PITT, George (1663-1735), of Strathfieldsaye, Hants.
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Family and Education
b. 18 June 1663, 1st s. of George Pitt† of Strathfieldsaye and Duke Street, Westminster by Jane, da. of John Savage†, 2nd Earl Rivers, wid. of George Brydges, 6th Baron Chandos, and Sir William Sedley, 4th Bt., of Southfleet, Kent. educ. I. Temple 1673; Wadham, Oxf. 1680. m. (1) lic. 14 Mar. 1691, Lucy (d. 1697), da. of Thomas Pile of Baverstock, Wilts., wid. of Laurence Lowe of Shaftesbury, Dorset, 2s. 1da.; (2) by 1700, Lora (d. 1750), da. and h. of Audley Grey of Kingston Marwood, Dorset, 4s. (1 d.v.p.) 5da. (1 d.v.p.). suc. fa. 1694.1
Freeman, Portsmouth 1702, Southampton 1710.2
Commr. taking subscriptions to S. Sea Co. 1711; dir. S. Sea Co. 1711–18; commr. building 50 new churches by 1716.3
On his father’s death in 1694 Pitt became head of the senior branch of his family. He inherited great landed wealth, estimated at between £10,000 and £12,000 a year, including Strathfieldsaye, his principal seat, the estates of Wareham priory, with the advowsons of three of the town’s churches, which conferred a strong electoral influence there, and valuable collieries in north Durham. A fortunate first marriage led to the acquisition for his son of the reversion to the Dorset estates of Thomas Freke I*, and his second marriage brought him even more property in that county.4
Pitt’s early parliamentary career was blighted by a tragic incident in 1692, when he killed a man after a tavern quarrel. The victim, John Hoyle of the Inner Temple, a controversial figure described by one contemporary as ‘an atheist, a sodomite . . . and a blasphemer’, had offended the young Pitt, ‘o’ercome with wine and loyalty’, by his ‘scurrilous’ references to the monarchy. Pitt fled the scene but was soon arrested, and later in the year was convicted of manslaughter. Although he obtained a pardon almost immediately, the affair did not die down and as late as 1696 there remained, apparently, the chance of a retrial. The notoriety attaching to Pitt as a consequence of this episode may explain his slowness in coming to prominence in the Commons, and his habitual aversion to facing a contested parliamentary election. He was first returned for the venal borough of Stockbridge at a by-election in 1694, transferring his attention to Wareham at the next general election, in which he canvassed but may not have gone to a poll. Afterwards he concluded an agreement with the other patron at Wareham, Thomas Erle*, not to oppose each other’s interest, and in 1698 he was safely chosen. He was classed as a supporter of the Country party in a comparative analysis of the old and new Parliaments, and was forecast as a likely opponent of the standing army. In an analysis of the House into interests of early 1700, a query was placed against his name. Continuing to represent Wareham in the two 1701 Parliaments, he was listed with the Tories by Robert Harley* and on 26 Feb. 1702 voted for the motion vindicating the Commons’ proceedings over the impeachments of the ousted Whig ministers.5
The Tory ascendancy after the accession of Queen Anne enabled Pitt to become knight of the shire in 1702, when he was also successful again at Wareham. From this Parliament onwards ‘Mr Pitt’ figures frequently in the more important business in the Journals, and although George Pitt was joined in the Commons first by his own brother John and then by cousin ‘Governor’ Pitt (Thomas I) and his sons (and after 1710 by Samuel Pytts*), there can be little doubt that some at least of these references should apply to the squire of Strathfieldsaye, especially in the 1702 Parliament, when only John of the other Pitts was a Member. In March 1704 ‘Mr Pitt’ acted as teller twice in support of a private bill to recompense the heirs of a veteran of the Derry garrison, and by implication in favour of hearing the report of the Irish forfeitures trustees; and on 25 Nov. 1704 came a further tellership, for excusing Sir Arthur Owen’s defaulting in attendance. Pitt voted on 13 Feb. 1703 against the Lords’ amendments to the bill enlarging the time for taking the oath of abjuration, but was sufficiently moderate to continue supporting the administration the following year. Listed in October 1704 as a probable opponent of the Tack, he appeared on Harley’s lobbying list, and did not vote for it on 28 Nov. Long before the 1705 election he had retreated from the county, where a contest was shaping, to the comparative safety of Wareham, where he replaced a Whig, Sir Edward Ernle, 3rd Bt., his election being counted as a loss by Lord Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*). He voted against the Court candidate in the division on the Speaker on 25 Oct. 1705, repaying a debt of honour after the Tory candidate, William Bromley II, had in the preceding session piloted through a private bill concerning his son’s inheritance. He may have been the ‘Mr Pitt’ recorded as a teller three times in this session, all on the Tory side: on 6 and 20 Dec. over the Hertford and Okehampton elections respectively; and on 13 Feb. 1706 against agreeing with an amendment from the committee on the recruiting bill. In February and March 1708, a year when he was twice listed as a Tory, there were three more such tellerships: against the committal of the Tone navigation bill (12 Feb.); in support of a complaint from Lord Bulkeley (Richard, 4th Viscount*) against the behaviour of Serjeant Hooke on circuit at Beaumaris (9 Mar.); and against passing the bill to improve the New England trade (17 Mar.). He remained as Member for Wareham in the 1708 Parliament, voting against Dr Sacheverell’s impeachment in 1710.6
