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The Rise and Fall of Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger

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William Pitt the Younger

Image source: Wikimedia

Britain's Youngest Prime Minister

William Pitt the Younger was the greatly admired son of William Pitt the Elder. He rose to become Britain's youngest prime minister in 1784 when he was just 24 years of age after spending one highly successful year as Chancellor of the Exchequer.

William Pitt was born on 28 May 1759 in Kent and quickly became a great administrator in his youth. As Chancellor he was brilliant with the country's finances and was responsible for solving the increasing problems of Britain's national debt at a time when it reached £350 million. The changes he made to the tax system included reducing the high duties on easily smuggled items such as tea, wine, spirits and tobacco, simplifying the customs and excise system and freeing the cotton trade and other industries from huge tariffs. He was then an important, powerful and popular prime minister.

However, the early successes and the good times for William Pitt were not to last. As good as Pitt was with the country's finances he was no good at managing his own personal financial affairs and soon became seriously in debt. At one time he owed £40,000 which was then a massive amount of money. His health started to deteriorate and, despite his youth, he suffered from severe attacks of gout and also suffered with mental instability inherited from his family. At one point he would frequently retire into his own dream world and ignore all efforts to bring him round. As prime minister he made a series of disasterous decisions such as sending British troops to fight the French in the West Indies when they should have been fighting Napoleon in Europe. He also tried to bring peace to Ireland by promising Catholic emancipation even though the country was joined to the rest of Britain by the Act of Union. This was completely against the policies of King George III so William Pitt was forced to resign. He did, however, return for a brief second term as prime minister in 1804.

William Pitt's health continued to get worse and he suffered greatly with headaches, exhaustion and infections, and he soon sank into depression and started to drink heavily. After just two years into his second term he died in office on 23 January 1806. His body was laid in state in the Palace of Westminster for two days before being buried in Westminster Abbey.

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