William Pitt, the Younger 1759-1806
William Pitt, the Younger 1759-1806

The Bachelor at 10 Downing Street

William Pitt the Younger lived 46 exhausting years — 19 years of which he was the prime minister of Great Britain.

Pitt the Younger was British prime minister from 1783-1801 and again from 1804-1806, which made the  French Revolution, the  French Revolutionary Wars, and the first years of the Napoleonic Wars something for him to think about.

Image Above

William Pitt, 1759-1806
Mezzotint, 1799
Library of Congress

But he didn't have to wait for the French to cause a national emergency.

Pitt the Younger took office three months after the end of the  American Revolution, which left Great Britain with the huge problem of national debt. Fortunately, Pitt was good with money.

At least with the country's money. His own purse was fleeced by dishonest tradesmen and greedy servants.

This fact is remarkable because it stands in stark contrast to many other government officials whose entrusted public funds show irregularities while their private accounts prosper.

This also explains where Pitt's priorities lay. On his deathbed, having no wife or kids to worry about, his last words were,

Oh, my country! How I leave my country!



William Pitt's Family

William Pitt's father was William Pitt the Elder, 1st Earl of Chatham, who lived from 1708-1778. Pitt Senior had been prime minister himself, back in the days.

William Pitt's mother was Hester Grenville, who lived 1720-1803. Hester, by the way, was the sister of George Grenville, who had been the second prime minister before Pitt the Elder took office.

William Pitt Jr. was William Sr.'s and Hester's fourth child. He had three siblings. The four children were, in order of appearance:

Hester Pitt, born October 18, 1755

John Pitt, born September 10, 1756

Harriet Pitt, born April 14, 1758

William Pitt, born May 28, 1759

Hester Lucy Stanhope
was William's niece.

James Hamilton Stanhope was William's nephew.

Why should we care?

Hester Lucy Stanhope, moved in with her uncle, William Pitt the Younger, in 1803. Apparently, Pitt was very happy with this arrangement. She certainly was.

James Hamilton Stanhope was present at his uncle's deathbed. His written account of this event and other recollections of Pitt was handed down to J.H. Stanhope's nephew, Philip Henry Stanhope, who published it.


Niece and nephew in detail:

On December 19, 1774, William's sister, Hester Jr. (1755-1780), married Charles Stanhope (1753-1816). The couple had a daughter, Hester Lucy Stanhope (born on March 12, 1776; died on June 23, 1839).

William's sister, Hester Jr., died on July 19, 1780. Her widowed husband Charles Stanhope, William's brother-in-law, married his second wife on March 12, 1781. Her name was Louisa Grenville, the daughter of William's maternal uncle, Henry Grenville. Charles and Louisa had a child, James Hamilton Stanhope (born on September 7, 1778; hanged himself on March 5, 1825).

Thus, James Hamilton Stanhope was Hester Lucy Stanhope's half brother.


William Pitt the Younger
William Pitt the Younger
Engraving by J.K. Sherwin, 1789
Government Art Collection


William Pitt's Early Career 1781-1783 — William Pitt the Orator

Pitt took his seat in the House of Commons on January 23, 1781, representing the borough of Appleby, northwestern England. He was 21 years old.

He delivered his unanticipated maiden speech on February 26, 1781. Unlike other maiden speeches, his was impromptu. In the middle of a debate about economic reform Pitt was called upon to say a few words. The speech was a success.

The Parliamentary History of England describes the event:

The Honorable William Pitt, son to the late earl of Chatham, now rose for the first time, and in a speech directly in answer to matter that had fallen out in the course of the debate, displayed great and astonishing powers of eloquence.

His voice is rich and striking, full of melody and force; his manner easy and elegant; his language beautiful and luxuriant. He gave in this first essay, a specimen of eloquence, not unworthy the son of his immortal parent.


Nephew J.H. Stanhope also remembered Pitt's pleasant intonation. According to Stanhope's Life of William Pitt, he had a

"deep tone and wonderful harmony which characterized his voice both in public and private."


William Pitt's First Term 1783-1801

Pitt became prime minister shortly after the Treaty of Paris of September 3, 1783, was signed and the 1783 Peace of Paris officially ended the American Revolution.

On December 19, 1783, he was made First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer, which in effect made him prime minister. How so? Thomas Babington Macaulay tells us in his History of England,

When there was a Lord Treasurer, that great officer was generally prime minister. [...] It was not till the time of Walpole that the First Lord of the Treasury was considered as the head of the executive administration.

See also Prime Ministers in Great Britain.

When William Pitt the Younger took office, he was only 24 years old, the youngest British prime minister to this day.

At the time, King George III ruled Great Britain and Ireland, and had done so since 1760. George would outlive Pitt the Younger by 14 years.

10 Downing Street, London, SW1A 2AA
10 Downing Street, London, SW1A 2AA
Built by Sir George Downing in 1682
Work and home address of Pitt the Younger from 1783
National Archives


Prime Ministers in Great Britain

:: Since December 1905

Officially, the office of the prime minister didn't exist in Great Britain until, on December 2, 1905,
King Edward VII proclaimed in his Royal Warrant:

Whereas We taking it into Our Royal consideration that the precedence of Our Prime Minister has not been declared or defined by due authority, know ye that in the exercise of our Royal Prerogative We do hereby declare Our Royal Will and Pleasure that at all times hereafter the Prime Minister of Us, Our Heirs and Successors shall have place and precedence next after the Archbishop of York.

On the same day, Henry Campbell-Bannerman became the first formal British prime minister.

:: Before December 1905

Unofficially, Robert Walpole was the first prime minister, acting as such from 1730-1742.

