The death and funeral of John, 2nd Earl of Chatham, September-October 1835

In the evening of 3 October 1835 George Bentinck, a relative of the Duke of Portland, wrote to his mother from Westminster Abbey. The weather, he complained, “has been far from good here. It has rained every day, [and] it was very lucky I brought my umbrella”. Appended to this fascinating catalogue of adventures was a piece of news: “Lord Chatham was buried here in the Abbey to day[.] [T]here was a very great funeral and the King sent his carriage[.] [H]e is buried in the North Transept between Lord Mansfield and Mr Pitt.” (Portland MSS, Nottingham University Archives, PwM 205)

R. Ackermann, North Transept of Westminster Abbey (1809), from http://www.motco.com/index-london/imageone-a.asp?Picno=9902095

R. Ackermann, North Transept of Westminster Abbey (1809), from http://www.motco.com/index-london/imageone-a.asp?Picno=9902095

In September 1835 John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham was approaching his 79th birthday. He was the last remaining member of the Pitt family, and certainly one of the longest-lived (his mother got to 82 but neither his father nor his siblings even came close). In the summer of 1834 he had had a paralytic stroke but it seems made a reasonably full recovery. He was planning to spend the autumn, winter and spring in Brighton, as he had done nearly every year since returning from Gibraltar, and the newspapers reported in mid-September that his house was ready to receive him there.

John never made it. I’m not quite sure what happened to him exactly, but I would guess he suffered another, fatal stroke in the early hours of the morning of 24 September. His heirs, his great nephews William Stanhope Taylor and John Henry Pringle, were swiftly notified. One of the first things they had to do (apart from sort out the legal implications of John’s having completely forgotten Taylor’s name and got it wrong in his will) was to sort out John’s funeral.

John had not only been an Earl; he had also been a Knight of the Garter. As such, his rank entitled him to a grand funeral in the family vault in the north transept of Westminster Abbey. One day I will have to contact the Office of Heralds to see if they have any records on the subject, but according to precedent his funeral would have been held under the auspices of Garter King of Arms, who would have prescribed the precise order of the ceremony and also what sort of heraldic devices could be used.

The heraldic precedent for an earl’s funeral was that of the Earl of Derby in 1574. Reading over the account of the ceremony, I’m guessing John’s could theoretically have been as impressive as his heirs wanted it to be. John in life had always been very proud of his status and of his knighthood: he would, no doubt, have wanted the whole hog with the black velvet pall embroidered in escutcheons, the helmet (silver with five gold bars for an earl), crest, sword and target (crested shield), the great banner (the crest of the deceased), and the bannerolls (a square crest particularly designed for use in funerals).

Presumably he got at least some of these things, and the attendance of Garter King of Arms himself to preside. The fee to the Office of Heraldry for using all the heraldic devices required in an Earl’s funeral was £35, a not inconsiderable sum, but John’s heirs had to stump up a fair amount otherwise, as the bill for the funeral in the National Archives makes clear (PRO 30/8/370 f 152).

The bill was issued by Thomas Dowbiggin & Co (a company that made furniture for high society, with an undertaking business on the side) on 24 September 1835, so presumably Taylor and Pringle wasted no time in getting down to business. While John was not going to be buried in the same lavish fashion as his father and brother, who both received public funerals, he would be laid to rest in fine style.

The arrangements for the coffin alone were as follows:

A strong elm Coffin lined, and ruffled with rich White Satin – £7 7s 0d

A rich satin Winding Sheet – £4 18s 6d

A rich thick tufted Mattress and pillow – £2 12s 6d

A pair of silk gloves – £0 4s 0d

A strong outside leaden coffin soldered all round – £7 17s 6d

A Metal Plate of Inscription soldered on ditto – £0 7s 0d

Putting John into the coffin and soldering it closed cost just over a pound in total. Once he was in, the coffin was encased in another elm case, this time covered in crimson velvet attached with three rows of brass nails. Four pairs of “solid brass Handles with Octagon Rests” were attached to the side, and the whole was studded with “brass Coronets .., [and] Star to the order of the garter all richly gilt and burnished” [GARTER BLING!]. The decoration alone cost nearly thirty pounds. Unsurprisingly, it cost 15s just to carry the coffin downstairs.

Once the coffin was sorted, the accoutrements now had to be sorted out. At the head of the procession was a “Male Horse” (nice and specific there), covered in a velvet caparison and dressed with black ostrich feathers, and led by two grooms. John’s executors hired a velvet pall for 10s 6d, as well as more ostrich feathers (and a man to carry them, supported by two men in mourning with wands). The hearse was drawn by six horses, all also covered in velvet and ostrich feathers and attended by ten men in mourning carrying “truncheons”.

Behind the coffin was a “Velvet Chased Earl’s Coronet gilt and jewelled” with an ermine border carried on a velvet cushion, both of these presumably also hired as they only cost a total of £3 13s 6d. Of banners, bannerolls, targets etc etc there is no sign, so presumably these were skimped, but eleven official “mourners” were hired, each dressed in “ducasse” (? no idea: anyone know?) scarves and hatbands and wearing black silk gloves.

