PITT, George (1721-1803), of Strathfieldsaye, Hants.
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Family and Education
b. 1 May 1721, 1st s. of George Pitt (d. 1745) M.P., of Strathfieldsaye by Mary Louisa, da. of John Bernier; bro. of William Augustus Pitt and nephew of John Pitt of Encombe. educ. Winchester 1731; Magdalen, Oxf. 1737. m. 4 Jan. 1746, Penelope, da. of Sir Henry Atkins, 4th Bt., sis. and h. of Sir Richard Atkins, 6th Bt., 1s. 3da. suc. fa. 1745; cr. Baron Rivers of Strathfieldsaye 20 May 1776; Baron Rivers of Sudeley Castle 16 Mar. 1802, with sp. rem. to bro. William Augustus Pitt.
Groom of the bedchamber 1760-70, envoy to Turin 1761-8; ld. lt. Hants 1780-Mar 1782, ld. of bedchamber Apr. 1782- d.; ld. lt. Dorset 1793- d.
In Dupplin’s list of 1754 George Pitt was classed as a Tory in opposition to the Government; which was the view which he himself took of his position under George II.1 His parliamentary record was undistinguished, and like many country gentlemen he spent a good deal of time during 1757-61 with the militia. In the new reign he wrote to Bute, 30 Nov. 1760:2
I am come to a resolution of entreating that my services may be offered to the King in any post about his Majesty’s person for which I may be thought qualified, without its being of such a nature in point of profit as that I can be suspected of any lucrative views.
He was one of the five Tories introduced into the King’s bedchamber, 4 Dec. 1760. Next he applied for a diplomatic post, and was appointed minister to Turin—‘I am glad’, wrote the King to Bute in August 1761, ‘that my dearest friend thinks George Pitt fit for a foreign employment; he has much more carriage than the generality of people here.’3 When on 21 Oct. George Pitt thanked his kinsman William Pitt, the latter disclaimed any part in it: ‘you owe the satisfaction of your wishes ... to the friendship of Mr. Mackenzie and the favourable disposition of Lord Bute’.4 He arrived in Turin 6 Mar. 1762; left 28 Apr. 1764; ‘George Pitt is coming home from Turin, they say mad’, wrote George Hobart to Andrew Mitchell, 24 June 1763;5 and he never went back. ‘Mr. G. Pitt voted with me whilst I was in the Treasury’, wrote Grenville6 to Halifax, 21 Apr. 1768; nor is he known ever to have voted against any Government under George III, though at times he may have sulked. ‘I am of no club, no party’, he wrote to the King in October 1765, ‘and dare avow the most cordial attachment to your Majesty’s sacred person, independent of every factious connexion.’7
His one ambition, anxiously and relentlessly pursued, was a peerage: the pivot of well-nigh obsessionist endeavours and the subject of long and rambling letters.8 Pitt claimed two baronies in abeyance but, to avoid labour and expense, started in 1761 by applying to the King for a new creation; repeatedly stated to have received the King’s promise of it whenever peerages were created; but to have been overlooked in May 1762, ‘by being employed abroad’. After his return in 1764, he submitted his claim to the baronies in abeyance to the attorney-general, Sir Fletcher Norton, and alleged to have obtained ‘a strong and favourable report’ from him. Next, Pitt applied to Halifax. And after that to Conway and Rockingham; but was advised to submit his claim ‘to the decision of the peers’, which he refused to do; and was finally told ‘that he was to expect nothing but opposition from Administration’. ‘I ... will candidly confess to you’, he wrote to Conway, ‘... that I shall defer setting out for Turin, till I have had the honour of kissing [the King’s] hand for a title’—‘the eyes of all who know me at home, in the county I serve, and at my residence abroad are too much fixed upon this event for me to recede from.’ ‘I have been most disagreeably detained in England by this fruitless application’, he wrote to the King.
‘I pretend not to be honoured with the friendship of any of the present Administration’, Pitt wrote to Conway, 24 Sept. 1765, ‘nor am I conscious of having merited their enmity’; and though frustrated he did not vote against the repeal of the Stamp Act. He adhered to the Chatham Administration, and was one of the only three country gentlemen knights of the shire who voted with them on the land tax, 27 Feb. 1767. Pitt claimed in his letter to North of 16 Jan. 1773, that in June 1768 Grafton communicated to him ‘a most gracious message from the King’: his was to be one of the next two or three creations. In 1770 he was to be sent to Madrid; he declined going, wrote Lord George Germain to William Hamilton, ‘as he cannot have his peerage’.9 He had voted with the Government in the three divisions on Wilkes and Middlesex, 3 Feb., 15 Apr., and 8 May 1769, but was absent from that on Brass Crosby, 27 Mar. 1771, and was marked as ‘doubtful, present, sent to’ by Robinson in his first survey on the royal marriage bill, March 1772; in the second survey of 8 Mar. he appears as ‘pro, sent to’; and on 26 Apr. 1773 he registered his last recorded vote, on the Middlesex motion. What had happened in 1770 is indicated in Pitt’s letter to North, 3 Jan. 1773:10
The age of my son has for some late years occasioned my being less pressing for the completion of his Majesty’s most gracious and solemn engagements, nor was it my intention to have mentioned them previous to my intended embassy to Spain, had not your Lordship expressed your desire that I should resign my post of groom of the bedchamber. By what means everything was lost at that period I have already shown my most ardent wish to forget ... He [his son] is of age, and is returning from his travels; and your Lordship cannot be surprised that I should now use my utmost endeavour to obtain for my family, what they have so clear a right to expect, and which, after so tedious a delay, I am so perfectly authorized to continue to solicit by every means in my power.
And so he did in letters rising to a hysterical pitch; he speaks of ‘the unparallelled hardships’ he has ‘for so many years been made to undergo’ in pursuit of his claims, and begs ‘that I may now be released from that state of anxiety and suspense, in which I have been so unmercifully tossed during the long space of twelve years’. ‘Ought my sufferings to increase at this date, because they commenced in 1762?’ ‘I made out ... my claim to the abeyance titles in the year 1765, and in 1773 shall sign this letter with my family name.’
He did not stand in 1774, leaving the seat to his son; and when twelve peerages were declared on 20 May 1776 was created Baron Rivers. Walpole calls him brutal and half-mad.11 And he is thus described in the Royal Register for 1781:12 ‘He possesses an immense landed property, and has ever been esteemed a model of a modern fine gentleman. He is well-bred, accomplished, and debauched. He ill-treated his wife, the most charming in the world, who loved him till he deserved to be hated.’ He died 7 May 1803.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Sir Lewis Namier
- 1. Fortescue, iii. 414.
- 2. Bute mss.
- 3. Sedgwick, 60-61.
- 4. Chatham Corresp. ii. 163-5.
- 5. Add. 6860, f. 366.
- 6. Letter bk.
- 7. Fortescue, iii. 414.
- 8. Nine are printed by Fortescue: three to H. S. Conway, 28 Aug. and 24, 25 Sept. 1765 (i. 180-9); one to Rockingham, 5 Oct. (i. 194); copies of these four were sent by George Pitt to the King, presumably in Oct. 1765, with an undated covering letter which Fortescue misdates ‘?1776’ (iii. 412-15); and four to North, 25 Dec. 1772, and 12, 16, 28 Jan. 1773 (ii. 423-4, 438, 439-44, 447). These letters repeat his story with variants.
- 9. Add. 39779, f. 23.
- 10. Fortescue, ii. 437.
- 11. To Mann, 22 Dec. 1772.
- 12. Quoted, CP.