23 May 2014

Holy Trinity Church: The base of "The Clapham Sect"

Fig. 1: Holy Trinity Church, Clapham Common (my photo)
I recently visited Holy Trinity Church on Clapham Common in south-west London. Between about 1790 and 1830, a group of like-minded, wealthy, and politically influential Anglican social reformers met and worshipped at Holy Trinity. They were mostly residents of the Clapham area, and had villas nearby the church. Although these men were not called by any particular phrase at the time, the grouping later became referred to as "The Clapham Sect" or "The Clapham Saints" in homage to their place of residence, meetings, and worship. At the centre of this network of men was William Wilberforce, a friend of the Prime Minister William Pitt, as well as a philanthropist and staunch advocate for the abolition of the slave trade. 

Fig. 2: Blue plaque to William Wilberforce on the front of Holy Trinity Church (my photo)
William Wilberforce and Henry Thornton were two such men who had villas nearby. Pitt and Wilberforce's mutual friend, Edward James Eliot, also rented Broomfield Lodge in Clapham, and supported the abolitionist cause until his premature death in 1797.

Fig. 3: Broomfield Lodge, Clapham (1904)
What amazes me as a social historian is that this place of such historical importance is still standing after over two centuries. Both the interior and exterior of Holy Trinity remains predominantly Georgian in appearance and structure. The old plaque on the side of the church dedicated to The Clapham Sect has damage due to Zeppelin bombs during World War One, but otherwise the building retains a distinctly 18th century feel. 

Fig. 4: The Clapham Sect plaque on the side of Holy Trinity Church (my photo)
Simply being inside the church brings home its historical significance. One can imagine the campaigners gathering together to meet at their respective properties, and to worship with one another at Holy Trinity on a Sunday morning. After over a generation of hard work and repeated efforts in the House of Commons, the Slave Trade Act was finally passed in 1807 - a year after the death of William Pitt. It was followed, in 1833, by the Slavery Abolition Act. 
Fig. 5: The interior of Holy Trinity (my photo)
The far-reaching, global impact of a relatively small parish church on the fringes of Clapham Common cannot be overstated.

Image Credits:

Figure 1: Holy Trinity Church, Clapham Common (my photo)

Figure 2: Blue plaque to William Wilberforce on the front of Holy Trinity Church (my photo)

Figure 3: Broomfield Lodge, Clapham Common (1904). Image Source.

Figure 4: The Clapham Sect plaque on the side of Holy Trinity (my photo)

Figure 5: The interior of Holy Trinity (my photo)

Charles Long's request for a pension

Charles Long, later 1st Baron Farnborough, by Henry Edridge (1805)

On January 10th, 1801, Charles Long wrote from the Treasury to William Pitt regarding his pecuniary situation. As a friend and political adherent, Long was hoping that Pitt could provide him and his wife with a yearly pension to supplement his salary and bolster his financial security. Long was aware that, amongst many other wartime pressures, Pitt was under tremendous strain as the Union with Great Britain and Ireland had just taken place. 

Long wrote:

“In the midst of many important considerations which necessarily occupy your mind, I have great reluctance in calling your attention at all to myself, and nothing would induce me to do so in any way which could be in any degree embarrassing to you. You probably know that independent of the Treasury I am not rich - in truth without being in debt my Income is not larger exclusive of my official Salary than when I was first appointed to the office I now hold. It is true, that I might have saved something since I have been in that situation, but I am not aware that I could have saved any thing material, and I believe I ought also to confess that I have yet something to learn on the subject of Economy. 

Mrs. Long’s [his wife] amount to about £1,700 a year to which if any circumstances should reduce us, I should not represent it as a Case of distress but as one which would oblige us to do that which is the best Philosophy in the world, [but] not pleasant - to alter entirely our Manner of Life. I am very sensible for ye uniform kindness that you will feel every inclination consistently with what is just to render my situation as unfortunate as possible, but I am also aware that it is much easier to feel the Inclination then to find the means - and I should wish extremely not to [oe] with the [oe] which others may have upon you - the only thing I have to suggest is a contingent Pension of 1,200 [£] P[er]An[num] - to take place whenever I ceased to hold my present office, or held an office of less than ——— with reversion of half to Mrs. L[ong]. 

This perhaps might not be thought unreasonable after a Service of ten years in a laborious office in the discharge of the duties of which I will only say of myself that I have endeavoured to be [oe] not to appear to be so. I wish you to consider this rather as asking your friendship & advice upon the subject, then as making a request for the particular thing I have mentioned. Your decision upon this point is of course very interesting to me, but a decision can[not] vary that attachment which is the Pride & Happiness of my Life. Ever sincerely yrs, Charles Long.” [1]

When Pitt resigned his position as First Lord of the Treasury the following month, Long followed him out of office, and was awarded a yearly pension of £1,500 in recognition of his services. The pension was £300 greater than what Long had requested.


