*Falls off chair*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sticking up for John again

You may recall my post a while ago about my horror at reading Richard Glover’s fulminations against the second Lord Chatham in “Peninsular Preparation”. “Relatively very few documents attributable to [Chatham] are to be found in the Chatham Papers, or elsewhere,” Glover wrote, “and it is surely significant that among them lies a trim little notebook containing lists of garden flowers written in an admirably neat italic printing hand. This suggests where his real interests lay” (Peninsular Preparation, p 39) The flower book story even gets into the latest book on Walcheren, by Martin R. Howard (Walcheren 1809, 2012).

Embarrassingly trivial, yet kind of cute, huh? I was in the National Archives today, so decided to call that little book up.

(Garden Book, from PRO 30/8/370/51)


I am NOT happy with Richard Glover. John has been traduced. AGAIN.

Who knows what the book of flowers is all about, but one thing is for sure: IT NEVER BELONGED TO JOHN.

How do I know this?

Take a look at this page:

Anything in particular leap out at you? I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t spot it— it took me a moment. Here’s a clue:

King William the 4th came to the throne in 1830, Victoria in 1837. John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham died in 1835, so could never have owned a book about flowers with names like Queen Victoria.

Even supposing the name referred to another Queen Victoria (I suppose there could have been another Queen of that name on the continent), the notebook has a calendar on the inside of the cover. The calendar has no date, but lists Easter Sunday as falling on 26 March.

According to this website , Easter Sunday fell on 26 March during John’s lifetime in 1758, 1769, 1780, 1815, and 1826. We can safely discount the first three of those. 1815 is I suppose a possibility, as is 1826, but neither of them allows for the presence of a flower named after William IV. That leaves the final possibility: that the book was printed for 1837, the last year before 1967 that Easter Sunday fell on 26 March. This would certainly make it possible to name a flower after Queen Victoria, who came to the throne in 1837.

But if the book was printed for 1837 (presumably in 1836), Chatham was already dead. So he couldn’t have owned the book. And even if the flowers refer to the contents of the garden of his house at Berkeley Square, which is likely given the book is tucked up with a bundle of receipts, house inventories and life insurance documents, he never compiled it.

So much for this one of Glover’s reasons why Chatham was a useless waste of oxygen. Makes a nice story, but ultimately it’s a lie, and poor John comes out looking like an idiot again.

Can you tell I am very, very cross?

An extract from Richard Glover’s “Peninsular Preparation”

“The decline of the [Board of] Ordnance, which began under Cornwallis, continued unabated under his deplorable successor, John, the second Earl of Chatham. Fortescue has well and truly said that, when he chose, Chatham could both think and write. Unfortunately, however, he very rarely made this exacting choice, and in sheer laziness he eclipsed even [William] Windham [Pitt’s Secretary at War in the 1790s]. Any reader of Castlereagh’s military correspondence must be struck by the frequency with which Chatham is to be found at his country home when he ought to have been in London. Relatively few documents attributable to him are to be found in the Chatham Papers, or elsewhere, in the Public Record Office; and it is surely significant that among them lies a trim little notebook containing lists of garden flowers written in an admirably neat italic printing hand. This suggests where his real interests lay … Yet in spite of his lack of interest in the duties of his office, Chatham did his country the disservice of clinging like a limpet to [the Ordnance] from May 1801 to 1810, with only the break of the eighteen months when the Ministry of All the Talents was in power”.

(Richard Glover, Peninsular Preparation, 1963, p. 39)

Jeeeeeeeeeeez. To quote Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Where do I begin with the bad?”

It certainly had me snorting at certain moments— “he very rarely made this exacting choice”, “clinging like a limpet” in particular— but at base, there’s little evidence here to make such sweeping statements about Chatham’s uselessness. I was kind of hoping there might be more examples to work with, so that I could at least say “OK, fair enough”, but now I’m just left thinking, “Bleagh, poor John.”

And the lack of evidence is, at least in this instance, not overwhelming proof. I agree there are few of John’s papers anywhere; I haven’t had the opportunity to go to Michigan to see those at the Clements Library, nor have I managed to get to Manchester to see the ones held there. The National Archives (as the PRO is now called) is disappointing, but I really get the impression that John’s papers were either destroyed by his executors, who cared more about his father and brother, or they were destroyed by John himself (and let’s face it, he had 25 years of kicking his heels in the political wilderness to sort through his papers).

(Although I am soooo going to look up that gardening notebook next week when I’m at the National Archives. 😉 )

So what a value judgment: and the only concrete evidence for it is from the Castlereagh Papers, where he ought to have been in London but was at his country estate!

I confess I have not read Castlereagh’s correspondence cover to cover, but I have consulted them. Chatham doesn’t appear a great deal (except on the volumes covering Walcheren, obviously). I presume that Glover is mainly talking about the instance also cited by Wendy Hinde in her biography of Castlereagh (London, 1981, p. 119): after describing Chatham as “incurably idle” she relates how he “preferred to remain in the country potting pheasants” rather than come to town for a cabinet in October 1805 to discuss reeling Prussia into the Third Coalition. She continues: “Chatham’s irresponsibility is scarcely more surprising than Castlereagh’s polite—or philosophical—acceptance of it”, thereby implying that this sort of thing happened all the time, ho ho ho, it’s the Late Lord Chatham again, oh well, never mind.

Shall we take a look at this letter in the Castlereagh Correspondence? It’s from Volume 6, p. 19, dated 16 October 1805. I quote it in full:

“My dear Lord,

Colonel Hadden communicated to me this morning your kind offer to come up to town in the course of next week, if there was anything of importance. Things are grown so interesting, that I trust you will forgive me for availing myself of your proposal; and if you could appropriate Sunday to the journey, you would, without wasting a sporting day, catch your brother before his return to Walmer on Monday. I send you by the messenger the outline of our immediate measures, which has been approved by the King, and will be executed without delay. But this subject connects itself so much with the state of the Continent, and the general scheme of our future military views, that I feel extremely desirous of having a full conversation with you upon the whole of this interesting subject.

Believe me &c., Castlereagh.”

What leaps out at me from this immediately is:

1) John is not the only member of the Cabinet currently on holiday (Pitt is “RETURNING” to Walmer, so obviously has also come up for a debrief)

2) John had asked for permission to go (“your kind offer to come up to town in the course of next week, if there was anything of importance”: translates as “I’m off, but if you need me I’ll come back”)

3) Whether this was flattery or not I couldn’t say, but Castlereagh seems to imply he wants Chatham’s views as a military man rather than those as a cabint minister. No mention of ordnance, for example.

I certainly see nothing in the above to justify Glover’s character assassination of Lord Chatham, and I think Hinde was also writing with that good ol’ 20/20 historical hindsight.

After all, people will see what they want to see in anything. (And of course I guess this applies to me too, so I will take my own fulminations with a pinch of salt 😉 )

Ironically the book from which I took the reference to the Glover paragraph quoted above was much nicer to Chatham. I really thought that by following the reference I might find some concrete evidence of Chatham’s incapability … but I am once again disappointed. (And maybe a little relieved too!)

Edited to add:

WHAT country home? In 1805? :-/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, John, John, John… *shakes head*

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

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

(Public Advertiser, 5 October 1791)

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

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

If only it was a one off…

(Star, 16 October 1792)

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

And it’s not even a two-off:

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

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

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

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

Oh dear, John. *tuts*

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.