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This article was written by Isaac Saunders Leadam and was published in 1899
Sir Robert Walpole is stated by Coxe to have been born at Houghton, but no record of his birth or baptism appears in the parish register. A scurrilous mock creed composed during his ministry represents his real father to have been ‘Burrell the attorney.’ At the time of Sir Robert's death, on 18 March 1745, a variety of statements were current as to his age. In a letter to General Churchill, dated 24 June 1743, he reckons himself as having turned sixty-seven. As his birthday was without question on 26 August, this would make 1675 the year of his birth. His son Horace confirmed this to Coxe. But the register at Houghton states his age at death in 1745 to have been sixty-eight, not sixty-nine. According to a manuscript in his mother's hand, headed ‘Age of my Children,’ Robert, the fifth child, was born on 26 August 1676. That Mrs. Walpole's entry was correct is apparent from the fact that her sixth child, John, who died young, was born on 3 September 1677, and her seventh, Horatio, on 8 December 1678. The Eton College register, which Coxe had not seen, erroneously records his age as twelve on 4 September 1690, the day of his admission; and his birthday, according to a convention common in the register, is there set down as St. Bartholomew's day (24 August), that being the nearest saint's day to the actual date. On 5 August 1695 the register records his election to King's College, Cambridge, at the age of seventeen. Thus these two entries falsely assign 1678 as the year of his birth. The falsification was deliberate. Walpole was really close upon nineteen years of age at the beginning of August 1695. According to the statutes of Eton and of King's College, he would be superannuated and lose his chance of a King's scholarship unless a vacancy occurred before his twentieth birthday; and he was not captain of the school, but only third on the list. The false entries gave him a margin of two years within which he could avail himself of a vacancy at King's.
Before Walpole's admission to Eton he was at a private school at Massingham, Norfolk. Little and Great Massingham are villages a few miles from Houghton. Coxe states that he left Eton ‘an excellent scholar.’ The headmaster, John Newborough, a scholar of repute, took a particular interest in him. Upon being told of the success of another pupil, the brilliant St. John, in the House of Commons, Newborough replied, ‘But I am impatient to hear that Robert Walpole has spoken, for I am convinced that he will be a good orator.’ Walpole left Eton on 2 April 1696, and was admitted at King's on 22 April. While in residence at Cambridge he suffered from a severe attack of small-pox. Later in life he recounted a saying of Dr. Robert Brady, the physician who attended him, that ‘his singular escape seemed a sure indication that he was reserved for important purposes.’
On 25 May 1698 Walpole resigned his scholarship and left Cambridge, owing to the death in that year of his eldest brother, Edward. His second brother, Burwell, had already been killed in the battle of Beachy Head on 30 June 1690. Robert therefore became heir to the estate. Although his connection with Cambridge was thus prematurely terminated, he never forgot the associations of his early life. His ‘consistent patronage of King's men and Etonians was a source of annoyance to many persons’. When in 1723 he was applied to for a contribution to the new buildings at King's he subscribed £500, and, in reply to the thanks of the provost and fellows, said ‘I deserve no thanks: I have only paid for my board.’ His intimate friends at King's were Francis Hare, his tutor, whom he afterwards appointed bishop of Chichester; and Henry Bland, his schoolfellow at Eton, whom he made chaplain of Chelsea Hospital in 1716, and dean of Durham in 1727. Bland's son-in-law, William George, was elected provost of King's in 1743 through Walpole's personal interest.
Walpole had been originally intended for the church. His father now assigned to him the active management of his estates, and from this time he abandoned literary pursuits. On 30 July 1700 he married, at Knightsbridge chapel, Catherine Shorter, whom Coxe describes as ‘a woman of exquisite beauty and accomplished manners,’ but whom he erroneously states to have been the daughter of Sir John Shorter, lord mayor of London in 1688. She was, in fact, daughter of John Shorter of Bybrook in Kent, a Baltic timber merchant, and a son of the lord mayor. There seems to have been some haste or secrecy about the marriage, for Hare, writing to Walpole on 8 August following, mentions that Walpole's brother Horatio had only heard of it the day before. His wife brought him a dowry of £20,000, but she was an extravagant woman of fashion and ‘wasted large sums.’ According to Horace Walpole, her dowry was ‘spent on the wedding and christening ... including her jewels’.
Walpole had already recommended himself to influential friends. He was intimately acquainted with Charles Townshend (afterwards second Viscount Townshend) , his father's ward, his schoolfellow at Eton, and afterwards his brother-in-law. Still more important was the patronage of Sarah, then Countess of Marlborough, which perhaps arose out of a friendship with her son John, lord Churchill, also a pupil both of Newborough and Hare, though a few years Walpole's junior. Lady Marlborough had a ‘difference’ with Walpole upon his marriage, which was, however, afterwards settled.
In November 1700 Walpole's father died, and he succeeded to the estates. These had been considerably diminished since the time of Elizabeth, probably by the necessity of making provision for a succession of large families. A paper in the handwriting of his father, dated 9 June 1700, shows their extent at this time in Norfolk and Suffolk to have been nine manors in Norfolk and one in Suffolk, besides outlying lands, with a total rent-roll of £2,169 a year. On 11 January following Walpole was returned for the borough of Castle Rising, and a second time on 1 December 1701. This seat he transferred to his uncle Horatio upon the election of the first parliament of Queen Anne in July 1702. He himself was returned on 23 July 1702 for the borough of King's Lynn, for which he sat during the rest of his career in the House of Commons.
Walpole's name first appears upon the journals of the House of Commons as serving upon a committee for privileges and elections on 13 February 1701, three days after the opening of the parliament in which he first sat. He early familiarised himself with the forms of the House. He was the author in his first session of a report from a committee on a bill for erecting hospitals and workhouses in the borough of Lynn, and for the better employment and maintenance of the poor, on which, however, no legislative action took place. His first speech in the House of Commons is traditionally recorded to have been a failure, arising from embarrassment, but no record remains of its substance or occasion. Nor was he at once successful, though, after a subsequent comparative failure, Arthur Mainwaring, one of Lady Marlborough's circle, prophesied to detractors that he would ‘in time become an excellent speaker.’ He first drew public attention to himself by a speech delivered in February 1702 in favour of compelling all heads and fellows of colleges to take the oath of abjuration. This was carried without a division. Walpole is described by a member present as having ‘vehemently inveighed’ against the academical nonjurors, thereby exciting fierce resentment at Cambridge. His name now constantly recurs as teller upon divisions. The first occasion of this deserves to be noted, in view of his subsequent policy in ecclesiastical questions. On 19 February 1702 he acted as teller against ‘a clause to be added to a bill for the further security of his majesty's person and government, that persons who take upon them offices shall not depart from the communion of the church of England’. He is said to have frequently practised himself in speaking during this session. On 23 December 1702, by way of retaliation upon Sir Edward Seymour's motions for the resumption of King William's grants, Walpole moved a resolution for a resumption of those of James II. His motion was negatived. On 25 January 1704 he moved an amendment to the resolution of Sir Simon Harcourt that the House of Commons was the sole judge both as to elections and as to the qualifications of electors, a question raised by the leading case of Ashby v. White. Walpole's amendment to omit the words ‘as to the qualifications of electors’ was seconded by his staunch supporter the Marquis of Hartington, but rejected. This debate was of the first importance. It involved a constitutional issue in which the law courts and the two houses of parliament were concerned. Walpole's amendment was dexterously contrived to assert the privileges of the House of Commons as against the Lords, but to vindicate at the same time the rights of electors to seek redress in the courts of law against arbitrary interference by the returning officers. According to Coxe it was defeated by only eighteen votes, but the ‘Parliamentary History’ gives the numbers at 215 against and 97 for the amendment. In this controversy public opinion was with the Whigs. From this debate may be dated Walpole's reputation outside the House of Commons. The Whig leaders in the Lords, especially Halifax and Sunderland, began to admit him into their counsels. In the autumn of 1703 and 1704 he appears to have been disposed to linger at Houghton. On 28 October 1703 the leaders of the opposition sent him a pressing message to attend, the intermediary being James Stanhope (afterwards first Earl Stanhope). On 12 October 1704 the language of a letter to the same effect, penned by Spencer Compton , shows the advance Walpole had made in the estimation of the party. ‘If Mr. Walpole should be absent, the poor Whigs must lose any advantage that may offer itself for want of a leader’. On 14 November Walpole was back in his place, and for a second time gave proof of his spirit of religious toleration by opposing leave to bring in a bill for preventing occasional conformity. The bill was, however, pushed by the high-church Tories, and in order to prevent its rejection by the House of Lords, where the Whigs were in the ascendant, a proposal was made to tack it to a money bill. Against this Walpole voted with the majority (28 November), and the bill, as had been foreseen, was lost in the upper House.
