Robert Walpole

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Houghton, Norfolk
Birth Sign
Houghton, Norfolk

Sir Robert Walpole was the first Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain. His twenty-year term as Prime Minister made him the longest-serving Prime Minister in British history, a record he still retains. Walpole’s impact was such that his age of control is lovingly regarded as Robinocracy or Robinarchy, as he came from a politically prominent family. He was a Whig politician who first entered politics as a member of parliament in 1701. He quickly ascended the corporate ladder, holding a variety of high positions. Walpole was initially elected Prime Minister of Great Britain under George I’s reign in 1721, a position he maintained until 1742. Britain grew and shone under his leadership. He signed peace treaties that helped to establish peace, improved Britain’s financial situation by lowering taxes, avoided a major financial crisis by reinstating government funds after the South Sea Bubble burst, pioneered protectionist policies that allowed import and export, and walked the middle path by allowing tolerance for Protestant Dissenters. His ability to take the middle road set him apart from other politicians of the day. By simply following the middle way and courting moderates from both the Whig and the Tory parties, he avoided high-intensity debates in a flash. Walpole succeeded in establishing a successful working relationship between the Crown and Parliament throughout his life, setting a high standard for subsequent prime ministers to follow.

Childhood and Adolescence

Robert Walpole was born in Houghton, Norfolk, on August 26, 1676, to Robert and Mary Walpole. He was the ninth of the couple’s nineteen children. His father was a member of the aristocracy and a Whig politician.
A private school in Massingham provided Robert Walpole with his early schooling. In 1690, he entered in Eton College, where he excelled academically. He later gained entrance to King’s College Cambridge, where he matriculated on April 2, 1696.

Walpole had intended to pursue a career as a cleric. However, once his two older brothers died, he became the eldest heir to his family’s land. He abandoned his plans to become a clergyman in favor of assisting his father in the management of the family estate.

Career of Robert Walpole

Following his father’s death in 1700, Walpole inherited the family estate. He began his political career in 1701, when he was elected to the parliament for Castle Rising. He left Castle Rising in 1702 to represent King’s Lynn.

Walpole’s political career was one of fast advancement. He was named Secretary of War in 1708 after becoming a member of the Admiralty board. From 1710 to 1711, he served as the Treasurer of the Navy.

Walpole’s political career came to an end when the Tories won the 1710 general election. He remained a devoted Whig politician and quickly rose to prominence as the opposition’s most vociferous critic. Walpole was charged with corruption in 1712 and sentenced to six months in prison.

He was re-elected as the Member of Parliament for King’s Lynn in 1713. The death of Queen Anne in 1714, and the following ascension of George I, signaled the end of the Tories’ reign. The Whig government came to power when the Tories opposed George I’s ascension.

Walpole was named Privy Councillor and Paymaster of the Forces by the Whig government. In 1715, he was appointed chairman of a secret committee set up to probe the previous Tory government’s acts.

He became the First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1715, succeeding late Lord Halifax. Walpole created his sinking fund strategy, which ensured lower national obligations, while in this position. On most matters, the cabinet was split between Lord Townshend and Walpole and Lord Sunderland and Stanhope throughout his tenure as Treasurer and Chancellor. Because King George I preferred the Sunderland-Stanhope Ministry, Walpole and Lord Townshend were relegated to the role of sidekicks.

Walpole left the administration and became a member of the opposition. The Prince of Wales, who was in opposition to the King, favored him. He quickly rose to the position of counselor to Princess of Wales.

After resolving the difficulties between the King and the Prince of Wales, Walpole resumed his political career in 1720. He rose to prominence in the House of Commons and wielded enormous power. The Peerage Bill was dropped as a result of Walpole’s influence.

Walpole returned to the job of Paymaster of the Forces in 1720. Walpole, on the other hand, lost the Prince of Wales’ favor as a result of his acceptance of the office.

Britain was absorbed in the South Sea Bubble hullabaloo when Walpole returned to the government. Despite common assumption, the corporation quickly went bankrupt, resulting in significant financial losses. Members of the cabinet, such as Stanhope and Sunderland, were held accountable. Walpole earned the nicknames ‘The Screen’ and ‘Screenmaster-General’ after saving both of them from punishment.

