Country vs Pies vs ??? – Pitt the Younger’s last words

A nice happy topic for a sunny Wednesday afternoon ;-). Possibly I ought to do this another day (because as usual, I should actually be writing the novel right now) but I feel the need to talk about this.

I had the good fortune to be invited to the dinner held at Pembroke College, Cambridge on 23 January 2006 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Pitt the Younger’s death. (Nothing particularly special about this, as all history graduate students working on the period were invited.) This was the menu:

Commemorative Pitt dinner at Pembroke 2006 : programme page 3. Yes, yes, I know,  veal pie for the main course? I was halfway through before I realised what they'd done there. Ha ha.

I was halfway through the main course, which was rather nice, when I suddenly realised why veal pie was on the menu. Strangely nobody else seemed to have worked it out, or if they did nobody said anything.

The veal pie referenced, of course, Benjamin Disraeli’s story about Pitt the Younger’s last words. Disraeli’s story is recorded by Lord Rosebery in his “Pitt” (1891, p. 258), although had Rosebery known quite what he was starting he might have held back:

“Mr. Disraeli, in the more genial and less majestic days before 174, used to tell a saturnine story of this time [Pitt’s death]. When he first entered Parliament, he used often to dine at the House of Commons, where he was generally served by a grim old waiter of prehistoric reputation, who was supposed to possess a secret treasure of political tradition. The young member sought by every gracious art to win his confidence and partake of these stores.

One day the venerable domestic relented. ‘You hear many lies told as history, sir,’ he said; ‘do you know what Mr. Pitt’s last words were?’

‘Of course,’ said Mr. Disraeli, ‘they are well known … “O my country! How I love my country!”’ for that was then the authorised version.

‘Nonsense,’ said the old man. ‘I’ll tell you how it was. Late one night I was called out of bed by a messenger in a postchaise, shouting to me outside the window. “What is it?” I said. “You’re to get up and dress and bring some of your meat pies down to Mr. Pitt at Putney.” So I went; and as we drove along he told me that Mr. Pitt had not been able to take any food, but had suddenly said, “I think I could eat one of Bellamy’s mutton pies.” And so I was sent for post-haste. When we arrived Mr. Pitt was dead. Them was his last words: “I think I could eat one of Bellamy’s meat pies.”’ (Mr. Disraeli mentioned the meat—veal or pork, I think, but I have forgotten.)”

Amazingly enough, this story of Pitt’s last words—relayed, fourth-hand, by Rosebery, from Disraeli, who had it from Bellamy’s waiter, who had it from the messenger from Putney—is believed by some to be actually true. Amusing as it may be (insofar as it can ever be considered amusing to joke about someone’s dying words) I have no doubt Disraeli either made it up, or misremembered his source. I’m not saying Pitt did not ask for one of Bellamy’s pies at some stage of his final illness, but if he did it wasn’t right at the end. The last record of him eating anything much is I think on the 18th January when he was given a choice of egg or broth. I can’t see how his doctors would have considered feeding him a whole veal pie to be a good idea, even if they would have been happy to hear him asking for one.

If veal pie did not form part of Pitt’s last words, then what did he say? Disraeli above quotes Stanhope’s original (1861) version, printed in his biography of Pitt: “Oh my country, how I love my country!” (vol IV, 382). He later altered it to “how I leave my country” upon rereading his source, and this is now accepted as standard.

Stanhope took this from the notes written on 24 January 1806 by James Stanhope, Pitt’s “nephew” (… that is to say, the son of Pitt’s brother-in-law by his second marriage). James Stanhope was in Pitt’s room for the whole night before Pitt died and was, as far as I can gather, virtually the only person present. Ehrman in The Consuming Struggle (829, n. 2) claims Sir Walter Farquhar (Pitt’s doctor) and George Tomline, Bishop of Lincoln were in the room as well, but according to James Stanhope’s account Farquhar at least was not present (Stanhope IV, 381). George Rose, Pitt’s friend and political facilitator, recorded Pitt’s last words as “My country, oh, my country”. His authority was Pitt’s servant Pursler, who was definitely present. Farquhar, apparently, told Lord Malmesbury that Pitt’s last words were “Oh what times! Oh my country!” (Diaries of Lord Malmesbury, IV, 346). Pretty much the only person who disagreed with this version was George Canning, who decided (purely on the basis that he thought it more likely) that Pitt said “I am sorry to leave the country in such a situation”. According to Ehrman this was on Tomline’s authority, although going back to the source (Granville Leveson Gower’s Private Papers, II, 169) Canning is not reporting this as Pitt’s last words but simply as something Pitt said to Tomline before he died.

