Britain’s youngest ever Prime Minister

On Friday 19th December 1783, at an age of 24 years 205 days, William Pitt ’the Younger’ became – and remains – Britain’s youngest ever Prime Minister. It is said that he was almost born to be Prime Minister having become immersed in political life from a young age – apparently expressing parliamentary ambitions at the age of 7.  He was educated at home due to his poor health but he later studied at Cambridge University; graduated aged 17; went on to study Law and was called to the Bar in 1780 aged 20. A year later he was returned as MP for Appleby in Cumbria.

In the House of Commons he proved himself a talented speaker and used this talent to join with Whig politician Charles Fox in calling for peace with the Americans.

At age 24 Pitt was appointed Chancellor of Exchequer by the Prime Minister, the Earl of Shelburne in July 1783 while knowing little about his new duties, and even less about the practical business of government.  None the less he was leader of the Government in the Commons in all but name and it was on this Friday, 19th December 1783, that he officially became Prime Minister of Britain.

His age predictably caused some public concern: a popular ditty of the time commented that it was ‘a sight to make all nations stand and stare: a kingdom trusted to a schoolboy’s care’. During his first year he suffered a significant number of defeats in Parliament but was undeterred.  His popularity rose steadily, and he won a very large majority in a well-timed general election in 1784.  Not only did he have a high level of support from the electorate but also that of the House of Lords that had consistently supported him and King George III who regarded him as his only hope of salvation from men whom he hated!

 

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