30 January 2014

Jeremy Bentham at Bowood

                                                             Bowood House from Morris's County Seats (1880)

In September 1781, Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) was staying at Bowood House, the Wiltshire estate of William Petty, the 2nd Earl of Shelburne (1737-1805). Other guests visiting there at the same time included the 2nd Earl of Chatham and his younger brother, the newly-elected MP William Pitt.

On Saturday, September 15, 1781, Bentham writes:

"Arrived here [Bowood] a little before Lord Chatham [John Pitt], his brother Will. Pitt, and Pratt, Lord Camden's son, Member for Bath. I find they had none of them ever been here before. Do you know Lord Chatham? In his appearance, upon the whole, he puts me in mind of Dan Parker Coke; but he has his father's Roman nose, and, if events should concur to make him have a good opinion of himself, will soon, I dare say, acquire his commanding manner: at present, one sees little more than a kind of reserve, tempered with mildness, but clouded with a little dash of bashfulness. Will. Pitt you know for certain; in his conversation there is nothing of the orator - nothing of that hauteur and suffisance one would expect; on the contrary, he seems very good-natured, and a little raw. I was monstrously frightened at him, but, when I came to talk with him, he seemed frightened at me; so that, if anything should happen to jumble us together, we may, perhaps, be good pax; which, however, is not very likely: for I don't know very well what ideas we are likely to have in common..." [1]

In a letter of Monday, September 24, 1781, Bentham also recalls playing chess at Bowood with the Pitt brothers:

"On the Sunday before [September 16th], she ['Miss V'] and I had been playing at chess. Pitt, who did not play at the whist-table, and Lord Chatham, who cut in and out, had been occasionally looking on. After she [Miss V] had lost two games to me, which was as many as she ever had been used to play, she gave it up; whereupon Pitt proposed we should play, which we did, and I beat him. Finding he had no chance with me, he complained of its hurting his head, and gave it up immediately. Towards the close of the evening, Lord Chatham gave me a challenge. I accepted it. From something that [William] Pitt had said, I expected to have found him an easy conquest, especially as there was something seemingly irregular in the opening of his game; but it was a confounded bite; for I soon found his hand as heavy over me as I ever have felt yours: in short, he beat me shamefully, and the outcries I made on that occasion were such as would naturally convey to other people a formidable idea of his prowess." [2]

Lord Chatham was clearly, by far, the most accomplished chess player of the group.

                                       Jeremy Bentham in later life, by Henry William Pickersgill (1829), NPG 413

Lastly, as so often happens in the sallies of youth, on another occasion at Bowood, Lord Chatham, William Pitt, Lord Camden, and Banks made Bentham the subject of an inside joke:

"It was after dinner, and they were all taking their coffee. He [Bentham] said something, upon which one burst into a loud laugh, and was followed by the three others. He [Bentham] asked what it meant, and instead of answering, they all laughed again; and they repeated this every time he spoke. No doubt some trick had been practiced upon him of which he was not aware. The whole matter was then, and ever after, incomprehensible to him; for the laughing took place in the midst of serious conversation, in which nothing ridiculous was said by himself or others." [3]

Apparently, this little joke was later brought to the attention of Lord Lansdowne (Lord Shelburne), and "the parties had become conscious of their ill behaviour." [4]

It would be interesting to know what necessitated that jest! Either way, it doesn't appear that Bentham got the joke.


1. Bowring, J. (ed.) (1842) The Works of Jeremy Bentham, Now First Collected, Volume 19. Edinburgh: William Tait, pp. 100.

2. Ibid, p. 105.

3. Ibid, p. 118-9.

4. Ibid, p. 119.

29 January 2014

Mrs. Siddons at Drury Lane Theatre


                                                        Mrs Sarah Siddons (c. 1784) by Beach [Image 1].

In October 1784, Lady Mary Jerningham wrote to her daughter Charlotte who was at a French convent. Her and her husband had recently escorted their daughter to her new life in France, and she dearly missed her child. Ever a faithful correspondent to her much-missed Charlotte, Lady Jerningham described her crossing back at Dover, and her activities after she arrived back in London on the 19th October. At some point between the 19th and the 22nd October, Lady Jerningham went to see the celebrated Mrs Sarah Siddons play Isabella in Thomas Southerne's The Fatal Marriage at Drury Lane Theatre. 

