With family like this…

There’s one thing that has bothered me for some time, and now is the time to blog about it because yesterday I made a discovery.

I have always had a strong feeling that Lady Hester Stanhope disliked her older uncle. She certainly didn’t have much time for him at the end of her life (read her Memoirs, as transcribed by Dr Meryon… “he was a man of no merit, but of great luck”: II, 76, to give only a short example). Until yesterday though the only thing I had found her saying about him prior to her leaving England for good was a comment about his nose being long, which at the time made me laugh.

Yesterday, though, I went to the British Library to check out the Dacres Adams papers. These were papers collected by Pitt the Younger’s last secretary, William Dacres Adams, from Walmer Castle after Pitt’s death, and kept in his family until recently. A couple of years ago the papers were sold and they ended up at the BL. It’s a mixed bag and quite a lot of it involves Adams’ correspondence with friends and family. Adams was very friendly with Lady Hester Stanhope and her brothers James and Charles, all of whom pretty much lived with Pitt in his last years.

After Pitt died Lady Hester was left homeless. She had fled her republican father Earl Stanhope and obviously couldn’t go back to him. The obvious person to take her in would have been her remaining uncle, John, Earl of Chatham, and the fact that he did not do so rankled. Only a few days after Pitt’s death, possibly 26 January 1806, Lady Hester wrote to Adams and referred to John’s failure to assist in scathing terms:

“[Charles] together with James [have paid a] visit to Ld C[hatham] which I deem quite improper, as we all despise him, & therefore ought not to toady him, or put any sort of confidence in him. Had his protection been thought advantageous, we s[houl]d have been recommended to his care” (BL Add MS 89036/2/1 f 10)

Wow, “despise”— that’s a strong word! Nor did she forget Chatham’s failure to rise to his duties as uncle. When her brother Charles was killed in action at Coruna in 1809, John wrote his niece a letter of condolence. Her response must have made him wish he hadn’t bothered: “I feel your kind attentions at this unhappy moment as much as I felt your neglect of me under similar affecting circumstances” (quoted in Tresham Lever, The House of Pitt (1947), p. 338). Ooookay.

And clearly Lady Hester was not the only one of the Stanhope brood to feel this way. Perhaps naturally, her brothers too felt John could have done more for their sister. Charles it seems had spent some time in John’s household when he had first joined the army, learning the trade as it were, and I haven’t found any direct evidence of his disliking John, but as for James… In 1807 he made a visit to Burton Pynsent, formerly the Somerset home of William Pitt the Elder and sold by John after his mother’s death in 1803. James wrote an epigram comparing John with his younger brother and sent it to Adams:

“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 country’s weal

The former Burton learnt to spoil

To shuffle, cut, and deal.”

(Add MS 89036/2/4 f 101)

On John’s behalf I say “OUCH”, not only because, well, *ouch* but because James was being rather unfair. I’ve no idea how far John’s gambling debts influenced the decision to get rid of Burton Pynsent (as Basil Williams, biographer of Pitt the Elder, concluded, using as his source this interview with William Beckford printed in the New Monthly Magazine of 1844, vol 71, 302). James certainly seems to believe this had a role. Maybe it did, although if John was a notorious gambler this is all I’ve heard on the subject. What I do know was that Burton Pynsent was mortgaged to the hilt when John inherited it in 1778, and (along with Hayes Place, also remortgaged at least once by Pitt the Elder) never really managed to be anything but a massive drain on Pitt funds. I think it would be uncharitable to conclude that John couldn’t wait to get his hands on the money for it. No denying he was a spendthrift (it was in the genes!), but the “fortune” he inherited from his father was far from being the amazing thing James obviously assumed it was.

And that brings me to a major point in John’s defence. Lady Hester Stanhope clearly never forgave him for his snub after Pitt’s death. Maybe he should have at least asked her to stay with him for a bit. But do you want to know why I think he didn’t? (Apart from the obvious grief at having just lost his brother?) Because John’s wife Mary was very ill. The Bishop of Lincoln wrote to his wife a week after Pitt’s death: “Lady Chatham is seriously ill; she has fretted herself with a delirious Fever; & Vaughan & Farquhar attend her.” (Ipswich Pretyman MSS HA119/T99/26, 31 January 1806) It’s clear from correspondence surrounding the arrangements for Pitt’s funeral that Mary was not considered out of danger until mid-February. Under those circumstances, maybe Hester might have been a bit more understanding…

 

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The “Late” Lord Chatham at the Admiralty, 1794

It’s no secret that John was— how shall I put it— not the most punctual of people, and he quite liked the easy life. I certainly haven’t found much to dispute this, although I have found numerous occasions on which he attended public events before eleven o’clock in the morning, so clearly he wasn’t utterly incapable of it. 😉 But John was NOT a morning person, and… well… his nickname of the “Late” Lord Chatham was not entirely undeserved.

