27 November 2013

How to explain a duel to your friends

In a letter sent from Downing Street at 9pm on the night of Pitt's duel with George Tierney (27th May 1798), Pitt writes to Dundas:

"Dear Dundas, You will perhaps hear that I had occasion to visit your neighbourhood this morning, in order to meet Mr. Tierney, in consequence of what passed between us in the House on Friday. We exchanged two shots on each side; and by the interposition of the seconds the affair ended in a way with which, I think, neither party had any reason to be dissatisfied. I am going to [Charles] Long's this evening, and will dine with you to-morrow. Yours ever, W. Pitt." 

What an amusing way to make light of a duel! The duel was fought on a Sunday, which sparked some degree of outrage at the time, and also on the day before Pitt's 39th birthday. Fortunately, neither of the duellists were injured in any physical way, although Pitt was ill soon afterward. 


Stanhope. (1862) Life of Pitt, Vol. 3. London: John Murray, p. 131.

20 November 2013

Lord Melville on Pitt's death

On 28 January 1806, five days after Pitt's death, Lord Melville wrote to William Huskisson about his grief:

"I am certainly very miserable, and as there is not an hour of my life for these twenty four years past, that does not at this moment and for ever continue to bring his image to my Mind, I cannot summon up or suggest to myself any Recourse from which I can collect a Ray of consolation…I must wait for that Species of Apathy which buries every thing past in one indiscriminate Oblivion."

I cannot read this without becoming upset.


Huskisson Papers. B.L. Add Ms 38759.

15 November 2013

Pitt at age 22: 'I never would accept a subordinate situation'

Whilst speaking in the House of Commons in March 1782, William Pitt, then just 22 years of age, stated categorically: "For myself, I could not expect to form part of a new administration; but were my doing so more within my reach, I feel myself bound to declare that I never would accept a subordinate situation" (quoted in Hague 2005: 85; Stanhope. Vol. 1: 70). Many senior politicians were shocked at Pitt's declaration, especially considering he had not yet held even a minor position in government. Horace Walpole recorded "the moment he [Pitt] sat down he was aware of his folly, and said he could bite his tongue out for what he had uttered" (Hague 2005: 85; Steuart, ed. The Last Journals of Horace Walpole, Vol. 2, p. 416).

I'll never forget the first time I read this passage. I had barely any knowledge of William Pitt, and had certainly never before read or heard anything even remotely similar it. Whereas many others think it was a pompous, vain, and certainly an overly confident thing to say given Pitt's age and lack of experience at the time, I was instantly attracted to him. The first impressive qualities of Pitt which appealed to me - even before I saw any portraits or caricatures of him - were his youthfulness, ambition, intelligence, courage, strength of character, incorruptibility, independence from political parties, precociousness, and his refusal to accept anything less than what he desired. 

Skipping forward just a single year - from March 1782 to December 1783 - Pitt's life forever changed. He became First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer on December 19, 1783 at the age of just 24. Most doubted how long he would remain in office. Famously, Mrs. Crewe said to Wilberforce at the time "Well, he [Pitt] may do what he likes during the holidays, but it will be only a mince-pie administration, depend on it" (Wilberforce's Diary, 22 December 1783, R.I. and S.W. Wilberforce, The Life of William Wilberforce, Vol. 1, p. 48). Most derided Pitt's youthfulness, and thought his remaining in office for long was completely hopeless. In fact, when it was first announced in the House of Commons that Pitt was the head of the government, MPs erupted into roaring laughter. 

But here is Pitt's greatness: He stood the overwhelming tests put in his way, and he fought all the obstacles which came his way. In February 1784, Pitt said "the country calls aloud to me that I should defend this castle; and I am determined therefore that I WILL defend it" (quoted in Hague 2005: 153). The young man, who at 24 in 1783 would go on to lead his country until he was forced to resign in 1801 over the question of Catholic Emancipation, and then AGAIN become First Lord from 1804 until his death - still in office - in January 1806, is one that I really believe shall never be surpassed. He occupied No. 10 Downing Street for longer than any other politician in British history, and he sacrificed his life for the greater good of the country he stood for and loved. Pitt's patriotism is another admirable quality he possessed. He was the least vain person, and he repeatedly put other people's wishes before his own. Ultimately, he was a kind, shy man; he was a truly brilliant man. 
We shall never see the likes of him again.


Hague, W. (2005) William Pitt the younger. London: Harper Press, pp. 85, 153.

R.I. and S.W. Wilberforce, The Life of William Wilberforce, Vol. 1, p. 48.

Stanhope, P.H. (1862) The Life of the Right Honourable William Pitt, Vol. 1. London: John Murray, p. 70.

Steuart, ed. The Last Journals of Horace Walpole, Vol. 2, p. 416.

Bowling Green House, Putney Heath

On January 23, 1806, at about half-past four o’clock in the morning, William Pitt died at Bowling Green House on Putney Heath. Pitt had rented the house from 1804, when he moved from his London residence at number 14 York Place (now a branch of the Pret a Manger cafe chain on Baker Street; there is a London Remembers plaque on the outside of the house to Pitt’s memory). On a trip to the Kent History and Library Centre in Maidstone to view some documents in the Pitt MSS, I had a look at Earl (Philip) Stanhope’s notes on Pitt’s fully-furnished, rented house at Putney.

Although now no longer standing, Pitt’s small house was still present in the 1860s, and Stanhope noted a visit he took there with his family. He described Bowling Green House as being on the north side of Putney Heath where it joins that of Wimbledon. Stanhope mentioned that it was a small house, white in colour, and bright and cheerful in appearance. Upon being allowed to enter the premises by the then current resident, he toured the property, stating that the best bedroom, just over the drawing room, is stated to be the room in which Pitt died. He thought the bedroom was ‘airy,’ and mentioned that the room had a handsome raised and embossed ceiling, with no room above it. Now, whether this bedroom was, in fact, the room in which Pitt died is not by any means conclusive. Indeed, it is now impossible to ascertain.

The house was pulled down to make way for a new housing development in the early 20th century. Fortunately, we are left with drawings of the residence to glean an idea of what it would have looked like in Pitt’s day. John Constable did a sketch of Bowling Green House on August 6, 1816. By then it was called ‘The Octagonal House.' Pitt's friend George Rose's daughter also drew a picture of the residence. This would have been much like the house Pitt would have recognised ten years earlier. It depicts the characteristic long, winding road which led to a small, white-coloured, octagonal house surrounded by beautiful, lush greenery.

A memorial to Pitt the Elder & Pitt the younger - St. Mary the Virgin, Hayes

Tucked away in a corner of the church there is a memorial plaque to William Pitt the younger, and his father William Pitt the elder, 1st Earl of Chatham, at St Mary the Virgin in Hayes, Kent.

Pitt the elder had a house, Hayes Place, that once stood across the road directly opposite from St Mary the Virgin church. William Pitt the younger and his older brother John Pitt (2nd Earl of Chatham) were born at Hayes Place, and the five children of Pitt the Elder grew up there and at the family estate of Burton Pynsent in Somerset.

Sadly, Hayes Place was demolished in the 1930s. Of interest, Winston Churchill (Prime Minister during the Second World War) was a huge admirer of Pitt the younger. I fully intend to explore Churchill’s interest in Pitt in a future blog entry. Churchill was one of the subscribers to this Pitt plaque, and the memorial was placed in the church in 1929 by Lady Stanhope.

As the plaque reads, these men truly were “the minds that thought for Britain’s weal.”

William Pitt the younger's frock coat at The Museum of London

Below are several photos I took on a trip to The Museum of London in March 2013. The purpose of my visit was to view the only known frock coat still in existence that was once worn by former British Prime Minister William Pitt the younger. With a bit of sleuth work, I tracked this item down in The Museum of London's catalogue, informed one of the costume curators, and they kindly allowed me to go and view the frock coat in person. As you can see, it was originally a luxuriously deep purple hue, but it has numerous condition issues. The frock coat is thought to have been worn at court in the 1780s.

It was incredibly exciting to see something Pitt once wore! If you're interested in visiting The Museum of London to take a look at Pitt's frock coat, the accession number is A15043:

As a side note, Pitt's breeches (by repute) are also at The Museum of London under the same accession number. If people express an interest, I will add photos of that as well!

Pitt's facial cyst

When I went to The National Archives today one of the things I intended to do was to follow-up on a reference to a return of Pitt’s facial cyst in 1788. The reference was in Ehrman’s The Younger Pitt: The years of acclaim (1969: 594, footnote 6). I managed to have a look at one of the letters Ehrman cites, which was from James Harris (Lord Malmesbury) to Pitt dated 28 August 1788 (PRO 30/8/155).

