13 November 2013

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.

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