Biography of William Pitt the Younger

William Pitt the Younger

William Pitt the Younger was a Prime Minister in the late eighteenth century and the youngest ever.

When and Where was he Born?

28th May 1759, Hayes, Kent, England.

Family Background:

William Pitt was the son of William Pitt (The Elder) a statesman and former Member of Parliament for Old Sarum who later became the Earl of Chatham.

Education:

Educated at home by his father as he suffered from poor health.He was given lessons in oratory. Pembroke Hall, Cambridge under his tutor the Reverend George Pretyman.

Timeline of Pitt the Younger:

1776: Pitt receives his MA degree from Cambridge.

1778: On 7th April his father was making a speech in the House of Lords and Pitt, who was in the gallery, rushed down to help carry his dying father home.

1780: He is called to the Bar. He fails to win a seat at Cambridge in the General Election.

1781: With the help of Sir James Lowther, Pitt becomes the Member of Parliament (MP) for Appleby-in-Westmoreland. His maiden speech was described by Lord North, later to become Prime Minister, as the best speech he had ever heard. Pitt then becomes influenced by Charles James Fox the Leader of the Whig Party and he joins in the move to establish peace in the American Colonies and describes it as an unjust war. Pitt is also critical of the way that the monarchy influenced who should become MP’s and insisted that parliamentary reform was necessary if Britain was to preserve liberty.

1782: Pitt supports a motion which would shorten the hours worked in Parliament and measures which would reduce the chances of government ministers being bribed. Lord North’s government falls in March and is replaced by Rockingham’s Whig Government. Fox is appointed Foreign Secretary but leaves the government in July as he could not work with the new Prime Minister, Lord Shelburne. Short of people to appoint Shelburne makes Pitt Chancellor of the Exchequer at the tender age of twenty three replacing Fox. Charles James Fox took the fact that Pitt accepted the post as an act of betrayal and the two became bitter enemies for the rest of their lives.

Statue of Pitt in London
Statue of William Pitt the Younger in London (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1783: Pitt resigns and declares that he has no connections with the party whatsoever. He can now turn back to seeking parliamentary reform. When Shelburne resigns the King offers the Prime Ministership to Pitt but he declines and it is given to William Bentinck, Duke of Portland, instead. Pitt also opposes Charles James Fox’s India Bill. King George the Third is also opposed to the India Bill which had already been passed by the House of Commons and made it clear that any Member of the Lords who supported it would be his enemy. The Lords duly vote against it on the 19th December bringing about the fall of The Duke of Portland’s Government. The King now asks Pitt himself to form a new government. At the age of Twenty-four he becomes Britain’s youngest Prime Minister. The news is received with derisive laughter in the House of Commons and he has difficulty in getting enough people to serve beneath him. Charles James Fox leads the attacks on him but although defeated in several votes Pitt refuses to resign.

1784: Pitt has now built up a reputation in the country and calls a General Election. Pitt stands for Cambridge University and Fox duly lost 160 of his supporters when the vote comes around. Now with a majority in the House of Commons Pitt passes a series of Acts including one to curb the powers of the East India Company.

1785: Pitt proposes a Bill to remove thirty six rotten boroughs, i.e. places which have MP’s but little population to represent and which were in the gift of the local landlord. He proposes seventy two seats in areas where populations are rising. The Commons, not thinking he was serious on this issue, vote against the reforms and Pitt was never again to try such radical measures.

1790: At the General Election in October Pitt increases his majority and he now turns his eyes towards France. He had seen the Revolution of the previous years as an internal matter but he now becomes concerned that reform groups in Britain are in touch with the French revolutionaries. He passes an Act preventing seditious writings.

1791: The Canada Act establishes a division between the English and the French.

Statue of Pitt in Edinburgh
Statue of William Pitt the Younger in 
George Street, Edinburgh
 (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1793: He expells the French Ambassador to London in January when he hears of the Execution of King Louis the Sixteenth of France. Charles James Fox accuses Pitt of not doing enough to preserve peace with France who declare war on Britain on 1st February. In May Habeus Corpus is suspended within twenty-four hours which means that suspected rebels could now be tried in their absence. Those seeking parliamentary reform were now to be arrested. One of the main people in this cause Tom Paine manages to escape to America. Pitt forms alliances against France with Russia, Prussia, Austria and Spain amongst others but a series of defeats becomes costly and he is forced to put up taxes to pay for it.

1795: When King George the Third goes to open Parliament in October the public shout at him to remove Pitt as there had been a series of bad harvests as well as crippling tax rises. Pitt replies by passing the Act of Sedition which redefines the crime of treason.

1796: Pitt sues for peace with France to try and remove Britain’s financial burdens but this is rejected and he has to bring in even more taxes.

1797: He is forced to bring in taxes on tea, sugar and spirits but still the budget deficit widened. Pitt now has to be protected by an armed guard everywhere he travels. He passes a new law to regulate newspapers. Lord Castlereagh is appointed as Irish Chief Secretary and he follows Pitt’s desire to crush the Irish uprising and unite Ireland with Britain under one parliament. This requires Catholic emancipation to achieve which is unpopular with the King.

1798: Pitt brings in a new graduated Income Tax.

1801: The Act of Union with Ireland is passed. Pitt resigns when he finds out that the King has secretly been trying to get Henry Addington to become his new Prime Minister. Although highly paid for the time he was penniless and feared he would become bankrupt. He sells his family home and with the help of friends narrowly avoided tit.

1804: Henry Addington resigns and Pitt again becomes Prime Minister. Lord Castelreagh is appointed Secretary for War but again Charles James Fox and other leading politicians refuse to serve under him. Pitt hastily forms coalitions with Russia, Austria and Sweden.

1805: When it was found that Lord Nelson had defeated the French at the Battle of Trafalgar Pitt is hailed as the saviour of Europe. Napoleon fought back, however and made a tremendous victory over Austrian and Russian ground forces at the Battle of Austerlitz. Pitt is taken back by the news and the onset of a serious illness came as a consequence. Again he was so heavily in debt that the House of Commons had to pay off his creditors at his death.

When and Where did he Die?

23rd January 1806, London, England.

Age at Death:

46.

Marriage:

Never married.

Site of Grave:

In his father’s tomb, North Transept, Westminster Abbey, London, England.

Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey, London
(copyright Anthony Blagg)

Places of Interest:

AVON:

Lived at 15 Johnstone Street, Bath.

LONDON:

British Museum.