Malmesbury begins by lamenting that “a return of the pain in your [Pitt’s] face has prevented your coming to Town yesterday.” Whether this indicates that the pain was caused by a return of Pitt’s recurring facial cyst, or another ailment (perhaps Pitt had a bad toothache?) is impossible to glean from that particular letter, and that’s the end we hear of this pain. It may be of interest to mention that Pitt did suffer from “toothaches and swelled faces” as he says this himself in a letter to Wilberforce dated August 30, 1783 (Wilberforce, p. 2). I’d like to relay this particular passage of Pitt’s letter to Wilberforce as it illustrates Pitt’s playful sense of humour despite what must have been a painful experience.

Pitt writes in relation to their upcoming trip, with their mutual friend Edward James Eliot, to France: “…I hope to find it [the air of Rheims] equally sovereign for toothaches and swelled faces, which have persecuted me ever since I have been here [at Pitt’s mother’s house, Burton Pynsent, in Somerset], as if it was the middle of a session. We shall agree excellently as invalids, and particularly in making the robust Eliot fag for us, ride bodkin, and letting him enjoy all the other privileges of health” (Wilberforce, p. 2). From this passage to Wilberforce from the early 1780s, to Malmesbury’s reference to a “return of the pain in your face” in 1788, it’s difficult to tell whether the pain might have been caused by the cyst or a tooth infection. I’m not a doctor, but facial swelling can be caused by a variety of reasons, and an infection is one possibility. On the subject of Pitt’s health, at some point I need to get a hold of another useful article Ehrman had access to which may be enlightening. This is the source: R. Guest Gornall MRCP (1957) ‘The Prime Minister’s Health, William Pitt the Younger,’ If someone can get access to that in its entirety, they instantly become my best friend.


Ehrman, J. (1969) The younger Pitt: The years of acclaim. London: Constable, p. 594, footnote 6.

The UK National Archives. Chatham Papers, PRO 30/8/155.

Wilberforce, W. (ed. by Robert Issac & Samuel Wilberforce) The Correspondence of William Wilberforce, Volume 1. London: John Murray, p. 2.

13 November 2013

Henry Dundas & William Pitt: Two different perspectives

I like Henry Dundas (Viscount Melville), and believe him to be one of the only people in Pitt's life that could have filled the role of a father figure for Pitt. In a public and private sense, Dundas had a dramatic impact on Pitt. William respected Dundas's opinions, with good reason as Dundas was quite a clever politician, however quite a few of Pitt's friends, including the abolitionist William Wilberforce, lamented Dundas's hold on Pitt. Pitt drank far too much in Dundas's company, and increasingly this became such a regular habit that it quite possibly instigated Pitt's increasing dependence on alcohol to function. Pitt relied on Dundas; he was, as it were, Pitt's right-hand man and political fixer. Pitt came to depend on Dundas, and when Dundas threatened to leave office on several occasions, Pitt practically begged him to remain in government with him. Dundas also provided Pitt with a place to stay at his villa - Warren House, now called Cannizaro House (Hotel) - in Wimbledon. When Pitt wasn't at Downing Street or Holwood, he could most probably be found with Dundas in Wimbledon. I've seen numerous turnpike expenses showing Pitt's journeys between London and Wimbledon to see Dundas. They were, without a doubt, close. They shared morning rides on horseback, and evening walks at Wimbledon, mixing political business with the easy informality which suited their friendship. There was no clearly defined separation for them between politics and the convivial hours spent dining and drinking to excess.

For the purposes of comparison, I'm presenting two sides of the role Dundas played in Pitt's life. Firstly, for what it's worth, here is what the diarist Nathaniel Wraxall (or 'Rascal', if you're the Duke of Wellington), had to say about Dundas's control over Pitt:

"As early as the year 1787, Dundas attained a commanding influence which no other individual ever acquired over Pitt's mind. With the members of the Cabinet Pitt maintained only a political union: Dundas was his companion with whom he passed, not merely his convivial hours, but to whom he confided his cares and embarrassments...Dundas guided Pitt on many points, and influenced him upon almost every measure; but he effected it by never dictating upon any matter. When discussing public business, he [Dundas] commonly affected to embrace the contrary to the opinion which he knew or believed Pitt to have formed upon the subject. After contesting the chancellor of the exchequer's arguments, Dundas usually concluded by adopting his sentiments, as if from real conviction. This ingenious species of flattery proved irresistible under the control of judgement..." (p. 318)

On the other side of the coin, however, was Lady Hester Stanhope's (Pitt's niece) opinion of Wraxall's testimony. Her physician Dr. Meryon read the passage I have quoted above where Wraxall asserts Dundas's dominance, and this was her response:

"She [Lady Hester Stanhope] denied that Mr. Dundas had any direct influence over Mr. Pitt, as Wraxall avers. Her words were, "Because Mr. Dundas was a man of sense, and Mr. Pitt approved of his ideas on many subjects, it does not follow, therefore, that he was influenced by him"" (Lady Hester Stanhope, in Meryon: 71).

Taken as a whole, perhaps Dundas and Pitt were very similar men who essentially depended, in their own different ways, upon each other?


Meryon, C.L. (1845) 'Memoirs of Lady Hester Stanhope, as related by herself in conversations with her physician, Vol. 2.' London: Henry Colburn, p. 71.

Wraxall, Sir N.W. (1836) 'Posthumous memoirs of his own time, Vol. 2,' London: Samuel Bentley, p. 318.

Edmund Burke to Mrs. Crewe, Christmas 1796

Edmund Burke, in a letter to Mrs. Crewe on December 27, 1796, mentions the widely-circulated, and highly suspected rumours of Pitt's intended marriage to Eleanor Eden: 

"The talk of the town is of a marriage between a daughter of his [Lord Auckland's] and Mr. Pitt; and that our statesman, our premier des hommes, will take his Eve from the garden of Eden." (Vol. 4, p. 417). 

No smoke without fire! 


'The Correspondence of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke; between the Year 1744 and the period of his decease in 1797, Volume 4,' (1844) ed. Charles William, Earl Fitzwilliam and Sir Richard Bourke. London: Francis & John Rivington, p. 417.

Pitt's love of Port-wine

"Mr. Rogers has left these reminiscences of the statesman’s [Pitt’s] port-drinking: During his boyhood, Pitt was very weakly; and his physician, Addington (Lord Sidmouth’s father) ordered him to take port-wine in large quantities; the consequence was that when he grew up he could not do without it. Lord Grenville has seen him [Pitt] swallow a bottle of port in tumblerfuls before going to the House. This, together with his habit of eating late suppers (indigestible cold veal pies, etc.), helped, undoubtedly, to shorten his life. Huskisson, speaking of Pitt, said that his hands shook so much that, when he helped himself to salt, he was obliged to support the right hand with the left. Stothard, the painter, happened to be one evening at an inn on the Kent Road, when Pitt and Dundas put up there on their way from Walmer. Next morning, as they were stepping into their carriage, the waiter said to Stothard, "Sir, do you observe these two gentleman?" "Yes," he replied, "and I know them to be Mr. Pitt and Mr. Dundas." "Well, sir, how much wine do you suppose they drank last night?" Stothard could not guess. "Seven bottles, sir!""(ed. John Timbs, 1864: 58). I don’t necessarily agree with the authenticity of these ‘anecdotes,’ however it is certain that Pitt enjoyed his port to an unhealthy extent. In fact, that is the understatement of the century!


Timbs, J. (ed.) (1864) A century of Anecdote from 1760 to 1860, Volume 1. London: Richard Bentley, p. 58.

'The severest trial'

I do, indeed, consider the French revolution as the severest trial which the visitation of Providence has ever yet inflicted upon the nations of the earth; but I cannot help reflecting, with satisfaction, that this country, even under such trial, has not only been exempted from those calamities which have covered almost every other part of Europe, but appears to have been reserved as a refuge and asylum to those who fled its persecution, as a barrier to oppose its progress, and, perhaps, ultimately as an instrument to deliver the world from the crimes and miseries which have attended it.
—  William Pitt, 3 February 1800, in Hathaway, The Speeches of the Right Honourable William Pitt, Vol. 4, p.2.

Following up on Ehrman's reference to Miss Williams

I found the reference Ehrman (1996:93) refers to in one of the footnotes from ‘Notes & Queries, 6th Series, 1880, p. 376.’ 
Here is a link to the speculation regarding Miss [Elizabeth] Williams’ supposed relationship to William Pitt the younger.

I know of no such book entitled ‘The Private Life of William Pitt,’ nor who it could have been that originally put forward this theory. 

Printed in its entirety, here is what Notes & Queries (1880: 376) had to say upon the matter:

"William Pitt - Son of the Earl of Chatham - A book entitled The Private Life of William Pitt is said to exist; where can it be obtained? Was there any truth in the report that he was privately married? Who was Miss Williams, and where was she born and christened? She is said to have been at his death-bed, and subsequently to have accompanied Lady Hester Stanhope to Syria. Are any of the descendants of William Pitt’s (the second) private secretary Mr. Adams, living; and if so, where can they be communicated with?”

