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!

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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

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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.

______________

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

The 2nd Earl of Chatham’s muddled finances

Had John, 2nd Earl of Chatham been asked which year of his life was his (to coin a phrase) “Annus Horribilis”, he would very probably and with good reason have replied 1809. He might equally, however, have replied 1821, and with just as much reason.

It was not a good year. He was pushed into taking up his government at Gibraltar, a place he disliked and which very nearly killed him. His wife, who had spent most of the past two and a half years mentally ill, died suddenly in May, leaving John profoundly depressed. And a King’s Bench judgment opened a free-for-all on John’s finances, laying bare a woeful tale of debt, default, and neglect that stretched back at least forty years.

“Money? What’s that?”

John was not exceptional in this. Improvidence was a family tradition. Paying bills, to the Pitts, was something that happened to other people. Amazingly they seem to have had a very close relationship with their banker, Thomas Coutts, whom I would not have blamed for running away screaming every time he saw a Pitt family member approaching his front door. Presumably the effect of the publicity of having Lord Chatham and Mr Pitt on Coutts’ books outweighed the disadvantages incurred by their being constantly overdrawn.

Thomas Coutts, after Sir William Beechey (Wikimedia Commons)

Thomas Coutts, after Sir William Beechey (Wikimedia Commons)

John had long been notorious for his money problems. Wraxall spoke of “his total want of economy” in his memoirs, and there were rumours he had only been appointed commander-in-chief of the 1809 Walcheren expedition because of his straitened finances.[1] He definitely loved pomp and luxury, and his lifestyle as a peer of the realm was a costly one. Here’s a description of a new carriage he had made in January 1801:[2]

morningpost20jan1801chathamcarriage

Swish, and no doubt expensive too.

“Debts contracted at play”?

Of course there’s a distinct possibility that John’s financial problems were not simply due to extravagance. Unlike his brother William, John may have been a keen gambler. To be honest I’ve not found any direct evidence of this, but it’s a possibility, and there are some hints. He definitely had an interest in horse racing, no doubt encouraged by his living at Cheveley Park near Newmarket for ten years. I’ve spotted him eyeing up a horse put up for sale by the Duke of Portland in 1780, and his wife definitely had a horse running at least one year for money:[3]

timesmarch261788ladychathamshorse

It wasn’t just horse racing, though. In 1793 John was rumoured “to sit up all night at a club”, and presumably this involved gambling.[4] In 1844 Cyrus Redding published “Recollections of the Author of Vathek“, that is to say William Beckford, who had spent his formative years with the Pitt children and informed his biographer that John had sold his father’s house of Burton Pynsent “to pay debts contracted at play”.[5] Interesting theory, although in fairness to John there were other demands on the estate forcing him to sell.

Most damning of all was the judgment of his step-nephew, James Stanhope. Stanhope visited Burton Pynsent, some years after John sold it, and was moved to write a bitter poem on the subject of his uncles’ comparative inheritances:

The immortal Chatham ee’r [sic] he died

These gifts he thus assigned

Take then my fortune John, he cried

Thou William hast my mind[.]

This son the Part improved with toil

That ’twas his Countrys weal;

The former Burton learnt to spoil

To shuffle, cut, and deal.”[6]

*cringe*

James Stanhope may have been a little unjust. Even if John was a gambling man, the “fortune” he inherited wasn’t much cop. Yes, Parliament settled a pension of £4000 on the Chatham earldom after Pitt the Elder’s death in 1778, and in 1803 John became the “third life” to hold the £3000 pension settled on his father for three lives in the 1760s, but the latter was hardly ever paid and the former barely offset the long-term effect of Pitt the Elder’s own spendthriftiness.

John’s inheritance

William Pitt the Elder, 1st Earl of Chatham by William Hoare (Wikimedia Commons) [b]

William Pitt the Elder, 1st Earl of Chatham by William Hoare (Wikimedia Commons) [b]

Pitt the Elder just didn’t give a damn. Not the slightest. He would quite happily borrow huge sums of money off family and friends– £10,000 in one go in 1777, for example– without the faintest intention of paying it back.[7] (His wife tried her best, but since she was never able to stop her husband spending it must have been like holding back the tide.) Both the properties John inherited, Hayes Place in Kent and Burton Pynsent, were heavily mortgaged: Burton for over £13,000, Hayes for £10,000. Burton supposedly brought in £3000 a year, but this was rarely realised and, in any case, barely paid for the upkeep of the estate itself. It did not help that all three of the younger Pitt children had been assigned various sums in their father’s will, to which they were entitled on the security of the mortgages taken out on the two properties.[8]

In short, when John inherited the estate, his “fortune” consisted almost entirely of debts. The £4000 pension attached to the earldom was the only thing standing between him and utter penury: it was a good sum, but without lands to back it up, did little but allow the Earl of Chatham to live according to his rank.

The shock, therefore, is that Burton Pynsent remained so long in Pitt family hands, gambling debts or no. John sold Hayes in May 1785 to Sir James Bond (… no, not that one) for £8540, which didn’t even cover the mortgage. Even so, the funds were divided between members of the Pitt family (William, for example, received just under £4400).[9] His mother used Burton Pynsent as a dower-house until her death in April 1803, but even as early as February 1803 John was clearly getting itchy: he had the farms and lands valued, clearly with the intention of selling as soon as possible.[10] He finally managed to sell it in 1805, and became officially “landless”.

