18 August 2014

When Pitt was nearly shot by a Wandsworth farmer (1784)

In the summer of 1784, it was reported that Pitt was nearly shot by a farmer/gardener in Wandsworth, greater London:

"The circumstance was shortly as follows: Mr. Pitt dined that day with Mr. Jenkinson, and returned to town in a post carriage; but the boy blundering out of the main road, and not being able to find his way back, Mr. Pitt was induced to go to the next farm-house, to be rightly informed. The dogs, however, making an alarm, the man of the house came out with a loaded gun, and insisted on Mr. Pitt's standing still, on pain of being fired at. Mr. Pitt pleaded and expostulated in vain, till at length the farmer actually fired at him; and the bullet went through the loose part of his [Mr. Pitt's] coat, but happily without doing any injury. The post-boy, hearing the explosion, ran to the spot; and his appearance, together with Mr. Pitt's arguments, at length so far prevailed on the farmer, that was chancellor [Pitt] was permitted to withdraw; and his antagonist gave him every necessary instruction to find out the main road to town. [1] 

Now, before you start thinking that the story is a load of hogwash, it was actually reported in several August 1784 newspapers, including this report in the Oxford Journal of Saturday, 21 August 1784:

"On Tuesday night [17th August], the Right Hon. William Pitt narrowly escaped being shot by a Farmer near Wandsworth." [2] The same 'circumstance' is given, but the report goes on to add that "according to another account, Mr. Pitt is said to have been on his Return from a visit to Mr. Dundas." [3]

Dundas was then living at Warren House, in Wimbledon, and Pitt would have most likely had to travel through Wandsworth in order to return to Downing Street. Pitt was also renting a house on Putney Hill in 1784, however presumably he was headed back to town that night. He had only become First Lord of the Treasury the previous December, and it is highly fortunate that his life was preserved just as he was embarking on his premiership!


1. Huish, R. (1821) The public and private life of His late Excellent and Most Gracious Majesty, George the III. London: Thomas Kelly, p. 438.

2. Oxford Journal, 21 August 1784.

3. Ibid.

17 August 2014

The funeral of Lady Harriot Eliot: An examination of late 18th century funeral costs

Fig. 1: The marriage entry for Edward James Eliot and Lady Harriot Pitt, 24 September 1785

On September 24, 1785, Lady Harriot Pitt - William Pitt's beloved sister - married William's best friend Edward James Eliot. They were married by special license in Downing Street by Pitt's former tutor George Pretyman. As you can see from the entry above, Louisa Mahon (née Grenville), the second wife of Earl Stanhope and a cousin of Harriot, and William Pitt were also present at the private ceremony. I wrote about the close friendship between Louisa Mahon (formerly Grenville) and Lady Harriot in several previous posts about Lady Harriot Pitt at number 13 Bath Crescent as that was the house owned by Louisa's father, Henry Grenville (a brother of Lady Chatham)

From an examination of the handwriting on the marriage register, the top part of the entry was filled in by George Pretyman, as he was officiating the ceremony, and the couple and witnesses signed their names below. 

Lady Harriot and Edward Eliot were, by all accounts, a happily married couple despite their earlier family hiccups I wrote about in a previous post. They defied Eliot's father's wishes, and married for love in spite of pecuniary circumstances. 

Lady Harriot quickly found herself with child, and on September 20, 1786 (just shy of their first wedding anniversary), she gave birth at Downing Street to a daughter, Harriot Hester Eliot. Mr. Pitt wrote to his mother to inform her of her new granddaughter's arrival: 

"I have infinite joy in being able to tell you that my sister has just made us a present of a girl and that both she and our new guest are in every way as well as possible...She [Lady Harriot] was in perfectly good spirits thro' the whole of the time [of giving birth] and suffered no more than was natural. I have had the comfort of seeing her for a single minute (which is all that could be permitted) and can therefore add my own certificate how well she appears to the assurance of all the learned which are as satisfactory as could be wish'd." [1]

Unfortunately, Lady Harriot quickly caught what would now be termed puerperal, or childbed, fever, and rapidly sank under it. On the morning of September 25, 1786, William wrote to his mother's faithful companion, Mrs. Catherine Stapleton, asking her to break the melancholy news to his mother in the way she deemed best to ease the imminent shock:

"In a most afflicting moment it is some consolation to me to have recourse to your kind and affectionate attention to my mother, which she has so often experienced. The disorder under which my poor sister has suffered since Friday morning [September 22, two days after the birth] appears, I am grieved to say, to have taken so deep a root that all the efforts of medicine have served only in some degree to abate it, but without removing the cause. This circumstance and the loss of strength render her case now so alarming, that although hope is not entirely extinguished, I cannot help very much fearing the worst; and unless some very favourable change takes place, there is too much reason to believe the event may soon be decided. In this distressful situation I scarcely know what is best for my mother - whether to rely for the present on the faint chance there is of amendment, or to break the circumstances to her now, to diminish if possible the shock which we apprehend. I have on this account addressed myself to you, that, knowing what is the real state of the case, you may judge on the spot whether to communicate any part of it immediately or to wait till the moment of absolute necessity. I need make no apology for committing to you, my dear Madam, this melancholy task. You will make, I am sure, every allowance for the feelings under which I write. Sincerely and affectionately yours, W. Pitt." [2]

Sadly, at two pm on the same day, Lady Harriot Eliot succumbed to the fever. [3] It was reported in The Bath Chronicle the following week that during her fateful illness, Eliot and William had been "alternately visiting her for upwards of 30 hours." [4]

Not long after Harriot's death, Pitt wrote to his mother about their dreadful loss: "I will not suffer myself at this most sad moment, my dear Mother, to express my own feelings which I know are but too deeply yours also. My anxious hope is that your strength may enable you to support the shock with a fortitude of mind equal to so trying an occasion, and to your sentiments of tenderness and affection your goodness to me will make it a sort of relief to you, in the interval till we meet, to know that severely as my mind must be wounded, my health has not suffered from the blow we have sustained. I should not lose a moment, you will believe, in coming to Burton, but I am sure you will approve of my not leaving poor [Edward] Eliot at this time, for whom we have all and I most especially so many affecting reasons to interest me. His mind begins to be as composed as could yet be expected." [5]

Lady Harriot's funeral took place at Westminster Abbey on Monday, October 2, 1786, exactly a week after her death. She was 28 years old. She was interred in the Pitt family vault beside with her, the 1st Lord Chatham, in the North Transept of the Abbey. Needless to say, her husband and family were grief-stricken. 

The extensive matter of sorting out Lady Harriot's funeral arrangements must have been a trying strain on Edward James Eliot in particular. In addition to the overwhelming grief of his loss, he had to arrange the christening of his little girl. 

There survives a bill from Henry Turner to the Honourable Edward James Eliot regarding the funeral of Lady Harriot Eliot. It specifies that her funeral cost £214 13s 4d, and the bill was received (i.e. paid) in full on October 21, 1786. The mind boggles at all the intricate details involved in preparing for a late 18th century aristocratic funeral:

"To a strong inside Coffin Quilted & furbelow’d with fine Lawn and a strong Outside Cast Lead Do. with border’d Lead plate of inscription finish’d Compleat - £8, 10
To a fine Long Lawn Shroud, Sheet & head dress £4, 4
To a fine Lawn Tufted Mattress & Ruffled Pillow - £1, 4
To 5 Men’s time carrying the Coffin & putting in the body - £..7s, 6d
To Brown [?] to make up the Corps[e] & Men’s time Soldering up do…£6s
To a Strong outside Case covered with Rich Black Velvet finish’d two Rows round with best Brass Case Nails water silver’d, a flat solid Brass Plate with the Arms & Supporters Engraved & Water silvered; Brass Gloria and Urn on the Lid, 4 pair of large Brass handles with Cyphers, Chased Gripes [?] and Ornamented with 8 Dozen of Angel Brass Drops all water silvered and Elegantly finish’d…£21
To 4 Men carrying in the Case & making up Do…£6s
To the use of the best Pall…£10s
To Do….of a Lid of best Black Ostrich feathers…£18s
To a Man in Mourning to carry Do…£3s, 6d
To a Silk Hatband, Gloves with Stamps, & a white favor for Do….£11s
To 2 Porters with Black silk Scarves, poles & covers tied with white Ribband…£13 s
To 2 Silk hatbands, 2 Do. of Gloves with Stamps, and white favours for the Porters…£1, 2s
To an Hearse & six Horses…£2, 8s
To feathers & Velvets for the Hearse, etc. Six…£3, 3s
To 2 Mourning Coaches with 6 Horses each…£4, 16s
To 12 Plumes of Feathers & Velvets for the Coach horses…£3, 6s
To 3 Velvet fring’d Seat Cloths…£6s
To 6 Cloaks for Coachmen & Postilions…£6s
To 6 Silk Hatbands, Gloves with Stamps & white favors for Coachmen & Postilions…£3, 6s
To 10 Hearse pages & Bearers with Velvet Capes, white favours & gloves with Stamps…£3, 5s 
To 2 best rich Armozeen [?] Scarves and Hatbands with black silk Gloves & Stamps for the Dean & Prebend…£6, 12s
To 3 Best rich Armozeen Scarves, Hatbands, and best lace Gloves with stamps for Chapter Clerk, Receiver, and Clerk of the Works in the Abbey…£8, 4s
To 4 Best silk Hatbands and best Gloves with stamps for the two Vergers, Porter of Great Cloysters and Beadle of the Abbey…£2, 12s
To 3 best Rich Armozeen Scarves, Hatbands, and Black Silk Gloves with Stamps for Mr. Isles, Mr. Wilbear, and Mr. Hoods…£9, 18s
To a best Armozeen Scarfe and hood and Black silk Gloves with Stamps for Mr. France…£3, 6s
To 3 best Crape Hatbands for Mr. Isles, Mr. Wilbear, and Mr. Hood…£1, 5s, 6d
To the Use of 3 best Gentlemen’s Cloaks for Do…£4s, 6d
To 5 Crape Hatbands & Gloves with Stamps for Coachmen, two Footmen, Groom & Helper…£2, 15s
To 4 Coach Pages with Wands and two Men as Footmen…£1, 1s
To 6 Silk Hatbands, Gloves with Stamps, & white favours for Do…£3, 6s
To 1 pair of black silk gloves & 1 pair of black Beaver Do. with stamps for Mr. Eliot…£7s, 6d
To 3 pairs of Women’s silk Gloves with Stamps for Mrs. Hughes & the two Nurses…£18s, 9d
To 4 pairs of Women’s Gloves with Stamps for Women Servants…£11s
To 2 Black Silk Hatbands and Gloves with Stamps for the Conductor & Attender…£1, 6s
To Cash paid for Men’s Beer & Expences…£11s, 6d
To Cash paid for Dues information Money & at Westminster Abbey…£104, 2s, 1d
To 1 Yard & a half Achievement with Arms and Supporters painted proper the frame covered with Black Cloth…£6, 6s
To Wall hooks &c. and Men’s time fixing up, Do…£5s, 6d

Total: £214, 13s, 4d” [6]

Just ten days after this bill was settled, Eliot wrote to his father at Port Eliot in Cornwall. It was an agonisingly painful letter:

"My Hon. Lord,

I must Trust to you kind Consideration for a Mind, never very strong, and now weakened by Calamity, when I beg yo to have the Goodness to forget the favour relating to my poor Little Girl which in an hour of Happiness and Exultation I took the Liberty to ask of you [It seems he had asked his father to be a Godfather to his granddaughter]. I have since then suffer'd a great & God knows grievous Reverse of situation in a Loss which Nothing can compensate for, but for which the Paying Every Respect & Attention which Imagination can suggest to Her Memory when I Deplore, as, (Melancholy as it is) much of the Little Consolation I have left: to make to the Nearest & Dearest Friend & Relations of the Deceased the small & sad Compliment of standing for the Child is one, & one which I think you will not unwillingly allow, to sorry and Distress like mine. I ought & should if I had had the Courage to mention any thing, have mention'd this long since. I could not; which, as my Brother has not happen'd to do it either, I am truly sorry for. Dr. Pretyman who under Heaven join'd Those whom God Good will be Done Hath put asunder, performs The Ceremony of the Christening tomorrow. I am my Hon. Lord, Your very Dutiful & very affectionate Son, Ed. J. Eliot." [7]

On Wednesday, November 1, 1786, Harriot Hester Eliot was christened at Westminster. Eliot never remarried after the loss of Harriot. He continued to remain very close - almost like brothers - to William Pitt, and he often lived with him at Downing Street.

Fig. 2: Harriot Hester Eliot's baptism register

In a future post, I intend to write about Broomfield House, the property Eliot either leased or bought on Clapham Common after the death of his wife.


