William Pitt

(Lord Chatham)


William Pitt was a statesman who played an extremely important role in the rise of the British Empire. Although he spent most of his career in the minority party within parliament, and was frequently at odds with the king, he nevertheless succeeded famously in many of his endeavors through persistence and masterful leadership when given the opportunity to direct affairs. He was also a great hero with the common people, and the criticisms of government for which he was famous often reflected the sentiments of the common Englishman. Pitt is credited more than any other person with leading Britain to victory during the critical Seven Year's War in the mid-eighteenth century. Britain's victories in this war led to her complete dominance over rival France in North America, India, and at sea, and formed the foundation of the British Empire.

William Pitt
William Pitt was elected to Parliament as a Tory in 1735 during the long period when Robert Walpole, leader of the Whig party, dominated government. He was therefore, from the beginning of his career, in the opposition party and from the beginning, was a vocal critic of Walpole's government. During the period 1740–1748 Britain was involved in the War of the Austrian Succession but its objective in the war was less to support Austria, than to fight their rival France for domination in the colonies. Pitt's experience in the army before entering Parliament had given him definite ideas about necessary reforms to the military. During this war, however, he had very little power, but continued his criticisms. Towards the end of the war he was finally promoted to a post in the council and showed great ability, but was turned out of office a few years later.

It was not until 1757, when England became embroiled in another war, (which was really just a continuation of the previous conflict), that Pitt was recalled to office, and only because the early years of the war were going badly for Britain. He assumed the responsibilities of "Secretary of War" and proceeded to make dramatic re-appointments, promote young, energetic generals, and to focus Britain's resources on objects of greatest strategic importance, especially in the colonies. Within a year, Britain's fortunes began to turn, and the year 1759 was a watershed of victories which secured Britain's dominance over France in both North America and Asia. The following year however, George II died, and George III formed a new government. When Pitt's advice was disregarded he refused to serve in the new administration and "retired" from politics. Due to his enormous popularity, especially with the English public, this caused problems for the new administration.

The war was concluded while he was out of office, but shortly afterward he was recalled and offered the chance to form a government on his own terms. Unfortunately, by this time his health was failing and he had not the energy for a vigorous government. After two years as Prime Minister, he served the rest of his life in the House of Lords, which was considered something of a betrayal, given his life-long reputation as "The Great Commoner". Towards the end of his life he again assumed a critical stance, this time against King George III and his treatment of the American Colonies. Had Pitt had the energy and influence of his younger years during the years leading up to the American Revolutionary War, the break between the colonies and Britain would probably not have occurred.

Key events during the life of William Pitt the Elder, (a.k.a. Lord Chatham):

William Pitt born to a wealthy family.
Studied classics at Trinity College, Oxford.
Served a commision in the army.
Elected to Parliament—opposes Walpole's government.
War of Austrian Succession Breaks out#8212;pitt continues opposition.
Promoted to Priviy Council after the Jacobite rising of 1475.
Dismissed from Government.
Seven Year's War Breaks out—Pitt recalled to office.
  Clive wins Bengal at the Battle of Plassey.
  Year of victories—Quebec, Quiberion Bay.
Resigned from government when his advice was disregarded.
Recalled to government as Prime Minister.
Retired as Prime Minister
Returned to the House of Lords
Took the side of the colonists regarding the American Question
Death of William Pitt.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Pitt in Peace  in  The Hanoverians  by  C. J. B. Gaskoin
Second Struggle  in  The Hanoverians  by  C. J. B. Gaskoin
William Pitt  in  Famous Men of Modern Times  by  John H. Haaren
Winning the British Empire  in  The Story of England  by  Samuel B. Harding
William Pitt  in  Great Englishmen  by  M. B. Synge
How Pitt Saved England  in  The Struggle for Sea Power  by  M. B. Synge

Image Links

William Pitt, Earl of Chatham
 in The Hanoverians

William Pitt
 in Famous Men of Modern Times

Death of William Pitt
 in Famous Men of Modern Times

William Pitt advises young James Wolfe before he sails
 in Builders of Our Country: Book I

Short Biography
George II Second Hanoverian Monarch of Britain.
George III Monarch whose long reign encompassed Revolutionary, and Napoleonic Wars.
General Wolfe Defeated the French at the Battle of Quebec, giving Canada to Britain. Died during battle.
Robert Clive British soldier, who rose to be a hero in the Carnatic Wars and delivered Bengal to Britain at the Battle of Plassey.
Lord Edward Hawke Hero of the naval Battle of Quiberon during the Seven Years War.
Robert Walpole First Prime Minister of Britain. Ran cabinet meetings for George I