Fire your accountant, John

Small wonder, then, that John was so much in debt. He and his brother William started early, and often together. In December 1780 (around the same time, in fact, that John was eyeing up the Duke of Portland’s racing horse) they jointly paid a lump sum of £3500 to the Duke of Rutland in return for an annuity of £300 derived from three of Rutland’s Cambridgeshire estates. (John rather cavalierly countersigned the agreement from Newmarket, where he was hunting at the time.)[11] This lump sum was acquired partly through two separate loans for £1500, secured on two chamber sets at Lincoln’s Inn belonging jointly to William and John (the sets themselves were purchased with at least two separate loans).[12] Yes, you read that right: a loan secured on a loan, to pay for a loan.

head-desk-1In 1785 John was at it again, borrowing a total of £3150 from three separate moneylenders. In the 1790s John and William again jointly borrowed two separate sums of £6000 and £7000 from Coutts, the first through his bank and the second on a private basis. At least John seems to have paid most of the second loan back in 1804.[13]

And this is presumably only skimming the surface: like his father, John was quite happy to accept money from whoever was willing to give it, although I’d like to think he had a *leeeeetle* more of an intention of paying it back. His official cabinet salary, which he received 1788-1806 and 1807-10, did not make much difference to his borrowing habits. He borrowed money from his (himself heavily indebted) brother William, and entered into a number of bonds with his friend Lord Camden: one in October 1797 for £1500 at 5%, and one in 1806 for £4000, also at 5%. All these loans were secured on the same source (and anyway John had no property by 1806): the £4000 Chatham Earldom pension, itself already signed over a thousand times over to Thomas Coutts, the fashionable moneylenders the Goldsmid brothers, and others.[14]

Abraham Goldsmid, one of Lord Chatham's many moneylenders (Wikimedia Commons)

Abraham Goldsmid, one of Lord Chatham’s many moneylenders (Wikimedia Commons)

Small wonder, then, that when John was out of office in 1806 he had to resort to selling off a selection of his father and brother’s books:[15]

morningpost25dec1806johnsellsbooks

At this point I must stop before I beat my head against the desk so often I lose consciousness, but it’s literally a flavour of what was going on, not a comprehensive list.

The King’s Bench Judgment

Astoundingly, nothing much seems to have come of all this borrowing and mortgaging and shifting until sometime in late 1820 when John finally found a creditor who put his foot down and demanded his money back. It must have come as a shock, particularly when the man dragged John to court– especially when John lost.

Court of King's Bench in the 19th century (Wikimedia Commons)

Court of King’s Bench in the 19th century (Wikimedia Commons)

I’m not clear on the details, as I haven’t managed to find the court case in question, but it seems John borrowed £8126 from Mr John Burke. I’m not clear on who Mr Burke was, but what he was was determined, and when he discovered John did not have the means to pay him back, he sued. The resulting King’s Bench judgment clearly required John to pay Burke appropriate damages, in default of which the bailiffs would be sent in to seize his property. As a cherry on the cake, John was also required to pay Burke’s legal costs.[16]

Needless to say, John did not have the ready money. He had not had a government salary since 1810, although he did have his emoluments as Governor of Jersey, High Steward of Colchester (till 1817), and Colonel of the 4th Regiment of Foot. Still, his wife had been constantly ill for two years: whatever ready cash he had, presumably, had mostly gone on her healthcare. In January 1820 John had been made Governor of Gibraltar, with a salary of £2800, and perhaps it was this circumstance that inspired Burke to try his luck.[17]

To avoid the embarrassment of the bailiffs, John had no choice but to negotiate. His agent, Joseph Ward, met with Burke’s agent, Francis Robertson, and hammered out a compromise. The result was a bond, signed 11 January 1821:

Whereas the said John Earl of Chatham hath contracted and agreed with the said John Burke for the absolute sale to him the said John Burke of One Annuity or clear yearly Sum of Six hundred and ninety one pounds two shillings and six pence to be paid to the said John Burke his Executors Administrators and Assigns during the natural life of the said John Earl of Chatham…

The money was due to be raised from the poor £4000 pension attached to the Chatham earldom, already mortgaged in all directions beyond its ability to bear. This time, however, John was caught coming and going: if he defaulted on his quarterly payments by 28 days, in went the bailiffs, out came his pretty furniture.[18]

At some point after this date, however, Burke remembered that there were further damages to consider, because the money Chatham had borrowed had been raised from selling the £10,000 worth of stock Burke’s wife, Louisa Angelo Tremamondo, had brought as her dowry. The £600 annuity was therefore raised to £1196, and the money claimed in damages to £13,075.[19] Possibly this was due to interest, but it does not appear to be a separate agreement.

I cannot imagine the face John made when he put his pen to that bond, but sign it he did.