After this the list is mostly about kitting out the various officials, clergymen and porters who attended, and there must have been quite a procession. The provision of “rich silk pole covers” suggests that someone walked under a canopy, probably the Dean of Westminster, his Sub Dean, the Preceptor, the Clerk of Works, and “Mr Vincent & Mr Hayes” (I have no idea who these men were, alas). All of these men were also kitted out with “ducasse Scarves”, hatbands and gloves at the executors’ expense, as were the Chief Mourner (presumably the eldest heir, William Stanhope Taylor), “two vergers and a Beadle”. Some of the servants driving the mourning carriages in the procession also had to be kitted out, and no fewer than twenty grooms accompanied the “Royal Carriages”, presumably that of the King (William IV) mentioned by G.F. Bentinck and whatever other royals graced John’s funeral with their symbolic presence.

Behind the royal carriages were at least three empty “mourning coaches”, each drawn by four horses, also bedecked with the usual velvet and ostrich-feather combination. Two men in mourning walked beside each empty coach, carrying wands. The accompanying assemblage of porters, hearse pages, coach pages, foot pages, footmen, grooms, coachmen and postillions, all of them had to be kitted out in hatbands and gloves at the executors’ expense.

Finally came the “achievement”, in other words a hatchment designed to be attached above the door of John’s house in Charles Street (or perhaps attached over the grave in the Abbey: I’m not quite clear on where it ended up, but it could have been either of those places). I do not know where this has ended up, but it is described in the undertakers’ bill as “a Yard and half” in size, which seems to have been standard, “in double Shields supporters, Garter &c painted in Oil with Frame covered with fine black Cloth”. This, along with the “Wall Gooks, Nails &c” cost £8 8s 0d, not counting 7s for two men to fix it up.

John’s achievement would have been similar to the above, with his arms impaled with those of his wife Mary. Because Mary had died in 1821, however, both sides of the achievement would have been painted black.

Hatchment for the 4th Duke of Rutland (from http://www.bottesfordhistory.org.uk/page_id__796_path__0p1p30p45p.aspx). Like Rutland, John would have been entitled to surround his arms with a Garter. Unlike Rutland, his would have been completely black due to the fact he was a widower

Hatchment for the 4th Duke of Rutland (from http://www.bottesfordhistory.org.uk/page_id__796_path__0p1p30p45p.aspx). Like Rutland, John would have been entitled to surround his arms with a Garter. Unlike Rutland, his would have been completely black due to the fact he was a widower

After this the estate had to cover a number of additional expenses. “Fees to the Abbey” (presumably to all the officials, and for closing off the whole building and Abbey yard) came in at a whopping £130 17s 2d, nearly as much as the procession by itself. Masons were paid £4 13s 5d, and the royal servants received a tip of £3, while other servants received 9s. Carriage duty and “expenses for Men &c”, as well as a mysterious “Searcher”, made up the remainder. No fees were paid to any heralds or heraldry officers, so I am guessing Garter King of Arms did not directly attend.

The grand total for the whole funeral was £348 19s 7d, not counting £2 13s 5d for “removing [the] Marble Ledger … &c from the Family Vault”, relaying it, repairing the vault and “making good paving” (bill dated 3 October 1825, PRO 30/8/370 f 156).

I think John would have approved … although I also think he might have liked a surcoat or two. 😉


For further reading, you could do worse than to visit my friend Stephenie Woolterton’s webpage, where she discusses the funerals of John, Lord Chatham’s father and younger sister Harriot. (Please have a snoop at the rest of her excellent site, of course!)

Some sources used in putting up this blog post:

Chatham Papers, National Archives PRO 30/8/370 ff 152, 156

Portland MSS, Nottingham University Archives, PwM 205

William Berry, Encyclopaedia heraldica; or, a complete dictionary of heraldry (London, 1828)

James Parker, A glossary of terms used in heraldry (London, 1894)

Insight into John’s later years (Part 1)

John, Earl of Chatham is fast becoming my Best Research Buddy (BRB for short— and who’m I kidding? Let’s just call him John from here on in for concision’s sake. John, blog readers; blog readers, John. Excellent, now we can move on :-D).

The problem is John is one of the Invisible Men in history, unless, as you may have noticed, he is being laughed at/scorned/denigrated/otherwise-middle-finger-saluted by historians. Students of Pitt the Younger may spot him hanging around in a rather embarrassed fashion on the fringes, making the occasional appearance in correspondence, at cabinet meetings, or in Pitt’s private life. Military historians will remember his record at Walcheren in 1809 (STILL not ready to write that post, so just read this for now and then forget you ever heard of it). But otherwise nobody knows who he is, really, and he almost completely drops off the radar in 1810. This isn’t exactly surprising (I suspect John kept his head down as much as possible after Walcheren) but, given he survived until 1835, that’s 25 years unaccounted for— more than the 22 he spent in public office.