1. Charles Long to William Pitt, January 10th, 1801. British Library Add Ms 89036/1/8, f. 3.

Image Credit:

Charles Long, later 1st Baron Farnborough, by Henry Edridge (1805). NPG 4046. Image Source.

22 May 2014

Lady Harriot Pitt at Bath Crescent (1777)

A modern day panoramic view of The Royal Crescent in Bath (my photo)

On September 18, 1777, Hester, the Countess of Chatham, wrote to Mrs. Pitt regarding her daughter Lady Harriot's trip to stay with her uncle (Hester's brother, Henry Grenville) at his newly built residence, number 13 Bath Crescent:

 “It was only this morning that they left us, in order to set out on their Journey to morrow to look at the new House they have there, which is the best in the Crescent.” Immediately before this journey, Henry Grenville, his wife, and her niece Louisa had been staying with Lord and Lady Chatham at Hayes Place. [1] Lady Harriot clearly got on very well with her cousin Louisa Grenville, and they seemed to be good friends.

By Tuesday, Oct 25th 1777, the Countess of Chatham was writing to Mrs. Pitt once again as 
Mr. and Mrs. Pitt were joining Lady Harriot and the Grenville’s at Bath: 

“The delight of the Bath Journey will be much increas’d by the fortunate circumstance of your and Mr Pitt being to be there; and Harriot rejoices beforehand in the thoughts of your kindness to her, which she has the pleasure to know how to Judge of by experience. Pitt [John, Lady Harriot's older brother] is also to be of the Party, and I am sure from every reason he cannot feel less happy on the occasion, but will claim his right to it. At present he is following the Fox Hounds, for the first day this season.” [2]

It appears that Lord Pitt retained his fondness for hunting and shooting throughout his life, and it was evidently a recreation that began in his youth.  

Lady Chatham was hoping that Mrs. Pitt would supervise Lady Harriot, as she had reservations about the raucous life at Bath. Nevertheless, she was pleased about Lady Harriot's friendship with Louisa:

“…Bath is not the Place in the World I like the best for Young People, but there was no refusing so kind an offer, and a Friendship between Louisa and Harriot is so natural and right, that it is to be wish’d. Louisa seems really to be a very fine Young Woman, and is certainly exceedingly accomplish’d…[it] reconciles us to the hazarding our Girl at such a Distance.” [3]

Louisa was Henry Grenville's only daughter, and was very close to Lady Harriot. In a previous post about Number 13 Bath Crescent, I mentioned the connection of the property to the Pitt and Grenville families, as well as Lady Harriot and Lord Pitt's [John, afterwards known as the 2nd Lord Chatham] time there in 1777. Louisa Grenville later married Charles, the 3rd Earl Stanhope, after the death of his first wife, Lady Harriot's older sister Hester, Lady Mahon, due to complications arising from childbirth. 


1. Hester, Countess of Chatham to Mrs. Pitt. September 18th, 1777. Dropmore Papers, British Library Add Ms 59490, ff. 59-60.

2. Hester, Countess of Chatham to Mrs. Pitt. October 25th, 1777. Dropmore Papers, British Library Add Ms 59490, ff. 61-62.

3. Ibid.

The 2nd Lord Chatham on Pitt's intended marriage: "I do not believe a word of it"

At the end of 1796, reports were flying about that Mr. Pitt intended to marry Lord Auckland's eldest daughter, the Honourable Eleanor Agnes Eden. To some, including Pitt's older brother the 2nd Earl of Chatham, it was hogwash. 

Lord Camden had written to Lord Chatham stating that he had heard - via Earl Bathurst (also a mutual friend of Pitt) - that Pitt was going to marry Eden. Although Chatham and Mr. Pitt were not on the closest of terms at the time, especially after Pitt dismissed his brother from the position of First Lord of the Admiralty, Chatham totally dismissed the marriage report.

Lord Chatham wrote to Lord Camden from his residence at Berkeley Square on December 23rd, 1796, apprising him of the situation:

“…I can not conceive what cou’d induce Bathurst to write you word, seriously, that My Brother was to marry Miss Eden. I do not believe a word of it, tho’ he has certainly often been there this year, but I rather fancy the inducement was to talk over the finances with my Lord. Mrs. Bankes, who is intimate with the Aucklands assures me there is nothing at all in it, and that Lady Auckland amuses herself very much with the report (which is very current) and at the alarm it gives certain Persons, who are afraid they will not engross the whole of his [Pitt’s] time as they have been in the habit of doing…" [1]

I wonder about Mrs. Bankes's knowledge, and also who the "certain Persons" were that would be afraid of losing time with Pitt?