…. And it just keeps getting worse

So what did John do to finance his brand spanking new debt? You guessed it. He took out three life insurance policies, with three insurance companies: one with the Fire and Life Insurance Company for a total of £5000, one with the Provident Institution for £1800, and one with the Union Life Office for £400. A total of £7200 to be paid on his death to Joseph Ward, who would presumably then turn the proceeds over to Burke and clear the debt.[20]

Unluckily for Burke, he did not live long enough to benefit from the arrangement and died in December 1824. John, however, didn’t benefit either: he was bound to continue his quarterly payments to Burke’s “Executors Administrators and Assigns” during the term of his “natural life”, which meant continuing payments to Burke’s widow Louisa. Mrs Burke, therefore, received nearly eleven years’ worth of payments of £1196– about £13,000 in all. She received her last payment of £336 in October 1835 from John’s executors.[21]

Open season!

At around this time– probably not coincidentally– the husband of John’s niece, Harriot Hester, suddenly remembered something VERY important.

Sir William Pringle had married Harriot Hester Eliot, only daughter of John’s sister Harriot, in May 1806. Harriot Hester had lived for two and a half years with her aunt and uncle in London and remained close to the Chathams. Although there had been issues with her marriage to Pringle– John seems to have considered the man, who was fifteen years older than Harriot Hester, to be a fortune hunter– the couple were always welcome at John’s house, and Sir William and John frequently went hunting together.[22]

In February 1821, though, Sir William Pringle wrote to George Pretyman-Tomline to express concern about the terms of his wife’s fifteen-year-old marriage contract. By the terms of her marriage contract, Harriot Hester was due £3795 plus interest, which was to have been her mother’s “portion” or dowry, a sum that had not become fully available until Burton Pynsent was sold in 1805.[23] By 1821 this sum had not yet been paid, and Sir William wrote to ask Tomline to press Lord Chatham on the matter as Pringle’s solicitor had advised him to open a case of “culpable neglect”.[24]

I find it very hard to believe that Sir William Pringle had spent fifteen years not noticing that his wife (who was, incidentally, worth a vast amount of money, both in terms of property and ready cash– well over £10,000 in fact) was owed a whisker under £4000. I strongly suspect he chose February 1821 to press the point, because his solicitor reminded him there was now a precedent of Lord Chatham being taken to the legal cleaners and scrubbed till it damn well hurt.

Again, Chatham had no money; again, he had no choice. His solution was wearingly familiar, as Pringle informed Tomline: Chatham had proposed to secure

the reversion of the produce of the Burton Pynsent Estate to Lady Pringle & her Children, by assigning to trustees two policies of insurance on his life made at the Equitable Insurance Office, which are valued at £11,000, & by vesting the remainder of the money [from Burton Pynsent] in trustees, so that at his death the sum of about £16,000 would be forth coming to those entitled to it.

This arrangement tho’ certainly not so satisfactory as if the whole money had been vested, Lady Pringle & I have as far as we are concer’d, acceded to, from having been advised so to do, by our Solicitors & from being informed, & having every reason to believe, it was the best & indeed the only security Lord Chatham had to give.[25]

I imagine hunting visits at Lord Chatham’s house were rather more strained after this.

And yet…

The events of 1821 seem to have been a caution to John. He did take out at least one more life insurance policy on behalf of his other heir, William Stanhope Taylor, grandson of John’s sister Hester, and on John’s death at least one of the life insurance policies remained unpaid because John had (unsurprisingly) failed to keep up his annual payments, but all in all he seems to have behaved himself.[26]

He lived much more simply than he had done, renting a house in Brighton and mortgaging a (comparatively modest-sized) house in Charles Street. When he expired in that house on 24 September 1835, his heirs sold everything they could– even the servants’ bedlinen– but they balanced the books within a month.[27]

johnsfuneralby10nov1835times

In the end, the “improvident Lord Chatham” was virtually the only member of his family to die solvent.


References

[1] Sir Nathaniel Wraxall, Posthumous Memoirs of my Own Time, III (London, 1836), 130; H.B. Robinson, Memoirs of Sir Thomas Picton, I (London, 1836), 231

[2] Morning Post, 20 Jan 1801

[3] Edward Thoroton Gould to the Duke of Portland, 27 Nov 1780, Nottingham University Archive Portland MSS PwF 4.284; Times, 26 March 1788

[4] Sir Gilbert Elliot’s diary, 11 September 1793, quoted in Paul Kelly, “Strategy and Counter-Revolution: the Journal of Sir Gilbert Elliot, 1-22 September 1793”, EHR 98 (387) April 1974 328-348, 342

[5] Cyrus Redding, “Recollections of the Author of Vathek“, printed in The New Monthly Magazine 71 (2) 1844, 302

[6] Dacre Adams MSS, British Library Add MSS 89036/2/4 f 101

[7] Stanley Ayling, The Elder Pitt, Earl of Chatham (London, 1976), p 406

[8] John Ehrman (Ehrman I), The Younger Pitt: The Years of Acclaim (London, 1969), p. 19

[9] Ehrman I, 19

[10] National Archives Chatham MSS PRO 30/8/371 f 158

[11] Ehrman I, 20; the bond is dated 1 December 1780 and is at Ipswich RO, Pretyman MSS, HA 119/4/4/9/3/2

[12] Ehrman I, 20

[13] Tresham Lever, The House of Pitt (London, 1947), p. 359; Ehrman I, 601-2, 602 n 1

