24 July 2014

The Real Face of William Pitt

In June 1865, Philip Henry, the 5th Lord Stanhope, wrote in his notes that the cast of Mr. Pitt's head after death was presented to him on behalf of the late Francis Turner, Esq. [1]
Turner had died the previous year, and his son wrote to Stanhope in 1865 requesting his acceptance of the death mask. Although Stanhope accepted the gift, it took two attempts to transport the fragile item to the Chevening Estate, near Sevenoaks in Kent. On the first occasion, Stanhope simply wasn't at home at the time, and the carrier was reluctant to leave it with anyone else. Fortunately, on the second try, the mask made its journey to the estate. It remains there to this day - nearly 150 years later. Recently, I commissioned more photography of Mr. Pitt's death mask. Several months ago, I was kindly granted permission from the Trustees of the Chevening Estate to reproduce a front view of Pitt's death mask, which can be seen here. I am pleased to publish these side profile images to be seen by a wide audience for the first time!

All images below remain the Property of the Trustees of the Chevening Estate:

As photography was not available in Pitt's lifetime, his death mask is the closest a modern viewer can ever get to seeing the 'real' face of this great man.


1. Philip Henry Stanhope's notes on Mr. Pitt's death mask. Pitt MSS, Kent History & Library Centre. U1590/S5/C60/2.

14 July 2014

The Physician vs. The Lover: The rift between Dr. Meryon and Michael Bruce

When Lady Hester Stanhope was travelling through Malta in the summer of 1810, she was not expecting that her physician Dr. Meryon, and her much younger lover Michael Bruce, would not get along. Unfortunately, living in such close proximity and competing for the attentions of Lady Hester, the two very different men were bound to end up at loggerheads. Dr. Meryon's papers have left a record of his personal resentment against Bruce.

In July 1810, Meryon wrote home to his parents, apprising them of his awkward relationship with Lady Hester's privileged lover. It was the early days of his acquaintance with Bruce, and Meryon then believed it could be resolved through Lady Hester's intervention:

“Mr. B [Bruce] and myself are now on excellent terms. Lady H[ester]., who saw with great chagrin his distant behaviour to me, took him to task on the subject, and has effected a change in his manner towards me of which I cannot complain. But conceive a young man on his travels with an allowance of £2,000 a year, and bills of unlimited credit besides; the darling too of his parents from his infancy, the intimate friend of Lord Hutchinson, and a match that the mighty & proud Lord Wellesley wishes for his daughter; above all, heir to near 20,000 a year, and you will then suppose that such a youth [as Bruce] is not to be expected to be quite free from pride, or likely to select me as his intimate friend. However, as he will be always with us, we shall find it to our mutual interest to be as agreeable to each other as possible, and time may render us more closely connected.” [1] 

Um, not a chance. By September 1812, the disagreements between Lady Hester's physician and lover had become intolerable. It seems that by that point, Meryon was on the verge of being dismissed in favour of the lover. As he wrote to his parents, at all events, he wanted the matter to remain a secret:

“With respect to whatever relates to my dispute with Mr. Bruce, in God’s name! Keep it an inviolable secret. Tell my friends only, that Lady Stanhope’s health being re-established she stands in no farther need of a physician, and has wished me to return to my studies. I inadvertently disclosed the affair to Wm. [Meryon's brother] in a letter I wrote him, but I have since enjoined him to say nothing of it. It is the wish of Lady Hester, and her wishes are to me as laws.” [2]

The frequent disputes deepened, and by October 12, 1812, Meryon was writing home from Damascus in a despondent mood:

“I had for a long time foreseen it excited no sensation so strong as that of regret lest you should picture to yourself my disgrace as proceeding from some want of prudence on my part more than from ungentlemanly conduct on the part of Mr. B. As it is, it will teach us to consider the smiles of fortune as always treacherous, and will explain to you the reason why I so often urged the necessity of never communicating to any one out of the family the contents of my letter..." [3]

