William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham

William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham, PC, FRS (15 November 1708  11 May 1778) was a British statesman of the Whig group who served as Prime Minister of Great Britain in the middle of the 18th century. Historians call him Pitt of Chatham, or William Pitt the Elder, to distinguish him from his son, William Pitt the Younger, who also was a prime minister. Pitt was also known as the Great Commoner, because of his long-standing refusal to accept a title until 1766.

The Earl of Chatham

Pitt the Elder, after Richard Brompton
Prime Minister of Great Britain
In office
30 July 1766  14 October 1768
MonarchGeorge III
Preceded byThe Marquess of Rockingham
Succeeded byThe Duke of Grafton
Lord Privy Seal
In office
30 July 1766  14 October 1768
Preceded byThe Duke of Newcastle
Succeeded byThe Earl of Bristol
Leader of the House of Commons
In office
27 June 1757  6 October 1761
Preceded byVacant
Succeeded byGeorge Grenville
In office
4 December 1756  6 April 1757
Preceded byHenry Fox
Succeeded byVacant
Secretary of State for the Southern Department
In office
27 June 1757  5 October 1761
Preceded byThe Earl of Holderness
Succeeded byThe Earl of Egremont
In office
4 December 1756  6 April 1757
Preceded byHenry Fox
Succeeded byThe Earl of Holderness
Paymaster of the Forces
In office
29 October 1746  25 November 1755
Preceded byThomas Winnington
Succeeded by
Member of Parliament
In office
18 February 1735  4 August 1766
Personal details
William Pitt

(1708-11-15)15 November 1708
Westminster, Middlesex, England
Died11 May 1778(1778-05-11) (aged 69)
Hayes, Kent, England
Resting placeWestminster Abbey
Political partyWhig
(m. 1754)
Children5; including Hester, John and William
ParentsRobert Pitt (father)
Alma mater
Military service
Allegiance Kingdom of Great Britain
Branch/service British Army
UnitKing's Own Regiment of Horse

Pitt was a member of the British cabinet and its informal leader from 1756 to 1761 (with a brief interlude in 1757), during the Seven Years' War (including the French and Indian War in the American colonies). He again led the ministry, holding the official title of Lord Privy Seal, between 1766 and 1768. Much of his power came from his brilliant oratory.[1] He was out of power for most of his career and became well known for his attacks on the government, such as those on Walpole's corruption in the 1730s, Hanoverian subsidies in the 1740s, peace with France in the 1760s, and the uncompromising policy towards the American colonies in the 1770s.[2]

Pitt is best known as the wartime political leader of Britain in the Seven Years' War, especially for his single-minded devotion to victory over France, a victory which ultimately solidified Britain's dominance over world affairs. He is also known for his popular appeal, his opposition to corruption in government, his support for the American position in the run-up to the American Revolutionary War, his advocacy of British greatness, expansionism and empire, and his antagonism towards Britain's chief enemies and rivals for colonial power, Spain and France.[3] Marie Peters argues his statesmanship was based on a clear, consistent, and distinct appreciation of the value of the Empire.[4]

The British parliamentary historian P. D. G. Thomas argued that Pitt's power was based not on his family connections but on the extraordinary parliamentary skills by which he dominated the House of Commons. He displayed a commanding manner, brilliant rhetoric, and sharp debating skills that cleverly utilised broad literary and historical knowledge.[5] Scholars rank him highly among all British prime ministers.[6]