[14] Bond between Chatham and Camden, 3 October 1797, Kent RO Camden MSS CKS-U840/E20; bond between Chatham and Camden, 24 June 1806, Kent RO Camden MSS CKS-U840/E21; and National Archives Chatham MSS PRO 30/8/371 for the deeds mortgaging the Chatham pension

[15] Morning Post, 25 December 1806

[16] Bond between the Earl of Chatham, John Burke and Joseph Ward, 11 January 1821, National Archives Chatham MSS PRO 30/8/370 f 183

[17] Report from the select committee on the colonial military expenditure… (London, 1834) VI, 7

[18] Bond between the Earl of Chatham, John Burke and Joseph Ward, 11 January 1821, National Archives Chatham MSS PRO 30/8/370 f 183

[19] Bond between Francis Robertson and Louisa Angelo Burke, 17 June 1828, National Archives Chatham MSS PRO 30/8/370 f 238

[20] Bond between Francis Robertson and Louisa Angelo Burke, 17 June 1828, National Archives Chatham MSS PRO 30/8/370 f 238

[21] National Archives Chatham MSS PRO 30/8/370 f 152

[22] Chatham to George Pretyman-Tomline, 22 September 1819; Chatham to George Pretyman-Tomline, 19 January 1820, Ipswich RO Pretyman MSS HA 119/562/688

[23] Marriage settlement of Harriot Hester Eliot and William Pringle, 16 May 1806, Cornwall RO EL/647. I am grateful to Stephenie Woolterton for putting this document my way

[24] Sir William Pringle to George Pretyman-Tomline, 12 February 1821; William Eliot to George Pretyman-Tomline, 5 March 1821, Ipswich RO Pretyman MSS HA/119/562/688

[25] Sir William Pringle to George Pretyman-Tomline, 27 April 1821, Ipswich RO Pretyman MSS HA 119/562/688

[26] Life insurance policy dated 17 August 1833, National Archives Chatham MSS PRO 30/8/370 f 89

[27] Times, 10 Nov 1835

“Likely to get frampy”: In which the 2nd Lord Chatham has trouble getting his act together

One of the things I love most about John, 2nd Lord Chatham is how endearingly pathetic he could be sometimes. I know that must sound odd, but I often find myself grinning while reading about him. The Pitt family can, in general, be seen as a little frigid, rather stuffy and full of themselves, and without a normal bone in their overachieving bodies. It’s a false impression that can be easily corrected by reading their private correspondence, but one of the reasons I fastened so happily on John as a research subject is that he is so refreshingly human.

I call them my “oh dear John” moments, mainly because that’s what I say out loud when I stumble across them. You know, the moments were “the late Lord Chatham” just lives up so much to his reputation that I have to suppress the urge to thud my head repeatedly against the desk. John turning up three hours late to the King’s birthday review? Oh dear, John. John never making an appointment to meet with anyone before two o’clock in the afternoon? Oh dear, John. John countersigning contracts for enormous loans during a brief luncheon break while hunting at Newmarket? Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear John… you get the picture.

johnprint

But sometimes John surpasses even himself. Like in his courtship of Mary Townshend, in which the twenty-six year old John seems to have displayed all the maturity and backbone of a teenager mustering the courage to ask a girl on a first date.

I think it’s fair to say John was not a reluctant suitor. As I discovered recently, John and Mary’s names had been paired up as early as May 1779, and probably earlier. The Pitt and Townshend families had been close since at least the 1760s: it’s fair to say that John knew Mary well, and vice versa. At some point, probably prior to John’s going off to Gibraltar in May 1778, friendship blossomed into young lurve.

Mary, Countess of Chatham

Mary, Countess of Chatham

Nothing serious was initially expected to come of the pairing, at least while John was away so frequently on military service. By the summer of 1782, however, he had transferred from the 86th regiment serving in the Leeward Islands to the 3rd Foot Guards, a prestigious royal regiment with flashy gold braid serving in London. As early as 27 June 1782 John’s brother William wrote to their mother, “My brother, I believe, has not informed you of a match of which the world here is certain, but of which he assures me he knows nothing, between himself and the beauty in Albemarle Street” — that is to say Mary Townshend, whose father’s town house was just round the corner from John’s Grafton Street residence.[1]

William wasn’t the only family member gossiping about John’s attachment. Lady Harriot Pitt, John’s younger sister, also told her mother about a conversation she had had with a friend, in which “my Brother Chatham’s intended marriage … [was] brought upon ye Tapis.” By this time John seems to have been thoroughly sick of all the speculation, since Harriot reported him referring sarcastically to such rumours as “Stock Jobbing Reports,” possibly the closest I’ve ever seen John come to an outright joke.[2]

Whatever the truth, the next proper references to the courtship come in April and May 1783, at which point Harriot was confidently expecting her brother to propose at any moment. She wrote to her mother on 1 May 1783 of a jaunt with John to the family property at Hayes: “Hayes is just now in glory, and I think my Brother enjoyed very much ye contemplating his Pretty Place and thinking of ye Pretty Lady he means to give it”.[3]

