December 7: William Pitt the Younger Becomes Britain’s Youngest PM

william-pitt

With Monday’s Supreme Court meeting to rule whether the government must consult Parliament before implementing Brexit, hopefully this may spark your interest in visiting the UK’s seat of power. European tourists must be chomping at the bit to have first hand experience of the corridors of power which may have a say on their relations with the UK. Today is also the date 235 years ago that William Pitt the Younger became Britain’s Youngest PM at 24, so a definite excuse for a scheduled Parliament tour with afternoon tea by the River Thames whilst the law chiefs convene. Before you head off here’s a little about William Pitt the Younger:

Pitt was born in 1759 and his father (the Earl of Chatham) was also called William Pitt and unusually had also served as Prime Minister, so to distinguish them his son became known as William Pitt the Younger. Obviously destined to follow in his father’s footsteps he became known as a Tory but before this had insisted he was an independent Whig. The Whigs were a new political faction that dominated from 1715-1783 and believed in constitutional monarchy rather than absolute monarchy. This is interesting because the Brexit hoo-hah over whether Parliament can overrule government has come about because of royal and constitutional executive power crossing purposes. This week the Supreme Court is making a ruling about something called Royal Prerogative – a power  given to the Crown to be used by the government to make decisions without the say so of Parliament. And Theresa May believes this Prerogative empowers her to implement Article 50.

Pitt was thrown into the deep end during his premiership, facing none other than France’s greatest military leader in the Napoleonic Wars as the French Revolution happened on Britain’s doorstep drawing together these historic foes. Pitt the Whig actually resurrected Toryism even though his new party had all but flushed them out of all major positions in public life. He did so by remoulding it as the New Toryism in much the same way as a youthful David Cameron remarketed the same party for considerable election success. This branding worked wonders for both! Pitt’s Tories remained in power for 25 years and Cameron’s party has ruled since 2010. Pitt though trounces Cameron on  both counts because even though Cameron became the youngest PM since Lord Liverpool in 1812, Pitt was simply the youngest ever.

Although historians claim he was too dour and dutiful to endear himself to the public other accounts suggest a more adventurous and swashbuckling spirit. Putney resident Pitt challenged a rival to a duel on Putney Heath on Whitsunday 27 May 1798 after the poor fellow, leader of the opposition James Fox Tierney, had dared to oppose one of his military bills being pushed through Parliament. A serving Prime Minister aiming pistols at dawn? South West London had never seen the like!

Click here for official Parliament tours with afternoon tea by the River Thames.

And no duelling in the tea rooms of the House of Commons!

 

 

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Eddie Saint-Jean

Eddie Saint-Jean is an arts reviewer with a background in art theory, film and theatre.

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