10 October 1756: birth of John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham

YES, 10 October. Yes. YES. No, it’s not a typo. Yes, I realise I am flying in the face of all other published sources, except Wikipedia (and there’s a good reason for that).

John, 2nd Earl of Chatham, in John Singleton Copley's "The Death of the Earl of Chatham" (1779)

John, 2nd Earl of Chatham, in John Singleton Copley’s “The Death of the Earl of Chatham” (1779)

Most people, when writing about someone less visible in the historical record, are at least able to say “Well, at least I know when he/she was born/died!” Unfortunately, my biography of the 2nd Earl of Chatham pretty much opens with a page-long footnote explaining why I have plumped for 10 October 1756 as his date of birth, and not the usually-recorded 9 October. (Some sources say 10 September, but, to misquote Monty Python, that’s right out.)

As far as I can see, there is one main reason why the sources focus on 9 October as Chatham’s birthday. It is a letter written by Pitt the Elder to Pitt the Younger on 9 October 1773, which opens with the following lines: “Thursday’s post brought us no letter from the dear traveller [Pitt was on his way to Cambridge]: we trust this day will prove more satisfactory. It is the happy day that gave us your brother…” [Chatham Correspondence IV, 290]

William Pitt the Elder by William Hoare

William Pitt the Elder by William Hoare

Well, that’s clear, isn’t it? Pitt the Elder should have known the date of birth of his own son, no?

Except we find Pitt the Elder writing to his brother-in-law, George Grenville, on 10 October 1756: “Dear Grenville, Lady Hester is as well as can be in her situation, after being delivered of a son this morning.” [Grenville Papers I, 173]

And also to his nephew, Thomas Pitt, later Lord Camelford, also on 10 October 1756: “Lady Hester was safely delivered this morning of a son.” [Letters written by Lord Chatham to his nephew Thomas Pitt (1804), p. 97]

Not to mention the fact that Chatham’s baptismal record in the parish register, entered on 7 November 1756, notes his date of birth as 10 October.

John, 2nd Earl of Chatham's baptismal record, Hayes, Kent

John, 2nd Earl of Chatham’s baptismal record, Hayes, Kent

So what happened? Why the discrepancy? I suppose the most likely possibility is that everything went so quickly (and Chatham’s birth was, apparently, very quick) that nobody troubled to take accurate note of his time of birth. Maybe the clocks in the room were fast. Maybe the midwife (or man midwife, as Chatham was delivered by William Hunter) made a mistake.

Clearly the family celebrated Chatham’s birthday on 9 October, although there could have been other reasons for this. In 1773, 10 October fell on a Sunday: possibly the family decided to celebrate a day early for that reason. I personally think this unlikely, however, as Pitt the Elder specifically says “THIS is the happy day that gave us your brother”. He could have misdated his letter, but this is unlikely, particularly as his son William replied a few days later making reference to “the rejoicings on the happy ninth of October”.

It seems most likely, therefore, that the family for some reason changed their minds about Chatham’s birthday and started celebrating it on 9 October. But he would not be the only 18th century figure surrounded with such confusion — the Duke of Wellington’s precise birthdate, for example, is also disputed.

This doesn’t make my task as biographer any easier, but I’ve plumped for 10 October rather than 9 October because Chatham’s baptismal record suggests that date. The entry was added on 7 November, nearly a full month after Chatham’s birth, so it seems most likely to me that any changes of mind occurred some time after his birth. I’ve therefore gone with the on-the-spot account, and shaved a day off the 2nd Lord Chatham’s age.

You may disagree with me, but I’m sticking to my guns.

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“Thank God all is well over”: family reactions to Pitt’s duel, May 1798

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Whitsunday, 27 May 1798. Four men arrive on Putney Heath in hackney carriages. Their meeting is supposed to be secret, but somehow word has got out and a small crowd is already gathering.

The crowds watch as two of the men choose pistols and take their places opposite each other. One of the other gentlemen raises his hand; the other holds the pistol case and chews a thumbnail.

On the first man’s signal the two antagonists fire without effect. After a short deliberation the process is repeated, the taller of the two duellists firing into the air. This time everyone seems satisfied, and the party return to their respective vehicles.