Lady Harriot Pitt, ca 1779

Lady Harriot Pitt, ca 1779

Certainly John and Mary seemed very snug together at this time. “They were so amicable at ye Dutchess’s [of Buccleugh’s, where there had been a ball the night before] that I really was disappointed when I found ye matter was not settled there,” Harriot reported on 3 May.[4] But two days later Harriot reported in frustration that, despite “opportunities” during a trip to Mary’s father’s country estate at Frognal, John “had only very near done it once”.[5] (…. “Very near”? What on earth did that mean? “Mary?” “Yes?” “I wanted to ask you something…” “Yes?” “Something very important…” “Yeeeeeeeeeees?” “………… Could you please pass the salt?”) On the 6th Harriot described Mary as “not a little fidgetty [sic]”, and William, too, was getting fed up: “The scene in Albemarle Street has been carried on from day to day, till it is full time it should end. I rather hope it will be happily completed very soon, though it has lasted so long already that it may still last longer than seems likely.”[6]

Frognal House, Lord Sydney's country home

Frognal House, Lord Sydney’s country home, where John totally failed to propose to Mary in May 1782

William, apparently, knew John too well. On 19 May Harriot had had enough, and told John to pull himself together: he was mucking Mary Townshend about too much, and she might just kick him in the shins if he ever did manage to screw up the courage. “My Brother and I have been beating over ye same Ground again,” Harriot reported to her mother. “He is very much dissatisfied with their [Lord and Lady Sydney] precluding, as he says, all opportunities by not allowing of Tete a Tetes, and I wish him ye more to take some other sort of opportunity as I think in this sort of way all sides may be likely to get Frampy.“[7]

Whatever “Frampy” meant (… no, don’t Google it … well, don’t tell me I didn’t warn you), John managed to uhmm and aah and blush and shrug for another two weeks before finally diving in and proposing on the 5th of June. The reaction of both families involved can only be summarised as “OMG FINALLY!” As Harriot put it, the declaration “was received as you will imagine by every part of ye family with ye greatest Delight”.[8]

Lord Sydney wrote to John’s mother in sheer relief, apparently the minute John had walked out of his study:

Lord Chatham has today done me the honor to express his desire of proposing himself to my Daughter Mary … It would be an absurd piece of Affectation in me to attempt to conceal my feelings of Satisfaction & Pride in placing a Part of my Family, which deserves & possesses my warmest & most tender Affection, under the Protection of those, whose Alliance, I can truly say, I prefer to that of any Family in England.[9]

The marriage was celebrated on 10 July 1783, and seems (by and large) to have been happy for a very long time. Which was just as well, after John’s long hesitation.

Emotions of a schoolboy, eh?


References

[1] Lord Stanhope, Life of Pitt I, 81 (Pitt to Lady Chatham, 27 June 1782)

[2] Lady Harriot Pitt to Lady Chatham, undated, Manchester University Archives GB 133 Eng MS 1272 f 45

[3] Lady Harriot Pitt to Lady Chatham, [1 May 1783], Manchester University Archives GB 133 Eng MS 1272 f 32

[4] Lady Harriot Pitt to Lady Chatham, [3 May 1783], Manchester University Archives GB 133 Eng MS 1272 f 33

[5] Lady Harriot Pitt to Lady Chatham, [5 May 1783], Manchester University Archives GB 133 Eng MS 1272 f 34

[6] Lady Harriot Pitt to Lady Chatham, [6 May 1783], Manchester University Archives GB 133 Eng MS 1272 f 35; Pitt to Lady Chatham, 15 May 1783, Stanhope I, 121-2

[7] Lady Harriot Pitt to Lady Chatham, [19 May 1783], Manchester University Archives GB 133 Eng MS 1272 f 38

[8] Lady Harriot Pitt to Lady Chatham, [23 June 1783], Manchester University Archives GB 133 Eng MS 1272 f 43

[9] Lord Sydney to Lady Chatham, 5 June 1783, National Archives PRO 30/8/60 f 205

“A most precious Jewel”

Another super quick blog post, since I’ve finally received the last piece of a little puzzle that has been needling at me since I got hold of a batch of photocopied correspondence between Lord Grantham and his brother Frederick Robinson from Bedford & Luton Archives. I am still ever so slightly mystified, although I think I know what it means. If anyone else can help shed some light on the mystery, though, I’d be grateful.

The Robinson brothers were prominent movers in Whig political circles, and their letters are full of references to the big names of political life. One of the families they were close to was the Townshend family, including Thomas Townshend, the future Lord Sydney, his wife Elizabeth Powys, and their growing family. Frederick and Anne Robinson, Lord Grantham’s siblings, frequently dined and socialised with the Townshends. On 4 May 1778 Frederick Robinson wrote to Lord Grantham: “I was at the Opera at night & supped at Mrs Townshends[.] Georgiana [Thomas Townshend’s eldest daughter, born April 1761] is much grown though little alter’d[.] The second daughter [Mary Elizabeth, later Countess of Chatham, then fifteen] will be pretty”.[1]

Mary, Countess of Chatham

Mary, Countess of Chatham

Almost exactly a year later, Mary’s future husband John, Earl of Chatham paid the visit to Grantham in Spain that I blogged about in a previous post. After John had left Madrid, Grantham wrote to Frederick Robinson with further thoughts about the three “English” who had been his guests for over a fortnight: “I believe he [Captain Colt] & Conway found out new Acquaintances at Madrid, but Lord Chatham never went with them, & I would not swear that he is not in possession of a most precious Jewel”.[2]

