22 December 2014

Reilly's biography of Pitt: Another perspective

In Robin Reilly’s (1978) biography of Pitt, he mentions that Pitt’s private life was ‘unblemished’ and ‘immaculate’ [1]. These are common descriptions used in reference to Pitt’s allegedly unsullied personal life. Unfortunately, Pitt himself was much more complex than these terms suggest. This construction of Pitt’s character as 'pure' and 'innocent' formed a fundamental part of the apotheosis of Pitt created by his political followers in the 19th century.

Despite his flaws, however, Pitt is a fascinating historical figure whose fleeting personal hours deserve a closer examination. Reilly asserts that ‘the wealth of relevant material for a political biography [of Pitt] is so great,’ that it masks ‘the lack of material for a study of his private life’ [2]. As time goes on, and more information is uncovered, I argue that there is more than enough material for a study of Pitt's private life if one has the time, inkling, and dedication to putting in the hours to uncover this information. Yet Reilly makes a very valid point when he states that one of Pitt’s executors, George Pretyman-Tomline, ‘indulged in an orgy of devastation which ensured that nothing of the slightest personal significance that came into his possession remained to posterity;’ this was especially so in the case of Pitt’s private papers [3]. In the nearly 40 years that have passed since the publication of Reilly’s biography, more manuscript material has become available to researchers via the British Library and numerous other record offices throughout the UK. There is also ample material still in private collections, museums, universities, and art galleries around the world. In the introduction of Reilly’s biography of Pitt, he readily admits that ‘this is not a work of deep original research' [4]. Most of the information he consulted was already printed and in the public domain. Instead, Reilly’s focus was on what he considered to be the three important influences in Pitt’s life: ‘his health, his alcoholism, and his sexuality,’ in order to develop a ‘better understanding of the man’ himself [5]. I admire Reilly's focus, and I intend to extend that, and in some instances, to disagree with his conclusions, in my work on Pitt. Similar to Lord Ashbourne's biography, my purpose is not to write a chronological narrative, but rather to explore the 'chapters' [6] - or important aspects - of Pitt's private life. 


1. Reilly, R. (1978) Pitt the Younger. London: Cassell, p.1.

2. Ibid.

3. Reilly, R. (1978) Pitt the Younger. London: Cassell, p. 2.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Lord Ashbourne (1898) Pitt: Some Chapters of His Life and Times. London: Longmans, Green, and Co., Preface.

21 December 2014

William Pitt Adams's bookplate

William Pitt Adams's bookplate
At some point soon I intend to research all of Pitt's godchildren, wards, and others named after him. Suffice it to say, Pitt was a godfather from the age of 14, and his love of children was well-known. One such child named in honour of Pitt was Pitt's last private secretary, William Dacres Adams's son, William Pitt Adams. Born whilst Adams was Pitt's secretary, the boy's godmother was Lady Hester Stanhope (Pitt's niece who was then living with him). 

William Pitt Adams died at Lima, in Peru, in 1852, pre-deceasing his father by ten years. Yet his bookplate remains, and is of interesting historical significance. A man named Chris Kearin recently got in contact with me, and kindly allowed me to share a scan of William Pitt Adams bookplate here on the site. He explained that he came across it in a copy of John Lloyd Stephens's Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan, which was published a decade or so before Adams died. The copy (which he obtained from an estate sale in suburban New York) seems to have wandered around a bit; it bears a later owner's inscription indicating that it was in the Yucatan in 1927. It's a two-volume work and the bookplate is in each volume.

One of current topics on my research agenda is to track down one of Pitt's original bookplates. I believe there is at least one at Chevening, and perhaps also in other private collections. It would be fascinating to hold a book that once formed part of Pitt's private collection at either Downing Street, Holwood, or Walmer Castle.

Many thanks to Chris Kearin for granting permission for me to share this bookplate here.

The Duchess of Sutherland: 'The great ornament of Mr. Pitt's society'

Fig. 1: Lady Elizabeth Gordon (aged about 17 in c. 1782) by George Romney 

One of the main arguments I advocate strongly on this site is that Pitt was interested in women. I prefer to rely on primary source material, and I'm more inclined to give credence to the accounts of people who knew Pitt personally (e.g. his friends). One such friend whose testimony I trust is Pitt's friend Richard Wellesley, 1st Marquess Wellesley (1760-1842). Thirty years after Pitt's death, Wellesley wrote to John Wilson Croker, relating some interesting anecdotes about Pitt. Wellesley told Croker that the Dowager Duchess (Countess) of Sutherland (Lady Elizabeth Leveson-Gower, née Gordon, 1765-1839) was once "the great ornament of Mr. Pitt's society, and much admired by him." [1] Wellesley believed that she was "greatly attached to his [Pitt's] memory. I have frequently met her at Dundas's [where Pitt often went], at Wimbledon, and have observed that she was delighted with Mr. Pitt's conversation" [2].
Fig. 2: Richard, 1st Marquess Wellesley, by Thomas Lawrence (early 19th century)
She was married in 1785 to George Granville Leveson-Gower, known as Earl Gower from 1786 to 1803 (he became Marquess of Stafford in 1803, and the Duke of Sutherland in 1832). It is, therefore, highly improbable that she was anything more to Pitt than an admiring friend and a fellow witty conversationalist. The Dowager Duchess (Countess) of Sutherland lived for another three years after the date of the 1836 letter from Wellesley to Croker, but it isn't recorded whether her opinions about Pitt's memory were consulted further.

Fig. 3: Elizabeth Leveson-Gower, later the Duchess of Sutherland, by Sir Nathaniel Dance-Holland

It has rarely been acknowledged that Pitt had close female friendships. We would have to look elsewhere to learn more about the Duchess of Sutherland's revere for Pitt's memory as the letter from Wellesley to Croker is deceptively vague. To the Marquess Wellesley, however, it was enough that Elizabeth Leveson-Gower was once the 'great ornament' of Pitt's society of friends at Wimbledon.


1. Jennings, L.J. (ed.) (1884) The Croker Papers, Vol. 2. London: John Murray, p. 295.

2. Ibid.

Image Credits:

Figure 1: Lady Elizabeth Gordon, afterwards the Duchess of Sutherland (c. 1782) by George Romney. Source

Figure 2: Richard Wellesley, 1st Marquess Wellesley (early 19th century) by Thomas Lawrence. Source

Figure 3: The Duchess of Sutherland, then known as Lady Elizabeth Leveson-Gower, by Sir Nathaniel Dance-Holland. Source

19 December 2014

Pitt's missing port glass

Pitt's (now missing) port glass, formerly at a branch of Barclay's bank in Cambridge

I have previously touched upon Pitt's drinking habits, but never the vessels from which such potations were drunk. One such port glass thought to have been owned by William Pitt was, during the early 1960s at least, in the 'Pitt Room' of the Barclays Bank on Bene't Street in Cambridge, England [1]. It was mentioned by John W. Derry in his 1962 biography of Pitt, including a photograph of the object (see above). 

Now that it has been 52 years since Derry's biography, I thought I would go in search of the object to see it for myself. The Bene't Street branch of Barclays has long since been closed, and for several months I was chasing various Cambridge branches of Barclays bank in order to track down the elusive port glass. Apart from being the only person to potentially ever contact Barclays bank customer services about an 18th century port glass, it was a bit of a non-starter. Finally, I contacted Barclays Group Archives to see what they could find out about what became of the object once the Bene't Street branch had closed.