1. Headlam, C. (ed.) (1914) The Letters of Lady Harriot Eliot (1766-1786). Edinburgh: Constable, p. 150.

2. Ibid, pp. 150-1.

3. Caledonian Mercury, 30 September 1786. 

4. The Bath Chronicle, 5 October 1786.

5. Headlam, C. (ed.) (1914) The Letters of Lady Harriot Eliot (1766-1786). Edinburgh: Constable, p. 152.

6. Henry Turner to Edward James Eliot, the funeral bill for Lady Harriot Eliot. Pitt material, Pembroke College Archives.

7. Edward James Eliot to Lord Eliot (undated but October 31, 1786 as he mentions the christening which took place on the following day, November 1, 1786). Eliot Papers, Cornwall Record Office: EL/B/3/3/5.

Image Credits:

Both images were accessed by the website www.findmypast.co.uk, and were taken from marriage and baptism registers from Westminster City Archives.

15 August 2014

Why I research William Pitt the Younger's private life

I have often been asked why I have chosen to research and write about William Pitt's private life. He was indeed a politician, and he lived and breathed politics. His father was a politician, his maternal uncles were politicians, and it can be truly said that he was born into it. So why do I single out Pitt's private life as my primary focus?

My main purpose is to fill in a huge gap in the historical record by contributing to an historiographical view of Pitt, his values, personality, and private character.

In previous biographies, Pitt himself is missing: his personality, and his relationships with those around him are not explored in depth. The complexity of such an undertaking is further complicated by Pitt's own writing. He was noticeably cautious with his language in correspondence, purposefully using vague and ambiguous phraseology, even with his own family and friends: e.g. “I incline very much to the opinion which you state,” and “I have mentioned to him in general terms the prospect of a permanent Provision.”  From about the time he entered public office, Pitt had a life-long preoccupation with privacy and secrecy in matters of state - but also in his private life. Even the tone of Pitt’s writing varied dramatically depending on the circumstance, recipient, and occasion. Pitt was, above all, an adaptable politician, and not as one-dimensional or socially reclusive as he has been portrayed. Instead, Pitt was a warm, friendly, modest, humble, and personable man - not simply the aloof, brilliant orator who dominated the House of Commons for almost two decades. Interestingly, Pitt’s rather apologetic character has not been adequately examined in previous research. He often went out of his way to apologise with a personal letter. 

My ultimate aim is to construct a more rounded and persuasive image of William Pitt the Man. He was undeniably dedicated to political life, but the nature of this dedication was a selfless desire to serve his country. In the midst of a very public life, there was also a brilliant, shy man who wanted nothing more than to relax, read, and enjoy a rare and carefree evening with his friends.

Pitt was "a noon day eclipse" in that he died in the prime of his life. He was only 46 years old at the time of his death. What more could he have achieved? His life story was awe-inspiring, mind-boggling, complex, and tragic. He wasn't a man who can be analysed with any degree of ease. He baffles the researcher over two centuries after his death. But for those who persevere, and weed through what is left of his private papers - for many were destroyed by one of his executors - the attractive man that Pitt was never fails to incite a fierce loyalty, allegiance, and passion.

James Charles Pitt: The youngest, forgotten son of William Pitt the Elder

Fig 1: One of the only likenesses of James Pitt, from the sketch of Copley's Death of the Earl of Chatham (centre)

In my time researching the private life of William Pitt the Younger, I've been fortunate to meet many like-minded and generous fellow historians as well as those simply curious to know more about this elusive British politician. 

I have been equally blessed to meet other "Pittites" - those of us who openly claim to be obsessed with Mr. Pitt for his political and private virtues. One dear friend in particular is especially enamoured with Pitt's older brother John, the 2nd Earl of Chatham. Oftentimes, people will jokingly say to us, "It's a good thing there were only two Pitt brothers, or else you might fight over them!" At this point, my friend and I collectively cringe, as there were actually three Pitt brothers. Of course, many people can't be expected to know that unless they're well-versed in the lives of the Pitt family. Sadly, James Charles Pitt, the youngest son and fifth child of William Pitt the Elder and his wife Hester, the Countess of Chatham, had his life cut short before he barely reached adulthood. 

