30 January 2015

'Your most affectionate Brother': William Pitt & his brother John, second Earl of Chatham

William Pitt and his older brother John, the 2nd Earl of Chatham, may have had their ups and downs, especially after the very perplexing situation of late 1794, but they genuinely loved one another. Evidence of this bond can be seen in two surviving letters William wrote to Lord Chatham after their sister Lady Harriot Eliot died. Chatham was with their mother Hester, the Dowager Countess of Chatham, at Burton Pynsent, and William was with his brother in-law Edward James Eliot at Downing Street. William was burying his grief by transacting government business, and Eliot was understandably grief-stricken over the loss of his wife. 

Pitt wrote to his brother John, Lord Chatham on Sept 29th 1786, four days after Lady Harriot's death, to apprise him of the impending funeral:

“My dear Brother,

I have flattered myself with the hopes of hearing from you to day, as the Post could hardly bring much later news than the Messenger yesterday. Tomorrow I trust will more than confirm the tolerably good Account you were then enabled to send me. We go on here quite as Well as I could expect; and for myself It has certainly in the Effect been an Advantage to have been obliged to attend to some Objects of Business which could not bear delay. Eliot certainly mends, tho slowly. He expressed a Wish to day of attempting to write to my Mother, but I dissuaded it for the present, as thinking it too soon for Both. The distance would not yet allow of our hearing from his Brother, but I think He may possibly be here tomorrow, and I dare say not later than Monday, so that I am in hopes of being able to set out on Tuesday or Wednesday. The sad concluding Ceremony is to take Place on Monday. My kind Love to all. Ever Your most affectionate Brother, W. Pitt." [1]

Later that same day, Pitt wrote to his brother again after receiving a letter from him:

“My dear Brother,

I will not omit writing both to tell You the Comfort I had from your second Letter which arrived this morning, and to have the Satisfaction of adding that Eliot is more recovered since yesterday. I trust We shall neither of Us miss any Post till We meet, for I know how anxious my Mother will be to hear of us from day to day, and I am sure I shall not be less so to receive a constant Account of Her, and of you all. There would be no use in attempting to add any Thing more at this moment, for without expressing that our Feelings are all the same. Adieu. Yr most affectionate Brother, W. Pitt." [2]

This is the last of this particular chain of letters, but the brotherly bond and depth of affection is unmistakeable. 


1. William Pitt to his brother John, second Earl of Chatham. September 29, 1786. The National Archives, Chatham Papers: PRO 30/8/101, f. 109. 

2.William Pitt to his brother John, second Earl of Chatham. September 29, 1786.The National Archives, Chatham Papers: PRO 30/8/101, f. 111. 

29 January 2015

'You will not deny me what is necessary': Pitt the Elder's impecuniousness

Robert Pitt as a child (attributed to Sir Peter Lely)

William Pitt the Elder (1708-1778) had difficulty managing his purse from an early age. These monetary troubles began when he was at Eton, and became steadily worse as he went on to Trinity College in Oxford. Of course, the man paying for these early expenses was his father Robert Pitt, Esq.  (c. 1680-1727). It seems Robert questioned his son on his bills, as the subject of money comes up repeatedly in their correspondence. 

In about 1726, William wrote to his father Robert from Trinity College. He spent the majority of the letter explaining to his father why his expenditures were necessary, and then asked for more money:

Hond Sir,

I rec:d yrs of ye 25th in which I find with ye utmost Concern ye dissatisfaction you Express at my expense. To pretend to justify, or defend myself in this Case would be, I fear, with reason thought impertinent; tis sufficient to convince me of the Extravagance of my Expences, that they have met with yr disapprobation. But might I have leave to instance an Article or two, perhaps you may not think ‘em so wild and boundless, as with all imaginable uneasiness, I see you do not at present. Washing £2:2:0 about £3:6d per wk of which money half a dozen shirts at 4d each comes to 2s per wk shoes and stockings 1:19:0. Three pairs of shoes at 5s each two pair of stockings, one silk, one worested [sic], are all that make up this Article, but be it as it will, since Sir, you judge my Expense too great, I must endeavour for ye future to lessen it, & shall be Contented with whatever you please to allow me. One Considerable Article is a Servant, an expense which many are not at, and which I shall be glad to spare, if you shall think it fitt, in hopes to Convince you I desire nothing superfluous; as I have reason to think you will not deny me what is necessary. As you have been pleas’d to give me leave, I shall draw upon you for 25£ as soon as I have occasion. I beg my Duty to my Mother & am with all possible respect, Hon:ed Sr, Yr most Dutifull Son, W Pitt." [1]