                                             Sarah Siddons with her son, Henry Siddons, in Isabella [Image 2]

What Lady Jerningham wasn't expecting was for the First Lord of the Treasury, the young Mr. Pitt, to be sharing her stage box! Writing from Lothian's Hotel on Albemarle Street on October 24, 1784, Lady Jerningham relates:

"We went to the Play with Miss Paston and Miss Clifford, to see Mrs. Siddons who performed her grand part of Isabella in The Fatal Marriage. We had the Stage Box, and it is I think always disadvantageous to see the actors so very near; it destroys the Illusion. However Mrs. Siddons is a very handsome Woman and acts with a great deal of feeling. It did not move me, however, in the same manner I had reason to expect it would, from the exaggerated accounts every body gave of themselves. Mr. Pitt, the prime Minister was in our box, which was a greater treat to my curiosity than the actress [Mrs. Siddons]" [1].

I find it amusing to think that Lady Jerningham was more curious to see the young premier than she was to see the great tragedienne Mrs. Siddons!


1. The Jerningham Letters, Vol. 1. (1896) London: R. Bentley & Son, pg. 16.

Image Credits:

1. Mrs. Sarah Siddons by Beach (c. 1784). Victoria & Albert Museum, London. Museum no. DYCE.76.

2. Sarah Siddons as Isabella with her son, Henry Siddons by William Hamilton RA, engraved by J. Caldwell (1785). Harry Beard Collection, Victoria & Albert Museum, London. Museum no. S.280-1988.

No. 6 (now No. 47) Berkeley Square

                             John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham, by Charles Turner after John Hoppner [1]

John Pitt, the 2nd Earl of Chatham, and William Pitt the younger's older brother, lived at No. 6 (now No. 47) Berkeley Square in the 1780s. William Pitt often stayed with his brother at this residence before he moved in to Downing Street in the spring of 1784. In fact, when Pitt became First Lord of the Treasury at the age of 24 in December 1783 he was residing there.

                                           A Google Street View image of No. 6 (now No. 47)

It was from this address that William Pitt, accompanied by his brother and Lord Mahon, went to Grocers Hall in February 1784 to receive the Freedom of the City. Unfortunately, their carriage was attacked on the way back when they went up St. James's Street, and they were forced to flee into White's gentleman's club in order to escape their attackers.

                                               A photo I took of No. 6 (47) from the vantage point of the square

Of interest, just three doors away from this residence is 50 Berkeley Square - well-known for the reputation of being London's most haunted house! Pitt's friend and political adherent George Canning once lived at No. 50 (formerly No. 3). Apparently, from the history of the house, it is very difficult to let it out! Whether or not No. 50 is actually haunted is a different matter, but it certainly makes for a compelling reason to visit Berkeley Square!

                                                                  No. 50 Berkeley Square

Image Credit:

1. John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham, by Charles Turner after John Hoppner, National Portrait Gallery, NPG D20092.

28 January 2014

No. 13 Royal Crescent: Connections to the Pitt and Grenville families

 The door of Number 13, Royal Crescent
Above is a photo I took last September (2013) of No. 13 Royal Crescent in Bath, England. Apart from being located in one of the most beautiful spots in the United Kingdom, the thirty houses that comprise the Crescent hold a wealth of history from the mid-18th century to the present. The foundation stone was first laid at No. 1 in 1767, and building work was finally completed in 1775.

A modern day view of The Royal Crescent, Bath
It was here at No. 13 Bath Crescent (the 'Royal' part not being added until sometime in the 19th century) that William Pitt’s maternal uncle the Rt. Hon. Henry Grenville, the one-time governor of Barbados, lived after his retirement in the mid-1770s. Grenville resided in this residence until his death (at the property) in April 1784 [1]. I confirmed his address by using the Bath Records Office, Bath Ancestors Database. By simply typing in the surname 'Grenville,' it showed that he was living at 13 [Royal] Crescent, and paying his parish poor rates and taxes from that address in 1781. Henry Grenville's daughter Louisa Grenville married William Pitt's brother in-law, Charles, the 3rd Earl Stanhope, not long after Pitt's sister Hester died in 1780.

I confess that the primary reason I was searching for Mr. Grenville’s address on The Royal Crescent was to determine which address William Pitt’s sister Lady Harriot was staying at whilst she spent time in Bath during the late 1770s. She often wrote letters to her mother Lady Hester Chatham from her uncle’s house at No. 13 Bath Crescent. These letters make for a very interesting study of late 18th century social history, and particularly for a look at the lives of aristocratic women in fashionable society. Whilst in Bath, Lady Harriot enjoyed going to balls, parties, and the Bath Assembly Rooms.

