12 February 2015

Lady Hester Stanhope's friendship with William Dacres Adams

The friendship between Pitt's niece Lady Hester Stanhope and Pitt's last private secretary William Dacres Adams continued long after Pitt's death. Although they first met in 1804, they quickly grew close to the point that Dacres Adams named his first-born son William Pitt Adams, with Lady Hester Stanhope acting as the boy's godmother. 

Sadly, Pitt's death at the end of January 1806 brought an end to one of the happiest times in both of their lives. Lady Hester was left in the difficult predicament of not knowing where she was going to be living, and Adams was temporarily without employment. Many years later, Adams would tell Lord Stanhope that Pitt's death was "the first great affliction" of his life. [1]

In the immediate aftermath of Pitt's decease, Lady Hester was staying at George Canning's house at South Hill, and on Sunday, 26 January 1806, she poured out her feelings to Adams: 

“…I am so anxious about Monday much less on my own account than upon another score, for be my fate what it may, I am prepared to meet the worst conscious that I have already received from Providence many blessings I do not deserve. Therefore, I have no right to expect more, yet my mind ever will retain its independence. You always temper the blast to the Shorn Lamb, and he has blessed me with a Spirit equal to bear any misfortune (unconnected with remorse) if I can support myself…You have no idea of the consolation it is to me that I received the last blessing of that beloved angel and that when forbid to see him (because it was thought he wd not know me) I took my own way and disobeyed continual commands. My voice recalled his scattered senses, and he was perfectly collected the Whole time I was with him, and when I departed and his ideas again became confused he continued to name me with affection. This proud prominence over the rest of the world will compensate me for many future sorrows which his loss must entail upon me.” [2]
She was right, for indeed Lady Hester Stanhope's life would never be the same after the loss of her beloved uncle. Around the time she later moved to Montagu Square, Lady Hester wrote to Adams, not forgetting his loyalty and kindness to her in a time of need:

 “…Believe me, I shall ever consider you amongst those few friends who are endeared to me by their sincere and disinterested attachment to that beloved angel [Pitt] who is no more. It would wound my feelings extremely if I c[oul]d suppose you thought because the tie is alas broken which first connected us, that let my fate in future be what it may, I s[houl]d ever lose sight of one who has uniformly shown him [Pitt] worthy of the confidence placed in him, and deserving of the friendship of the first mortals. This of itself wd be reason sufficient for me to continue to respect you as I have hitherto done. Did not the recollection of the many little kindnesses you have shewn me and my brothers have separate claims upon the friendship and good wishes of your ever sincere Friend, HLS.” [3]

When Lady Hester and her 'female companion' Miss Elizabeth Williams left England permanently in 1810, she inevitably lost touch with William Dacres Adams - but she never forgot him. Seven years later, in 1817, she asked her physician Dr. Meryon to write a letter to Adams on her behalf, and she dictated it to him. She was not a woman to easily forget those who hurt her, or helped her, through times of crisis. Adams was no exception. She wrote to Adams, reminding him that she “…never can forget that you were a kind friend to us in misfortune.” [4]

For his part, Adams retained his allegiance to Lady Hester throughout his long life. When in old age, Adams admitted to Earl Stanhope that he had heeded Lady Hester Stanhope's injunctions just after Pitt's death, and had kept a large stash of Pitt's private and political papers "in a cupboard the last half a century." [5]

It is fortunate for posterity that he heeded her advice, for many of Pitt's private papers in Adams' safekeeping have now been transferred by his descendants to The British Library. None of the papers have the trademark 'GL' to denote George, the Bishop of Lincoln's "approval" for them to be kept. Presumably, these were some of the papers that have escaped the flames of decimation.


1. William Dacres Adams to Philip Henry (5th Earl) Stanhope. Kent History & Library Centre, Stanhope of Chevening Manuscripts, Pitt MSS: U1590/C405/2.

2. Lady Hester Stanhope to William Dacres Adams. Sunday Night, 26 January 1806. The British Library. Dacres Adams MSS: 89036/2/1, Letters 1-29, ff. 10-10(i).

3. Lady Hester Stanhope to William Dacres Adams. [undated, but between 1806-8] The British Library. Dacres Adams MSS: 89036/2/3, f. 80.3.

4. Lady Hester Stanhope (in Dr. Meryon's handwriting) to William Dacres Adams. Mount Lebanon, January 3, 1817. The British Library. Dacres Adams MSS: 89036/2/3, f. 81.

5. William Dacres Adams to Philip Henry (5th Earl) Stanhope. Kent History & Library Centre, Stanhope of Chevening Manuscripts, Pitt MSS: U1590/C405/2.