Yet, Meryon did not completely despair, knowing that “she [Lady Hester Stanhope] promised to assist me with her patronage [in other words, to give him monetary assistance].” [4]

For the next year, the quarrels continued with Bruce, and yet Lady Hester couldn't manage to give either of them up. It seems Meryon was temporarily sent away to separate the men. By the end of 1813, Meryon was back with Lady Hester and Michael Bruce:

“...her Ladyship still retains me, keeping Mr. B & me apart as much as possible. For her goodness, extending beyond what I was aware of, formed the plan of separating us for a time, in order that solitude might induce me to reflect on my situation, as reflection would cause him to regret my loss. Her [Hester’s] plan, as her plans always are, was successful…the storm [is] now over, [and] I find myself by her Ladyship’s side, as happy as health, prosperity, and comfort can make me.” [5]

Fortunately for Meryon, he didn't have long to wait for the fickle Bruce to leave them permanently to return to England. Bruce's father was unwell, and Lady Hester had urged him to go home. As the wealthy young man departed, Meryon was writing to Miss Elizabeth Williams at Malta with barely suppressed glee:

"Mr. Bruce has left us for England - for his father’s ill health made him very anxious to see him, and Lady H. insisted on his going.” [6] As these sorts of doomed love usually go, the physician was the more loyal servant than the lover.


1. Charles Lewis Meryon's papers, The Wellcome Library. Add Ms 5687, file 1 of 3, f. 43.
2. Charles Lewis Meryon's papers. The Wellcome Library, Add Ms 5688, file 1 of 3.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.
6. Charles Meryon to Miss Elizabeth Williams, Dec 2, 1813. The Wellcome Library, MS 5688, file 2 of 3, f. 144. 

9 July 2014

Eleanor Eden: The Woman Who Almost Married a Prime Minister

Today was the 237th anniversary of the birth of Eleanor Eden - the woman who is best remembered as almost marrying William Pitt. Below is a link to the guest post I wrote on English Historical Fiction Author's site:

8 July 2014

'A System of more Energy and decision': The lead up to Pitt's second administration

In April 1804, Pitt was gathering his forces against the current, ineffectual government. The war with France was proceeding far from well, and Henry Addington had a rapidly diminishing parliamentary majority. He was simply no match for Pitt's superior oratory and the sheer logic of his persuasive arguments. Although a personal friend of Addington, Pitt had become increasingly critical of Addington's defence policies since he became premier in 1801. By April 1804, Addington's government was teetering on a knife edge. Pitt hoped that a combined Coalition government, with the inclusion of the Foxites and the Grenvillities, would prove a strong enough force to finally defeat the dictator, Napoleon Bonaparte. 

On April 11, 1804, Pitt was staying at Walmer Castle, his headquarters as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, and planning his next move. He addressed an unknown political correspondent, asking for his support, as follows:


My dear Sir

I have had no Opportunity lately of knowing what may be your Sentiments with respect to Public Affairs; but seeing that they are likely very soon to lead to an important Crisis, I am sure from our long habits of acting together and from the many Proofs I have received of your Friendship and Good Opinion, you will readily excuse my troubling you with this Confidential Letter. You will have seen from what has passed in Parliament how much I have been dissatisfied for a considerable Time with many parts of the Conduct of Government, particularly in the essential Article of what relates to the defence of the Country. The Experience of the last Summer and the discussions of this Session confirm me in the Opinion that while the Government remains in its present Shape and under its present Leader, that nothing efficient can be expected either to originate with them or to be fairly adopted and effectually executed. 
With this persuasion and thinking that a System of more Energy and decision is indispensable with a view both to the immediate Crisis, and the many difficulties We may have to encounter in the Course of the present Contest. I mean to take an early Opportunity of avowing and acting on these Sentiments more explicitly and decidedly than I have hitherto done; and I shall endeavor to give Effect to my Opinion by the Support of all the Friends whom I can collect. - My Object will be to press to the utmost those Points which I think essential to the Public defence, and at the same time in doing so to make it if I can impossible for the present Government to maintain itself. In this Object I have every reason to believe that I shall have the fullest Concurrence of all those with whom I have the most differed on former Occasions, and with whom possibly I may as little agree in future. With their Numbers added to my own more immediate Friends, and to the few who have acted with Ld. Grenville and Windham, I am persuaded that our division on any favorable Question will probably be met as would be sufficient to make a much stronger Government than the present, and if a considerable Strength shews itself in Parliament, I have no reason to suppose that any insuperable difficulties will arise in another Quarter. Calculations of Strength beforehand are necessarily uncertain, but I think at lowest our Numbers cannot be much less than 200, and I should not be surprised if they were considerably more. - I have thus taken the Liberty of explaining to you very frankly my Views and Expectations. I do not feel that I have any Claim to ack[nowledge?] your Concurrence and Support; or to do more than to lay the Subject fairly before you. If your own View of the Subject coincides with mine, it will certainly be highly gratifying to myself personally, and your Weight and Influence with your Friends will I have no doubt in that case secure in a valuable Accession of Strength. I am, with great regard, My dear Sir, Faithfully & Sincerely Yours, W. Pitt.” [1]