The foundation of the first government of Anne was the Churchill interest, represented by Marlborough and his duchess and Godolphin, whose son Francis had married their daughter. When they had alienated the Tories, it became necessary to reinforce the composite administration from the Whig party. Walpole had three recommendations: his intimacy with the family group, his industry and talent, and the disposal of three pocket-borough seats — two at Castle Rising and one for King's Lynn. In 1705 the administration was re-formed, and on 28 June Walpole was appointed one of the council to Prince George of Denmark, lord high admiral of England. His position was a difficult one. Godolphin, the head of the government, was distrustful of the Whigs, and the Whigs of Godolphin. An attack was made upon the admiralty, and Walpole was put up to extenuate its shortcomings. On being reproached for speaking against his party, he rejoined, ‘I never can be so mean to sit at a board when I cannot utter a word in its defence.’ It was probably his experience of the difficulties attendant upon a government which was nothing but a formal association of antagonistic personalities that led him in after life to insist upon political homogeneousness in his administrations. So far as this was feasible he made efforts to secure it forthwith. He became the intermediary for reconciling Godolphin to the Whig leaders. With Devonshire and Townshend, Walpole was already intimate. His friend Lord Sunderland, another of the Churchill group, was appointed a secretary of state on 3 December 1706, through the influence of Godolphin and the Duchess of Marlborough. Sunderland, like Walpole, was for a policy of thorough. After a year of bickering and distrust, Harley was forced from office by the threatened resignation of Marlborough and Godolphin (11 February 1708).
In this struggle Walpole inspired the cautious mind of Godolphin with the resolution to extrude the Tory element. His services were recognised by his promotion. On 25 February 1708 Marlborough appointed him secretary at war, in place of his rival, St. John. His brother Horatio was made private secretary to Harley's successor, Henry Boyle.
The arts of management, which were Walpole's peculiar gift, were now put to a severe test. Marlborough left for Holland at the end of March, and it fell to Walpole to transact his business with the Queen. Anne's distrust of the Whigs would in itself have involved him in some difficulty, for appointments in the army were considered to be the sovereign's special prerogative, and the recommendations of Walpole's chief were frequently disregarded for those of Mrs. Abigail Masham, notwithstanding the indignation of the duchess. The inevitable antagonism between Walpole and the favourite naturally enhanced his interest with the duchess. On 21 January 1710 he was appointed to the more profitable place of treasurer of the navy, but he seems to have held his post at the war office till the following September. His new appointment was, as the duchess puts it, ‘by my interest wholly’. It was while Walpole was at the war office that Marlborough successfully carried through the campaigns rendered memorable by Oudenarde and Malplaquet, and the general's despatches from abroad show the reliance placed by him upon Walpole's business capacity and personal loyalty. But, notwithstanding his victories, the Marlborough interest at court was on the wane. The intrigues of Harley and Mrs. Masham had prevailed. The Whigs began to be dismissed one by one. In April 1710 the lord chamberlain, the Marquis of Kent, was replaced by the Duke of Shrewsbury, known to be friendly to Harley. Sunderland was dismissed on 13 June, and Godolphin on 8 August On 28 September George Granville, a Tory, succeeded Walpole at the war office. Marlborough, writing to Walpole from his camp on 20 October, after expressing his vexation at this news, adds, ‘I am expecting to hear by every post of a new treasurer of the navy.’ But party government was not yet an established principle, and for the time Walpole retained that place.
While at the war office Walpole was entrusted by Godolphin with the management of the House of Commons. He had a Whig majority at his back, the trial of strength having been the contest for the speakership of John Smith (1655-1723) against William Bromley (1664-1732) on 24 October 1705, in which Smith was successful by forty-three votes. Godolphin reposed so much confidence in him that he even entrusted him with the composition of the speeches from the throne. On 13 December 1709 John Dolben , at the instance of Godolphin, called the attention of the House of Commons to Sacheverell's sermons. Godolphin had been irritated by a personal allusion to himself as Volpone, and Sunderland was strong for impeachment. Walpole, with that moderation which marked his character, opposed, but, yielding to Godolphin's pressure, eventually consented to act as one of the managers for the Commons. Walpole's speech was delivered on 28 February, and may be read in the ‘State Trials’. He confined himself for the most part to the doctrine of non-resistance. His argument on this point is quoted by Burke for its constitutional principle in his ‘Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs’.
In the early summer of 1710 Walpole suddenly fell seriously ill. His complaint was described by his clerk, James Taylor, in a letter of 16 June to Walpole's brother Horatio as ‘collero morbus,’ ‘which put all about him under dreadfull apprehensions for four hours’. In the autumn the consequences of Sacheverell's trial justified his prescience. The Tories had boasted that none of the managers of the impeachment should be returned, and had taken care ever since the judgment delivered in March to keep alive the popular enthusiasm for the culprit. At the general election the Whigs sustained an unparalleled defeat. Walpole himself contested the county of Norfolk for the first and the last time. On 11 October he was declared at the bottom of the poll with 2,397 votes, eight hundred behind the two winning candidates. He had, however, secured himself against exclusion from parliament, having been returned for King's Lynn on 7 October Harley, being desirous of strengthening himself against the Jacobites by the inclusion of a few Whigs in his administration, made flattering overtures to Walpole. He was worth, he told him, half his party. When flattery proved ineffective, he tried threats. He sent him word that he had in his possession a note for a contract of forage endorsed by Walpole. The message had a significance which Walpole could not have failed to appreciate. Walpole remained firm and still held to his post. On 2 January 1711 he wrote officially acknowledging the receipt of his dismissal.
Walpole was now the leader of the opposition in the House of Commons. Harley's first object was to make peace. On 29 November Walpole moved an amendment to the address ‘that no peace can be safe or honourable if Spain and the West Indies are to be allotted to any branch of the House of Bourbon’. This, says Swift, ‘was rejected with contempt by a very great majority’. The same amendment having been carried by two votes in the House of Lords, ministers now parried the blow by an attack upon their predecessors in office. A packed committee of Tories reported that £35,302,107 of public money was unaccounted for. The deficit was laid at the door of Godolphin, the leader of the Whigs in the Lords, and of Walpole. Walpole promptly produced two pamphlets: ‘The Debts of the Nation stated and considered,’ and ‘The Thirty-five Millions accounted for.’ He conclusively established that £31,000,000 had already been accounted for, and that the debt of the navy, his particular province, estimated at £5,130,539, did not exceed £574,000. His explanations not only produced a sensible revulsion in public opinion — they acquired him the credit of being ‘the best master of figures of any man of his time.’
Walpole, the ministerialists felt, must be crushed. His expulsion from the House was, said Bromley, the Tory speaker, the ‘unum necessarium.’ Harley's veiled threat was forthwith given effect. The commissioners of public accounts reported on 21 December 1711 that Walpole, as Secretary at War, had been guilty of venality and corruption in the matter of two forage contracts for Scotland. In giving out the forage contracts he had stipulated with the two contractors that one-fifth share in the contracts should be reserved for one Robert Mann, his relative and rent-receiver. The contractors, desirous of redeeming Mann's share, had drawn two notes of hand for 500 guineas and £500 respectively. The first had been paid. Walpole's name appeared on the receipt. The explanation was that the contractor who had conducted the negotiation dying, the other, who was ignorant of the name of Walpole's friend, handed to Walpole a note payable to his order. Walpole endorsed it and transmitted it to Mann. It was proved that none of the money had been retained by himself. Judged by the standard of the times, Walpole's share in the transaction was as regular as a minister's grant of a pension to a supporter. But the ‘unum necessarium’ was effected. Walpole, after being heard, was pronounced ‘guilty of a high breach of trust and notorious corruption.’ This was carried by a majority of fifty-seven, his expulsion from the House by twenty-two, and his committal to the Tower by twelve. The dwindling majorities showed the real feeling of the House as to the justice of the proceedings. He was taken to the Tower. A new writ was issued. On 11 February 1712 he was again returned for Lynn. A petition was lodged, and on 6 March the House declared him to be ineligible for the existing parliament and the election void. He remained in the Tower till 8 July. He left as a memorial his name written on a window. While in the Tower he was regarded as a political martyr, and visited by all the Whig leaders. He occupied his time in composing a pamphlet in his defence: ‘The Case of Mr. Walpole, in a Letter from a Tory Member of Parliament to his Friend in the Country.’ Remaining excluded from the House after his release, he diligently cultivated his political connections. He assisted Steele in several political pamphlets. In September he visited Godolphin on his deathbed, and was by him commended in touching terms to the Duchess of Marlborough's continued patronage. At the dissolution of parliament (8 August 1713) he was again returned for Lynn (31 August 1713). On the eve of the general election he published an anonymous pamphlet under the title of ‘A Short History of the Parliament.’ It was an attack on the ministerial party. Pulteney was courageous enough to write the preface, but no printer could be found to undertake the risk of printing it. A printing press was carried to Walpole's House and the copies printed there.