9 February 2015

'The irregular hours of unfettered bachelordom': R. Guest Gornall on Pitt's health

William Pitt by W.H. Brown

In November 1957, R. Guest Gornall published an article in The Practitioner, Vol. 179 on the health of William Pitt the younger. Specifically, Gornall wanted to know what caused Pitt's early death at forty-six when both of his parents lived to old age. 

Was it hastened by the interminable all-night sittings in the House of Commons? Was it the inevitable consequence of the long-term stress associated with running a country for seventeen years? Did it result from the crushing disappointments of several failed coalitions, and the ill-fated Battle of Austerlitz? Perhaps a combination of all of the above? Or, could it have been something entirely different?

Whatever the actual cause of Pitt's death, we must be careful not to examine Pitt's medical conditions from a purely modern lens. With Pitt’s case in particular, recorded details of his health are vague. Physicians left little or no records, and biographers - lacking firm evidence - have focused on his political life instead. Indeed, Pitt himself persistently made light of his health to allay his mother’s fears. There could also have been a political motivation to downplay his health. He wanted others to believe he was in control, and could handle the pressures of office. [1]

Gornall believed that “the irregular hours of unfettered bachelordom"did not help Pitt's health. [2] It is questionable whether Pitt's marital state impinged upon his well-being, but it may have helped him to have a wife around to regulate his hours. 

So what were the potential causes of Pitt’s death?

Different explanations put forward have included a pyloric lesion (a recurring stomach ulcer), infective endocarditis (a heart infection),  and Typhus fever. 

William was not without his fair share of physicians. Dr. Anthony Addington was his childhood doctor until the age of fourteen, and Dr. Robert Glynn attended him at Pembroke Hall during his illness in the autumn of 1773. Dr. Hunter removed a cyst from Pitt's cheek in September 1786, and Sir Walter Farquhar was Pitt's personal physician from the mid-1790s up until his death. Lastly, Dr. Mathew Baillie (a nephew of the Hunters) and Henry Revell Reynolds examined Pitt at Putney in January 1806. 

From the 1950s medical opinion R. Guest Gornall consulted, he concluded that “a recurring upper gastro-intestinal lesion," accompanied by “cardio-respiratory changes hinted at in the final medical bulletins” (The Gentleman’s Magazine, 1806) caused Pitt's early demise. [3]

This post is primarily about Gornall's opinion, and obviously medical science has improved since that time. Nevertheless, at this distance, we cannot be certain what caused Pitt’s death. In line with Lord Liverpool's opinion, I doubt whether retirement from public office would have greatly protracted Pitt's life.


1. R. Guest Gornall (1927) 'The Prime Minister's Health: William Pitt the Younger,' The Practitioner, Vol. 179, p. 4

2. Ibid, p. 5. 

3. Ibid, p. 7.

8 February 2015

William Pitt's association with Lincolns Inn

The admissions register at Lincolns Inn Library shows that William Pitt, the second son of the Right Hon. William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, was admitted on 28 January 1777; at the time of his entry, he held an MA from Pembroke College, Cambridge [1]. This information corresponds with a letter from Pitt's mother Hester, Countess of Chatham to Mrs. Pitt, dated 30 January 1777. In the postscript of her letter, the Countess of Chatham proudly boasts that, "William is gone this morning to keep his Term in Lincolns Inn...He is not quite 18." [2] Perhaps he was entered in the register on the 28th, but did not make his way there until several days later. 

By the end of 1779, William was residing at Lincolns Inn the majority of the time. He wrote to his mother on December 18, 1779, informing her of his address: 

“My Time has been pretty much taken up by establishing myself in my new Quarters here, and by my frequent Attendance on the debates…My Abode is for the present known by the name of Stone Buildings, Lincolns Inn." [3]

The Black Books at Lincolns Inn indicate that he was called to the Bar on 12 June 1780. Other interesting and less well-known information regarding William's association with Lincolns Inn is that he was made a bencher of the Inn on the 28th of November 1782; his coat of arms were put up in the Hall on 14th May 1783, and the Inn received £9 9s 10d from Pitt as rent for his chambers in 4 Stone Buildings. [4] It is also known that Pitt was made Keeper of the Black Book for 1789, Dean of Chapel for 1790, Treasurer in 1794, Master of the Library in 1795, and Master of the Walks in 1796.[5] Lastly, the Black Books record that Pitt made a payment of £2 13s 4d for his chamber, supper, and purse on 6th November 1795. [6] After that date, it seems nothing further is recorded of Pitt's association with Lincolns Inn.


