14 March 2014

Edward Eliot's sexual prowess before marriage: 'Sir Bull'

William Wilberforce by John Rising, c. 1790

At the time of Edward James Eliot's marriage to William Pitt's sister Lady Harriot in 1785, their mutual friend William Wilberforce was touring the Continent and spending time at Spa. Therefore, Wilberforce wasn't aware of the exact date of the wedding. From the correspondence, it appears that Eliot wasn't a great letter-writer so Wilberforce took it upon himself to break the silence, and awkwardly congratulate him on his marriage.

Wilberforce wrote from Spa to Eliot at "New Street, Spring Gardens" on 28th Sept 1785 that:

“As I have not the Gift of Second Sight, nor you the faculty of Letter writing, I don’t know whether I am addressing a simple Knight Bachelor, or that more respectable Character, a married man…” [1] 

Eliot had in fact married several days previously.

Edward James Eliot by Karl Anton Hickel, c. 1793-4

It seems that Eliot, precisely one year to the day older than Wilberforce, had a bit of a reputation for 'sexual prowess' [2] before he married, as Wilberforce alludes to it below:

“…you will have observed that I no longer think myself at Liberty and accord with my usual Greeting of Sir Bull, particularly when I recollect the Epigram on which your old name was founded. This change of style however is the only change you will find in me, for in all else, you will have me just the same.” [3]

To my knowledge, there is no record of the Epigram, but it seems to have been known by Eliot's close friends. Presumably Pitt was aware of it as well. Eliot was, by all accounts, a faithful and affectionate husband to Lady Harriot during the brief but happy year they were married before her death in childbirth. Eliot was afterwards a reformed and religious man, but it's delightful to read Wilberforce's letter joking around with his friend about his sexual past!


1. The Kent History & Library Centre. Stanhope of Chevening manuscripts. Pitt MSS: U1590/S5/O4/11.

2. Pollock, J. (1977) Wilberforce. Lion Publishing, Herts., England, pp. 16-17.

3. Ibid.


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