PITT, George (1625-94), of Strathfieldsaye, Hants and Duke Street, Westminster.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Constituency

Dates

Family and Education

b. 9 May 1625, 3rd but 1st surv. s. of Edward Pitt of Strathfieldsaye by Rachel, da. of Sir George Morton, 1st Bt., of Milborne St. Andrew, Dorset. educ. travelled abroad 1644-6; M. Temple 1652; I. Temple 1654. m. 1657, Lady Jane Savage, da. of John Savage, 2nd Earl Rivers, wid. of George, 6th Baron Chandos of Sudeley, and Sir William Sedley, 4th Bt., of Southfleet, Kent, 3s. 4da. suc. fa. 1643.1

Offices Held

Cornet (royalist) 1643-4.2

Gent. of privy chamber June 1660-?74; comptroller to the Duke of York 1674-5.3

J.p. Hants July 1660-?d., Glos. July 1660-at least 1664, Westminster 1665-89, Dorset 1680-?d., commr. for assessment, Dorset Aug. 1660-4, Hants Aug. 1660-80, Westminster 1664-9, Glos. and Wilts. 1673-80, Glos. Hants and Wilts. 1689-90, oyer and terminer, Mdx. Nov. 1660; freeman, Portsmouth 1675.4

Biography

Pitt’s family for three generations before him had flourished in the service of the crown. His grandfather acquired a knighthood under James I as well as much property around Wareham, including the advowsons of its four churches, and represented the borough in four Parliaments from 1614 to 1625. Pitt’s father, a teller in the Exchequer, sat for Poole in 1624. In 1629 he bought Strathfieldsaye, where he was seized by parliamentary forces in 1643 and imprisoned in Windsor Castle. He died a week after his release, ‘charging and requiring my son George (whom it hath pleased God to make my eldest son now living) upon my blessing and as he looks for a blessing from heaven’ not to hinder payment of portions to his brothers and sisters. The wording of the will permits the inference that young Pitt already showed signs of the unscrupulous avarice that was to distinguish him in his maturity; certainly his youngest sister (for whom no specific provision was made) was still unmarried half a century later, and in receipt of no more than a niggardly allowance of £10 a year. Pitt’s wardship was granted (in accordance with his father’s last wishes) to Lord Hopton, to whom he was related on the mother’s side; but he does not seem to have imbibed much of his guardian’s martial spirit. So undistinguished was his part in the Civil War that he almost escaped a fine; and he seems to have considered that he had grounds for appeal against the decimation imposed on him in 1655. His composition shows an income from land in excess of £1,400, though he had to sell an estate worth £190 p.a. a few years later. His marriage to Lady Chandos made him absolute master of the Gloucestershire estates of that family under her first husband’s will, and his income was assessed at £4,000 p.a. on the Royal Oak list.5

Pitt was returned for Wareham at the general election of 1660, though as a Cavalier he was not entitled to stand. His chief concern in the Convention was probably to protect his rights in the Sudeley estate from his wife’s brother-in-law, the 7th Lord Chandos, who obtained an order of the House of Lords restraining the felling of timber (22 June 1660). The matter was raised in the Commons by Thomas Bampfield, and Robert Shapcott moved for a committee to ascertain the facts and prepare a conference. Arthur Annesley described the case as a great breach of privilege. These names suggest that Pitt, in spite of his Cavalier background, was on good terms with the Presbyterians and Independents, and indeed he was marked on Lord Wharton’s list as a friend. He did not himself sit on this committee, nor is it certain that he sat on any, owing to the possibility of confusion with Edward Pytts. But his local interests make it likely that it was he who was named to consider the preservation of the Forest of Dean and compensation for the Marquess of Winchester; he may also have served on the committees for the confirmation of privileges and the nomination of commissioners for sewers.6