The group archivist there kindly got back to me, but the news was not at all what I was expecting: the port glass is nowhere to be found. Not only that, but it has been missing for well over two decades. The archivist at Barclays had made some fairly extensive enquiries with colleagues in Cambridge - many of whom had worked in Bene't Street for over 20 years - and none of them ever remember seeing the port glass or even hearing about it. This suggests that Pitt's port glass was stolen, or went missing, at some point between 1962 (the publication of Derry's biography) and the 1990s. 

I hope one day it can be found. One wonders where it has ended up. If anyone reading this has any ideas regarding its whereabouts, or that of any other glass once sipped from by Pitt the younger, do let me know.


1. Derry, J.W. (1962) William Pitt. London: Batsford, p. 49.

Image Credit:

The image above was taken from p. 49 of John W. Derry's 1962 biography of Pitt.

18 December 2014

Lord Nelson & Mr. Pitt: Anecdotes from Nelson's nephew

In the early 1860s, Lord Nelson's nephew briefly corresponded with Lord Stanhope, Pitt's biographer, regarding the character of his famous uncle. He wrote of his fond reminiscences of times spent with Nelson, at Merton and elsewhere, and one of these letters to Stanhope was printed in The Times newspaper on November 6, 1861. Nelson's nephew was named Nelson George Matcham [1].

Writing from The Athenaeum Club, he recalled visiting his uncle twice during the short periods in which he was on shore - once in 1801, during his journey to Wales, when Nelson was received at Oxford and other places, and a second time at his house at Merton in 1805. He apparently stayed at Merton with Nelson and Emma Hamilton for the three weeks up to the 13th of September 1805, when Nelson left to embark at Portsmouth. He was then on his way to the fateful Battle of Cape Trafalgar.

Nelson's nephew recalled several interesting anecdotes of his illustrious uncle:

“Lord Nelson in private life was remarkable for a demeanour quiet, sedate, and unobtrusive, and anxious to give pleasure to every one about him, distinguishing each in his turn by some act of kindness, and chiefly those who seemed to require it most. During his few intervals of leisure, in a little knot of relations or friends, he delighted in quiet conversation, through which occasionally ran an undercurrent of pleasantry not unmixed with caustic wit. At his table he was the least heard among the company, and so far from being the hero of his own tale, I never heard him voluntarily refer to any of the great actions of his life." [2]

He also spoke in the highest terms of Nelson's last meeting with Mr. Pitt before leaving the final time. His nephew had the benefit of being at Merton at the time of the occurrence:

"On his [Nelson's] return from his last interview with Mr Pitt, being asked in what manner he had been received, he replied that he had reason to be gratified with his reception, and concluded with animation, “Mr Pitt, when I rose to go, left the room with me, and attended me to the carriage,” - a spontaneous mark of respect and admiration from the great statesman of which, indeed, he might well be proud." [3] 

He also defended his late uncle against claims of drunkenness and excessive indulgence: 

"It would have formed an amusement to the circle at Merton if intemperance were set down to the charge of the master [Nelson] of the house, who always so prematurely cut short the sederunt of the gentlemen after dinner. A man of more temperate habits could not, I am persuaded, have been found." [4]

Lastly, Matcham gave several descriptions of the man himself:

He was not a “little man, but of the middle height and of a frame adapted to activity and exertion," and “he was, it is true, a sailor, and one of a warm and generous disposition; yet I can safely affirm that I never heard a coarse expression issue from his lips." [5]

It was a fitting tribute to the memory of a great naval hero.


1. U1590/S5/C60/15. Letter from a nephew of Admiral Lord Nelson, The Times, November 6, 1861 & further correspondence with Lord Stanhope thereupon. Pitt MSS: The Kent History & Library Centre.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

16 December 2014

The Diary of Thomas Pattenden of Dover

Fig. 1: The Right Honourable William Pitt, Colonel Commandant of the Cinque Port Volunteers

There is a special, but barely legible, diary of an early 19th century resident of Dover named Mr. Thomas Pattenden. It's worth examining as it gives us a few interesting insights into Pitt’s time as Colonel of the Cinque Port Volunteers. During the interval that Pitt was out of office between 1801 and 1804, he spent a great deal of his time at Walmer Castle. As Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports during a time of war, Pitt took the responsibilities of his post very seriously; as such, he became active as Colonel Commandant of the Cinque Port Volunteers. 

Several of Mr. Pattenden's diary entries, notably during 1803, furnish a modern audience with the ability to see what life was like at Deal and Dover during the Napoleonic invasion scares. Preparations were made at that time, by Pitt and others, in order to meet the potential threat. The diary entries I'm about to cite below also afford us with an opportunity to see Pitt through the eyes of an everyday Kent citizen.

Pattenden's diary was formerly in the possession of the church of St. James the Apostle, Dover. There is a reference to the diary being transcribed at a later stage, most likely at some point in the nineteenth century, by his nephew. These ‘extracts’ are now at The Kent History and Library Centre. 

Pattenden was born in 1747, and he died at the end of 1819 at the age of 72. He was buried at St. Mary the Virgin in Dover, Kent. 

Pattenden was exempt from military service in 1803 due to his advanced age. He was, however, helping to secure the defence fortifications at Dover Castle. It was from here that he first mentions seeing William Pitt. An unfortunate occurrence also took place that day.

On August 1, 1803, Pattenden wrote: “Very fine hot day. About noon HRH The Duke of York, the Dukes of Kent and Cambridge, Wm Pitt, and Gen. Dundas etc came from Deal to Dover Castle to inspect the fortifications and review the Regiments in Garrison. While they were firing a royal salute one of the guns went off and blew one of the poor Artillery men quite over the wall of the Castle and he fell down dead to the bottom of the trench." [1]

Several days later, on August 4, 1803, he mentioned the “fair fresh wind. The Rt Hon Wm Pitt was here at dinner with Col. Churchill who lodged in Wilson’s House in my neighbourhood. The drawing for the Army of Reserve in the Cinque Ports...here has called for Mr. Pitt’s presence." [2] The next day, "the Constables began to deliver notices at every house to make returns of persons liable to serve in the Army of Reserve". [3]

A month later, on Sunday, September 18th, Pattenden saw Pitt drilling the Volunteers. "This afternoon after Church Mrs. P[attenden] and I walked to the field in the Buckland Road where the Volunteers were exercising, and there I saw Mr. Pitt on horseback accompanied by Col. Phipps. There was about 480 men." [4]

Then at the end of October [Sunday, the 23rd], “8 Companies of the Dover Volunteers were dressed for the first time in their scarlet regimentals; they paraded on the Rope walk, and marched from the Maison Dieu fields. The Right Hon. Wm Pitt riding before [them] as Colonel." [5]

November 21, 1803 was, according to Pattenden, a 'rainy and cloudy day,' but that didn't stop Pitt from pushing the men. "This day the Volunteers have begun to exercise and to do duty for three weeks constantly, and to receive pay every day during the whole time." [6]

A final mention in the diary relating to William Pitt was on November 24, 1803. “The Volunteers marched to Free down, to the breast work in Old Stairs bay - to the works of St. Margaret’s Bay, and back to Dover at 5. Mr Pitt [was] with them." [7]

The expected invasion never came, however, and Pitt was back in office a second time by May 1804. These little snippets from a Kent man, whose voice would otherwise be silenced by history, shine a light on Pitt as the dedicated Colonel of the Cinque Port Volunteers.


