officer belonging to the garrison, in rotation, to his hospitable and elegant table. It happened, one day, that a raw Scotch lad, from some fastness of the Highlands, who had joined his regiment but a day or two previous, was placed opposite Lady Chatham, about midway between the noble host and his aid-de-camp, who sat at the bottom of the table. … A batter pudding was placed before her ladyship, when the sweets were paraded, and, with her usual urbanity, she invited Mr MacNab to partake … MacNab loved batter pudding, and he thought it a fitting occasion, in asking for more, to pay such a compliment to the elegant woman opposite to him as would make ample amends for his silence during the repast; without waiting, therefore, for a servant’s assistance, he pushed the plate across the table in a manner to attract her ladyship’s eye, and, with a countenance lit up by the brilliancy of the compliment he was about to pay, said, ‘Your pudden is sae excellent, my leddy, I needna ask ye wha made it.'[8]

I am still on the lookout for anything to do with Lord Chatham and Colchester: he spent so long there, and seems to have been so closely connected to the town, that I can’t believe he left absolutely no evidence of his being there. If anyone knows of anything, I would be grateful if you would contact me and let me know!

______________

References

[1] Express and Evening Chronicle, 2 June 1798

[2] William Pitt to Mary, Countess of Chatham, 13 September 1798, National Archives Chatham MSS PRO 30/8/101 f 141

[3] Bury and Norwich Post, 7 October 1807; Morning Post, 9 October 1807

[4] The History and Antiquities of the Borough of Colchester, in the County of Essex (Colchester, 1810), p. 74; A History of the County of Essex IX, Victoria County History (London, 1994) 156

[5] The Proceedings of the Colchester and East Essex Auxiliary Bible Society … (Colchester, 1812), unpaginated

[6] The British Flag and Christian Sentinel, 1 February 1872

[7] Philip Crummy, “The House that Ann and Hugh built”, Catalogue: New of Archaeological Excavations in Colchester, 18 (Winter 1985/6), 6-11

[8] Benson Earle Hill, Recollections of an Artillery Officer … I (London, 1836), 276-7

“My lot has indeed been a hard one”: Lord Chatham and his money problems, again

A while ago I quoted a short bit from one of John, 2nd Earl of Chatham’s letters to Mrs Stapleton, his mother’s former companion, in which he lamented the impact of his brother’s death and wife’s ill health on his finances. On that occasion John did manage to scrape together a loan of one hundred and fifty pounds; but it was not the first time Mrs Stapleton had cause to ask John for a loan … nor was it the last.

142c0-johnhayterlessblurreddetail

John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham (1821)

I found the May 1808 letter referred to above interesting in that John did a bit of muttering about his financial difficulties, but it was NOTHING compared to the two letters I found today. These are full-on hand-wringing affairs, quite uncharacteristic of John, and I imagine they would have made quite an impact on Mrs Stapleton for that reason. Whether it was the impact John wished to have is … debatable, because even I (and I freely admit I am more indulgent towards John than many people would be) found them a bit on the pathetic side. Still, there’s no doubt he was an unlucky enough chap, and even if he manages to blame everyone but himself for his predicament I have no doubt his woes were real enough.

I will quote the letters in full, because they make for impressive reading.

