23 April 2014

Pitt's Game Certificate for the year 1799

Fig. 1: William Pitt's Game Certificate for the year 1799

The above image is the game certificate for 'The Right honourable William Pitt of Downing Street,' dated the 4th of September 1799. [1] Pitt enjoyed hunting, and particularly shooting (or failing to shoot) partridges and pheasants. It was a common form of amusement and pastime for any 18th century gentleman. 

Pitt wasn't above joking about his poor shooting skills. In a letter Pitt sent from Walmer Castle to William Eden (1st Lord Auckland) on September 8, 1793, he writes: "The occupation of missing partridges has so completely consumed all my mornings since I have been here, that I have not had time sooner to congratulate you on the addition to your family [Eden had recently become a father again], and to assure you how happy I shall be to undertake the office of godfather." [2] 

Pitt was a bit of a jokester. I'm still trying to count up the number of godchildren he had. He was godfather to at least 8 children, if not more. As I discussed in an earlier post, Pitt requested to be a godfather for the first time at the age of 13!


1. William Pitt's Game Certificate - 1799. Kent History and Library Centre, Maidstone. Pitt MSS: U1590/S5/C51. 

2. William Pitt to Lord Auckland, Walmer Castle, September 8, 1793. Printed in: The Journal and Correspondence of William, Lord Auckland, Volume 3. (1862) London: Richard Bentley, p. 114. 

Image Credit:

Figure 1: William Pitt's Game Certificate for the year 1799. Source: Pitt Mss: U1590/S5/C51.

'Compleatly worn out in the service of his Country': The Bishop of Lincoln on Pitt's last illness, death, and debts

On September 5, 1809, the Bishop of Lincoln - George Pretyman-Tomline, one of Pitt's executors - wrote from his residence at Buckden Palace to an anonymous "Sir," answering some questions posed to him regarding Pitt's health, and cause of death. It seems questions were also raised regarding the nature of Pitt's exorbitant debts given his simple tastes, as well as inquiries about the whereabouts of Pitt's papers.

Tomline writes:

“I received your Letter on Saturday, & now take the earliest opportunity in my Power of answering the questions contained it it. I do not consider that any particular disorder was the cause of Mr. Pitt’s death. I observed a gradual decline of health & strength for several years. His [Pitt’s] appetite was far less than it used to be, & he was not equal to any considerable degree of exercise. I believe that I noticed this alteration earlier than any other of his Friends & was more alarmed by it. In the Autumn of 1805 he had been very unwell - it was recommended to him to go to Bath. he had found great benefit in a former illness from the Bath Waters. He went thither in December - soon after his arrival he had a fit of the Gout, & thought himself better for a short time. But the Gout appeared again during his stay at Bath, & he never afterwards recovered even a moderate degree of strength. his appetite almost entirely failed, & it being thought improper for him to drink the Bath Waters, he left Bath, & such was his weak state that he was 4 days in reaching his house at Putney. At Putney I saw him the day after his arrival there, & was much struck by the evident change which had taken place. I remained with him in the house which I did not leave till after his death. - that is, from the Sunday 1/12 [January 12th, 1806] to the Thursday sennight  [January 23, 1806] following. He [Pitt] complained of a peculiar pain in his stomach, & seemed himself to think that some vital part was affected. I requested the Physicians to pay particular attention to him closely upon the subject of this pain, & they afterwards assured me that nothing was to be apprehended from it. He declined gradually till Nature was quite exhausted - he was compleatly worn out in the service of his Country.

About 8 o’clock on Wednesday Morning Jan ye 22 I informed him of his danger. He asked for Pen Ink & Paper that he might make his Will. It was very short, but I am unable to mention its Contents from memory as you may easily attain a Copy of it from the Commons. He appointed Lord Chatham & myself his Executors & to look over his Papers - at the same time he said, “I wish a thousand or fifteen hundred a year to be given to my Nieces if the Public should think my long services deserving it, but I do not presume to think I have earned it.” 

I have no Papers at Buckden which would enable me to state Mr Pitt’s exact circumstances at the time of his death, nor indeed could I do so even with the assistance of accounts which are in Town, as there are some matters which are still unsettled. I therefore submit to you whether it would not be sufficient (& in any case better) to state generally that Mr Pitt’s original Private Fortune was 1000£ to which had been added a Legacy of 3000£ left to him by the late Duke of Rutland - that immediately upon his decease it was determined that some persons should examine into the state of his affairs, & after an estimate had been made of the amount of his debts & the probate produced of his effects 40000£ was voted by Parliament towards the payment of his Debts. I conceive that the inadequacy of the salary annexed to the situation he held to cover its necessary expenses may be noticed. Improvements at Hollwood & at Walmer were his chief amusements, & those were the only expenses which his enemies could consider as unnecessary - if perhaps too great inattention to household expenses be excepted, no other cause can be assigned for his embarrassments, & surely the nature of his amusements must be acknowledged as highly honourable to his Character. I thank you for your attention to my wishes respecting the passage you allude to, & sincerely rejoice to you [that] my important & interesting Wish is so nearly compleated. I shall be very impatient to see the Last Volume.” [1]

Perhaps Tomline was addressing one of Pitt's early biographers? 


1. George Pretyman-Tomline (the Bishop of Lincoln) to "Sir," September 5, 1809. Ipswich Record Office, Pretyman MSS. HA 119: T99/27 f. 55.