She also writes an account of having a family silhouette drawn whilst her and her older brother John, Lord Pitt, were staying with the Grenvilles in December 1777. After apologising to her mother that Lord Pitt was unable to write to her as he was appointed to have his likeness drawn at the exact time her letter arrived in the post, she goes on to relate:

"Our whole Family Circle are to be drawn at the Cheap price of five and Twenty shillings. He [an unknown artist] takes Likenesses from Shades which He reduces to the Size of a miniature Picture, and then He finishes them in Water Colours. We have seen some of the strongest Likenesses possible done in this way, and really not unpleasing ones. I am to set to day too and I am afraid I shall be obliged to go soon..." [2].

 Lady Harriot (Pitt) Eliot by an unknown artist
Unfortunately, Lady Harriot never specifies who the artist was that took the likenesses. So far I have been unable to track down where any of these likenesses are to be found. Perhaps the watercolour shown above of Lady Harriot is the same one she sat for in Bath on December 13th, 1777? I'm sure there are others out there who may be inclined to explore this further.


1. The Gentleman's Magazine and Historical Chronicle, Vol. 54, Part 1, p. 318.

2. Headlam, C. (ed.) (1914) The Letters of Lady Harriot Eliot 1766-1786. Edinburgh: Constable, p. 28.

27 January 2014

Pitt's Eloquence: The Countess of Bessborough to Granville Leveson-Gower

      Henrietta, Countess of Bessborough, c. 1785 by Joseph Grozer, after Reynolds [Image 1]

Lady Henrietta ('Harriet') Bessborough, Viscountess Duncannon, the famous Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire's sister, wrote to her lover and frequent correspondent Lord Granville Leveson-Gower in October 1797 to relay some interesting gossip. She was writing from Woburn, and he was at Trentham. The Countess of Bessborough was clearly aware of Granville Leveson-Gower's profound reverence for his political mentor William Pitt, and had almost certainly heard him speak in raptures of Pitt's eloquence in the House of Commons. What she probably didn't expect to hear, however, was the 5th Duke of Bedford's rhapsodising to the same effect. Francis Russell, the Duke of Bedford, was a well-known Whig, and political adherent of Charles James Fox, and known to regularly oppose the measure of William Pitt's ministry. Thus, Lady Bessborough was in for a bit of an amusing shock when she heard Bedford waxing lyrical on Pitt's eloquence.

                           Francis Russell, 5th Duke of Bedford, c. 1796-7 by Grimaldi, after John Hoppner [Image 2]

She writes: "I wish you could have heard the D. of Bedford talk of Mr Pitt tonight. I assure you your praises of his [Pitt's] Eloquence are cold in comparison. He [Bedford] told me if I could imagine the purest, most correct, forcible, and eloquent language spoke in the most harmonious voice and animated manner, seizing with incredible quickness and ingenuity all the weak parts of the opposing arguments, and putting the strongest ones of his own in the most favourable point of view, that I should then have some faint Idea of what Mr P.[itt']'s speaking was. He [Bedford] said it was the most fascinating thing he ever heard. That in general he thought Mr Pitt plain in his person, but towards the close of an interesting speech that he look'd beautiful; and that he had so little Idea of the possibility of any woman hearing or seeing him [Pitt] at such a time without being in love with him, that if women were admitted to the H. of Commons, and the D. of Bedford was very much in love with any one, he would make it an absolute point with her always to go out when Mr Pitt got up to speak" (Leveson-Gower, pp. 177-8).

It appears that one's political leanings do not necessarily determine one's preference in terms of public speaking. I'm sure Lord Granville Leveson-Gower was entertained by Lady Bessborough's amusing story. 

I've read the beginning part of this passage, but the part about women (and yes, the emphasis was also in the original letter) falling in love with Pitt if they could only hear him speak in the House of Commons rang true with me. 


Granville (ed.) (1916) Leveson-Gower Correspondence, Vol. 1. London: John Murray, pp. 177-8.

Image Credits:

1. Mezzotint of Henrietta Frances ('Harriet) Ponsonby, Countess of Bessborough by Joseph Grozer after Sir Joshua Reynolds, circa 1785, National Portrait Gallery, NPG Number D31727. 

2. Francis Russell, 5th Duke of Bedford by William Grimaldi, after John Hoppner, 1796-7, National Portrait Gallery, NPG Number 6296.

25 January 2014

Pitt's debts in 1801

In a letter from George Pretyman Tomline, the Bishop of Lincoln, to George Rose (a friend and political associate of William Pitt), Lincoln encloses a list of Pitt's debts at the time of his  resignation in 1801 [1]. It is not specified who compiled this calculation of Mr. Pitt's debts, but this may have been done by Pitt's former private secretary Joseph Smith. Smith, known to his friends as "Joe Smith," certainly had a heavy involvement in investigating Pitt's financial affairs, purchases, and borrowing [2]. George Rose and the Bishop of Lincoln were also involved in examining Pitt's accounts, but this particular list of debts is not written in their handwriting. Pitt certainly paid little attention to his own personal finances, although his resignation in 1801 brought his affairs to a state of crisis. His creditors were no longer willing to wait for payment.