The duellists were none other than the Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger, and the leader of the parliamentary opposition, George Tierney (Charles James Fox had seceded from Parliament more or less completely in 1797, and would not return until 1800). Pitt had accused Tierney of a deliberate attempt to obstruct the defence of the country during a debate on an emergency bill to secure additional manpower for the Navy; Tierney had demanded an apology, Pitt refused to back down, and the next day Tierney had issued his challenge.

The country was either fascinated or horrified (and possibly a combination of both) at the prospect of the wartime prime minister putting himself deliberately in harm’s way. William Wilberforce, Pitt’s friend, was doubly incensed by the duel’s taking place on a Sunday, and actually gave notice of a motion on duelling in the House of Commons (he later withdrew it on Pitt’s insistence). Wilberforce said “he had felt more solicitude upon it [the duel] than upon almost any other occasion”.[1]

But how did Pitt’s family react to the duel? Pitt’s brother, Lord Chatham, almost certainly disapproved of his brother making a fool of himself, but if he did he kept his opinion to himself. All we know is that Chatham told Henry Addington, the Speaker, that he had been right not to try and stop the duel taking place: “Lord Chatham remarked that I [Addington] could not have taken any step so injurious to his family … my interfering would have looked too much like collusion”.[2]

Henry Addington, 1st Viscount Sidmouth as Speaker of the House of Commons

Henry Addington, 1st Viscount Sidmouth as Speaker of the House of Commons

It’s clear from a letter from the King to Pitt, however, that Chatham had (probably quite cheerfully) passed on a stern royal message on the subject of duelling with members of the opposition. “I certainly said nothing to Lord Chatham but what my mind dictated, and I trust what has happened will never be repeated,” the King wrote on 30 May. “… Public characters have no right to weigh alone what they owe to themselves; they must consider also what is due to their country.”[3]

As for Pitt’s elderly mother, aged 77 and not in the best health, I can’t imagine how she must have felt on receiving the following letter from Pitt written on 28 May (Pitt’s 39th birthday):

You will be glad, I know, to hear from myself on a subject in which I know how much you will feel interested, and I am very happy that I have nothing to tell that is not perfectly agreeable. The newspapers of to-day contain a short but correct account of a meeting which I found it necessary to have with Mr Tierney yesterday, on Putney Heath, in consequence of some words which I had used in the House of Commons, and which I did not think it became me to retract or explain. The business terminated without anything unpleasant to either party, and in a way which left me perfectly satisfied both with myself and my antagonist, who behaved with great propriety. You will, I know, hear from my brother on the subject, but I could not be contented without sending these few lines from myself.[4]

In fact Chatham had already written to the Dowager Countess. He did so on Sunday night, so on the 27th, immediately after the duel, so Pitt was a day behind: his letter was old news. Perhaps he had counted on this to an extent, but he must have wondered what his brother said.

Judging from the following letter from Chatham’s wife Mary to the Dowager Countess’s companion, Mrs Stapleton, the Chatham household was all in a flap:

My Dear Mrs S.,

Not knowing that L[ord] C[hatham] had sent to dear L[ad]y C[hatham] by the Mail Sunday night, I would not, for fear by chance, any Letter should have been opened first, say any thing of what had passed. Thank God all is well over, I knew nothing of it till it was so, & the shock it would be to our dearest Dear friend, was my very first thought. I never wrote a more uncomfortable Letter in my life to you than I did yesterday. I did not dare touch upon what was uppermost in my thoughts, & every other subject appeared so trifling. We all say there must be an Embargo laid upon his ever venturing such a thing again. The lower people all say that the King might as well fight as Mr Pitt. Report says that Sheridan is very angry with Tierney on the subject. But what is more important to me is dear Lady Chathams health, send me one line to let me know how she has borne this business. I heard the King tell Lord Chatham from one card table to another last night that Mr Wilson [Dean of Windsor and Pitt and Chatham’s former tutor] who had just come from Burton gave a good account of her, adding how much pleased he was at knowing that she was just now well enough to bear this excitement.[5]

Mary, Countess of Chatham (ca 1800) by Charles Rosenburg of Bath; in the possession of Ron Mills

Mary, Countess of Chatham (ca 1800) by Charles Rosenburg

Oh to be a fly on the wall at that royal card-playing session… Or indeed a fly on the wall when Chatham told Mary about his brother’s duel.

“Good evening, dear. Had a good day?”

“Uhm. Not really. Er. My brother fought a duel with Mr Tierney.”

“Oh dear, that’s — wait. What?”