Basically, however, all sources who were present, or near, agree: Pitt’s last words, or very nearly last words, revolved around the situation of the country (and what else would he have been thinking of, I suppose? Ulm and Austerlitz had destroyed the Third Coalition, Britain was once again without allies on the continent, and Napoleon was thoroughly unchallenged). It seems clear that Pitt did say something of the sort on his deathbed.

Why, then, am I rather sceptical?

I think it is probably due to James Stanhope’s account. Apart from Tomline’s daily (and sometimes twice or even thrice-daily) letters to his wife from Putney, kept at Ipswich Record Office (HA119/T99/26 for those who are interested — although they were in the process of recataloguing when I visited so heaven knows what call number they are using now), Stanhope’s account is the only on the spot account worth going by regarding Pitt’s death. Farquhar wrote an account many years afterwards, and numerous interested parties wrote down their recollections of the stories they were told later (Rose, for example, and Pitt’s secretary William Dacre Adams), but only Tomline and Stanhope were writing on the spot at the time. Stanhope’s account thus has to be taken at face value, and its simple, factual tone lends both poignancy and credibility. But this is what Stanhope has to say about Pitt’s last words:

“At about half-past two Mr. Pitt ceased moaning, and did not speak or make the slightest sound for some time … I feared he was dying; but shortly afterwards, with a much clearer voice than he spoke in before, and in a tone I never shall forget, he exclaimed, ‘Oh, my country! How I leave my country!’ From that time he never spoke or moved” (Stanhope IV, 382)

So according to Stanhope, Pitt had spent the night moaning and muttering incoherently, then suddenly mustered up the strength to “exclaim” his last words, before subsiding into silence. Hmmm. Is that likely to happen? Could it happen? It sounds like Pitt was lapsing into a coma, woke up conveniently to speak his last words clearly and commandingly, then returned to his coma. Could this happen? I don’t know. I have precisely zero experience of death beds (… and quite happy for it to remain that way actually).

It’s definitely credible that Pitt would have spoken about his country on his deathbed— and yet how convenient that he came out with such a quotable line! I cannot possibly be the only person who thinks it almost sounds as though the parties present got together to work out a safe, “canon” version of the last words for posterity to chew on. Although I find it hard to believe James Stanhope would have colluded with Tomline and Farquhar on this, especially as Lady Hester Stanhope, James’s sister, was always quite happy to cry humbug at Rose/Tomline et al’s attempts to sanctify Pitt’s memory.

All in all, I have nothing but a hunch to suggest that Pitt’s last words may not, in fact, have been his last words. That he said those words, or something like them, seems likely, especially as everyone who was around Putney at the time agreed on a similar version. But did he say anything afterwards? Were they spoken much earlier? Who knows? The only thing I can say for sure is this — Pitt did NOT ask for one of Bellamy’s veal pies.

Lord Chatham … Lord Lieutenant of Ireland?

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

“Queen’s House Feby 18th 1801

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

Uhm, what now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pitt the Younger was not a Tory

“Oh! It makes me sick to think that … they [Lord Liverpool and George Canning] must even bring discredit to his [Pitt’s] memory by attributing to him a line of conduct he never pursued. To think of Canning’s going about and saying, ‘This is the glorious system of Pitt’; and the papers echoing his words—‘This is the glorious system of Pitt!’”

(Charles Meryon, Memoirs of the Lady Hester Stanhope (London, 1845), III, 168)

Lady Hester, I salute you. You may have been barmy as a sackful of squirrels but you saw something that many of your contemporaries had lost sight of, and most historians too.

I have been recently getting quite hot under the collar about this topic (always sure to raise my blood pressure), so much so that I am contemplating getting a huge flashing neon sign pinned up on every single social network platform I frequent reading “PITT THE YOUNGER WAS NOT A TORY”.

Can I say that again? PITT THE YOUNGER WAS NOT A TORY. (Yes, I am shouting. So shoot me.)