One of the earliest steps of the new parliament, which met on 12 November 1713, was the expulsion of Steele from the House of Commons for attacking the ministry in his pamphlets ‘The Englishman’ and ‘The Crisis.’ Walpole had the credit of having co-operated in ‘The Crisis.’ He was deputed by the Kit-Cat Club to make a speech ‘in cold blood,’ the argument of which was to be noted by Addison to form the basis of a defence which Addison was to compose and Steele recite. Walpole himself delivered in the House of Commons a constitutional argument against the proceedings. Steele shortly afterwards published a defence entitled ‘Mr. Steele's Apology,’ which he dedicated to Walpole. The last six months of Anne's reign were to the Whigs a period of apprehension, aroused by the Queen's visible leaning to the Pretender and the suspected intrigues of Bolingbroke. On 15 April 1714 the Whigs raised a debate upon the question ‘whether the Protestant succession in the House of Hanover be in danger under her majesty's government.’ Walpole replied with much spirit to the defence made by Bromley, then secretary of state. With that strong sense of constitutional propriety which distinguished him, he insisted that the responsibility was not, as the Tories endeavoured to put it, upon the Queen, but on the Queen's ministers.
Swift, writing on 18 December 1711, prophesied of Walpole, ‘He is to be secretary of state if the ministry changes.’ Nevertheless it is remarkable that when George I formed his first ministry, Walpole was not only without a seat in the cabinet, but was forced to content himself with the lucrative post of paymaster of the forces and treasurer of Chelsea Hospital. The fact is that Bothmar, George's agent in London, by whose advice he was guided, disliked Walpole, and suggested no better place for him than a junior lordship of the treasury. He was sworn a Privy Councillor on 1 October 1714. The new parliament was summoned for 17 March 1715. ‘Before the opening of the session Mr. Walpole was in full power,’ wrote Lady Mary Wortley-Montagu . His brother-in-law, Lord Townshend, was nominally at the head of the government, but the same acute observer writes, ‘Walpole is already looked upon as chief minister.’ He was certainly recognised as leader of the House of Commons, and moved the address attacking the late government. To a House now consisting of a large majority of Whigs he announced the intention of the ministers ‘to bring to condign punishment’ those responsible for recent intrigues for the restoration of the Pretender. A committee of secrecy was appointed, and Walpole was chosen chairman on 6 April. On the following day he was taken ill, and on 3 May was ‘in a very bad way’. Despite his illness, he received full information of the committee's proceedings, and on 9 June was sufficiently recovered to present to the House of Commons a report which he had himself prepared with indefatigable industry — ‘a masterpiece of party strategy’. It consisted of ten articles charging the late ministry with treasonable misconduct in the negotiations for the peace of Utrecht. It was so voluminous and detailed that its first and second reading occupied from one to half-past eight o'clock on 9 June, and from eleven to four o'clock on 10 June. At the conclusion of the reading Walpole impeached Bolingbroke of high treason. The conduct of the impeachment, as well as of that of the Duke of Ormonde and the Earl of Stafford, was entrusted to Walpole. On 4 August 1715 he laid the articles of the impeachment of Bolingbroke before the House of Commons, on the following day those against the Duke of Ormonde, and on 31 August those against the Earl of Stafford. A doubt had arisen whether the conduct of Harley, earl of Oxford, amounted to treason. Walpole, who had prepared the articles against him, vigorously maintained the affirmative, and the continuance of proceedings against him was consequently resolved upon (7 July).
It has been said that these proceedings were unjust because the conduct of the late ministers could only be brought within the law of treason by a strained interpretation. What Bolingbroke and Ormonde thought of the justice of the case was shown by their flight. Oxford had no apprehension that a fair trial would be denied him, and remained. It is true that Walpole pushed these measures with determination. But malice bore no part in his action. By the universal consent of friend and foe he was, as Burke said, ‘of the greatest possible lenity in his character and in his politics’. Lord Chesterfield, a political opponent whom he had disgraced, admitted that he was ‘very placable to those who had injured him most’. Bolingbroke could never have returned to England without his consent, and, when he returned, Walpole invited him to dine with him at Chelsea. Walpole's justification lies in the events which followed. In the following autumn the rising of 1715 broke out. He knew that if the Protestant succession, which he had at heart, was to be preserved, the time had come to strike.
In recognition of these services Walpole was on 11 October 1715 appointed by Townshend. First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer. The suppression of the rebellion was accompanied by unprecedented clemency so far as the rank and file were concerned, but of the rebel Lords he determined to make an example. Efforts were made to bribe him. Sixty thousand pounds, he told the House of Commons, had been offered him for the life of the Earl of Derwentwater. Walpole's answer discloses not only the reasons which necessitated severity, but the secret information upon which he had acted in the matter of the impeachments. Derwentwater, he told the House, had to his knowledge been preparing for the rebellion ‘six months before he appeared in arms.’ Not even the remonstrances of Steele and a considerable section of his party could prevail on him to spare the earl.
The extraordinary fatigues and anxieties of 1715, arising at a time when Walpole was already in bad health, brought on an illness in the spring of 1716 in which ‘his life was despaired of’. During his absence from the House the Septennial Bill, of which he had already approved, was passed. Walpole retired for convalescence to a House he occupied at Chelsea, perhaps upon the site of the present Walpole Street. From here he wrote on 11 May to his brother Horatio that he ‘gathered strength daily ... from the lowest and weakest condition that ever poor mortal was alive in.’ On 9 July George I, accompanied by Stanhope, left for Hanover.
A series of court intrigues now began against Walpole and Townshend, set on foot by the king's German favourites, headed by Bothmar, who desired titles and pensions for themselves and continental aggrandisement for their master. Sunderland's restless ambition discerned an opportunity for his own advancement, and he gathered round him a cabal of disappointed Whigs. He was now Lord Privy Seal with a seat in the cabinet. In the autumn of 1716 he made his way over to Germany, ostensibly to drink the waters at Aachen, really to gain the ear of George I — a design which Walpole shrewdly foresaw. Walpole had so far met the king's views as to foreign policy that he supported the proposed acquisition of Bremen and Verden from Sweden, but only because they offered increased facilities to a British fleet operating upon the German coasts. But he absolutely declined to find money either for a war with Russia or for the payment of a force of German troops who had been taken into the king's service at the time of the pretender's invasion of Scotland. The king asserted that Walpole had promised to repay him the advance which had been made out of the privy purse for this purpose; Walpole protested ‘before God that I cannot recollect that ever the king mentioned one syllable of this to me or I to him.’ Sunderland found the king incensed against Walpole on this account. He inflamed the king's resentment by suggesting that Walpole and Townshend were intriguing with the personal friends of the prince regent, the Duke of Argyll, and his brother the Earl of Islay, with ‘designs against the king's authority.’
In October the king was anxious for the signature of a treaty with France by which France was to discard the Pretender and England should guarantee the succession to the regent in the event of the death of the king (Louis XV) childless. This treaty Horatio Walpole, then envoy extraordinary at the Hague, flatly refused to sign on the ground that it would be a betrayal of his promises to the Dutch. This accumulation of grievances led to the dismissal of Townshend by appointment to the lord-lieutenancy of Ireland in December 1716. Walpole would naturally have been dismissed with Townshend, but Townshend was the acting Foreign Minister, and the presence of Walpole in the cabinet inspired confidence in the city Whigs. Walpole determined to throw in his lot with his chief. The animosities of the king disappeared before the apprehension of losing the minister whose reputation as a financier was one of the props of his throne. Stanhope, whom diplomatic exigencies had led to take sides with Sunderland, wrote to Walpole imploring him to persuade Townshend to accept the lord-lieutenancy and to remain in the cabinet (3 January 1717). Townshend's acceptance implied the continuance of Walpole in office. Upon this basis a truce was established between the contending factions. But so long as the king gave his confidence to Sunderland and Stanhope, Townshend and Walpole did little beyond formally defend ministerial measures. The resulting friction became insupportable. On 9 April 1717 Stanhope announced to Townshend his dismissal from the lord-lieutenancy. On 10 April Walpole sought an audience and resigned the seals. Ten times did the king replace them in his hat. Walpole, though touched by this confidence and with tears in his eyes, persisted in his resignation. He did so upon the constitutional ground, on which he always insisted, of the indivisible responsibility of an administration which he declined to share. On the same day he announced his resignation to the House of Commons by introducing a bill, ‘as a country gentleman,’ which as First Lord of the Treasury he had been instructed to prepare (5 March). He had for some time past contemplated reducing the interest on the national debt. With a view to this he had endeavoured to raise a loan of £600,000 for the government at four per cent. But the moneyed interests took alarm. They abstained from subscribing, and after three days no more than £45,000 had been raised. The new measure was for redeeming the debt, so far as it did not consist of irredeemable annuities, and reducing the interest from seven and eight to five per cent. The surplus arising out of the taxes appropriated to the interest at its existing rate would then constitute a fund for the discharge of the capital of the debt. This was the first general sinking fund. A concurrent agreement was made with the bank of England and the South Sea Company by which the interest due to them from government was reduced from six to five per cent., and they agreed to advance £2,500,000 and £2,000,000 respectively for the purpose of paying off such fundholders as should decline to accept the reduction of their interest. ‘I believe,’ wrote Steele on 19 March, ‘the scheme will take place, and, if it does, Walpole must be a very great man’. While the measure was passing through the House a violent altercation arose between Stanhope and Walpole. Stanhope had long been smarting under the reproaches with which Walpole had visited his defection to Sunderland. Irritated at the necessity of confessing his incapacity to deal with the financial question, Stanhope attacked Walpole for bestowing a reversion to an office upon his son. Walpole retorted to the effect that it was better so disposed than on one of the king's foreign favourites to whom Sunderland and Stanhope had truckled. ‘One of the chief reasons,’ he added, referring to this, ‘that made me resign was because I could not connive at some things that were carrying on’. Walpole entered into opposition with the declaration that he did not intend ‘to make the king uneasy or to embarrass his affairs’. This pledge he regarded as compatible with a harassing opposition to the king's ministers, between whom and his majesty he distinguished. ‘The parties of Walpole and Stanhope,’ wrote Pope in June 1717, ‘are as violent as Whig and Tory’. So often did Walpole find himself in the same division lobby with Shippen, the leader of the extreme Tories, that Shippen caustically remarked that ‘he (Walpole) was no more afraid than himself of being called a Jacobite.’