1. This information was obtained from Robert Athol, the Archives and Records Manager at Lincolns Inn Library.

2. Hester, Countess of Chatham to Mrs. Pitt. 30 January 1777. British Library Add Ms 59490, f. 38. 

3. William Pitt to his mother Hester, Countess of Chatham. 18 December 1779, PRO 30/8/12, f. 127.

4-6. I am indebted once again to Robert Athol, the Archives and Records Manager at Lincolns Inn Library.

3 February 2015

Remember William Pitt at Walmer Castle on the 200th Anniversary of Waterloo

Detail of the original covering on William Pitt's chairs at Walmer Castle

Most of the buildings once associated with William Pitt the younger are sadly no more. Whether they've been demolished - like Hayes Place, Lauriston House, or Bowling Green House - or destroyed by fire - as was the case with Pitt's Holwood - little remains to posterity. Even Warren House, Dundas's Wimbledon villa from 1785 until 1806, has been altered beyond recognition. Now called Cannizaro House Hotel, the former Warren House, or 'The Warren,' was ravaged by flames on 14th October 1900. [1] 

By the beginning of 1806, Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville was grief-stricken over Pitt's death, and facing corruption charges due to financial mismanagement whilst he acted as Treasurer of the Navy. His dwindling finances also compelled him to downsize to a smaller property at Wimbledon before returning to Scotland. The fourth Earl of Aberdeen, then Lord Haddo, wrote from Warren House on 25th January 1806, two days after Pitt's passing, speaking of Melville's despair: 

"I never witnessed grief more poignant; he [Melville] almost wished to a general apathy to come upon him as the only relief, and declared that if he lived a hundred years it would be impossible to remain an hour without having the image of Mr. Pitt in his mind. He was glad to hasten out of this house [Melville's house at Wimbledon] where every object recalled him, indeed when I recollect that at the [oe] on which I write, I have seen him a thousand times, the bitterness of grief is past endurance..." [2] 

Around the same time, Lord Melville wrote to William Huskisson to the same effect:

"I am certainly very miserable, and as there is not an hour of my life for these twenty four years past that does not at this moment and for ever continue to bring his [Pitt's] image to my Mind, I cannot summon up or suggest to myself any Recourse from which I can recollect a Ray of consolation...I must wait for that Species of Apathy which buries every thing past in one indiscriminate Oblivion." [3] 

It is almost impossible not to be affected when one reads this genuine expression of loss. 

The young Lord Haddo took over as the lease-holder of Warren House after Melville could not continue in that place. [4] Many years later, in 1852 the 4th Earl of Aberdeen (the former Haddo), would become Prime Minister, but this was long after his time spent at Wimbledon with his guardians Pitt and Dundas. 

A portrait of William Pitt hangs above his gaming table, chairs, and prints at Walmer Castle

What does remain in relation to William Pitt? In London, there is inevitably Number 10 Downing Street, and number 6 (now number 47) Berkeley Square, the home of Pitt's brother John, second Earl of Chatham. William lived with his brother there for a time. Outside of London, there is Burton Pynsent, the Somerset estate of Pitt's parents, but that is a private residence, and not accessible to the public. What is left? Arguably, the only public space where William Pitt's presence can still be seen is at Walmer Castle in Kent. The castle is currently undergoing major refurbishments in preparation for the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. Pitt's time as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports was recorded in diaries of local residents, correspondence, and colonels commanding battalions of Cinque Port Volunteers under Pitt. 

There are still items of Pitt's furniture at Walmer Castle, and these include Pitt's travelling camp chair, writing desks, pembroke tables, a dining room table, and about twenty chairs scattered about in various rooms. Although the dining room chairs have been reupholstered in the nineteenth century, several still have Pitt's original green and white striped fabric with interweaving leaves. Pitt was fond of the colour green, the beauties of nature, and experiments with leaves, so it comes as little surprise that his choice of household decoration would match this interest. 

It will be exciting to see the changes at Walmer Castle later this year. Although Mr. Pitt died in 1806, nine years before the Battle of Waterloo, remember the sacrifices he made, and the political inheritances he left behind. Amongst recollections of later Lord Wardens such as Winston Churchill, the Queen Mother, and the Duke of Wellington, please also remember Mr. Pitt.


1. Matthews, T. (2010) Cannizaro: Beyond the Gates. Wesley, Surrey: Wimbledon Society Museum Press, p. 38.

2.  Aberdeen Papers, BL Add Ms 43337. Aberdeen's 'Memorandum on Politics.' Entry for 25th January 1806.

3. Lord Melville to William Huskisson, 28 January 1806. Huskisson Papers, BL Add Ms 38759.

4. Matthews, T. (2010) Cannizaro: Beyond the Gates. Wesley, Surrey: Wimbledon Society Museum Press, p. 35.

N.B.: All images were taken by me during a visit to Walmer Castle.