Then on January 20, 1726/7, Pitt wrote to his father from Trinity College, once again on the subject of overspending. After writing a long list of his accounts, he writes, “…I have too much reason to fear you may think some of these Articles too extravagant, as they really are, but all I have to say for it is humbly to beg you would not attribute it to my extravagance, but to ye custom of this Place, where we pay for most things too at a high rate. I must again repeat my wishes for yr health, hoping you have not been prevented by so painfull a delay of ye Gout from pursuing yr intended journey to Town…" [2]

Robert Pitt died several months later, but his son's spending habits deteriorated further. By the time he was to marry Lady Hester Grenville in late 1754, the forty-six year old William was only half-joking when he wrote that "my infirmities and my Poverty are my best titles." [3]

The cycle of financial extravagance would repeat itself again in William Pitt the Elder's three sons. Many years later, Mrs. Pretyman-Tomline would write that William Pitt (the younger) was led into debt by “…the force of example and the want of precept." [4] The example Lord Chatham gave to his children regarding the use - or misuse - of money would leave a lasting impression. This nonchalant approach to money and debts was already being felt by his children in the mid-1770s. As usual, the person who bore the responsibility for picking up the pieces was their mother Hester, the Countess of Chatham

On April 8, 1777, Lady Chatham was forced to write a letter to Lord Chatham's nephew, Mr. Thomas Pitt, begging him for money. Her fifteen year old son James Charles Pitt, then in the navy, had accrued debts which she could not afford to pay:

…A circumstance has happen’d, which is as Painful as it was unexpected. The confidence I have in your taking an affectionate share in whatever concerns my Lords situation, and Feelings, makes me suffer less in finding it indispensable to me, to address my self to you, and recur to your Friendship. Our Son James, who for many Months has been station’d at Gibraltar, by an imprudence, pardonable only in Fifteen [James was 15 years old at the time] has run into a most unfortunate excess of Expence, and such as occasions a distress to me that deranges every Provision that with the utmost Attention, and the greatest difficulty to my self, I had been able to make to answer the different Calls of my Lord’s Illness, which you must know are of a very expensive kind. The Bills Drawn, of which I have receiv’d Notice, are to an Amount that I am ashamed to name. Every proper Precaution was taken at his going out to guard against such a circumstance happening, by not allowing Him [James] to draw without his Bills being indors’d by his Captain. But the ship cruising very little, and He being suffer’d to be too much on shore, He easily got from the Dealers in the Town every Article of Dress, &c, without Payment of ready Money, so that when the Time came for his exchanging from the Alarm Frigate, into the Surprise Captain Linzee, in order to sail for Newfoundland, he would not have had it in his Power to have left Gibraltar, had not Lieut. Hood, then in Harbor, android’s bills upon his own Banker for the necessary sum to put him at Liberty, which he did out of respect to the Family, and in so doing has indeed conferred a real obligation. We are every one of us equally surprised at this Conduct in James, as he had been remarkable for his Prudence on the Subject of expence, and was all acquainted with the reasons that required he shou’d be so. Genl Boyd out of Regard to his [James’s] Father, made him free of his House whenever the ship was at Gibraltar. This led him continually into Balls Assemblies, and Parties, which I imagine caused his being so cruelly indiscreet; and not paying directly, he was not aware, I dare say, of the extent of his Expence. This Accâblement, after the trials I have had so long to contend with, makes me like one astonish’d by a Blow. I don’t know where I am, for it is of the utmost importance to my Lord’s Recovery that he should not be acquainted with this circumstance. Is it possible my Dear Sir that you cou’d lend me your Friendly Aid on this occasion. It is what I wish to ask of you, and what I flatter my self without my explaining, at Present, further, you will think me not wrong in doing. I trust I shall have your confidence that in every thing I do, I am instigated by the most serious consideration of what is necessary, to be either avoided, or follow’d for the Great End of my Lord’s Recovery, of such infinite consequences to his Family and Friends. My Wish is, if it can be without too much inconvenience, that you wou’d allow me to draw upon your Banker, as far as a Thousand Pound. This will be more by half than the Demand, come to my knowledge, but it has distress’d me so thoroughly that I shall not feel at Ease without a reserve for fear of any accident, or as (thank God), my Lord, by being better, may think of a Journey, or something that may make an immediate call…" [5]

