Biography of William Pitt the Elder

Portrait of William Pitt the Elder

William Pitt the Elder was an eighteenth century politician and Prime Minister.

When and Where was he Born?

15th November 1708, Westminster, London, England.

Family Background:

William Pitt was the son of Robert Pitt from Boconnoc in Cornwall, the Member of Parliament for Old Sarum in Wiltshire and grandson of Thomas Pitt, the Governor of Madras in India for the East India Company.


Eton College. Trinity College, Oxford, but left after one year without taking degree.

Timeline of Pitt the Elder:

1735: After leaving Oxford University Pitt enters Parliament for the family Borough of Old Sarum where he was immediately attracting attention due to his opposition to the Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole as one of the leading lights in the young “Patriot” Whigs. He also sided with Frederick Louis, the Prince of Wales against the King George the Second.

1744: He inherits an income from the Duchess of Marlborough and the Somerset estate of Burton Pynsent which becomes the family seat of the Pitts.

1746: Pitt is appointed Paymaster General by Henry Pelham.

1754: He marries Lady Hester Grenville.

1755: He continues as Paymaster under Sir Thomas Pelham-Holles, Duke of Newcastle’s administration caused by the death of Pelham but is dismissed in November due to his criticism over the government’s war policy.

1756: Pitt is appointed Secretary of State for the Southern Department in a coalition with Newcastle, at the outbreak of the Seven Years War with France and immediately put into place war plans and raises a militia and strengthens the Navy.

1757: In April he resigns due to antipathy from the King. He is recalled in June and appointed Leader of the House of Commons due to public demand, in a coalition with the Duke of Newcastle. During the next few years he oversaw defeats of the French in India and Canada.

1761: Disagreements with the new King George the Third lead to his resignation particularly as the majority of the Cabinet refuse to declare war on Spain. He then spends five years in opposition. Pitt receives a pension of £3,000 and his wife, a sister of George Grenville, ia created Baroness Chatham, thus making him the First Earl of Chatham. During this time he was bitterly opposed to the government’s attitude to the American colonies and in particular hated the harsh measures then being introduced.

1766: William Pitt is recalled and becomes Lord Privy Seal and thus nominal Prime Minister, in another coalition government which he controls from the House of Lords as Viscount Pitt, Earl of Chatham. This time was less successful than his first period of office however, and he also suffers from ill health. Although he did not agree with American independence he was still heavily opposed by the crown and opposition for his stance towards the colonies.

1768: William Pitt resigns as Prime Minister. He spends much of his later time in Parliament calling for parliamentary reform and the relaxation of colonial policies.

1778: On 2nd April he opposed to peace with America on any terms and goes to the House of Lords for the last time and secures a vote against the motion. The effort of the debate exhausted him and he collapses into the arms of his friends witnessed by his son William Pitt the Younger. He died a few weeks later and was given a public funeral and the government paid off his substantial debts.

When and Where did he Die?

11th May 1788, Hayes, Kent, England. He died whilst his son was reading him a passage from Homer’s “Iliad” on Hector’s Farwell.

Age at Death:



1754 to Lady Hester Grenville.

Site of Grave:

North Transcept, Westminster Abbey, London, England.

Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey, London
 (copyright Anthony Blagg)

Places of Interest:


Lived at No 7 The Circus, Bath.


Houses of Parliament.
British Museum.

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