_________________

References

[1] Express and Evening Chronicle, 31 May 1798

[2] George Pellew, Life of Lord Sidmouth I, 205

[3] Lord Stanhope, Life of Pitt III, appendix XIV

[4] Lord Stanhope, Life of Pitt III, 132

[5] National Army Museum Combermere MSS 8408-114

They’re real people, you know…

I write about real people. I know, I know, every author writes about “real people”, in that fictional characters come alive on the page of the book they inhabit, but I write about real people. The main characters of The Long Shadow, William Pitt the Younger and his elder brother John, Earl of Chatham, really existed. And for some reason, whenever I find proof that they did so, I am amazed, and I still have no idea why.

Two hundred years or so ago my characters lived and breathed on the earth. They spoke the words that were recorded by journalists and diarists; they wrote the letters I have read in the archives; they lived in the houses I have visited. They went to sleep at night, got up in the mornings (…. or more probably early afternoon, in the case of my boy Chatham), ate huge meals, wore sumptuous clothes, walked the streets of London, relieved themselves, caught the common cold, laughed, and cried, and, well … lived.

I already know this, because I’ve read about it, and yet there is still a sort of dislocation in my head that makes me unable fully to grasp the fact my characters were both real and human.

johnprintWlmPittYngr

^^^ Real people ^^^

A few months ago I made a discovery, quite by accident.* I found this record on the finds.org.uk site, dedicated to recording archaeological finds of historical significance in the UK. I’ve blogged about it before, but I’ll talk about it again.

Why did this find stagger me so much? Because this, dear reader, is John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham’s personal seal. The one he affixed to private correspondence. And it dropped from his watch fob, probably sometime between 1783 and 1790, while he was visiting his mother at her Somerset house of Burton Pynsent, where it was found in 2006 — not, alas, by me, although every time I’ve been back there I’ve kept my eyes peeled in case, you know, he did it twice.

johnseal

Think about it. I knew Burton Pynsent belonged to the Pitt family; I knew the 2nd Lord Chatham would have gone there many times. But here is concrete evidence that he was there, in person: that he was capable of losing things, just like anybody else. I imagine he was pretty annoyed when he found out he had lost it, too. It’s like a glimpse into a timewarp, just a blink of a moment in which the walls of time and space come crashing down.

I’ve had the same feeling so many times while researching John Chatham in particular. I think it’s because he’s virtually invisible in the history books, so to find any evidence of his physical existence is doubly disorientating. Remember my visit to Abington Hall, near Cambridge, which he rented from 1816 to 1821 (possibly longer)? It’s now the headquarters of The Welding Institute (TWI) and the estate changed beyond recognition, covered with prefab offices, storerooms and laboratories, but walking through it was like being haunted by the past.

Perhaps it was because John’s time there was hardly happy, but visiting a house where he actually lived affected me a great deal. There’s not much of “his” house left, but with assistance I was able to piece John’s Abington together. TWI’s records officer showed me the remains of a bridge over Chatham’s stream, the last remnant of his walled garden, the location of his stables, and the double line of lime trees leading to the London road that would have been his drive.

20140602_110853

Chatham, moreover, left his mark. The house’s ground floor still has a flavour of John’s grand early-19th century reception rooms, and the outside still bears the peeling whitewash “inflicted on it by your boy” (as the records officer informed me, accusingly). The welders may have moved in, but I felt almost as though I could reach out through the centuries and brush Chatham’s sleeve with my fingers.

Sometimes, of course, the frisson I get from such a connection comes with a sense of embarrassment. I have often been reminded, while consulting the archives, that I am, essentially, reading someone’s private correspondence. I’m sure Pitt the Elder would have been horrified to know I would read the following line, written to his wife, Lady Hester, shortly after she had given birth to their third child: “How I long, now that you are out of the straw, to have you in the fragrant grass?” (National Archives Chatham MSS PRO 30/8/5 f 205) The historian always, of course, has something of the voyeur in him or her, but I still won’t be getting that image out of my head any time soon.

So yes: real. Not real in my head, but real in the flesh, two hundred years ago. I’ve stood over the Pitt family vault in Westminster Abbey and tried to come to terms with the fact that the people I have read so much about were there only a short distance beneath my feet. I can’t do it. I’ve touched things that belonged to them — I’ve seen John’s own miniature of his wife, held his cutlery, walked his estates, and I even have a letter he wrote hanging on my wall downstairs — but for some reason I can’t get over this barrier. I can’t comprehend that, even though they are my characters, they will never completely belong to me.