1. Do/ZZ1/9/3 - Transcribed extracts from the diary of Thomas Pattenden of Dover, 22 August 1802 - 9 May 1805. The Kent History and Library Centre.

2. Ibid.

3.  Ibid.

4.  Ibid.

5.  Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

N.B.: For biographical information on Mr. Thomas Pattenden, I have consulted the ancestry website www.findmypast.co.uk

Image Credits:

Figure 1: The Right Honourable William Pitt, Colonel Commandant of the Cinque Port Volunteers, 28 March 1804 aquatint by J.C. Stadler after P. Hubert. Source

12 December 2014

'How far we are likely to agree in opinion is, I think, extremely doubtful': The rift over Pitt's debts

Fig. 1: An undated lithograph of Thomas Coutts (1735-1822)
In a previous post I wrote about a February 1806 statement of the sums Pitt owed to his banker, Mr. Thomas Coutts. This figure did not include the amount of the sum owed to Coutts from the joint bonds Pitt took out with his brother John, the 2nd Earl of Chatham. After Pitt's death, his two executors - Lord Chatham and The Bishop of Lincoln - exchanged protracted correspondence over Pitt's outstanding financial affairs with Mr. Coutts. 

On February 1, 1806, Thomas Coutts first broached the subject of the debts with the Bishop of Lincoln:

"My Lord,

The inclosed Paper contains the particulars of the Three separate Sums due to me & to my House by Mr. Pitt. I suppose you did not wish to set down The Bonds in which he was bound to me as Security for Lord Chatham, but they may be added if you should still desire it to be done. The Treasury Clerks have desired to know from me if I would pay The Fees due on the Pension Warrants to Lady Hester Stanhope & her Two Brothers, also on the appointment of Lord Mahon to the Receiver of Fees on the Green Wax & Mr. Charles Stanhope to Secretary & Register of the Order of The Bath, likewise the Two Pensions to Lady Grizelda & Lady Lucy on the decease of Their Husbands. The fees on Lord Mahon's office will be about £120 or £130 I believe. On the 1200£ pensions £51.3.6 each, on 600 - 36.3.6 each. I shall answer to the Clerks for all these Payments, as I presume I shall be their attorneys to receive the Emolument hereafter to arise. I am, my Lord,
with sincere respect, Your Lordships most Faithful Servant,
Thomas Coutts"

The statement Coutts enclosed can be seen here

On the following day, Thomas Coutts wrote again to the Bishop of Lincoln. Apparently, the Bishop had gone to Coutt's bank on The Strand, but missed him. Coutts had, however, seen Lord Chatham that day:

“My Lord,

I was very sorry I was detained yesterday morning in my way from Piccadilly by which means I miss’d the Honour of seeing your Lordship in The Strand. Lord Chatham told me to day that I would probably find yr Lordship this Sunday in Downing Street & I therefore call’d wishing to state that it seems injustice due to my Family that I should make a Claim on Mr. Pitt’s representatives for what remains due to me on Two Bonds of 7000£ & 3000£ in which Mr Pitt became bound to me along with His Lordship [Lord Chatham] and on which I think there remains due to me about 7500£. I will make an exact statement of The Sum due when I go to The Strand tomorrow, where I shall be at nine o Clock & send it to your Lordship in Downing Street, unless I hear that you would rather have it at The Deanery [the Bishop's London residence]. If it may be sent in as it really is, a Debt which I have a right to Claim from Mr. Pitt, and if it may be included in The Sum to be voted by the House of Commons, it will be well for me having now no other security but what depends on The Single Life of The Earl of Chatham and it will also be a great relief to His Lordship at this Time. I am, My Lord, with sincere respect, Your Lordship’s most Faithful and obedient Servant, Thomas Coutts. 

Perhaps if Your Lordship goes to Downing Street early to morrow You might call in passing by my Door in The Strand."

In marked contrast, Mr. Coutts' tone in a letter addressed to one of Pitt's friends - and a former private secretary - Joseph Smith, was very abrupt. On March 18, 1806, Coutts communicated to "The Executors" through Mr. Smith, demanding payment:


As Lord Chatham informs me He cannot pay me the Sum of £7,433.11.4 remaining due to me on Bond in which Mr. Pitt was joined with His Lordship, I must make my Demand on The Executors of Mr. Pitt for the above Sum with Interest due thereupon. I beg you will Communicate the above to The Executors & let me know when I may expect payment. I have the honour to be, Sir, Your most obedient Humble Servt., Thomas Coutts."

On March 27, 1806, Thomas Coutts had seen Lord Chatham. Coutts was still demanding immediate payment of the bond, and although Chatham asked Coutts to delay writing to the Bishop of Lincoln until he had a chance to speak with him personally, Coutts wrote to the Bishop anyway. In a gesture of good faith, however, Coutts informed the Bishop that the letter written to Joseph Smith could be destroyed (it obviously wasn't):

“My Lord,

Lord Chatham call’d upon me after I saw your Lordship to day when I told him tho I had written The Letter to Mr. Smith the 18 of March containing my Demand on The Executors of Mr Pitt for the Bond due to me in which He was join’d as Security for Lord Chatham, I could not forget having wav’d that demand at The Time your Lordship was to meet The Gentleman of the House of Commons to settle The Sum to be moved for in Parliament, & consequently all Claim upon that Sum, but that my claim on the assets of Mr Smith exclusive of the 40,000£ remains unquestioned till His Lordship pays or otherwise satisfys The Bond. Lord Chatham beg’d I wou’d delay writing till he should see your Lordship which he said would be to morrow but as I am suddenly oblig’d to leave London very early to morrow morning (which I did not expect till Sunday) I send this agreeable to my promise of writing as I hold the observance of all promises as sacred as any man can do and in The Course of a long Life I believe I may defy any man to show that I ever deviated in any instance from that rule. 
I am My Lord,
Your Lordships most obedient Humble Servant,
Thomas Coutts.

Whatever Lord Chatham & you jointly as Executors of Mr Pitt wishes me to do I shall have a pleasure in Complying with. The Letter of the 18th to Mr. Smith may be withdrawn, & burnt, & then The Matter may remain as it was before it was written."