His banker, Thomas Coutts (with whom Pitt owed a substantial amount of money), urged Pitt to consider returning to the Bar [3]. Deprived of his income as First Lord of the Treasury, Pitt's only source of revenue was the £3,000 a year he received as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. King George III offered Pitt £30,000 towards the payment of his debts, but Pitt declined this, preferring to maintain his strict political independence; he did, however, reluctantly agree to a personal loan from several of his close friends [4]. 

Below is a list of Pitt's debts as of early 1801, undated, and written in an unknown hand (although it may have been written by Joseph Smith), which is amongst the Rose Papers, Vol. 2: BL Add Ms 42773, f. 3:

"To Coutt’s - advanced upon security of Burton Pynsent - £ 5,800
Ditto - on bond - £6,000
Ditto - overdrawn - £1,750
Mortgage - Hollwood - £11,000
State of debts - as of Feb (1801) - £7,408
Old debts - Hollwood - £2,198
Mr. Soane (presumably what Pitt owed to Soane for designs and improvements at Hollwood) - £2,098
Bills unpaid - £9,618

Total - £45, 864 (actually it should be £45,872)"

Unfortunately, even after the loan from his friends and other drastic reductions in his expenditure, Pitt was forced to sell his beloved country villa Holwood. One of Pitt's biographers best summed up Pitt's lifestyle post-1801 as one of "self-imposed gentlemanly poverty"[5].


1. Rose Papers, Vol. 2: BL Add Ms 42773, f. 3

2. Ehrman, J. (1996) The Younger Pitt: The Consuming Struggle. London: Constable, p. 859.

3. Stanhope (1867) Life of the Right Honourable William Pitt, Vol. 3 (3rd edition). London: John Murray, p. xxxii; L.C.G. III, Vol. 3, p. 487, n. 1. Duffy, M. (2000) Profiles in Power: The Younger Pitt. Harlow: Pearson Education, p. 213.

4. Duffy, M. (2000) Profiles in Power: The Younger Pitt. Harlow: Pearson Education, p. 214.

5. Ibid., p. 214.

24 January 2014

George Pryme's Greek Ode

The academic and 19th century politician George Pryme met Mr Pitt on several occasions when Pryme was attending Trinity College, Cambridge. In Pryme's memoirs, he describes presenting his prize-winning Greek Ode on the subject of Pompeii Columna to Mr Pitt at an 1802 Commencement ceremony at the Senate House in Cambridge. Pryme was then in his third year at Trinity, and Mr Pitt was the MP for Cambridge University. Pryme writes that Mr Pitt "received it [the printed Greek Ode] from me very courteously" (Pryme: 53).

He then proceeds to describe his recollections of Pitt:

"This was not the only occasion on which I saw Mr Pitt, for being Member for the University, he usually came there twice a year to visit his constituents. His stately form and cocked hat, then not quite obsolete, attracted the attention of every one.  He is admirably represented by the statue in the Senate House, from the pedestal of which I can almost fancy him walking forth" (Pryme: 53).

Pryme himself later became a Member of Parliament for Cambridge.

Finally, at the bottom of pg. 53 of Pryme's posthumous memoirs which were edited by his daughter, there is an anecdote of Pitt which was supposedly derived from an extract in the Cambridge University Calendar for 1807. Here is the extract: "He [Pitt] had an almost military manner of walking as he put one foot before another" (Pryme, footnote on p. 53).

Having read the Cambridge University Calendar for 1807 and as well the years on either side of that date, I was unable to find the source for that enlightening little piece of information. That doesn't mean I don't believe it's true, though!


Pryme, G. (1870) Autobiographic Recollections of George Pryme, Esq. M.A. (edited by his daughter). Cambridge: Deighton, Bell & Co., p. 53.

'A very perplexing situation'

On December 1, 1794, William Pitt wrote to his older brother John, the 2nd Earl of Chatham, with some painful news. In an undated letter (which must be from the beginning of December 1794 as each successive letter immediately follows from that date), William writes: 

"My dear Brother, I do not write to you till after a very painful struggle in my own mind, and it is under a full persuasion that what I have to say is absolutely required from me under the present circumstances both by duty and pressing necessity. After the full explanation which passed between us some time since I had really flattered myself that there was an end of the distressing embarrassment which we had experienced, and that no further difficulty of the same sort would occur again. But I cannot disguise from you that from various circumstances (that I see no good in dwelling upon) and especially from what passed at the Cabinet yesterday I foresee too evidently the renewal of that embarrassment the utter impossibility that business can permanently go on between you and those with whom in your present department you must have continual intercourse, with that cordially and complete [illegible] at confidence which at the present moment is indispensable. 