Surely I’m not the only one?

__________

* Most of my best discoveries have been made by accident: one day I will write a post about my own personal Historical Research Fairy, who tugs me by the skirts, hisses “Pssssst!” in my ear, and places the right document in my hands, or turns my eyes to just the right place on a gallery wall.

A letter from Lord Chatham, February 1806

I recently received a CD-ROM full of letters written by the 2nd Earl of Chatham, now in the possession of the National Army Museum. Mostly the letters dealt with Ordnance matters, since John was writing in his capacity as Master-General of the Ordnance at the time, but one letter in particular leapt out at me. It was written by John to Sir John Macleod, Deputy Adjutant-General of the Royal Artillery, on 9 February 1806.

snippet

At this point John was the outgoing Master-General. His brother, William Pitt the Younger, had died on 23 January, and his ministry had not long survived him. The “Ministry of All the Talents” under Lord Grenville had replaced John as Master-General with Lord Moira, and John was writing to Macleod to thank him for his service.

The letter is especially interesting because I have not seen many letters written by John in this period at all. All of them have a slight deer-in-the-headlights overtone, as though John had been partly crushed by the calamity of his brother’s death and loss of office. I get the impression he was finding it difficult to cope, and his situation was not helped by the fact his wife, Mary, Countess of Chatham, was suffering from a life-threatening illness at the same time.

Dover Street today (wikimedia commons)

Dover Street today (wikimedia commons)

John’s letter to Macleod bears all this out, and I will quote it in full here. The letter is written from Dover Street, the house to which John moved in a hurry when he lost his office, unable to afford his St James’s Square house any longer.

“Dover Street Feby. 9th 1806

My Dear Sir

I shou’d not have delayed, till now thanking you for your kind letter, but that a great deal of business of various sorts, added unfortunately, to Lady Chatham’s illness, has not left me a single moment, and indeed, as you will think not unlikely, under circumstances of so much distress, I have been far from well myself. I have only to assure you, My Dear Sir, that I shall always look back with great pleasure to the time of our confidential intercourse, and which I can most truly say has impressed me with sentiments of ye sincerest personal esteem and regard towards you. I certainly do not quit a department, to which I have so much reason to feel warmly attached, without considerable regret, but I assure you, that regret is much diminished from the consideration of the hands into which, I have surrendered it [Lord Moira]. I wish I cou’d have the satisfaction of enabling you to give Lady Emily, and your daughters, a better account of Lady Chatham, but her amendment, is, I am sorry to say, as yet but inconsiderable. Pray have the goodness to make my kindest remembrances to them, and I need not add how happy I shall be to see you, when you are enough recovered, which I hope will be soon.

Believe me

My Dear Sir

Yours Very Sincerely

Chatham”

[NAM 1977-01-13]

The 2nd Earl of Chatham’s muddled finances

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

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

“Money? What’s that?”

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

Thomas Coutts, after Sir William Beechey (Wikimedia Commons)

Thomas Coutts, after Sir William Beechey (Wikimedia Commons)

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

morningpost20jan1801chathamcarriage

Swish, and no doubt expensive too.

“Debts contracted at play”?

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

timesmarch261788ladychathamshorse

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

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

The immortal Chatham ee’r [sic] he died

These gifts he thus assigned

Take then my fortune John, he cried

Thou William hast my mind[.]

This son the Part improved with toil

That ’twas his Countrys weal;

The former Burton learnt to spoil

To shuffle, cut, and deal.”[6]

*cringe*

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

John’s inheritance

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

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

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

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

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

Fire your accountant, John

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

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

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

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

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

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

morningpost25dec1806johnsellsbooks

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

The King’s Bench Judgment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…. And it just keeps getting worse

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

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

Open season!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yet…

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

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

johnsfuneralby10nov1835times

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


References

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

[2] Morning Post, 20 Jan 1801

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

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

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

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

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

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

[9] Ehrman I, 19

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

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

[12] Ehrman I, 20

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

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

[15] Morning Post, 25 December 1806

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[27] Times, 10 Nov 1835

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

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

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

johnprint

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

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

Mary, Countess of Chatham

Mary, Countess of Chatham

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

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

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

Lady Harriot Pitt, ca 1779

Lady Harriot Pitt, ca 1779

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

Frognal House, Lord Sydney's country home

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emotions of a schoolboy, eh?