Fast forward two years, and the matter was still a thorn in everyone's side. On August 25, 1808, Coutts suddenly realised it was an issue again, and he wrote a passive aggressive letter about it to the Bishop of Lincoln, even going as far as threatening to consult with the "Opinion of a Lawyer of Eminence." It seems the two executors disagreed on the matter of resolving these outstanding debts:

“My Lord,

On coming to London lately I was surprised to find the Balance of money in my House’s Hands on account of Mr Pitt’s Executors unappropriated, and on seeing Lord Chatham yesterday he inform’d me the reason is that he wish’d it to be apply’d to discharge in part the Bonds to me in which Mr. Pitt was join’d for 7000£ but your Lordship thought yourself not at liberty to agree to on account of my having wav’d my claim on Mr. Pitt. This was done previous to the receipt of 40,000£ granted by Parliament to set Ld Chatham and Your Lordship at liberty as to the disposal of that money which without such renunciation on my part it was supposed would have prov’d insufficient for the payment in full of the other Creditors. The renunciation therefore was as a security to the Executors against any trouble on the occasion, and all the Debts being paid it seems to me to become void, & to be no longer necessary, nor ever was meant to preclude my right to claim the payment from Mr. Pitt all the Debts being paid. I certainly view it in this light, and I should have no difficulty in referring it to the Opinion of a Lawyer of Eminence, who might be induced by respect to The Partys, or any other consideration, to determine upon the Case submitted to him for decision. This matter is of great Consequence to Ld Chatham & I should hope some mode of settling it easily & without expence might be resorted to, if Your Lordship’s Opinion still remains opposite to that of Ld Chatham. I should hope it may be determined very quickly but if it is likely to draw into any length I would recommend laying the money out in Exchequer Bills to gain an Interest in the meanwhile. I have the honour to be, My Lord, with sincere respect, Your Ldship’s most obedient humble servant, Thomas Coutts."

The following month, on 29 September 1808, Thomas Coutts wrote again to the Bishop, apprising him of the actions he had taken:

“My Lord,

On receipt of Your Lordship’s Letter dated 29th of August I ordered my House to buy 5400£ Exchequer Bills with the money in Their Hands on account of Mr. Pitt’s Executors which was done accordingly the 1st of September at six shillings. I acquainted Lord Chatham of it & sent your Lordship’s Letter for his perusal, which he return’d, but was then in a hurry leaving Town. He has been in Town since, but I had not the Honour of seeing Him. This money is quite in the disposal of Him & Your Lordship, & I should hope will never be claim’d by Parliament. I am My Lord, with sincere respect. Your Lordships most Faithful & obed. Servant, Thomas Coutts. 

Hoping to have seen Ld Chatham is the reason I have delayed acqainting you of the above Purchase."

By November 22, 1808, Coutts still had not heard or seen any thing of Lord Chatham. Coutts mentioned to the Bishop on November 22, 1808 that the last time he spoke with Lord Chatham, Chatham had “proposed out of the residue money to pay me a sum he has long owed, but as I have always shown forbearance, and a true desire to accommodate, so I shall ever continue the same Friendly Disposition and remain always with sincere respect."

Fig. 2: John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham, after John Hoppner (1799)
Lord Chatham was then at Colchester, Essex. On November 23, 1808, he wrote to Thomas Coutts. Chatham and the Bishop had clearly fallen out over the matter of the resolution of Pitt's debts:

“My Dear Sir,

I received your letter this morning, and have fixed to be in town to morrow, and to stay about a week. I should have been happy to have met you there, but after so long a residence, I can not but think you are very right to seek some Country Air, and ye Society of your Friends. I shall have no objection to see The Bishop of Lincoln, if he wishes it, supposing him to answer before I leave London, again, but how far we are likely to agree in opinion is, I think, extremely doubtful. I have not seen Lady Chatham [his wife] for some time, but from her letters I hope she is rather better than she was, tho’ her amendment, I am sorry to say, has been very slow. Believe me, My Dear Sir, Yours Very Truthfully, Chatham."

Coutts wrote to the Bishop of Lincoln on November 25, 1808, enclosing Lord Chatham’s answer to him, and hoped that “His Lordship & you may meet as every Thing is more easily adjusted in that way than by Correspondence." It seems the executors had been estranged for some time.

This estrangement can be partially explained by the Bishop approaching Spencer Perceval over the matter of the debts. A copy of a letter from Mr. Perceval to Lord Chatham dated 1808 (but without day or month) remains:

“My dear Lord,

The Bishop of Lincoln called upon me before he left town upon the subject on which you had apprized me that he was desirous of seeing me. His object was to procure my opinion in favour of his applying the Balance on which remains after discharging Mr. Pitt’s separate debts, to the payment of some joint Bonds in which Mr. Pitt was engaged with you to Mr. Coutts for money which had been advanced for your use. The propriety of such an application of this Balance I feel to be a Question of the utmost possible delicacy, and the only distrust that I have of my own opinion with regard to it arises from the full confidence which I feel that, if it appeared to you capable of having seen in the light in which it strikes me, you would not on any account permit it to be thought of. 
Whether Mr. Coutts could or could not enforce by trust of Law or Equity against the Bishop and yourself the payment of these Bonds depends entirely I apprehend, upon the effect of his having consented to a representation being made of Mr. Pitt’s debts without including these four Bonds in the amount of them, and upon the effect of his letter to the Bishop renouncing his Claim on account of these Bonds. I think that these two circumstances together would, if the Question were brought into a Court of Equity, lead to a decision unfavourable to his Claim. But independent of these two circumstances I have no doubt that he would have had as good a right, legal and equitable, as any separate Creditor of Mr. Pitt’s alone, to recover against Mr. Pitt’s Executors the Value of these Bonds, and I think nothing can be more natural than that your Lordship and the Bishop should entertain the wish that Mr. Coutts should not be a loser in consequence of his Liberality. But supposing Mr. Coutts to be clearly entitled to enforce the payment of those Bonds against Mr. Pitt’s Executors, and that he had done so, still to authorise the application of the Balance for which his Lordship appeared to be so anxious, it is necessary to consider what the effect would be of such a payment. I apprehend that the consequence of a payment by one joint obliger of a Bond, the value of which had been recurred not for his own use, but for the use of his Co-Obliger, is to give him an immediate demand for the value of it against his Co-obliger. And that the Bishop as Executor of Mr. Pitt would not be justified with respect to the persons who may be entitled to claim any share in the residue of Mr. Pitt’s effects, in abstaining from taking such means as the Law would allow to compel from you the repayment of these Bonds, and that if ever he were called upon to account for his Executorship, he would be held responsible for this neglect. If therefore he were to consent to the application of this Balance as Mr. Coutts wishes, without proceeding to recover the value against you the effect of it would be neither more nor less than that of an application by him and you of a part of the money which had been given by the Public for the payment of your Brother’s debts to the discharge of your own. What should be the due application of any such Balance I cannot undertake to decide; I think as at present advised, tho' it amounted to only £100, it should be returned to the Public, that is my present opinion. 
The Bishop held strongly upon me, and others still perhaps which might occur, that Mr. Pitt’s personal representatives might be entitled to it. In which case doubtless you would be entitled to a third. But I think there can be no possible question but that either  the Public or your Brother’s personal representatives are entitled to it, and consequently that the application of the whole Balance to the first Discharge of these Bonds so as to exonerate you from the ultimate payment of them would be an undue appropriation of it. Under these impressions when the Bishop applied to me, submitting the Question entirely to my decision, and reposing full confidence in me that I would give them my opinion sincerely, and that what I have to him privately, I would if every any public question might arise upon it he proposed publicly to avow, I am sure your Lordship will see that it was impossible for me to give any sanction to his making that application of the Balance which he seemed very anxious to do, if he could be countenanced in so doing by my opinion, and what I can assure you it would have given me the sincerest pleasure if I could have felt myself justified in sanctioning.
I promised the Bishop that I would give you an account of what had passed between him and me, at least the results of it, and after a good deal of consideration I have thought it would be more satisfactory to your Lordship as well as to myself to do it in writing rather than in Conversation, as I should be better able to explain to you the view which I had taken of the subject, and enable you better and more at leisure to examine how far it was come. The nature of the Communication which the Bishop made to me, and the condition on which he entrusted me with it, disable me from having the opportunity of benefitting by any other advice than my own; otherwise I certainly should have availed myself of the friendship and opinion of the Chancellor upon such a subject before I would have formed any decisive opinion, and even with his opinion in favor of this application of the Balance, I should have thought it highly improper to have given any countenance to it without also communicating with Lord Grenville, especially as Lord Grenville’s kindness and liberality in granting at once the whole sum towards the payment of your Brother’s debts, instead of first granting only a part, and waiting to see whether the whole would be wanted, has in fact created that balance, which under a more strict, and possibly amore correct execution of the Vote of Parliament could never have existed. With this view of the Case, I would have applied for your leave to communicate upon the subject both with the Lord Chancellor and Lord Grenville, if I had not felt my own impression upon it so very strong as to make me doubt whether I could ever concur in their opinion or acquiesce in it if I should find them upon their view of the subject differing from myself. I do not however feel any such obstinacy in my own opinions as to be certain that their authority and their reasons might not be sufficient to convince me, and therefore if your Lordship should wish it, I would suspend forming any definite judgment upon the subject till I had had an opportunity of conversing or communicating with them upon it. Only I think it fair to apprize you that I cannot bring myself to the view that their opinion would differ from mine, or consequently that any advantageous result would arise from communicating with them upon it. But I feel the greatest reluctance in thinking that an opinion of mien, possibly a mistaken one, should stand in the way of any arrangement which would be convenient to you, and which therefore I concur with the Bishop in wishing to find the justifiable means of effecting it. 
I am my dear Lord,
Yours most faithfully & sincerely, S.P."