Letter One: Colchester, 13 December 1807

My Dear Mrs Stapleton,

Your letter of ye 3rd Inst[ant] from Wynnstay has been forward to me here, where I have been fixed for some time, going up occasionally to London for business, and to see Lady Chatham who is at Frognall. I shou’d be happy if I cou’d tell you, she was as much recovered as you so kindly wish her, but tho very much better, she had not regained her strength sufficiently, when I last saw her, to come down here with me, but I hope to find her better when I go up again which will be in a few days. I must now however painfull tell you, that I have delayed writing to you several days, from the reluctance I felt to return you the only answer in my power, which is, that at this time I really can do nothing. It is doubly painful to me to write on this subject, as it is scarcely possible I shou’d do it, without complaining of the past, which no one has ever yet heard me do. You know full well the manner in which my hands are tied up, and in which I was left, without the power of raising one single sixpence. The business of Burton, from the difficulties attending it, is not yet closed;[*] and when it is, the whole life Interest I have in it, is not worth much above half of what My Mother’s debts amount to. How I shall be able to deal with them I know not. I hope, but till I see my way, I can only hope, that I may have it in my power to make some arrangement about them. My own incumbrances, which from unfortunate events have pressed hard upon me, I can only get rid of gradually by devoting a larger Portion of my Income regularly to them, than I can well manage to do. Had my poor Brother lived, who was jointly with me called upon to pay My Mother’s debts it might have been more easily accomplished. He thought with me, that they might have been paid out of ye Money for which Burton sold, with ye consent of my Nieces. But now alas, as their prospect of inheritance is so much meaner, the thing is more difficult, nor have they the same temptation to agree to it. I mean by this the Stanhopes, for dear Mrs Pringle wou’d do any thing. Had the Estate, been mine, as it shou’d have been, in failure of my Brothers, I shou’d have desired the principal satisfaction, from its having put it in my power to have paid my Mother’s debts, and instead of the pain of this letter, to have had the happiness of doing at once what you wished. I can say no more, and will only add

That I am My Dear Mrs Stapleton

Your Very Affect[ionat]e

Humble Servant

Chatham

[*] I presume this is a reference to the fact Chatham was sued by the Pinney family over the terms of the sale of the Burton Pynsent estate.

Mary, Countess of Chatham (ca 1800) by Charles Rosenburg

Mary, Countess of Chatham (ca 1800) by Charles Rosenburg

Letter Two: Colchester, 2 December 1810

Private

My Dear Mrs Stapleton,

I did not venture here till yesterday, and had no opportunity of writing to you till this days Post, and I am quite vexed to find, that owing to some business which has engaged me till late, I shall not be in time. The subject of your letter is indeed, as you say, one mutually painful to us both. You do me but justice in believing that I feel, and most truly and sincerely I can assure you, I do, for your situation. But painful as it is to me to say it, I will not disguise the truth or deceive you by holding out expectations which, without some good fortune or other, I confess I do not see the prospect of being able to realise. Had my poor Brother been spared, I hardly know how, even together, we cou’d have met the heavy embarrassments which my Poor Mother left. Alone, I can have but little hope of bringing them to a satisfactory settlement. I have paid already more than I know how to deal with, & the consequence has been that it has so thrown me back in all my own payments, that I am pressed at this moment to a degree of inconvenience that I do not like to own, except in confidence to you. My lot has indeed been a hard one. Lady Chatham’s long Illness, in itself a source of the bitterest affliction, has been attended with an expence, that has more than counterbalanced all the efforts, which by a strict oeconomy I cou’d make to bring my affairs at all around, and it is on her account alone, that I am induced not to turn my back at once upon London, rather than to go on struggling with the difficulties I have to contend with. In this situation I am grieved to say I can do nothing. I have dwelt upon this unpleasant subject more than I had intended, but I felt anxious you shou’d be impressed, that nothing but utter impossibility shou’d prevent me from offering my assistance at this distressing moment, and doing that which it wou’d afford me the highest gratification to find in my power. I will not add more than that I am

My Dear Mrs Stapleton

Always Very Sincerely & Affect[ionatel]y Yours

Chatham

PS. I have said nothing to Lady Chatham about your letter. It wd too much distress her on your account, and I make every thing appear to the best. C

*   *   *

So there you have it. I’m not too sure what Mrs Stapleton’s reaction can have been to the line “my lot has indeed been a hard one”. Poor John had, indeed, had a bad time of it 1807-10, what with Mary being ill, Walcheren and the aftermath, and the loss of his lucrative salary as Master General of the Ordnance. But he was hardly badly off by any standards: he had a combined annual pension of seven thousand pounds, not to mention his salaries as Commander of the Eastern District, Governor of Jersey, and High Steward of Colchester.

