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.

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