"If public considerations alone were in Question they ought to decide my opinion; but on more Personal Grounds I really believe that for your ultimate credit and happiness as well as my own any thing is preferable to a state in which the inconvenience to the Service cannot be greater than the vexation to ourselves. In this opinion I believe you will agree with me, and I therefore trust you will think that I consult my affection to you as much as what I owe to other considerations in telling you fairly tho’ reluctantly my perfect conviction that the time is come when it will be best for us both as well as for the Public Service if you will exchange your present situation for one of a different description. 

"I must ascribe it to some [fallibility?] of Temper (in whom, it is not material to enquire) that the attempt to present this unfortunate necessity should have been in vain. The only thing which remains is to make what is painful enough in itself as little as possible in the mode. For this purpose what I should most wish is that nothing which has led to this point should transpire. The situation of President of the Council or of Privy Seal (according as Ld Stafford may take or decline the former) is still open. If you are willing to take either of them, I have no doubt that the King’s kindness to us both will make him approve it; and to the King it would be necessary to explain that some unfortunate misunderstanding made us propose it, as best for his Service. You will easily see that the Time presses, and will not consider that having formed this opinion on full reflection, I do not for a moment withhold it from you. 

"I have preferred telling it you by letter to a conversation, which must be unnecessarily distressing to us both, and to which I really do not feel myself equal. Always affect. yrs, WP.” (Cambridge University Library, Pitt Papers, Add Ms 6958 f. 1557).

It is not my purpose here to speculate upon the motivations or reasoning behind William's decision to replace his own brother as First Lord of the Admiralty with Lord Spencer. I leave that up to the more capable hands of others. It does seem, however, from the language William used in his letter, that it was a very painful choice to make. He loved his older brother John, and as one will see from John's response, this letter was received with quite a shock.

John, the 2nd Earl of Chatham promptly wrote back to his younger brother on December 1, 1794, doubting William's vague circumstances for his dismissal. 

Lord Chatham writes: “It must be something more than you have yet liked to mention, which must have occasioned your letter, and I shall of course be most impatient to see you as soon as it may be convenient to you; as I cannot but feel great anxiety on an occasion which involves in it every consideration that ought to be most dear to me.”

Needless to say, Lord Chatham was impatient to meet his brother to discuss the reasoning behind William's decision. In the same letter, John also reminds him: “You will, I am sure, recollect that I undertook the situation I am in [as First Lord of the Admiralty] by your desire and advice, and that I have sacrificed to it every other consideration.” It appears, from the 2nd Earl's letter, that he only undertook the position of First Lord of the Admiralty upon his brother (who was then First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer) William's insistence. Crucially, Lord Chatham also writes that “I am not conscious of having failed in my duty to the public.” Clearly there was a misunderstanding somewhere, which hopefully would be rectified (Cambridge University Library, Pitt Papers, Add Ms 6958 f. 1558). It wasn't.

William's letter to the 2nd Earl of Chatham dated either the first or second of December is missing, but we still have Chatham's response. It is laced with confusion and pain.

He writes to William from the Admiralty on December 2, 1794, stating: “I will not attempt to describe the pain which your letter (which I have this moment received) has given me.” They clearly had not yet met to discuss William's reasoning, despite John pressing for a discussion. John is becoming insistent. He writes that they must meet as he [Chatham] has to face his government colleagues and the King tomorrow [Dec 3], for otherwise it is "a very perplexing situation” for him. He presses the point to William that “meeting cannot be more distressing to you than to myself" (Cambridge University Library, Pitt Papers, Add Ms 6958 f. 1560).

Despite his older brother's entreaties, William still refuses to meet in person. He writes to Lord Chatham from Downing Street on Tuesday, December 2, 1794, at half past 12, declining a conversation as he saw "no possibility that explanation or discussion can be of any advantage." William, rather obstinately, stressed that his “opinion is formed (however reluctantly) on grounds which will not admit of its being changed; and I cannot in times like these acquit myself to my own mind if I do not ultimately act on that opinion, even with the sacrifice if necessary of the personal considerations which are nearest my heart. You are really mistaken if you suppose that I have any one particular circumstance to state which has been the immediate cause of these ideas being now brought forward. They are the result of much anxious reflection…” 

Later in the letter, William goes on to emphasise his strict duty to the public service: “…in one word, I ought not to remain in my present situation, under all the present circumstances, if I were disposed to shrink from any part of my duty however painful. I can only entreat you for both our sakes to make it in this instance as little painful as possible by reconciling your mind to what I have proposed and to save me from the extremity of feeling that I act against your wishes when I yield to the necessity of the Public Service" (Pitt Papers, Add Ms 6958 f. 1561).