I suppose I would have preferred him to say “Yes! Of course I’ll help, even if I can’t afford it!” But then I suppose learning to say no is, perhaps, one of the only ways to get oneself out of debt. And as we all know, John eventually did get himself out of debt, but not before he had learned his lesson the hard way

______________

References

Both Chatham letters are in NAM Combermere MSS 8408-114

They’re real people, you know…

I write about real people. I know, I know, every author writes about “real people”, in that fictional characters come alive on the page of the book they inhabit, but I write about real people. The main characters of The Long Shadow, William Pitt the Younger and his elder brother John, Earl of Chatham, really existed. And for some reason, whenever I find proof that they did so, I am amazed, and I still have no idea why.

Two hundred years or so ago my characters lived and breathed on the earth. They spoke the words that were recorded by journalists and diarists; they wrote the letters I have read in the archives; they lived in the houses I have visited. They went to sleep at night, got up in the mornings (…. or more probably early afternoon, in the case of my boy Chatham), ate huge meals, wore sumptuous clothes, walked the streets of London, relieved themselves, caught the common cold, laughed, and cried, and, well … lived.

I already know this, because I’ve read about it, and yet there is still a sort of dislocation in my head that makes me unable fully to grasp the fact my characters were both real and human.

johnprintWlmPittYngr

^^^ Real people ^^^

A few months ago I made a discovery, quite by accident.* I found this record on the finds.org.uk site, dedicated to recording archaeological finds of historical significance in the UK. I’ve blogged about it before, but I’ll talk about it again.

Why did this find stagger me so much? Because this, dear reader, is John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham’s personal seal. The one he affixed to private correspondence. And it dropped from his watch fob, probably sometime between 1783 and 1790, while he was visiting his mother at her Somerset house of Burton Pynsent, where it was found in 2006 — not, alas, by me, although every time I’ve been back there I’ve kept my eyes peeled in case, you know, he did it twice.

johnseal

Think about it. I knew Burton Pynsent belonged to the Pitt family; I knew the 2nd Lord Chatham would have gone there many times. But here is concrete evidence that he was there, in person: that he was capable of losing things, just like anybody else. I imagine he was pretty annoyed when he found out he had lost it, too. It’s like a glimpse into a timewarp, just a blink of a moment in which the walls of time and space come crashing down.

I’ve had the same feeling so many times while researching John Chatham in particular. I think it’s because he’s virtually invisible in the history books, so to find any evidence of his physical existence is doubly disorientating. Remember my visit to Abington Hall, near Cambridge, which he rented from 1816 to 1821 (possibly longer)? It’s now the headquarters of The Welding Institute (TWI) and the estate changed beyond recognition, covered with prefab offices, storerooms and laboratories, but walking through it was like being haunted by the past.

Perhaps it was because John’s time there was hardly happy, but visiting a house where he actually lived affected me a great deal. There’s not much of “his” house left, but with assistance I was able to piece John’s Abington together. TWI’s records officer showed me the remains of a bridge over Chatham’s stream, the last remnant of his walled garden, the location of his stables, and the double line of lime trees leading to the London road that would have been his drive.

20140602_110853

Chatham, moreover, left his mark. The house’s ground floor still has a flavour of John’s grand early-19th century reception rooms, and the outside still bears the peeling whitewash “inflicted on it by your boy” (as the records officer informed me, accusingly). The welders may have moved in, but I felt almost as though I could reach out through the centuries and brush Chatham’s sleeve with my fingers.

Sometimes, of course, the frisson I get from such a connection comes with a sense of embarrassment. I have often been reminded, while consulting the archives, that I am, essentially, reading someone’s private correspondence. I’m sure Pitt the Elder would have been horrified to know I would read the following line, written to his wife, Lady Hester, shortly after she had given birth to their third child: “How I long, now that you are out of the straw, to have you in the fragrant grass?” (National Archives Chatham MSS PRO 30/8/5 f 205) The historian always, of course, has something of the voyeur in him or her, but I still won’t be getting that image out of my head any time soon.