I’m not just talking about his self-identification as an “Independent Whig” — something he declared publicly only once to my knowledge, and which was less a statement of his Whiggery (which he would have taken for granted, much as, say, I take for granted the fact that I am female) than a declaration that he was attached to no other political leader available at the time.

Perhaps historiography has moved on a little in the past ten years since I studied this academically, and I would be very grateful if anyone could pass any more recent references my way, but to my mind Jennifer Mori in William Pitt and the French Revolution, J.J. Sack in From Jacobite to Conservative and his super article “The memory of Burke and the memory of Pitt” (Historical Journal 30(3) 1987), and Michael Duffy’s biography Pitt the Younger have it covered. In sum, Pitt’s ideologies were drawn from very traditional Whig sources (unsurprisingly). Conservative (with a small “c”), yes, undoubtedly; rooted in tradition, absolutely; not very creative perhaps either—but Tory? Big T Tory? “Founder of the modern-day Conservative Party” (……..and at this point I would like to bitch-slap William Hague) Tory? No.

Even Pitt’s immediate followers struggled to fit him into the strait-jacket of party political ideals. Even in his own lifetime Pitt (during the short time he spent in opposition to Henry Addington between 1803 and 1804) drove Canning half-mental by refusing to shackle himself to a particular line of conduct, going out of his way to stay aloof to such an extent that he managed to drive off half his old political following by the time he ended up back in office. (Incidentally John Ehrman deals with this confusing period excellently in his chapter of The Younger Pitt: The Consuming Struggle entitled “The pursuit of ‘Character’”). When the old “Pittite” following was splintering and reforming itself in the 1820s Pitt’s stance on parliamentary reform, abolition of the slave trade and Catholic Emancipation (to name only the most important) allowed men who identified with him to invoke his name in support of all sorts of diametrically opposed political positions. At the annual Pitt Club dinner Pitt was toasted as the opponent of religious toleration, which I find especially ironic as Pitt’s support of the issue led to his resignation in 1801. True enough the modern-day Conservative Party traces its ancestry back to Pitt, but not directly by any means, and to say “But modern Tories come from Pitt” is like saying Gladstone was a Liberal Democrat.

So what was Pitt? The question would have astounded him. Why, he was a Whig, of course. And it wasn’t his fault that Fox’s followers were much more ideologically organised than his own were, and able to lay claim to that label far more successfully.

(And incidentally, WHY is Lord Grenville described as a “Whig” when he was MUCH more ideologically conservative than Pitt was? Is it because he was in government coalesced with the Foxites? Give me strength!)

So, are we clear? 🙂


By the way I welcome any discussion of the above points. I’m sure many of you have a very different opinion. 🙂

Very cute, John

Third post today, but why the hell not?

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

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

(PRO 30/08/122 f 137)

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

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

(PRO 30/08/122 f 142)

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

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

On a lighter note…..

……… look, a letter to William Pitt from his sister-in-law Mary, Countess of Chatham!

(PRO 30/08/122 f. 174)

Yes, yes, yes, it’s a patronage letter about her brother William, but it’s A LETTER FROM MARY. Rare as anything, these are— so much so that the cataloguer didn’t know for sure it was her (see the pencilled note on the top left of the front page, “Lady Chatham?” — but comparing the characteristic capital M and E in her letter with her signature on her marriage settlement makes me 110% certain this IS definitely her).

Those who know me, and know what a central character Mary is turning into in my novel, will know how excited I was when I found this. Not much to be drawn about her relationship with William (although she does seem to be a bit frustrated about his reluctance to give her request full attention), but it is nice to see that she starts the letter “My dear Mr Pitt” and signs off “Yrs most aff[ectionate]ly, MEC”.

More proof that Mary existed! Yay!

The Second Earl of Chatham’s marriage settlement, Bromley Archives 1080/3/1/1/26


I’ve missed the 230th anniversary of John, Second Earl of Chatham’s wedding to Mary Elizabeth Townshend by five days, but never mind. A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit Bromley Archives and check out the marriage settlement drawn up for them and signed by all parties on 5 July 1783 (the marriage took place five days later).