22 April 2014

'The transcendent character you are appointed to guard': Separating Pitt's Private & Public Papers

The day after Pitt's death, 24 January 1806, Elizabeth Pretyman-Tomline wrote to her husband reflecting on Pitt's life:  “…I think of his [Pitt’s] kindness, of his character, public and private, of your “close and uninterrupted friendship” from his childhood to the latest moment of his inestimable life. Inscrutable indeed are the ways of Providence.” [1] Her husband had been appointed to be one of Pitt's executors, the other person being Pitt's only surviving family member, his eldest brother the 2nd Lord Chatham. Then on 26 Jan 1806 Mrs Tomline wrote to her husband at Deanery House, St. Paul’s, to urge him to think of Pitt's character as he sifted through the mass of papers. She was exceptionally keen that the Bishop should separate all the public from the private papers, most likely with a view to destroying some of those papers that didn't fit the image they wanted to portray:

“I hope my dearest Love that as soon as you have separated Public from Private papers it will not be necessary for you to remain in Downing Street, but that you will look them over at your own house (as you did Mr Eliot’s papers with the consent of Mr Pitt and Lord Chatham) at more leisure than you can have just now. Cannot you being some of them here? If you do not, and still desire me not to come up to you, I know it must be long indeed before we meet. I am sure my Love you will not fail to think of future times in this last duty; and will carefully preserve all papers that can throw any light upon the transcendent character you are appointed to guard from misrepresentations - You ought not to think of Lord Chatham in such a case - but no false delicacy interrupt the performance of a high duty. Remember what my dear friend Lady H. Eliot said about your keeping her Father’s and her Mother’s letters. Remember too what Mr. Eliot said upon your care of his own and of Mr Pitt’s papers “if anything should happen to him it will indeed be important they should fall into such hands” with a view to his memory - and above all, remember that when either you or I asked Mr Pitt one day that he dined at the Deanery what he wished to have done with the papers sent thither when he went out of office, after a moment’s consideration he said with his own smile of confidence and affection, 'They had better remain with you, if you please - I mean, if they are no inconvenience.' Once too, at Buckden, while making breakfast for him only, I spoke of the importance of papers, and the number that he must have - we were speaking of the difficulty of writing an accurate history of these eventful times. Mr Pitt said “I have fewer papers than you would imagine. I now wish I had more. Lord Grenville has I believe preserved some papers that will be very valuable. I regret now that I have not preserved more. -such documents form the most valuable part of history. - indeed the rest - must be mere supposition.” I think I hear his voice at this moment, and see him throw back his head when he said “mere supposition.” Alas! Never again shall I hear - but I will stop my pen. - I am grateful for the past be assured. I beseech you my Love to consider the subject of papers as it deserves.” [2]

Then on the following day, 27 January 1806, Mrs Tomline again writes to her husband about Pitt's private character, and the nature of his financial impecuniousness:

“…I am persuaded he did not (unhappily) consider private prodigality in its true light either as to its nature or its effects. It was not Gaming - it was not Vice of any kind (God be thanked) that brought on those debts. What was it? The Imperfection of his great mind - He despised Riches, but he valued their uses. Looking at their end, he overlooked the means to obtain them; while usually, men, busied with the means, forget the end." [3] She reflected that Pitt “…was led by the force of example and the want of precept” [4] with regard to his financial affairs.

Interestingly, from the perspective of Pitt's private character, Mrs. Tomline believed that “…Perfection was always the point to which Mr Pitt’s mind looked - in every thing - whether “for the best possible house” or the payment of the National Debt, perfection was the object in view. - The improvements at Holwood were owing in part to this habitual feeling of his mind, as well as to the greatness with which all the plans of such a mind must naturally be formed. I could say much more upon this most interesting subject - I feel it as a sort of duty to defend as far as truth will permit the most vulnerable part of his yet unequalled character - a character “so great (as Mr Marsh once said) that few have the power of understanding him." [5]
Additionally, in an undated letter from the same period, which is clear from internal evidence throughout the letter, Mrs. Tomline tells her husband that three of Pitt’s servants are to be provided for; however, she neglects to mention their names. [6] Presumably, at least one of them was Pitt's valet, who also received Pitt's gold fob watch. Mrs. Tomline also enquires as to where Pitt's papers are to be stored. In yet another undated letter from just after Pitt's death, she asks her husband the direct question, and then proceeds to provide the answer for him: "Where are Mr. Pitt's papers to be deposited? Where better than at the Deanery [of St. Pauls] in Chests in the room through the Eating room - Lord Chatham's [Pitt's elder brother, and his fellow executor] change of situation and habitation must prevent them going with him." [7]

Does this seem a little contrived to you?


1. Elizabeth Pretyman-Tomline to her husband, the Bishop of Lincoln. 24 January 1806. Ipswich Record Office, Pretyman MSS. HA 119: T99/27.

2. Ibid.

3. Elizabeth Pretyman-Tomline to her husband, the Bishop of Lincoln. undated but around late January 1806. Ipswich Record Office, Pretyman MSS. HA 119: T99/26.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. Elizabeth Pretyman-Tomline to her husband, the Bishop of Lincoln. undated but around late January 1806. Ipswich Record Office, Pretyman MSS. HA 119: 562/491.