1. Lord Chatham to Lord Camden, Berkeley Square, December 23rd, 1796. The Kent History & Library Centre: U840/C254/6.

'Something Eternal': Pitt's notes on spirituality

Scattered about in various record offices around the world are miscellaneous notes in Pitt's handwriting. Most of these are undated as he was writing for himself during his fleeting leisure moments. He probably never imagined they would be seen by anyone else. One of the most intriguing notes in his handwriting is in relation to spiritual matters. It appears that Pitt was taking notes from a book he was reading (possibly on something from, or in answer to, the 17th century philosopher Spinoza as he mentions him by name). The notes deal with spiritual matters - and are apparently on the subjects of eternity, the original creator of the universe (although the word 'God' is not referred to once in the text), and infinity. 

Copied entirely verbatim, this is what Pitt wrote on this complex subject:

“Something Eternal - That Something Source of all Power - most powerful - first Cause. -
Necessary Existence - Cannot be the Material World
Must be something eternal & intelligent - Things void of knowledge could never produce a knowing being.
Only two sorts of Beings in the World, that man knows or conceives - Cogitative & Material Incogitation

Incogitation can never produce Cogitative matter if Eternal can never produce motion, matter and motion if Eternal can never produce Thought. 
Matter cannot in itself be Cogitative (for then Perception etc must be inseparable from every particle). 
First Eternal Being cannot be Matter.
Every particle of matter as such cannot be cogitative.
One Atom alone cannot - A System of incogitative matter cannot, whether in motion or at rest.
Matter need not (cannot) be coeternal.
Material world cannot be self Existent - form - matter - motion. Tendency - one way or every way to some or all. Matter - Gravitation - Vacuum.”

Something Eternal. (Difficulties about Eternity)
Some original Independent Being.
Every thing produced by External Cause, or self Existent
Idea of self Existence. (Eternity and Infinity, therefore, the Substance to which these modes belong - cannot be supposed not to exist without a ContradictionMaterial World not self existent, because the whole, and every Part, their Situation and Motion, the Form and Matter, are arbitrary 
Motion: Tendency to it either one determinate way (it cannot be essential to the nature of any Particle) or every way (which must produce Rest) - or in some matter only it is supposing absolute necessity not universal
Matter must either include Gravitation (and then there must be a Vacuum) or not, and then there never could be motion.
Self Existent being must be Eternal and Infinite because Absolute Necessity is every where and always the same, - But One - necessity simple & number a deformity.
Two (or more) Independent Beings a Contradiction
Intelligent - Cause must have every Perfection that is in Effect, and therefore Intelligence. Intelligent  Beings cannot have been from Eternity without any original Cause - nor have arisen at any Time out of that which had no such Quality (because Perception is a distinct Perfection, and cannot therefore have arisen out of that which had no such for no Effect, etc. - From Final Causes, etc. - From the origins of motion. 
A Free Agent - Consequence of Intelligence - From Arbitrary disposition in the World (Answer to Spinosa) From Final Causes - From Finite Beings - From impossibility of infinite Succession of Causes. 
All powerful - not to work Contradictions - natural or moral Evils - can create Matter - and Cogitative  Substances with Power of beginning Motion, and with Freedom of Will.”


Miscellaneous Notes in Pitt's handwriting (undated). The Kent History & Library Centre, Pitt MSS: U1590/S5/O11. 

16 May 2014

Emily Eden on Pitt's attachment to her sister

Fig. 1: Emily Eden in 1835 (age 38)

In the process of writing his four volume biography of Pitt, the 5th Earl Stanhope attempted to gain access of Pitt's correspondence with Lord Auckland regarding his attachment to Eleanor Eden. In the 1860s, the letters were still in the possession of the Eden family, and Stanhope was unsuccessful in perusing them. When the Auckland Correspondence was published around the same time, the letters in question were not included, but merely alluded to in passing.

Based on what he could gather without having personally seen the letters, Stanhope believed that Lord Auckland would have had great advantages to gain if Pitt had married his daughter. Furthermore, he saw the matter as Auckland pressing the point with too much “urgency.” [1]

To justify his position, Stanhope poses these questions:

“I would ask then:

1. How unless on my supposition can we explain the extreme repugnance of the Eden family to produce these letters? Their insertion [in the printed Auckland Papers] would have greatly added to the interest & to the sale of the published volumes. On what ground can they be withheld, except because they contain some things not quite to the credit of Lord Auckland?
2. In like manner how otherwise explain that as Miss Emily Eden states in her letter to me of April 4, 1861 her sister, then Countess of Buckinghamshire - a lady whose high-minded character was acknowledged by all - “had the greatest dislike to the whole subject”?
3. It is stated in the “Post-script” to the fourth volume of the Auckland Papers that “a long & painful discussion took place” between Lord Auckland & Mr. Pitt. What else was to make it painful?
4. In the same Postscript we find that Lord Auckland “was naturally anxious the marriage should take place.”
5. The short narrative in the Auckland Papers (at vol. iii p. 374) says that “several letters passed between Lord Auckland & Mr. Pitt suggesting arrangements by which the marriage might in time take place without impudence.” It is clear that these suggestions must have come from Lord Auckland & not from Mr. Pitt, who in his first letter of which extracts are given had declared the obstacle arising from his pecuniary embarrassment to be “insurmountable.” [2]

Stanhope makes a valid point in thinking that Auckland had much to gain from a marriage between his eldest daughter and William Pitt (who was then Prime Minister). Lord Auckland could be a political turncoat, changing sides frequently, and intriguing to gain a greater position for himself. Nevertheless, as I have seen the painful letters in question, and can vouch for the painful nature of the draft letters, I disagree with Stanhope in that I believe Pitt's heart was involved. 

Fig. 2: The Hon. Emily Eden in later life (1860s)

Stanhope refers to a letter from the Hon. Emily Eden (1797-1869) dated Norwood, April 4, 1861. In an extract of her letter to Stanhope, she mentions the affair between Pitt and her deceased sister, and mentions the unpublished letters:

“…As for Mr. Pitt’s attachment to my sister, I hardly know till I go home, what information I can give you. I should think not so much as Lady Hester Stanhope does. My sister had the greatest dislike to the whole subject - and was so urgent against any mention of it, that it would be impossible to publish Mr. Hogge’s determination to have them for the two next volumes of my father’s correspondence that I don't think her family would be justified in giving to the public such very private letters. I have not looked at them for some years but my recollection of Mr. Pitt’s letters is that he expressed very strong affection for my sister, but that his pecuniary distress made it quite impossible he should marry, and that every visit to Eden Farm added so much to his unhappiness that he thought it would be prudent to remit them for a time. When I go home next week I will look at them again and let you know the result.” [3]

There is no further correspondence on record between Emily Eden and Earl Stanhope, so it can be deduced that she never got back to him. It was many years before those "very private letters" [4] ended up at the British Museum (and then the British Library). 

What is interesting is Emily's reference to her sister having "the greatest dislike to the whole subject - and was so urgent against any mention of it..." [5] Perhaps this was due to the painful nature of the breakup. Pitt ended it, and it is doubtful whether they ever saw one another again. As a consequence, Eleanor may rightly have felt anger, pain, and resentment toward Pitt. The report of their intended marriage was widely known, and she would naturally have felt pain and embarrassment as a result of the marriage not taking place. If her heart was involved she would have been highly upset. We don't have a record of Eleanor's feelings; Lord Auckland mentioned her not being able to quit her rooms for several days, so it may be argued that she had feelings for Pitt as well. Either way, it is understandable why Eleanor would want to avoid the subject as much as possible - even many years later - and especially if it was a difficult experience. 


1. Attachment of Mr. Pitt to the Hon. Eleanor Eden 1796-7 "Memorandum stating the conclusion to which I have come on the whole case. Stanhope. December 1874.”

2. Ibid.

3. Mr. Pitt & the Hon. Eleanor Eden - January 1797 - Letter to Earl Stanhope from the Hon. Emily Eden, 1861; Correspondence thereupon with Miss Eden. U1590/S5/C60/20.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

Image Credits:

Figure 1: Emily Eden by Simon Jacques Rochard (1835). NPG 6455. Source

Figure 2: Emily Eden by John & Charles Watkins, after George Richmond (1860s). NPG  Ax46419. Source

Lord Harrowby's indignation: The Infamous Inkstand Incident

Fig. 1: Dudley Ryder, 1st Earl of Harrowby

This story is worth quoting here as the 'infamous inkstand incident' (my turn of phrase). As a confirmed Pittite, this wrangles with me. Let's see what you make of it...

Pitt's friend Dudley Ryder, 1st Earl of Harrowby, lived until 1844. Thus, he knew Philip Henry Stanhope, and they seem to have conferred about Pitt. Below is one of the stories Harrowby related to Stanhope:

“…It appears that Mr. Pitt on his deathbed told the Bishop of Lincoln that he should like to leave him some memorial of his friendship, & bid him take a silver inkstand which was on his table & which he had always used. This the Bishop did accordingly. Some years later, as it chanced the Bishop was giving a dinner to some of Mr. Pitt’s most intimate friends, the conversation happened on him, and the well-known inkstand was mentioned. Some of the party expressed a strong wish to see it once again, & asked that it might be brought in. The Bishop made various excuses, but as there seemed no indiscretion in pressing for merely a sight of this memorial, the Bishop at last was obliged to say that having not long since to purchase some expensive plate, & above all two large wine-coolers, he had allowed Mr. Pitt’s inkstand to be taken as part of the price. Nothing I presume was said to the Bishop at the time; but Lord Harrowby added that the anecdote was never forgotten & caused great indignation among Pitt’s surviving friends.” [1]

Harrowby clearly never forgot the insult to Pitt's memory.


