Useful Notes: William Pitt The Younger

"Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves."

"I can save this country. No one else can."
Alleged statement, followed shortly by:

"My country! Oh, my country! How I leave my country!"
Possible Last words

"I think I could eat one of Bellamy's veal pies."
Other possible last words

"Mr. Speaker, Members of the House, I shall be brief, as I have rather unfortunately become Prime Minister right in the middle of my exams... "
Possible first words as Prime Minister, as portrayed by Simon Osborne in 'Blackadder the Third'

William Pitt The Younger, to distinguish him from William Pitt The Elder, his father, was the youngest ever Prime Minister at the age of 24 (although at this period the term of "Prime Minister" was not used). He left office in 1801, but was Prime Minister again from 1804 until his death (making him also the youngest Prime Minister to die in office). He was succeeded by William Grenville, who led the abortive "All-the-Talents" Ministry; incidentally, Grenville was his first cousin (Pitt's mother Hester was Grenville's father George Grenville's sister) and cousin-in-law (Grenville had married Pitt's cousin Anne).

He was Prime Minister during massive upheavals in Europe and once said "Fold that (a map of Europe) up, we will not require it for 10 years" when he heard about the Battle of Austerlitz. He also had to deal with the Napoleonic Wars and the French Revolution. Although often referred to as a Tory, or "new Tory", called himself an "independent Whig" or "reform Whig" and was generally opposed to the development of a strict partisan political system.

His early premiership was marked by attempts to curb the National Debt that had been racked up by the American Revolutionary War: his two most infamous taxes were on wig powder and window glass, with the result that he single-handedly ended the 18th century fashion for wigs and a lot of contemporary British buildings still have bricked-up windows. Notably, Pitt was also responsible for formulating and overseeing the Act of Union between Britain and Ireland in the wake of the 1798 United Irish rising. This led to his resignation when he followed up with a push for Catholic emancipation, which was opposed by the King.

Perhaps his longest term influence was the solidifying of so much power under himself, the template that would lead to the Prime Minister/Cabinet relationship the UK has today.

Like father, like son.

Just as his father had a large number of places named after him, so did Pitt the Younger. Among them are: Pittsylvania County Virginia, Pittwater New South Wales, Pitt Street Sydney (The main financial precinct street), Pitt Street, Hong Kong and The Pitt's Head rock formation in Snowdonia National Forest Park (because it resembled him). While Chatham County was named after his father, Pittsboro, North Carolina was named for William Pitt the Younger.

In fiction:
  • William Pitt The Younger is made fun of in Blackadder The Third, where he is a teenage boy. We also meet his younger brother, "William Pitt the Even Younger" (as opposed to Blackadder's guess that he might be named "Pitt the Toddler", "Pitt the Embryo" or "Pitt the Glint-in-the-milkman's-eye.").
  • The film The Madness Of King George.
  • The film Amazing Grace, where he's played by Benedict Cumberbatch.
  • The WWII propaganda film The Young Mr. Pitt.

Tropes associated with him:
  • The Alcoholic: Even by eighteenth-century standards, when hard drinking was not unusual. It probably contributed to his early death.
  • Celibate Hero: Notoriously so ("The Virgin Prime Minister"). This was cause for much speculation during his own lifetime: was he impotent because of alcohol or disease? Seeing women on the sly? Attracted to men? Asexual? Recent biographers have inclined to the last two options.
  • Large and In Charge: Pitt's height was about six feet, which was considered strikingly tall by his contemporaries.
  • 10-Minute Retirement: More of a three year retirement, but the circumstances were similar. In 1801, following an disagreement with King George III over Catholic Emancipation, Pitt resigned, and was replaced as Prime Minister by Henry Addington, who is widely regarded as a case of Head-in-the-Sand Management, negotiatiated a peace with Napoleon Bonaparte. However by 1804, the war was resumed, and faced with a French invasion of Britain, King George called for Pitt to lead his country once more. During his second time as Prime Minister, Lord Nelson won the Battle of Trafalgar, removing all threat of invasion.
  • Young and in Charge: Like we said, PM at 24.