By the end of April 1804, Addington had lost his parliamentary majority, and was forced to resign. On May 10, 1804, Pitt returned to the premiership for the second (and final) time. Unfortunately, the King disapproved of the inclusion of Fox, and with the desertion of the Addingtonians (the supporters of Addington), as well as the Grenvillities, Pitt's second administration was considerably weaker than he had intended. One wonders if the war would have proceeded differently (i.e. with more effectiveness) had stubbornness and political rivalry not gotten in the way of taking a united stand against Napoleon.


1. William Pitt to 'My dear Sir' (unknown recipient). British Library Add Ms 37538, ff. 45-46.

Meeting the in-laws in 1785

The newly-wed Lady Harriot Eliot's signature on her letter to Lord Eliot
Pitt's sister Lady Harriot married Pitt's best friend Edward James Eliot in September 1785. As I've mentioned in a previous post, the family circumstances leading up to the marital union were far from ideal. Lord Eliot didn't approve of Edward marrying Lady Harriot as she wasn't rich, and he also knew that he could not provide for them. Love conquered the day, however, and the marriage still took place.

After the wedding, Edward and Lady Harriot went to live for a time at Putney Heath, perhaps at the former rented property Pitt occupied until he purchased Holwood in 1785. Eliot's town residence was at Spring Gardens, a place that was not far from Pitt's Downing Street. 

There is a letter addressed to Edward's father, Lord Eliot, from Lady Harriot Eliot, which was sent from Putney Heath. Although undated, it would have been written between September 1785 and September 1786, as Lady Harriot sadly died in childbed only a year after her marriage. 

It seems the newly-wed had not yet met her father in-law, and had recently heard he was coming to visit them:

"My Hond. Lord

It was with ye greatest pleasure I Learnt from Mr. Eliot Yesterday that you was so good as to think of making us a visit at Putney; but I am really so very earnestly desirous to assure you, at ye earliest moment I can, of my Duty and Respect, that I cannot help venturing to make it my earnest request to you to be allowed ye Happiness of being introduced to you to morrow at Spring Gardens [Eliot's town residence], and I will wait upon you at any Hour that is most agreeable to you. Permit me in ye mean time to assure you that I am with great Regard,
My Hond Lord,
Your Obedt. Humble Servant and Dutiful Daughter, 
Harriot Eliot.

Putney Heath Wednesday morning." [1]

It appears Lady Harriot preferred to meet her father in-law in Town. I hope the introduction went smoothly!


1. Lady Harriot Eliot to Lord Eliot. Cornwall Record Office, Eliot Papers: EL/B/3/4/30.


The newly-wed Lady Harriot Eliot's signature at the bottom of her letter to her father in-law, Lord Eliot (same reference as above).

