17 August 2014

The funeral of Lady Harriot Eliot: An examination of late 18th century funeral costs

Fig. 1: The marriage entry for Edward James Eliot and Lady Harriot Pitt, 24 September 1785

On September 24, 1785, Lady Harriot Pitt - William Pitt's beloved sister - married William's best friend Edward James Eliot. They were married by special license in Downing Street by Pitt's former tutor George Pretyman. As you can see from the entry above, Louisa Mahon (née Grenville), the second wife of Earl Stanhope and a cousin of Harriot, and William Pitt were also present at the private ceremony. I wrote about the close friendship between Louisa Mahon (formerly Grenville) and Lady Harriot in several previous posts about Lady Harriot Pitt at number 13 Bath Crescent as that was the house owned by Louisa's father, Henry Grenville (a brother of Lady Chatham)

From an examination of the handwriting on the marriage register, the top part of the entry was filled in by George Pretyman, as he was officiating the ceremony, and the couple and witnesses signed their names below. 

Lady Harriot and Edward Eliot were, by all accounts, a happily married couple despite their earlier family hiccups I wrote about in a previous post. They defied Eliot's father's wishes, and married for love in spite of pecuniary circumstances. 

Lady Harriot quickly found herself with child, and on September 20, 1786 (just shy of their first wedding anniversary), she gave birth at Downing Street to a daughter, Harriot Hester Eliot. Mr. Pitt wrote to his mother to inform her of her new granddaughter's arrival: 

"I have infinite joy in being able to tell you that my sister has just made us a present of a girl and that both she and our new guest are in every way as well as possible...She [Lady Harriot] was in perfectly good spirits thro' the whole of the time [of giving birth] and suffered no more than was natural. I have had the comfort of seeing her for a single minute (which is all that could be permitted) and can therefore add my own certificate how well she appears to the assurance of all the learned which are as satisfactory as could be wish'd." [1]

Unfortunately, Lady Harriot quickly caught what would now be termed puerperal, or childbed, fever, and rapidly sank under it. On the morning of September 25, 1786, William wrote to his mother's faithful companion, Mrs. Catherine Stapleton, asking her to break the melancholy news to his mother in the way she deemed best to ease the imminent shock:

"In a most afflicting moment it is some consolation to me to have recourse to your kind and affectionate attention to my mother, which she has so often experienced. The disorder under which my poor sister has suffered since Friday morning [September 22, two days after the birth] appears, I am grieved to say, to have taken so deep a root that all the efforts of medicine have served only in some degree to abate it, but without removing the cause. This circumstance and the loss of strength render her case now so alarming, that although hope is not entirely extinguished, I cannot help very much fearing the worst; and unless some very favourable change takes place, there is too much reason to believe the event may soon be decided. In this distressful situation I scarcely know what is best for my mother - whether to rely for the present on the faint chance there is of amendment, or to break the circumstances to her now, to diminish if possible the shock which we apprehend. I have on this account addressed myself to you, that, knowing what is the real state of the case, you may judge on the spot whether to communicate any part of it immediately or to wait till the moment of absolute necessity. I need make no apology for committing to you, my dear Madam, this melancholy task. You will make, I am sure, every allowance for the feelings under which I write. Sincerely and affectionately yours, W. Pitt." [2]

Sadly, at two pm on the same day, Lady Harriot Eliot succumbed to the fever. [3] It was reported in The Bath Chronicle the following week that during her fateful illness, Eliot and William had been "alternately visiting her for upwards of 30 hours." [4]

Not long after Harriot's death, Pitt wrote to his mother about their dreadful loss: "I will not suffer myself at this most sad moment, my dear Mother, to express my own feelings which I know are but too deeply yours also. My anxious hope is that your strength may enable you to support the shock with a fortitude of mind equal to so trying an occasion, and to your sentiments of tenderness and affection your goodness to me will make it a sort of relief to you, in the interval till we meet, to know that severely as my mind must be wounded, my health has not suffered from the blow we have sustained. I should not lose a moment, you will believe, in coming to Burton, but I am sure you will approve of my not leaving poor [Edward] Eliot at this time, for whom we have all and I most especially so many affecting reasons to interest me. His mind begins to be as composed as could yet be expected." [5]

Lady Harriot's funeral took place at Westminster Abbey on Monday, October 2, 1786, exactly a week after her death. She was 28 years old. She was interred in the Pitt family vault beside with her, the 1st Lord Chatham, in the North Transept of the Abbey. Needless to say, her husband and family were grief-stricken. 

