“The Earl and Countess of Chatham, Your Grace.”
Having made his announcement, the footman withdrew. Mary slipped her arm through John’s and they entered the drawing room together. John was missing a cabinet meeting for this; he said one did not turn down invitations with Duchesses, and that William wouldn’t even notice if he didn’t turn up anyway. Mary had considered arguing with him on that point, but he so rarely agreed to go into society since his disgrace she had not liked to press the point, and she had to admit she was curious about meeting the Duchess of Haverford.
Their hostess awaited them with a generous smile. John bowed; Mary curtseyed. “Your Grace. Many thanks for your kind interest.”
“Lady Chatham, how kind of you to come and visit me. Lord Chatham, you are very welcome. Please, be seated.”
Mary settled into her chair with some relief; standing for long periods did little good for her lame hip. “We are happy to meet you at last, Your Grace. I have heard so much about you from my friend Lady Macclesfield. I trust you are well, and your family?”
She immediately knew she had blundered, for she had not meant to steer the conversation into dangerous waters so soon, even in the name of politeness. She slanted a look across at John; he was stirring his tea, and seemed not to have noticed. To her relief, the Duchess seemed equally alive to the delicacy. John’s rift with his famous brother, prime minister Pitt, was well known, and Her Grace’s response – delivered after a slight, but barely noticeable, hesitation – was a general one, with no specific mention of brothers, ministerial or otherwise. “My family is well, I thank you. My sons keep robust good health, I thank God.”
Mary breathed a small sigh of relief. She had been afraid the Duchess might bring up politics, particularly John’s recent demotion from the post of First Lord of the Admiralty to a comparatively insignificant post. This still rankled, for it had left him open to criticism, which William had been oddly reluctant to refute. But Lady Macclesfield had been emphatic about Eleanor Haverford’s discretion, and Mary could see her friend had been right in her assessment. She began to relax.
“Do you stay in town for the summer, Lady Chatham?” the Duchess asked.
Before Mary could reply, John cut in. “I suspect we shall stay longer than usual. It will be tiresome, as I have so little business nowadays.”
The Duchess sipped her tea in silence, possibly trying to think of a diplomatic answer. Mary said, a little too brightly, “My husband is being modest. In times of war, being a cabinet minister hardly leaves one time for anything. We can only pray for an honourable peace with France, and then perhaps I will have my husband back.”
John snorted something into his teacup about the French having executed honour on the guillotine some time ago. Mary ignored him. At least he wasn’t thinking about his own obsolescence any more.
“This General Bonaparte appears to be achieving great success,” the Duchess said. “His Grace the duke says he is a commoner of no significance, and that, in any case one Englishman is worth a dozen French. I trust he is correct.”
“He is right about the Englishman,” John replied. “I am not so sure he is right about Bonaparte. The man either has a great deal of luck, or a great deal of talent. If we are truly unlucky, he may have both. If only my brother would allow me to re-join the army, I would…”
He left the sentence unfinished, then drained his tea.
It was all Mary could do to stop herself rolling her eyes at him. The Duchess sent her a compassionate glance and said, “I thank God that those dearest to my heart are too young for battle. Surely this war cannot continue long enough that I must send my Jonathan off to war? Yet other mothers, other wives have their hearts so torn. And the poorest have to shift for themselves and their babies, without a man to stand between them and the world. We send them off to fight and die for King and country, and never give a thought to the families that need them.”
“I for one am pleased Lord Chatham will not be going off to fight,” Mary observed firmly, accepting some more tea. “I understand you are doing your part to assist those wretched women of whom you speak. I have heard about your work, and admire it very much.”
Mary had finally lit upon a safe topic. The Duchess’s face brightened at that, and the two women settled down to discussing Eleanor’s latest project to raise donations among the ton of clothes, food, and supplies. Even John unbent enough to make suggestions. offering his friendship with the King and Queen as a way of assisting the Duchess’s schemes to reach the very highest circles. Mary was delighted to see him so forthcoming, for he badly needed to believe in his own worth once again.