7 July 2014

'Dear Pitt': Edward Eliot to Pitt (1779)

Figure 1: A 1779 letter from Edward Eliot to William Pitt
There are surprisingly few letters still in existence in Edward James Eliot's handwriting. Perhaps the single largest collection of Eliot's letters are located in the Eliot Papers at Cornwall Record Office, UK. Other small collections of Eliot's letters are at Ipswich Record Office in Suffolk, and The Kent History & Library Centre (Pitt MSS) in Kent.

Eliot was arguably William Pitt's closest friend, and as he later married Pitt's sister Lady Harriot, he was also his brother in-law. They met at Pembroke Hall in Cambridge, where they both attended as Fellow Commoners. In late 1779, in the playful, heady days of their youth (Edward was only a year older than William), Eliot wrote an affectionate epistle to Pitt:

Figure 2: Edward James Eliot's handwriting and signature

"Dear Pitt,

I am far from accusing the Paragraphs you allude to of any other effect beside that of filling up half a side in Turners letter which was indeed all I expected of them. I had almost said, all I wrote them for. I saw your Brother [John, the 2nd Earl of Chatham] at Dock & a good many of his Corps which it seems is a fine one. He talked of coming to Port Eliot at that time but I think for his sake it is as well he has not. I have not been much here myself of late & am now upon the Eve of quitting [leaving] it: so much so that I have hopes of being in Town almost as soon as thus letter which therefore you can't expect to be a very long one. I will endeavour to persuade myself of the Truth of what you say about your canvass much as I possibly can & perhaps with a facile credences &c. may succeed but you Candidates all talk in such a stile that your best friends hardly know what to make of you. Indeed how should they when you so often impose upon yourselves. By the bye, this rumor of Disolution is not methinks much in your favor; but I suppose you don't believe it - for to say the truth I either. You did not use me handsomely in the long letter which you seem'd so proud of in saying nothing about My Friend James. Is he still in the Greyhound or has he shifted. I doubt I mayn't say promoted to another ship. Lives Robinson? out of Cambridge & Meeke [a friend] is he still wandering for I think when we parted he appeared to be irrecoverably lost & after the most diligent inquiries too, if you did yourself no more than Justice in the account. I flatter myself I shall reach Town wednesday or Thursday should be glad if you would contrive some way of letting me know when you are to be met with. I direct this to Nerots with [oe] still keep up some kind of communication. 
I am Dear Pitt, most affectionately Yours, Ed. J. Eliot. 

Port Eliot Nov. 20 [17]79.

I perfectly allow of the coincidence of Pem[broke] Hall & Nerot Hotel & may possibly make some use of it in the course of the winter, which you see you will have answer for it." [1]


1. Edward James Eliot to William Pitt, November 20, 1779. Ipswich Record Office, Pretyman MSS: HA119: T99/85/5.


Figure 1: A 1779 letter from Edward Eliot to William Pitt (Pretyman MSS: HA119: T99/85/50.

Figure 2: Edward Eliot's handwriting and signature on the same letter as referenced above.

'My poor Father's Memory': Pitt to Pretyman on The Death of the Earl of Chatham

William Pitt's father, the first Lord Chatham, died on May 11, 1778 at his beloved Hayes Place. On Saturday, May 16, 1778, William found a few moments to write to his Pembroke tutor George Pretyman. It seems that Pretyman had sent the Pitt family a letter of condolence, and William responded with the following:

"Dear Pretyman,

I am truly oblig'd to you for your friendly and affectionate Concern for me, on this distressful Occasion. The Loss I have sustain'd is indeed irreparable, and my Feelings in Consequence are what no Words can convey. At the same Time, the Shock was the less dreadful, as I had so long been prepar'd to expect it. It has had no bad effect on my Health, and tho I know how vain it is to resist the first impressions of Sorrow, I do not suffer my Mind to be dejected. Every Consideration that can raise and support it, under such afflicting Circumstances is afforded me, by the public Steps that have been taken, to confer the most signal Honors on my poor Father's Memory [Pitt the Elder was to be interred at Westminster Abbey at the beginning of June], and the most distinguished Benefits on his Family. I am doubly oblig'd to you for extending your friendly Anxiety to all my Family, and have the Comfort to tell you that they are all in good Health. You shall hear from me again as soon as i have it in my power to determine when I may expect the Satisfaction of seeing you at Cambridge. In the mean Time, Be persuaded that I am inexpressibly sensible to your Goodness, and am with every Sentiment of Friendship and Affection, Faithfully Yours, W. Pitt." [1]


