PITT, Thomas (c.1705-61), of Boconnoc, Cornw.
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Family and Education
b. c.1705, 1st s. of Robert Pitt, M.P., of Boconnoc by Harriet, da. of Hon. Edward Villiers (s. of George, 4th Visct. Grandison [I]), bro. of William Pitt of Hayes. educ. Eton c.1718-21. m. (1) c.1731, Christian (d. 5 June 1750), da. of Sir Thomas Lyttelton, 4th Bt., M.P., of Hagley, Worcs., 2s. 2da.; (2) c.1 July 1761, Maria, da. of Gen. Murray. suc. fa. 20 May 1727.
Assay master of the stannaries Mar. 1738-Feb. 1742, warden Feb. 1742-Mar. 1751; recorder of Camelford 1735- d.
The death of the Prince of Wales in 1751 sounded the knell of Thomas Pitt’s political ambitions. Reduced almost to bankruptcy by electioneering and extravagance, his only marketable asset was his parliamentary interest: two seats at Old Sarum, one at Okehampton, and some influence at Camelford. At the general election of 1754 he offered his interest to the Treasury, in return for a lump sum of £2,000 and a promise of the governorship of South Carolina (with the salary made up to £2,400 per annum). On 24 Mar. 1754 Pitt asked Newcastle for the vacant mastership of the wardrobe, citing ‘some disagreeable difficulties’ in settling his family affairs as the reason for his desire to remain in England. On the failure of this application, he insisted, obviously in order to escape his creditors, on being allowed to return himself for Old Sarum until he went abroad; and shortly afterwards sought to substitute a life pension of £1,000 p.a. for the governorship in America; but was forced to accept it during pleasure. After settling his interest at Okehampton by a compromise with the Duke of Bedford, he fled to France on 11 Mar. 1755, there to eke out a penurious existence until in 1758 his son was old enough to cut the entail on his inheritance.1
Pitt then returned to England—‘at the utmost risk from his creditors’, writes his son in his Memoir.2 After long and stormy negotiations (especially painful for young Tom, placed between his father and his uncle William, the next in the entail) a settlement was reached. Thomas Pitt, determined to resume his political career, wrote on 28 June 1759 to both Newcastle and Bedford asking to succeed the deceased Thomas Potter in his seat at Okehampton and his lucrative office as vice-treasurer of Ireland.3 Bedford’s reply was very vague, Newcastle’s a polite but firm negative, on the ground that he was already engaged for both seat and office.4 Pitt replied indignantly: ‘My Lord Duke, I have stood in another light. I have borne another consideration. And now to find myself so sunk is mortifying indeed.’ But all he managed to extract from the Government was £1,000 for re-electing Lord Pulteney at Old Sarum in December 1759 and for promising to accept their nomination to the other seat there at the next general election.5 He retired to the country, and when asked in October 1760 for his support in the Cornish county election, replied: ‘I am retired from the busy world; and therefore it is more suitable to such a situation not to interfere at all.’6 None the less at the general election he tried a last fling at Bossiney, but finished by conforming with Bute’s wishes: he was seeking to extend his original agreement with the Administration (which had been only for the 1754-61 Parliament) in return for converting his pension to a life one. Arrangements seem to have been proceeding smoothly when some hitch in his financial affairs rendered him again ‘liable to arrests and vexatious actions’. He therefore wished to retain one seat at Old Sarum for his own use during the first session of the new Parliament. Though he declared he would ‘religiously keep his engagement to vacate his seat again when his perplexities are ended’, Newcastle cautiously deferred the conversion of his pension. Pitt, roused to fury, wrote on 29 June:
I make no apology for the trouble I am about to give your Grace, because I look upon it that every person who is injured has a natural right to complain and remonstrate. That I am injured, grievously injured, is but too true ... According to your Grace’s repeated declaration the agreement was concluded several months ago, and in consequence of it, on my part every part is performed ... that has as yet fallen within my power to perform, but the only article within my favour remains still unperformed.
He protested against the new demand that his interest at Old Sarum should be made over to Administration for the duration of his life.
Is this just? Is this honest? It is super-adding a condition after an agreement is made and fully executed ... on one part, as a bar to the performance on the other part ... My last resort must be an appeal to his Majesty’s justice and benevolence; at present my appeal is to your Grace’s honour.7
Within three weeks Pitt was dead (17 July 1761). ‘An odious father’, Horace Walpole rightly called him, and regarded his death as a happy event for his family.8 And his son wrote in his Memoir:
The character and conduct of my poor father could not justify in me the smallest degree of confidence towards him; whilst the severity and distance of his manners towards us his children imposed upon us awe without respect.
None the less the picture he draws of his father is eminently fair:
All his passions were violent by nature, particularly pride and ambition, which were painted in his figure, one of the most imposing I ever saw ... Good qualities ... were greatly overbalanced by the contrary tendencies ... early embarrassments in his own situation, perpetual litigations with his family, keen resentments of supposed injuries, the flattery of dependants, and a train of mortifications and disappointments ... formed in him ... habits of rapacity, injustice, violence and falsehood ... He had a strong understanding with great acuteness, but totally uncultivated ... an imperious manner which flowed from a contempt of others and a conscious boldness in his nature.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Sir Lewis Namier
- 1. Add. 32995, f. 120; 32734, f. 326; 32737, ff. 187, 302; 32853, f. 240.
- 2. ‘Fam. Characters and Anecs.’ (1781), Fortescue mss at Boconnoc.
- 3. Add. 32853, f. 240; Bedford mss 39, f. 228.
- 4. Add. 32892, ff. 448, 494.
- 5. Add. 32898, ff. 269, 271; 32899, ff. 19, 53, 325.
- 6. To Jas. Buller, 26 Oct., Buller mss.
- 7. Add. 32919, ff. 340, 378-9, 475; 32924, ff. 334-5.
- 8. To Mann, 3 Feb. 1760, 23 July 1761.