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.

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