1. Kent History & Library Centre. 'Story told to Earl Stanhope by Lord Harrowby of Bishop Pretyman, afterwards Tomline' - Pitt MSS: U1590/S5/C60.

Image Credit:

Figure 1: Dudley Ryder, 1st Earl of Harrowby by H. Robinson after T. Phillips (1844). Source

15 May 2014

Edward James Eliot's Will

Six months after the tragic death in childbirth of his beloved wife Lady Harriot, Edward Eliot sat down to write his will. He was still living with his friend and brother in-law, Prime Minister William Pitt, at Downing Street. He was clearly thinking of the future of his only daughter, Harriot Hester, when he penned the lines.

The will, written in Eliot’s handwriting on 25 of March 1787 at Downing Street, Westminster, was made out "to The Rt. H. William Pitt & H. John Eliot [Eliot's brother]":

“Written on this Twenty Fifth of March soon after Twelve oClock, six Calendar months after I had seen My Last of almost all I hold Dear in the world my Beloved Harriot, But in earnest & anxious Expectation of a Future & happy Meeting: My Will & Desire is to leave every thing I possess’d of to Her & my Only Child. Desiring however that all that can with advantage be turn’d into money it shd be so; and laid out in the Publick Funds, for her use; Desiring also that what little may arise from the Interest of that of the money now in ye Funds, & of that upon Marriage, over & above the Necessary Expence of Her Education; may also be again laid out from time in the Publick Funds up to the time of her attaining the age of Twenty One, or of marrying with the Consent of her Uncle ye R:H: William Pitt, whom together with ye H: John Eliot I request to see the Provisions of this paper Executed, and to whom (R:H: William Pitt) I Leave, in token of his Kindness & generosity to me, all the property of every kind which I have hereby secured to my Dearest Daughter, in case of her Death before the Time of her coming of age or of marrying with his Consent, & I moreover Desire He [Pitt] may have the sole & exclusive right of Directing the Place & Manner of her Education, as far as he pleases to exert it. Ed. J. Eliot.” [1]

In January 1792, another will was drawn up to also include Eliot's other brother in-law John, Earl of Chatham, and his "Esteemed Friend" George, Bishop of Lincoln - in addition to William Pitt - as those appointed to be guardians of his only child Harriot Hester Eliot. His mother in-law the Dowager Countess of Chatham was also included as a guardian to Lady Harriot Hester during her minority - in other words, prior to her twenty-first birthday. [2]

Eliot never remarried after the loss of his deeply lamented wife, and he never seems to have recovered from her loss. He died at the age of 39 in September 1797. His daughter was just 11 years old. Unfortunately, William Pitt also did not live long enough to see his niece marry Mr. Pringle in May 1806, as Pitt died in the previous January. William's older brother John, Lord Chatham, and George Pretyman-Tomline, The Bishop of Lincoln, saw to the arrangements regarding Lady Harriot Hester's marriage settlement.


1. Edward James Eliot’s Will (1787). Kent History & Library Centre. Stanhope of Chevening Manuscripts, Pitt MSS. U1590/S5/C31.

2. Edward James Eliot's Will (20 January 1792). The National Archives. Ref: Prob/11/1298.

14 May 2014

Hester, Lady Chatham: A self-sacrificing wife

Fig. 1: Hester, Countess of Chatham by William Hoare (c. 1766)

Lady Hester Chatham was a passionately devoted wife to her husband William Pitt (the Elder, 1st Earl of Chatham), and a loving mother to their five children. In many respects, however, she did not have a comfortable life. Her and Lord Chatham were always heavily mired in debt, and she alone seemed to bear the brunt of their financial concerns. Whilst Pitt had little or no qualms about spending extravagantly on building 'improvements'  and landscaping their multiple properties, Lady Hester was left to deal with creditors, arrange mortgages on their estates, beg their various friends for loans (the Hoods alone lent over £10,000), and shield her husband with a constant level of maternal care [1]. Nevertheless, her love and admiration for her spouse never wavered. 

During Lord Chatham's mental breakdown in the late 1760s, Lady Hester was his wife, nurse, and constant companion. Her husband's spiralling debts had squandered her marriage settlement, and seriously threatened the financial prospects of their children's futures. When Lord Chatham had to be moved to another property at North End in Hampstead, she had their children sent away as the noise was further upsetting Chatham. Although they both deeply loved their children, during the periodic crises of Lord Chatham's health (mental just as much as physical in nature), the children were kept very much out of sight. Perhaps it was for their own good. Lady Hester shielded her husband from the rest of the world during these periods, even from their own children, in order to care for him both night and day. 