In 1717 Walpole supported the Tories in an unsuccessful attack upon Lord Cadogan, commander-in-chief, one of the allies of Sunderland and Stanhope, who had been accused of embezzlement in connection with the transport of some Dutch auxiliaries. He echoed the Tory outcry against a standing army, declared twelve thousand men an adequate force, and opposed, though he finally voted for, the Mutiny Bill of 1718. His tolerance upon religious matters has already been seen. In 1711 and 1714 he had warmly opposed the occasional conformity bill and the schism bill; yet in 1719 he resisted the repeal of this last act. He denounced (11 November 1718) the quadruple alliance concluded on the previous 2 August between the emperor, France, England, and subsequently the United Provinces, of which he was himself afterwards the advocate. He disapproved the attack by Byng upon the Spanish fleet, though this must be acknowledged to have been consistent with his own pacific temper. It was also characteristic of his incapacity to maintain resentment that he withdrew from the prosecution of the impeachment of Oxford. However factious his opposition may have seemed, the vigour of his attacks and the feebleness of ministers increased his influence in the House of Commons. His crowning opportunity came with the introduction of the peerage bill on 2 March 1718. The object of this measure was to limit the number of peers to 216, 191 from England and 25 from Scotland. It was really aimed at the Prince of Wales (George II), whom it would prevent from flooding the House of Lords with Tory peers upon his father's death. It would, of course, have rendered the Lords the dominant member of the constitution. Walpole found the Whig peers not indisposed to the measure. He wrote a pamphlet against it with the title of ‘The Thoughts of a Member of the Lower House,’ &c. He stirred up the opposition of the more ambitious country gentlemen. He addressed a meeting of Whig peers at Devonshire House in a speech which produced a complete revulsion of feeling. With them he made arrangements for an opposition to the bill when it reached the commons. On 8 December in the House of Commons he demolished the proposal in ‘a very masterly speech,’ and secured its rejection by 269 to 177 votes.
In January 1720 the government began to entertain a scheme for the reduction of the irredeemable annuities which amounted to £800,000 a year. An offer was made by the South Sea Company to take them over and to pay £7,567,000 for the privilege. The scheme was warmly opposed by Walpole as financially and constitutionally unsound; nevertheless it was accepted by the House. Walpole published a pamphlet condemning it by the title of ‘The South Sea Scheme Considered.’ But speculation in South Sea stock spread like a fever. The Princess of Wales (Caroline) took to gambling in stocks, and, Walpole having the reputation of extraordinary financial ability, she sought his advice. To Walpole's career this association proved of momentous importance. It was cemented, scandal said, by an intrigue between the prince and Mrs. Walpole, ‘which both he and the princess knew’. On 20 May 1720 Lady Cowper wrote, ‘Mr. Walpole so possessed her [the princess's] mind that there was not room for the least truth;’ and again, ‘The prince is guided by the princess as she is by Walpole’ (10 May 1720). He himself took advantage of the public mania, bought largely in South Sea stock, and sold out at the top of the market at 1,000 per cent. profit. With the fortune thus acquired he rebuilt Houghton and began his famous collection of pictures. His association with the prince through the princess led to his becoming an intermediary for the reconciliation of the prince to the king. Sunderland felt the ground slipping under his feet. He made overtures to Walpole, who at first refused to take service under him. As Walpole afterwards explained to Lord Holland, ‘his [Sunderland's] temper was so violent that he would have done his best to throw me out of window’. This probably explains why Walpole was content to accept the inferior but lucrative position of paymaster of the forces instead of desiring to sit in the cabinet. Sunderland was deeply involved in the South Sea business, and, as Walpole had predicted the collapse, he probably foresaw Sunderland's speedy and compulsory retirement. His personal dislike of Sunderland perhaps led him, contrary to his custom, to spend the summer of 1720 in the country.
Meanwhile South Sea stock was declining. By September panic had set in. Walpole was called up from the country to assist the Bank of England with his advice. He drew what was afterwards known as ‘the bank contract,’ by which the bank agreed to take the bonds of the company at 400 per cent. premium for a sum of £3,700,000 due to it. But the fall still continued. Prompted by Sunderland, the king, who used to say of Walpole that he could convert stones to gold, now called upon him to produce a scheme for the restoration of public credit. In Lord Hervey's belief the commission was given him by Sunderland with the expectation that he would fail, and that the odium attaching to the cabinet would be transferred to him. Walpole undertook the task. On 21 December he presented to the House of Commons a plan suggested by Jacombe, under-secretary at war, the substance of which was to engraft nine millions of South Sea stock into Bank and East India stock respectively. This proposal became law in 1720 (7 Geo. I, st. 1, c. 5), but before taking effect it was partly superseded by another act of 1721 (7 Geo. I, c. 2), also framed by Walpole, remitting more than £5,000,000 of the £7,500,000 which the South Sea directors had agreed to pay the public. The £2,000,000 was remitted in December 1723 and other measures taken to lighten the disaster to the sufferers. While the tide of indignation was flowing in full force against the South Sea promoters, Walpole behaved with consummate tact and judgement. He pleaded extenuating circumstances for John Aislabie, who had been compelled to resign the chancellorship of the exchequer (23 January 1721). He successfully defended Sunderland (15 March), not for love of the man, but to avert the danger of a Tory ministry. He insisted that the accused directors should be allowed counsel. His fairness drew obloquy upon himself. In the squibs and caricatures of the day he was nicknamed ‘The Screen’. On 4 February 1721 Stanhope, on 16 February James Craggs the younger, and on 16 March James Craggs the elder died. Sunderland was compelled by public opprobrium to retire, and on 3 April Walpole was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer and First Lord of the Treasury. On 10 February his brother-in-law Townshend had taken Stanhope's post as secretary of state. An extraordinary conjuncture of circumstances had thus restored the two ministers to power and annihilated the opposing faction.
In the administration that followed Walpole began by affecting a comparative indifference to foreign policy. As Palm wrote to the emperor on 13 December 1726, ‘Sir R. Walpole ... does not meddle in foreign affairs, but receives accounts of them in general, leaving for the rest the direction of them entirely to Lord Townshend.’ Walpole in return was left absolute master of home policy. He now proved himself the first great commercial minister since the days of Thomas Cromwell. On 19 October 1721 the speech from the throne announced his proposals. He recommended the removal of export duties from 106 articles of British manufacture, and of import duties from 38 articles of raw material. He also relieved the colonies from export duties upon naval stores, hoping to encourage supplies for the navy from that source, and thereby to render the country independent of political contingencies in the Baltic. He thus reversed the traditional attitude of statesmen's minds towards imports. They were to be treated, so far as possible, as raw materials for our manufactures rather than as intrusive foreign products. Encouragement to imports would, he saw, facilitate exportation, which up to that time had exclusively monopolised attention. It is not unlikely that Arthur Moore, who had been the real author of Bolingbroke's commercial treaty with France in 1713, was Walpole's adviser in this policy. The restless Sunderland now began to coquet with the Tories. With the hope of getting rid of Walpole, he suggested to the king his appointment for life to the lucrative office of postmaster-general. This would have excluded him from parliament. The proposal elicited from the king the reply, ‘I will never part with him again.’ On 19 April 1722 Sunderland died. Early in May 1722 the regent Orleans disclosed to Walpole the Atterbury conspiracy. It was accompanied by a plot to assassinate Walpole himself. Walpole with characteristic vigour ‘took the chief part in unravelling this dark mystery’. His usual moderation towards political opponents showed itself in proceeding against the bishop by a bill of pains and penalties instead of by attainder. He appeared as a witness against the bishop in the House of Lords, where a memorable duel of wits took place, ‘but he was too hard for the bishop upon every turn’. In the following October (17th) he took the unprecedented step of suspending the habeas corpus act for a year — ‘too long,’ Hallam not unjustly says. On 31 October he intimated to the House of Commons his intention to introduce a bill for raising £100,000 by a special tax on the estates of Roman Catholics and nonjurors. This bill when brought into the House on 23 November 1722 proved to refer to Roman Catholics only. Walpole justified it, against the objection that it savoured of persecution, upon purely political grounds — that the recent plot had been hatched in Rome, and that the Roman Catholics were unanimously favourable to the restoration of the Pretender. Upon this reasoning the House revived his original intention and extended the bill to all nonjurors (10 May 1723). The consequence was ‘a ridiculous sight to see, people crowding to give a testimony of their allegiance to a government, and cursing it at the same time for giving them the trouble’. This act (9 Geo. I, c. 24) was one of Walpole's least judicious measures, the disaffection it excited more than compensating for the aid it brought to the treasury.
