William Wilberforce is featured on The Beau Monde Chapter’s Regency Promenade.
Article written by Nancy Mayer
William Wilberforce was a British politician, philanthropist, and a leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade.
Born: August 24, 1759, Kingston upon Hull
Died: July 29, 1833, London
Spouse: Barbara Spooner
Education: St John’s College, Cambridge
Buried: Westminster Abbey
William Wilberforce is now well-known for leading the parliamentary fight for abolition of slavery in England.
Wilberforce was the only son of a wealthy merchant whose father made money in shipping. He was a sickly child with weak eyes who suffered some physical malady all his life.
He was educated at various schools where he was introduced to Evangelical ideas, before being sent to another school where such ideals were discouraged.
Wilberforce soon turned away from early teachings though he was too fastidious to engage in the more dissolute or depraved behaviour of some young men.
At seventeen he entered university and continued his social and secular life. It was at university that he made friends with William Pitt, a friendship that would last for the rest of Pitt’s life and influence the direction of Wilberforce’s.
Pitt came from a political family, both grandfathers having been prime minster in their time, and as a younger son, planned a political career. He succeeded and was made Prime Minster at 24.
Under his influence, Wilberforce stood for the seat at Kingston on Hull for which he was elected while still a student at university. The seat cost over £8000 which Wilberforce paid for out of the fortune he had inherited from his grandfather and uncle.
Being an MP and a friend of Pitt, Wilberforce moved in the highest circles of the Ton. He was an eloquent speaker in Commons and a witty guest at dinners and in drawing rooms.
It is not known exactly who or what led to Wilberforce’s conversion from an ordinary pleasure seeking young man to one who followed the more Evangelical form of religion.
Though he still was eloquent in Commons and still witty at dinning tables and in drawing rooms, Wilberforce read the scripture more and had talks on religion with John Newman, the ex-slaver who was the author of the poem, Amazing Grace.
Newman had become a clergyman and served one of the poorest parishes in London. It was through Newman that Wilberforce met the Clarkston brothers in 1787 and heard of their attempts to abolish slavery in England.
The Evangelicals introduced Wilberforce to many different reforms. The abolition of slavery, however, is one with which his name s most associated. It wasn’t until 1807 that he was successful in having slave trade abolished. It was another 26 years before slavery was abolished.
He married. His wife and he had about six children. One of his sons became a bishop in the Church of England.
He was greatly saddened at the loss of his friend Pitt in 1806. Wilberforce left Parliament in 1825 because of his health. Though no longer an MP he continued to work for the abolition of slavery and other reforms.
The bill to abolish slavery altogether in English possessions was nearing its final approval when he died in 1833. He was given a grand funeral and buried near his old friend Pitt.
William Wilberforce – en.wikipedia.org
Regency Promenade is written every month by Nancy Mayer, Regency researcher extraordinaire. http://www.regencyresearcher.com/