Hester, Countess of Chatham in ceremonial robes by William Hoare, c. 1766
1766 was when Hester’s husband (William Pitt the Elder) became Earl of Chatham. This is the companion portrait of him:
The Battle of the Nile
1 August 1798
The Battle of the Nile began on this day in maritime history, 1 August 1798. The battle, also known as the Battle of Aboukir Bay, saw the British Royal Navy under Horatio Nelson prevail over the Navy of the French Republic in battle that concluded on 3 August. The battle was the climax of a naval campaign that had ranged across the Mediterranean during the previous three months, as a large French convoy sailed from Toulon to Alexandria carrying an expeditionary force under then General Napoleon Bonaparte. The British victory at the Battle of the Nile effectively put an end to Napoleon’s invasion of the Middle East and made Nelson a war hero in the British Empire.
An interesting eyewitness account by a visiting American, from June 1805.
Although Mr. Pitt remained silent with respect to the motion on the state of the army, I had the pleasure of hearing this great man speak a few minutes on a petition which he handed in. There was nothing in the subject which called for a display of eloquence; he made simply a statement of facts, but this served to identify his voice and manner. In his person he is tall and spare; he has small limbs, with large knees and feet; his features are sharp; his nose large, pointed, and turning up; his complexion sanguine; his voice deep-toned and commanding, yet sweet and perfectly well modulated, and his whole presence, notwithstanding the want of symmetry in his limbs, is, when he rises to speak, full of superiority and conscious dignity. I had a distinct view of him for six hours, during which time he sat directly before me. His dress was a blue coat with metallic buttons, a white vest, black satin breeches, and white silk stockings, with large buckles in his shoes. His hair was powdered. Notwithstanding the violence of the opposition, and their having been so long accustomed to his voice, when he rose, the House became so quiet, that a whisper might have been heard from any part. He was very deliberate, so that not a word was lost; still energy was his most striking characteristic.
Mr. Fox was also present. His person is very lusty. His neck is short,—his head large, round, and now quite grey,—his chest is broad and prominent, and his body and limbs vast and corpulent, even for England. His complexion is dark,—his features large,—eyes blue, close together, and of uncommon size, and his whole appearance peculiar, noble, and commanding. His hair was not powdered;—he wore a blue coat, with buff cassimere under dress, and white silk stockings.
I saw him in numerous situations, for he seemed very uneasy, and changed his place many times: he walked about—went out and came in—went up gallery and down, and was almost constantly in motion. He spoke a few minutes on a petition from a person imprisoned in Ireland for treason. His remarks were very pertinent to the case; his manner flowing, easy, and natural, but without the dignity and impressiveness of Pitt. He stood leaning forward, as if going up hill, and his fists were clenched and thrust into his waistcoat pockets. The caricatures both of him and Mr. Pitt are very correct, with the usual allowance for the extravagance of this kind of prints.
From A Journal of Travels in England, Holland and Scotland, vol 1, by Benjamin Silliman.
I tell you, Citizens, we mean to new-dress the Constitution, and turn it, and set a new Nap upon it.
Robespierre’s Reign of Terror spawned an evil little twin in William Pitt the Younger’s Reign of Alarm, 1792-1798 … Many lives and careers were ruined in Britain as a result of the alarmist regime Pitt set up to suppress domestic dissent while waging his disastrous wars against republican France. Liberal young writers and intellectuals whose enthusiasm for the American and French revolutions raised hopes for Parliamentary reform at home saw their prospects blasted. Over a hundred trials for treason or sedition (more than ever before or since in British history) were staged against ‘the usual suspects’ - that is, political activists. But other, informal, vigilante means were used against the ‘unusual suspects’ …: jobs lost, contracts abrogated, engagements broken off, fellowships terminated, inheritances denied, and so on and on. As in the McCarthy era in 1950s America, blacklisting and rumor-mongering did as much damage as legal repression. Dozens of ‘almost famous’ writers saw their promising careers nipped in the bud: people like Helen Maria Williams, James Montgomery, William Frend, Gilbert Wakefield, John Thelwall [pictured by Gillray, above], Joseph Priestley, Dr. Thomas Beddoes, Francis Wrangham and many others…From the blurb to a book I haven’t read yet, Unusual Suspects: Pitt’s Reign of Alarm and the Lost Generation of the 1790s, by Kenneth R. Johnston (2013).
