4 May 2014

Sorting out Pitt's Debts - 15 years after his death

Fifteen years after Pitt's death his executors - Lord Chatham and the Bishop of Winchester (formerly the Bishop of Lincoln) - were still trying to sort out the probate of Pitt's will. On July 21, 1821, the Bishop's wife Mrs. Pretyman-Tomline wrote a memorandum going into some detail about the confusion:

“The Residue of the Money appropriated by Parliament for the payment of the first Lord Chatham’s [William Pitt the Elder] debts was considered as belonging to the family. Burton Pynsent was thus exonerated from any contribution towards the payment of the debts, with which it must otherwise have been charged, and the Dowager Lady Chatham [Pitt's mother] enjoyed the Income arising from Burton besides her Pension.

But after the payment of Mr. Pitt’s debts a doubt arose in the mind of the Bishop of Winchester (then Bishop of Lincoln) whether the Residue of the money voted by Parliament for that purpose did not belong to the Public. The Question - whether the residue belonged to the Public or to the family of Mr Pitt - was referred to Lord Grenville, to Mr Perceval, and to others, who all declined giving any opinion upon what they thought a very difficult point to determine from the words of the Act, and the circumstances of the Case. The Precedent of the appropriation of the Residue in the Case of the first Lord Chatham (which was done under legal advice) not being by some accident stated to them or that time known by the Bishop of Winchester to have been done by legal authority, the money therefore at this moment (July 21, 1821) remains in the hands of Messers. Coutts & Co., Bankers.

This Precedent is now considered as Authority [?] proving the Residue does not belong to the Public. The Case has been submitted to Lawyers by Lord Chatham who have determined that the Residue after the payment of Mr Pitt’s debts belongs to Mr Pitt’s Executors, and not, of right, to his next of kin. A Copy of Mr Bell’s opinion is annexed to this Memorandum.

The Bishop of Winchester, joint Executor with Lord Chatham [Pitt's brother], refused to take any part of this money as an Executor; being confident that it could not be the intention of Mr Pitt that he should receive any part of the Property he left, beyond the payment of the debt which, for private reasons relative to Tuition etc. (the Bishop having never received any sum or salary whatever either as Tutor or as filling the office of private secretary (Sir. W. Bellingham was in fact Private Secretary to the [oe] and [oe] the salary) Mr Pitt was particularly urgent with the Bishop at the time not to incur and made it an absolute point that he should receive again whenever it should be in his power to repay it, which from motives of delicacy easily understood in such a Case, the Bishop promised to do. It was therefore in consequence of what passed between the Bishop and Mr. Pitt upon this subject, and the request so strongly urged that the Bishop felt it could not consistently with the feelings of friendship or compliance with the wishes of his deceased friend refuse to receive the payment of this debt when it would no longer create any embarrassment to Mr. Pitt - which it would have done during his life." [1]

I don't believe I have ever witnessed such a complicated situation!


1. A memorandum concerning Pitt's debts in Mrs. Tomline's handwriting - July 21, 1821. Suffolk Record Office, Pretyman MSS: HA 119: 562/723.


  1. Or such complicated sentences! That last paragraph! What a ghastly woman she was.

    1. She was, wasn't she? It's a very sad situation. Poor Pitt!

  2. I'm genuinely confused about the situation regarding Burton Pynsent-- how was it "exonerated" from debt? I got the impression the payment of Chatham I's debts by parliament was only partial and Burton was mortgaged up to the hilt (twice over I believe). I think this is a massive simplification of the situation and, reading over Tomline and John's correspondence, I get the impression John himself thought it was massively more complicated. And yes, I'd like to poke Mrs T in the eye. Just because...