In a moving letter from Chatham to William, dated from December 4, 1794, he ends by saying, "I will only add that, whatever may be my fate in life, I shall sincerely wish for your honour and prosperity" (quoted in Ashbourne, p. 177).

After what one might call a deliberate, painful reluctance or avoidance by both parties to meet face-to-face, it appears from the correspondence that they did not seem to have a meeting before at least December 5, 1794. 

In the last letter of this distressing written exchange, William writes to Lord Chatham from Downing Street on Friday, December 5, 1794, that “…my great consolation has been and is the persuasion that in going thro’ this severe Trial I am persuaded that I am really consulting my personal affection to you as much as every other motive by which I must be guided…” (Pitt Papers, Add Ms 6958 f. 1566). 

The situation ended with Lord Chatham becoming Privy Seal, and later Lord President of the Council, and Lord Spencer (the famous Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire's brother) became First Lord of the Admiralty. 


Ashbourne (1898) Pitt: Some Chapters of his Life and Times. London: Longmans, Green & Co., p. 177.

Cambridge University Library, Pitt Papers, Add Ms 6958, ff. 1557-1566.

23 January 2014

'I desire to be the Godfather'

Amongst the Pitt items at the Rare Books and Archives Room at Pembroke College, Cambridge, there are are some fascinating Pitt letters which primarily date or relate to his time at the college. Of particular note is a short missive William Pitt wrote to his father's accountant, William Johnson, on May 1, 1773. It was written from Burton Pynsent, Somerset(shire), his parent's estate in the West Country, and dates from the time Pitt was recently entered in the admissions books at Pembroke. Amongst other news, including rejoicing on the birth of Johnson's son, William writes:
"If his [Johnson's son] name is not yet given I desire to be the Godfather and have him for my namesake (which will likewise be yours) unless some other name is agreed on."
Below are the photos which I was allowed to take of this letter:

I found this particularly interesting as William desired to be a Godfather when he was less than fourteen years of age! This may, of course, have been a common practice in the late 18th century (do let me know if it was!), however this is the first instance I have come across.

The Pitt family were known for being very kind and informal with their domestics, tutors, and physicians, and the Johnson family appear to be no exception. I have not been able to track down whether William’s offer of being godfather to Johnson’s son was accepted, but I am persuaded that it must have been given the respectable status of the Pitt family.
One of these days, I seriously need to count how many godchildren Pitt had! I know for a fact that he had at least six, but I believe it may have been closer to ten. The more I learn about Pitt’s selfless kindness, the more I admire and respect him. There will be another post on Pitt's love of children in the future, so watch this space!


Pitt Letters, f. 1, Rare books and Archives room, Reproduced by permission of the Master and Fellows of Pembroke College, Cambridge.

Re-thinking the death of William Pitt the Younger

Today marks the 208th anniversary of the death of William Pitt the Younger. In honour of that great man, I have written a guest blog post on the lovely Madame Gilflurt's website:

A Covent Garden Gilflurt's Guide to Life: A Salon Guest... Re-thinking the death of William ...

21 January 2014

'The dear Lord of Hol-wood'

In a letter dated July 25, 1787 from her estate at Burton Pynsent, Lady Hester, the Dowager Countess of Chatham, wrote to her son in-law Edward Eliot. Amongst other observations of life, with much prominence given to little anecdotes of her baby granddaughter Harriot Hester (Eliot's child, and that of her late daughter Lady Harriot Eliot), Lady Hester writes that she hopes "you [Eliot] have had the pleasure of finding the dear Lord of Hol-wood [in other words, her son William Pitt] in perfect health, as well as in the hope of being able to let me and his friends here enjoy soon the great happiness of seeing him here."

She signs off her letter with "Kindest of kind love to my dear William and believe me my dear son, your most affect. Mother, H. Ch."


Cambridge University Library, Department of University Archives and Manuscripts, William Pitt Papers, Add Ms 6958 f. 389.

10 January 2014

Beckford on Pitt's death mask

I recently commissioned photography of Mr. Pitt's death mask. It's in safekeeping at the Chevening Estate near Sevenoaks, Kent. Although I'm not a fan of death masks, in the obvious absence of any other accurate means to ascertain what William Pitt actually looked like, the mask is all that is left.