'This untimely Blow': The tragic death of James Charles Pitt

On February 7, 1781, Pitt wrote to his friend and former tutor George Pretyman to inform him of the tragic death of his younger brother James Charles. The lad was only nineteen years old at the time of his death. Grief-stricken after already losing another sibling - his eldest sister Hester, Lady Mahon died in July 1780 - William brought the news to his mother and sister Lady Harriot at their home at Burton Pynsent in Somerset(shire).

Pitt wrote Rev. Mr. Pretyman, who was then at Pembroke Hall, Cambridge:

"I can hardly bring myself to write under the severe Blow which we have lately experienced, to the News of which My dear Pretyman, you are probably not a Stranger. You will I know be anxious to hear something from me. I wish to say as little as possible on the melancholy Subject, too melancholy indeed for words. I have to regret the loss of a Brother, who had every thing that was most amiable and promising, every thing that I could love and admire, and I feel the favorite Hope of my Mind extinguish'd by this untimely Blow. Let me however assure you that I am too much tried in Affliction not to be able to support myself under it, and that my poor Mother and Sister, to whom I brought the sad account yesterday, have not suffer'd in their Health from so severe a Shock. I have prevail'd on them to think of changing the Scene, and moving towards Hayes, which is a great Comfort to me, as the solitude and distance of this Place must now be insupportable. I imagine that we shall begin our Journey in a few days. Adieu. You shall hear from me soon again.
Yrs most sincerely & affectionately,
W Pitt

The unhappy Event took place on the 13th Novr."


William Pitt to Rev. Mr. George Pretyman. Ipswich Record Office, Pretyman MSS. HA 119: 562/659.

20 April 2014

Pitt's speech on the Abolition of the Slave Trade - 1792

Fig. 1: Pitt's Motion for the Abolition of the Slave Trade

In an undated letter to her husband George Pretyman-Tomline, Elizabeth Pretyman writes:

"...Four o'Clock. Mr. [Edward] Eliot is come - very well. He [Eliot] speaks in raptures of Mr. Pitt's speech on the Slave trade. Mr. Martin got up in a transport to compliment him [Pitt] upon it - and a Black [man] who was [sitting] in the Gallery [of the House of Commons] waited for him when the house was over, and went up to him [Pitt] and made a very very low bow so grateful and so reverential! that it quite affected all who saw him. What must be the feelings of your friend [Mr. Pitt] at that moment!" [1]

Although the letter is undated, the speech Mrs. Pretyman is most likely referring to is the famous speech Pitt gave after a long night of debating in the House of Commons as the sun rose on April 2-3, 1792. 

History records some of the names of the men who tirelessly campaigned for the abolition of the slave trade. Many will instantly the recall the names of a few men closely associated with this cause - William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson are two that spring to mind. The man not instantly connected with abolitionism is, ironically, the man who on May 9, 1788 first gave notice of a motion in the House of Commons for the Abolition of the Slave Trade: William Pitt. He was doing so in support of his friend William Wilberforce, who was seriously ill at the time. [2] It was a cause beset by fierce opposition, and it suffered numerous unfortunate setbacks. Huge efforts were made, and hundreds of petitions were signed by people all over Britain. When Pitt rose to give his speech on the abolition of the slave trade in the early morning hours of April 3, 1792, it was arguably one of the most eloquent speeches of his parliamentary career. Even his political opponents were impressed. Wilberforce wrote that "Windham, who has no love for Pitt, tells me that [Charles James] Fox and Grey, with whom he walked home after the debate, agreed with him in thinking Pitt's speech one of the most extraordinary displays of eloquence they had ever heard." [3]

How unintentionally prophetic were Pitt's words at the close of that speech, when he said:

"If we listen to the voice of reason and duty, and pursue this night the line of conduct which they prescribe, some of us may live to see a reverse of that picture, from which we now turn our eyes with shame and regret. We may live to behold the natives of Africa engaged in the calm occupations of industry, in the pursuits of a just and legitimate commerce. We may behold the beams of science and philosophy breaking in upon their land, which, at some happy period in still later times, may blaze with full lustre." [4]

Sadly, Pitt did not live to see the slave trade abolished by the British Parliament. He died in January 1806, and the Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade was passed by parliament on March 25, 1807. If some doubted Pitt's sincerity to the cause in later years when the pressures of an unrelenting war with France, and Pitt's increasingly failing health intervened, they certainly did not question him on that night.


1. Mrs. Eliza Pretyman to her husband George Pretyman-Tomline. (undated) Ipswich RO, Pretyman MSS: HA 119: 562/699.

2. Hague, W. (2005) William Pitt the Younger. London: Harper Press, p. 296.

3. Wilberforce, R.I. and Wilberforce, S.W. The Life of William Wilberforce, Volume 1., pp. 345-346.

4. The Speech of the Right Honourable William Pitt, on a Motion for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, in the House of Commons, on Monday the Second of April, 1792. London: James Phillips. 

Image Credit:

Figure 1: William Pitt's printed speech on his 'Motion for the Abolition of the Slave Trade in the House of Commons on Monday the Second of April 1792,' London: Printed by James Phillips, George Yard, Lombard Street. (my photo) Image reproduced by the kind permission of the Master and Fellows of Pembroke College, Cambridge.

