When on holiday, it is a good thing to pass the time with friends.
Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger (1759 – 1806) achieved his political fame at a very early age. Thus, his circle of friends and allies was comprised of generally young men–former schoolmates and up-and-coming politicians. As comforting as loyal company was, however, Pitt occasionally needed a break from it all.
The following video illustrates the tumult of No. 10 Downing Street rather well:
When Pitt sought relief in the country, he not only enjoyed the change of scenery, but the change of company as well. There was riding, dogs and dining with the large families of the district. Laddishness was exchanged for domestic tranquility.
Holwood, Pitt’s country estate, is about fourteen and a half miles from London Bridge down to Keston, the nearest village. In his time, the road used to pass a Roman encampment called Caesar’s Camp which the prime minister eventually had enclosed in his property there.
As an aside, many remarkable objects had been retrieved from the site over the years–tiles, broken bits of pottery and coins–inspiring a group of enthusiasts to formally get together to try to preserve it.
‘We have not heard much of the results from them beyond some agreeable meetings.’ — Handbook to the Environs of London, Murray (1876)
Agreeable meetings can sometimes make up for lack of progress. My own experience is proof of that.
Also in the neighborhood of Holwood were other country estates, such as historic Breckenham, once the home of Henry VIII’s boon companion, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. Nearer was Eden Farm, a manor set a park of 130 acres. This estate was sort of a stopover for many dignitaries and other famous persons transiting the country, for Lord Aukland, the owner, was a member of the influential Eden family. Pitt would often take his dinner there, spending the night afterwards, even though his own house was close by.
One of Pitt’s protégés, George Canning, (whose supernatural exploits have been previously addressed in this blog), was not content to remain in London, cooling his heels and waiting for the return of his master. Upon visiting Holwood, he made a startling discovery:
“… a rare development in Pitt’s life–an apparently close friendship with a woman.”
— William Pitt the Younger, by William Hague( (2004)
The lady in question was Lord Aukland’s daughter, Eleanor Agnes. Pitt’s sojourns to the country took on an entirely different meaning, touching off all kinds of rumors and disquiet, particularly among those left behind in London.
Pitt made a point to deny a serious attachment, to his laddish friends as well as to the outraged father. Indeed, he seemed more horrified than the poor girl, snuffing out their friendship as if he’d been caught doing something forbidden.
Writing to her father, he was unable to repeat her very name:
“It can hardly, I think, be necessary to say that the time I have passed among your family has led to my forming sentiments of very real attachment towards them all, and of much more than attachment towards one whom I need not name…”
— Wiliiam Pitt the Younger, to Lord Aukland, 20 January 1797
Of course, the abrupt nature of Pitt’s action, ending the connection, led to increased speculation. He only added fuel to the fire when he stated that continuing the connection was made quite impossible by “insurmountable obstacles.”
“He never touched a woman,” one of his cronies said, that rascal Dundas.
It was an awkward, blundering action by one who was erudite and masterful in his dealings with others. The ax he let fall between himself and Eleanor points to a troubled past–one he could not allow another to be made to suffer by it.
ITV’s television series, Number 10, starring the incomparable Jeremy Brett as William Pitt, the Younger, explains:
“There must be no children.”