One thing is for sure about this curious turn of phrase: it was not meant literally. This “precious Jewel” was a euphemism for something, and something that made Chatham forego the pleasure of sharing Conway and Colt’s “new Acquaintances”. What was the nature of this jewel? Frederick Robinson’s response gives a clue:

I believe L[or]d Chatham is not in town, Nanny [Anne Robinson] met him at Tommy Townshend’s who gave him a dinner [upon Chatham’s return from abroad], I think it very probable that his Father recommended T[homas] T[ownshend] to him; if he has a mind to set that Jewel which you suppose him possess’d of very beautifully, he might consult Miss Mary Townshend.[3]

From which I gather that Lord Grantham guessed Chatham’s reluctance to visit Colt and Conway’s “Acquaintances” derived from some sort of attachment, and Robinson connected that attachment to Miss Mary Townshend, Tommy Townshend’s “pretty” second daughter. He certainly wasn’t wide of the mark, for four years later John and Mary were indeed married.

Could it be that John already had a thing for Mary in May 1779, when he was 22 and she was 16? Could it be that he had had a crush on her even before he left for Gibraltar, since Lord Grantham seems to have picked up on it even before John’s return to England? And if so, isn’t that kind of sweet?

Do you agree, or do you think Grantham was talking about something else?


References

[1] Frederick Robinson to Lord Grantham, 4 May 1778, Wrest Park (Lucas) MSS, Bedford and Luton Archives, L30/14/333/91

[2] Lord Grantham to Frederick Robinson, 2 May 1779, Wrest Park (Lucas) MSS, Bedford and Luton Archives, L30/15/54/139

[3] Frederick Robinson to Lord Grantham, 25 May 1779, Wrest Park (Lucas) MSS, Bedford and Luton Archives, L30/14/333/211

Lord Chatham’s seal

It’s rare to find any John-related artefacts out there, perhaps because people didn’t think his things worth keeping (the “wrong Lord Chatham”, as it were). A few months ago, however, I discovered something on the web that actually belonged to him.

johnseal

Amazingly, the above was John’s seal. I found it on the finds.org.uk site for the public to register finds of archaeological/historical interest. The website notes:

Part of a late eighteenth century gold fob seal set with a cornelian intaglio. The struts and suspension loop are missing. The fob seal is oval in shape and measures 33.81mm by 28.08mm by 5.24mm. It weighs 11.25g. The arms engraved on the intaglio are those of John Pitt, 2nd earl of Chatham (1756-1835), impalling those of his wife, Mary Elizabeth Townshend (1762-1821), daughter of Thomas Townshend, 1st Viscount Sydney. It encorporates the coronet, supporters and motto, BENIGNO NUMINE (‘by favour of the heavens’) of the earls of Chatham. The seal must date from between the marriage of John Pitt in 1783, and 1805, when the Pitt family sold their estate at Curry Rivel. (From here)

It was found on 1 February 2006, somewhere “in the Curry Rivel area” in Somerset, presumably on the Burton Pynsent estate, where the Pitt family had a house.

What remains of Burton Pynsent (from http://www.panoramio.com/photo/10263323)

What remains of Burton Pynsent (from http://www.panoramio.com/photo/10263323)

I’d guess John was out walking or riding around his estate and lost part of his seal. It’s just one of those reminders that the people I read and write about were actually human beings, who were liable to lose things (and probably quite annoyed about it afterwards).

I have not seen any manuscripts sealed with this particular design, although to be fair most MSS do not include the envelopes along with the letters (some do, particularly if the inside of the envelope formed part of the letter). I do wonder if it is a pre-1790 seal, since John was invested with the Garter in December of 1790 and was so proud of it he put his star/garter symbol on absolutely EVERYTHING. Without knowing more about heraldry, however, I could not say for sure.

As the find.org.uk website notes, the crest on the seal is composed of Chatham’s arms impaled with those of his wife, Mary Elizabeth Townshend. The Chatham arms are below:

pittcrest

And this is the crest of Lord Sydney, Mary’s father:

townshendcrest

I would very much like to see a colour version of the Pitt/Townshend crest. I may have to make one myself!

A “Not-So-Grand” Tour: Lord Chatham in Spain and France, March – May 1779

Madrid in the 18th century (from https://villajardines.wordpress.com/history/)

Madrid in the 18th century (from https://villajardines.wordpress.com/history/)

 

At the beginning of March 1779, the 2nd Earl of Chatham was serving as aide-de-camp to Colonel Robert Boyd in Gibraltar. Aware, no doubt, that hostilities were brewing between Britain and Spain, he received permission to return home, touring round Spain and France on his way. The inveterate gossip Sir Nathaniel Wraxall later recalled Chatham telling him “that he rode post the whole way from [Gibraltar] to Madrid”, a distance of  over 400 miles– although it appears he journeyed to Cadiz first.[1] Chatham spent a fortnight in Madrid, then travelled to Paris via Bordeaux. He arrived back in England at the beginning of May 1779, two months after leaving his garrison.