The extensive matter of sorting out Lady Harriot's funeral arrangements must have been a trying strain on Edward James Eliot in particular. In addition to the overwhelming grief of his loss, he had to arrange the christening of his little girl. 

There survives a bill from Henry Turner to the Honourable Edward James Eliot regarding the funeral of Lady Harriot Eliot. It specifies that her funeral cost £214 13s 4d, and the bill was received (i.e. paid) in full on October 21, 1786. The mind boggles at all the intricate details involved in preparing for a late 18th century aristocratic funeral:

"To a strong inside Coffin Quilted & furbelow’d with fine Lawn and a strong Outside Cast Lead Do. with border’d Lead plate of inscription finish’d Compleat - £8, 10
To a fine Long Lawn Shroud, Sheet & head dress £4, 4
To a fine Lawn Tufted Mattress & Ruffled Pillow - £1, 4
To 5 Men’s time carrying the Coffin & putting in the body - £..7s, 6d
To Brown [?] to make up the Corps[e] & Men’s time Soldering up do…£6s
To a Strong outside Case covered with Rich Black Velvet finish’d two Rows round with best Brass Case Nails water silver’d, a flat solid Brass Plate with the Arms & Supporters Engraved & Water silvered; Brass Gloria and Urn on the Lid, 4 pair of large Brass handles with Cyphers, Chased Gripes [?] and Ornamented with 8 Dozen of Angel Brass Drops all water silvered and Elegantly finish’d…£21
To 4 Men carrying in the Case & making up Do…£6s
To the use of the best Pall…£10s
To Do….of a Lid of best Black Ostrich feathers…£18s
To a Man in Mourning to carry Do…£3s, 6d
To a Silk Hatband, Gloves with Stamps, & a white favor for Do….£11s
To 2 Porters with Black silk Scarves, poles & covers tied with white Ribband…£13 s
To 2 Silk hatbands, 2 Do. of Gloves with Stamps, and white favours for the Porters…£1, 2s
To an Hearse & six Horses…£2, 8s
To feathers & Velvets for the Hearse, etc. Six…£3, 3s
To 2 Mourning Coaches with 6 Horses each…£4, 16s
To 12 Plumes of Feathers & Velvets for the Coach horses…£3, 6s
To 3 Velvet fring’d Seat Cloths…£6s
To 6 Cloaks for Coachmen & Postilions…£6s
To 6 Silk Hatbands, Gloves with Stamps & white favors for Coachmen & Postilions…£3, 6s
To 10 Hearse pages & Bearers with Velvet Capes, white favours & gloves with Stamps…£3, 5s 
To 2 best rich Armozeen [?] Scarves and Hatbands with black silk Gloves & Stamps for the Dean & Prebend…£6, 12s
To 3 Best rich Armozeen Scarves, Hatbands, and best lace Gloves with stamps for Chapter Clerk, Receiver, and Clerk of the Works in the Abbey…£8, 4s
To 4 Best silk Hatbands and best Gloves with stamps for the two Vergers, Porter of Great Cloysters and Beadle of the Abbey…£2, 12s
To 3 best Rich Armozeen Scarves, Hatbands, and Black Silk Gloves with Stamps for Mr. Isles, Mr. Wilbear, and Mr. Hoods…£9, 18s
To a best Armozeen Scarfe and hood and Black silk Gloves with Stamps for Mr. France…£3, 6s
To 3 best Crape Hatbands for Mr. Isles, Mr. Wilbear, and Mr. Hood…£1, 5s, 6d
To the Use of 3 best Gentlemen’s Cloaks for Do…£4s, 6d
To 5 Crape Hatbands & Gloves with Stamps for Coachmen, two Footmen, Groom & Helper…£2, 15s
To 4 Coach Pages with Wands and two Men as Footmen…£1, 1s
To 6 Silk Hatbands, Gloves with Stamps, & white favours for Do…£3, 6s
To 1 pair of black silk gloves & 1 pair of black Beaver Do. with stamps for Mr. Eliot…£7s, 6d
To 3 pairs of Women’s silk Gloves with Stamps for Mrs. Hughes & the two Nurses…£18s, 9d
To 4 pairs of Women’s Gloves with Stamps for Women Servants…£11s
To 2 Black Silk Hatbands and Gloves with Stamps for the Conductor & Attender…£1, 6s
To Cash paid for Men’s Beer & Expences…£11s, 6d
To Cash paid for Dues information Money & at Westminster Abbey…£104, 2s, 1d
To 1 Yard & a half Achievement with Arms and Supporters painted proper the frame covered with Black Cloth…£6, 6s
To Wall hooks &c. and Men’s time fixing up, Do…£5s, 6d