He was born on April 24, 1761, and by the time he was five years old, his father had become a peer of the realm. Pitt the Elder went from being hailed as the celebrated "Great Commoner" to the title of the Earl of Chatham in 1766. We have but a few passing glimpses of James's childhood. On October 23, 1765, James's maternal uncle, James Grenville, wrote to William Pitt the Elder, wryly commenting, "you must have been very merry upon your return, for every body heard a vast singing all along the road quite to Burton from Butleigh [where James Grenville resided]. Some people say it was William's voice, some say it was James's. It gave great scandal to sober travellers, who impute such loudness to the effects of too much liquour." [1] James was only four years old at the time of this anecdote, and his brother William was only six, so it's left to imagination just how loudly they were singing on the way back to Burton from a visit to their uncle. 

Another brief insight comes in May 1772 when James was 11. William wrote to his mother one day before his thirteenth birthday, apologising profusely for some misdemeanour him and James got up to whilst their parents were not with them. William lamented that "as I cannot rest satisfied without making the best apology in my power for what has pass'd and not being able to have the pleasure of offering my excuses in Person, I trust you will allow me by letter to express how truly I am sorry for my having done improperly and how sincerely I beg your pardon...P.S. James begs his Duty to you and desires to express that he feels exceedingly sorry for what he has done and hopes you will have the goodness to pardon him." [2] The following year, when Lord Chatham wrote to his wife from Lyme Regis on June 11, 1773, he affectionately asked her to "embrace the dear girls and little tar for me." [3] Little tar was the nickname for James. It seems James was always destined for the navy, and the nickname of "little tar" was proof of that planned career path. 

James joined the navy in his early teens, and he gradually rose to the rank of Post-Captain. [4] His naval career began in 1775, and he was taken under the wing of Captain Alexander Hood and his wife, a cousin of the Countess of Chatham, Maria aka 'Molly' Hood. The Hoods  had a house on Harley Street in London, and it was from there that Captain Hood took him to Deptford. [5] The Hoods had lent money to the Chatham family on more than one occasion, and they were instrumental in getting James Charles's naval career up and running. 

It is difficult to know whether James was present at his father's last, famous speech in the House of Lords on April 7, 1778. One early 20th century source claims that "young James Pitt was particularly active in assisting his father" after Chatham's collapse during the debate. [6] Although it is possible that James was in attendance, I have not been able to corroborate his presence there in any contemporary sources.

Sadly, the friendship between the Hoods and the Pitt family was severely strained in early 1779 when William and his mother decided to remove James from Captain Hood's ship Robust after his evidence given at Admiral Keppel's court martial. William uneasily wrote to his mother on February 11, 1779 that "...the Clamour against our Friend [Captain Hood] is I fear very general and the Affair is not yet fully explained. Till the Thing is more clear'd his [Hood's] Friends have I think nothing to do but to avoid Pariculars, and rest on the general Conviction of his Honor and integrity."  [7] However, a month later, William followed his mother's advice, and removed James from Hood's ship, Robust

William wrote to his mother that "the Measure which seems to us absolutely requisite is that of removing my Brother [James] immediately from the Robust: and tho it seems at first a disagreeable step to take, I am fully persuaded that when you have considered every Circumstance, you will not see one possible objection....as the Matter now stands I am firmly convinc'd after consulting all the Opinions I cou'd, and viewing it in all its Lights, that there is actually no Choice left, without involving ourselves and James in endless difficulties...the Grounds on which I rest my opinion are various; the first is a point in which we shall agree...the Necessity of putting Final Stop to James's Indiscretions in Conversation and Behaviour. [James had given evidence at the Keppel court martial, admitting that Hood had altered the logbook before appearing at court]. On this it occurs [to me], that it will be very difficult to remove his [James's] prejudices and to make him continue in a proper Disposition, while he remains in a Ship which (whatever it professes) must always be hostile to Admiral Keppel." [8] 

Consequently, James was removed from the Robust, and the friendship between the Hoods and the Chathams became estranged. James was placed on the ship, Greyhound, at Spithead, later in 1779. On board this ship, he sailed for the West Indies. His surviving correspondence to his mother depicts a highly ambitious young man who is very focused on naval promotion and building a reputation for himself. From these letters, it is apparent that his temperament was very different to both of his elder brothers, and he did not quibble to state plainly to his mother on one occasion that "the reason of my not writing to you till the later part of my stay in London was that I had nothing particular to communicate to you." [9] There was, however, a genial aspect to James's character, and he was also friends with his older brother Williams' college companion, Edward James Eliot. In a letter written on November 20, 1779 - about the time when the Greyhound sailed from England, Eliot wrote to William to say, "you did not use me handsomely in the long letter which you seemed so proud of in saying nothing about My Friend James. Is he still in the Greyhound or is he shifted [?] I doubt I mayn't say promoted to another ship." [10] It seems Eliot knew of James's earnest desires for promotion. As he called him a friend, it appears that they were at least relatively close. 

