William Pitt: Correspondence

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

MS.Add.6958: Copies of letters received by William Pitt, 1783-1805, c. 4000 items, 17 box-files. The letters are written in a 19th century hand in English and French, and are arranged chronologically.

MS.Add.6959: Copies of nineteen letters from Lady Chatham to William Pitt, 1773-1801; copies of letters between William Pitt and his brother John, 2nd Earl of Chatham; letters from John, 2nd Earl of Chatham to the Bishop of London; letters from Lady Chatham to Edward Eliot (her son-in-law); miscellaneous letters to William Pitt.

Administrative / Biographical History

William Pitt (1759-1806) was born at Hayes, Kent, on 28 May 1759, the second son of William Pitt, first earl of Chatham, and Hester, daughter of Richard Grenville. He was educated at home, before entering Pembroke Hall, Cambridge, in 1773 (M.A., 1776). In 1781 he became M.P. for Appleby, and in 1782 he was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer in the government of Lord Sherburne. He resigned from the government in March 1783, but in December of that year, following the fall of the Duke of Portland's administration, he became Britain's youngest prime minister. His success in the general election of 1784 gave him a majority in the House of Commons, and allowed him to pass new measures in Parliament. These included the India Act, which established dual control of the East India Company, and a reduction in duties, which was intended to tackle the problem of smuggling. In April 1785 Pitt tried to introduce a bill to remove the 36 rotten boroughs in the country and to transfer the seats to other areas. However, the bill was defeated in the House of Commons.

In February 1793 France declared war on Britain. Pitt decided that it was essential to suppress all domestic dissention if the war was to be fought successfully. As a result, he introduced a bill to suspend Habeas Corpus, and backed away from his earlier support for constitutional reform. At this time a number of parliamentary reformers were arrested. To counter France Pitt formed alliances with the other European powers. However, the allies suffered defeats during 1794, and the cost of the war and poor harvests forced the government to raise taxation, leading to angry protests. Pitt's health began to suffer, leading to reports in the press that he was having a breakdown. In response, he passed legislation to allow the government to suppress and regulate the newspapers.

There was growing unrest in Ireland during the 1790s, and in 1798 an uprising had to be suppressed by the Irish chief secretary, Castlereagh. In 1801 Pitt introduced the Act of Union to unite Ireland with the rest of Britain under one Parliament. Castlereagh and Pitt appealed to the Irish Catholic population by promising that they would be granted equality before the law after the Act was passed. However, George III opposed the offer of Catholic emancipation, and Pitt felt it necessary to offer his resignation. He returned to office in 1804, to take up the struggle again against France. Pitt formed a new alliance with Russia, Austria and Sweden against Napoleon, and following the English victory at Trafalgar in 1805 was hailed as the Europe's saviour. However, Napoleon's victory over the Russian and Austrian forces at Austerlitz crushed Pitt, who fell seriously ill. He died at his house in Putney on 23 Jan. 1806.

Conditions Governing Access

Open for consultation by holders of a Reader's Ticket valid for the Manuscripts Reading Room.

Acquisition Information

Purchased at Sotheby's, 1937.

Note

Description compiled by Robert Steiner, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives.

Other Finding Aids

Additional Manuscripts Catalogue. A detailed listing of MS.Add.6958 is also available in the Manuscripts Reading Room.

Custodial History

The exact history and origin of much of the material is unknown. Many of the transcripts may be non-contemporary copies of material in the P.R.O., others are additional to them. The papers were described in the Sotheby's sale catalogue as 'Important Papers of George Pretyman Tomline Bishop of Winchester, Sold by order of George Pretyman Esq., Orwell Part Ipswich'. Bishop Pretyman Tomline died in 1827, and the transcripts of correspondence would appear to be later than this.

Geographical Names