18 April 2014

Nerot's Hotel

In the late 1770s, Pitt often stayed at Nerot's Hotel on King Street, St. James when he was in London. The premises of the hotel, dating from about the time of Charles II in the Stuart era, was a large building with a "heavy staircase...with panels being adorned with a series of mythical pictures of Apollo and Daphne, and other heathen deities," [1] the front of Nerot's having "no less than twenty-four windows." [2] It was called Nerot's Hotel from about 1776. The site, occupying what is now 23-24 King Street, was later rebuilt as the St. James's Theatre, and that structure was also demolished in 1957. After several more buildings on the site have come and gone, the site is currently an imposing office building.

Fig. 1: A plaque on the site of the former St. James's Theatre, and before that Nerot's Hotel (my photo)

Cast your mind back, if you will, to Tuesday, February 16, 1779 - the date of one of Pitt's letters to his Pembroke Hall friend Edward James Eliot that was written from Nerot's Hotel. I'm transcribing this letter in full as it captures the joyful, playful sense of humour, and the witty personality of the then 19 year old William Pitt. 

The letter also mentions the first operation Pitt had to have to remove a facial cyst on his face. I discussed this in previous posts located Here and Here, and from this letter it is clear that Pitt definitely had two surgeries. 

"Dear Eliot,

I am just come from behind the Throne in the House of Lords, and preparing to take my Station in Fop Alley. The short Interval between the duties of a Statesman and a Beau, allows me just Time to perform that of a good Correspondent, in thanking you immediately for the Letter which I have just had the Pleasure to receive. I am almost disabled from expressing my Gratitude as I ought, by the bodily Pain of the Operation I am undergoing, and from my Mental Faculties being completely stupefied by the Soporific Scene I have just left; which presented nothing but Motions carried Nemine Dissentiente, or what is Ten Times worse, earnest debates upon Points of Order. I do remember however with pleasure, that in the first description was a Motion to return the Thanks of the House to the Triumphant Admiral; an Honor almost equal not only to the Heart of Oak from the City, but even to the Freedom of the Patriotic Corporation of Cambridge. I rejoice to hear that the good People of England have so universally exerted their natural Right of Breaking Windows, Picking Pockets, Etc, Etc, and that those Constitutional demonstrations of Joy, are not confin'd to the Metropolis. 
There is still one privilege which London at present enjoys, and in which you will have no pretence to rival us. The conquering Hero himself has this Evening made his Entry, and every Window in London (a Metaphor which I learnt in the House of Lords) is by this Time acquainted with his Arrival. You will have seen the Motion made by Lord Radnor, in Tenderness for Lord Sandwich's Honor, which will I imagine produce a very curious Scene. Lord Sandwich himself intercedes for the Printer, and professes, tho' not in direct Words, that He is content to be libell'd as much as the General Advertiser pleases, provided the Mob will not pull his House down, or force Him and Miss Ray to pass another night in the Tilt-Yard. The Report of his going out has been exceeding strong, and tho the Thing is scarce credible, I begin to fear that the Clamour may subside, and the King still be blest with his present faithful Servants. I cannot speak with Certainty of the exact Time of my Return to Cambridge [where Eliot was at the time of the letter], and shall esteem it a high Honor if my Windows are broken in the mean Time. 
It is now constantly my Fate, not only never to continue in the same Place above a Fortnight, but also to travel at least a Thousand miles every month; and the Tenor of that Fate will carry me 150 miles Westward in a Few Days. I shall return however almost immediately, and do not despair of being at Cambridge in the Course of next Week. You say nothing of your own Motions, so I shall trust to finding you there when I arrive. - From your Postscript I judge that Meeke is supposed to be in London, but I have neither seen nor heard any thing of Him. Pray remember me to Turner and Pretyman. I am, dear Eliot, 
Most sincerely and Illegibly
W Pitt" [3]


1. Walford, E. (1878) Old and New London: Volume 4. 'St. James's Square: neighbourhood,' pp. 191-206. Online source: Nerot's Hotel

2. Ibid.

3. Ipswich Record Office. Pretyman MSS: HA 119: T108/39. William Pitt to Edward Eliot, February 16th [1779].

17 April 2014

A 'bracelet' of Mr. Pitt's hair

On October 17, 1821, at Farnham Castle, John Pitt, the Second Earl of Chatham - and by then William Pitt's only surviving family member - bequeathed a 'bracelet' of Pitt's hair to Mrs. Pretyman-Tomline. It was given to her as a 'keepsake,' it having been commonly worn by Lady Chatham. Presumably the Lady Chatham Mrs. Tomline refers to was Pitt's mother Lady Hester, Countess of Chatham (1720-1803). 

Fig. 1: The provenance note for the bracelet/necklace in Mrs. Tomline's handwriting
The whereabouts of this curious artefact between 1803 and 1821 is not clearly known, however it is possible that it was in the possession of John Pitt, the 2nd Lord Chatham, after his mother's death in 1803, and potentially worn by John's wife Mary, the 2nd Countess of Chatham. Sadly, Lady Mary Chatham had died in May 1821, so perhaps John felt as though Mrs. Elizabeth Pretyman-Tomline would like to have it. It is not possible to know if this is the case, but it clearly came into Mrs. Tomline's possession from October 1821 onwards. 