In a nutshell, the settlement designates various sums of money which, together, make a larger sum intended to purchase of stocks on behalf of any younger children born of the marriage. This was two sums of £1000 (an inheritance left to Mary by a relative, and a similar sum of money left to her sister Georgiana, who signed it over), to form a dowry of £2000; plus a little over £3000 expressly set aside to plump up the sum. Lucky John: that was quite a dowry, although John wasn’t allowed to touch the £2000 as it was intended to be Mary’s “pin money” and therefore belonged to her (in the words of the legal text, “for her own separate and peculiar use in the nature of pin money and exclusively of the said John Earl of Chatham who is not to interfere or intermeddle therewith nor is the same or any part thereof to be exposed subject or liable to his debts controul or interference”: get told John!).

The eldest child of the marriage, obviously, stood to inherit the £4000 pension settled by Parliament on John and his mother for four lives in memory of his father William Pitt (the Elder), First Earl of Chatham. John was second in line to receive the pension after his mother, and his eldest son (had he had one … which he didn’t) would have been third. The £4000 pension was also meant to provide for Mary’s jointure of £1000, to be paid out annually in quarterly instalments should John predecease her.

The contract (all ten whopping vellum pages of it) was signed by the bridegroom, the bride, the prospective father-in-law, and four trustees (two on the bridegroom’s side and two on the bride’s), who agreed to make sure the terms were adhered to, and basically to stop John running off with the money intended to provide for his wife and children in case of his early death. The trustees in question were John’s brother William Pitt the Younger, who had just finished a stint as Chancellor of the Exchequer and was yet to become Prime Minister; John’s first cousin Thomas Pitt, later Lord Camelford; Mary’s uncle Charles Townshend; and Mary’s cousin Thomas Brodrick.


(Above: signature and seal of Pitt the Younger as trustee of his brother’s marriage settlement)


(Above: John, Lord Chatham (bridegroom) and Thomas Townshend, Lord Sydney (the father of the bride) sign and seal the contract)


(Above: Mary Elizabeth Townshend (the bride) signs and seals the contract)

We know Mary’s father, Lord Sydney, was a wealthy man (his biographer, Andrew Tink, in Lord Sydney: the life and times of Tommy Townshend (Melbourne, 2011, p. 150). The settlement certainly bears that out. John was … less wealthy, and I imagine the £5000 sum made a sucking sound as it entered his bank account and then, instantly, left it again. :-/

I did wonder if drawing up a marriage settlement contract was, in fact, a reflection of John’s impoverished status— Lord Sydney pretty much saying “OK, you can marry my daughter, but only if you pledge to be sensible with the money I’m giving her!” I was therefore happy to find that marriage settlements were de rigeur in aristocratic families with money and property to pass on.

According to H.J. Habbakuk in “Marriage settlements in the 18th century” (Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 4th series, 32 (1950), 15), the settlement was intended to limit “the interest in the estate of the father of the husband and, after him, of the husband himself, to that of a life-tenant, and entailing the estate on the eldest son to be born of the marriage”. This is especially interesting because John’s estate is not mentioned at all in the settlement: the only thing that is mentioned is that the title is to descend down the male line, and that the £4000 pension will go with it. In 1783 John had two estates— Hayes Place, in Kent, and Burton Pynsent, in Somerset, which according to the provisions of his father’s will he held jointly with his mother. Neither estate is mentioned in the contract. Hayes and Burton came with very little land, comparatively speaking— although Burton at least had a farm, which brought in some income— but they were both mortgaged (and in the case of Hayes at least, remortgaged) to the hilt, which may be why they were not mentioned. John sold Hayes two years later in any case: perhaps he had already intended to do so in 1783, which is why it is not included in the settlement. This may also be why Sydney stipulated the enormous sum of £1000 to be set aside for Mary’s jointure.

One last interesting fact: Mary was under the age of twenty-one when she married John (her birthday was in September). The contract therefore notes that “the said Mary Elizabeth Townshend is now an Infant under the Age of Twenty one Years (that is to say) of the Age of Twenty years and upwards of the second part”. I’m not sure what I would have thought if I were referred to as an “infant”! (Not to mention the fact it makes John look like an absolute cradle-snatcher!) Sydney, by signing the contract, gave his permission for his daughter to marry even though by law she was under-age.


(Above: the parties of the marriage are named)

All in all, I passed a very pleasant morning in Bromley Archives… even though I very nearly got eaten by the document I was reading. (It took up two desks, and I am not exaggerating.)

