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).

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