So yes: real. Not real in my head, but real in the flesh, two hundred years ago. I’ve stood over the Pitt family vault in Westminster Abbey and tried to come to terms with the fact that the people I have read so much about were there only a short distance beneath my feet. I can’t do it. I’ve touched things that belonged to them — I’ve seen John’s own miniature of his wife, held his cutlery, walked his estates, and I even have a letter he wrote hanging on my wall downstairs — but for some reason I can’t get over this barrier. I can’t comprehend that, even though they are my characters, they will never completely belong to me.

Surely I’m not the only one?

__________

* Most of my best discoveries have been made by accident: one day I will write a post about my own personal Historical Research Fairy, who tugs me by the skirts, hisses “Pssssst!” in my ear, and places the right document in my hands, or turns my eyes to just the right place on a gallery wall.

A letter from Lord Chatham, February 1806

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

snippet

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

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

Dover Street today (wikimedia commons)

Dover Street today (wikimedia commons)

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

“Dover Street Feby. 9th 1806

My Dear Sir

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

Believe me

My Dear Sir

Yours Very Sincerely

Chatham”

[NAM 1977-01-13]

“My poor afflicted Sister”: Lady Chatham’s first mental illness, 1807-8

In May 1808 John, 2nd Earl of Chatham braced himself to write to his mother’s old companion, Catherine Stapleton. Mrs Stapleton (the “Mrs” was a courtesy title only, since she never married) had lived more or less permanently with the Dowager Countess of Chatham from 1782 until Lady Chatham’s death in 1803. She thus had a strong claim on John’s remembrances, although I have a feeling she never forgave him for selling Burton Pynsent in 1805.

By 1808, though, Mrs Stapleton was low on funds. I can only imagine sheer desperation drove her to request assistance from John, whom she must have known was not in a position to offer much assistance. He wrote back after a week or so with a draft of money for £150, the best he could do given his bank account was “strictly appropriated, in order to get rid gradually of some incumbrances, which ye misfortunes of late years have brought, to press very heavily upon me.”

Most of these “misfortunes” were clear enough. Many of them were self-inflicted, and for more see my post on the subject of John’s finances generally. I suspect, although I have not yet been able to substantiate this, that John had been sued over the sale of Burton Pynsent by the purchaser of the estate, John Pinney, and the fallout of this was no doubt one minor “misfortune” . The more significant ones were, most obviously, the death of John’s brother William Pitt in January 1806 and the subsequent break-up of his ministry, during which John Chatham lost the salary he had received as a Cabinet member in continuous service since July 1788. In May 1808 he was back in office, but presumably his credit had not yet recovered from eighteen months without a salary.

But there was one other misfortune of note, and John touched on it towards the end of his letter. “Lady Chatham is I hope essentially better, but far from well yet,” he wrote. “This has been a year of sad distress, and confinement to me, but upon the whole I am well” .[1] In November 1808, after another lengthy spate of correspondence (again on financial difficulties), John closed a letter to his banker Thomas Coutts by revealing his wife was still extremely unwell: “I have not seen Lady Chatham for some time, but form her letters I hope she is rather better than she was, tho’ her amendment, I am sorry to say, has been very slow.”[2]

Mary, Countess of Chatham

Mary, Countess of Chatham

Readers of this blog may recall my discovery, in April last year, that John’s wife Mary suffered from a severe mental illness towards the end of her life. Whether her illness was caused by schizophrenia or something metabolic I am not qualified to say, but it turns out her troubles from 1818 onwards were not unique. Mrs Tomline’s lengthy, somewhat voyeuristic letter to Sir Henry Halford describing Mary’s 1819 condition made a passing reference to a previous attack: “[I] reminded her [Lady Chatham] she had recovered from a former illness … and expressed perfect confidence that she would again recover.”[3] Sir Henry Halford himself recorded, in his diary kept during the period of his attendance on mad King George III, the King early on expressing confidence in Halford’s skill, for he had “saved Lady Chatham from being delivered over to the Mad Doctors.”[4]

Sir Henry Halford (Wikimedia Commons)

Sir Henry Halford (Wikimedia Commons)

