The Late Lord: The Life of John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham

Written by Jacqueline Reiter
Review by Edward James

John Pitt was the son of a great man (William Pitt the Elder, 1st Earl of Chatham) and the brother of another (William Pitt the Younger), but he never aspired to greatness himself. Indeed his political enemies derided his incompetence and tardiness, calling him in his lifetime ‘the Late Lord Chatham’.

Does Jacqueline Reiter succeed in rehabilitating him? She makes the case that he was not as lacklustre as he has been painted and that he had more than his share of bad luck. Overshadowed by his father and brother until middle age, his chance to make his mark was lost in the shambles of the Walcharen campaign of 1809. His wife’s long bouts of insanity were also a severe drain on his time and energy.

This is an interesting study of a little-known politician, and it contains an excellent account of the Walcharen campaign, which was a bigger expedition than Wellesley’s expedition to the Peninsula.