When on leave from Portsmouth in 1779, James also found time to enjoy the pursuits of a London life. He liked dancing, and evenings at the Pantheon, when he had the opportunity for leisure. William wrote to his mother from Nerot's Hotel that year, telling her "James is gone with my sisters to a ball as a professed dancer, which stands in the place of an invitation; a character which I do not assume, and have therefore stayed away." [11] In comparison to William, James was practically a party animal. 

Fig. 2: James Charles Pitt, in naval uniform, from the final painting of The Death of the Earl of Chatham
The last time James Charles Pitt saw English shores was at the end of 1779. Throughout 1780, he wrote to his mother from places like St. Lucia and St. Kitts, and he ended up at English Harbour, Antigua, on board the sloop Hornet, of which he was put in command [12]. His last letter was written from Antigua on November 1, 1780, and within a fortnight (two weeks), on November 13, 1780 he succumbed to a virulent fever. I have not been able to definitively find out whether it was yellow fever or not, but it would not be surprising, given the location of his ship, if it was that disease. He was not yet twenty years of age, and his death came as a tragic blow to his family. I have written about James's untimely death in this previous post. Given the distance and lengthy travel time, the news of James's passing did not reach England until early February of the following year (1781). James's remains were interred at St. Paul's church in Falmouth, Antigua [13]. 

In 1891, over 120 years after James's death, the Right Honourable Sir Edward H. Seymour, an Admiral of the Fleet, saw James's grave, and he later recorded his impressions:

"On 12th January 1891, as I was driving through the Island of Antigua to English Harbour, and passing the churchyard of St. Paul's parish, I stopped and went in to look at the graves, and found one with its stone slab covering fallen off, but on it was engraved: 'Here lie the remains of Honble James Charles Pitt - Son of the Earl of Chatham - Commander of H.M.S. Hornet, who died in English Harbour 13th November 1780, aged 20 years [he was actually still 19]. His early virtues and dawning promise bespoke a meridian splendour worthy the name of Pitt.' One brother was buried in Westminster Abbey [actually, two brothers, and a sister were buried at Westminster Abbey] and the other at St. Paul's - Antigua. I was able to communicate with relatives, who restored the grave." [14] I wonder which relatives those might have been? James, and both of his brothers, never had any children. Perhaps it was the Stanhopes at Chevening who were instrumental in restoring James's grave marker?

Another naval Vice Admiral, H.L. Fleet, also visited James's grave, and remarked "...there is a little church, at Falmouth, and in the churchyard repose the bodies of many of our countrymen. On one of the monuments I found the name of a Commander, the Hon. James Charles Pitt (a son of the great Earl of Chatham), who, as the inscription informed us, 'Was cut off before attaining the meridian of a fame that his early deeds bid fair to promise.' He was only twenty [sic] years of age, and commanded the Dolphin [actually it was the Hornet], a sloop. Promotion was rapid then!" [15] 

This visit must have been after 1891, as the inscription was different to the original noted by Sir Seymour. Of course, it wasn't just the passage of time and lack of care that damaged the original grave stone. The original St. Paul's church was destroyed by a great earthquake in 1843, then struck by lightening in 1880, and then a hurricane in 1950 completely destroyed it once again [16]. Alas, it's no small wonder that James's resting place is now unknown. There are two unmarked graves in St. Paul's churchyard that could potentially be James's grave. Both are in very poor condition. 

Sarah (http://littlekumquat.weebly.com) has kindly sent me images of each of the two unmarked graves. One of them is bound to be James Charles Pitt's final resting place. They are reproduced below.

Which grave seems most likely to you, dear Reader? 

It is a real shame that James Charles Pitt's life was cut off when he had barely reached manhood. What more could he have achieved? He showed early promise in the navy. How would history have been different had he survived? Would he have been a thorn in his Prime Minister brother's side? Would they have been close, or would they have had their disagreements? His temperament and character was certainly quite different to the other Pitt children. He never got to go back home to England. Like so many military men who die abroad, his remains will ever remain in the place where he lost his life. 


