William Pitt the Younger

... was born in 1759, which was known as the 'annus mirabilis' in reference to a string of notable British victories over French–led opponents during the Seven Years' War. His father, William Pitt the Elder, was Leader of the Commons at the time, in the Duke of Newcastle's government. Pitt the Elder took much of the credit for the 'year of victories', and went on to become Prime Minister from 1766 to 1768.

Pitt the Younger entered Cambridge University at the age of 14, and Parliament at 22. He became Chancellor of the Exchequer, under the Whig Lord Shelburne, in 1782. Following the short coalition government led nominally by the Duke of Portland, but whose real leaders were Charles James Fox and Lord North, Pitt became Prime Minister in 1783, at the age of 24 years and 204 days.

During his lengthy first term in office, Pitt reorganised the country's finances and negotiated reciprocal tariff reduction with France. In 1793 however, the newly–established French republic declared war, and England fared badly. Pitt's policy in Ireland led to the 1798 revolt; he tried to resolve the Irish question by means of the 1800 Act of Union, but was forced to resign on New Year's Day 1801 after the Catholic emancipation that he had promised was rejected by George III.

Pitt's successor as Prime Minister, Henry Addington invited him to join the Cabinet, but Pitt preferred to join the Opposition. He became increasingly critical of the government's policies; Addington was unable to face the combined opposition of Pitt and Fox, and resigned in May 1804.

This opened the way for Pitt to return to office. He arranged an alliance with Austria, Russia and Sweden against Napoleon, but the alliance was shattered at Austerlitz in December 1805. Pitt, who was in declining health, died less than two months later (on hearing the news, according to one source). He was just 46 years old, and had been Prime Minister for a total of more than 18 years. His last words were "Oh, my country! How I leave my country!"

Pitt is credited with raising the importance of the House of Commons, clamping down on corruption, carrying out fiscal reforms, and achieving union with Ireland. He attempted to keep the country at peace, but the wars that Britain became embroiled in from 1793 were in no small part the result of his underestimating the importance of the French Revolution.

He never married, and he left no children. He was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Britain's youngest prime minister of modern times was David Cameron, who was 43 years and 214 days old when he took office in 2010. Tony Blair had been just 147 days older when he took office 13 years previously (four days before his 44th birthday). By contrast, Theresa May is one of the older prime ministers; she took office exactly 80 days before her 60th birthday.

© Haydn Thompson 2017