17 September 2014

William Pitt the Elder's funeral

'Original Drawings made of the Funerals of The Earl of Chatham & The Rt. Hon. William Pitt'

William Pitt the Elder, the 1st Earl of Chatham, died on May 11, 1778 at his house at Hayes Place in Kent. Nearly a month later, on Tuesday, June 9, 1778, his funeral took place at Westminster Abbey. His second son William Pitt, then a young man of 19 years old, served as Chief Mourner. Young William took a primary role in arranging the funeral of his father, and he walked behind his father's coffin in the procession. 

The British Library holds a detailed book of the drawings and manuscript notes made by Messrs. Bishop and Clark, "a firm who for upwards of 300 years have been connected with the organisation of State and civic ceremonials." [1] Bishop and Clark were established in the 16th century, and their work included pageants from as far back as the reign of King Henry VIII down to the obsequies of Queen Anne, the Queen of James I, Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, the playwright David Garrick, and the opening of the Royal Exchange by Queen Victoria in 1844 [2]. 

These beautifully detailed drawings preserve for posterity a sense of what it must have looked like at the Earl of Chatham's funeral in 1778, as well as Mr. Pitt's funeral procession in February 1806. This post focuses on the Earl of Chatham's funeral in 1778, and in my next piece I will discuss Pitt's funeral drawings from 1806.

Below is a detailed drawing of the crest of Chatham which was borne by the MP (Member of Parliament) David Hartley on June 9, 1778:

The Crests of Pitt, borne by David Hartley, Esq. M.P.

Next, the Arms of Pitt were borne by William Pulteney, MP:

The Arms of Pitt, borne by William Pulteney, MP

Messrs. Bishop and Clark also went into some detail when describing the quantity of escutcheons, banners, crests, and badges ordered by the Wardrobe which were used in the ceremony at Westminster Abbey [3]. 

These were as follows:

"8 Escutcheons on Sattin [sic] for the Pall
1 Coronet & Cushion
1 Atchievement [sic] of the House at Hayes
36 Escutcheons on Mantua Silk for the Church at Hayes
36 Crest for Do [ditto, the same]
1 Majesty Escutcheon for Painted Chamber on Silk with Gold Border round 1 yd. 1/2 Squares
Festoons for the Canopy
4 Dozen silk pencils for the Canopy & Lid of Feathers
11 Dozen 1/2 Escutcheons on Buckram for the Chamber
190 Feet of Silver Verging
70 Badges of the Crest of Pitt for Old Men’s Gowns [there was an ‘old man’ for each year of Chatham’s life - he was in his 70th year]
1 Great Banner on black Silk 2 yds. square 
11 Dozen 1/2 of Crest with Borders for Chamber
1 Standard on Red Silk 6 yards long
1 Banner 2 yds. square of the Barony of Chatham
1 Banner of Britannia 1 yds. 3/4 square
1 Do. with Crest of Pitt
6 Banner Rolls
1 Helmet
1 Crest
Mantle Robes, Shield & Sword
6 Earls Coronets for the Conductors Staves
1 Mantle" [4]

The quantity of Escutcheons, etc. used at the funeral of the Earl of Chatham 

In the image below, one gets an idea of the arrangement of the coffin, banner rolls, and the "Tables for Trophies" of the Barony of Chatham [5]. This depicts their appearance in the Painted Chamber of the old Houses of Parliament during the days leading up to the funeral:

The arrangement of the banners, tables of trophies, and the coffin as it was in the Painted Chamber

The crests, arms, and valance of canopies of the Pitt family were also drawn, including their measurements:

The Crests and Arms of the Pitt family, including canopies

The motto of the Pitt family was "Benigno Numine," which is Latin for "by the favour of the Heavens." This drawing shows the back of the canopy at the Earl of Chatham's funeral, including the heraldic features of the Pitt family (i.e. the coat of arms, motto, etc.) [6]: 

The back of the Canopy, displaying the Pitt family heraldry

After the funeral, the Pitt family requested that these banners and escutcheons were fixed up in the Church at Hayes, St. Mary the Virgin. This duty was duly fulfilled on June 20th, 1778 by Mr. Morris, the messenger of the Wardrobe, and an undertaker [7]. 

Banners and Escutcheons were fixed up at Hayes Parish Church on June 20, 1778

The man fixing the banners afterwards wrote of the difficulties associated with erecting these items at St. Mary the Virgin Church:

"Hayes Church [which was the parish church across the road from the Pitt family residence, Hayes Place] being small with an Arch’d Roof, the Banner was fix’d with Staples drove in the Beam from the top to the Wall, there being an Upright in the centre of the Beams to the Crown of the Arch. In the centre was fix’d the Surcoat with Shield in from of Sword pendant over Do [ditto] the Helmet Mantle & Crest. Over these the same Coronet as was used at the Funeral on a Cushion. To the Right Side the better to Shew the Center on each side the standard was fix’d. The great banner on the right, over the family seat on the left the Banner of the Barony of Chatham, these rather below the standard. On each side of the Shield Surcoat was fix’d the Six Banner Rolls on the cross beam, them belonging to the family of Pitt, beginning with Ld & Lady Chatham, Father & Mother next. Viz. Pitt Villiers, next Grand Father & Grand Mother on the right hand. On the left the banner belonging to the family of Grenville beginning with grand father & grand mother. The 3rd Grenville on the Left Side. In front of these was fix’d on another Beam as above in opposite page. The Banner representing Britannia weeping over the Arms of Pitt on the right, on the left the banner with the crest of Pitt with emblematic crowns of Damask with Gold Acorns on the upright was fix’d as Escutcheon & a crest.” [8]

At some point in time, these arms and banners were removed. St. Mary the Virgin church underwent drastic architectural changes during the mid-19th century, and it was later hit by a bomb during the Second World War. What became of the arms and banners of the Pitt family? It is a consolation to know that there is a memorial to the Earl of Chatham and William Pitt the younger inside St. Mary the Virgin Church in Hayes. As the memorial is  located in the oldest surviving part of the church, there is the possibility that it could be placed at approximately the same location as the banners were so long ago.


1. Pitt funeral drawings. British Library Add MS 47896.

2. Ibid, introductory page.

3. Ibid, p. 4.

4. Ibid, p. 4.

5. Ibid, p. 6.

6. Ibid, p. 7.

7. Ibid, p. 8

8. Ibid, p. 7.

Image Credits:

All images shown above are taken from BL Add MS 47896.

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