History

William Pitt and family

History

William Pitt, Earl of Chatham.

William Pitt the Elder, Earl of Chatham (1708-1778) was twice Prime Minister and is buried in the north transept of Westminster Abbey. 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. 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 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 (d.1803) daughter of Richard Grenville. She is buried with him, as are their sons John (1756-1835), who succeeded as 2nd Earl of Chatham, and William (see below). Their other 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 parents 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 (1759-1806) 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:

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.

 

Further reading:

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

Click on the images to enlarge

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Pitt the Elder monument
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Pitt wax effigy