References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy 258th birthday John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham

As those who have followed this blog since its beginning will know, I do not follow the majority view that John, 2nd Earl of Chatham was born on 9 October 1756. As far as I can see the only justification for this is that John’s father wrote a letter to William Pitt (John’s brother) on 9 October 1773 in which he talked of it being “the happy day that gave us your brother”.[1] Possibly it was John’s birthday, as certainly John read Tomline’s draft before the book was published and might have been expected to correct the error, but I tend to think Tomline mistranscribed.

This is why:

John, 2nd Earl of Chatham's baptismal record, Hayes, Kent

John, 2nd Earl of Chatham’s baptismal record, Hayes, Kent[2]

Even given this is a partial record, I think it’s fairly obvious that I have good grounds for commemorating John’s birthday on the 10th and not the 9th.

Anyway, moving on… in celebration of John’s 258th (he always looked younger than his years), today’s post is about his childhood. I’ve been posting a lot about his later years recently, so it seems fitting to go right back to the beginning for once.

John, 2nd Earl of Chatham, in John Singleton Copley's "The Death of the Earl of Chatham"

John, 2nd Earl of Chatham, aged 21/2, in John Singleton Copley’s “The Death of the Earl of Chatham”

John was, like his younger brother William, born at Hayes Place, his father’s country house in Kent. (The other three children were born in London.) “We are all well here … and intend that our little colony shall, God willing, receive its increase in the pure air of our village,” Pitt the Elder wrote to his brother-in-law George Grenville on 20 August 1756.[3]

In accordance with his later reputation, it seems John arrived a little later than expected, but when he did decide to make his appearance he was in a hurry.[4] It was probably the quickest entrance he made in his entire life. A delighted Pitt the Elder gushed to George Grenville on the morning of 10 October 1756 about John’s health and size:

Lady Hester is as well as can be in her situation, after being delivered of a son this morning, who is also well. She had a sharp time, but not longer than two hours and a half. There was enough notice to have [William] Hunter [the fashionable accoucheur] and all comforts about us. … Mrs Grenville, I am sure, and perhaps you, will excuse my talking nursery: the young man meets with general applause for stature and strength … He is, however, as they flatter me, without appearance of heaviness, notwithstanding his size.[5]

Pitt was evidently delighted to have a son at last. “[Lady Hester] and the child are as well as possible,” he reported to his nephew Thomas Pitt, “and the father in the joy of his heart”.[6]

William Pitt the Elder by William Hoare

William Pitt the Elder by William Hoare

Most books focus on the childhood of John’s brother William, but there are occasional glimpses of John in the family correspondence. The impression drawn from history is that Lord and Lady Chatham favoured their second son above all the other children, and there is probably some truth in this, but John, too, was much loved. In 1770 Lord Chatham spent some quality time at Burton Pynsent with John, who was going to travel on with his tutor Mr Wilson to Cornwall, while Lady Chatham remained with the four others at Hayes:

Pray tell all at Athens, professors, and scholars, how truly charmed I am with their performances [ie, as correspondents] … They may all rest satisfied that Pitt [John, whose courtesy title as heir was Viscount Pitt] is every thing that can please: he is a sweet, idle boy; he is a sensible, conversable, discreet man: sense or nonsense, verse or prose, Homer, mouse, taste, all shine alike, and draw perpetual applauses from papa and Mr Wilson.[7]

Along with his four siblings Hester, Harriot, William, and James Charles, John was educated at home by a tutor, Reverend Edward Wilson. There were some thoughts of sending him to Eton, where his father had gone, but apparently these came to nothing.[8] He seems to have been a bright boy: he often bested William in his studies, and their tutor Wilson’s comments on the subject can be followed in the Chatham MSS at the National Archives .[9] “John was distinguish’d first for his Mathematicks, and then for his Latin Lesson,” Lady Chatham wrote to her husband in July 1766. “… Mr Wilson imputed their success [John and Hester’s], to the subject, which he told me they took to, with a Taste and an ardour of Application that was quite fine. The subject, was an account of Aristides, and his great Virtues”.[10]

From W.A. Shuffrey, "Some Craven Worthies" (London, 1903)

Rev. Edward Wilson and his brother Thomas, From W.A. Shuffrey, “Some Craven Worthies” (London, 1903)