I’ve been trying to work out what happened to John after 1810. Not for my novel, obviously— a book about the relationship between John and his brother William naturally comes to a close somewhere around, ooh, say, 23 January 1806— but just for curiosity’s sake. My research is still very much a work in progress, and I suspect not much will come of it until I’ve finished my novel, but I’ve found a few interesting things so far.

The years 1810-20 are still something of a haze to me, so let’s start in 1820. In January of that year John was appointed Governor of Gibraltar. He didn’t go out for a good long while, though. I can’t be sure why, but it probably has something to do with his wife. Mary, Countess of Chatham was approaching the end of her life at this stage; according to her obituary in the Gentleman’s Magazine (1821, p. 565) she “had been indisposed nearly two years” prior to her death, so presumably she was suffering from cancer or some other gradually debilitating disease. At the end of April 1821 the newspapers rumoured that John was about to undertake his official duties at last (Times, 30 April 1821), but by the beginning of May John was still in London and still appearing at public functions (for example the King’s birthday dinner on the third). Mary died on 20 May, and although there were rumours that John was about to go out to Gibraltar he did not actually arrive until November 1821.

What he did there I couldn’t tell you now, although I suspect that, too, will be a research object in the future. He stayed in Gibraltar until July 1825. At the beginning of that month he landed back in England “on leave of absence” (Times, 1 July 1825). By the fourth he was in London and the King wrote to him inviting him to attend a “dress ball” at St James’s Palace that evening (PRO 30/70/6 f 420).

Even if the nearly sixty-nine year old John had managed to recover from his journey in such a short time, I doubt whether he was in any condition to attend that ball. I have a suspicion, in fact, that ill health influenced his decision to leave Gibraltar in the first place. John was treated at home by an apothecary on four occasions from 11 to 14 July for fever (PRO 30/8/370 f. 63). His health doesn’t seem to have recovered for a while, either. A good friend and I recently visited Berry Brothers & Rudd, the wine merchants in St James’s, London, where rich and famous customers came throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to be weighed on the enormous coffee scales there. We discovered that John was weighed there on 29 September 1821, just before setting out for Gibraltar. His weight then was 11st 13.5lb, comfortably within a healthy BMI range for a 65-year-old tallish man. On 3 August 1825 it was 9st 10.5 lb, fully clothed and with boots. He was weighed a further four times over the next six months so clearly seems to have been keeping an eye on his weight. By November he seems to have fully recovered— his weight plateaued at about 10st 13lb, and he was well enough to go shooting with friends (Times, 7 November 1825). At the end of 1829 the Times reported categorically that his ill health would prevent him going out again and, although he was occasionally sighted thereafter transacting official business at the Colonial Office, he did not return to Gibraltar (Times, 18 June 1828, 15 January and 20 August 1829).

After that he really does almost completely disappear from the radar. In August 1830 it seems he came so close to death he started to panic about what would happen to his title and estate (more on this later). He was not yet at the end of his life, but clearly had a shock: he took out at least two life insurance policies (……one of which he may or may not have ever actually paid for…) and set about drawing up his will, naming his great nephews William Stanhope Taylor (grandson of his sister Hester) and John Henry Pringle (grandson of his sister Harriot) as joint beneficiaries and executors. In classic John style he got at least one of the names wrong in the official paperwork, which led to a comparatively lengthy period of legal discussion after his death as his heirs patiently tried to explain to the authorities that “Thomas William Taylor” did not in fact exist (the will is available to download from the National Archives, PROB 11/1852).

Although it looks like his health never did fully recover, he still managed to find time for court duties. The latest I have seen him appear in public was at a function for military gentlemen held in Brighton on 13 January 1835. He died on 24 September 1835 at his house in Charles Street, and was buried towards the end of October. I have no idea how much in debt he was but according to the Times of 10 November “all claims on the estate were paid immediately subsequent to the funeral”. How Messrs Taylor and Pringle managed this minor miracle I could not tell you, but in the National Archives there is a catalogue of an auction selling the late Earl of Chatham’s belongings at Christie’s, 16 May 1836 (PRO 30/8/370 f 147). Everything appears to have been sold, from the contents of Chatham’s cellar to the servants’ bedlinen. The leasehold of the house itself— mortgaged from the Dowager Countess of Suffield— was sold for £3000 (PRO 30/7/370 f 137).

John was, of course, long beyond caring by then. He got an earl’s funeral in the family vault at Westminster Abbey, where he joined his father, mother, brother William, sister Harriot and wife. His father and brother got public funerals, but John’s must have also been quite impressive. He was buried in a “strong elm” coffin lined in white satin, enclosed in soldered lead and an outer coffin, also made of elm, studded with brass nails and “richly gilt and burnished” earl’s coronets and garter stars. The funeral train included all the accoutrements of a medieval earl’s funeral, three mourning coaches, “a caparisoned horse” and a hearse drawn by six horses (PRO 30/8/370 f 152). But with that final burst of glory John subsided into obscurity.

Apologies for the gush fest, but I have a very definite feeling that I am the first person since, ooh, 1835, to have looked at half these documents. I feel kind of privileged. 😉