This speculation does not necessarily suggest Pitt was married to Miss Williams, but rather that there was a link between the two of them. Clearly, someone either got their facts mixed up - which, believe me, can easily happen - or there might have been a Private Life of William Pitt published in the 19th century which I simply cannot locate. Rumours it must be, but it doesn’t surprise me that people wondered at Elizabeth Williams privileged place in Pitt and Lady Hester Stanhope’s households.

Incidentally, my current work in progress is entitled 'The Private Life of Pitt.' 


Ehrman, J. (1996) The younger Pitt: The consuming struggle. London: Constable, p. 93 (footnote).
Notes & Queries, 6th Series, I. (1880) p. 376.

'Miss E & L Williams'

Whilst going through one of the files in the huge collection of Chatham Papers at The National Archives, Kew, I was deliberately looking for references to a ‘Miss E & L Williams.’ Miss Elizabeth and Louisa Jane Williams were under the care of William Pitt from at least 1797, and Elizabeth lived with Pitt until his death in 1806 (Pretyman Tomline Papers Ref. HA 119/4/4/10/5/5).
She is listed as a servant in his household at his death, although she was living with him between 1797 and 1801 without being listed as a domestic.
Now, my knowledge of servants in the late 18th century is far from extensive, but I have some intriguing questions for those who may know much more. For instance: Did servants have servants of their own? Here’s why I ask…


Above is an account (PRO 30/8/213) from Mr. Bullock (Pitt’s manager) to Bradshaw “For a quarters Board & Education for Miss E & L Williams for Michalmas (September) 1797 to Christmas 1797.” This list also includes writing and cyphering, 2 pairs of shoes mended, 2 new Great Coats, tape thread worsted pins, a months vacation, fineing(?), breaking up, and a servant (??).
This is only one such bill for the board and education of the two girls. Ehrman (1996: 93) also refers to other accounts of Pitt paying for or toward the education and upkeep of the girls. It is believed they were the daughters of either William or Edward Williams, both servants of the Pitt family.
But why these two girls? Why were they singled out, as it were, to live and effectively be brought up, by Pitt? Pitt was a kind master to all of his servants, and there are records of him procuring jobs and minor positions elsewhere for his former servants. That’s fair enough, and makes sense. But he also didn’t raise their children, as far as the records show. Pitt was a godfather to many children, and one of his wards (Dundas shared responsibility for the boy as well) was Lord Haddo, later Earl of Aberdeen. Nevertheless, there are no existing accounts for Pitt paying for any other person’s education - servant or otherwise - except for Miss Elizabeth and Louisa Williams. So who were they? I’m afraid we’ll probably never know for certain, unless more information that is hidden away is uncovered (which is unlikely, however, as a researcher of social history I always hold out hope!).


The UK National Archives. Chatham Papers, PRO 30/8/213.

Ehrman, J. (1996) The younger Pitt: The consuming struggle. London: Constable, p. 93.

The Countess of Chatham's birthday in the Gregorian calendar

The Countess of Chatham - better known as Hester Chatham, William Pitt the younger’s mother - was born on November 8, 1720. That is her birthday according to the Julian calendar which was in place at the date of her birth. In the early 1750s, this calendar was replaced with what we use to this day - the Gregorian calendar.

Using this handy little conversion tool, I typed in Hester’s birthday in order to work out what her birthday would have been according to the modern day Gregorian calendar:

Guess what it is? November 19th! Coincidentally, dear Reader, this is the same as my own.

Pitt & Perigord

Wilberforce related an anecdote which had once been told to him by Mr. Pitt concerning the “gaiety of heart” amongst French people despite the horrific machinations of the French Revolution, and the terrible treatment and execution of Marie Antoinette. 
Pitt had once told Wilberforce that “shortly after the tragical death of Marie Antoinette, M. Perigord, an emigrant of some consequence who had made Mr. Pitt’s acquaintance at Versailles, took refuge in England, and on coming to London went to pay his respects in Downing Street. The conversation naturally turned upon the bloody scenes of the French Revolution; on their fatal consequences to social order; and in particular on the barbarity with which the unfortunate Queen had been treated. The Frenchman’s feelings were quite overcome, and he exclaimed amidst violent sobbing, ‘Ah! Monsieur Pitt, la pauvre Reine! la pauvre Reine!’ These words had scarcely been uttered, when he jumped up as if a new idea possessed him, and looking towards a little dog which came with him, he exclaimed, ‘Cependant, Monsieur Pitt, il faut vous faire voir mon petit chien danser.’ Then pulling a small kit out of his pocket, he began dancing about the room to the sound of his little instrument, and calling to the dog, ‘Fanchon, Fanchon, dansez, dansez,’ the little animal instantly obeyed, and they cut such capers together that the minister’s [Pitt’s] gravity was quite overcome, and he burst into a loud laugh, hardly knowing whether he was most amused or astonished” (Wilberforce, 1838: 261-2).


Wilberforce, R.I. and Wilberforce, S. (1838) The Life of William Wilberforce by his sons, Vol. 5. London: John Murray, pp. 261-2.

Pitt and Muzzled Mouths

In The Farington Diary (Vol. 1: 137) Joseph Farington records a meeting held at Downing Street in January 1796 between Pitt and several Lancashire delegates. This is how he describes Pitt at the time: “He [Pitt] was dressed in a worn Blue Coat and Red waistcoat, - a dirty pair of leather breeches, and a pair of old Boots…”
Amongst other discussions, “Mr. Pitt was also informed of a Society having been established by the Jacobins, since the Sedition Bills passed, where the members, at their meetings, sit with a kind of muzzle over their mouths, and converse only by signs and writing. Pitt laughed at the ridiculous description” (Farington, Vol. 1: 137).


Farington, J. (ed. by James Greig) The Farington Diary, Volume 1. (3rd edition). London: Hutchinson & Co., p. 137.

Sir Walter Farquhar on Pitt's drinking

Sir Walter Farquhar, Pitt’s physician for 11 years, gave an account - of which I won’t quote it all here - of Pitt’s health. Farquhar also considers the reasons for Pitt’s premature death. This is printed at the end of Lord Rosebery’s (ed.) (1900) The Love Episode of William Pitt.
In considering Pitt’s health, these particular passages stood out to me as they relate to Farquhar’s views on Pitt’s drinking:

"The very early period in which Mr. Pitt engaged in Public Affairs certainly tended to stretch Nature beyond her accustomed limits, & he wanted Constitutional Stamina to support him through the trying scenes of political Life. The mind was constantly acting upon a weak frame of body, & exhaustion was the consequence of this sympathetic action…The early habit of the too free use of Wine operated unquestionably to weaken the Powers of the Stomach, & thereby to impede its natural & salutary Functions, on which the vigor of the Constitution depends. I therefore recommended dilution with water, which appeared for a time to be attended with good effects; but debility was perpetually calling for new aids & new props, which gave only temporary relief, & at last lost their efficacy (p.47-8)."
At the very end of Sir Walter’s account, in 1816 Lord Liverpool also decided to pass his judgement on Pitt’s health. He wrote this the year after Napoleon’s final defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, so Liverpool had the benefit of hindsight and victory on his side.

I’m not quoting the entire passage here, just Liverpool’s verdict on whether or not Pitt’s life could have been prolonged by retiring from public life:

"I doubt very much whether Retirement would have materially prolonged his [Pitt’s] Life - that is Retirement attended by the contemplation of the misfortunes of his Country, & of the want of the success of those exertions which he was entitled to suppose might have led to a very different result. If he had fortunately lived to this day, the case would have been very different, & he might have quitted office with the natural hope of passing some years in a reasonable state of health & comfort (p. 50)."

It’s useless to speculate, but I suppose Liverpool has a point there.


Rosebery (ed.) (1900) The Love Episode of William Pitt. London: John Murray, pp. 47-8, 50.

Mr. Pitt's watch at The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

I received confirmation from The Fitzwilliam Museum that William Pitt’s watch is still there. Unfortunately, an image of it is not currently on the museum’s website as they’re in the process of photographing and cataloguing all the watches in the collection. The images of the watch shown below are the ones I commissioned the museum to photograph for me. I have been granted permission to reproduce them here:

Fig. 1: The front of Pitt's gold fob watch

Fig 2: The back of Pitt's watch. It has the stork and anchor from his crest, and is inscribed 1782

Fig. 3: Two views of Pitt's fob watch

Here’s some info about the watch:

The watch was given to the museum by the Rt. Hon. R.A. Christopher on 16th November 1852. It’s an English watch, made by John Holmes in 1782. In the object folder for this watch there is a letter from a C.H. Watson, concerning an article he wrote on ‘John Holmes - time for a further look,’ which was published in ‘Antiquarian Horology.’ Watson states that the article has photographs of the watch on pg. 653. Unhelpfully, he doesn’t give a volume or a date, but the original letter is dated January 2004. It's a gold fob watch with a gold case. On the back of the watch there is an image of a stork holding an anchor from Pitt's family crest. On the back of the watchcase there is the same image of the bird holding the anchor, and underneath it is written ‘William Pitt 1782.’ This source information comes from the senior technician of the Department of Applied Arts at the Fitzwilliam Museum.

