There Must be No Children

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.

Holwood House was for sale in 2015 for £12 million. http://dailym.ai/1w9Vpys

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.”

 

The Real Regency Rake: Mad with Drink

“Rochester was drunk for five years continually. Mytton beat him by seven.”

—-Memoirs of the life of the late John Mytton, Nimrod

Mytton tossed onto the back of his wheeler horse while driving tandem drunk, and over a sunken fence.

Mytton tossed onto the back of his wheeler horse while driving tandem drunk, and over a sunken fence. Those wretched coattails just fly off one’s buttocks, don’t they?

How the devil does one stay inebriated continuously? John Mytton’s biographer Nimrod makes the stunning observation that there were few drunken parties at Halston, the rake’s country house. Indeed, he does not recall attending a single one even though Mytton’s best friends confirmed he was drunk almost all the time. There were two reasons for this:  Mytton was already drunk by the time his guests arrived and once they did, he wouldn’t sit still long enough for anyone to have a drink. He would jump out of a window or race off to the billiard table.

Mytton favored port wine and drank it all day as follows:

“He shaved with a bottle of it on his toilet; he worked steadily at it throughout the day, by a glass or two of it at a time, and at least a bottle of it with his luncheon; and the after dinner and after supper work — not losing site of it in the billiard room — completed the Herculean task.”

Nimrod goes on to speculate that it was the quality of the port wine Mytton drank, having aged about eight years, that took many years before it began to work against his constitution. William Pitt the Younger was known to be a “three-bottle man” for his consumption of port wine and it caught up to him in 1806 at the age of forty-seven, when he died looking more like he was seventy-seven. Nimrod believes it was the brandy Mytton eventually switched to that got the best of him in the end, citing the autopsy results (called an inquest upon the body at the time) that were widely published, perhaps as a cautionary tale.

I just love these old Pan covers--a store on High Street in Egham, Surrey had loads of them

I just love these old Pan covers–a store on High Street in Egham, Surrey had loads of them

Not attractive, even if he is a rake.But in the hands of a masterful artist like Georgette Heyer, our drunk has become something not only seductive, but dangerous.

The Marquis was drinking steadily. So were several others, notably Mr. Quarles, whose scowl deepened with each glass. On the Marquis, the wine seemed to have little or no effect. His hand was steady enough, and there was only that glitter in his eyes to betray to one who knew him how much he had drunk.

Devil’s Cub (1932)

Francis Chantrey – Sculptor to the Regency

In 1813, a newly made widow was journeying to Bath, accompanied by her young daughter. Ellen-Jane, for she was named after her mother, was perhaps unused to travelling. It may have even been the unfamiliar surroundings. One night, as she was preparing for bed, the little girl’s nightdress suddenly caught fire. She soon died of the burns she received. Distraught, the widow returned home to seek comfort in the company of her last remaining daughter, Marianne. Alas, a wretched illness overtook the child while they were in London. The widow had lost her entire family in the space of a few years.

Chantrey's Sleeping Children - photo licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)

Chantrey’s Sleeping Children – photo licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)

Look at those sleeping children; softly tread, Lest thou do mar their dream, and come not nigh
Till their fond mother, with a kiss, shall cry,  ‘Tis morn, awake! awake! Ah! they are dead!

William Lisle Bowles, chaplain to the Prince Regent

Untimely death was so very common in those days. However, this widow was determined her children would not be forgotten. She commissioned their likeness so their memory may live on. In death, their sculpture took the  ton by storm. By the time the Sleeping Children had been moved to the cathedral in Lichfield, the creator had become the new sculptor to the Regency:  Sir Francis Chantrey (1781 – 1841)

“Chantrey was designed by his father for the law; accident made him a carver in wood, poverty a painter, and his own genius a sculptor.” — The Eclectic Museum of Foreign Literature, Science and Art (vol. II, 1843)

His genius was clearly apparent in the tender simplicity expressed in his work. It is almost as if Chantrey was driven to create an unforgettable impression. Perhaps he had been moved by the widow’s fear her little girls would be forgotten, having been on this earth for such a short time. Indeed, it seems Chantrey was driven all his life to set portraits in stone before death destroyed the sitter’s flesh–and time his memory.

Chantrey’s sculptures of the Georgian era’s greatest figures still remain, even if their legacies are less certain: George III and his son, the Prince Regent. William Pitt the Younger and George Canning. They are also so numerous one can scarcely travel through England without encountering a roundabout circling “a Chantrey.”

The sculptor had a reputation for being blunt, which was somewhat surprising in a man who carved with such delicacy. That candor is perhaps a clue into his genius–a sign that Chantrey himself was suffering from an inordinate fear of being forgotten. It seems he felt that the ones who should remember him won’t. That the ones who he hoped loved him best will forsake his memory all too soon.