Meanwhile, in September 1706, Pitt had been appointed guardian to the younger children of ‘Governor’ Pitt, still in India, whose family in England was torn with disputes. In January 1708 the eldest son, Robert*, wrote to his father that ‘cousin George Pitt . . . has shown himself friendly and zealous for the good of your family above expectation’. The irascible governor always treated ‘Mr Pitt of Strathfieldsaye’ with the greatest respect, amounting almost to deference, and in 1710 even the famous Pitt diamond was briefly entrusted to his care (see PITT, Thomas I).7
The Sacheverellite fever of 1710 persuaded Pitt to stand for knight of the shire once more, on the Tory interest, though he kept his seat at Wareham as insurance. In fact he topped the poll for the county. He was classed as a Tory in the ‘Hanover list’, and on 25 Nov. seconded the motion nominating his friend Bromley as Speaker. Shortly afterwards he gave vent to his impatience at the new ministry’s moderation by moving, in December 1710, the appropriation of the entire yield of the land tax to the support of the navy. But, according to the Hanoverian resident Kreienberg, who described him as ‘gentilhomme fort riche, Tory du premier ordre’, he ‘ne fut pas seulement écouté’, the idea was rejected by a combination of the Court interest and the Whigs. Pitt was listed as one of the ‘worthy patriots’ who in this first session exposed the mismanagements of the previous ministry, and was a member of the October Club. In the crisis over the peace in December 1711 he did not join ‘Governor’ Pitt in voting with the Whigs. He was involved in the setting up of the South Sea Company, and it was even rumoured at the turn of the year that he would be one of the new peers created to give the Court a majority in the Lords. But by the following April he was a leader of the March Club, installed in the chair at an early meeting of the club, and possibly telling on 4 Apr. 1712 in favour of a measure sponsored by the club to facilitate Quakers voting in parliamentary elections. A later tellership can be attributed with complete confidence: on 15 Apr., to commit the bill amending a clause in the Act for further regulating elections, which had enabled polls in Hampshire to be adjourned to Newport in the Isle of Wight. On 16 May 1713 a ‘Mr Pitt’ acted as a Tory teller against a proposed Whig amendment to the section of the report of the commission of accounts which related to Lord Wharton (Hon. Thomas*). With the rest of the family, Pitt opposed the French commerce bill on 18 June 1713. He was noted as a ‘whimsical’.8
Pitt withdrew again to Wareham in 1713, having ‘excused himself from standing for the county of Hampshire’ as early as March 1712, and having resisted all Tory pressure to revoke his decision. He voted on 18 Mar. 1714 against the expulsion of Richard Steele, and was probably responsible for two speeches in April, one on the trade with Spain, and the other, on 22 Apr., in the major debate on the Lords’ address on the peace, both occasions on which ‘Governor’ Pitt also made contributions. ‘Mr Pitt’ was named twice as a teller in this Parliament, also in April: on the 7th, for committing the bill to prevent wool smuggling, a topic in which there had been family interest in the previous session; and on the 21st, against issuing the Clitheroe election writ. In the Worsley list George Pitt was classed as a Whig who had often voted with the Tories in the 1713 Parliament and might do so in the next. In two other comparative analyses of the Parliaments of 1713 and 1715 he was classed as a ‘whimsical Whig’ and as a Whig tout court. But after 1715 he consistently voted against administration.9
Pitt died on 28 Feb. 1735 and was buried at Stinsford in Dorset.10
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: D. W. Hayton
- 1. Hutchins, Dorset, iv. 91; St. Paul’s Covent Garden (Harl. Soc. Reg. xxxiii), 20.
- 2. R. East, Portsmouth Recs. 373; Southampton RO, Southampton bor. recs. SC3/2, f. 44.
- 3. Pittis, Present Parl. 351.
- 4. G. Holmes and W. A. Speck, Divided Soc. 151; Procs. Dorset Nat. Hist. and Arch. Soc. lxxv. 115–17; Hutchins, i. 87; iv. 89; CJ, xiv. 424.
- 5. CSP Dom. 1691–2, pp. 343, 355, 408; 1696, pp. 200, 255; Works of Sir Charles Sedley ed. De Sola Pinto, i. 32–34, 276–80; Luttrell, Brief Relation, ii. 464, 498; Cal. Treas. Bks. x. 49.
- 6. Bath mss at Longleat House, Thynne pprs. 18, f. 29; CJ, xiv. 425, 440, 443, 479.
- 7. HMC Fortescue, i. 21–22, 33–34, 43; C. N. Dalton, Life of Thomas Pitt, 422.
- 8. HMC Portland, iv. 599; EHR, lvi. 82; CJ, xvi. 401; NSA, Kreienberg despatch 15 Dec. 1710; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 75, 342, 469; Verney Letters 18th Cent. i. 273; Holmes and Speck, 151; Boyer, Pol. State, vi. 29.
- 9. Beaufort mss at Badminton House, Beaufort to Edward Lisle, 28 Mar. 1712, to [–], 1 Mar. 1713; HMC 15th Rep. VII, 213–16; Douglas diary (Hist. of Parl. trans.), 22 Apr. 1714.
- 10. Hutchins, iv. 91.