Pitt was re-elected in 1661; the election was contested, but his own return was unopposed. Although he sat throughout the Cavalier Parliament, he was named to only 31 committees. None was of major political importance, though they included the committee of elections and privileges in eight sessions. But this is far from implying that his Membership of the House of Commons meant little to him. Two private bills were put forward on his behalf to void allegedly forged deeds and securities ‘obtained by practice’. Neither reached the statute-book, but no doubt they served their purpose. Outside Parliament, his interests were by no means confined to those of the average country gentleman. He exploited the valuable china-clay deposits on his Purbeck estates, and, going further afield, acquired a colliery in county Durham. But he appears principally as a financier, or, as Lord Keeper Guilford (Sir Francis North), expressed it, a usurer. It was probably to acquire a stake in the lucrative field of government finance that in 1674 he bought a post in the Duke of York’s household from Jonathan Trelawny I for £2,500. In 1675 he formed a syndicate with Sir William Petty and Sir John Baber, described as the chief protector of dissenters at Court, to farm the Irish revenues. The syndicate enjoyed the support of Ormonde, but Danby favoured the rival offer of Lord Ranelagh ( Richard Jones) and his partners; whereupon Pitt abused the lord treasurer in the King’s presence ‘in most rude and indecent terms’, and was dismissed. He was promised the return of his £2,500, but there is no evidence that he received it, unless perhaps in the form of an annuity which he claimed after the Revolution. Nor was he awarded the contract for the Irish revenue. Danby promptly crossed Pitt off his list of court dependants in Parliament, but next year he was still regarded by Sir Richard Wiseman as a government supporter. Shaftesbury marked him ‘worthy’, but in 1678 both Government and Opposition wrote him down as a member of the court party. His parliamentary activity had already begun to decline before 1675, though he was still named to occasional committees, such as those on the Forest of Dean and for the prevention of simony; but on 13 Dec. 1678 he was found to have departed the House without leave.7

Blacklisted as one of the ‘unanimous club’ of court supporters, Pitt is not known to have stood again for Parliament; but the most important, and unfortunately the most obscure, episode in his political career was yet to come. When the Duke of York attempted a rapprochement with Shaftesbury at Danby’s expense early in 1679, he preferred Pitt to another suggested intermediary as ‘the steadier man, and the more my friend’. Pitt even joined the Green Dragon Club, but no further results of this curious conjunction are known. Presumably he gave satisfaction when closeted over the repeal of the Test Act and Penal Laws, for he remained a Westminster j.p. But one of his sons set out with the 2nd Earl of Clarendon (Henry Hyde) to join William on 2 Dec. 1688, though he appears to have changed his mind after one day’s journey, and two days later Pitt and his eldest son obtained a pass ‘to Dorset and return’.8

Pitt died on 27 July 1694. His will is that of an extremely prosperous man, providing for £5,000 portions for his daughters, £10,000 and his colliery for his second son, and a house in Turnham Green for the youngest (whom he hoped might enter the Church and take a family living). His trustees included his cousin (Sir) John Morton and Thomas Freke I; enough is known at least about the first of these to infer some resemblance in character and outlook. Pitt also endeavoured to consolidate the family interest at Wareham by endowing a school there; but although his will extends over 16 pages he failed to make his intentions sufficiently clear, and a century of litigation resulted. To his credit must be placed a legacy of £100 ‘to my honoured friend the right reverend Father in God Robert Frampton’, the non-juring bishop of Gloucester. Pitt’s son and heir made another notable marriage in his father’s lifetime, by which he became eventual heir to Freke; he was returned for Stockbridge a few months after his father’s death and for Wareham in 1698, rising to the dignity of a county Member in 1700.9

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Authors: M. W. Helms / John. P. Ferris

Notes

  • 1. Add. 29974, ff. 332, 449; VCH Hants, iv. 624.
  • 2. Cal. Comm. Comp. 2042.
  • 3. Carlisle, Privy Chamber, 170; Bulstrode Pprs. 314.
  • 4. R. East, Portsmouth Recs. 361.
  • 5. G. E. Aylmer, King’s Servants, 90; Procs. Dorset Nat. Hist. and Arch. Soc. lxxv. 115-7; Add. 29974, ff. 368, 409; PCC 117 Fines, 197 Box; CSP Dom. 1656-7, p. 192; SP23/214/359; Hutchins, i. 299.
  • 6. Bowman diary, ff. 48v, 49; CJ, viii. 81-82.
  • 7. CJ, viii. 456; ix. 167; x. 224; Som. and Dorset N. and Q., xix. 229; PCC 197 Box; HMC Ormonde, vii. 207; Cal. Treas. Bks. iv. 329-33; Carte, Ormond, iv. 501; Essex Letters (1770), 399; HMC 7th Rep. 492; Bulstrode Pprs. 314-15; North, Examen, 361.
  • 8. Add. 28053, f. 133; HMC Dartmouth, i. 32; Jones, First Whigs, 75; Clarendon Corresp. ii. 214-15; CSP Dom. 1687-9, p. 416.
  • 9. PCC 197 Box; Hutchins, i. 89; iv. 91.

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