On 10 June 1723 the king rewarded Walpole's services by creating his eldest son Robert a peer, by the title of Lord Walpole of Walpole. For himself the minister had refused the honour, a significant indication that he regarded the House of Commons as the seat of power. About this time the elements of a new Whig opposition began to crystallise. The centre was John, lord Carteret , who had been nominated by Sunderland to succeed James Craggs, jun., on 5 March 1721. He followed Sunderland's example and intrigued with the German dependents of the king. Daniel Pulteney and Sir John Barnard, Walpole's principal opponents on matters of finance, were at first the leaders of this faction in the commons; in 1726 the Earl of Chesterfield became the chief ally of Carteret in the Lords.
In the summer of 1723 Townshend and Carteret, the two secretaries of state, accompanied the king to Hanover, leaving Walpole in undisputed possession of power in England. So tranquil were public affairs that on 30 August 1723 Walpole boasted to Townshend that money could be raised at £3 12s. 6d. per cent. Meanwhile Carteret was attempting to play again the part enacted by Sunderland in 1716. A struggle took place at the Hanoverian court between Townshend, supported by the Duchess of Kendal, and Carteret in alliance with Bernstorff and Bothmar, the Hanoverian ministers. The immediate question at issue, the Platen marriage, ended in the victory of Townshend and the substitution (12 October 1723) of Horatio Walpole for Carteret's agent, Sir Luke Schaub , as envoy to Paris. Carteret had in the meantime been casting about for supporters in parliament, and projected a coalition with the Tories to oust Walpole. This intrigue was betrayed to Walpole in July 1723 by Bolingbroke, who had received a pardon in the previous May. Bolingbroke suggested that Walpole should accept his aid in forming such a coalition in his own interest. But Walpole was no lover of intrigue. When Sunderland made a similar proposal, ‘Mr. Walpole took the other point of standing or falling with the Whigs’. He now as firmly rejected Bolingbroke's overtures. It was at this period that he detected Pulteney in secret correspondence with Carteret, and never put confidence in him again. Townshend's success over Carteret was marked by the dismissal of Carteret from the secretaryship of state and his appointment as lord-lieutenant of Ireland (3 April 1724). From this time may be dated a resolution apparent in Walpole to keep men of brilliant talent out of his administrations. He nominated as Carteret's successor the Duke of Newcastle, ‘having experienced how troublesome a man of parts was in that office’. The natural consequence was that the Whig opposition was constantly recruited by the men of promise whose numbers and abilities eventually proved equal to the overthrow of Walpole's administration.
Carteret arrived in Ireland (23 October 1724) in the midst of the excitement aroused over ‘Wood's halfpence.’ This grant had been made by Sunderland to gratify the Duchess of Kendal, who had sold it to Wood. Walpole had, in fact, opposed it, but it was his duty as First Lord of the Treasury to sign the treasury warrant of 23 August 1722 authorising ‘William Wood of Wolverhampton to establish at or near Bristol his office for carrying out the affairs of his patent giving him sole power and authority to coin copper farthings and halfpence for the service of Ireland’. The value was limited to £108,000. Walpole made diligent inquiry into the justification of the outcry raised. In a letter to Townshend on 12 October 1723 he showed in detail that it was utterly baseless, and proved it by the verdict of a practical assayer. He was for resolute measures. On 24 September and 3 October 1723 he wrote angry letters to Grafton, Carteret's predecessor as lord lieutenant, for his weakness in face of the opposition to the patent in the Irish parliament. Carteret, whom Walpole had, perhaps on insufficient grounds, suspected of inciting his friends the Brodricks, who led the Irish party, to resistance, had originally been nominated lord lieutenant by a ‘refined revenge,’ that he might carry the matter through with a high hand. Wood was said to have indiscreetly boasted, ‘Mr. Walpole will cram his brass down their throats’. But it was never Walpole's policy to fly in the face of popular passion. He bowed to the storm by recommending to the king to substitute £40,000 for the £100,000 as the limit of value of the coin to be imported into Ireland. Primate Hugh Boulter had warned the ministry on 19 January 1724 that not even a reduction to £20,000 would be accepted. He was right. On 4 August appeared the second ‘Drapier Letter,’ assailing Walpole's concession as savagely as the original grant. Walpole then felt that no safe course was left but to withdraw the patent altogether, and wrote to that effect to Newcastle on 1 September 1724. But Townshend and the king were still for strong measures, and Carteret, whose private opinion was known to be adverse to the patent, went to Ireland determined to regain the royal favour by his zeal in enforcing it. By December Carteret had come round to Walpole's opinion, and in May 1725 the king, on Walpole's advice, consented that the patent should be cancelled. So tranquil was England during 1724 that only one public division took place in the House of Commons, where Walpole was now all-powerful.
The year 1725 was marked by disturbances in Scotland. In February 1724 the English country gentlemen in parliament had expressed a grievance at the evasion by the Scots of their share of the malt tax. Walpole, apprehensive of exciting the latent disaffection of Scotland, at first resisted the proposal to enforce its levy; but in December 1724 a motion was carried to substitute a duty of sixpence a barrel on beer in Scotland instead of the malt tax. In July 1725 this led to a riot in Glasgow and a combination among the brewers of Edinburgh to discontinue brewing, which it was expected would lead to fresh disturbances. Walpole had reason to believe that the riots were being fomented for political purposes by the Duke of Roxburghe, one of the Carteret faction, secretary of state for Scotland, who was persuaded that they would lead to Walpole's overthrow. On 25 August 1725 the duke was dismissed. Walpole made his trusted friend the Earl of Islay then Privy Seal for Scotland, the ministerial manager for that country. In obedience to Walpole's instructions and as Walpole's representative in Scotland, the earl levied the tax and put down the brewers' combination. The session in parliament of 1725 was made memorable by the impeachment for corruption of the Earl of Macclesfield, lord chancellor. It is said that Walpole was jealous of the chancellor's personal influence with the king and the German ministers. He himself took the decisive measure of appointing a committee of the privy council to investigate the rumours against Macclesfield, and his friend Sir George Oxenden moved the impeachment in the commons. On the other hand, William Pulteney, now in open opposition, and Sir William Wyndham , the leader of the Tories, were the chancellor's defenders. After George I's death Walpole refused to make Macclesfield any further payments from the treasury in discharge of the fine of £30,000 which the king had promised to defray.
On 20 April 1725 Walpole seconded a motion made by Lord Finch in the House of Commons for removing so much of Bolingbroke's attainder as to enable him to succeed upon his father's death to the family estates. Walpole, who knew his restless temper, had always opposed his return, and in 1733 spoke of his yielding to it as ‘a much repented fault’. He was induced to support this motion only by the peremptory insistence of the king, prompted by the Duchess of Kendal, who pocketed a bribe of £11,000. His reluctance, and still more his insertion of a clause in the act restoring Bolingbroke's estates, which prevented Bolingbroke from exercising a free disposition over them, excited keen resentment. Bolingbroke at once set to work to unite the scattered factions which had hitherto offered but a desultory and feeble opposition to Walpole's administration.
In 1725 Walpole persuaded the king to revive the order of the Bath, ‘an artful bank of thirty-six ribands to supply a fund of favours’. He was himself on 27 May invested with the order, which he quitted on 26 June 1726 for the Garter. This promotion of a commoner, for the first time since 1660, caused much jealousy among the nobility, and suggested the nickname ‘Sir Bluestring’ by which he was commonly assailed in the pasquinades of the time.
Foreign affairs now first began to press upon Walpole's attention. The treaty of Vienna, signed on 30 April 1725, had effected a coalition between Philip V of Spain and the emperor Charles VI of Austria. It was suspected to include, and in fact did so, secret articles for the wresting of Gibraltar from the English, of Hanover from the king, for the restoration of the pretender, and for the suppression of protestantism. As a counter move to this, Townshend, then with the king, devised the treaty of Hanover. This established an alliance between England, France, and Prussia. In England an outcry at once arose that the country was to be sacrificed to the king's German dominions. Walpole, who had not been consulted, blamed Townshend as ‘too precipitate.’ He dreaded a war which, he wrote to Townshend on 13 October, was only to be justified by the imminence of an invasion. As evidences of a projected invasion multiplied, his dislike of the treaty abated, and on 19 February 1726 he carried in the House of Commons an address expressing approval of it. Nevertheless, he still resented Townshend's conduct, and henceforth insisted upon being made acquainted with the progress of foreign affairs. It is not without significance that we find him on 19 June 1726 addressing a complimentary letter to Fleury. Townshend, on the other hand, resented this new departure. On 23 May 1726 Pozobueno wrote to Ripperda, ‘The misunderstanding between Townshend and Walpole daily increases.