Fig. 2: A 'bracelet' made out of William Pitt the younger's hair
This strange piece of jewellery is described by Mrs. Tomline as a 'bracelet,' however as you can see from the image of the artefact above, it measures nearly 12 inches (a foot) long. It is more like a necklace, although it could also have been folded around the wrist several times to create a bracelet. The hair colour perfectly matches the lock of Pitt's hair taken at his death in January 1806 which is also located in the Pretyman MSS of Ipswich Record Office. Therefore, it is assumed to be made entirely from interweaved strands of Pitt's fine light brown hair (Source: HA 119: 6387/2).

Fig. 3: A close-up image of the hair bracelet
Although it can definitely be argued by modern observers that this is a piece of morbid jewellery, it should also be remembered that at the beginning of the 19th century, relatives and friends of the deceased did not have the luxury of photographs, videos, and other 21st century mementos of their loved ones. Due to the resilient nature of hair, many people during the 19th century (and before) kept memento mori and items of mourning jewellery. It was, in fact, all they had left. 


Ipswich Record Office, Pretyman MSS: HA 119: 6387/2. A 'bracelet' made of William Pitt the younger's hair. 

Image Credits:

Fig. 1: Pretyman MSS: HA 119: 6387/2. A provenance note in Mrs. Tomline's handwriting.

Fig. 2: Pretyman MSS: HA 119: 6387/2. A 'bracelet' made out of William Pitt's hair.

Fig. 3: Pretyman MSS: HA 119: 6387/2. A close-up image of the hair bracelet.

16 April 2014

Questioning the Parentage of Elizabeth and Louisa Jane Williams

Letter from Mr. C.T. Moberley-Bell to Earl Stanhope (July 1873)

Between July 1873 and August 1874, two grandsons of Louisa Jane Williams wrote to the 5th Earl Stanhope asking him for more information about their grandmother's (and her sister Elizabeth's) parentage. The men, living in two completely different countries - England and India - had both been told through a 'family tradition' about the 'affinity' between William Pitt the younger and the Williams sisters.

In July 1873, C.T. Moberley-Bell Esq., a maternal grandson of Mrs David (Miss Louisa Jane Williams), first wrote from his address in London to Earl Stanhope at Chevening Estate. 

Mr. Moberley-Bell wrote:
“I am the grandson of a certain Mrs David, who as Miss Williams was taken out to Malta by Lady Hester Stanhope. It has been asserted that this Miss Williams and a sister who died unmarried [Elizabeth] were the natural children of William Pitt the younger by a lady whose name it is unnecessary to mention…” [1] Moberley-Bell seemed to think that Stanhope would be able to give him more details; however if he was unable to obtain information from Stanhope he would “allow the matter to remain in oblivion.” [2]
Stanhope responded quickly to Bell in July 1873, writing that he heard about the tale elsewhere, but it "never attained any general circulation." [3] Stanhope emphatically tells Bell to let the matter drop. Clearly, Stanhope was aware of the assertion, but he was unwilling to give any more information about the Williams' sisters parentage. The 5th Earl Stanhope was born in January 1805, making him only a year old when Pitt died in 1806, but it's obvious from what he writes to Bell that this 'tale' was circulated privately throughout his family. Louisa Williams went to Malta to be married in 1807, and Lady Hester Stanhope permanently left England around the time Earl Stanhope was five years old, so he did not personally ever know his aunt or the Williams sisters. It seems Stanhope's entreaty for Bell to drop the subject was not enough to quench Bell's curiosity.

Moberley-Bell responded to Stanhope, again in July 1873, telling him that this information was widely known in his family, and that he was aware of a cover-up. An 'informant' told Moberley-Bell that this information regarding the Williams's sisters true parentage was suppressed. He writes that “my informant - who I regret to say was a connection of my family - distinctly stated that in an interview with your Lordship [Stanhope], I think about two years ago, you not only admitted the truth of the story, but supplied the name of the lady in question, adding that it had appeared in the original edition of your work, and been suppressed in subsequent editions at the request of the W- - - - family.” [4]  Who was the 'W' family?

As Stanhope openly admitted to hearing of the 'tale', Moberley-Bell once again presses for information: 

“…but as you alluded to a former occasion when you heard the story, I am anxious to ascertain whether your informant in the first instance was identical to mine.” [5] He ends his second letter by requesting any information Stanhope has about the “antecedents” of the Williams’s sisters, particularly Mrs David [Louisa] who was his grandmother. [6] Their correspondence ends abruptly, and rather tersely, on July 14, 1873, when Stanhope responds to Bell in a very short letter. Stanhope conveys: “I do not at all remember where or from whom I first heard the idle tale to which your two letters refer…Nor have I any information to give respecting the early life of Miss Williams, afterwards Mrs David.” [7]

The declaration that Pitt potentially fathered illegitimate children would have been shocking news. It is hard to believe that Stanhope could have conveniently forgotten where he heard the story given its nature. Perhaps he was concealing information from Mr. Moberley-Bell in order to keep it hush-hush? It definitely seemed as though he wanted the matter dropped. One grandson writing to Stanhope regarding the parentage of the Williams sisters is enough, however the very next year another grandson of Mrs. David (Louisa) also wrote to Earl Stanhope asking the same questions. Major C.D. Dodd wrote from Bombay, India in August 1874.