Pitt kept the watch until his death, when it passed to his servant (his valet is a likely candidate), who handed it to Mr. Dundas, M.P. more than twenty years later. That watch, a mourning ring, and a box containing Pitt’s hair were bequeathed to the Rt. Hon. R.N. Hamilton. (Source: Timbs, J. (1864) ‘A century of anecdote from 1760-1860, Vol. 1,’ pp. 182-183.) It must have passed from there to the Rt. Hon. R.A. Christopher, and then finally to The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

Image Credits:

All three images are reproduced by the kind permission of The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. Accession No.: M.1&A-1852.

A memorial ring to Lady Harriot Eliot & William Pitt

Above are two views of a diamond and pearl memorial ring commemorating Lady Harriot Eliot and her brother, the statesmen William Pitt. Her hair, with gold wire initials HE, are set in the bezel. Inscribed on the back it says Lady Har Eliot Obt 25 Sept 1786 Aet 28.

The enamelled hoop bears the inscription Rt Honble WM Pitt Ob 23 Jan 1806 Ae 47.

The ring is currently in the possession of Lord & Lady Rosebery at Dalmeny House Estate, South Queensferry, Edinburgh.

Image Credit:

Scarisbrick, D. (1993) Rings: Symbols of Wealth, Power and Affection, p. 186.

The Duke of Wellington on Pitt's early death

In Stanhope’s (1862: 346-7) Life of the Right Honourable William Pitt (Vol. 4,) he notes a conversation he had with the Duke of Wellington at Walmer on October 25, 1838:

"The Duke and I [Stanhope] spoke of Mr. Pitt, lamenting his early death. "I did not think," said the Duke, "that he would have died so soon. He died in January 1806; and I met him at Lord Camden’s, in Kent, and I think that he did not seem ill in the November previous. He was extremely lively, and in good spirits. It is true that he was by way of being an invalid at that time. A great deal was always said about his taking his rides - for he used then to ride eighteen or twenty miles every day - and great pains were taken to send forward his luncheon, bottled porter, I think, and getting him a beef-steak or mutton chop ready at some place fixed beforehand. That place was always mentioned to the party, so that those kept at home in the morning might join the ride there if they pleased. On coming home from these rides, they used to put on dry clothes, and to hold a Cabinet, for all the party were members of the Cabinet, except me and, I think, the Duke of Montrose. At dinner Mr. Pitt drank little wine; but it was at that time the fashion to sup, and he then took a great deal of port-wine and water.

In the same month I also met Mr. Pitt at the Lord Mayor’s dinner; he did not seem ill. On that occasion I remember he returned thanks in one of the best and neatest speeches I ever heard in my life. It was in very few words. The Lord Mayor had proposed his health as one who had been the Saviour of England, and would be the Saviour of the rest of Europe. Mr. Pitt then got up, disclaimed the compliment as applied to himself, and added, “England he saved herself by her exertions, and the rest of Europe will be saved by her example!” That was all; he was scarcely up two minutes; yet nothing could be more perfect. I remember another curious thing at that dinner. Erskine was there. Now Pitt had always over Erskine a great ascendancy - the ascendancy of terror. Sometimes, in the House of Commons, he could keep Erskine in check by merely putting out his hand or making a note. At this dinner, Erskine’s health having being drank, and Erskine rising to return thanks, Pitt held up his finger, and said to him across the table, “Erskine! remember that they are drinking your health as a distinguished Colonel of Volunteers.” Erskine, who had intended, as we heard, to go off upon Rights of Juries, the State Trials, and other political points, was quite put out; he was awed like a school-boy at school, and in his speech kept strictly within the limits enjoined him.”


Stanhope (1862) Life of the Right Honourable William Pitt (Vol. 4). London: John Murray, pp. 346-7.

Emily Eden's letter to Earl Stanhope (1861)

I’m trawling through some notes I took on some of the documents in the Pitt MSS (at the Kent History and Library Centre in Maidstone), and I’ve come across some notes from two letters in 1861 between Emily Eden (Eleanor Eden’s youngest sister - born in 1797) and Earl Stanhope. He had written to Miss Emily Eden to ask for her permission to see the correspondence between Pitt and Lord Auckland relating to Eleanor Eden. Emily wrote back in a rather haughty manner saying that, although she knew the letters were still in Beckenham at Eden Farm, she didn’t allow Stanhope to see them as she said it was a private matter. Emily also told Stanhope that Eleanor (who died ten years before) didn’t like the subject of Pitt being mentioned, and that she [Eleanor] found the subject difficult to discuss… 
And, as far as I can tell, that’s where the correspondence between Emily Eden and Stanhope ends!

Mr. Pitt & the country gentlemen

An incident is related in Captain William Jesse’s biography of George (aka Beau) Brummell of a dinner at Lord Mulgrave’s in 1805 which Mr. Pitt attended. The dinner was preceded by a trial on the banks of the Thames to see a vessel called the Gemini which was constructed by Sir Sidney Smith for use against the Boulogne flotilla. During the dinner that followed, Mr. Pitt “was in great spirits, and amused those near him exceedingly, conversing with them on a variety of subjects politics apparently never entering his head, and he was no flincher at his wine” (Jesse, 1844: 72-3). After the dinner, the cloth was removed, and Colonel (later Lord) Dillon started speaking about the good old times of Sir Robert Walpole [18th century British politician] and the country gentlemen. “”What’s that you say, Colonel,” said Pitt,”of the good old times?” The Colonel repeated his eulogium, finishing of course with a still more splendid peroration. “Ah,” replied Pitt, in his deep sepulchral voice, “ah, Colonel Dillon, those were indeed the good old times, - for they were days when country gentleman were even more ignorant and more obstinate than they are at present!”” (Jesse, 1844: 73). 

Hahaha! Pitt’s sarcastic wit was notorious.


Jesse, W. (1844) Beau Brummell, Vol. 1. London: Saunders and Otley, pp. 72-73).

Mr. Pitt's advice: Don't lose your temper

In Earl Stanhope’s Miscellanies (1863) there is a letter from Mr. Boyd to Earl Stanhope relating a piece of advice from Mr. Pitt that was given to the late Mr. Christmas, who in his early professional life was a confidential clerk or temporary private secretary to Pitt. Mr. Christmas was apparently a man who rarely lost his temper. Boyd was fascinated by Christmas’s ability to remain sanguine in the face of such an arduous workload, so he enquired how Christmas managed to remain so calm. Boyd relates the circumstance as follows:

"…I could not resist the opportunity of asking the old gentleman [Mr. Christmas] the secret. "Well, Mr. Boyd, you shall know it. Mr. Pitt gave it to me: - Not to lose my temper, if possible, at any time, and NEVER during the hours of business"…He [Christmas] also related to me an instance which came under his own observation of Mr. Pitt’s extraordinary powers of mental and physical endurance. Mr. Pitt had been immersed all day with Christmas in intricate accounts (I assume, preparing for the conflict of a War Budget), when, looking at the hour, he said, "I must now go to the House, but shall return as early as I can, although I fear we shall have a late sitting." It proved so, as he did not rejoin his private secretary until six in the morning. He had something kind to say to Christmas for keeping at his work, adding, "I must now have a wash," and going to the end of the room, threw off his coat and neckcloth, and applied a wet towel to his head and face. When this improvised ablution was over, he declared to his fidus Achates that he was quite fresh and ready for business, and for four hours he was hard at work, in going through the accounts Mr. Christmas had prepared during the night.” (Stanhope, 1863: 38-39)

What great advice!


Stanhope (1863) Miscellanies. London: John Murray, pp. 38-9.

'An encysted tumour'

William Pitt suffered much from a recurring encysted tumour on one of his cheeks from the time he was at Pembroke Hall (now Pembroke College) in Cambridge until - as far as is recorded - 1788. Reilly (1978: 47) states that Pitt was in London in February 1779 having “an unsightly cyst” removed from his face. Whoever performed the surgery on Pitt must have given him something which made him drowsy and dulled his senses. The swelling recurred in early 1786, and is recorded in a letter from Lady Harriot Eliot (Pitt’s sister) to their mother Hester Chatham, dated February 28, 1786. Amongst other news, Harriot reassures her mother:

"…I did not say any thing about William’s Face because I was for some time in ye idea that what is to be done to it woud have been done before now, and that I might have had ye pleasure of telling you the swelling was quite removed when I mention’d the Subject. He saw Sharp [presumably a physician] immediately after my coming to Town, who gives a great deal of Comfort as to its being finally cured, and having nothing to do with his Constitution; But he thinks it will be necessary to open it, which he says will not be attended with much pain…though I always knew from ye Little one [cyst] He [William] had at Cambridge what it must come to, I did not like to write to you about it…it was Sharp’s Choice to delay it [the operation], as he wish’d to be certain of a few days, or a week’s Quiet from speaking in ye House. I ask’d him [Sharp] whether it woud at all increase ye Pain of Opening it by Delaying it; and He assured me not, and that even shoud it break of its own accord there woud be a little oozing perhaps which woud heal up immediately…"(Eliot, ed. by Cuthbert Headlam, 1914: 137-138).