On 6 March 1779 Thomas Townshend wrote to Chatham’s mother that Lord Grantham, the British ambassador to Madrid, was in “daily expectation of seeing L[or]d Chatham. He says, that he knows L[or]d Chatham to be on the Road with one of L[or]d Hertford’s Sons & another Officer”.[2] Chatham was travelling with Hugh Conway (later Seymour-Conway, eventually known as Lord Hugh Seymour), a captain in the navy and later a notorious rake and close friend of the Prince of Wales. The third member of the group was Adam Colt, a captain in the 73rd Highlanders.[3] I haven’t yet managed to find much about him, but he was very much the junior member of the group in terms of rank and importance, and seems to have been treated as little more than a glorified servant.

Lord Hugh Seymour, by J. Hoppner (1799) (from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord_Hugh_Seymour)

Lord Hugh Seymour, by J. Hoppner (1799) (from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord_Hugh_Seymour)

Grantham did not have a definite arrival date for the three travellers in Madrid, but began preparing the ground diplomatically for their arrival around the first week of March. “I desired Floridablanca [the Spanish Prime Minister] to drop in Conversation … that I expected Lord Chatham &c in order that new faces & high names might create no Surprize”.[4] Grantham himself was curious about his forthcoming visitors: he had not yet met Chatham, but obviously remembered Chatham’s father and wondered, naturally enough, what the 2nd Earl of the name would be like.

They finally arrived on Thursday 25 March. “I walked out this Afternoon,” Grantham wrote to his brother Frederick Robinson, and “met three Gentlemen riding posts[.] [T]heir hats seemed to touch each other, & to make a Line across the Calle. I could not doubt their being my English & stopped them”. The young men’s enormous hats would make several reappearances in Grantham’s correspondence over the next fortnight, but for now Grantham was mainly concerned with acquainting himself at last with Conway, Colt (“young & Scottish”) and of course Chatham, whom he was surprised to find was not, in fact, Pitt the Elder in the flesh: “tall & thin, like his father but has not his Countenance”.[5]

The three young men (Chatham was twenty-one, Conway nineteen, and Colt probably about the same age as Conway) were not staying with Grantham, but the ambassador took on the responsibility of entertaining them. I’m not too sure he realised what he was letting himself in for, and certainly the youngsters do not seem to have spared much thought for Grantham’s official duties. The very first day they were “an hour and a half” late for breakfast, and Grantham soon discovered that if he wanted to get anything done he had to get up early and reserve “two hours in the Evenings to myself”.[6] His chaplain, Robert Waddilove, took the young men on a tour of some of the principal sites in Madrid, while Grantham set down his more considered impressions of his guests:

Lord Chatham is certainly handsome, like his father, but very gentle & modest. He has an exceeding good look of Carlito Pignatelli [presumably a member of the Spanish-Italian Pignatelli dynasty]; is very well behaved & seems as far as I can judge to think & speak very right. Conway has much more vivacity, has a remarkably open Appearance … [and] is exceeding tall & stout. … Cap[tai]n Colt, is a very Cream coloured Foal as ever I saw, a mere Recruit.

Grantham clearly enjoyed punning about the young Scotsman, whom he called “the Colt”: he “has never been out of the field, & is as rough as you can conceive”. Chatham seems to have been slow to open up. Grantham thought he was “rather prim”, although he “opens more than at first”, and was both “engaging & altogether interesting”. He and Conway had “inclinations to Virtue”, something Conway clearly outgrew later in his career, and both “wish to see & to learn”.[7]

Grantham felt Chatham’s reticence was largely due to his background: he “had a very private Education, & has some Timidity in Consequence of it”. He was clearly struck by Chatham’s generous nature, and related a story to his sister Anne:

He [Chatham] has donr at Gibraltar one of the handsomest & most generous Things a Man can do, he forgave a Man, who made rude Use of his Name, he paid his Debts to save him from Perdition, & took the most feeling part possible in a very delicate Situation.[8]

Chatham’s shyness (“he is reserved”) was a bit of a handicap, and Grantham was not surprised to find that he was not universally liked in the army. “It is singular what Accounts reach us from Gibraltar of L[or]d Ch[atham],” Grantham wrote cryptically to his brother.  At least one source suggested Chatham was “intemperate”, although, as Grantham observed, “he has disguised it if it so, as I have seen no marks whatever of such a Disposition … If he has been intemperate at Gibraltar, I will venture to say it was from not knowing how to resist ye. Tyranny of a Toastmaster”. By this time, Grantham had spent nearly two weeks in Chatham’s company and completely warmed to him: “I confess I am very partial to him”. He had no doubt most of the rumours were “formed upon some narrow principle of Regimental Party”: after all, Gibraltar “is divided into Parties, & … [Chatham’s] singular Education does not decently qualify him for a Garrison Life”.[9]

All in all Grantham seems to have found Conway the best company, Chatham the quietest and most mysterious, and Colt, well, “young and Scottish”.

Grantham presented the higher ranking two at the Spanish court (Colt, unfortunately, being only gentry, did not make the grade). Everywhere they went the young men attracted attention, partly, as Grantham noted, because of their “enormous hats”, but also because of who they were: “Ye. notice of Lord Chatham’s arrival, has everywhere excited much Curiosity”.[10] The noblemen received invitations to music parties, balls and dinners (incuding one of “one hundred &  three people”), and Grantham was rushed off his feet taking them here and there, plying them with “Cold Meat & liquor” in his carriage between engagements. The boys kept him on his toes, and on one occasion he nearly “lost” Colt, who left a party early and got snarled up in Madrid’s streets.[11] Despite this, Grantham seems to have managed to keep them largely out of trouble.