1. William Pitt to The Reverend Mr. Pretyman. May 16, 1778. Ipswich Record Office, Pretyman MSS: HA119:562/659.

6 July 2014

Edward Eliot's last (known) letter to his father

During the summer of 1797, Edward James Eliot was staying in Bath. His health had been poor, and his physician had advised him to take the waters at Bath, and ride on horseback daily, in order to improve his unspecified ailment.

On June 29, 1797, Edward Eliot wrote what was to be his last (existing) letter to his father Lord Eliot in Cornwall:

"My Hon[oure]d. Lord,

I return You a great many thanks for your kind Letter & good advice as well as good wishes, which I received ye day before yesterday. I am afraid my Complaint is not of so determined a kind as yours was at that period, or as will enable either me or my Physician to judge exactly when I may properly leave off the waters. At the same time, as I have very strong proof, & am very confident that I receive a great deal of benefit from them, I shall certainly strain my patience very hard to remain here a reasonable time, or till I no longer feel much improvement. I took [oe] for a few hours, in my way Hither, appointing a Builder from Cirencester to meet me, which he did. After all the noise & alarm Mr. Ward had made, of which I own I had been very much the Dupe, about the state of the House, I was glad to find that the necessary outside Repairs of the House are next to nothing. It seems an Idea He (Mr. W.) is very fond of, to pull down the old part of the House as it is call'd, & sur[e] up a new Kitchen & back kitchen behind the Hall, for the sake of lessening the range of Buildings & making it more compact; and it may very likely be s good plan & in the long run worth while, but as I don't apprehend any thing considerable is wanting to be done to that part at present; it will certainly very well bear Consideration. What, I'm sorry to say, will not so well bear consideration is the inside state of the principal Rooms; whose sides & floors for want of assistance are going very fast to decay: being very well worth preserving; I had some Conversation upon the spot with the Builders upon them, & he is to send me his notions of the method & expense of doing what may be necessary for that purpose; but the most will be considerably short of what I had supposed the state of affairs there to require. About 60£ towards it, & a little bit of land, we shall get you from the Canal, arrears of Taxes for the ground they occupy, & that I believe will finish the enclosed accounts with them. We have had but a wet time of it hitherto but I have never till today been hinder'd from my ride between one and three. This morning it was perfectly fine till about one when a violent Thunder storm came on, and it had been raining more or less almost ever since. I beg my Love & Duty to my Mother & Aunt and am, My Hon.d Lord, Your very Dutiful & very Affectionate Son, Ed. J. Eliot. Bath June 29th, 1797" [1]

Within two months of the date of this letter, Edward James Eliot died at his family seat at Port Eliot in Cornwall.


1. Edward James Eliot to his father, Lord Eliot, June 29, 1797. Eliot Papers, Cornwall Record Office, EL/B/3/3/8.

Reflections on the Gordon Riots

The Gordon Riots by John Seymour Lucas
The Gordon Riots of 1780 were an anti-Catholic protest fuelled by the Papists Act of 1778. Lord George Gordon, the President of The Protestant Association, gathered a mob following, and spread fears of Catholicism. The British were in the midst of the American War of Independence, and the riots came at a time when Britain was gripped by fears of a French invasion, as well as troubles with the Spanish and Dutch. In a climate of fear, religious bigotry quickly spread and incited violence. Many London residents, including Catherine Stapleton (a close friend to William Pitt's mother, the Dowager Countess of Chatham), and William Pitt (then a barrister at Lincolns Inn), responded to the crisis.