On December 11, 1808, Lord Chatham wrote to the Bishop of Lincoln. Chatham was still at Colchester, but he was leaving there soon to stay with his friend, Sir James Pulteney:

“My dear Lord,

I had not a moment to answer your note before I left Town. I saw Mr. Perceval afterwards at a Cabinet, but he did not mention the circumstance of his conversation with you to me. Of course, I said nothing on the subject, and indeed according to my view of the subject, I do not very well see what he could have to say to me, and I should certainly prefer as you were so good to undertake it, the not having any intercourse upon it. In this state of things, and as I hope not to be in Town till after Christmas, I should be obliged to you if you would let me know the general purpose of what passed between you. I shall go to Sir James Pulteney’s on Tuesday and shall remain there till Saturday. His direction is “Buckenam House, near Brandon.” Believe me, my dear Lord, Yours very truly, Chatham."

In a final letter still in existence, the Bishop of Lincoln wrote to Lord Chatham from Buckden Palace on December 13, 1808, feeling that he was “much concerned to learn from your letter, which I received this morning, that you had not conversed with Mr. Perceval relative to the Bonds in question…I have scarcely ever been engaged in any business which gave me greater uneasiness than this…"

Fifteen years later, the matter of sorting out Pitt's debts was still unresolved. They had begun in the early 1780s, came to a crisis in 1801, and were never resolved in his lifetime. Although Pitt died in early 1806, probate wasn't finally granted until 1821. 


All references are from the Correspondence between Mr. Coutts, the 2nd Earl of Chatham, and The Bishop of Lincoln over Pitt's financial affairs. The Kent History & Library Centre: Pitt MSS: U1590/S5/C42.

Image Credits:

Fig. 1: An undated lithograph of Thomas Coutts. Westminster Archives Centre.

Fig. 2: John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham, after John Hoppner (1799).

11 December 2014

'Exaggerating a large Shoe and Flannel into a serious Illness'

A modern view of Kingston Lacy (formerly known as Kingston Hall) 

Pitt travelled to Bath in early December 1805 due to his rapidly declining health and a severe case of gout. The address that was recommended to Pitt by Dudley Ryder's brother Richard Ryder was Mrs. Gay's house at No. 2 Johnstone Street. By the end of December, Pitt was still confined primarily to the house in Bath, often finding it difficult to even walk down the stairs. When he wasn't making the short trip to The Pump Room to drink the waters, he was keeping his mind occupied with politics, anticipating news from the continent, and taking books out from Mr. Upham's Circulating Library. Meanwhile, his friends were beginning to be alarmed by reports they had heard regarding his health. One such friend was Henry Bankes (1757-1834) of Kingston Hall (now Kingston Lacy), Dorset. 

A portrait of Pitt's friend, Henry Bankes, inside Kingston Lacy (my photo)

In a typical response that was characteristic of Pitt's distanced relationship to his own personal wellbeing, he severely downplayed his condition to Bankes. In a letter dated from Bath on Dec 22, 1805, Pitt wrote:

“My dear Bankes,

Many thanks for your kind & friendly Inquiries. I am sorry that you have partaken in the Anxiety which the Officiousness of the Newspapers has occasioned among my Friends, by exaggerating a large Shoe and Flannel into a serious Illness. I have been confined about Ten Days by a fit of the Gout, which, tho I may have thought it a little wearing, has been highly satisfactory to my medical Oracles; and I am now so much recovered that I expect very soon to feel nothing but its good Effects. I wish I could relieve You from the anxious Suspense in which We are all involved as to the State of the Continent. One the whole I think We are justified in hoping that the favourable account of the Issue of the Battle of Austerlitz will prove the true one, and in that Case I have scarce a Doubt that Prussia will step in and render the Advantage decisive. In the other Alternative the Prospect of the Continent tho not hopeless, is discouraging indeed; and the uncertainty between such Extremes is no small Trial of one’s Patience and Philosophy. If I hear any Thing important, which may not otherwise reach you so soon, I will let you know. Ever sincerely Yrs, W.P." [1]

Lamentably, the Battle of Austerlitz was a huge defeat, and it physically shattered Pitt's already precarious recovery. Exactly one month and a single day after his letter to Bankes, Pitt was dead at the age of 46. Pitt was once called "a noonday eclipse" by a man called Ralph Creyke, a friend of William Wilberforce, as he died in the middle of his life. James Stanhope, an eyewitness at the time of Pitt's death, described his life departing like a candle burning out.

Pitt's relationship to his health, or, to put it more aptly, his denial of his own health issues, is a subject that repeated itself throughout his short life. Pitt often buried or repressed his own pain and emotions through the overuse of alcohol, throwing himself into politics, or a combination of the two.

It's a topic that I have continuously encountered throughout my research into Pitt's personal life.


1. William Pitt to Henry Bankes. December 22, 1805 (copy). The Kent History and Library Centre, Pitt MSS: U1590/S5/O8, f. 131.

