Robert Walpole


Rober Walpole
Sir Robert Walpole was a Whig politician who came to power soon after the Hanoverians ascended to the throne in 1714. He used his personal influence with both George I, and especially with George II and Queen Caroline, to assume a great deal of power within Parliament. The Hanoverian kings were German speaking and unfamiliar with the politics of England, and relied heavily on their ministers. Walpole was extremely well connected in Parliament, and particular adept at using his personal connections and influence to control parliamentary business. From 1721 until his retirement in 1742 he was the most powerful man in parliament and head of the King's Cabinet. He is therefore considered to be the first Prime Minister in English history, although the position was not officially created until after he left office.

Walpole's father was a Whig politician and on his father's death he inherited his office. He was an ally of Marlborough during the war of the Spanish Succession, and like the great general, fell out of favor with the Queen in 1710. Marlborough and the Whigs who supported him however, were exceedingly popular in Germany due to their victories in the War of the Spanish Succession, so when George I ascended to the throne, the Whigs returned to power. Walpole's influence in government tended to increase under the Hanoverians kings, and by 1721, he, along with Lord Townsend effectively controlled the king's cabinet. To assure his long term influence Walpole formed a close relationship with Caroline, the consort of George II, and when her husband ascended to the throne in 1727, Walpole was in complete command of the government

It was Walpole's policy, whenever possible, to avoid war, reform, or conflict. He maintained his power through consensus, compromise, and at times, appeasement, which kept England out of foreign conflicts, but cost Walpole considerable popularity. Under his watch, England agreed to several treaties that were unfavorable to English commercial interests, and his efforts to impose excise taxes were exceedingly unpopular. His Tory critics included the elder William Pitt, and his literary critics included Samuel Johnson and Jonathan Swift. He was particularly criticized for his appeasement of Spain regarding trading rights in the West Indies, and when a Spanish officer boarded an English vessel and injured its Captain, he was forced to declare War on Spain. The War of Jenkin's Ear, which evolved into the War of the Austrian Succession, broke out due to conflicts with Spain and France that could no longer be avoided, but Walpole had staked his political future on the hope of avoiding war, and had no credibility to lead the war effort. His critics became more numerous and vocal, and within two years, he resigned his position in the house of Commons, and entered the House of Lords.

Key events during the life of Sir Robert Walpole:

Robert Walpole born, son of a Whig politician.
Attended King's College at Cambridge.
Assumes his father's position in Parliament.
Secretary of War during the 'War of the Spanish Succession.'
Whigs temporarily fall out of power.
Walpole charged for corruption and imprisoned by Tory enemies.
George I of Hanover comes to the throne and forms a Whig government.
Walpole takes side of Prince of Wales in dispute with George I.
Jacobite Rebellion of '15.
Obtained prominent position in George I's cabinet.
Retirement of rival Whig leader, Townshend.
Death of George I. Ascension of George II.
Death of Queen Caroline, supporter of Walpole.
War of Jenkin's Ear with Spain, led to the. .
War of the Austrian Succession.
Walpole resigns from Parliament.
Jacobite Rebellion of '45.
Death of Robert Walpole.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Rise of Walpole  in  The Hanoverians  by  C. J. B. Gaskoin
First Hanoverian Kings  in  The Story of England  by  Samuel B. Harding

Image Links

Sir Robert Walpole
 in The Hanoverians

Sir Robert Walpole's Hunting Party at Houghton
 in The Hanoverians

Short Biography
Lord Townshend Whig leader who served in George I's cabinet with Walpole.
George I First Hanoverian Monarch of Britain. Entrusted government to Robert Walpole
George II Second Hanoverian Monarch of Britain.
William Pitt Statesman who masterminded the rise of the British Empire during the critical 18th century.
Duke of Marlborough Most renowned general of his age. Prevailed against the French at the Battle of Blenheim.
Queen Caroline Queen Consort of George II, and close friend and advisor of Walpole.
Jonathan Swift Poet, essayist, and satirist. Best known as author of Gulliver's Travels.
Samuel Johnson Eminent literary figure in England. Wrote the first British Dictionary.