Was John, 2nd Earl of Chatham a waste of space? (Part One)

Now, before you all jump up and shout “Yes! Next question!”, bear with me.

My friends and acquaintances will all know that I have a “Thing” (yes, with a capital T) about John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham. This “Thing” has grown and developed over the years since I found myself, somewhat to my own surprise, writing a novel about him.

Perhaps I shouldn’t need to justify my choice of him as a subject, but sometimes I feel that I do. A few months ago I bought a letter off an antiques dealer written by John in 1802. I took it to an art shop to frame. “Very nice,” the man said as he measured it up for me. “But this Earl of Chatham…. what did he do?” This is a question I get asked a lot….

I think I mentioned before that Sir Tresham Lever in “The House of Pitt” wrote John off as “stupid and useless”. Most historians agree: he’s described, variously, as “intelligent but incurably idle” (Wendy Hinde, “Castlereagh” (London, 1981) p. 117); “charming and indolent, slightly over-burdened by the weight of his illustrious name … an incompetent general and a wretched administrator” (Joan Haslip, “Lady Hester Stanhope” (London, 1987) p. 23); “amiable … [but] exhibited signs of a natural lethargy which proved incurable” (Robin Reilly, “Pitt the Younger” (London, 1978) p. 10)… etc etc etc, you get the idea. Even Ehrman, while he admits John “was not untalented” (damned by faint praise!), reports the rumours of John’s slothfulness, drunkenness, incapacity and so on (John Ehrman, “The Younger Pitt: The Reluctant Transition” (London, 1983) p. 379.

I’m not yet ready to write my full “John was not as bad as all that” tirade (hence this is Part One only); that will have to wait till I’ve gone through all my notes. I think it is certainly beyond any historian to suggest that John was not so laid back he was pretty much horizontal. Lots of emotions complicated his relationship with his younger brother William (…. and let’s face it, being an impoverished older brother thoroughly dependent on his younger brother’s influence must have been a weird enough inversion of normality) but jealousy did not feature much, if at all. John was quite happy to let William reap all the political plaudits. Whether things would have been different had John not had a younger brother I do not know, but he never spoke once in the House of Lords that I can find and probably would not have got involved in politics at all had his brother not dragged him in.

So yes, lazy he almost certainly was. And yet when he was appointed to the Cabinet in 1788, as First Lord of the Admiralty, he seems (judging from the newspapers) to have knuckled down to the task with some degree of diligence. Cabinet meetings were held at his house (…. OK, maybe an excuse to be able to roll out of bed and go straight to work); he is often reported at Admiralty Board meetings; he was one of the Commissioners appointed during the Regency Crisis to draw up and present the Regency Bill to Parliament. He was a regular attender of court functions (and it seems George III quite liked him), not just the fun ones but the business ones too. Not, perhaps, a picture of overwhelming zeal, but certainly not one of a complete slacker.

So where did it start to go wrong? Ehrman traces it to the summer of 1793, in other words around the time when the First Coalition assault on the revolutionary French in Flanders was starting to go rather wrong. Chatham’s navy received the blame (along with the Duke of Richmond’s Ordnance) for not supplying the army well enough. Chatham defended himself by pointing out the government had split its pins between Flanders and Toulon, and the navy could not be expected to defend both fronts equally well. He escaped censure on that occasion, but when the Duke of Portland and his followers came over to Pitt from the Foxite side in the summer of 1794 they seem to have made it an express condition that one of their own would take over the Admiralty. Pitt held out five months; in December 1794 he moved his brother to the responsibility-lite post of Lord Privy Seal. Portland Whig Lord Spencer took Chatham’s place at the Admiralty.

Over the summer of 1794 I have seen a number of reports and rumours about John cropping up in newspapers and diaries (Ehrman refers to them, as I noted above). Was the Admiralty as badly run as was suggested? I’m afraid I haven’t done enough research to tell you. Rumour had it that John attended to no business before noon, kept naval officers waiting, and never opened his letters. I haven’t managed to trace any of these rumours to anything concrete (the one about the not opening letters, which is reported in N.A.M. Rodger, “The Command of the Ocean” (London, 2004) p. 363, I have traced to one of Spencer’s underlings, writing thirty or more years after the event). Obviously they all come from people who were not on John’s side, although that fact in itself means very little. As for John, he had little or no doubt he had been stabbed in the back by the Portland Whigs; he feared for his reputation, and it seems he has been right to do so.

