In August 2003, I was a year into my PhD, plugging through the archives to find evidence for an argument that was still little more than a collection of theories. It was the hottest British summer on record; I remember trying not to fall asleep at my desk while attempting not to drip sweat all over the 200-year-old documents laid out before me.
One of those documents pulled me right out of my heat-induced daze.
It was a letter written to a close friend by John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham, talking of his feelings over his dismissal from the post of First Lord of the Admiralty at the end of 1794. I had heard of Chatham, of course; he was the son of William Pitt the Elder, and the brother of William Pitt the Younger (Britain’s youngest prime minister at 24, under whom Chatham served as a cabinet minister). I knew little else, but this letter was full of so much anger and pain Chatham immediately became real to me. I could almost hear his voice.
After referring to Pitt’s removing him from the Admiralty, Chatham wrote:
‘I have never had a full and decided conversation with my Brother on the subject, because he has very cautiously and constantly avoided it, and I have been unwilling to urge it … [but] probably some further explanation must take place. I am sorry I cannot agree with you in looking forward to it with a prospect of finding in it much relief or satisfaction. It may be a little better or a little worse, but that is all, for the mischief done me is irreparable, and though my Brother, whenever he gives himself time to reflect, must (if he possesses any of the feelings which I always believed him to have) regret the step into which he was surprised, he can never set it right.’
I was immediately curious. What lay behind Chatham’s complaint? What ‘mischief’ was he referring to? Who had ‘surprised’ Pitt into the ‘step’ of demoting his brother? Did he ever manage to ‘set it right’?
Earl of Shadows is my fictional answer to these questions. It is essentially about sibling rivalry, but, fortunately, John’s story does not entirely revolve around negative comparisons with his brilliant brother. As I researched him, I uncovered the touching story of his quietly successful marriage to Mary Townshend. Earl of Shadows is therefore not simply a story of sibling rivalry set against the backdrop of the Georgian court: it is also the love story of a man who is painfully aware he will never be as good as his family want him to be, and of a woman who wants him to know he will always be more than good enough for her.
I hope you enjoy it. I certainly enjoyed writing it, and I hope John and Mary approve of the way I have told their story. After 200 years of neglect, they deserve it.
Get your copy of Earl of Shadows here!