9 December 2014

The 'Irresistible Torrent of Eloquence': Pitt's assistance in Lord Mahon's escape from his father

Philip Henry, 4th Earl Stanhope (early 19th century)

On April 4th, 1800, Philip Henry Stanhope, then Lord Mahon, wrote from Chevening to his half-sister Lady Hester Stanhope. Then aged just 19, he was worried that his father Charles, Lord Stanhope would soon learn that he was going to “throw myself on the protection of Mr P[itt].” [1] This was significant, because for many years the 3rd Lord Stanhope and Mr. Pitt had been estranged. They had fallen out over the French Revolution, and their widely divergent political views. The last thing Lord Stanhope wanted was his eldest son to ally himself with Pitt. Growing up, Philip Henry Stanhope was educated at home - at Chevening Estate near Sevenoaks, Kent - instead of being sent abroad or to Europe as was the case during his father's education.

Lord Stanhope was a highly intelligent yet eccentric man, and his three daughters from his first marriage had hitherto flown the nest in order to escape him. His eldest son Mahon was also aligning himself with Pitt. Mahon went as far as calling Pitt his 'Protector.' In the spring of 1800, Mahon wrote to his sister Lady Hester that he was unable “to describe how kind & how generous it is in the “Irresistible Torrent of Eloquence” [Mr Pitt] to take so great an interest in my Welfare and Happiness. I hope by my Conduct & Principles to evince myself worthy of such a Protector; for, as long as Life remains, as long as I continue to exist, as long as one drop of blood flows in my veins & animates my right arm, so long will I continue in steady & determined opposition to Jacobin Principles, Principles which were the origin of this most just & necessary War, Principles which have plunged France into that State of Anarchy & Confusion which have precipitated it into scenes of Rapine & of Violence of Disorder & of Bloodshed, unprecedented & unparalleled in the History of the World, Principles finally of which no words are strong & energetic enough to express my Detestation & Abhorrence.” [2]

Lord Mahon appealed to his sister for help, describing his situation at Chevening as 'bondage,' and desiring to be freed from his father's house. Yet Mahon was fearful that his father would soon suspect something and have his movements closely watched. He was determined to do every thing that the Irresistible Torrent of Eloquence [Pitt] judged proper, and above all, he wanted out of what he referred to as 'Papa’s Power' [3]. 

Needless to say, Lady Hester Stanhope was deeply concerned about her brother. She wrote to her uncle, Mr. Pitt, from Burton Pynsent on April 10, 1800. She was then staying with her maternal grandmother, the Dowager Countess of Chatham, in Somersetshire. In the letter, Lady Hester expressed her anxiety over Mahon's situation, and enclosed a letter from him to Pitt. [4] She also lovingly described her grandmother, writing "GMama is so unlike all old people I have ever seen, for she enters into every thing with more more quickness than half the world not a quarter her age. She is all goodness to me & I am extremely comfortable here.” [5] She hoped that Pitt could help Mahon to be freed from his father's estate.

As a result, Pitt did intervene, and Mahon left Chevening. The consequence of this was that Mahon was permanently estranged from his father, the 3rd Earl Stanhope. When Mahon later married Lord Carrington's [Robert Smith] daughter, knowing that Pitt would be present, Stanhope did not attend the wedding. The two men later got into legal battles which I intend to explore in more detail in a later post. 

Sadly, all of the 3rd Lord Stanhope's children fell out with their father. It was always permanent. Interestingly, they all sided with Mr. Pitt, viewing him as their 'Protector' when their biological father did not provide for them. 

As a postscript, about a month after Pitt's death, on February 26, 1806, Mahon wrote to Pitt's private secretary, W.D. Adams, to enquire whether Pitt's court swords were preserved. [6] He asked Adams where they were, and that his younger brother Charles Stanhope told him that George Rose meant to preserve the swords for the boys. Mahon was apparently to have Pitt's Court Sword. I wonder whatever happened to the sword, and whether it remains at Chevening to this day?


1. Lord Mahon to his half-sister, Lady Hester Stanhope. April 4, 1800. Dacres Adams MSS: BL Add Ms 89036/2/4: Letters between members of the Stanhope family, f. 92. 

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Lady Hester Stanhope to Mr. Pitt. April 10, 1800. Dacres Adams MSS: BL Add Ms 89036/2/4, f. 93.

5. Ibid.

6. Lord Mahon to W.D. Adams. February 26, 1806. Dacres Adams MSS: BL Add Ms 89036/2/4, f. 100.

8 December 2014

'My indispensable Duty': Becoming Premier a second time

William Pitt, another version of the Thomas Lawrence portrait (c.1807)

On Sunday April 22, 1804, Mr. Pitt sat down at his rented property on 14 York Place (now Baker Street) in order to humbly request His Majesty, King George III's permission to form a comprehensive, coalition government. Pitt chose to transmit the letter through the Lord Chancellor with the intention that he would then pass the letter to the king. It was delivered to His Majesty on the following Friday, 27th April. 

Pitt opened the discussion:


It is with great reluctance that I presume to trespass on Your Majesty’s attention; but as the view I entertain of publick Affairs will shortly render it my indispensable Duty in Parliament to declare more fully and explicitly than I have done hitherto my Opinions on the conduct of Your Majesty’s present Ministers, I can not help feeling a most anxious wish, previously to lay those Opinions before Your Majesty. Your Majesty will do me the justice to recollect that on retiring from Your Majesty’s Service, it was my first wish to be enabled to give every degree of support and assistance in my Power to those to whom Your Majesty confided the Administration of Your Affairs. I continued to give this support and assistance, with the utmost zeal and cordiality, as long as it was possible for me to do so, consistently with my Sincere and honest Opinions on the scale of publick Affairs; and even long after I saw considerable reason for highly disapproving many important parts of the conduct of Government, I still abstained from joining in any system of parliamentary Opposition. During the whole period since the commencement of the present War, although I have throughout seen but too much reason to lament the want of any vigorous and well considered system on the part of Ministers, adapted to the new and critical state of Affairs, my great object has been, instead of seeking Opportunities for censure, to contribute as far as I could, by the humble efforts of an Individual, to supply what I have considered as important omissions, and to recommend more adequate measures for the Defence of the Country. The experience of now nearly twelve months, and the observation of all the different measures which have been suggested or adopted by Government, and of the mode in which they have been executed, has at length impressed me with a full conviction that while the Administration remains in its present shape, and particularly under the direction of the Person now holding the chief Place in it [Henry Addington, Lord Sidmouth], every attempt to provide adequately and effectually for the publick Defence, and for meeting the extraordinary and unprecedented efforts of the Enemy, will be fruitless. 
I am also fully convinced that the same causes which tend to weaken our Security at home are equally calculated to preclude the chance of taking advantage of any favourable conjuncture to establish such a Co-operation abroad, as might rescue the Continent from the miserable and abject Situation to which it is now reduced. With this impression, I consider the time as arrived, when it is my indispensable Duty both to Your Majesty and to the Country, to avow these Opinions, and to regulate by them my parliamentary conduct. I am not so presumptuous as to allow myself to hope that the sentiments I have thus presumed to submit to Your Majesty should appear entitled to attention, or deserving of any weight in Your Majesty’s mind; but I flatter myself that Your Majesty will condescend to receive them as a tribute of Duty and Respect, and as the sincere and honest Opinions of one who is actuated by the warmest and most genuine attachment to Your Majesty. On the same grounds, I trust Your Majesty will pardon me if I venture to add the assurance that whatever may be the course of publick Affairs, and whatever may be my own personal Opinion respecting the system of Government which would be most advisable in the present state of the Country, and of political Parties, it will be my determination to avoid committing myself to any engagements, the effects of which could be likely to occasion, in any contingency, a sentiment of dissatisfaction or uneasiness in Your Majesty’s mind [i.e. Catholic Emancipation].” [1]