What to conclude, therefore? John was not a naval man in any case. He was a military man, and (after Richmond resigned in early 1795) the only military man in a wartime cabinet. He seems to have given plenty of advice on military topics even when it wasn’t his remit: Castlereagh, for example, wrote to John requesting advice on military matters in October 1805 (Castlereagh Correspondence vol 6 (London 1851), 19). Lord Eldon famously said John was the ablest man in the Cabinet, and although it seems this was a throwaway remark I doubt he would have said it had he not thought John at least slightly clever. It is Chatham’s main misfortune that his whole life was blighted by the Walcheren campaign, which he commanded in 1809 and which ended in utter failure. That, however, is quite another story.

I don’t think I need to say here that I do not think John was a waste of space. You’ve worked that out by now, and 400 pages of novel certainly suggests I find him interesting. What I think is most interesting about him— to answer the question asked by the art dealer who framed my John letter— is not what he *did*, but *who he was*. He was a man who had the good fortune, or perhaps the ill fortune, to be the eldest son and elder brother of two very famous, important and brilliant public figures. He must have lived his entire life in their shadow. I hope to bring him out a bit, and round out the “late Lord Chatham” (as he was nicknamed) as a personality in his own right.

And that’s enough blathering on. Humour me. As I said, I have a Thing.

Oh my heart, my heart, how he broke my heart: Pitt’s last days

Just taking five minutes from my writing day (it’s Thuuuuuuuuuuuuuursdaaaaaaaaaaay!) to blog something that’s been tugging at my mind since yesterday.

Last night, quite by accident, I discovered that Earl Stanhope’s “Miscellanies” (London, 1863) are on Google Books. (You can find the whole thing here). Reading through, I found a few letters that passed between Pitt the Younger and his physician, Sir Walter Farquhar, at the start of January 1806.

First, to put them into context and explain why they affected me so much, a little background. Pitt returned to office in May 1804, beset by parliamentary divisions. He managed to cobble together the Third Coalition against France with Austria and Russia in 1805, only to see it shattered by Napoleon on the battlefields of Ulm (October 1805) and Austerlitz (December 1805). Pitt’s health was by this time seriously failing and he had gone to Bath in mid December 1805 to take the waters. Pitt, a natural optimist, was initially confident Bath would benefit him: a letter he wrote on 21 December to Lord Harrowby, also printed in the “Miscellanies” (pp 28-9), ends with the line “I have been here for ten days, and have already felt the effect of the waters in a pretty smart fit of the gout, from which I am just recovering, and of which I expect soon to perceive the benefit.”

Eleven days later and Pitt’s tone had completely changed. Parliament was due to meet on 21 January 1806 after the recess and Pitt knew very well the opposition— at this point led in the House of Commons by Fox, and in the House of Lords by Pitt’s own cousin Lord Grenville— would strongly censure the failure of his foreign policy. He knew he had to get well enough to defend himself, and he knew he was running out of time. On 1 January 1806 he wrote the following letter to Sir Walter Farquhar, his physician. He was obviously still trying to strike his usual upbeat note, but clearly failing miserably. I’ll quote it in its entirety here:

“My dear Sir,

I have been rather gaining ground since I wrote to you last; but it has been so slowly that I cannot feel comfortable at finding myself within less than three weeks of the meeting of Parliament without being more advanced. My strength is as yet very little improved, and my appetite not at all. It is indeed only for these last five days that I have begun again on the waters, and at first so sparingly that they would scarce produce any effect. For these last two days I have taken two middle-sized glasses, which certainly seem to agree very well, though I have not felt any positive benefit, except in my sleep being better than it has been. I do not know whether I am to place to their account some gouty sensations in the bottom of the left foot, which, without being yet anything very decided, are sufficient to make me rather lame. Mr Crook [his apothecary in Bath] seems apprehensive of more gout; but if it is in the habit, I cannot but think the sooner it is brought out the better. On the whole, if I had six weeks to spare, I should have no doubt of returning to town stout enough; but, as it is, I am afraid that, unless exactly the best use is made of the short interval to the 21st, I shall hardly be equal to the labours which are then to begin; and I have therefore thought it best to trouble you with these particulars, for your further directions.