He believed that Stanhope was the only person now living able to give any information. He writes to Stanhope that “In page 17 Vol. I of Lady Hester Stanhope’s Memoirs, published in 1846 & edited by her Physician there is as follows: “I shall burn all, and send Williams to Malta with a note to be paid the first when Lady Bankes dies, for I have never paid her expenses here to Mr David.” In page 3, Volume I of the same memoirs “Miss Williams is described as having been brought up in Mr Pitt’s family...All I desire to know now [is] what was the parentage of Miss Williams; and who her Father was, & who her Mother was? I believe you to be the only person now living capable of telling me as [you are] the author of the Life of Mr Pitt. I think you will acknowledge I am justified in seeking this information, which for many years past I have endeavoured to attain, when I tell you I am the eldest living descendant of Miss Williams only sister, Mrs David, who was my maternal grandmother, her daughter having married the late Revd Charles Dodd (my father) & the eldest son of the Revd James Dodd, the well known Master of Westminster School about a century ago. I believe both Lady Hester Stanhope and Mr Pitt must have been well aware of the parentage of the Miss Williams’s - One girl was in Mr Pitt’s house at the period of his demise: both girls were taken out to the East by Lady Hester - at Malta, one Louisa married Mr John David; and a copy of the marriage certificate, which I have seen, does not give the names of her parents. Would you also - if able to do so - kindly inform me who was the Lady Bankes mentioned by Lady Hester in her Correspondence, and what was her Connection with Miss Williams? My half-brother Mr C. Bell sometime ago addressed you on the subject, of a rumour of Miss Williams’s affinity to Mr Pitt…" [8]

Major Dodd seemed to believe that there was a connection, but he was unaware of what that connection was, between Lady Bankes and the Williams sisters. Again, Stanhope writes back to Mr. Dodd telling him to drop it, and unlike his cousin Mr. Moberley-Bell, Dodd acknowledges what Stanhope says, and the matter is consigned to oblivion.

In the absence of more information - which may or may not still be out there - we can only guess what the actual truth may have been. Elizabeth Williams never married or had any children. What is particularly intriguing is that two different grandsons of Louisa Jane, and clearly other members of the family, including an 'informant,' believed that Pitt was the natural father of the girls. The lady in question was never directly named, although it appears that the grandsons of Louisa Jane Williams knew her name despite the fact that they do not directly name her in their letters. Also highly interesting is the fact that Stanhope openly admitted to Bell that he knew of the tale. This indicates that it was known by other members of the Stanhope family. If this report is true, that Pitt was the natural father of the Williams sisters, it completely contravenes traditional theories on the life - and particularly the sexuality - of William Pitt the younger. It is my intention to continue this investigation by examining Lady Hester Stanhope's physician Dr. Meryon's papers at the Wellcome Library. I'm interested in exploring other mentions of Lady Bankes, and anything else which may come to light.

On the elusive "W---" family, a particular little anecdote about Pitt may be noted which Lady Hester Stanhope relates to Dr. Meryon in one of their conversations:

"People thought Mr. Pitt did not care about women, and knew nothing about them; but they were very much mistaken. Mrs. B---s [Bankes, perhaps?] of Devonshire [Dorsetshire?], when she was Miss W-- was so pretty that Mr. Pitt drank out of her shoe." [9]

Coincidence, or something much more?


1. Kent History & Library Centre. Stanhope of Chevening Manuscripts, Pitt MSS: U1590/C378, HMC ref. 703/14, C. T. Moberley-Bell to Earl Stanhope, July 1873.

2. Ibid.

3. Kent History & Library Centre. Stanhope of Chevening Manuscripts, Pitt MSS: U1590/C378, HMC ref. 703/14, Earl Stanhope to C.T. Moberley-Bell, July 1873.

4. Kent History & Library Centre. Stanhope of Chevening Manuscripts, Pitt MSS: U1590/C378, HMC ref. 703/14, C.T. Moberley-Bell's response to Earl Stanhope, July 1873.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. Kent History & Library Centre. Stanhope of Chevening Manuscripts, Pitt MSS: U1590/C378, HMC ref. 703/14, Earl Stanhope's final response to C.T. Moberley-Bell, July 14, 1873.

8. Kent History & Library Centre. Stanhope of Chevening Manuscripts, Pitt MSS: U1590/C378, HMC ref. 703/14, Major C.D. Dodd to Earl Stanhope, August 1874.

9. Meryon, C.L. (1845) Memoirs of the Lady Hester Stanhope: As related by herself in conversations with her physician, Volume 1. p. 181.

14 April 2014

My Writing Process

The lovely Madame Gilflurt has invited me to participate in the 'My Writing Process' blog survey. It’s an honour to do so, and my contribution is below:

1) What am I working on?

I’m currently in the midst of delving into a substantial amount of primary source material and manuscript research for two separate yet interrelated projects I’m writing about regarding William Pitt the younger. Regular readers of my site will be aware that I’m primarily interested in the private life of Mr. Pitt, and I’m always on the lookout for previously unpublished material.

Currently my focus is on the historical novel Insurmountable Obstacles, a tale of the love story between Pitt and Lord Auckland’s eldest daughter Eleanor Eden. It explores their affair partially from Eleanor’s perspective, and delves into the reasons behind why Pitt broke it off. The other protagonist of the novel is the twelve year old daughter of a servant in Pitt’s household called Elizabeth Williams. Elizabeth and her younger sister Louisa Jane grow up being educated and provided for far beyond the experience of other daughters of servants, and when their mother Jane becomes seriously ill at the beginning of January 1797 their lives will change forever.