Mr. Pitt wrote separately to the Lord Chancellor on 2 May 1804, apprising him of his intentions:

“My dear Lord,

In conformity to what passed between us yesterday, I now proceed to state to Your Lordship on Paper the sentiments which I am desirous of humbly submitting for His Majesty’s consideration. It becomes my indispensable Duty to entreat His Majesty’s permission to lay before Him distinctly and without reserve the best Opinion which I can form respecting the nature and description of Administration which appears to me likely to be most conducive to His Majesty’s Service, together with the reasons for that opinion; but in doing so, I am anxious at the same time humbly to respect the Assurance that I do not presume to request more from His Majesty than deliberate consideration to the Proposal which I feel it my Duty to submit to Him. If, after such consideration, and receiving such farther explanation as the nature of the subject may require, His Majesty should feel insuperable objections to any part of the Proposal, much as I must in that case regret His Majesty’s decision, I shall feel myself bound to acquiesce in it; and if I should in that case be honoured with His Majesty’s farther commands to endeavour to form a Plan of Administration free from such objections, I shall be ready to obey them to the best of my Power.
My opinion is founded on the strong conviction that the present critical situation of this Country, connected with that of Europe in general, and with the state of political Parties at home, renders it more important and essential than perhaps at any other period that ever existed, to endeavour to give the greatest possible strength and energy to His Majesty’s Government, by endeavouring to unite in His Service as large a proportion as possible of the weight of Talents and Connections, drawn without exception from Parties of all descriptions, and without reference to former differences and divisions. There seems the greatest reason to hope that the circumstances of the present moment are peculiarly favourable to such an Union, and that it might now be possible (with His Majesty’s gracious approbation) to being all Persons of leading Influence either in Parliament or in the Country, to concur heartily in a general system formed for the purpose of extricating this Country from its present difficulties, and endeavouring if possible to rescue Europe from the state to which it is reduced. The consequences of the French Revolution universally understood and acknowledged, its effects in France, and Europe, and the World, and the present conduct and character of the First Consul, seem to have produced a very general desire that all the abilities and resources of the Country should be exerted in meeting its present danger; and in pursuit of this object, all the points of difference, however great and important, which at a former period prevailed in this Country, seem, to all practical purposes, to be superseded. The anxious advantages which may be derived from such a comprehensive system as I have pointed at, are so obvious that it will not be necessary long to dwell on them. It is in the first place evident, that Zealous and united as the Country appears to be at the moment in its efforts against the Enemy, the present Contest may probably be of very long duration, attended with great and heavy Burdens, and likely to press severely on the resources and convenience of all Classes of Persons. 
Under such circumstances, with the change always unavoidable, of unfavourable events in the course of the War, or of an aggravation of its difficulties from the accidents of its Seasons, it is impossible not to feel that a system of this nature would furnish a security that can not otherwise be obtained, for our being enabled to persevere in the struggle with unabated vigour, till it can be really brought to a safe and honourable Issue. The same considerations which apply to this Country separately will operate as powerfully if not still more so, on our means and prospects abroad. A firm and stable Administration, not thwarted or embarrassed by any powerful Opposition either in Parliament or the Country, must furnish the best and perhaps the only chance of attracting sufficiently the respect and confidence of foreign Powers, and of improving any favourable opportunity to unite them once again in a great and combined effort for reducing the Power of France within limits consistent with the safety of other States, or at least of rescuing from its Yoke some of those Countries in whose Fate, both from connection, inclination, and policy, we ought to feel most deeply interested.
In addition to those two great considerations, the state of Ireland, and the delicate and difficult questions which may arise respecting the internal condition of that Country, are scarcely less deserving of attention. I need not repeat to Your Lordship (which has long since been known to His Majesty) how fully my own determination has been formed to prevent His Majesty being ever disquieted for a moment (as far as depends upon me) by a renewal of the Proposition which was in question three years ago, respecting the extension of privileges to the Catholics: But I can not help seeing that although my own conduct, under all circumstances, is fixed, there may arise moments of difficulty, in which, if this Country remains divided by powerful Parties, the agitation of this Question may be productive of great Inconvenience and Embarrassment. The formation of such a System as I have supposed, would, I conceive, among other advantages, effectually remove this source of anxiety, as I certainly can never suppose or wish it to be formed on any other ground but that of all those who might form part of the Administration joining in the same determination with myself to endeavour to prevent the renewal of any such Discussion. These are the chief considerations which have led me to the clear and conscientious conviction that nothing is so likely to ensure His Majesty’s personal Repose and Comfort, and the future Prosperity and Glory of his Reign, as the Plan which I have taken the liberty of submitting to His Majesty’s consideration; and I am therefore most deeply anxious that, after full reflection, His Majesty may deem it not unworthy of His Approbation. In that Event, it would become my Duty to entreat His Majesty’s permission, before I entered farther on any Details to converse both with Lord Grenville and with Mr. Fox, in order to learn how far it might be practicable to submit, for His Majesty’s farther consideration, any Arrangement which might include them, and a proposition of those who act with them, together with some of His Majesty’s present Servants, and other Persons to whom I might wish to draw His Majesty’s favourable Attention.
I have now only to request that Your Lordship will have the goodness to take the first convenient Opportunity of laying this Representation of my Sentiments before His Majesty, together with the humble Assurances of my constant sentiments of Respect, Duty, and Attachment towards His Majesty, and of my deep and grateful Sense of His Majesty’s Condescension and Goodness, in the gracious communication which I had the honour of receiving through Your Lordship.
I have thought that this mode of submitting my Opinion in the first instance for His Majesty’s consideration at his most convenient leisure, was that of which His Majesty would not disapprove. I trust I may be permitted to hope, before His Majesty’s final decision on the subject, he will allow me to have the honour of personally submitting to His Majesty any farther Explanation which any part of the subject may appear to require; and I can not help also flattering myself, that the whole tenor of what I have stated will appear consistent with that Zeal and Devotion for His Majesty’s Service, which it has been my uniform wish that His Majesty should experience in every part of my Conduct.