Mr. Thomas Pitt must have responded favourably to her request for money, because she pens him an obliging letter on April 18, 1777:

“My Dear Sir,

The Kindness of your Letter, in answer to mine, is such as makes me feel it impossible to find expression to thank you for it, in a manner that agrees with the sense I have of it. You have added to the essential obligation I have to you for granting my request, a hundred Pleasures, to which my mind has the greatest sensibility. You have indeed render’d the Favour you have conferr’d upon me, compleat entirely…[she is ill with a cold and cough] I have writ an admonitory Letter to my Son James, which I flatter my self will have the wish’d effect, and bring his mind, notwithstanding its Ardent and Lively Turn, to a right sense of his Errors, and the impropriety  of his Conduct…" [6]

Unfortunately, it was always Lady Chatham begging for loans in order to avert financial ruin. This cycle would repeat itself in her sons William and John, the second Lord Chatham, as they were borrowing by 1779.


1. William Pitt (the Elder) to his father Robert Pitt, Esq. April 29 [no year, but mid-1720s]. The British Library, Dropmore Series 2 - 69288, f. 10.

2.William Pitt (the Elder) to his father Robert Pitt, Esq. January 20, 1726/7. The British Library, Dropmore Series 2 - 69288, f. 18.

3. William Pitt (the Elder) to his sister Ann Pitt. October 25, 1754. The British Library, BL Add Ms 69289 873B, f. 71.

4. Elizabeth Pretyman-Tomline to her husband, the Bishop of Lincoln. Undated, but around late January 1806. Ipswich Record Office, Pretyman MSS. HA 119: T99/26.

5. Lady Chatham to Mr. Thomas Pitt. April 8, 1777. The British Library, Dropmore Series 2 - 69288, ff. 64-66.

6. Lady Chatham to Mr. Thomas Pitt. April 8, 1777. The British Library, Dropmore Series 2 - 69288, ff. 68-69.

11 January 2015

William Hoare's portrait of Pitt the Elder

A happy Pitt fan below a portrait of Lord Chatham at The Royal Crescent Hotel in Bath (2013)

In the mid-1760s, the Bath artist William Hoare was commissioned to paint a portrait of William Pitt the Elder (1708-1778), who was soon to be elevated to the peerage. 

Hoare wrote to Pitt on June 2, 1766 to request a sitting:

“...[I] have the honour of drawing your Picture for the Hall of this City [Bath]; I hope you will excuse the liberty of this Letter, to present my Duty and Respects, desiring to be made happy by the Continuance of your Favour and Approbation. I shall be ready to attend your Commands in whatever manner shall be most convenient you, being Sr, with great Respect, Your most Obedient and Obliged Humble Servant, William Hoare. Permit me, Sr, to present my Respects to Lady Chatham." [1]

Pitt duly sat to Hoare for his portrait, and it was presented to the City Hall of Bath. Unfortunately, the painting did not stand the test of time. Only 6 years later, Hoare was writing to Pitt, now styled Lord Chatham, on September 26, 1772 to let him know that it would need to be re-done:

“…Mr. Brompton having informed me of the perished State of the Portrait I had the honour to draw for Your Lordship, I have the Mayors leave to borrow that which I did for the Town Hall, & will make an intire [sic] new one, with the utmost attention, & have the back of it painted over that it may last for ever." [2]

By the following February, William Hoare wrote to Lord Chatham to say that the painting had been completed. Apparently, it had been exposed to damp on the wall of the Bath Town Hall. The new version of the portrait would be sent to Chatham's Somersetshire estate at Burton Pynsent: 

“I have finished the Picture of Your Lordship which I desired to do to supply the place of the other which suffered from the damp of the Wall. It shall now have a sufficient priming behind, & it shall be sent to [Burton] Pyncent [sic] by the first good Opportunity. All in my house unite our best Respects to your Lordship, Lady Chatham, and the Young Gentlemen and Ladies." [3]

Lord Chatham was very unwell with a bad bout of 'gout' in early 1773, so his wife Lady Chatham wrote to thank William Hoare. The portrait was not yet sent to Burton Pynsent. In return, Hoare addressed a note to Lady Chatham from Bath on March 27, 1773. He mainly wanted to enquire when it could be sent to their estate:

“I have the favor of Your Ladyship’s very obliging Letter, and am very sorry that Lord Chatham has suffered with so grievous an Illness. I hope he will soon be free from it, with the advantage of this enlivening weather. My Picture is all ready. I am seeking an opportunity to send it and have one in view: I shall be very happy in Lord & Lady Chatham's approbation of it, which I have done with the utmost pleasure, and my greatest Respects accompany it. I shall ever retain the highest sense of their many Favours to me and mine. We All join with our best Respects to Lord and Lady Chatham, & to the Young Gentlemen & Ladies…" [4]

There the correspondence ends, and it isn't clear when the portrait was sent to Burton Pynsent. One such original Hoare portrait of William Pitt the Elder hangs in the reception parlour of The Royal Crescent Hotel in Bath. I had the unexpected pleasure of seeing it there during one of my stays at the hotel in 2013. The portrait may be over 240 years old, but it is still in very good condition. It would make Hoare proud.


1. Hoare MSS: PRO 30/70/5, f. 328. William Hoare to Lord Chatham, June 2, 1766. The National Archives. 

2. Hoare MSS: PRO 30/70/5, f. 337A. William Hoare to Lord Chatham, September 26, 1772. The National Archives. 

3. Hoare MSS: PRO 30/70/5, f. 337C. William Hoare to Lord Chatham, February 1773. The National Archives. 

4. Hoare MSS: PRO 30/70/5, f. 337E. William Hoare to Lady Chatham, March 27, 1773. The National Archives. 

9 January 2015

Lady Hester Stanhope's will

Lady Hester Stanhope's physician, Dr. Charles Meryon, wrote to her brother on April 29, 1825 to express his concern for her welfare. She was already in deep financial ruin, and she was fretting over what would happen to her beloved female companion, Miss Williams. Her faithful maid, secretary, companion, and friend had been with her since her uncle William Pitt was alive. Miss Williams was in Mr. Pitt's household first, and he took an exceptional interest in her and her sister Louisa, paying for their education and entire living expences. There was even the question of the parentage of the Williams sisters. Several great-nephews believed, by family tradition, that Pitt was the girls' father. Without any firm evidence, we may never know the truth of this rumour. There can be no doubt that Lady Hester Stanhope was extremely close to Elizabeth Williams, even referring to the girls as her "Childrenin a letter to William Dacres Adams

The immediate worry for Dr. Meryon in 1825 was Lady Hester's fretful state of affairs. Meryon wrote to Lord Stanhope, Hester's brother, confiding: “In another part, Lady H. makes the following apostrophe. “What wd. become of poor Williams if anything should happen to me! What means will she have of departing! Whom can she confide in, poor soul! This thought pains me often more than I can express!” [1]

Meryon felt it was necessary to send another English person out to be with Lady Hester Stanhope: "But enough has been said to shew the necessity there is that some English person should be sent out. For if Lady Hester’s anticipations are so melancholy as to what would happen to Miss Williams, if she were to die, it becomes a serious matter of consideration to Lady Hester’s friends what would happen to Lady H. herself if, by the death of Miss W. or by her departure, she (Lady H.) should be left in a manner deserted." [2] Whether her brother took the matter seriously, however, is questionable as it does not appear that any such person was ever sent to her. 

Miss Williams died after a brief illness in 1827, and Lady Hester survived - albeit in poor health - until 1839. In late 1839, the 5th Earl Stanhope, Lady Hester's nephew, was sorting out his aunt's will and affairs. Among Lady Hester’s papers at Coutts Bank, a will was found that was made in September 1807, several years prior to her departure from England. In it, she appointed her half-brothers, Charles and James, as her executors, and she left them all her weakened Fortune (which was gone long before her death). There was also a codicil whereby £500 would go to her Maid Miss Williams (who predeceased her), and a locket with Mr Pitt’s hair to the Duchess (by then a Dowager) of Richmond. [3]

Dr. Meryon, of course, went on to write her memoirs. Meryon knew a great deal about the friendship and long-term companionship of Lady Hester and Miss Williams. What more did he know, and not write?


1. The Kent History & Library Centre. Pitt MSS. Lady Hester Stanhope Papers: U1590/C235/1-3.

2. The Kent History & Library Centre. Pitt MSS. Lady Hester Stanhope Papers: U1590/C235/3.

3. Ibid.