My other work in progress is a non-fiction book on the private life of William Pitt as related  in the accounts of the people who personally knew him. I have much more archive material to explore, but it has been an amazing journey thus far! I’ve vastly enjoyed the experience of piecing together the multifarious aspects of Pitt’s life from the varying accounts and placing them into a coherent three-dimensional picture. I would argue that Pitt was a difficult person to understand, and as he is a man who has been dead for over two hundred years, this process of capturing Pitt the Man as opposed to Pitt the Minister is an even harder endeavour. Nevertheless, I have felt challenged throughout to persevere in this project, and some of the evidence I have encountered along the way calls into question existing theories about Pitt's life.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I wouldn’t say that my historical novel about Pitt’s love story with Eleanor Eden is very different to other novels of its genre. It does have two vastly different female points of view, however: Eleanor Eden is the aristocratic eldest daughter of a British peer of the realm, and Elizabeth Williams is the daughter of a servant in Pitt’s household. The women, of course, never personally knew each other, although they were united in their connection to, and love for, Mr. Pitt. The main thread of the novel is the choice Pitt ultimate has to make between his sense of duty and his future marriage prospects.

In the case of my non-fiction work in progress, I definitely believe it’s different to other books of its kind. For instance, every other biography written about Pitt’s life has thus far primarily explored his political life as there is a dearth of collated information about his private hours. My goal is to create a compilation of the numerous accounts of Pitt in private life solely through the accounts of people who directly knew him. To my knowledge, this has never been done before, but the challenge doesn’t daunt me. I’m well aware that this is going to take years to finish - and I keep finding new material!

3) Why do I write what I do?

I write about William Pitt’s personal life from both a historical fiction and non-fiction perspective because I’m very passionate about having his private life known to a wider audience. In some respects, I’m trying to reform his reputation, and show that he wasn’t the cold, stiff, and unfeeling man that his opponents made him out to be. Instead, he was one of the most tender, loving, and compassionate politicians that Britain has ever seen.

4) How does your writing process work?

I’m quite an organised researcher and writer. I plan far ahead about which particular items I’m going to explore before I get to the record office, or private country estate, and I think ahead - sometimes months in advance - about where I’m going to do research next. I’m constantly multi-tasking and working on multiple projects at once, so I keep organised files on Google Drive, Evernote, etc. to keep everything tidy and easily accessible. 

If I find myself becoming stuck on something, I normally switch to another lead or take some quiet time for myself to think, read, or listen to music to clear my head and focus. Sometimes eating cake helps, too! All of the characters in my novel were real-life people, and I have a heavily developed sense of who these people are in terms of character sketches.  Nonetheless, with more research they have a way of continually surprising me! In the case of one of my female leads - Elizabeth Williams - it isn’t known what she looked like so I have had to invent, as it were, her physical attributes. I write and revise the same draft so that I don’t get bogged down with numerous manuscripts in various states of completion or confusion.

For my blog, as with my writing, I research as much as I can around that chosen topic before I write my post. I try to keep my blog posts relatively short and concise as I don’t want to fatigue my readers - my aim is to keep them interested, and to leave them hankering to learn more about Mr. Pitt!

Although I have not tagged anyone else, do get in touch if you’re interested in doing this as well. I always enjoy reading about other people’s work, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this little writing survey. 

11 April 2014

Meet My Main Character

The lovely Madame Gilflurt has invited me to take part in this 'Meet My Character' blog survey, whereby you answer 7 simple questions about the main character of your work in progress, and post this on your blog (tagging other writers to do the same if possible). I feel honoured to be able to share this, and my contribution can be found below. Although I have not tagged any other writers, I’d be very interested to hear about your individual stories, so do get in touch.

Eleanor Eden by John Hoppner (c. 1799)

1) What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historic person?

I actually have two main characters in my novel: Eleanor Eden, later the Countess of Buckinghamshire from June 1799, and Elizabeth Williams, the ostensible daughter of a servant in Mr. Pitt’s household. Both women were real people who lived in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Although these two women never personally knew one another, and came from opposites ends of the social class spectrum, they were united by their common connection to William Pitt the younger. As there are no known portraits or engravings of Elizabeth Williams, I've only provided an image of Eleanor Eden by the portrait artist John Hoppner.

2) When and where is the story set?

It is set in England during the Napoleonic Wars, and spans the years 1793-1806. When the novel opens, it is September 1793, and Mr. Pitt has begun staying regularly at Lord Auckland’s estate known as Eden Farm. Eleanor Agnes is Auckland’s 16 year old eldest daughter, and has fallen in love with Pitt. Their mutual affection blossoms over the coming years, culminating in a declaration of love over Christmas 1796, and New Year 1797. Pitt, however, is not only immured in exorbitant financial debts, but his past hides a secret which ultimately drives them apart. My other protagonist, Elizabeth Williams, is a young girl growing up under Mr. Pitt’s care. Elizabeth and her younger sister Louisa Jane are educated and completely provided for by Pitt through various intermediaries, although they do not see Pitt often whilst they are growing up. 

3) What should we know about him/her?

Eleanor is the daughter of a British peer who was a close political and personal acquaintance  of the Prime Minister (Mr. Pitt). Pitt lives at Hollwood, within a few short miles of Auckland’s Eden Farm. Pitt spends much of his leisure time - sometimes under the pretence of speaking about finances - at the Auckland estate. Although there is an age gap of 18 years, a reciprocated attachment of love and affection blossoms between Eleanor and Pitt. Meanwhile, Elizabeth is growing up, and beginning to realise that her and her sister Louisa are receiving a far greater education and preferential treatment than the average daughters of servants. 