While this rift was widening in the ministry, Pulteney, as leader of the opposition, was adding to his following in the House of Commons. In a letter to the emperor on 17 December 1726, Palm estimated his supporters as nearly a third of the House, and outside the House as consisting ‘in the richest and most considerable persons of this nation.’ His policy was an alliance with the emperor, Walpole's for the maintenance of friendship with France. Upon the assembling of parliament, on 17 January 1727, Walpole dexterously turned the popular feeling against Pulteney's policy by the king's speech which revealed the terms of the treaty of Vienna. So intense was the public indignation that ministers carried the address by 251 to 81.
In December 1726 the opposition had started the ‘Craftsman,’ a paper chiefly inspired by Bolingbroke. It contained scurrilous invectives against the Walpoles and much declamation against corruption. It produced a great effect upon the public mind, so much so that the Tories confidently anticipated that, with the assistance of the king's German chamberlain Fabrice and the Duchess of Kendal, Bolingbroke would supplant Walpole in the king's confidence. Bolingbroke, anxious to produce an impression on the king, induced the duchess to lay before him a memorandum against Walpole in the style of the ‘Craftsman.’ Walpole, hearing of this and shrewdly anticipating George I's distaste for declamation, insisted that the duchess should procure Bolingbroke an audience. On Walpole's inquiry as to the substance of Bolingbroke's indictment, the king replied ‘Bagatelles! Bagatelles!’ Nevertheless, so shaken did Walpole feel his position to be by the defection of the duchess that, if we are to believe a statement made by Pelham to Onslow, he was only dissuaded by the Duke of Devonshire and the Princess of Wales from retiring with a peerage in the summer of George I's last visit to Hanover. This inclination was strengthened by a serious illness which attacked him on 26 April 1727, and was thought to endanger his life. He was so weakened that in June, when anticipating dismissal by George II, he burst into tears at a visit from Onslow, and ‘declared he would never leave the court if he could have any office there, and would be content even with the comptroller's staff’.
The news of the sudden death of George I on 12 June 1727 reached Walpole at Chelsea on the 14th. Aware of the importance of a first audience, he ‘killed two horses in carrying the tidings’ to the new king at Richmond. The king, who when he quarrelled with his father had called Walpole ‘rogue and rascal,’ received him coldly and nominated his treasurer Compton to draw up the declaration to the privy council. Compton, unequal to the task, requested Walpole to draft it for him. Walpole eagerly seized the opportunity to put Compton under an obligation. He anticipated a possible impeachment, and promised Compton his support in parliament in return for protection. The courtiers at once began to trim their sails. ‘Sir Robert's presence, that used to make a crowd wherever he appeared, now emptied every corner he turned to’. But the Queen hated Compton, who had injudiciously paid court to Mrs. Howard, the king's mistress. Compton himself became sensible that he could neither form a ministry with the Tories nor without them. The king was anxious for the maintenance of the French alliance; Horatio Walpole had Fleury's ear, and Fleury dismissed him to London to exhort George to adhere to his father's policy. Lastly, Walpole appealed to the king's strongest passion — avarice. The civil list of his father had been fixed at £700,000. Walpole offered to make it £800,000. Compton had proposed that the Queen's jointure should be £60,000 a year; Walpole undertook to ask for £100,000. Compton had neither the courage nor the following to carry the larger proposals. The king greedily swallowed the bait. ‘It is for my life,’ he said to Walpole, ‘it is to be fixed, and it is for your life.’ On 24 June 1727 Walpole was reappointed First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Townshend secretary of state.
The new parliament met on 23 January 1728 with a considerable majority in favour of the ministry. Pulteney, who in 1725 and 1727 had assumed the part of financial critic on behalf of the opposition, attacked Walpole on the ground of an improper application of the sinking fund. Walpole successfully defended his version as to the state of the national debt and the rate of its discharge, and carried the division by the decisive vote of 250 to 97 (4 March). But as public feeling had been aroused, especially by Pulteney's pamphlet ‘On the State of the National Debt,’ he deemed it prudent to draw up an elaborate report, which was accepted by the House of Commons by 243 to 77 (8 April) and presented to the king (11 April). In this session Walpole was placed in a critical position by the avarice of the king, which he once declared one of his two principal difficulties, Hanover being the other. The king complained that £115,000 was deficient on the civil list. The claim was more than doubtful, and Walpole refused to endorse it. The Tories thereupon made overtures to the king, offering to add another £100,000, and George intimated plainly to Walpole that he must either undertake to press the claim through parliament or resign. Walpole with much reluctance yielded, but the opposition in parliament was strong, and fourteen peers signed a protest (10 May 1729). The failure of the opposition to displace Walpole was due to the attacks on the expenditure of the secret-service fund, with regard to which George II was particularly sensitive. These were led by Shippen (3 July 1727) and Pulteney (21 February 1727 and 29 February 1728). The result was that Atterbury's son-in-law Morice wrote to him on 24 June 1728, ‘Walpole gains ground and governs more absolutely than in the latter reign. Mr. Pulteney's removal from the lieutenancy of one of the Yorkshire Ridings is one instance of his power.’ The influence of the ministry with the king was strengthened by the success of the negotiations for the treaty of Seville, signed on 9 November 1729, which for the time deprived the Jacobites of their last hope of aid from a foreign power.
The opposition now conceived the project of undermining Walpole's power by depriving him of the customary means of securing it in the House of Commons. On 16 February 1730 Samuel Sandys introduced the pension bill to disable persons in receipt of pensions from sitting in parliament. The king ordered Walpole to oppose it in the House of Commons, but he refused, leaving it on this occasion, and in 1734 and 1740, to be thrown out by the Lords. Meanwhile his relations with Townshend increased in difficulty. In 1729 an altercation between them ended in a scuffle and drawn swords. In December there were rumours of Townshend's retirement. The Tories, sensible that the direction of foreign policy was passing into Walpole's hands, now violently attacked him on the score of the French alliance, of which he was known to be a warm advocate. They inflamed the public mind with pretences that the Walpoles were betraying the interests of England by neglecting to insist on the provision of the treaty of Utrecht, and of that of 1717 for the demolition of the fortifications of Dunkirk. At the instance of Bolingbroke, Sir W. Wyndham brought on a debate with the object of proving that Dunkirk was becoming an increasing menace to the south coast, and indirectly of breaking the French alliance by insisting on its complete dismantlement. In the debate which followed (27 February 1729-30) Walpole made a vigorous attack on Bolingbroke, and carried an address approving the action of the ministry by 274 to 149. So brilliant was Walpole's defence that the debate was currently spoken of as ‘the Dunkirk day’, ‘the greatest day,’ said Horatio Walpole, ‘that ever I knew.’ In the course of this session Walpole broke with the accepted policy of controlling the commercial interests of the colonies by exclusive reference to the advantage of the mother country. He passed an act (the Rice Act, 3 Geo. II, c. 28) the preamble of which affirms the then novel principle that the prosperity of the mother country is aided by care for the prosperity of the colony. By this act Carolina was no longer compelled to export rice exclusively to England. In 1735 he extended the same privilege to Georgia (8 Geo. II, c. 19). On the other hand, he renewed the charter of the East India Company till 1766, despite the protests of the opposition, for the payment of £200,000 and the reduction by one per cent. of the interest due on account of its loans to government.
On 15 May 1730 Townshend resigned. His ‘irascible and domineering and jealous’ temper had long rendered him distasteful to the Queen. The death of Walpole's sister Dorothy, Lady Townshend, on 29 March 1726, had weakened the link that bound the two ministers together. But it was the Queen who, as Horace Walpole said, ‘blew into a flame the ill-blood’ between the two by her exclusive reliance upon Walpole. ‘As long,’ said Walpole, ‘as the firm was Townshend and Walpole, the utmost harmony prevailed; but it no sooner became Walpole and Townshend than things went wrong and a separation ensued.’ Walpole, alive to the growth of the opposition and of the dangers attending a monopoly of power, now made overtures to some of its leaders. Wilmington, the king's favourite, he succeeded in detaching and made him lord privy seal. To Pulteney he offered Townshend's place with a peerage. The intermediary was the Queen. But Pulteney refused all advances. Chesterfield, who had earned encouragement by betraying the plans of the opposition to the Queen, was made lord steward. Foreign affairs, nominally in the hands of Newcastle and Harrington, were entirely controlled by Walpole.