During the day Waddilove showed them the Escorial, the “Cabinet of Natural History”, and “the Academy”. The young men spent the Easter weekend in Madrid, and were therefore able to see the Maundy Thursday ritual of washing the feet of the poor.[12] Grantham took them to a concert given by a singer named “Madame Dos”: “Colt fancies himself in Love with her, Conway is in Raptures, & Lord Chatham capable of the most sentimental Admiration”. The three young men finally left on 7 April, leaving an exhausted Grantham suffering from a terrible cold but still mourning his guests, “as they have been exceeding good Company”.[13]

Conway and Colt went their own way, both returning eventually to service in Gibraltar. Chatham, however, went northwards, carrying despatches from Grantham detailing the collapse of diplomatic relations with Spain. Chatham passed through Bordeaux, where he arrived on 18 April and made contact with Grantham’s wine merchant, John Black. He left with £100 worth of wine on credit (……….. whether he actually ever paid for it seems unlikely, so poor John Black) and went on to Paris, which Black assumed he would have reached by the 25th.[14]
Chatham landed back in England at the beginning of May and reached London late in the evening of Friday the 7th. The next day he went to visit his mother, whom he had not seen for a year, but not before delivering his despatches to Grantham’s brother Frederick Robinson, who was very curious to meet him after all he had heard:  “From the little I could see of him in a short & first visit he seems to answer your  descriptions of him[.] I think in his person he is a very good likeness of Camerena’s Nephews in the Spanish Guards[.] He is darker than any of his family which I have seen.”[15] This comparison of John to dark Spaniards will surprise no-one who has seen J.S. Copley’s “Death of Lord Chatham” at the National Gallery: Copley has gone so far as to give John Chatham a noticeable five o’clock shadow.
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)

This was the end of Chatham’s immediate adventures, at least for a while. There was, however, a sequel. In January 1780 Chatham, who had transferred to the 86th Foot, was sent with his regiment to the West Indies. Grantham was desperate to make contact before he left because Chatham still owed him £150 from his visit to Madrid. It seems Chatham did leave without paying, but when Grantham wrote “to wish him a good Journey & to desire his Directions about the Money” (a not-so-subtle hint) Chatham did, eventually, order his banker Coutts to pay up.[16]

 

Clearly Chatham was fond of Grantham, and grateful for his Spanish hospitality, because Chatham did not very often pay his debts!

 


 

References

[1] Wraxall, Posthumous Memoirs of my Own Time (London, 1836) III, 129; Lord Grantham to Frederick Robinson, 19 March 1779, Bedford Archives, Wrest Park (Lucas) MSS L30/15/54/125

[2] Thomas Townshend to Lady Chatham, 6 March 1779, National Archives PRO 30/8/60 f 176

[3] Army List for 1780, WO 65/30

[4] Lord Grantham to Frederick Robinson, 11 March 1779, Bedford Archives, Wrest Park (Lucas) MSS L30/15/54/124

[5] Lord Grantham to Frederick Robinson, 25 March 1779, Bedford Archives, Wrest Park (Lucas) MSS L30/15/54/126

[6] Lord Grantham to Frederick Robinson, 27 March 1779, Bedford Archives, Wrest Park (Lucas) MSS L30/15/54/127

[7] Lord Grantham to Frederick Robinson, 27 March 1779, Bedford Archives, Wrest Park (Lucas) MSS L30/15/54/127

[8] Lord Grantham to  Anne Robinson, 2 April 1779, Bedford Archives, Wrest Park (Lucas) MSS L30/17/4/245a

[9] Lord Grantham to Frederick Robinson, 5 April 1779, Bedford Archives, Wrest Park (Lucas) MSS L30/15/54/131; Lord Grantham to Frederick Robinson, 6 April 1779, Bedford Archives, Wrest Park (Lucas) MSS L30/15/54/132

[10] Lord Grantham to Frederick Robinson, 27 March 1779, Bedford Archives, Wrest Park (Lucas) MSS L30/15/54/127

[11] Lord Grantham to Frederick Robinson, 5 April 1779, Bedford Archives, Wrest Park (Lucas) MSS L30/15/54/131

[12] Lord Grantham to Frederick Robinson, 31 March 1779, Bedford Archives, Wrest Park (Lucas) MSS L30/15/54/129

[13] Lord Grantham to Frederick Robinson, 5 April 1779, Bedford Archives, Wrest Park (Lucas) MSS L30/15/54/131

[14] John Black to Lord Grantham, 28 April 1779, Bedford Archives, Wrest Park (Lucas) MSS L30/14/36/25

[15] Frederick Robinson to Lord Grantham, 11 May 1779, Bedford Archives, Wrest Park (Lucas) MSS L30/14/333/207

[16] Lord Grantham to Frederick Robinson, 17 January 1780, Bedford Archives, Wrest Park (Lucas) MSS L30/15/54/162; Lord Grantham to Frederick Robinson, 19 January 1780, Bedford Archives, Wrest Park (Lucas) MSS L30/15/54/163; Lord Grantham to Frederick Robinson, 9 February 1780, Bedford Archives, Wrest Park (Lucas) MSS L30/15/54/170