Their Scottish banker, Thomas Coutts, may have once remarked that Lady Hester, the Countess of Chatham was "the cleverest man of her time in politics and business," [2] but she was very much alone in her incessant solicitude for her husband's welfare. Even in Lord Chatham's later years, with his health gradually failing, and requiring constant care, Lady Hester remained his pillar of strength. That is not to say that her health did not suffer in the process. Lady Hester wrote to their relation, Mrs. Pitt of Boconnoc in Cornwall, on August 7, 1775, telling her, "...my poor Lord's continued Illness makes me a very suffering Miserable Person." [3] Whilst Pitt the Elder suffered with terrible pains due to 'Gout' and other illnesses, Lady Hester herself was also repeatedly worn to the point of exhaustion and incapacitating colds. On January 14, 1777, Lady Hester writes again to Mrs. Pitt, saying that she "has been indisposed [unwell] and feels the effects of it, altho' it was an Accidental Illness brought on by being too much worn" whilst looking after her ailing husband [4]. Over the course of January 1777, Lord Chatham's complaint with 'Gouty Matter' [5] worsened, leading to extreme pain for Chatham - and duress for his wife. Lady Hester hastily finishes a letter to Mrs. Pitt during that period by apologising that "...you will forgive an abrupt conclusion, I am sure, in the present circumstances. I have been call'd [by her husband] twenty times in scribbling these few Lines." [6] 

Fig. 2: William Pitt, Lord Chatham by William Hoare

Indeed, the stress was so much that by early February 1777, Lady Harriot - then still living with her parents - had to write Mrs. Pitt on her mother's behalf. Lady Harriot eases Mrs. Pitt's mind on her mother's account, assuring her that "she [Lady Hester] sustains herself, my dear Madam, with all the fortitude possible in the present afflicting circumstance. But at the same time, you will easily imagine how much she must suffer from such a severe trial. She has had a bold Cold lately too, which has opprest her a good deal, and render'd her less able to bear the exertion of her constant attendance on Papa." [7]

Lord Chatham died on May 11, 1778 at their beloved Hayes Place in Kent. Lady Chatham outlived her husband by nearly 25 years, but she lived in debt for the remainder of her life. Her surviving sons, William Pitt and John, the 2nd Lord Chatham, did what they could to help her financially retain her estate at Burton Pynsent. When she died there in early April 1803, she left little to her name but a silver tea urn, her horses, a chaise, and four silver bottle frames "bought by myself." [8] At her request, she was buried next to her venerable husband in the Chatham vault in the North Transept of Westminster Abbey.


1. McLeod, K. (1976) The Wives of Downing Street. London: Collins, pp. 21, 41.

2. Ibid. p. 41

3. Dropmore Papers. Lady Hester Chatham to Mrs. Pitt. Hayes, August 7th, 1775. BL Add Ms 59490, f. 26. 

4. Dropmore Papers. Lady Hester Chatham to Mrs. Pitt. Hayes, August 7th, 1775. BL Add Ms 59490, f. 35.

5. Dropmore Papers. Lady Hester Chatham to Mrs. Pitt. Hayes, August 7th, 1775. BL Add Ms 59490, f. 36. 

6. Ibid.

7.Dropmore Papers. Lady Hester Chatham to Mrs. Pitt. Hayes, August 7th, 1775. BL Add Ms 59490, f. 39.

8. McLeod, K. (1976) The Wives of Downing Street. London: Collins, p. 43.

Image Credits:

Figure 1: Hester, Countess of Chatham by William Hoare, c. 1766. From this source.

Figure 2: William Pitt the Elder, Lord Chatham by William Hoare. From this source.

13 May 2014

Thomas Coutts's Advice to Pitt: Go back to 'The Law'

Fig. 1: Thomas Coutts by William Beechey

In early February 1801, William Pitt resigned the office of First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer after holding the highest political offices for over 17 years. His financial affairs were always precarious, but they came to an immediate state of crisis upon his retirement. Thomas Coutts (1735-1822), his family banker for many years, wrote him an urgent letter giving his advice for Pitt's future career prospects. On Sunday morning, 22 February 1801, Coutts wrote:

“The Subject of this Letter has struck my mind very forcibly and I feel an impulse to communicate it to you that I cannot easily resist. Perhaps I may be thought officious & impertinent but as I am conscious of nothing of the kind in my Heart, I hope I may be forgiven.
Your Friends I know generally lament your not having paid a due attention to your Private affairs since you have been Minister of this Country and they fear the Consequences of it may now prove unpleasant and inconvenient. This is among the reasons - ‘tho’ by no means the most Powerful to Convince me of the Eligibiliy of My Plan - which shall be given in a few words. 
The Law offers to You at this moment both Fame & Fortune. You may - and you certainly will in a few Years be Lord Chancellor if you should wish it. A Silk Gown you may wear immediately and The Northern Circuit by the Law’s Elevation presents you at once with at least 3000£ a year. Every Line is open for you and there cannot be a doubt of your rising instantaneously  to the very Summit of The Profession and there is not a moment to lose.
Who is there with a Brief that would not fly to put it into such Hands.
So far from lessening - such a determination - would elevate your Character beyond every point you have yet attain’d and make you sought for to be again the Minister with more ├ęclat than ever, in case You should wish it on any future occasion. Believe me Sir, every word I write is dictated by respect, & The antient [sic] regard & Esteem with which I am, Your most Faithful Humble Servant, Thomas Coutts.”

Basically, Coutts thought Pitt should go back to the law - the career Pitt had originally pursued as a very young man - as a means of relieving himself from financial insolvency. However Pitt viewed Coutts's exhortation, he never returned to practicing the law. He did, however, become Minister for a second term which lasted the final eighteen months of his life.


Thomas Coutts to William Pitt. 22 February 1801. British Library Add Ms 89036/1/8, f. 18.

Image Credit:

Figure 1: Thomas Coutts (1735-1822) by William Beechey. Source

11 May 2014

18th century inoculation: Vaccinating the Pitt children

William Pitt (the Elder) to his wife Hester

In an undated letter from about 1766 (certainly before Pitt the Elder was raised to the peerage as the Earl of Chatham), he wrote to his wife Hester regarding plans to inoculate their children against smallpox. In the 18th century, smallpox was one of the greatest killers of the age, and this was particularly the case for children that succumbed to the illness. The Pitt family were progressive in that they had their children inoculated against this potentially deadly disease. 

Dated "Monday past one," William Pitt (later Lord Chatham) wrote to his wife to convey to her the recommended plans for inoculation. This seems to have included bleeding one of their daughters:

"Ranby [presumably a physician] has been with me, my sweet Love, to let us know that the Children must come to Town Wednesday, and be inoculated Thursday. Hetty [their eldest child, Hester] he proposes to bleed the same morning of the inoculation. Harriot [their third child] he thinks does not require bleeding. I send this notice without loss of a moment, in order to my angels giving such directions about beds &c. as she judges proper. The Rooms are aired. The Coach shall come down to morrow Evening. May this Line find my Life easy and the sweet Children well! Ever, my Angels, Most passionately loving Husband, W. Pitt."

Back of letter from Pitt to his wife Hester

Interestingly, only their two daughters are directly named. It isn't known, therefore, whether the three boys were inoculated at the same time, or at a later date. Pitt's concern and affection for his children is palpable, and it is clear that he relied very heavily on his wife's advice and guidance.


William Pitt (the Elder) to his wife Hester (undated but c. 1766). The National Archives. Chatham Papers: PRO 30/8/11. 

William Pitt the Elder's poem to Harriot, wife of Richard Eliot

In about the year 1730, the then 22 year old William Pitt (Pitt's father) hastily wrote a poem dedicated to Harriot, the wife of Richard Eliot of Port Eliot, Cornwall:

"To view that airy Mien, that lively face
Where Youth and Spirit shine with easy Grace
We frame some sportive Nymph of Phoebe’s train
Some sprightly Virgin of the sacred Plain.
But Lo! a happy progeny proclaim
Love’s golden Shafts, and Hymen’s genial flame.
So some fair Orange spreads delight around
Her towering head with vernal blossoms crown’d
While fruits ambrosial deck the lovely Tree
The heavenly pledge of blest Maturity.
This pleasing contrast with delight we sing
The fruits of Autumn, & the flowers of Spring.

Lines written by Wm. Pitt (afterwards Earl of Chatham) upon Harriot wife of Richard Eliot of Port Eliot aged 18 with three children - composed in company in the space of a few minutes about the year 1730."

It's highly intriguing that William Pitt (later styled as Lord Chatham) should have had a connection to the Eliot family at least from 1730. His son William Pitt the younger would later become intimate friends with Edward James Eliot, a descendant of Richard and Harriot. It has always been assumed that Pitt met Eliot at Pembroke Hall - their alma mater - but from this it is probable that the respective families knew one another at an earlier date.


William Pitt (the Elder)’s poem to Harriot, wife of Richard Eliot. Leicestershire, Leicester & Rutland Record Office: Halford MSS: DG24/971/9.