Reading William Beckford's memoirs, however, make me slightly apprehensive to see it. There is a passage which describes the death mask, and it physically turns my stomach:

"Pitt died under great bodily suffering, if the mask taken from his face immediately after death be any indication of it. In general, death removes all traces of living agony, and the features assume a remarkable placidity, but it was not so here. Mr. Beckford stated, that calling upon Nollekens, the sculptor, just after Pitt's decease, he showed him the cast from his face taken just after he died. It was so horribly distorted - so frightful, apparently from pain, that it was not of the smallest use for the work which Nollekens was about to undertake. "It almost scared me," said Mr. Beckford; "there were no traces of my old and early acquaintance. The mask was fearful to look upon" (pp. 318-319).


Beckford, W. (1859) Memoirs of William Beckford of Fonthill (Vol. 2). London: Charles J. Skeet, pp. 318-319.

9 January 2014

Who was Miss Williams?

In Notes & Queries, 6th Series, I, (1880) p. 376, there is a small but highly intriguing little snippet on Pitt. I will quote it in full:

"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?"

I have no idea who wrote that little passage, but I certainly have never seen a book of that name. Incidentally, that is exactly the title of my work in progress. What confuses me about the above extract is whether it implies that Miss (Elizabeth) Williams could have been Pitt's daughter or his secret wife. It's ambiguous. Here's what I do know for certain: Miss Williams was born in St. Margaret's parish in Westminster on August 3, 1785, and I have seen the microfilm copy of her christening at St. Margaret's church in September of that year. Elizabeth was in Pitt's household at Holwood, and Downing Street (and travelled with him to his subsequent rented properties) at least from 1797, although it is highly possible that her and her younger sister Louisa Jane were known to Pitt prior to that time. I have seen the bills in The National Archives which confirm that Pitt paid for or at least towards the two girls' education, and Elizabeth remained in Pitt's household until his death.

Interestingly, she was not always listed as a servant. In fact, at least up until 1800-1, she was not in any lists. However, it is a fact that she was listed as a 'housemaid' in 1806, and was present at Putney when Pitt died. It is impossible to tell at this point whether latterly she was in the employ of Pitt or his niece (who was living with him at the time) Lady Hester Stanhope at the time of Pitt's passing. At all events, she was most definitely there. Pitt's last private secretary, William Dacre Adams, James Stanhope (a younger half-brother of Lady Hester Stanhope), Miss Williams, and Lady Hester Stanhope went to Downing Street to seal up some of Pitt's books and belongings just after Pitt died. Miss Williams did carry on in Lady Hester Stanhope's household when Lady Hester moved to Montagu Square, and she later followed her to Wales, and subsequently to Syria. Lady Hester was extremely close to Elizabeth, and she was described as being Hester's female companion by various visitors of Lady Hester's in Lebanon and Syria.

Therefore, there is some element of truth in the extract of Notes & Queries, however it is virtually impossible to state the exact relationship or 'affinity' between William Pitt and Elizabeth Williams. She was 26 years younger than Pitt. At this point, in the absence of other evidence, I keep an open mind and believe that anything is possible. In any case, she certainly meant something to Pitt for him to not only take on the expense of her (and her sibling's) education for at least 4 years, but also to live in his household(s) up until his death, and then to continue for the rest of her life with Pitt's niece Lady Hester Stanhope. She was definitely a close family friend at the very least.

'I do not see the hair!'

In looking over John Cam Hobhouse’s (1786-1869)Recollections of a Long Life (Vol 3) for references to William Pitt, I came across several amusing little anecdotes. In early May 1824, Hobhouse dined at Holland House, and as usual, hung on every word Lord Holland had to say. Whilst discussing the recent duel between Cornet Battier and Charles William, 3rd Marquis of Londonderry (Colonel of the 10th Hussars), it brought forth Lord Holland’s recollection of Pitt and Tierney’s duel in May 1798. “Lord Holland said that when Pitt fought Tierney, Lord Harrowby said,”Pitt, take care of your pistol. It is a hair-trigger.” Pitt held it up, and said “I do not see the hair!” Such was his learning as to small arms” (pp. 31-2).

6 January 2014

Which house did Pitt rent on Park Place?

After Pitt's resignation in early 1801 he needed a place to live. His mounting debts could no longer be ignored, and although he did not sell his country villa at Holwood in Keston, Kent until the summer of 1802, Pitt needed somewhere to rent in central London. Therefore, in March 1801 a small furnished terrace house on Park Place in St. James was found. Pitt took over the rest of a one-year lease of the property when its former tenant, Edward Fisher, a retiring Under Secretary at the Foreign Office, left London for Lisbon.