Yours very sincerely,

W. Pitt.”

(pp. 33-4)

In other words, “HELP!”

Stanhope then goes on to quote a letter from Farquhar urging Pitt to take “paregoric elixir”, which apparently he could take as often as necessary without ill effects (oh, Farquhar, Farquhar, Farquhar: it was an opiate!), and offering to come down to Bath. Pitt’s reply ends thus:

“I cannot deny that it will be a great satisfaction to me to see you, if you can come without too much inconvenience to yourself, and without creating an alarm among my friends.” (p. 35)

So doom and gloom for Pitt in the last three weeks of his life. For some reason this has knocked me for six. Perhaps it’s the knowledge that, from the time these letters were exchanged, Pitt began a steep and swift decline to his death.

I’m still upset about it today. That’s it: next time I am writing about fictional characters and not real people.

*weeps gently over keyboard*

A letter from Pitt to his brother, Kent RO CKS-U1590/S5/C25

This is one of the things I found so interesting today when I went to Maidstone for the archives. It’s a letter from William Pitt to his older brother John, Earl of Chatham, dated 12 October 1778. John was in Gibraltar at the time, having left with his regiment (the 39th) shortly after the death of his father in May. I had initially thought there was little or no correspondence during the early years between the two brothers, but it seems I was wrong, although this letter suggests why I might have got that impression.

What I find so sweet about it is that Pitt is completely aware that his letter might never get to its intended recipient, so he has this awkward air of almost talking to himself. The letter says nothing really beyond “Dear John, I miss you and want you to know that”. I find it poignant, particularly given the relationship the two of them had later in life.

To The Earl of Chatham, Gibraltar

12 October 1778, Hotel, King Street

My dear Brother,

I shall scarcely send you more at present than a single Line, which may perhaps never reach you. If it does, it will at least inform you that I am in the Land of the Living. Nothing has happen’d the least interesting since I wrote last to you, but I am afraid that very few of my Letters have yet reach’d you. I have been writing repeatedly ever since June, thinking to convey my Letters by Col. Mawhood, whose departure has been postponed from Day to Day, and I at least hear that he is not to go at all. He has made over our Letters to another Officer, by whose means, I hope you will at length receive them. At all Events, most of what those Letters contain is by this Time obsolete, besides which I have entirely forgotten most of it; so that I shall not attempt to send you Duplicates. One of my Dispatches has, I find, been intercepted by the French, having been committed to the Helena which unluckily fell in with their Fleet; and I know not how many more may share the same Fate. I left all well at Burton about a Fortnight since, and found Ld and Lady Mahon well at Hayes. I am now immediately going to Cambridge for about a Month. If I have any opportunity, you shall not fail to hear from me soon, whatever may occur.

Your most affectionate Brother, W Pitt.

[PS] I have sent the Stockings and Hats written for by Wood.


I have just got back from the Kent Library and History Centre in Maidstone, where I spent the day up to my elbows in manuscripts and as happy as the proverbial pig in the proverbial you-know-what. It was my first time in the archives in seven years and, although I did feel a teensy bit like a fraud (last time I was in an archive I was a legit research student; now, I’m… well… I guess technically I’m a novelist, but I still feel kind of odd describing myself as such given I’m not published yet). But I now have that lovely almond-crossed-with-gunpowder old-document-handling-smell on my hands and I can’t believe how much I have MISSED it.

I unearthed a few treasures, some of which I will have to share at greater length later:

1) Unexpectedly opening a folder to find|-Sir-Thomas-Lawrence-PRA staring back at me (… which I find odd as apparently it is also held in a private collection, according to the site I’ve linked to here: presumably there were several copies floating about as the one I saw was definitely in pencil and looked legit)

2) Comedy moments as I tried to decipher the first Lord Camden’s handwriting, which looked like a number of spiders caught in a pile-up on the M25

3) Finding a bundle of notes on Pitt’s household expenditures around the turn of the 19th century, in which he clearly had his mind on other things (one of them has a pencil drawing of the ground plan of a stately home on the back….)

And much, much more.

It only took on average 5 minutes to get the documents up when I ordered them, too. That’s a vast improvement on what I remember. In this respect a certain record office which will remain anonymous, but which we will refer to here as Bloucestershire Brecord Boffice, holds the record at an hour and a half per order.

Feeling quite blissed out now.