4) What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?

Eleanor is in love with Mr. Pitt. Although Pitt reciprocates Eleanor’s feelings, he holds back. He realises that his political colleague Henry Dundas, and others in his cabinet, detest and distrust Lord Auckland. Pitt is also concerned about his financial inability to provide for Eleanor, although he has too much pride to openly reveal this to her. Most of all, there are ‘insurmountable obstacles’ barring the marriage, and Pitt never wants this information to be made known to the public. Fearing political as well as personal jobbery, and above all irreparable damage to his political standing, Pitt must decide if he can fully commit himself to Eleanor - or indeed to any woman. He has a powerful, almost unparalleled, sense of duty to his King and Country, and above all to the preservation of his Character.

Elizabeth Williams is a servant’s daughter made good. At least, this is how she views her life until her mother becomes critically ill in late 1796. Fearing what will become of her two daughters, she begs Pitt to take them in and provide for them in the event of her death. By early January 1797, it is clear that Elizabeth and Louisa’s mother Jane is dying. The only question remains how long she will last. Forced by unforeseen events, Pitt must make a difficult decision - will he choose to marry Eleanor or provide for Elizabeth and her sister? At any cost, the secret he has to hide must never be made known.

5) What is the personal goal of the character(s)?

Eleanor’s goal, and that of her intriguing father, is for her to marry William Pitt - the Prime Minister of England. Pitt is Eleanor’s first love, and she is very passionate about him. 

Elizabeth, meanwhile, is twelve years old, and is enjoying her life, and the fleeting amount of time she can spend in the company of Mr. Pitt. Although her and her sister do not see much of him, Mr. Pitt has always been very tender with the girls. He has always been very particular that they receive the best education possible - despite the fact that they are the daughters of one of his servants. When their mother Jane becomes dangerously ill, Elizabeth’s goal is to retain the protection of Mr. Pitt.
The climax of the story comes in early January 1797 when Jane Williams’s life is determined to be nearly at an end. Suffering from a wasting sickness, the physicians apprise Pitt of her condition, and Jane begs Pitt to take care of her two young daughters. Pitt is suddenly forced to make a choice - marriage or duty.

6) Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

The working title for my novel is called Insurmountable Obstacles. If you’re interested to read more, feel free to get in touch.

7) When can we expect the book to be published? 

I’m actually working on two very different, but nonetheless interrelated, projects right now, so it may be several years before this novel sees publication! At the moment, I’ve been spending most of my time trawling through various archives and manuscripts in public record offices around the UK relating to William Pitt the younger and his contemporaries. My other project, which is currently taking precedence to my historical novel, is a non-fiction account of the private life of William Pitt as seen through the eyes of the people who personally knew him. 

Thanks for reading! I haven’t tagged any other authors, but if you’re interested (and have not done this already), I’d be very happy to read about your work in progress!
Let me know what you think of Eleanor & Elizabeth! 

No. 12 Park Place: Pitt's house after his resignation

After being puzzled by the discrepancy in the correct number of Pitt's house on Park Place, I believe I can safely deduce with confidence that John Ehrman was correct. Pitt rented 12 Park Place just after his resignation in early 1801. In the 1860s, Lord Stanhope had written in his notes that the address was 5 Park Place, but he did not provide a source for his information. [1] Ehrman believed that Pitt resided at 12 Park Place, and although he also did not include a source, this information was cited in one of the footnotes. [2] 

I mentioned in a previous post that numbers 5 and 12 Park Place are on opposite sides and ends of this very small street, so it amazed me that there would be that discrepancy. Fortunately, I believe I've touched upon Ehrman's source - and the answer to the mystery. 

Fig. 1: A map of Park Place, St. James from Horwood's 1799 map

London Past and Present: Its History, Associations, and Traditions  (1891: 33) mentions that "William Pitt retired to No. 12 in 1801." [3] Although they do not give their source, I can only assume that Ehrman gleaned his information from either a letter in one of the manuscripts, or from this book. As you can see from the screenshot I took of my digital copy of Horwood's 1799 map of London, Park Place is located just off St. James's Street. Brooks's gentleman's club is on the top right-hand corner, and no. 12 is one of the terraced houses directly opposite. Pitt was very familiar with the area of St. James, not only due to its proximity to Westminster, St. James's Palace, and gentleman's clubs he was a member of (including White's and the former Goostree's), but his father also formerly had a house at No. 10 St. James's Square. His brother Chatham also rented a property on St. James's Square at one time, and Pitt frequently stayed at Nerot's Hotel on King Street,  St. James in the late 1770s. Renting a property on Park Place would have provided Pitt with somewhere central, convenient, and within easy reach of Westminster. 


1. Kent History and Library Centre, Maidstone. Stanhope of Chevening manuscripts, Pitt MSS: U1590/S5/C60-4.

2. Ehrman, J. (1996) The Younger Pitt: The Consuming Struggle. London: Constable, p. 534 (footnote).

3. Wheatley, H. B. & Cunningham, P. (1891) London Past and Present: Its History, Associations, and Traditions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 33.

Image Credit:

Figure 1: Detail of Park Place, St. James, from my digital copy of Richard Horwood's 1799 map of London.