8 May 2014

The fate of Pitt's papers: The 2nd Lord Chatham's wishes

On June 21st, 1834, Lord Camden wrote down the minutes of a conversation he had with Mr. William Edward Tomline - George Pretyman-Tomline's son - regarding John Pitt, the 2nd Lord Chatham's wishes concerning the fate of his father and brother's papers. Lord Chatham was at the end of his life, and he was clearly thinking of future times. The second Lord Chatham and George Pretyman-Tomline (Bishop of Lincoln) were Pitt's two executors. This is what Lord Camden wrote regarding the conversation he had with the son of Pitt's deceased executor, the Bishop of Lincoln (later Bishop of Winchester):

"I stated to Mr. Tomline [who was one of Pitt's godsons], that I had been selected by Lord Chatham to make the following Communication to him. That Lord Chatham had, after full Consideration, conceived that the best deposition He could make of any Letters & Papers, which He might possess of his Fathers or of his Brothers, was to have them deposited in the British Museum in Boxes, to be opened at a Period to be specified. That Lord Chatham was aware that Mr. Tomline possessed several Papers & Letters of the late Lord Chathams & a very large Collection of Mr. Pitt's Papers & Correspondence. That Lord Chatham thought that [some scratched out words here] the Papers & Correspondence of both these illustrious Characters would be most properly & most appropriately deposited in the British Museum, & conceived such Deposit would form a valuable Collection (& under the intended Limitation of the Boxes containing them not being opened, till a certain Period) would ensure their being kept sacred from the public Eye & Comment for a number of years, which He conceived to be very desirable but that such Papers & Correspondence as He could send, would not be complete without the addition of Mr. Tomline's Collection. 

I impressed on Mr. Tomline that I should not have accepted this Commission, unless Lord Chatham had anxiously wished it & unless I conceived myself as fulfilling a Duty of a somewhat solemn Character - being imposed upon me, as it was, by the Son & Brother of the illustrious Characters alluded to & under peculiar Circumstances. I also enquired how these Papers came into Mr. Tomline's Possession & if they were left by Will to the late Bishop of Winchester [Tomline's father - one of Pitt's executors]. Mr. Tomline informed me they were not left by Will. Mr. Tomline, after some Pause, stated that the Communication came rather suddenly upon him. That He highly valued the Possession of these Papers & agreed in the Opinion that they should not be published for many Years, that He wishes not to be called upon to give a decided Answer at present, That his Papers were in the Country & that He would take an early opportunity of looking over them. That He certainly did possess some Letters of the late Lord Chatham, that He thought those Papers were of a different Character from Mr. Pitt's & appeared not indisposed to give them up but He could say nothing till He had looked over them & when He had looked over them & Mr. Pitt's Papers He would give me an Answer. C[amden]"

From this conversation, I gather that Mr. Tomline wasn't as willing to relinquish Pitt's papers as he pretended to be. The 2nd Earl of Chatham - John Pitt, who was Pitt the Elder's son and Pitt the younger's brother - had good intentions for the papers. His request for the papers of his father and brother to be deposited at the British Museum seems very reasonable. He was merely asking for Mr. Tomline to send them, along with his own, to the British Museum to be looked over at a certain, unspecified distance in the future. Most likely, that point would have been once every living contemporary was no longer around. 

By 1834, it had been 56 years since the death of the 1st Lord Chatham, and 28 years since the passing of Mr. Pitt. The 2nd Lord Chatham was then nearly 78 years old, and in failing health. From this note in Camden's handwriting, it appears Mr. Tomline was being evasive and unreasonable.


Henry Halford MSS, Leicestershire, Leicester & Rutland Record Office. 'Minute of a Conversation with Mr. Tomline - June 21st 1834.' D924/1000.

Pitt's untitled poem to Lord Mahon

Pitt's poem to Lord Mahon (Charles Stanhope)

In an undated, and untitled poem from the early 1770s, William Pitt paid tribute to Lord Mahon (Charles Stanhope). Judging by the internal evidence within the poem, Mahon had not yet married William's older sister Lady Hester Pitt. 

He writes:

"O happy Youth, enrich'd by Natures hand;
First Ornament in Learnings polish'd band;
In whom (bright Offspring of so bright a line)
Their treasures, Genius, and rich Art, combine.
Thy pow'rs, the glowing Canvass shall proclaim,
And solid study shall exult thy name.
Thro' distant regions shall thy fame be known:
Thee as their Chief do gen'rous Freeman own.
Thy high perfections, foreign climes now boast:
But Oh! fair England is thy native Coast.
She, like Geneva, shall thy worth admire,
Thy love of Freedom shall her sons inspire.
Meantime, accept these high-aspiring lays,
From one know burns to emulate thy praise. 
William Pitt."


The Kent History & Library Centre, Maidstone. Stanhope of Chevening manuscripts, Pitt MSS: U1590/S5/C20.