It was hard being the brother of the prime minister, harder than anyone else seemed to realise. Mary wondered whether she would ever forgive William for taking John’s closeness and support for granted. She only hoped he would come round before irreparable damage had been inflicted on her proud, but vulnerable, husband.
‘I hardly need remind you the convoy to Gibraltar departs in a few days.’
Harriot dropped her mother’s hand. William stepped back as though John had struck him. ‘You cannot intend still to go?’
Lady Chatham, too, was startled. ‘John, you are head of the family. I grant you much of the work to be undertaken can best be done through Mr Johnson and Mr Skirrow, but the estates must be examined, the servants paid, the funeral arranged—’
John felt his breath constrict more and more with every word. He cut in desperately. ‘Parliament has voted for a public funeral. The arrangements for that are already out of my hands.’
‘But who will be Chief Mourner?’
The memory of his brother pushing him aside in the Prince’s Robing Room to take Papa’s hand cut into John’s mind unbidden. ‘William can do it,’ he said, more bitterly than he had intended, and his brother flinched.
Harriot’s hooded blue eyes, so similar to John’s own, turned to her older brother in contempt. ‘William is 19. You cannot expect him to take your place.’
‘I don’t,’ John protested, trying to remain calm. ‘I know I have responsibilities to you, but I am under orders—’
‘General Boyd would have released you from them!’ William finally found his voice. John had not seen so much emotion on his self-possessed brother’s face since their father had fallen ill. ‘Many disasters might befall you in Gibraltar, should Spain join the war. You may never come back. Your first duty now is to your family … to us.’ John said nothing, silenced by William’s uncharacteristic outburst. ‘Papa took the Earldom of Chatham as a gift from a grateful King and a loving populace. For God’s sake, be worthy of it. It is the one thing Papa asks of you.’
Stung, John said unevenly, ‘Papa is dead. He asks nothing of me.’ William’s face drained of colour and John cursed his clumsiness. ‘I only want to make my name.’
‘You are Earl of Chatham! You have the greatest name in England!’
‘No,’ John shouted, giving in at last to his anger and fear. ‘You have received England’s most famous name. All I have inherited are debts.’
His words echoed in silence. Harriot braced her hands on Lady Chatham’s shoulders, her face tense. William’s grey eyes were wide. Suddenly his gaze hardened. ‘How could you be so selfish? But then it has always been that way, has it not? Always late, always unreliable. You never think of how others might feel. I will not allow you to load your troubles onto my shoulders. You cannot abandon us all because you are jealous of me.’
‘I already told you,’ John insisted, white-faced. ‘All I want to do is make Papa proud.’
‘As you correctly observed,’ William hissed, ‘Papa is dead.’
Earl of Shadows
John and William are the elder and younger sons of 18th century political giant William Pitt. The father is a man of great principle and a great orator. Twice Prime Minister, he accepts the title Earl of Chatham in recognition of his services to the British nation. But his death on the floor of the House of Lords deals a devastating blow to the family.
Forced to forego his military career, John inherits the title and a debt-ridden estate. William inherits the gilded tongue that will make him the brilliant rising star. John sees the problem looming, but the little brother cannot succeed without the big brother’s support. At the most critical moment John runs away from his responsibilities and his brother. It proves to be a fatal mistake.
Can John ever make amends and find forgiveness? Or will he continue to hold onto a pain that has almost become part of himself? Can he escape the long shadow of destiny?
Earl of Shadows is a meticulously researched and moving account of sibling rivalry in a world of duty and honour at the heart of one of Britain’s most iconic political families. It brilliantly underlines the notion that history is about more than just the winners – that there is another, more human, story to tell.
‘Absorbing, historically accurate portrayal of family conflict, soaring ambition, and redeeming love. An impressive fiction debut by a highly talented author.‘ — Margaret Porter, bestselling author of ‘A Pledge of Better Times‘
Jacqueline Reiter has a PhD in late 18th century British history from Cambridge University. She has been researching the Pitt family for many years, focusing particularly on the life of the 2nd Earl of Chatham, whose nonfiction biography she has also written. She lives in Cambridge with her husband and their two young children, both of whom probably believe Lord Chatham lives in their house.
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