PITT, William (the Elder)

William Pitt

b. 15 Nov 1708, London
d. 11 May 1778, Hayes Place, Bromley, Kent

Ministerial offices: Joint Vice Treasurer of Ireland (22 Feb 1746 - 6 May 1746)
Paymaster General (6 May 1746 - 20 Nov 1755)
Secretary of State, Southern Department, and Leader of the House of Commons (4 Dec 1756 - 6 Apr 1757, 27 Jun 1757 - 5 Oct 1761)
Lord Privy Seal (30 Jul 1766 - Feb 1768, 21 Mar 1768 - 14 Oct 1768)
Names/titles: Viscount Pitt of Burton Pynsent and Earl of Chatham [from 4 Aug 1766]; also known as Pitt "the Elder"
Biography:

William Pitt 'the Elder' dominated much of mid-18th century British politics. The grandson of a governor of Madras, Pitt attended Eton, Trinity College, Oxford, and the University of Utrecht, but never received a degree. In 1735 he was first elected to Parliament and soon became known as a brilliant orator. Pitt served as Joint Vice Treasurer of Ireland (1746) and Paymaster General (1746-1755), but when he was passed over for promotion by the Duke of Newcastle, he became rapidly estranged from the Government, and was dismissed in late 1755. However by the end of 1756 he was prime minister in all but name in the government of the Duke of Devonshire, although he antagonized many and was dismissed by the King in the following year (6 Apr 1757). His public popularity ensured his rapid return to the political scene as Secretary of State for the Southern Department in what was in effect a Chatham-Newcastle ministry, where he presided over the military successes of the Seven Years' War (1756-1763). The accession of George III in 1760 strengthened the Earl of Bute's peace faction, leading to Chatham's resignation (5 Oct 1761) the following year over the Government's refusal to make war on Spain. Ill health and the King's refusal of his terms led Chatham to reject several royal overtures to form a ministry, until he finally succeeded the Marquess of Rockingham in 1766. Pitt assumed the office of Lord Privy Seal (1766-1768) and decided immediately to govern from the Lords (becoming Earl of Chatham), thereby depriving himself of his power base as the 'Great Commoner.' The Duke of Grafton, as First Lord of the Treasury (1766-1770), increasingly had to take control of the Government due to Chatham's deteriorating health. After his resignation (14 Oct 1768), Chatham devoted much of his remaining political career to the growing crisis in the North American colonies, the topic of his parliamentary speech in 1778, which precipitated his fatal collapse. Biography source: [1, pp. 45-51]


[1] "Facts About the British Prime Ministers: A Compilation of Biographical and Historical Information", ed. by Dermot Englefield, Janet Seaton, Isobel White (New York: H.W. Wilson Co., 1995).
Image: William Pitt, the Elder, detail of a painting by William Hoare, 1766.
Last updated on: 26 Jun 2009 04:21:50