1. Birdwood, V. (1994) So dearly loved, So much admired: Letters to Hester Pitt, Lady Chatham from her relations and friends, 1744-1801. London: HMSO, p. 45.

2. Ibid, p. 313.

3.  Stanhope Taylor, W. & Pringle, John Henry. (eds.) (1840) Correspondence of William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, Vol. 4. London: John Murray, p. 270.

4. Coleridge, E.H. (1920) The Life of Thomas Coutts, Banker. Volume 1. London: John Lane, The Bodley Head, p. 100.

5. Birdwood, V. (1994) So dearly loved, So much admired: Letters to Hester Pitt, Lady Chatham from her relations and friends, 1744-1801. London: HMSO, p. 117.

6. von Ruville, A. (1907) William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, Volume 3. London: William Heinemann, p. 343. 

7. Birdwood, V. (1994) So dearly loved, So much admired: Letters to Hester Pitt, Lady Chatham from her relations and friends, 1744-1801. London: HMSO, p. 325.

8. Ibid, p. 325.

9. Ibid, p. 327.

10. Edward J. Eliot to William Pitt. Ipswich Record Office, Pretyman MSS: HA 119/T99/85/5.

11. Hague, W. (2004) William Pitt the Younger. London: Harper Press, pp. 44-45.

12. Birdwood, V. (1994) So dearly loved, So much admired: Letters to Hester Pitt, Lady Chatham from her relations and friends, 1744-1801. London: HMSO, p. 327.

14. Seymour, E.H. (1911) My Naval Career and Travels. London: Smith, Elder, and Co., p. 283.

15. Fleet, Vice-Admiral H. L. (1922) My life, and a few Yarns. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., p. 248.

Image Credits:

Figure 1: James Charles Pitt, from the sketch of John Singleton Copley's Death of the Earl of Chatham. He must have sat for it at some point in 1779, when he was on leave in London. Image Source

Figure 2: The final version of Copley's Death of the Earl of Chatham, with James represented in his naval uniform. Image Source

13 August 2014

There's something about those Pitt brothers

Below is a link to my joint guest post with Jacqui Reiter on English Historical Fiction Authors. It's a fun question and answer format about why we're both interested in the "Pitt brothers" - William Pitt the Younger and John Pitt, the 2nd Lord Chatham. 

Enjoy! Click on the title to be directed to the website:

There's Something About Those Pitt Brothers

8 August 2014

Edward James Eliot's silhouette

A little while ago, the lovely Sarah Garcia (she blogs at:http://littlekumquat.weebly.com/) told me about a 1781 silhouette of Pitt's best friend and brother in-law Edward James Eliot (1758-1797). It is in the possession of Mr. James Hervey-Bathurst at Eastnor Castle in Herefordshire, England. The silhouette is viewable to visitors of the castle, and is located in the far case in the dining room. Unfortunately, it is too fragile to be taken out or touched. I contacted the estate, and the archivist of the estate was very helpful in answering my questions regarding the silhouette. According to the date on the back of the silhouette (1781), Edward would have been about 23 years old at the time when it was taken. He appears to be wearing a militia uniform, and Sarah has told me that Eliot and his brothers served in the Cornwall Fencibles. 

The owner, Mr. James Hervey-Bathurst, kindly granted me permission to post images of Eliot's silhouette on this site. They remain the property of the Eastnor Castle Collection:

Photo Credits:

All images above are the property of the Eastnor Castle Collection, and are reproduced here with kind permission from the owner of the estate.

31 July 2014

An original plaster cast of William Pitt's death mask

I recently had the honour of being contacted by a private collector named Mr. Randall Wallace. He owns an original plaster cast of Pitt's death mask that extends to the base of the neck. Mr. Wallace also sent me an image of the December 18, 1986 Sotheby's Catalogue, with a description of the  mask:

The Dec. 18, 1986 Sotheby's catalogue with a description of the death mask

Mr. Wallace sent several images of this particular death mask, and he kindly allowed me to share these on the website. Each image is the property of Randall Wallace as clearly stated on each photo. Compare the death mask below with the Pitt death mask at Chevening that I blogged about in a previous post. It is quite astonishing! 

If anyone reading this post is aware of any other Nolleken's masks - Pitt or otherwise - that extend to the base of the neck, please get in touch using the email on my website. 

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.