The strength of Walpole's position and his well-known toleration gave the dissenters hope that their claims as steady supporters of his government might at last be recognised. In 1727 he had passed the first (1 Geo. II, st. 2, c. 23) of a series of indemnity acts exempting from the test those who had not duly qualified themselves for the offices they held. They now agitated for a repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts. The Sacheverell affair had taught Walpole caution in ecclesiastical matters. He did not think their request ‘unreasonable,’ but for a minister confronted by a mixed opposition which the proposal would unite he thought it ‘unseasonable’. On the other hand, both in 1731 and again in 1733 he promoted a measure in favour of the dissenters in Ireland which he was obliged to abandon as impracticable.
The popularity which now fell to Walpole from his extraordinary success at home and abroad provoked the opposition to scandalous personal attacks. The ‘Craftsman’ of 7 November 1730 affirmed that the housekeeping bills at Houghton amounted to £1,500 a week. In ballads and broadsides he was represented as plundering the treasury and as selling the country to France. Walpole himself was serenely indifferent, but on 7 July 1731 the grand jury of Middlesex presented ‘Robin's Reign’ and others of the libels circulated in the streets, together with some numbers of the ‘Craftsman.’ This was followed by a number of successful prosecutions. Pulteney having published a pamphlet styled ‘An Answer to one Part of an Infamous Libel,’ &c., in which he disclosed a conversation with Walpole on the reconciliation of the Prince of Wales with his father, so incensed the king that he struck him off the roll of the privy council with his own hand. The year 1733 witnessed the introduction by Walpole of two important financial measures. Of these the first was his proposal to take £500,000 from the sinking fund. The objections to such a precedent were obvious, but Walpole's reasons deserve examination. The alternative, he told the country gentlemen, was raising the land tax, which in the previous session he had cut down by a shilling, once more to two shillings in the pound. But a principal point of his policy was the reconciliation of the country gentlemen to the Whig government. Had he to make choice between them and ‘the moneyed interest,’ he would certainly have sacrificed the country gentry. ‘A minister,’ he once remarked, ‘might shear the country gentlemen when he would, and the landed interest would always produce him a rich fleece in silence; but the trading interest resembled a hog, whom if you attempted to touch ... he would certainly cry out loud enough to alarm all the neighbourhood’. In this case the moneyed interest approved because, as Walpole explained, the credit of the government had now risen to such a height that they ‘apprehended nothing more than being obliged to receive their principals too fast.’ This combination of interests triumphed over the opposition, and the proposal was carried by 245 to 135 votes (23 February 1733). It was a triumph of political exigency over fiscal principle.
The conciliation of the country gentry by the reduction of the land tax was preparatory to another financial change which, had it been effected, would have anticipated the great reforms of the present century. This was the famous excise scheme of the same session. Walpole's attention had been drawn to the state of the customs' revenue. Since 1723 he had checked the smuggling of tea and coffee by applying to them a compulsory warehousing system under government supervision, thereby increasing the revenue derived from them by £120,000 in seven years. No change was made in the name of the duty, and the reform passed unnoticed. He had (14 March 1733) projected the application of the same system to tobacco and wine. By so doing there would not merely be a check put upon smuggling. Under the existing complicated system of discounts, drawbacks, and allowances, with the aid of false weights and false entries, vast frauds, as he pointed out, had been detected, especially upon re-exportation. His proposal was to levy the full tax on tobacco and wine imported only when they were removed from the warehouses for sale. Where imported for re-exportation no tax was to be levied at all. The former of these two measures would, it was thought, check smuggling, because the importer ‘would never run any risk, or be at any expense to evade the customhouse officers at the first gate, when at so many more afterwards he would be equally exposed to be catched by the excise officer’. The second would, as Walpole explained, ‘tend to make London a free port, and by consequence the market of the world.’ The change was, in technical terms, a transfer of customs to ‘excise,’ and therein the opposition saw their opportunity. Excise had at various times been levied with vexatious incidents upon most of the necessaries of life. Its very name was odious. The ‘Craftsman’ and the pamphleteers discerned in the proposals the first approach to an excise upon all articles of food and clothing. Walpole had himself given some colour to the suggestion by reimposing in 1732 (5 Geo. II, c. 6) the salt tax, which he had repealed in 1730 (3 Geo. II, c. 20). Even then, Sir William Wyndham had argued, ‘it is one step towards a general excise’ (9 February 1732), and Walpole had indignantly repudiated the suggestion. But the course of events strengthened the public suspicion. Petitions against the scheme poured into the House of Commons. The House itself was besieged by ‘a most extraordinary concourse of people.’ The city of London prayed to be heard by counsel against the bill, and its petition was escorted by a train of coaches that extended from Temple Bar to Westminster. Discontent began to pass into disaffection. The army, it was said, could not be relied on because the soldiers believed that tobacco would be raised in price. Inside the House of Commons the ministerial majorities dwindled from sixty-one, on the introduction of the scheme on 14 March 1733, to seventeen on 10 April. On that night Walpole gave a supper to a dozen friends. ‘This dance it will no further go,’ he said, with tears in his eyes. On the next day he moved ‘that the bill be read a second time on 12 June’ (the recess). Frantic manifestations of delight throughout the country followed his capitulation. Walpole was burnt in effigy in the city, where he had incurred unpopularity by designating the formidable band of petitioners ‘sturdy beggars’ (14 March 1733). The king had taken the strongest personal interest in the bill. Its abandonment was followed by the summary dismissal of Lord Chesterfield, the lord steward, and of a group of peers in public employment who had co-operated with him in opposing it. The Duke of Bolton and Lord Cobham, both colonels of household cavalry, were cashiered. The opposition thereupon moved for leave to bring in a bill ‘for securing the constitution by preventing officers, not above the rank of colonels of regiments, from being deprived of their commissions otherwise than by judgment of a court-martial to be held for that purpose, or by address of either House of parliament’ (13 February 1734). Walpole in reply warned the House of the constitutional danger of ‘stratocracy’ involved in the proposal. ‘Any minister,’ he afterwards added to Lord Hervey, ‘must be a pitiful fellow who would not show military officers that their employments were not held on a surer tenure than those of civil officers’. The motion was negatived without a division.
Nevertheless, Walpole's power had been shaken. It is true that he could probably have carried the excise bill through the House of Commons. The reason of its abandonment was, as he truly said, that ‘the act could not be carried into execution without an armed force, and that there would be an end of the liberties of England if supplies were to be raised by the sword.’ The reinforcements in number and vindictiveness which the recent dismissals brought about renewed the activity of the opposition. Scotland had been one of Walpole's strongholds. Its representative peers had been nothing more than the nominees of Lord Ilay, Walpole's Scottish secretary of state. Lord Stair, one of the great officers dismissed, headed a revolt of the Scots peers against this system at the general election of 1734. The government, it is true, carried its list, but the allegiance of Scotland had begun to wane. Outside parliament the opposition still fanned the excitement of the populace by attributing to Walpole a design of fresh proposals for a general excise. But he knew that the opportunity even for partial reform was past. ‘I can assure this House,’ he said, ‘I am not so mad as ever again to engage in anything that looks like an excise’ (4 February 1734).
A general election was now approaching. The Tories proposed in the last session of the expiring parliament the repeal of the Septennial Act and the substitution of triennial parliaments. Walpole opposed the motion in a speech pronounced to be one of the best he ever made, full of brilliant though covert invective against Bolingbroke, the real inspirer of the proposal. It was not warmly supported by the opposition Whigs, and was defeated by 247 to 184 votes (13 March 1734). Distrust forthwith began to set in among the opposition, Pulteney resenting Sir W. Wyndham's reliance upon Bolingbroke, whose ‘very name and presence in England did hurt’. Early in 1735 Bolingbroke returned in disgust to France. The opposition Whigs had thrown away the weapon which had won them their recent victory.
Meanwhile the vacancy of the crown of Poland had plunged the continent into a war, in which the emperor was rapidly succumbing before the combined forces of France, Spain, and Sardinia. His appeals for help enlisted the German sympathies of the Queen at the same time that they aroused the martial ardour of the king. Walpole gratified the king so far as to press upon the expiring parliament of 1734, despite an influential protest of peers, an unconstitutional measure empowering the crown to raise sea and land forces without limit during the interval between the parliaments (28 March 1734). But he was resolute for non-intervention, except in the quality of mediator. The emperor, furious with ‘the Walpoles’, despatched Thomas John Francis Strickland, bishop of Namur, to London to intrigue against them at court. Strickland began by tampering with Harrington, the secretary of state, with whom he had a long and secret conference. He was graciously received by the king and Queen. Rumour predicted Walpole's approaching fall. The Queen argued her case with the minister week after week. ‘I told the Queen this morning,’ he said to Hervey, ‘Madam, there are fifty thousand men slain this year in Europe and not one Englishman.’ Alive to the intrigues around him, Walpole kept in his hand every thread of the negotiations. When in October 1734 Fleury made overtures for a peace, he succeeded in persuading the Queen to support him in giving the cardinal a favourable response. He put a stop upon Harrington's attempt, made at the instance of the king himself, to involve England by guaranteeing, in conjunction with the emperor, the defence of Holland against the French. ‘My politics,’ he had written to Townshend on 3 August 1723, ‘are to keep clear of all engagements.’ The plan of pacification, which was substantially that accepted by the belligerents, was the work of the two Walpoles, Sir Robert inspiring the foreign office of England, and Horatio having the ear of Fleury. Bolingbroke's comment on the peace was that ‘if the English ministers had any hand in it, they were wiser than he thought them; and if they had not, they were much luckier than they deserved to be.’