It is clear, from Lady Harriot's personal testimony, that Pitt had a facial cyst on his cheek on more than one occasion.

It was agreed to delay the operation, and it was eventually performed in mid-September 1786, not by Sharp, but by the famous surgeon John Hunter at Pitt’s residence on Downing Street (see Hague 2005; Ehrman 1969). The procedure to remove the cyst lasted approximately six minutes, and Pitt amazed those around him (including his close friend and former tutor George Pretyman) by his ability to deal with the pain (considering these were the days before anaesthetics!). The pain from this cyst returned in August 1788, but that is the last that is officially recorded (Ehrman, 1969: 594).
I am consistently impressed by Pitt’s courage and strength against what must have been a very painful experience.


Eliot, H. (ed. by Cuthbert Headlam) (1914) The Letters of Lady Harriot Eliot, 1766-1786. Edinburgh: T. and A. Constable, pp. 137-138.

Ehrman, J. (1969) The Younger Pitt: The years of acclaim. London: Constable, p. 594.

Hague, W. (2005) William Pitt the Younger. London: Harper Press.

Reilly, R. (1978) Pitt the Younger. London: Cassell, p. 47.

Map of Keston, Kent

Further to my previous post on Holwood, I’ve included a sketch map (early 20th century) of Keston, Kent covering the area of the Holwood estate. This map can be found at the beginning of Frederick Sidney Gammon’s 1934 book The Story of Keston in Kent

The dotted line running down next to the Wilberforce Oak was the original road to Westerham which Pitt had diverted in 1790. The location of Holwood House on the map above is different from where Pitt’s Holwood stood, it being on the left-hand side of the Camp rather than on the right (see Gammon, 1934: 51). For those interested in visiting Keston, the Fox Inn is still there, and does excellent pub lunches! Keston is an attractive place, and I can well imagine Pitt going birds-nesting there as a child, and wanting to call Holwood his own (Gammon, 1934: 26).


Gammon, F.S. (1934) The Story of Keston in Kent. London: Thomas Murby & Co., pp. 26, 51.


The word ‘Holwood,’ also known variously as ‘Hollwood,’ originates from the Anglo-Saxon terms ‘Holt Wudu,’ meaning a wood or forest (Gammon, 1934: 13). Holwood is located in the small village of Keston, near Hayes, in Kent. In the autumn of 1785, William Pitt purchased Holwood House from Mr. Randall, a London shipbuilder, and from that time until he was forced to sell it in 1802 to pay off some debts, Holwood was Pitt’s favourite country retreat (Gammon, 1934: 24). Pitt’s great passion at Holwood was cutting and planting in order to create striking views from his residence to the vale of Keston. Amongst Pitt’s alterations, in July 1790 he diverted the course of the Westerham Road and enlarged and enclosed the estate by an additional thirty acres; this was permitted by Keston parish on the condition that Pitt pay a perpetual annuity of £10 for the poor (Gammon, 1934: 24). Below are several engravings of Holwood House as it appeared during Pitt’s time. image
Although the engraving above is from the European Magazine (1800), it must date from before Sir John Soane’s alterations of the late 1790s. Pitt worked closely with the architect Sir John Soane, and an extension was made to the east end of the property, including a new library and dining room. This dining room had “a spacious bow window which he [Pitt] covered with pantiles and curiously variegated stucco, then much in vogue” (Gammon, 1934: 26). His library at Holwood was filled with Greek and Latin texts, and he was fond of reading and quoting from them. Of interest, Thomas Raikes mentioned in his journals that he often visited Holwood. Here are his recollections of the place:

"At that period I was a boy, and often rode over with my father from Freelands, where we lived, and while he was closeted with the Minister I was left to wait in the dining-room, which I had full time to explore. The furniture was of the most simple description; I remember a chaise longue was drawn near the fireplace, on which he [Pitt] might be supposed to have thrown himself on his arrival from town, when jaded by a long and stormy debate in the House; a few books lay on a hanging shelf within reach, amongst which I recollect a pocket Virgil, marked and dogs-eared in every part of the Aeneid" (Raikes, 1857: 119-120). What an evocative description!

The print below represents Holwood as it was in about 1800.

Of interest, Gammon (1934: 26) notes that “the walls of one room [at Holwood] are said to have been covered with Gillray’s and other political caricatures levelled at himself [Pitt], which seemed to afford him much amusement. He [Pitt] used to show them to his friends, and laugh heartily when a particularly good hit at himself was made.” Pitt always did possess a playful sense of humour.
Ehrman (1969: 591-2) describes Holwood thus: “…the drawing room had green cotton curtains and green and white striped covers to the sofa and chairs, the dining room green curtains and a green and pink Wilton carpet, the study green curtains again, while Pitt’s bedroom had white curtains and white coverings to the four-poster bed. The furniture in the larger rooms was mahogany almost throughout. There were five more bedrooms in the back quarters and the garret, and the offices included a still-room, dairy, and laundry. There were also a coachman’s room, and a groom’s room with two beds, over the stables.” Also see the Holwood Inventory of 4 July 1794 at PRO 30/8/219 for a more comprehensive source.

Unfortunately, Pitt’s Holwood is no more, having been demolished to make way for Decimus Burton’s Holwood in the 1820s. Indeed, the present house does not stand at the same site as Pitt’s Holwood (Gammon, 1934: 51).

Fortunately, the remains of the ‘Wilberforce Oak’ (the spot where, after a conversation with Pitt below the old tree, Wilberforce decided to give notice of his intention to pursue the abolition of the slave trade) and a stone bench Earl Stanhope erected in the 1860s to remember that ground-breaking conversation, can still be seen by visitiors strolling through the grounds which are accessible to the public.


Ehrman, J. (1969) The Younger Pitt: The years of acclaim. London: Constable, pp. 591-2.

Gammon, F.S. (1934) The Story of Keston in Kent. London: Thomas Murby & Co., pp. 13, 24-26, 51.

The National Archives, Kew. PRO 30/8/219 - Holwood Inventory of 4 July 1794.

Raikes, T. (1857) A portion of the Journal kept by Thomas Raikes, Esq., from 1831 to 1847, Vol. 3.

London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans & Roberts, pp. 119-120.

Also see this website, which was compiled by Simon Gooch, the author of the privately printed 2010 book ‘Holwood: A Stroll Around the Estate’: http://www.keston-park.org/about/history/

Who is 'Pulchritudo'?

Whilst re-reading The Private Papers of William Wilberforce, I came upon a letter Pitt wrote to Wilberforce from Brighthelmstone (known as Brighton in modern times) dated Wednesday, August 6, 1783. Now, there’s nothing particularly noteworthy about the letter apart from a name, or rather a nickname, of a person who I’ve never seen in any other source. In the letter, Pitt talks about his upcoming trip to Rheims in France with Eliot and Wilberforce, and then goes on to talk about how he is enjoying his time by the sea.

Here’s the relevant part: “The lounge here [in Brighthelmstone] is excellent, principally owing to our keeping very much to ourselves - that is Pulchritudo, Steele, Pretyman, and myself…and the better part of love as well as valor is discretion…” (Wilberforce, 1897: 5-6). If this was an unknown love interest, Pitt would have had to have been extremely discreet, which he always was, in order to keep it a secret. Am I missing something here? Who is ‘Pulchritudo’? I have yet to find another reference to this person, or certainly the nickname, anywhere else. Of course, I could be overlooking something obvious, and if I am, do let me know.

Also, is this a typo in the printed text? ‘Pulchritudo’ may not be a word in the English language, but pulchritude most certainly is - and it means Beauty. So who is this unnamed beauty?

Again, in the same letter Pitt refers to the value of discretion in matters of love, so perhaps he chose not to write the person's name in the letter? All of this is mere speculation, but it’s intriguing nonetheless as no one seems to have picked up on the obvious before (unless I’ve missed something huge). These are my personal ruminations, but it’s definitely something to ponder.


Wilberforce, A.M. (ed.) (1897) The Private Papers of William Wilberforce. London: T.F. Unwin, pp. 5-6.

