Harriet Hester Eliot (1786 - 1842)
Harriet was the only child of Edward James Eliot and Lady Harriot Pitt (sister of William Pitt the elder).
This precocious child was born on 20 Sep 1786 at 10 Downing Street in London (her Uncle William Pitt's home). The news of her birth was a happy occasion for both families and friends alike, but the happiness was turned to sudden sorrow when Harriet's mother died just five days later (from effects of the childbed). Harriet's baptism on 01 Nov 1786 was recorded at St. Margaret's, Westminster, but it's likely that the baby was Christened (by the Bishop of Lincoln) in the house where she was born. A few days afterward, she was taken to her grandmother's house (Burton Pynsent), to be cared for by a nurse, under the watchful eye of Lady Chatham.
Harriet's father continued to reside at Downing Street, but he spent as much time as possible visiting his daughter and mother-in-law. When duties prevented him from being there in person, Lady Chatham sent regular reports of Harriet's growth and progress. She called her "the most enchanting little Thing that ever was", and friends said that they "never had seen a more lovely Babe". In the Spring of 1787, Lady Chatham was pleased to report that Harriet had gotten a new tooth, "being come perfectly out of the Gum, and that without having occasioned the smallest uneasiness, and being so visible that it showed itself, which saved little Poppet from being affronted by any troublesome curiosity from her Nurses". Lady Chatham continued the update by saying, "she expresses [her anger] in a new way, not by crying, but by scolding so ridiculously that it is impossible not to laugh. We think her much improved in Beauty, but I cannot say as yet that any share of it is owing to an increase of Hair, tho' it certainly is thicker than it was. I must not forget to mention, what I ought to have added when I was upon the Article of Teeth, that the three which I gave an account of having not advanced, perceptibly at least, but seem, as before, very near breaking the skin. Notwithstanding which if there is such a Thing as being better than well, it is her Case."
Later that same year, Lady Chatham sent a report to Harriet's father on the progress of the weaning, saying, "The Business has been accomplish'd with the greatest success possible. She has been neither sick, nor sorry, which last extraordinary circumstance is only to be accounted for by her great indifference to the Nurse. We brought in Cooking's wife as an Assistant in the place by her, being a knowing experienced Person having weaned and brought up five children of her own. Favourite Nanny has had the Honour of Sleeping in the bed with her young Mistress and of performing all necessary offices of washing, primping, dressing etc. . . . I wish you cou'd see how pretty the little creature looks, and how lively and merry."
The superior intelligence of the child manifested itself early in life. By the time she was about two and a half years old, she was able to write a note on the back of a letter to her uncle, John Pitt (Earl of Chatham). In large letters, it read, "I love you. I kiss you." At about the same time, her grandmother wrote this charming anecdote in a letter to her father: "You know, she is a Lady of great order. The other day she observed that in oiling the Hinges of one of the little Doors in the Nursery, the oil had got through, and stained the Paper. She called in a great Hurry for Betty (who was in the Bedchamber) and upon Capper's asking her what she wanted Betty for, she said she wanted ‘to talk to her about Greasing the Doors, and being so dirty.'"
As Harriet grew, she spent more time with her father, he living at Burton Pynsent with Lady Chatham for a good part of each year. Harriet travelled with him to Port Eliot for visits with her Eliot grandparents and resided with her father at Broomfield (his house in Clapham). She shared his life and friends, on intimate terms with William Wilberforce, Hannah More, and the rest of that special group.
Dark days loomed on the horizon, though, for this darling of everyone who knew her. In late Summer or early Autumn of 1797, Harriet was visiting at Port Eliot, with her ailing father and his younger brother, John. On 17 Sep 1797, Harriet and her Uncle John were at the side of her father as "a period was put to his existence". He was buried in the ancient church vault at St. German's, and Harriet stayed on at Port Eliot until the Pitts arranged for her to travel to Burton Pynsent. Edward James had left her in the guardianship of her grandmother Lady Chatham, uncles John and William Pitt, and George Pretyman (Bishop of Lincoln and close friend), with a nice fortune of more than £10,000.
Harriet was on close terms with her family on both sides (though it seems that it might have been just a little confusing at family gatherings, since her two uncles on each side of the family were named John and William). She was raised by her mother's family – living sometimes in London with her uncles and sometimes at Burton Pynsent with her grandmother – but appears to have been quite close to her Eliot relatives as well. In April 1798, 11-year-old Harriet wrote a letter to her grandfather, Lord Eliot, in Cornwall. She tells him that she dedicates Thursday's leisure time to writing to either Port Eliot or Burton, and she wishes to give him an account of all that is happening, since he is not there himself. She wants him to know that "there is such a troublesome person in London as his Harriet", and she has just seen her Uncle William and her "new aunt", Lady Georgiana, whom she likes very well. She mentions the pet dogs at Port Eliot, Neptune and Mars. She also feels very sorry for another dog, "Crawler", as she feels that without her there to take him for a walk that he does not get as far as St. Germans Beacon. This letter from Harriet (the only known to survive in the Port Eliot collection) is a nice glimpse into her everyday life.
