William Pitt and family
William Pitt, Earl of Chatham.
William Pitt the Elder, Earl of Chatham, was twice Prime Minister and was buried in the north transept of Westminster Abbey on 9 June 1778. A stone, only measuring one foot square, was placed over the burial vault with just his initials on it (in the centre part of the transept and adjoining the Wilberforce grave). Later a slightly larger stone was laid down which included his name and dates and those of his son William. Only a small part of this inscription can now be made out.
His large monument of white marble, by sculptor John Bacon, is nearly 33 feet high and cost over £6,000. At the base sits Britannia holding her trident, and below her are the reclining figures of Ocean (Neptune) with a dolphin and the female figure of Earth, with a globe, fruit and flowers. Above, on a sarcophagus, sit the figures of Prudence and Fortitude. At the very top, in a niche, is the standing figure of Chatham delivering an oration with arm outstretched. His arm points towards the site of the grave. The inscription reads:
ERECTED BY THE KING AND PARLIAMENT AS A TESTIMONY TO THE VIRTUES AND ABILITY OF WILLIAM PITT, EARL OF CHATHAM; DURING WHOSE ADMINISTRATION IN THE REIGNS OF GEORGE THE SECOND AND GEORGE THE THIRD DIVINE PROVIDENCE EXALTED GREAT BRITAIN TO AN HEIGHT OF PROSPERITY AND GLORY UNKNOWN TO ANY FORMER AGE. BORN 15 NOVEMBER 1708. DIED 11 MAY 1778.
William was born in 1708 the younger son of Robert Pitt of Cornwall and Harriet, daughter of the Hon.Edward Villiers of Ireland. He was educated at Eton and Cambridge and entered Parliament in 1735. Although he suffered from gout and ill health he was known as a great orator in Parliament. He pressed for peace with America in 1777, which he declared could not be conquered, but his request for the recall of British troops was unsuccessful.
In 1754 he married Hester, daughter of Richard Grenville. She was buried with him on 16 April 1803 aged 83. Their son John (born 1756) succeeded as 2nd Earl of Chatham and served in the army, becoming Lord Privy Seal and governor at various times of Plymouth, Jersey and Gibraltar. His wife Mary Elizabeth Townshend, a daughter of Thomas, 1st Viscount Sydney, was buried in the vault on 30 May 1821 aged 59. As they had no children the title became extinct. John was buried on 3 October 1835. Another son James (1761-1781) died while serving in the navy. Their daughters were Hester, who married Lord Mahon, and Harriet who married the Honourable Edward Eliot at St Margaret's Westminster on 4 September 1785. Lady Harriet was buried with her father on 2 October 1786.
William’s lifelike wax effigy, wearing Parliamentary robes, can be seen in the Abbey Museum. It was made in 1775 by American sculptor Patience Wright.
William Pitt the Younger.
William Pitt the Younger ( born 1759) was buried with his father on 22 February 1806. He became Britain’s youngest Prime Minister at age 24. He was unmarried and died of exhaustion through overwork, leaving many debts. His monument, by Sir Richard Westmacott, stands over the west entrance door (as there was not room for it near his father in the north transept):
THIS MONUMENT IS ERECTED BY PARLIAMENT, TO WILLIAM PITT, SON OF WILLIAM, EARL OF CHATHAM, IN TESTIMONY OF GRATITUDE FOR THE EMINENT PUBLIC SERVICES, AND OF REGRET FOR THE IRREPARABLE LOSS OF THAT GREAT AND DISINTERESTED MINISTER. HE DIED ON THE 23 JANUARY 1806, IN THE 47th YEAR OF HIS AGE.
He stands in a similar pose to his father and at his feet sit the figure of a woman representing History writing his words in a book and a youth in chains representing Anarchy (a reference to the French Revolution).
Photographs of the monuments and the wax effigy can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library.
The Abbey Museum is open Monday to Saturday 10.30-4.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004
"Pitt the Elder" by Jeremy Black, 1992
"William Pitt the Younger" by William Hague, 2005
"Patience Wright. American artist and spy in George III's London" by Charles Coleman Sellers, 1976
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