Sheridan's laughable quip

A gentleman’s sporting magazine for the month of April 1802 (when Pitt was out of office) relates an amusing riposte made by the well-known playwright and Whig member of Parliament Richard Brinsley Sheridan on Pitt’s supposed secret influence in Addington’s government.
Sheridan said that “Mr. Pitt appears as an outside passenger upon the top of the state coach; where, to be sure, he has no ostensible hold of the reins; yet, if we see him [Pitt] busily employed in pointing out where it is to turn, what road it shall take, and where to bait, it is easy to see who is the real guide…” (Sporting Magazine, Vol. 20, 1802: 111). The commentator remarked that at the time of Sheridan’s speech, Pitt was, in fact, seated on one of the highest seats behind the Treasury bench, causing uproarious laughter among his fellow MPs. Poor Pitt!

Sheridan was one of Pitt’s few witty political opponents, and someone not overawed by Pitt’s frequent, caustic sarcasm. I relate this anecdote as it occurred, and was printed, during Pitt’s lifetime, and as it is relatively unknown.


The Sporting Magazine, or, Monthly Calendar, of the transactions of the turf, the chase, and every other diversion interesting to the Man of Pleasure, Enterprise, and Spirit, for April 1802. London: J. Wheble, pg. 111.

Bowling Green House, Putney Heath

On January 23, 1806, at about half-past four o’clock in the morning, William Pitt died at Bowling Green House on Putney Heath. Pitt had rented the house from 1804, when he moved from his London residence at number 14 York Place (now a branch of the Pret a Manger cafe chain on Baker Street; there is a London Remembers plaque on the outside of the house to Pitt’s memory). 
On a trip to the Kent History and Library Centre in Maidstone to view some documents in the Pitt MSS, I had a look at Earl (Philip) Stanhope’s notes on Pitt’s fully-furnished, rented house at Putney. Although now no longer standing, Pitt’s small house there was still present in Stanhope’s time, and he noted a visit he took with his family to that place in the 1860s. He described Bowling Green House as being on the north side of Putney Heath where it joins that of Wimbledon. Stanhope mentioned that it was a small house, white in colour, and bright and cheerful in appearance. Upon being allowed to enter the premises by the then current resident, he toured the property, stating that the best bedroom, just over the drawing room, is stated to be the room in which Pitt died. He thought the bedroom was ‘airy,’ and mentioned that the room had a handsome raised and embossed ceiling, with no room above it (see the Pitt MSS, under CKS-U1590/S5, for more information).

Now, whether this bedroom was, in fact, the room in which Pitt died is not by any means conclusive. Indeed, it is now impossible to ascertain. The house was pulled down to make way for a new housing development in the early 20th century. Fortunately, we are left with drawings of the residence to glean an idea of what it would have looked like in Pitt’s day.

Below is a sketch by John Constable done on August 6, 1816 of what was then called ‘The Octagonal House’ - aka Bowling Green House - on Putney Heath.


This would have been much like the house Pitt would have recognised ten years earlier. The drawing just below is an 1878 (or later) print of Bowling Green House engraved by John Charles Griffiths. It depicts the characteristic long, winding road to a small, white-coloured house surrounded by beautiful, lush greenery.


Lastly, the drawing above is Bowling Green House by R.B. Schnebbelie (also late 19th century), which is now located at the Wandsworth Museum, London. Similar to the above two drawings, it gives the viewer an idea of this tranquil, unassuming villa. It must have provided Pitt with a place in the country (certainly Putney was the country at the beginning of the nineteenth century!) to refresh himself whilst still being within easy reach of Westminster.

'Originality in any shape'

In the late 1820s, a Mr. Madden went to see Lady Hester Stanhope, Pitt’s famously eccentric niece, who had been living abroad for many years. During this visit, Lady Hester spoke to Mr. Madden about her late uncle, William Pitt, with whom she was very fond. These are Madden’s printed recollections of Lady Hester Stanhope from 1828: 

"When Mr. Pitt was out of office, says her Ladyship, I acted as his secretary, and he had then as much business as when he was in. He seldom opposed my opinions, and always respected my antipathies. In private life, he was cheerful and affable; he would rise in the midst of his gravest avocations to hand me a fallen handkerchief; he was always polite to women, and a great favourite with many of them, but he was wedded to the state, and nothing but death could have divorced him from his country. He was fond of me; he loved originality in any shape. His great recreation, after the fatigue of business, was stealing into the country, entering a clean cottage, where there was a tidy woman and a nicely scoured table, and there he would eat bread and cheese like any ploughman. He detested routs, and always sat down to plain dinners. He never ate before he went to the House [of Commons], but when any thing important was to be discussed, he was in the habit of taking a glass of port-wine with a tea-spoonful of bark in it" (Madden, 1828: 133).

Was this Pervian bark, by any chance?

This is a great summary of Pitt as he was in private life, and it also illustrates the simple pleasures of life which he enjoyed when he could.


Madden, in Berrow’s Worcester Journal (1828) The Poetry and Varieties of Berrow’s Worcester Journal for the year 1828, p. 133.


Goostree’s was a late 18th century gentleman’s subscription club on, I believe, about number 51 Pall Mall, St James. Numbers 49 and 50 Pall Mall were occupied by Almack’s (Sheppard, 1960: Survey of London volumes 29 and 30: St James Westminster, part 1). In the early 1780s, Pitt was a regular frequenter and founding member of Goostree’s. He was joined there by his close friends, all young, politically-minded men, including Edward Eliot (one of Pitt’s closest intimates who he met at Pembroke Hall, Cambridge), William Wilberforce, Thomas Steele, Robert Smith (later Lord Carrington), Richard Pepper Arden, Pitt’s older brother John (the 2nd Earl of Chatham), Bankes, Pratt, St John, and others. Pitt’s best biographer John Ehrman (1969: 106-7) says there were about twenty-five members in total. At Goostree’s Pitt felt he could let himself go, and before taking office he spent a great deal of time at the club. Unfortunately, after Pitt became First Lord of the Treasury he was too busy to go to Goostree’s very often, and the club eventually came to an end in early 1787. 
Of note, below is a snapshot of the 1799 Horwood map of London featuring the area including number 51 Pall Mall where Goostree’s was located (several houses before the turning on to St. James’s Square):

Sadly, the building where Goostree’s once stood is no longer. Ehrman (1969: 106) believed that Goostree’s was “on part of the site now occupied by the British Legion’s offices,” which today stand at 48 Pall Mall. Pitt himself refers to Goostree’s in a letter of 29 August 1781: “I shall return to town with the fullest intention of devoting myself to Westminster Hall and getting as much money as I can, notwithstanding such avocations as the House of Commons, and (which is a much more dangerous one) Goostree’s itself” (Holland Rose, 1911: 89). Let’s imagine him supping there with his close companions, maybe playing at a game of chance, and having a glass or two of port.


Ehrman, J. (1969) The Younger Pitt: The years of acclaim. London: Constable, pp. 106-7.

Holland Rose, J. (1911) William Pitt and National Revival. London: G. Bell and Sons, p. 89.

Sheppard, F.H.W. (ed.) (1960) Survey of London Volumes 29 and 30: St James Westminster part 1.

Also see:


Robert Fulton: The father of torpedo warfare

From H. W. Dickinson, Robert Fulton: Engineer and Artist, London, 1913

The portrait above represents Robert Fulton, an American engineer and inventor who worked closely with William Pitt in 1804 in relation to the development of torpedo warfare. Unfortunately, after Pitt’s death the contract with the British Navy failed, and consequently the American Civil War was the first time torpedo submarines were deployed in war. Pitt witnessed a test of Fulton’s torpedo in person at Deal, Kent, in October 1804 (See Ehrman, J. (1996) The Younger Pitt, Volume 3, Chapter XIX, p. 707).

Pope Joan

In early 1801, Lord Glenbervie (Sylvester Douglas) related a conversation between the Duchess of Gordon (Pitt’s close friend and political hostess, Jane Maxwell) and Pitt’s physician Sir Walter Farquhar. “Sir Walter Farquhar was mentioning Mr. Pitt’s tranquility of mind, and said he frequently played at Pope Joan [a popular game at that time], on which the Duchess said, “I wish he would occupy himself less about the Pope and more about Joan" (Glenbervie Diaries, 1928: 182). 
Lord Glenbervie appears to have been extremely amused with this bon mot, and took it upon himself to relate this witticism to his friends. Not long after, he called upon the Duchess of Gordon to mention that her remark was met with applause in society. “She [the Duchess of Gordon] said she said it to Pitt himself - or to Sir Walter Farquhar rather, in Pitt’s presence. That by Joan she meant nothing but Jane, i.e. herself. I said she must give the world leave to suppose she meant as much wit as they thought she did. According to her, Lady Margaret Fordyce, who was also present, improved on her joke by adding to it that in her opinion the worst part of Pitt’s game at Pope Joan was the Stop" (Glenbervie Diaries, 1928: 198).