The acts of women in this regard seemed to have vexed him most particularly.

Grave of Marie Louise of Austria - Kaisergruft, Vienna

Grave of Marie Louise of Austria – Kaisergruft, Vienna

On several occasions he expressed extreme displeasure when any widow cast off her black weeds. His own mother had remarried after his father died, an act which he never forgave her for. Throughout the rest of her life he called her by her first married name–Mrs. Chantrey–and made certain all his letters to her were addressed in the same way. After he had become famous, his opinion on Napoleon’s widow remarrying made the rounds in Mayfair. His ideal was the famous Duchess of Marlborough, who swore never to remarry. Although her own architect (in a fit of temper) wished a Scottish ensign to have her, Sir Chantrey quite approved of the example she set.

When his own death approached, the sculptor took no chances. He drew up a will cutting off Lady Chantrey’s income if she should remarry. He had less success with the plans for his elaborate tomb. A close friend thought he was mad, not understanding how one should desire to be sealed up “like a toad in a stone for some future geologist to discover.”

But no marble tomb or bust encrusted with pigeon droppings can compare to the legacy Chantrey’s will created. Dutiful to the last, his widow left behind his fortune for the benefit of others. This bequest created and maintained England’s marvelous Tate Museum, an effort which continues to this day.

Thanks for the memories.

There’s a Tory in Lansdowne House

“Ah, Lord Grenville,” said Lady Portarles, as following a discreet knock, the clever, interesting head of the Secretary of State appeared in the doorway of the box, “you could not arrive more a propos. Here is Madame la Comtesse de Tournay positively dying to hear the latest news from France.”

The distinguished diplomat had come forward and was shaking hands with the ladies.

“Alas!” he said sadly, “it is of the very worst. The massacres continue; Paris literally reeks with blood; and the guillotine claims a hundred victims a day.”

The Scarlet Pimpernel, Baroness Orczy                                           File:1st Baron Grenville.jpg

The year was 1792 and Lord William Wyndham Grenville (1759 – 1834), First Baron Grenville, was Foreign Secretary.  He was a member of the Tory cabinet formed by Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger and was tasked with managing the blood bath and upheaval that was occurring on the Continent.  To complicate matters, there was conflict among the ministers.  Lord Grenville was positive that greater success against the French in the War of the First Coalition could be had with military action on the continent, as opposed to skirmishes at sea and jousting with the colonies as proxies.

He was up against Pitt’s great friend, Henry Dundas, First Viscount Melville and the kingdom’s Secretary of War:  “a man so profoundly ignorant of war that he was not even conscious of his own ignorance.”  Dundas was a wealthy man, purely by virtue of his first wife.  He divorced her over adultery, and ensured she would never see her children again.  This was a sentence imposed for the rest of her life.  She lived another sixty-nine years.

Pitt could not be persuaded to abandon Dundas, even when the man became instrumental in stopping all efforts to abolish the slave trade.  It is almost certain that at this time Grenville began to rethink his Tory connections.  Then came the King’s refusal to consider the question of Catholic emancipation and the Pitt government resigned.

A quiet interlude followed while Grenville was out of office.  A time for reflection and for preparation of his greatest life’s work that still lay ahead.  He had heard of the ideas being discussed in a Palladian home in Berkeley Square.  He did not have to visit there for long before he found himself surrounded by a circle of Whig supporters.

Grenville’s chance came in 1806 when Pitt died, leaving a vacuum of power.  Enter his lordship with the backing of Lansdowne House and he was elevated to the position of Prime Minister.  It was an extraordinary moment as he became head of a coalition government known as the “Ministry of All Talents.”  And none too soon.  War with France had reached a fever pitch and national unity was vital.  Grenville’s charm united politicians from almost every persuasion.  He even managed to placate His Majesty to accept such persons to whom he had been previously hostile.

It was then one of the most important goals cherished in Lansdowne House was achieved–the abolition of the slave trade.

In 1823 Grenville retired.  He and his wife withdrew, childless, to a country home he had built, Dropmore House, near Windsor Castle.  He established one of the largest stands of conifer trees in Britain at his pineturn there.

Sadly, Dropmore was badly damaged by a fire that took four days to put out in 1990. Another in 1997 left the house uninhabitable.  The property has since been restored by a developer interested in turning the mansion into luxury apartments.  It is a pity the firm in charge of this endeavor has gone into liquidation.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4y5fybV7vW4 at 52.51 is a lovely clip from the 1934 movie production of the Scarlet Pimpernel.  It is the ballroom scene in which his lordship plays a slight role.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AvctyYcUIaE at 6:03 is also a clip from the Dr. Who series showing the exterior of Dropmore before it was destroyed by fire.