I am, with great regard, My dear Lord, most sincerely & faithfully yours, W. Pitt." [2]

On May 5, 1804, the King tersely replied to Mr. Pitt, disapproving of Pitt's 'dislike' to Henry Addington, and chiding him for ever proposing Catholic Emancipation. He threatened Pitt never to bring forward the idea again or else he wouldn't require his services, and he rejected Pitt's entreaties to consult with Lord Grenville or Mr. Fox. Indeed, the King detested any such idea of including Charles James Fox in the proposed administration, and he warned Pitt in no uncertain terms that he did not want 'Seekers of Improvement' to conduct His political affairs. Nevertheless, if Pitt would take the helm of state on his own, King George was happy for him to take up the reins once more:

“The King has, through the Channel of The Lord Chancellor, expressed to Mr. Pitt his approbation of that Gentleman’s sentiments of personal attachment to His Majesty, and of his ardent desire to support any measure that may be conducive to the real Interest of The King or of His Royal Family; But, at the same time, it cannot but be lamented, that Mr. Pitt should have taken so rooted a dislike to a Gentleman [Henry Addington, Viscount Sidmouth] who has the greatest claim to Approbation from his King and Country, for his most diligent and able discharge of the Duties of Speaker of the House of Commons for twelve years [Addington], and of his still more handsomely coming forward (when Mr. Pitt and some of his Colleagues resigned their Employments) to support his King and Country, when the most ill-digested and dangerous proposition [i.e. Catholic Emancipation, in King George's eyes] was brought forward by the Enemies of the established Church. 
His Majesty has too good an opinion of Mr. Pitt to think he could have given his countenance to such a measure, had he weighed its tendency with that attention which a Man of his judgement should call forth, when the subject under consideration is of so serious a nature; but The King knows how strongly the then two Secretaries of State who resigned at that period, had allied themselves to the Roman Catholicks; the former by his private Correspondence with a former Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, shewed that he was become the Follower of all the wild ideas of Mr. Burke; and the other from Obstinacy, his usual Director [ouch].
The King can never forget the wound that was intended at the Palladium of our Church Establishment, the Test Act, and the indelicacy, not to call it worse, of wanting His Majesty to forego his solemn Coronation Oath. He therefore here avows that he shall not be satisfied, unless Mr. Pitt makes as strong assurances of his determination to support that wise Law, as Mr. Pitt in so clear a manner stated in 1796 in the House of Commons, viz. that the smallest alteration of that Law would be a death wound to the British Constitution.
The whole tenor of Mr. Fox’s conduct since he quitted his Seat at the Board of Treasury, when under Age, and more particularly at the Whig Club and other factious Meetings, rendered his expulsion from the Privy Council indispensable, and obliges The King to express his astonishment that Mr. Pitt should one moment harbour the thought of bringing such a name before His Royal notice: To prevent the repetition of it, The King declares, if Mr. Pitt persists in such an idea, or in proposing to consult Lord Grenville, His Majesty will have to deplore that he cannot avail himself of the Ability of Mr. Pitt, with necessary restrictions. These points being understood, His Majesty does not object to Mr. Pitt’s forming such a Plan for conducting the Publick Business as may, under all circumstances, appear to be eligible; but should Mr. Pitt unfortunately find himself unable to undertake what is here proposed, The King will in that case call for the assistance of such Men as are truly attached to our happy Constitution, and not Seekers of Improvements which, to all dispassionate Men, must appear to tend to the destruction of that noble Fabrick which is the pride of all thinking minds, and the envy of all foreign Nations.
The King thinks it but just to his present Servants to express his trust that, as far as the publick Service will permit, He may have the benefit of their farther Services.

George R. 

Queen’s Palace, May 5th 1804" [3]

Needless to say, the king's response was not what Pitt intended. Mr. Pitt responded the following day, May 6th, defending his previous political conduct, and that of his two Secretaries of State, and assuring King George once again that he would never renew any proposals respecting the Catholics. Pitt felt he had no choice but to request a personal meeting with His Majesty:


I had yesterday the Honor of receiving from the Lord Chancellor Your Majesty’s Letter, and am very sensible of Your Majesty’s Condescension and Goodness in deigning to renew the Assurances of Your Approbation of the sentiments of Duty and Attachment which it has been my wish to manifest towards Your Majesty. At the same time I can not refrain from expressing the deep concern with which I observe the manner in which my Sentiments appear, in some respects, to have been misunderstood, and the unfavourable impression which Your Majesty seems to entertain respecting parts of my Conduct. 
Your Majesty will, I trust, permit me in the first place to assure You, that the Opinions I have expressed respecting the Person now holding the chief Place in Your Majesty’s Government [i.e. Addington] have not arisen from any sentiments of personal dislike to that Gentleman. They have been formed wholly on the view of his publick Conduct, and rest on Grounds which I have already taken the liberty of laying distinctly before Your Majesty. 
On the subject of the Proposal made in 1801 respecting the Catholics, it has been far from my desire to renew any detailed Discussion. But I feel it due to two of my former Colleagues to express my persuasion that they were guided, on that important occasion, by very different motives from those which Your Majesty has been led to impute to them; and in justice to myself I must beg leave to declare, that my Opinion on that subject was formed on the fullest deliberation, and that the measure then suggested appeared to me, for the reasons which I them submitted at large to Your Majesty, to be as much calculated to confirm the Security of the Established Church as to promote the general Interest of the Empire. My opinion of the propriety and rectitude of the Measure at the time it was proposed, remains unaltered, but other considerations, and sentiments of Deference to Your Majesty, have led me since to feel it both a personal and publick Duty to abstain from again pressing that measure on Your Majesty’s consideration. The humble assurance of this determination on my part has been long since conveyed to Your Majesty, and recently renewed; and to that Assurance, without any addition or Alteration, I must humbly beg leave to adhere.
It now remains for me to express the extreme regret with which I learn Your Majesty’s strong disapprobation of the Proposal which, on a view of the present state of Affairs, and of political Parties, I thought it my Duty to submit to Your Majesty, for forming at the present difficult crisis a strong and comprehensive Government, uniting the principal Weight and Talents of Publick Men of all descriptions. I have already stated that if, on full consideration, Your Majesty should object to any Part of that Proposal, I am ready to acquiesce in that Decision, and submit myself to Your Majesty’s Commands; But I, at the same time, expressed my Hope, that before Your Majesty’s final decision, I might be permitted to offer such farther Explanation as the Case may appear to require. On a Point therefore of this high Importance, I can not but feel it an indispensable duty again to request that You might condescend personally to hear from me the Explanation of those Reasons which satisfy me that such a Plan of Government to promote the only Objects which I have at least on this occasion, the lasting Ease and Honor of Your Majesty’s Government, the Security and Prosperity of the Country, and the general Interest of Europe. Unless Your Majesty should so far honour me with Your Confidence, as to admit me into Your Presence for this purpose, I am grieved to say that I can not retain any Hope that my feeble Services can be employed in any manner advantageous to Your Majesty’s Affairs, or satisfactory to my own mind." [4]

The result of this discussion was that Pitt became First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer for the second time on May 10, 1804. His ardent wish - to form a united, comprehensive government with Grenville and Fox - never came to pass. Pitt was on his own. I cannot help but attribute the obstinacy of King George III to the relatively weak government Pitt was forced to form. Within eighteen months, it would cost Pitt his life.


1. Mr. Pitt to King George III. April 22, 1804 (copy). The British Library, Dacres Adams MSS: BL Add MS 89036/1/11 (unbound), ff. 15-15(i).

2. Mr. Pitt to the Lord Chancellor, May 2, 1804 (copy). The British Library, Dacres Adams MSS: BL Add MS 89036/1/11 (unbound), ff. 16-16(iii).

3. King George III to Mr. Pitt, May 5, 1804 (copy). The British Library, Dacres Adams MSS: BL Add MS 89036/1/11 (unbound), ff. 16A-16A(i).

4. Mr. Pitt to King George III, May 6, 1804 (copy). The British Library, Dacres Adams MSS: BL Add MS 89036/1/11 (unbound), ff. 17-17(i). 

Image Credit:

The image of Pitt was taken from here.