A little digging revealed that Mary Chatham had, in fact, been ill for over a year by the time John wrote to Mrs Stapleton. She may in fact not have recovered from the “delirious Fever” that nearly prevented John attending his own brother’s funeral in February 1806, and which marks the beginning of the mental troubles that would plague her on and off for the rest of her life.[5] Certainly she was not well in April 1807, as is made clear in a letter, almost certainly written by her sister Georgiana, in the Leicester and Rutland Record Office Halford MSS.[6]

Georgiana Townshend was Mary’s only older sibling, born in 1761. She was unmarried, and seems to have spent much time as a live-in nurse to Mary during her lengthy periods of ill health, starting with Mary’s rheumatic episode in 1784. Her anonymous letter to Halford (then plain Henry Vaughan) of 14 April 1807 is especially interesting because it corroborates so many of the symptoms Mary suffered from during her relapse ten years later: this was clearly an attack of the same illness, whatever it was.

The letter, obviously written in distress by a woman at the end of her tether, makes difficult reading. As happened in 1818, Mary seems to have struck out, often literally, at those who were closest to her. Georgiana recorded Mary’s use of “violence” towards her sister and mother, as well as her use of “horrid language”, to the extent that the Dowager Lady Sydney had “really become quite afraid” of her own daughter. Georgiana did not, however, think her mother fully understood the severity of the situation. Lady Sydney kept waiting for Mary to snap out of it: “If she (my poor Sister is a little chearfull) her real illness is forgot, & ‘she can be well when she pleases’. Will any body of common Sense think she would not then always be so?”

Mary was clearly all too aware of her own condition, and that Georgiana was reporting everything to Halford. “I hope you never talk of my mind,” Georgiana quoted to Halford from Mary’s latest letter, adding, “that last word was hardly intelligible” . Mary knew she was caught up in a spiral of depression, but could see no way back out to the light, trapped as she was on a circular, claustrophobic path: “[She] has no better opinion of herself … saying she still lived too shut up a life feeling unfit for every thing & making herself more unfit by doing so” . Mary’s inability to break away from the blackness made her moods worse. Georgiana quoted another letter that was little more than a desperate cry for a help Mary knew did not exist:

My cold is better but I am shocking horrible in mind & spirits &c. Oh why, why write to write this so, keep it to yourself … or rather burn it, tell me I may be suddenly different. Nonsense my head can not go on so. God bless you.

She displayed suicidal tendencies, as she was to do ten years later, although Georgiana seemed to think there was no real danger. Georgiana reported her muttering “she could not live in this way (that you perceive is the old Story) [and] she must put an end to it” .

Mary was of course a married woman, and in every marriage there are two people. John had promised to support his wife in sickness and in health, but he cannot have known when he did so just how much sickness there would be in Mary’s life. He and Mary had always been a close couple. Her illness, and its nature, appears to have knocked him completely sideways. He dealt with it in much the same way as he dealt with most of the major problems in his life: by pretending it did not exist. Georgiana  referred to John’s wrapping himself up in his armour of denial:

She will not think he thinks her well, tho’ she tells my mother nobody thinks her well, but him. … She has regretted to me that poor L[or]d C[hatham] thought her getting better when she was as ill as ever, & alas! there is I fear too much truth in that.

johnprint

John’s stiff-upper-lip attitude may have helped him get by on the surface, but unfortunately it was exactly the worst thing possible for Mary. Inevitably their close marriage, subjected to almost unbearable pressure, began to crack. Georgiana’s letter gives an interesting, poignant vignette into the impact of Mary’s illness on her domestic arrangements. Either by medical advice, or because John, too, was not immune from Mary’s violent fits, they were living in different apartments for the first time in their marriage. “I am certain their being on separate floors must keep up the irritation,” Georgiana noted, “but that no-one can help, but she never can have confidence in his thinking her better, while she does not live as usual.”

If only John could wake up, smell the coffee and see what impact his attitude had, but Georgiana suspected it was impossible. The self-replicating nature of the issue distressed her: “She [Mary] cannot get back to where she was with him, & a most unhappy being she certainly is.”

