13 November 2013

The Tale of the young squaller in Mr. Pitt's household

A curious event happened in Mr. Pitt’s household in early November 1798. One of his female servants - a housemaid - was brought to bed of “a fine boy” (Source: London Packet or New Lloyd’s Evening Post (London, England), November 7, 1798 - November 9, 1798; Issue 4557). The birth was a highly unusual occurrence as Mr. Pitt, a confirmed bachelor with supposedly no interest in women (can you tell that I radically disagree with this viewpoint?), was not known to have many female love interests with the exception of Lady Eleanor Eden (Lord Auckland’s beautiful eldest daughter). The birth was originally reported as taking place at Holwood - Pitt’s villa in Keston, Kent - however, later reports in The Morning Post on November 16, 1798 contradicted that by saying the baby arrived at Pitt’s house at Downing Street. Pitt was, of course, the Premier at that time, so he alternated his time between both properties.
It was mainly opposition newspapers, and therefore not very sympathetic to Pitt’s political party, who reported this birth and perhaps that is why no biographers of Pitt apart from John Ehrman have deigned to mention this birth as ever happening (Ehrman, 1996: 93). Gossip it may be, and it cannot be determined conclusively whether or not Pitt was, in fact, the father of the boy, but it is useful to mention this as evidence that Pitt was interested in women. Pitt was the only permanent male occupant of both Downing Street as well as Holwood, so it is impossible to rule him out as fathering the child. Indeed, it makes the case even more probable that he could have been the boy’s father. It was reported by the London Packet or New Lloyd’s Evening Post on November 7-9th 1798 that “the mother and child were ordered to be tenderly treated,” and this assertion was followed up by the rather telling comment in The Morning Post on November 16, 1798 that the boy was “the first-born in Mr. Pitt’s household” - an insinuation that he was the father. The very same newspaper commented the previous day, with reference to Pitt’s supposed virginity, that “Harry the Eighth made it High Treason in any woman to impose herself upon him as a Virgin, contrary to the truth.” The analogy is clear: Pitt was not, in fact, a virgin at all.
From the distance of 215 years, without any known identity of the housemaid or child in question apart from that he was male, it is mere speculation on the part of any historian to ascertain the veracity of this tale. That it happened is undeniable, or else presumably those various newspaper reports would have faced legal allegations for libel, however we shall never now know the truth. The year 1798 was a terribly hard one for Pitt: his health was far from superb, he was facing difficulties on the Continent with the increasing threat from Napoleon, and to make matters worse, he risked his life in May of that year (one day before his birthday) in a duel with George Tierney on Putney Heath. Given all this, he may have succumbed to the temptations of one of his female servants in early February of that year. Who can say? It is an intriguing theory.

Sources:
Ehrman, J. (1996) The Younger Pitt: The consuming struggle, Volume 3. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, pg. 93.
London Packet or New Lloyd’s Evening Post, London, November 7, 1798 - November 9, 1798; Issue 4557
The Morning Herald, London, November 14, 1798
The Morning Post, London, November 15-16, 1798

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