With the death of Stanhope and the resignation of Sunderland in 1721, Walpole became the Cabinet’s most powerful person. He was made First Lord of the Treasury, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Leader of the House of Commons in the same year. His appointment fell during his tenure as Prime Minister.

The administration attempted to resolve the financial issues that followed the collapse of the South Sea Bubble under the premiership of Walpole. With his compensation plans, he guided the government toward financial prosperity, easing the suffering of the people.

On the political front, Walpole’s vision not only prevented a Jacobite uprising under Francis Atterbury, but also prevented the Tories from mounting a revolt. He even oversaw the signing of the treaty of peace between France and Prussia. As he solidified Whig authority, Walpole’s influence prevailed.

Walpole’s premiership was jeopardized upon the death of King George I. On the suggestion of Queen Caroline, King George II’s wife, Walpole was re-elected. His power expanded significantly. Through the Treaty of Vienna, he established the Anglo-Austrian alliance.

People in both the opposition and the party were irritated by Walpole’s supremacy and authority. The publication ‘Craftsman’ was relentless in its condemnation of his policies. Walpole, on the other hand, was unconcerned about it.

He persisted in his efforts to ensure Britain’s bright and affluent future. For the same reason, he imposed modest taxes on the people and implemented a non-war policy. He even persuaded King George II to stay out of the European war.

The merchant class was enraged by Walpole’s application of excise taxes on wine and tobacco on warehouse goods, which sparked a strong backlash. The new proposal, which was intended to replenish the nation’s dwindling revenue due to smuggling, sparked outrage. The rise in gin tax added fuel to the fire. Despite the fact that Walpole’s popularity waned, his House majority remained stable.

When Walpole convinced Parliament to pass the Licensing Act of 1737, which restricted London theaters, he earned the anger of literary luminaries. He, on the other hand, rose above it all.

The death of Queen Caroline occurred in the year 1737. Though King George II and Walpole had formed a solid bond by that time, Walpole’s sole authority in the government was severely impeded as the Prince of Wales became increasingly hostile to Walpole’s rule. The Prince of Wales established the Patriot Boys, a group that resisted Walpole’s rule.

Walpole’s demise was precipitated by a military confrontation. Spain and the United Kingdom had a trade dispute with the West Indies. As a result, the Jenkins’ Ear War was declared in 1739. Despite Walpole’s opposition to the war, it was supported by the King, MPs, and his own government. His power was further eroded by the bad results of the 1741 general election, which put his position in jeopardy. In 1742, he resigned from the government.

Walpole remained politically active after his resignation. He aided the Ministry in the Lords, advised the government on patronage issues, and even spoke in the Lords on the Minister’s behalf. He served as King George II’s ‘Minister behind the Curtain,’ advising and influencing him.

Major Projects of Robert Walpole

Walpole’s most notable contribution occurred during his tenure as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, which lasted from 1721 until 1742. He was the country’s first and, to this day, longest-serving Prime Minister. During his two-decade tenure, he watched Britai’s rise and fall. He aided the country’s financial recovery following the collapse of the South Sea Bubble. He decreased taxes, raised exports, fostered peace, and aided the Crown and Parliament in maintaining a productive relationship.

Achievements & Awards

King George II created him 1st Earl of Orford on February 6, 1742.

Personal History and Legacy

On July 30, 1700, Walpole married Catherine. Two daughters and three sons were born to the marriage. Catherine was born on August 20, 1737, and died on August 20, 1737.

Walpole had a romantic relationship with Maria Skerrett before his first wife died. By March 1738, he had married her. They had a daughter, who became his legitimate kid after their marriage.

Walpole’s health was quickly deteriorating by 1744. On March 18, 1745, he passed away. He was laid to rest in the parish church of Houghton, Norfolk, where he grew up.

Several streets, roads, and towns have been named after him since his death. On the boundary between Ontario and Michigan, he has an island named after him.

The nursery rhyme ‘Who Killed Cock Robin?’ is largely ascribed to Walpole’s demise, as he was known by the moniker Cock Robin at the time.

King George II gave him a residence at 10 Downing Street as a present. Walpole, on the other hand, transformed it into an official dwelling instead of using it as a personal gift. Since then, the mansion has served as the official residence of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Estimated Net Worth

The Estimated net worth of Robert Walpole is unknown.