Mary’s sense of entrapment must have been massively increased by her status as a cabinet minister’s wife. John had joined the Duke of Portland’s cabinet as Master General of the Ordnance and, as such, required to attend Court functions, hold dinners, and appear in public on a regular basis. It is clear from Georgiana’s letters that he expected Mary to appear with him, if only to keep up appearances of normality: the scandal, if news of her condition leaked out, would be great. “I dread her making her case more known,” Georgiana fretted to Halford. “… All her servants see it, & I live in dread of a scene.”

The attempts to keep Mary propped up and looking normal are horrifying to read. Georgiana described the hell in which Mary existed, as a public figure required to perform a social role. She quoted a letter from Mary’s maid:

I leave you to judge in what state she [Mary] must have been, before she would attempt to Strike me, which her L[ad]yship actually did on Tuesday at dressing time, fear made me shrink from her, & she immediately became conscious of what she had done, & kept on mumbling to herself … She was very bad in the afternoon, but much worse at dressing time, she never struck me before, but has many times gone off in a very violent way. I asked her L[ad]yship to take some Cordial, which she did[,] afterwards finished dressing, & went out very quietly with my L[or]d. … Since Tuesday her L[ad]yship has been upon the whole tolerably quiet, she complains of being very much tired in the Morning. Her L[ad]yship does not go to bed till after two in ye Morn[in]g.

As Georgiana noted, “She will be relieved by there being no Drawing Room Thursday.” Mary’s existence, drifting in a drug-induced fog from function to function, must have been unimaginable.

Nor was it enough to prevent gossip. By the end of the year Mary’s state was, unfortunately, the stuff of opposition tittle-tattle. “Lady Chatham is at Frognall … under some symptoms of a mental derangement,” Lord Auckland reported to Lord Grenville in November 1807, and in January 1808 Thomas Grenville wrote that Mary was “much disordered in her senses.”[7] These were family connections — the Grenvilles were John’s first cousins — but they were not friendly either to John or the ministry he represented. I find it hard to believe that Mary’s condition was not more widely known.

Mary’s 1807-8 illness may have had a long-term significance. I suspect very much it was a strong reason for Chatham pulling himself out of the running as a potential First Lord of the Treasury following the collapse of the Ministry of All the Talents and the Duke of Portland’s growing ill health. I suspect, too, it was one of the primary reasons why Chatham declined the command of the British Army in the Peninsula. Mary Chatham’s mental problems cast a long shadow. On the one hand they ensured that Arthur Wellesley was appointed in the Peninsula, a major step on the road to victory over Napoleon; but on the other they set John Chatham on his path to Walcheren, and disgrace.

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References

[1] Lord Chatham to Mrs Stapleton, 11 May 1808, National Army Museum Stapleton Cotton (Combermere) MSS 9506-61-3

[2] Lord Chatham to Thomas Coutts, 23 November 1808, Kent RO Pitt MSS U1590/S5/C42. I am grateful to Stephenie Woolterton for alerting me to this letter, and transcribing it for me.

[3] Elizabeth Tomline to Sir Henry Halford, undated but September 1819, Ipswich RO Pretyman MSS HA 119/562/716

[4] Sir Henry Halford’s diary [1831-2], Leicester and Rutland RO Halford MSS DG24/941 f 56

[5] Bishop of Lincoln to his wife, 31 January 1806, Ipswich RO Pretyman MSS HA 119/T99/26

[6] All quotations over the next few paragraphs come from [Georgiana Townshend] to Henry Vaughan [later Sir Henry Halford], 14 April 1807, Leicester and Rutland RO DG24/819/1; and [Georgiana Townshend] to Henry Vaughan [later Sir Henry Halford], 14 April 1807, Leicester and Rutland RO DG24/819/2

[7] Lord Auckland to Lord Grenville, 6 November 1807; Thomas Grenville to Lord Grenville, 9 January 1808, Manuscripts of J.B. Fortescue IX, 142, 171