The long-standing friendship between the Duchess of Gordon and Pitt was well-known, and it’s impossible to determine whether they were ever anything more than just friends. Still, it’s an intriguing remark. In a future post, I intend to explore Pitt’s short-lived interest in the Duchess of Gordon’s eldest daughter Lady Charlotte Gordon (later the Duchess of Richmond), with several contemporaneous 18th century newspaper clippings, and an anecdote from the Duchess of Gordon’s servant Matthias D’Amour.


Douglas, S. (ed. by Francis Bickley) (1928) The Diaries of Sylvester Douglas, Lord Glenbervie, Vol. 1, London: Constable, pp. 182, 198.

A Vindication of Pitt

On January 1, 1861, The Bromley Record and Monthly Advertiser, The Kentish Rambler, Keston (p. 2) included a piece on Pitt’s politics. This is worth repeating to a 21st century audience who, sadly, often continue to misunderstand him:  

"History will vindicate the real man from calumny disguised under the semblance of adulation, and will exhibit him as what he was, a minister of great talents, honest intentions, and liberal opinions, pre-eminently qualified, intellectually and morally, for the part of a Parliamentary leader, and capable of administrating, with prudence and moderation, the Government of a prosperous and tranquil country…"


The Bromley Record and Monthly Advertiser, Vol. 1, June 1858-December 1860. Bromley: Edward Strong, Market Square, 1865, p. 2.

The demise of the House of Chatham

Word began spreading as early as 1806 that the House of Chatham - Pitt’s direct family line - was dying out. In a report on Pitt’s funeral, a commentator prophetically (yet still quite unsympathetically) wrote: 

"By the demise of Mr. Pitt, the illustrious house of Chatham, as far as the lineal male succession is concerned, will in all probability become extinct. Mr. Pitt died unmarried; and his only brother, the Earl of Chatham, though married nearly twenty-three years, has had no children. The family vault in which the remains of Mr. Pitt have been interred is situated near the North Door of Westminster Abbey, nearly opposite the end of King Street. It already contained the bodies of the Great Earl of Chatham, of the late Countess Dowager of Chatham, and of Lady Harriet Elliot [it’s actually spelled Lady Harriot Eliot]. This receptacle is about ten feet by six, and about ten feet deep"(The Universal Magazine of Knowledge and Pleasure, Vol. V, January to June 1806).

Yeah, it’s not very sympathetic to William’s living brother John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham! I suppose it reflected public opinion at the time, though. Unfortunately, the Pitt family line - the male line, that is - did end with the death of John Pitt in September 1835, and consequently the Earldom of Chatham became extinct.


The Universal Magazine of Knowledge and Pleasure, Vol. V., January to June 1806. London: H.D. Symonds, p. 171.

Pitt's Physicality

In the days well before photography was even a word in the English language, people had to rely solely on portraits, silhouettes, and miniatures to even come close to depicting a person’s physical features. In short, these likenesses were a mere close approximation at the best of times. Therefore, I intend to compile various accounts of Pitt’s physicality through the eyes of his observers. 

Arguably, the first published biography of Pitt by Henry Cleland (1807) does this in a concise, effectual way:

"His person was tall and slender, his complexion rather fair, with blue eyes, large forehead, and prominent features; his countenance was strong, thoughtful, and rather stern, except when enlivened by some sudden impulse" (Cleland, 1807: 337).

By all accounts, Pitt was tall and thin.


Cleland, H. (1807) Memoirs of the Life of the Right Honourable William Pitt. London: Albion Press, p. 337.

Pitt in the Library at Cirencester

The second Earl of Malmesbury (formerly Lord Fitzharris, and a member of Pitt’s last Board of Treasury), met Pitt at Lord Bathurst’s house at Cirencester, Gloucestershire in December 1802. Malmesbury “observed that Pitt was constantly taking down and quoting from Lucan [the Roman poet], of which author he [Pitt] appeared to be extremely fond. Nothing could be more playful, and at the same time more instructive, than Pitt’s conversation on a variety of subjects while sitting in the Library at Cirencester. You never would have guessed that the man before you was Prime Minister of the country, and one of the greatest that ever filled that situation. His style and manner were quite those of an accomplished idler" (Lord Fitzharris’ note book for 1805-1806, vol. 4, pp. 341-347; London Quarterly Review, 1845: 243). 


The London Quarterly Review, Volume LXXVI. New York: Leonard Scott & Co., 1845, p. 243.

William Pitt as a Boy - attributed to George Romney

The likeness above is of ‘William Pitt as a boy’ by George Romney (admittedly the only image I have seen of this online is a 1930s puzzle!). I note that a detailed description of this portrait has been made on pg. 124 of the 1904 book ‘Romney: A biographical and Critical Essay with a Catalogue Raisonne of his Works, Vol. 2’ by Humphry Ward.

Although the author of that book claims that it’s doubtful whether this portrait represents Pitt (Ward, 1904: 124), he gives no reasoning or argument to support his statement, and the likeness to Pitt is striking. 

The description of this portrait, filed under the heading of ‘The Right Hon. William Pitt,’ is as follows:
"Full-length as a boy, seated on the edge of a bank under a tree; red coat, white waistcoat and breeches, frill. Canvas, 51 × 43. Ex. O.M., 1878, No. 269 (Sir Coutts Lindsay)" (Ward, 1904: 124).

In 1878, this portrait was in the possession of a Sir Coutts Lindsay, but who knows where it is located today? I haven’t been able to locate another image of this on the internet, but I’d sincerely love to see it in person (please, not as a puzzle!). 
The Right Honourable William Pitt the Younger (1759–1806) by Gainsborough Dupont, c. 1787-1790. It is located at Kenwood House, Hampstead.

If you compare Pitt’s slouching stance and the relaxed positioning of his hand in the portrait of him as a boy to that of the well-known portrait of Pitt by Gainsborough Dupont (above), you can really see a resemblance. Even the choice of setting in the portrait of him as a boy is something in accordance with Pitt’s personality: He is represented holding a book, and reading underneath a tree, something he was described as doing often when he could relax in the countryside (see William Hague, 2005: 213; Greville, 1911: 123; Ehrman, 1969: 594). 

So, is this Pitt as a boy? 


Ehrman, J. (1969) ‘The Younger Pitt: The years of acclaim,’ London: Constable, p. 594.

Greville, C. (1911) ‘The Greville Memoirs,’ London: Longmans, p. 123.

Hague, W. (2005) ‘William Pitt the Younger: A biography,’ London: Harper Perennial, p. 213.

Ward, H. (1904) ‘Romney: A biographical and critical essay with a Catalogue Raisonne of his works, Vol. 2,’ London: Thomas Agnew and Sons, p. 124.

Pitt needed his sleep

After a meeting with Lord Castlereagh in April 1818, the American politician Richard Rush dined at William Wilberforce’s house. Amongst animated queries about the fledgling United States, Wilberforce also spoke to Richard Rush about Mr. Pitt. Wilberforce remembered Pitt as a brilliant mathematician, and said “there was also this peculiarity in his [Pitt’s] constitution that he required a great deal of sleep, seldom being able to do with less than ten or eleven hours; he would often drop asleep in the House of Commons; once he had known him to do so at seven in the evening, and sleep until day-light” (Rush 1872: 175). 

Pitt needing a significant amount of sleep, and laying in bed until quite late in the morning (sometimes later than eleven am, and particularly so as he got older), has been mentioned by many of his contemporaries (e.g. George Pretyman Tomline, George Rose, Lord Nelson, Lord Melville, Wilberforce, etc.) so this in all probability was the case. Wilberforce was a close friend of Pitt, and Pitt often stayed at Wilberforce’s villa in Wimbledon before it was sold in 1786, so I firmly trust this anecdote is accurate. Pitt just required a lot of sleep!


Rush, R. (1872) ‘Residence at the Court of London, 3rd edition.’ London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., p. 175.

The tallest man in the company

Although it cannot be determined exactly how tall William Pitt was, all known references point to him being about six feet in height. At a dinner in late 1804 at which Thomas Lawrence (the famous painter) was present, he observed that Pitt “must be Six feet high” (Farington Diary, Vol. 3: 15). 
Another reference to William’s height is found in correspondence from his young manhood. In 1781, Lady Hester Chatham (William’s mother) received a letter from her friend Fanny Boscawen in which Fanny relates a dinner she’d had the previous evening with a lawyer from Lincoln’s Inn. Pitt was a barrister at that time, and was living in the attic chambers of 4 Stone Buildings, Lincoln’s Inn. During the course of the dinner, Fanny was speaking with this unknown lawyer about the Gordon Riots of the previous year, and he told her that “when they form’d themselves into Companies for the defence of the Inns of Court they agreed that the tallest Man shou’d be the Captain: thus Mr. Pitt commanded their Company” (letter from Fanny Boscawen to Hester Chatham dated July 28th, 1781; printed in Birdwood (ed.) 1994: pp. 158-9). 

Without specifying Pitt’s exact height, it is still indicative that he was taller than all the other men around him. In an age when the average man was about 5’6”-5’7,” Pitt must have stood out at 6 feet. 


