William Wilberforce is now remembered mainly for his leadership of the two great crusades to abolish the Slave Trade and later to free the slaves. He took up their cause when he was in his twenties and received the news of their freedom on his deathbed at the age of seventy-three. Abolition was the most famous of his causes but there were many others. He sat in Parliament for nearly fifty years, where he voted and spoke entirely as his conscience dictated and had more influence than any other member it its history who never held office. His power in the country was even greater. His own life bridged the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He knew George III, Louis XVI and Lord North, also Macaulay, Gladstone and Newman.
Robin Furneaux (1936-1985) was the first biographer to have had access to the Wilberforce papers. He also visited the United States to study Wilberforce documents in various American collections and travelled in the West Indies and West Africa. Furneaux was 3rd Earl of Birkenhead and took an Honours Degree in history at Oxford.