Total: £214, 13s, 4d” [6]

Just ten days after this bill was settled, Eliot wrote to his father at Port Eliot in Cornwall. It was an agonisingly painful letter:

"My Hon. Lord,

I must Trust to you kind Consideration for a Mind, never very strong, and now weakened by Calamity, when I beg yo to have the Goodness to forget the favour relating to my poor Little Girl which in an hour of Happiness and Exultation I took the Liberty to ask of you [It seems he had asked his father to be a Godfather to his granddaughter]. I have since then suffer'd a great & God knows grievous Reverse of situation in a Loss which Nothing can compensate for, but for which the Paying Every Respect & Attention which Imagination can suggest to Her Memory when I Deplore, as, (Melancholy as it is) much of the Little Consolation I have left: to make to the Nearest & Dearest Friend & Relations of the Deceased the small & sad Compliment of standing for the Child is one, & one which I think you will not unwillingly allow, to sorry and Distress like mine. I ought & should if I had had the Courage to mention any thing, have mention'd this long since. I could not; which, as my Brother has not happen'd to do it either, I am truly sorry for. Dr. Pretyman who under Heaven join'd Those whom God Good will be Done Hath put asunder, performs The Ceremony of the Christening tomorrow. I am my Hon. Lord, Your very Dutiful & very affectionate Son, Ed. J. Eliot." [7]

On Wednesday, November 1, 1786, Harriot Hester Eliot was christened at Westminster. Eliot never remarried after the loss of Harriot. He continued to remain very close - almost like brothers - to William Pitt, and he often lived with him at Downing Street.

Fig. 2: Harriot Hester Eliot's baptism register

In a future post, I intend to write about Broomfield House, the property Eliot either leased or bought on Clapham Common after the death of his wife.


1. Headlam, C. (ed.) (1914) The Letters of Lady Harriot Eliot (1766-1786). Edinburgh: Constable, p. 150.

2. Ibid, pp. 150-1.

3. Caledonian Mercury, 30 September 1786. 

4. The Bath Chronicle, 5 October 1786.

5. Headlam, C. (ed.) (1914) The Letters of Lady Harriot Eliot (1766-1786). Edinburgh: Constable, p. 152.

6. Henry Turner to Edward James Eliot, the funeral bill for Lady Harriot Eliot. Pitt material, Pembroke College Archives.

7. Edward James Eliot to Lord Eliot (undated but October 31, 1786 as he mentions the christening which took place on the following day, November 1, 1786). Eliot Papers, Cornwall Record Office: EL/B/3/3/5.

Image Credits:

Both images were accessed by the website www.findmypast.co.uk, and were taken from marriage and baptism registers from Westminster City Archives.


  1. What a fascinating wealth of information, Stephenie! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Interestingly, I've just been going through the details of John, Lord Chatham's funeral (for those not au fait: Harriot's elder brother, who died in 1835). The arrangements are very similar, although John had a lot more bling on his coffin as far as I can see (Garter insignias and Earl's coronets, that sort of thing, you know...) Presumably there was a "form" for this sort of thing, based on rank? In other words, as Harriot was an Earl's daughter, she was entitled to a certain amount of pomp at her funeral. Where did the one and a half yards' worth of "achievement" go, also? Was it fixed to the wall of the vault?

    I'm sure someone somewhere has studied all this and can give us the answer!

    1. I would assume the achievement was displayed during the funeral and then removed somewhere else. (Viz Lady Chatham's which ended up at Curry Rivel church even though she was also buried at the Abbey.) Probably it was up to Eliot to decide what to do with it - could it possibly be at Port Eliot church?

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