The Home Secretary at the time was the Duke of Portland. This is what his biographer has to say about “Pitt’s Terror”:
The [Parliamentary Secret Committee, 1799] concluded … that there existed ‘the clearest proofs of a systematic design … to overturn the laws, constitution and government’ of Britain and Ireland … Although historians have not accepted the full extent of the committee’s arguments … the insurrectionary dangers of the later 1790s are no longer dismissed as alarmist delusions or cynical inventions. The ensuing round of repressive legislation, though offensive to liberal consciences, appeared justified to many contemporaries. Indeed, the tone of recent analysis has not turned so much upon disputes about the seriousness of the threat, as upon the individual historian’s viewpoint on the question whether the avoidance of revolution in Britain was a lamentable misfortune or a commendable triumph.From The Duke of Portland, by David Wilkinson (2003).
The coalition between Portland and Pitt certainly played a significant role in the prevention of revolution in Britain. The most serious accusation against this ministry is that unnecessarily repressive policies actually created the revolutionary danger which in turn necessitated further repression. There is some validity in this interpretation, but it hinges on the notion that gradual and progressive change was both desirable and feasible at this time. Although the British reform movement, by and large, expressed genuine abhorrence at revolutionary violence in its early stages, it nevertheless constituted a radical threat to established authority. Parliamentary reform was not a viable option under prevailing circumstances. Patriotism provided a potent line of argument that reform was a damaging distraction during wartime. Extra-parliamentary pressure could not elicit sufficient support at Westminster: the disintegration of the Whig party and the formation of the Pitt-Portland coalition made that fact patently obvious. Agitation if left unchecked must therefore have led to conflict with parliament and the crown … The mass protests of 1795 could not be ignored; and, sweeping as the provisions of the Gagging Acts undoubtedly were, they embodied an honourable objective of minimising the encroachment on civil liberties. Likewise, powers under the suspension of habeas corpus were exercised, in George III’s phrase, ‘with the greatest moderation’.
Francis II,William Pitt
manga by tetsuya hasegawa
You’re my bess mate, you are… lessgo fight the French.
You may remember you promised me the use of your Anderson’s Dictionary of Commerce, which you fancied was in your London collection. If you can find it and spare it, and will trust me with it, pray send it to Savile Street. Send me word at the same time that I shall see you at Brighton. I shall be in town to-morrow, and probably set out on Thursday.
Brighthelmstone, Wednesday, Aug 6, 1783.Dear Wilberforce,
Anderson’s Dictionary I have received, and am much obliged to you for it. I will return it safe, I hope not dirtied, and possibly not read.
Ever sincerely yrs,
William Henry Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland, (1738–1809). Served as First Lord of the Treasury (ie Prime Minister) in 1783 (as a Whig - this was the famous Fox-North coalition), and again from 1807 to 1809 (as a Tory). The 24 years between these two terms is the longest gap between terms of office of any Prime Minister.
When he took office for the second time, in March 1807, these verses appeared in the Morning Chronicle:
BY THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
Full well I know the people say,
That “P——-d’s Duke has had his day,
”He totters on a crutch;
“His brain, by sickness long depressed,
“Has lost the sense it once possessed,
Though that’s not losing much.
“Let him, in his official seat,
“Again attempt to lie and cheat,
”To fawn and lick the dust;
“He’s too well known to be believed,
“And none, you know, can be deceived
”By him whom none can trust.”
But spite of all the world can say,
My talents yet feel no decay,
They’re what they were before;
And now, at sixty nine, I still
Can fold my paper, point my quill;—
And when did I do more?
Large parties, too, I still invite,
Nor these as services too slight,
Ye Tory friends, contemn;
The Whigs, those Whigs who knew me well
For thirty tedious years, can tell
I did no more for them.
Then what’s such idle talk about,
Think ye that age shall keep me out,
No! if so old I grow,
Less time to lose I thence infer,
And as to friends and character,
I lost them long ago.