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.


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