It was in this same year that young Harriet sat for a small pastel portrait, copies of which can be seen at Port Eliot and Eastnor Castle. She wore a white dress with a black-ribbon mourning sash, and her bright red hair had certainly "increased" since her grandmother's earlier concerns. Twelve-year-old Harriet was said (by friends of her Pitt grandmother) to resemble her mother, but this portrait shows a remarkable resemblance to her father. Eastnor Castle's copy of Harriet's picture is one of three pastel portraits in matching frames, the other two being likenesses of her aunt and uncle, William and Georgiana Eliot. This suggests that Harriet may have spent some time with her Eliot relatives in London, as well as that spent with the Pitts.
In April of 1803, Harriet lost her very-much-loved grandmother, Lady Chatham, and went to live in London with her uncle, John Pitt. This marked the beginning of three years of mourning for the lovely 16-year-old girl, whose grieving would not end before she marked the loss of most of her cherished family members – her grandparents, Lord and Lady Eliot; her dear uncle, William Pitt; and her aunt, Lady Georgiana Eliot.
After night comes dawn, however, and happiness lurked right around the corner, in the figure of Lt-Colonel William Henry Pringle. How Harriet met her future husband is still a mystery lost to time. There seems to be no connection of any kind between W.H. Pringle and the Pitts or Eliots, so it must be assumed that they were introduced in some social setting. On the twentieth of May in 1806, morning dawned and Harriet – from her Uncle Chatham's house in Dover-street – married William Henry Pringle. The union would last for more than thirty-four years (until General Pringle's death), and the couple were blessed with one son and four daughters.
Very little is known, at this time, of Harriet Hester's life as Lady Pringle. Several collections of letters (written either by or to her) survive in archives – archives which clutch them with the usual mercenary hold – but distance and lack of fortune leave them moldering until some future researcher gains access. Harriet's husband is easier to track, and his military rank made them newsworthy in later years. Until about 1815, Harriet's husband remained active in the military, serving in the Peninsular Army and as Colonel in the Royal Newfoundland Fencibles.
Back at home in England, the Pringles travelled in the high social circles and lived in an elegant house on Stratford-place in London. Harriet's evening parties and dinners were often listed in the "Fashionable Arrangements for the Week" column of the "Morning Post". General and Lady Pringle were frequently listed as travelling to Worthing and Brighthelmston (later known as Brighton) during the 1830s, dining and visiting regularly with the King and Queen. One fabulous description of 40-year-old Harriet's dress was given in the report of the Queen's Drawing Room on 25 Mar 1826.
LADY PRINGLE — A dress of rich colonnade white satin, with a handsome embroidery of the rose, thistle, and shamrock; a deep flounce of Queen's blond; body and sleeves tastefully trimmed to correspond; a train of lilac gros de Naples, finished with an elegant trimming of gauze ribbon.
The Pringles remained very close to John, Earl of Chatham, the last remaining uncle on the Pitt side. Harriet's son was co-heir to the Chatham estate and would go on to edit the Chatham Correspondence in 1840. Harriet also kept up relations with her father's family throughout her life. Her husband sat as M.P. for the Eliot seats of St. Germans and Liskeard (respectively) for twenty years, and "Lady Pringle" was left mementoes and bequests in a number of Eliot family wills. Judging from the amount of diamonds and furs left to her, it seems quite likely that Harriet's collection was rather impressive.
In 1835, Harriet's only son married, and a grandson was born the following year. Harriet lived to see two grandsons and one granddaughter. Unfortunately, sadness once again entered Harriet's life, when – two days before Christmas 1840 – General Pringle set out from the house in Stratford-place for an afternoon walk. Upon his return, he joined Harriet in the library and – after some minutes of conversation – collapsed to the floor with a heart attack, dying shortly thereafter. Grief-stricken, 56-year-old Harriet did not survive her husband for very long, dying at her home not two years later (on 05 Oct 1842). Harriet was buried above her beloved husband in the catacombs below the Anglican Chapel at Kensal Green Cemetery in London.
There is a possibility that a miniature portrait by Andrew Plimer (identified as "Mrs. Pringle") is a likeness of Harriet, painted shortly after her marriage. This miniature was once part of the Edward Grosvenor Paine collection and was last seen at the Christie's sale of 28 Oct 1980. Only a black-and-white image of this miniature exists.