In terms of his likes and dislikes, John was pure boy. He was never happier than when out riding or shooting, two pastimes he kept up for the rest of his life. In 1777 his mother apologised to a correspondent for John’s not adding his good wishes to a letter, because he was “following the Fox Hounds, for the first day this season”.[11] It seems, however, that he was proficient at drawing, and his tutor Mr Wilson often referred to the vividness of his imagination.[12] Dancing was also a passion: he and his siblings were under the tutelage of the fashionable dancing master Giovanni Gallini, and there are frequent mentions in the correspondence of John staying out late dancing or accepting invitations to Pantheon balls.[13] On at least one occasion Lord Chatham referred to his eldest son as “the powdered beau”, suggesting an early inclination to dressing fashionably and well which he never entirely outgrew.

John was early destined for a career in the army (… which has always struck me as a little unusual as the destination for an older son, but there you go). His future was already determined before he was 14: Lord Chatham joked he was learning “how to live in a March, or bad quarters” when they made a bad journey from London to Somerset in July 1770.[15] John spent the summer of 1773 applying himself assiduously to his studies, Lord Chatham having procured him an ensigncy in the 47th Foot. John was due to go out with General Guy Carleton to Quebec the following year, but in the meantime the sixteen-year-old spent most of a holiday spent at Lyme in Dorset studying with a local military engineer.

Lord Chatham wrote to his wife referring to his eldest son as “young Vauban” and described how he was kept from joining his father and second brother on a ride because “he was generously occupied in learning to defend the happy land we were enjoying. Indeed, my life, the promise of our dear children does me more good than the purest of pure air”.[16] John’s brother James Charles was slightly less generous  when the travellers returned to Burton Pynsent, expressing astonishment “that Pitt has made so amazing a progress in the military art, in so short a time”– but that’s siblings for you.[17]

When he left England for Canada in June 1774 John, theoretically, stopped being a boy and became a man. He was still only 17, though, and he had spent all his childhood at home with his family. Travelling abroad must have been a big shock for a boy who had, essentially, rarely gone much further north than London. Apart from his brother James, he was by far the most well-travelled of the Pitts, travelling with the army to North America, Gibraltar, and the Leeward Islands, as well as in due course the Netherlands.

He was, also, and less positively, the man responsible for selling the house in which he had been born, Hayes Place, and the house in which he spent much of his childhood, Burton Pynsent. Hayes was sold in 1785, Burton Pynsent in 1805, after his mother’s death, both to settle John’s debts– although he had inherited both of them mortgaged to the hilt. John never had children of his own; nor would he, strictly speaking, fulfil the promise his father clearly felt he showed in his youth. But promise he had, and it is well worth remembering that the man who would, in later life and posthumously, be castigated as an idiot, once bested his brother in mathematics.

 

References

[1] Tomline, Life of Pitt I, 15

[2] Thanks to Stephenie Woolterton for the picture

[3] Grenville Papers I, 171

[4] Letters written by the late Earl of Chatham to his nephew Thomas Pitt… (London, 1804), p. 96

[5] Grenville Papers I, 173-4

[6] Letters of Lord Chatham to Thomas Pitt, p. 97

[7] Lord Chatham to Lady Chatham, 3 August 1770, Chatham Correspondence III, 470

[8] Lady Chatham to Lord Temple, 23 September 1769, Grenville Papers 5, 463

[9] PRO 30/8/67

[10] Lady Chatham to Lord Chatham, 11 July 1766, PRO 30/8/9

[11] Lady Chatham to Mrs Thomas Pitt, 25 October 1777, Dropmore Papers, British Library Add Ms 59490, ff 61-2. Thanks to Stephenie Woolterton for the reference

[12] James Charles Pitt to Lord Chatham, 21 June 1773, PRO 30/8/13; Edward Wilson to Lady Chatham, 23 August 1766, PRO 30/8/67

[13] Vere Birdwood, So dearly loved, so much admired (London, 1994), p. 9; Marie Peters, The Elder Pitt (London, 1998), pp. 211-2

[14] Ghita Stanhope and G.P. Gooch, Life of Charles, 3rd Earl Stanhope (London, 1914), p. 10

[15] Lord Chatham to Lady Chatham, 31 July 1770, PRO 30/8/9

[16] Quoted in Tresham Lever, The House of Pitt (London, 1947), pp. 192-3

[17] James Charles Pitt to Lord Chatham, 21 June 1773, PRO 30/8/13