PITT, Robert (c.1680-1727), of Golden Square, London; Forty Hall, Forty Hill, nr. Enfield, Mdx.; and Mawarden Court, Stratford sub Castle, Wilts.
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Family and Education
b. c.1680, 1st s. of Thomas Pitt I*. educ. L. Inn 1705. m. c.Dec. 1703 (with £3,000), Harriet (d. 1736), da. of Brig.-Gen. the Hon. Edward Fitzgerald Villiers of Dromana, co. Waterford, sis. of John Fitzgerald Villiers, 5th Visct. Grandison [I] and 1st Earl of Grandison [I], 2s. 5da. suc. fa. 1726.1
Clerk of Household to Prince of Wales 1716–d.
Pitt accompanied his father to India in 1698, setting up as a ‘free merchant’ in Fort St. George. By 1702 he had made some £6,000, mostly in voyages to China, but had tired of the life and jumped at the chance to chaperon the Pitt diamond back to England (see PITT, Thomas I). He was also given responsibility for the administration of the family’s affairs in England, superseding his mother, whom ‘Governor’ Pitt believed guilty of gross mismanagement. He returned home, therefore, burdened with detailed instructions and expected to transmit regular reports. Unhappily, he did not live up to the hopes of his father, who was soon finding fault. Since ‘Governor’ Pitt was also ill-tempered and rough-tongued, the rebukes came thick and fast. Robert had been ‘strictly enjoined’ to ‘be dutiful to your mother, and loving to your brothers and sisters’, and advised to ‘enter the inns of court, and go to Oxford’ to study law, fortification and gunnery. Instead, he quarrelled with his mother, brother and sisters, so that family relationships fell into ‘hellish confusion’, and, assuming he already possessed sufficient education, only bothered to have himself admitted to Lincoln’s Inn before embarking on the life of a man of fashion. He was repeatedly reproved for failing in his filial duties, for neglecting business and, above all, for his extravagance. His marrying so soon after his arrival in England provoked his father to harsh criticism. Equally infuriating was his expenditure on elections at Old Sarum, where, to be fair, he did succeed in vanquishing all challenges to the Pitt interest, an achievement which had eluded his mother and her advisers.2
In the Commons, too, Pitt was sorely to disappoint his father, though from one corner at least there came a favourable account of his debut. Sir Gilbert Dolben* informed Thomas Pitt in January 1706 of his pleasure in observing
Mr [Robert] Pitt’s diligence and integrity in Parliament, wherein I doubt not but he will, in a little time, become considerable, since his parts and application cannot fail of rendering him knowing in the business of the House of Commons. He already attempts to speak where it is proper, and will succeed very well as soon as he shall have overcome the maiden modesty of a new Member.
Other reports, however, were more disquieting. ‘Governor’ Pitt objected to his son’s behaviour in Parliament on two counts. First, there was his partisanship. Classed as a ‘Churchman’ in a list of the new Parliament, he voted against the Court candidate in the division on the Speaker on 25 Oct. 1705 and quickly enlisted in the ranks of the Tories. ‘I have been often thinking’, ran an admonishing letter from the ‘Governor’ in 1707,
what box you have got into in the House of Commons. I am afraid you are one of those children that are awakened with the rattle that is commonly naming the Church of England . . . which . . . is often named within those walls to bring over a party . . . And it is the custom of old stagers to make use of such forward fellows as yourself (as the fox did the cat’s foot) to try the temper of the House . . . I cannot imagine what has made you an anti-courtier.