Park Place became Pitt's main base in London until about the middle of 1802 when he moved to another rented accommodation on 14 York Place (now part of Baker Street). What baffles me - and it has done so for several years now - is which property on Park Place was actually occupied by Pitt? Earl Stanhope, one of Pitt's biographers of the early 1860s, claimed in his notes that Pitt lived at number 5 Park Place (see the Stanhope of Chevening manuscripts, Pitt Mss at the Kent History & Library Centre in Maidstone, Kent - U1590/S5/C60-C64 for more information). In contrast to Stanhope, Pitt's well-known 20th century biographer John Ehrman states, in a footnote on pg. 534 of The Younger Pitt: The Consuming Struggle, that the house on Park Place was said to have been number 12. A direct source isn't quoted for this information. 

So who is correct - Stanhope or Ehrman? In either case, the properties (be it no. 5 or no. 12) are no longer in existence. On viewing my digital copy of Horwood's 1799 map of Park Place, St. James, no. 5 and no. 12 are on opposite sides - and ends - of the street. Where number 5 was located in 1799 is now a modern late-20th century block of flats, and number 12 is (I believe) now an early 20th century terraced house.

What's fascinating to me is how these two biographers managed to come to such a different conclusion on the property number of Park Place. Yes, Pitt only lived there for a single year, but it was a place connected with him at an important juncture of his life - the time of his ministerial resignation. If anyone knows any information about this I'd be happy to hear from you!

'This irreparable loss': The 4th Earl Aberdeen (Haddo) on Pitt's death

On a recent research excursion to The British Library, I viewed some of the Aberdeen Papers. I was primarily interested in reading the 4th Earl of Aberdeen's (Lord Haddo) memorandum on politics for the month of January (and part of February) 1806. This journal included Aberdeen's reminiscences of one of his much-lamented guardians - the late First Lord of the Treasury, William Pitt - who died unexpectedly that month at the premature age of 46.  The memorandum begins just after Pitt's death, and the grief expressed in Aberdeen's account is worth quoting in full:

"25th [January] Saturday at Wimbledon [Lord Melville's villa] - Mr. Pitt having spent some time at Bath without much benefit returned to Putney in order to attend the ensuing meeting of Parliament. His health remained in a fluctuating state, and accordingly when Parliament did meet on the 21st of this month he was too ill to attend. I received on the evening of the 22d a note from Lord Melville [Henry Dundas, another of Aberdeen's guardians and a long-standing political associate and friend of Pitt] intimating that his [Pitt's] death might be expected, and on the morning of the 23d I was informed he was no more, having expired at a quarter past four that morning.

"From my having lived with him on terms of the utmost intimacy from my childhood, from his having been my guardian, and from his constant affection for me, the dismay and affliction which I suffered and still do suffer under this irreparable loss, by being absorbed in individual feelings renders me callous or insensible to those of a public nature yet the idea is dreadful! The sun is indeed set, and what can now follow but the blackest night! Lord Melville breakfasted with me this morning on his return to Bath. He embraced me with tears, and for some time could not speak. We at last expatiated on the dreadful calamity which we and the country had sustained; I never witnessed grief more poignant; he [Melville] almost wished to a general apathy to come upon him as the only relief, and declared that if he lived a hundred years it would be impossible to remain an hour without having the image of Mr. Pitt in his mind. He was glad to hasten out of this house [Melville's house at Wimbledon, presumably from which Aberdeen wrote this  entry] where every object recalled him, indeed when I recollect that at the vey(?) on which I write, I have seen him a thousand times, the bitterness of grief is past endurance..."

A few further remarks in Aberdeen's memorandum are noteworthy:

"London 31st [January] Mr. Pitt, among the Last Words he uttered, exclaimed, 'Oh my Country.' Anxiety certainly killed him. He was anxious beyond measure to meet Parliament on the discussion of the Treaties."

Lastly, below is an anecdote which has been repeated by quite a few biographers of Pitt:

 "[February] 27th I have heard Mr. Pitt say more than once that he had rather a single speech of Lord Bolingbroke's were preserved than all the lost books of Livy. He was fond of praising Lord B.'s style, which he has often told me he considered as the most perfect and desirable in the English Language."

In an earlier note written on the 24th of January, the day after Pitt's passing, Aberdeen writes "I am resolved to recollect, and write down, many things which I have heard Mr. Pitt say in the course of this journal. Nothing fell from his lips without its weight." Unfortunately, apart from several more pages of journal entries, the account ends abruptly with the final entry being added in late February 1806. I desperately scrolled through the many blank pages of the journal, and alas, there was no more.


Aberdeen Papers, BL Add Ms 43337 (Aberdeen's 'Memorandum on Politics').