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.


  1. That's quite a lot of money to be in debt by, even in the modern day... I don't even want to speculate as to what that might actually be now in modern terms. What was it with these Pitt men and spending money they didn't own? Did they see it as some sort of cachet or something?

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