The British National Archives tell us,

Before its official creation in 1905, the title of 'prime minister' was often used when referring to the First Lords of the Treasury, or Lords Treasurer, an ancient title for the principal minister with control over the Treasury.


Constitutionally, in order of precedence, the Prime Minister ranks fourth after the Sovereign, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Lord Chancellor.


The Prime Minister is appointed by the sovereign on the understanding that he or she can command the confidence of the Commons, a situation which may change after a General Election is held on the dissolution of Parliament. The life of a Parliament must not exceed five years, but the Prime Minister may advise the sovereign for an earlier dissolution. The life of a Parliament can be extended if it so decides and the sovereign agrees but this is unlikely to happen unless in exceptional circumstances, as happened during the Second World War.

And here is the list,
Downing Street's Past Prime Ministers

Back to Pitt the Younger and the year 1783.


East India Company

Pitt took office amid hefty debates about the growing power of the East India Company, which had begun to control not only commerce but also politics. What was his solution?

In August 1784, the East India Company Act, or Government of India Act of 1784, was passed. This decree kept the East India Company in charge of all affairs, but required it to accept the direction of the British government on subjects of political nature.



Pitt was in favor of the abolition of the slave trade.

On May 12, 1789, Pitt's friend William Wilberforce delivered his Abolition Speech to the Commons. Pitt himself had helped Wilberforce with the preparation of the resolutions that Wilberforce mentioned at the end of this speech.

However, in Great Britain slavery would not be outlawed until 1833. (It would be outlawed in the U.S. in 1808.)


Foreign Policy, Health, Ireland, and Income Tax

On July 14, 1789, the French Revolution broke out.

At around this time, and seemingly unrelated to the developments in France, Pitt's health began to require some attention. It would become a serious concern by 1793.

On the European mainland, the
War of the First Coalition (part of the  French Revolutionary Wars) broke out in 1792. It would last until 1797.

The French guillotined their king Louis XVI on January 21, 1793, and his wife  Marie-Antoinette on October 16, 1793. Pitt had met Louis and Marie-Antoinette on his visit to Paris in September 1783.

On February 3, 1793, France declared war on Britain and the Dutch Republic.

On May 23, 1798 the Irish Rebellion broke out. It ended on September 8, 1798. This revolt prompted Pitt to support the Act of Union, which took effect on January 1, 1801, and unified Great Britain (Wales, England and Scotland) and Ireland as a United Kingdom, at least on paper.

War of the Second Coalition (part of the French Revolutionary Wars) broke out in November 1798. This war would last until 1802.

On April 5, 1799, the Act of 1799 was passed via which Pitt introduced the income tax.

See more under French Revolutionary Wars and Income Tax.

Pitt resigned on February 3, 1801.

Why did Pitt resign?

The immediate cause for Pitt's resignation was his endorsement of the so-called Catholic emancipation, which would allow Irish Roman Catholics to enter parliament.

King George III was outraged by the very thought of it. Nevertheless, he held Pitt in high esteem and hoped he would abandon the issue. But Pitt didn't budge.

Henry Addington, the son of Pitt's father's physician, became the new prime minister. And Pitt wished him all the best. Sincerely.


George III King of Great Britain and Ireland   Henry Addington 1st Viscount Sidmouth
George III
King of Great Britain and Ireland
  Henry Addington
1st Viscount Sidmouth

Government Art Collection



Pitt the Younger In-between Terms 1801-1804

On March 27, 1802, Britain signed a peace treaty with France, the Treaty of Amiens.

On May 16, 1803, Great Britain declared war on France (part of the Napoleonic Wars). Prime minister Addington was clearly overwhelmed by the task. This development drew Pitt back out of semi-retirement.

Having been prime minister since February 1801, Henry Addington resigned in May 1804.


William Pitt's Second Term 1804-1806

On May 10, 1804, Pitt began his second term.

Worry over French expansion on the mainland and a possible French invasion of the homeland caused Britain to join the Third Coalition against Napoleon.

The War of the Third Coalition broke out on September 23, 1805 (part of the Napoleonic Wars) when Napoleon declared war on Austria.

On October 21, 1805, Pitt had much to celebrate on the occasion of Britain's victory at the Battle of Trafalgar, which destroyed Napoleon's dream of invading Britain.

But Napoleon followed up by taking Vienna on November 13, 1805, and winning the Battle of Austerlitz on December 2, 1805.

In 1862, Earl Stanhope wrote in his book Life of the Right Honourable William Pitt,

The defeat at Austerlitz was indeed a most grievous blow to the English Prime Minister.


During the last ten days of his residence at Bath Mr. Pitt was joined by his attached friend and physician Sir Walter Farquhar. He had also Mr. Charles Stanhope with him at that time. The meeting of Parliament had been fixed for the 21st of January, and on the 9th he set out with Sir Walter and Charles Stanhope on his journey homeward.


So much on leaving Bath was the strength of Pitt reduced, that it took him three days to reach his villa at Putney. On seeing him again. Lady Hester Stanhope was greatly shocked at his wasted appearance and hollow tone of voice. There is a little incident of him at that period which has often been related, but with some variations as to time or place, and therefore perhaps not derived from any direct authority. It is said that on leaving his carriage, and as he passed along the passage to his bedroom, he observed a map of Europe which had been drawn down from the wall; upon which he turned to his niece and mournfully said, "Roll up that map; it will not be wanted these ten years."


Utterly exhausted, William Pitt the Younger died on January 23, 1806.

Pitt's cousin, William W. Grenville, the son of former prime minister George Grenville, became Pitt's successor.


More Pitt the Younger

Here you can read the Life of the Right Honourable William Pitt by Philip Henry Stanhope online.





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