Birdwood, V. (ed.) (1994) So dearly loved, so much admired: Letters to Hester Pitt, Lady Chatham from her relations and friends (1744-1801). London: HMSO, pp. 158-9.

Farington, J. (ed. by James Greig) (1924) The Farington Diary, Volume 3. London: Hutchinson, pg. 15.

Pitt's Tragedy: Laurentius

'Laurentius, King of Clarinium' 
When Pitt was 13 years old he wrote a tragedy called ‘Laurentius.’ It was performed for the first time at Burton Pynsent, the Pitt family residence in Somerset, on August 22, 1772. Written entirely by William, it was performed by the five Pitt children, and then presented again on May 20, 1773 before Lord and Lady Stanhope (their son Charles Stanhope married William’s older sister Hester the following year). 

This incredible, brown leather-bound work can still be seen amongst the Pitt MSS (Stanhope of Chevening Manuscripts) at the Kent History and Library Centre in Maidstone. On the first page of the work is the ‘Dramatis Personae’ - in William’s boyish handwriting - from August 22, 1772, and it is written as follows:

"Laurentius a Tragedy, Dramatis Personae
Laurentius, King of Clarinium…Lord Pitt (John Pitt, William’s older brother)
Florus, Son to the King…Mr. James Pitt (William’s younger brother)
Gordinius, Counsellor to the Queen…Lady Harriot Pitt (William’s sister)
Pompilius, Counsellor to the Queen…Mr. William Pitt 
Antonio, Noblemen of Clarinium…Mr. James Pitt
Aurelius, Noblemen of Clarinium…Lady Harriot Pitt
Minerius, Noblemen of Clarinium…Lady Harriot Pitt
Constantia, Queen and Regent of Lady Clarinium…Lady Hester Pitt (William’s eldest sister)”

The original prologue Pitt wrote for the performance on August 22, 1772 is written as follows:

"Prologue - We puny treaders of the adventurous stage attempt a task above our youthful Age. Deign gracious Lady and illustrious Peer to grant the boon of an indulgent ear. Condemn us not, if rashly we are bold to shew what Knights and Tyrants did of old. And how the cause of Justice then prevail’d and how the strength of wicked Magic fail’d. Applause, we dare not, Patience ‘tis we count. We, who come out, alone for wanton sport. Say not a Pigmy represents a Knight: Nor yet deride the weapons of the fight. Kindly pass o’er each great mistake or blot, Tho’ we deserve your kisses, kiss us not. William Pitt."

It appears as though the first performance may have been for their parents, however Pitt’s friend Henry Addington (Lord Sidmouth) later recalled that his family (Dr. Addington, Henry’s father, was Pitt the elder’s family physician) attended one of these performances (see Philip Ziegler’s 1965 biography Addington). 

On May 20, 1773, Laurentius was performed again at Burton Pynsent. William wrote and spoke a second prologue, which reflects his growing maturity:

2nd Prologue - “Of Wars, and Discords fierce, we dare to tell, Of Kings in Dangers plung’d, of Treasons fell. A Mournful Queen in deep Distress Appears. Oh! May she gain Compassion by her Tears! Her Tale claims Pity, tho ‘tis void of Art: Griefs simply told, may move the gen’rous Heart. Chiefly, if the propitious deign Attend; Patron of Science and his Country’s Friend (a reference to Lord Stanhope); whom Learning, Virtue, their Protector onto, while Freedom glories in her fav’rite Son: Thrice blest our Muse! If his Applause she gains ‘tis all she asks if He commend her Strains.”

Not bad for a fourteen year old!

Pitt's 'bell-toned' voice

Recorded, first-hand impressions of Pitt’s voice will be the subject of several future blog posts, but I find this one from The Farington Diary (Vol 2: 283) particularly illustrative. The diarist Joseph Farington relates an instance in 1804 when Edridge (the artist) stayed at Lord Essex’s house at the same time as Mr. Pitt. Edridge noticed “the deep, bell-toned, voice of Mr. Pitt which, with his emphasis, made common things said by him to have a great effect. He [Pitt] was occasionally jocose…and at being offered some cowslip wine at first declined it, but immediately after said he would drink success to Sir Francis Burdett (who was in the political contest for Middlesex at the time) in Cowslip - Every day the numbers on the poll were brought to him.
I suppose I don’t need to mention that Pitt wasn’t overly fond of Burdett (they were political opponents). 


Farington, J. (ed. by James Greig) (1923) The Farington Diary, Volume 2. London: Hutchinson, pg. 283.

Pitt to Burfield

One of the most mysterious notes located in the Pitt MSS at the Kent History and Library Centre is an original note from Mr. Pitt to Mr. Burfield, the gardener at Walmer Castle. Dated December 26, 1804, Pitt writes:

"The Messenger is to search with Burfield in the Library at Walmer for a large Green Bag containing some heavy Books. It is to be sealed up (if not sealed already) and brought immediately to Town. The Bag will be found either in the Corner of the Shelves, or in the Closet made by one of the Windows in the Library. If necessary the Closet must be broke open. WP."

Now the question remains - what was in those books that they needed to be urgently sent to town?

"Lasting admiration and unfeigned regret"

Between 1802 and 1804, Colonel John Macdonald had the honour of commanding a Battalion of Cinque Port Volunteers under the Right Honourable Wiliiam Pitt at Walmer Castle. In this capacity, Macdonald had ample opportunities to witness William Pitt as a Colonel and a private man.  Needless to say, his praise of Pitt as a Colonel is glowing, and it deserves recording, in part, here:

"Had he [Pitt] been bred as soldier, he would have been as celebrated a General as he was an eminent Statesmen; for he possessed in the highest degree the three essential qualities necessary for the military character - courage, coolness, and unbounded comprehension. In numerous and mixed companies he was rather reserved, and though unaffectedly polite and attentive to all, he directed his conversation to a few around him…(Macdonald, 1819: 115)"

"At our regimental mess, his urbanity and condescension inspired his officers with an attachment bordering on enthusiasm. Good singing, particularly where the subject was patriotic, he seemed to relish." (Macdonald, 1819: 116)

Macdonald (1819: 117) seems to wish that someone “would give a life of this great man, including his familiar conversation, which was as instructive as his public talents were splendid.” That’s my aim - a singular focus on Pitt’s relatively unknown private hours!

But perhaps most touching of all is Colonel Macdonald’s reminiscence of Pitt as he was when surrounded by a small group, usually only eight or ten, of his private circle of companions, and this clearly left a lasting mark on Macdonald himself. Writing in 1819, thirteen years after Pitt’s death, and four years after the Battle of Waterloo which signalled the final defeat of Napoleon, Macdonald (1819: 118) remembers “…Mr. Pitt; to whose memory one who had been in habits of friendship with him pays a feeble tribute of lasting admiration and unfeigned regret.”


Macdonald, J. (1819) A circumstantial and explanatory account of experiments. London: T. Egerton, pp. 115-118.

An observation of Pitt at Windsor Castle

In 1804, a person whose fate it is to remain anonymous to posterity, saw Mr. Pitt once at Windsor Castle. Here is his/her recollection of Pitt:

"It was something to me, even this once, to have seen Mr. Pitt. The face and figure and deportment of the man gave a precision to my subsequent conception of him as one of the realities of history. The immobility of those features, the erectness of that form, told of one born to command. The loftiness and breadth of the forehead spoke of sagacity and firmness, the quick eye of eloquent promptitude, the nose (I cannot pass over that remarkable feature though painters and sculptors failed to reproduce it), the nose somewhat twisted out of the perpendicular, made his enemies say his face was as crooked as his policy. I saw those characteristics or had them pointed out to me afterwards. But that smile, revealing the charm of his inner nature, that was to win the love of his intimates, but it was not for vulgar observation.”

Oh, to have been there.


London Society: An illustrated magazine of light and amusing literature for the hours of relaxation, Volume V, 1864, pg. 526.

Nelson & Pitt at Walmer

Lord Nelson was frequently in the Downs, just off the coast from Walmer and Deal, between 1801 and 1805 when a French invasion was firmly expected. Indeed, there are several allusions to Walmer, and Pitt, in Nelson’s correspondence of this period. On October 12, 1801, Nelson writes to his mistress Lady Emma Hamilton, that “this being a very fine and morning and smooth beach, I went with Sutton and Bedford and landed at Walmer, but found Billy [Pitt] fast asleep, so left my card.”
Pitt did like to sleep-in quite late in the mornings.
In another letter of the same time frame, Nelson writes “Billy Pitt asked me to come and see him, and that I shall do out of respect for so great a man.” Nelson and Pitt often met at Walmer (and Downing Street) throughout this period to discuss war strategy, though I suppose these meetings probably took place in the afternoon.


Elvin, C. (1894) The History of Walmer and Walmer Castle. London: Cross & Jackman, pg. 170.