The following year Robert, again listed as a Tory, was upbraided for ‘taking up with factious cabals’. Certainly he obtained some prominence on the Tory side, moving on 14 Dec. 1708 the vote of thanks to John Richmond Webb* for his victory at Wynendael. In 1710 he voted against the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell. His activities in this and the preceding Parliament are impossible to distinguish from those of the head of the senior branch of the family, George Pitt* of Strathfieldsaye, a problem exacerbated in later Parliaments by the election of his own father and younger brother, but according to his father’s information he spoke frequently. This was a further grievance. ‘For God’s sake’, Thomas Pitt begged Dolben, ‘advise . . . against his prating in Parliament till he is master of the orders of the House, and knows who and who is together, and that he can speak to the purpose.’ Robert received the same advice more than once directly from his father, but seems to have ignored it. As another of his father’s correspondents wrote: ‘he has a great deal of wit, but wants solid wisdom’.3
By the time ‘Governor’ Pitt himself returned to England in 1710, Robert had become somewhat more amenable to his father’s direction. Partly this was due to financial pressure. In 1707 he had been forced to give up his house in Golden Square and remove to Enfield, where he lived like ‘a good country gentleman’, attempting economy and ‘labouring under the discontent and dread’ of his father’s displeasure ‘for every penny that supplies even his most urgent necessities’. Eventually this house too had to be abandoned, and he was given a home under his father’s roof. He even achieved a reconciliation with his siblings, but in politics he remained a Tory, being classed as such in the ‘Hanover list’, and being subsequently listed as one of the ‘worthy patriots’ who in the first session exposed the maladministration of the previous Whig government. He was also a member of the October Club. For a time there appear to have been no further family difficulties on this score. In June 1712 he drafted a fiercely Tory address in support of the peace for the corporation of Salisbury, as part of his campaign against the Fox interest there; and a month later he was named as one of the commissioners for the two state lotteries. Yet on 18 June 1713 he voted against the French commerce bill, supposedly as a Whig like his father, and in the general election he found himself strongly opposed in Salisbury by a former Tory ally, the Duke of Beaufort. One reason for Beaufort’s opposition was Pitt’s vote over the commerce bill; another, and more important, reason was to prevent Pitt’s Whig brother-in-law James Stanhope* from being brought in at Old Sarum, by forcing Pitt himself back to the pocket borough, a move that Beaufort and his candidate, Richard Jones*, successfully accomplished. Pitt was not included with his father and brother among those who voted on 18 Mar. 1714 against the expulsion of Richard Steele. In the Worsley list of 1715 he was classed as a Tory who had often voted with the Whigs in the old Parliament and might do so again in the new. In two other analyses of the 1713 and 1715 Parliaments he was listed as a ‘whimsical Tory’ and as a Whig. He was said by one Hanoverian Tory to have consistently divided on the opposite side to his father.4
Despite his friendship with the Jacobite Edward Harvey*, and his refusal to condemn the rebels of 1715, Pitt was recommended by Stanhope to a place in the Prince of Wales’s household worth £500 p.a. Even so, he was not keen to earn this ‘bread’ by service in the House, something his father now urged upon him, and showed a former vice of absenteeism, and some opposition to the ministry. Although there were further quarrels with the ‘Governor’, in 1726 he succeeded to the bulk of his father’s fortune, but died on 21 May 1727 ‘at his house in Pall Mall’, a victim of gout and the stone. Both his sons, Thomas and William, sat in the Commons, the latter being created Earl of Chatham.5
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: D. W. Hayton
- 1. C. N. Dalton, Life of Thomas Pitt, 246–7, 407, 414, 460.
- 2. Dalton, 113–15, 245–8, 276–9, 404–11; HMC Fortescue, i. 7, 24.
- 3. HMC Fortescue, 17–18, 27, 39; Dalton, 411–18; Hedges Diary ed. Yule (Hakluyt Soc. lxxviii), pp. cii–ciii; Wentworth Pprs. 76; Addison Letters, 123; Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 383.
- 4. Dalton, 412–14, 460; C110/28, John Dolben to Thomas Pitt I, 1 Mar. 1707–8, 18 Jan. 1708–9; Boyer, Pol. State, iii. 120; iv. 71; Dorset RO, Fox-Strangways mss, Thomas Clifton to Charles Fox*, 24 June, 30 Nov. 1712, William Bateman to same, 30 June 1712, John Gauntlett* to same, [24 June] 1712; London Gazette, 19–21 June 1712; Beaufort mss at Badminton House, Beaufort to Pitt, 14 Sept. 1710, to Ld. Arundell, 15 Aug. 1713, to George Pitt, 20 Aug. 1713; HMC Portland, v. 325; Hants RO, Jervoise mss, James Harris to Thomas Jervoise*, 30 Oct. 1713; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 331.
- 5. HMC Fortescue, 27; CJ, xvi. 587; The Gen. n.s. vii. 108.