Little Bits of History

August 26

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 26, 2017

1676: Robert Walpole is born. He was the fifth of nineteen children born to Robert Walpole, Sr. who was a member of the local gentry in Houghton, Norfolk, England. His mother, Mary, was the daughter and heiress of Sir Geoffrey Burwell. Robert attended private schools and then entered Eton College in 1690 before heading on to King’s College, Cambridge. When his only remaining older brother died in 1698, Robert left school to administer the family estate. Although he had wanted to be a clergyman, with this change in status, he was heir to the family’s property which fell to him at his father’s death in 1700. The estate included nine manors in Norfolk and one in Suffolk.

Walpole entered politics in 1701 when he was elected for the first time at Castle Rising. He, like his father, was a Whig and in this capacity was able to mediate between the party and the government in 1705. He continued to move up in the political realm and as his power grew, he still did not have enough clout to keep Lord Godolphin from prosecuting Henry Sacheverell, a minister who preached anti-Whig sermons. This case proved highly divisive throughout the country and the new leader removed Walpole from his position, Secretary of War. He retained his position as Treasurer of the Navy. In 1712, Walpole was impeached and proved he had been innocent, but the trail left him branded as guilty and corrupt.

There was a great deal of scandal and corruption within the higher government offices over the next decade. George I came to be King of England and he distrusted Tories and the Whigs were in good favor. Walpole was made First Commissioner (Lord) of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1716. The following year he resigned but remained influential in the House of Commons. Walpole was England’s first Prime Minister and the date, if not the actual title is usually given as April 1712 when he was appointed Lord of the Treasury, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Leaser of the House of Commons. His brother-in-law, Lord Townshend, served as Secretary of State at the time.

Walpole was not only the first of Britain’s Prime Ministers, but he held the office for longer than any other, staying in that position for nearly 21 years. He served under George I and George II even though he had been involved in acrimonious in-family fighting decades earlier. Walpole’s power base began to decline in 1737 and over the next few years, his involvement in large decisions grew ever smaller. By the time the election of 1741 took place, he was replaced by the Earl of Wilmington. By this time, he had already established the role of the PM and established historical methods of working with the Crown and Parliament. He died in 1745 at the age of 68.

Gentlemen have talked a great deal of patriotism. A venerable word, when duly practiced.

I have never been afraid of making patriots; but I disdain and despise all their efforts.

The very idea of true patriotism is lost, and the term has been prostituted to the very worst of purposes. A patriot, sir! Why, patriots spring up like mushrooms!

All those men have their price. – all from Robert Walpole



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