History and Tour

William Pitt

William Pitt the Younger Born: 28 May 1759 in Hayes, Kent

First entered Parliament: 8 January 1781

Age he became PM: 24 years, 205 days and 44 years, 348 days

Maiden speech: 26 February 1781 on the debate on Edmund Burke’s motion for the reintroduction of the Bill for Economical Reform

Total time as PM: 18 years, 343 days

Died: 23 January 1806 at Putney Heath, London

Facts and figures

Nickname: “Pitt the Younger”

Education: Pembroke Hall, Cambridge

Family: Pitt was the second son and fourth of five children. He was unmarried.

Interests: Keen gardener, loved riding and shooting, played chess

Biography

Youngest PM

Taking up office at the age of 24 years and 205 days, William Pitt was the youngest ever prime minister, and one of the longest in the role.

His time at Number 10 was momentous. Pitt led the country through major events including the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, regained financial stability for Britain after the American War of Independence, and brought about Union with Ireland.

He also helped to define the role of the Prime Minister as the supervisor and co-ordinator of the various Government departments.

The son of Pitt the Elder, the Earl of Chatham, William Pitt was almost born to be prime minister. Immersed in political life from a young age, Pitt the

Younger is said to have expressed parliamentary ambitions even at the age of seven.

Called to the Bar

He was educated at home due to his poor health, but later studied at Cambridge, from where he graduated at the age of just seventeen. He then went on to study law, and was called to the Bar in 1780.

Pitt stood unsuccessfully for the parliamentary seat of Cambridge University in 1780, but the next year was returned as MP for Appleby in Cumbria at the age of 21. He later represented Cambridge University.

In the House of Commons, he proved himself a talented speaker. He used this talent to join with Whig politician Charles Fox in calling for peace with the Americans.

When Pitt later joined the Opposition, Fox would become a fierce rival.

The following year Pitt became Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House under Lord Shelburne. His acceptance was regarded as a betrayal by Fox, who had refused to serve in this government himself.

“Kingdom trusted to a schoolboy”

He was 24 when he took on the role, which caused some public concern. A popular ditty commented that it was “a sight to make all nations stand and stare: a kingdom trusted to a schoolboy’s care.”

Representatives and workers of the East India Company, which Pitt wanted to reorganise during his time as PM Against early predictions, Pitt’s ministry survived for 17 years. In government, he stood for parliamentary reform to reduce the direct influence of the monarch and the capacity for bribery; union with Ireland; Catholic emancipation; reorganisation of the East India Company; reduction of the national debt; and free trade.

During his first year he suffered many defeats but was undeterred, and was increasingly fired by criticisms from his rival, Fox.

His popularity rose steadily, and he won a very large majority in a well-timed General Election in 1784. During 1784 Pitt set about reducing the national debt and combating smuggling.

The India Act 1784 established dual control of the East India Company, and centralised British rule in India by reducing the power of the Governors of Bombay and Madras and increasing that of the Governor-General. T

he session of 1785 was more difficult. Pitt launched a Reform Bill, which would rationalise dozens of “rotten borough” constituencies. This key bill was rejected, as was a Union with Ireland Bill.

A further difficulty arose when King George III’s mental illness led Pitt’s opponents to advocate that sovereignty should pass to the Prince of Wales. However, the King recovered in 1789, just after a Regency Bill had been passed in the House of Commons.

Pitt was called to form a goverment when Napoleon threatened invasion In the early 1790s the development of the revolution in France caused Pitt to worry about its effects in Britain. He reacted by expelling the French ambassador, and was blamed by Fox for the war with France that began in 1793.

War also led to increased taxes and duties at a time when basic foods were scarce. Pitt was also forced to introduce Great Britain’s first ever income tax.

The new tax helped offset losses in indirect tax revenue, which had been caused by a decline in trade. There were problems with Ireland too. In 1798, Irish nationalists even attempted a rebellion, believing that the French would help them overthrow the monarchy.

In 1800 Pitt’s Act of Union with Ireland sought to resolve the conflicts there and grant Catholics equality.

The United Kingdom

Great Britain and Ireland were formally united into a single realm, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, on 1 January 1801. In 1801, however, Pitt’s attempt to abolish restrictions on Roman Catholics, who formed a majority in Ireland, proved unsuccessful.

King George III refused to accept Pitt’s Emancipation of Catholics Bill, saying that his assent would break his coronation oath of loyalty to the Church of England. Pitt resigned, having lost the confidence of the King, and Addington became prime minister.

Three years later, King George III asked Pitt to form a second government when Napoleon was threatening invasion. Pitt accepted, despite his failing health, possible alcoholism and limited support in the House of Commons.

He formed an alliance with Russia, Austria and Sweden against France. After victory at the Battle of Trafalgar, Pitt was hailed as the saviour of Europe.

However, Napoleon went on to defeat Russia and Austria in 1805 at Ulm and Austerlitz, effectively conquering Europe. It was a profound personal blow for Pitt.

He died at the age of 46 on 23 January 1806. His last words were ‘Oh my country! How I love my country!’

Quote unquote

On the execution of Louis XVI of France: “On every principle by which men of justice and honour are actuated, it is the foulest and most atrocious deed which the history of the world has yet had occasion to attest.”

Did you know?

He was unmarried on his death and in debt to the tune of £40,000. Parliament agreed to pay the sum on his behalf, and granted Pitt the honour of burial in Westminster Abbey.

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