This nickname was first applied, I believe, after he was demoted from the Admiralty in December 1794. Sir Nathaniel Wraxall in his Memoirs (obviously completely accurate, of course………) recalled (in the late 1830s) that he was referred to as “the late First Lord of the Admiralty” (Posthumous Memoirs III, 130). It stuck even more after Walcheren, although I admit I have not seen any contemporary references to it before then.

But by the end of 1793 John’s public reputation was in tatters. Perhaps as a result of the failure of the allied coalition expedition to Dunkirk, for which John was partially blamed, nobody seemed to think he was able to do his job properly. Sir Gilbert Elliot (Life and Letters II, 160) reported on 11 September 1793, “The opinion of Lord Chatham’s insufficiency in his office is quite universal; although I know how totally inconclusive even the most general rumours are, yet I can hardly disbelieve all I hear on that point.” I have blogged elsewhere about how Michael Duffy in his article on the Dunkirk campaign considered Chatham less to blame than has been thought, but by December 1794 John was effectively dead weight. George Canning wrote regarding his dismissal in early 1795: “There was much discussion [in the House of Commons] … upon Lord Chatham’s conduct as first Lord of the Admiralty— from which discussion his character and conduct appeared to come out more clear and even praiseworthy than I, though a friend of Government, could have hoped or imagined. It is however a good thing after all that he is gone— for the voice of the publick was against him, and that is reason enough” (Jupp, Letter Journal of George Canning, 7 January 1795, p 182)

There were certainly plenty of rumours about John’s general conduct. Rumour whispered that he never got up until noon, or later (although Sir Joseph Farington, in his journal, heard from John’s colleague and neighbour Admiral Gardner that John was generally at work by half past eleven: Farington I, 64, 19 July 1794). He was supposedly addicted to partying and (again according to Elliot, quoted in Ehrman’s Younger Pitt volume 2, 379) “said to get drunk every evening”.

When I was at the National Archives on Saturday, one thing I desperately wanted to do was check out John’s attendance record as First Lord of the Admiralty on the Admiralty Board. I’d read in Duffy’s article that it wasn’t as bad as reported, being somewhere above 50% in the summer of 1793 when Dunkirk was at its height. I only managed to get hold of the records for 1794, and had to skip the second half of April and all of May because I was kicked out at the end of the day, but I carefully noted down all occasions John attended the Admiralty Board from 2 January until his last appearance after his sacking on 15 December.

The end result pretty much bears out Duffy’s conclusions. John turned up to 54.5% of all Admiralty Board meetings between Monday 2 January and Monday 15 December, 145 days out of a possible total of 266. He attended several Sundays, and attended several special Boards held at Portsmouth during the King and Queen’s visit there to commemorate the battle of the Glorious First of June. He had a big chunk out in August and September— he did not attend at all between 26 August and 29 September— but I’m guessing that was his annual “Let’s torture small birds and furry animals” holiday, and in any case I have found evidence he was quite ill for some of the time. (He also regularly sent letters in as he is still mentioned in the minutes, even though absent.)

My conclusion? Well, he could have spent most of these meetings with his feet on the table staring at the gorgeous wooden Board Room ceiling, but he still managed to pull his weight. The only person who seems to have attended more was Sir Charles Middleton, who was at every single sodding board meeting from May onwards (was the man never ill?!). There was also one Admiral (Affleck) who somehow managed to attend both the London and the Portsmouth board meetings during the King and Queen’s Portsmouth visit. But John was definitely visible. To judge from the minutes he pitched in occasionally (usually to communicate messages from the King, or Secretary of State).

So not a constant attender, but making a good effort. As a cabinet minister he had other duties, and as a courtier he would also have been required to attend official functions, which may account for some of the absences. But apart from the big September absence there are no huge acres of time off. He did have holidays, but he took them in smallish bites.

I guess this sort of thing only tells you so much … but it’s food for thought.

Oh dear John, part the zillionth

“There is to be a meeting at my house tomorrow Evening at 9 OClock precisely, and I hope your Lordship will be able to attend it”

(Spencer Perceval to John, Earl of Chatham, undated [January 1810], PRO 30/8/368 f 137)

From the emphasis on “precisely” I draw further confirmation that John’s reputation as the “Late” Lord Chatham was not entirely undeserved. 😉

Oh dear, John (episode 2)

I’m trying to rescue the reputation of the Second Earl of Chatham here, and he’s NOT HELPING.

From the correspondence of Edward Wilson to the Dowager Countess of Chatham, PRO 30/8/67 f 193, 7 June 1791:

“I never saw a fuller Court [it was the King’s official birthday celebrations] … I staid longer than usual for the sake of bringing Mrs Wilson an account of our Blue Ribbon [John, Earl of Chatham, a Knight of the Garter since December 1790]. His Lordship did not exhibit it till near half after four; Lady Chatham had been there full an hour before, but he came at last & I did not think he look’d amiss in it”.

Half past four?!

Half past four o’clock in the afternoon?!?!?

*facepalm*