On June 21, 1780, Catherine Stapleton wrote to her dear friend Hester, the Dowager Countess of Chatham, confessing her anxieties as a result of the recent riots:

“What a Situation has London been in, & how narrowly have we all escaped immediate Ruin, during the Time of great Terror, & anxiety. I had great satisfaction from not being able to discover that there was any Circumstance, particularly to increase your Ladyships uneasiness, for my own part my property engross’d my Attention a good deal, knowing in the height of it all the things I have to remove from Town more Loading from different parts of the Town, & an Attack upon them would have very Seriously interrupted all my Schemes which I bless god, daily improve upon me. Indeed the World smiles against so much upon me that I much wish all those I love as happy as myself.” [1]

A year later, Mrs. Frances ('Fanny') Boscawen also wrote to the Dowager Countess of Chatham, reflecting on the position William Pitt assumed in defence of the Inns of Court during the riots:

“…To day I had a Lawyer of Lincolns Inn din’d with me; we were speaking of the Riots last Year & he told me that when they form’d themselves into Companies for the defence of the Inns of Court they agreed that the tallest Man should be the Captain, thus Mr. Pitt commanded their Company & in speaking of Him I cou’d have lik’d Dear Madam to have convey’d to Your Ear all that was said. I ask’d my Guest whether he had seen Mr. Pitt lately, he answer’d “Yesterday at Serle’s Coffee House where He & other Gentleman of Lincolns Inn are in the custom of drinking their Coffee, or tea, for an Hour in the Afternoon.” & thus perhaps I send yr Ladyp the latest certificate of Your Son’s good Health, whom God long preserve, & You to see Him an Honour & a Blessing to his Country. It appears to Me that the Admirers of Mr. Fox betray some Jealousy & Envy of Mr. Pitt, from whence I infer that possessing the great Talents & Parts which he has. He possesses also the Virtue & Principles which he [Fox] has not, & these will give Him the Trust & Confidence of his Countrymen at large, while the Other can only have the Admiration of a Party.” [2]

In the end, the rioters were put down, and hundreds of arrests were made. Pitt did not have to take up his musket after all. Nevertheless, the aftermath of the riots, and the effect it had on the public imagination, lasted for many years to come.


1. Catherine Stapleton to Hester, the Dowager Countess of Chatham, June 21, 1780. The National Archives, PRO 30/8/58, Part 3, f. 296.

2. Mrs. Boscawen to Hester, the Dowager Countess of Chatham (undated, but 1781). The National Archives, PRO 30/8/21, Part 2, f. 158.

Image Credits:

'The Gordon Riots' by John Seymour Lucas. The source of the image can be found here.

4 July 2014

18th century Political Hate Mail

Yes, even in the 18th century there was vitriolic hate mail sent to politicians. Here's an example of one sent to Pitt around the time of the Corn Bill (excuse the terrible grammar and complete lack of punctuation, but I try to keep transcriptions as faithful to the original as possible):

“I say Billy, you infernal Blackguardly Son of a Thief you Bottled Nose Lanthorn [?] Jaws pimping looking Rascal Prime Minister egad my Old Buck you’ll be getting along side of the Devil soon but he’ll shave your Timbers for you and give you s Broadside and send you - but he will not send you to Windsor to drink 3 bottles of Wine after Dinner 3 Bottles of Wine for such a Damned old Punt as your while many a Poor thing cannot get Bread and all through you you infernal Imp bringing encouraging and passing the Corn Bill and thereby forming an Act of Parliament thereof encouraging those Rascals who ought to support inside of trampling on the Poor and all because you suppose if there is any Riot you can call upon the Volunteers to aid and assist you but know [sic] you meagre looking hound you are of the wrong side of the hedge for they will assist them and will be no longer Domineered over by such a Babboon as you if the Corn Bill is not suppressed the next meeting of Parliament you will hear of something you little think I render Rag Tag and Bob Tail Billy you infer on our Packet but your superior and Honest you Blackguard Damn [oe] God Bless King George Huzza.” [1]


1. William Dacre Adams Papers. Unknown sender to William Pitt (undated). The British Library Add Ms 89036/1/17, f. 56.