The general election had taken place in the spring of 1734, before the brilliant success of Walpole's foreign policy had operated to retrieve his defeat upon the excise bill. Despite a large expenditure on the elections, he lost some six or seven seats in Norfolk, and returned to parliament on 14 January 1735 with a diminished following. The gratifying issue of his policy of peace announced in the king's speech of 15 January 1736 furnished a compensating triumph. The address of congratulation was voted without the smallest opposition (17 January), and the thanks of parliament, rendered by convention to the king, for ‘saving this nation from the calamities of war,’ were recognised on all hands as due to Walpole.
The dissenters judged this a favourable opportunity to solicit from Walpole a further indication of his friendly disposition to them. It was probably at this time that Dr. Samuel Chandler, at the head of a deputation of dissenters, inquired of him when the moment would come for fulfilling the hopes he had held out to them. He replied that it had not yet arrived. Being pressed for a specific answer, he said, ‘I will give it you in a word — Never.’ The dissenters thereupon entrusted their case to the opposition Whigs. On 12 March 1736 William Plumer moved the repeal of the Test Act. Walpole was placed in a position of great difficulty. With many considerate expressions towards the dissenters he opposed the motion, which was defeated by 251 to 123 votes. The motion for repeal was again pressed in 1739, but was again opposed by Walpole and was rejected in the House of Lords by 188 to 89 votes on 6 April. On the other hand, he zealously forwarded a bill for the relief of Quakers. His interest was perhaps quickened by the circumstance that there were many Quakers, his supporters, in his constituency. The bill was lost in the House of Lords chiefly through the opposition of Edmund Gibson, the bishop of London. Walpole had regarded the bishop as his ‘first and sole minister in church matters,’ and intended him to succeed William Wake at Canterbury. This following upon another difference between them, he henceforth withdrew his confidence from Gibson and appointed John Potter to Canterbury instead (1737).
August and September 1736 were marked by anti-Irish riots in London and by the Porteous riot at Edinburgh. The London riots were fomented by the Jacobites, and associated with discontent on account of the Gin Act which had been passed in the previous session. Although Walpole had taken no further interest in this measure than to insure the civil list against consequent losses, it was popularly ascribed to him in concert with Jekyll, its real author. The Porteous riots were seized upon by the opposition in the Lords, headed by Carteret, to embarrass Walpole by insistence on extreme measures, which, Lord Ilay warned him, would provoke a rebellion in Scotland. The growing weakness of Walpole's position now became apparent. He was adverse both to the violent proposals of the opposition, and even to any inquiry upon which a justification of them might be found. But two of his own cabinet, Hardwicke and Newcastle, were caballing against him with Sherlock and Carteret. He told Newcastle to his face ‘Your grace must take your choice between me and him [Carteret]’. Signs of defection showed themselves in the commons, and the Queen herself was inclined to side with the dissentients. The situation was further complicated by the attitude of the Tories, who secretly encouraged the disaffection in Scotland and opposed any bill whatever. In these difficult circumstances Walpole had no choice but to accept the principle of the bills of penalties and to mitigate these as far as possible (10 Geo. II, cc. 34, 35). The opposition, however, took care to identify his name with these measures, which seriously impaired his former popularity in Scotland. The position of Walpole was made the more difficult by the attitude of the Prince of Wales, whose House had for some time past been the rendezvous of the young Whigs of the opposition, ‘the boys,’ as Walpole nicknamed them. The prince had long been dissatisfied with his allowance of £50,000 a year. In 1737 he originated a proposal that it should be increased by an additional £50,000 from the civil list. The suggestion was warmly embraced by the whole opposition, who foresaw that it would irrevocably alienate the prince from the minister, since it was certain to be opposed by the king. On 22 February 1737 a motion to this effect was made by Pulteney and seconded by Sir John Barnard , the two most formidable members of the Whig opposition in the House of Commons. Walpole first made secret overtures to the prince to persuade him to desist. He next adroitly offered as a compromise a settlement of the allowance of £50,000 and a jointure on the princess in addition. The prince rejected the proposal, as Walpole had indeed foreseen. ‘He had proposed,’ he told the king, ‘to bring the House of Commons to reason with it, not the prince’. He carried the House by a majority of thirty. ‘If ever any man in any cause,’ he said to Lord Hervey, ‘fought dagger out of sheath, I did so in the House of Commons the day his royal highness's affair was debated there’. After his fall two members of this majority were found to have been bribed by him in two sums of £500 and £400 apiece — the only instance of parliamentary corruption ever proved against him. His own mention of the fact on two separate occasions to Lord Hervey and the Queen is some indication that this expedient for securing a majority was exceptional. The majority was really assured by the abstention of forty-five Tories of Jacobite sympathies. From this time the Prince of Wales openly enrolled himself in the opposition to Walpole. Whereas Walpole's policy had always been, as Onslow says, one ‘of having everybody to be deemed a Jacobite who was not a professed Whig’, the prince now courted the adhesion of the Hanoverian Tories, led by Sir W. Wyndham. He thereby became the mainspring of an opposition which divisions had hitherto rendered ineffective.
The next move of the opposition again came from the Whigs. On 24 March 1737 Barnard moved a resolution for redeeming the £24,000,000 of the South Sea annuities at four per cent., and converting them into annuities at three per cent. Considered as a piece of parliamentary tactics, this was a dexterous move. It rallied in its support the country gentlemen, the conciliation of whom was the foundation of Walpole's financial policy; while it was opposed to the interest of the capitalists, upon whom Walpole's power really rested. On principle he could not venture to oppose it. His own brother Horatio, the Pelhams, and others of his most confidential friends were favourable to it. He apparently contented himself with the dilatory plea that the time was unsuitable. But while the bill was being prepared in conformity with the resolution, he found time ‘to go about, to talk to people, to solicit, to intimidate, to argue, to persuade, and perhaps to bribe’ against the proposal. When the bill came on he put up his friendThomas Winnington, a lord of the treasury, to extend the proposal to all the redeemable debts, i.e. from £24,000,000 to£44,000,000. This change not only increased the general hostility to the bill, but made it impracticable. Walpole then voted with the minority against the proposal, thereby re-establishing his credit with the city (30 March). When the new bill was introduced (22 April) he opposed it with a number of plausible financial arguments, and the bill was rejected by 249 to 134 votes. His conduct is ascribed by his friend Lord Hervey to jealousy of Barnard and the fear of alienating the moneyed men. It is possible, however, that the danger of war with Spain, and the prospective necessity of raising a loan on that account, coupled with the fact that the bill would have locked up the greatest part of the sinking fund for several years and compelled him to levy fresh taxes, were additional and justifiable grounds for his opposition. At the close of the session of 1737 Walpole introduced with general approval ‘the playhouse bill,’ conferring on the lord chamberlain a statutory power of licensing plays (10 Geo. II, c. 28). The occasion was the increasing tendency of the stage to profane and political plays. Of these the mischief, indeed, immediately affected Walpole, of all men the most indifferent to attack; but the need of a restraining authority was felt by the opposition, who were already counting upon office, and had been the first to propose legislation upon the subject. In April 1738 Walpole supported the unanimous resolution of the House of Commons against the publication of its debates, upon the reasonable ground of the gross dishonesty of the reports.
The sessions of 1736 and 1737 had both disclosed the growing weakness of Walpole in parliament. His influence at court had been sensibly lowered by the compromise he proposed to the Prince of Wales. The king and Queen, who vied with each other in a resentment against the prince which Walpole was incapable of sharing, discussed his dismissal, affronted by his insistence that the terms offered should be observed. Hardwicke, in collusion with Newcastle and Carteret, was urging a reconciliation which it was impossible to undertake, while the prince, on the other hand, credited Walpole with every move made against him. It was a position so impossible to maintain that Walpole seriously entertained thoughts of resignation. At this juncture the Queen died (20 November 1737). Her transient resentments disappeared at her deathbed. Sending for Walpole, she said: ‘I recommend the king, my children, and the kingdom to your care’. But he foresaw as clearly as the rest of the world the decline of his influence with the king, whose irritable vanity could only be managed by a woman. The dukes of Grafton and Newcastle pressed him to pay court to the Princess Emily. ‘I'll bring Madame Walmoden over,’ he answered; ‘I was for the wife against the mistress, but I will be for the mistress against the daughters.’
Public attention now began to turn to England's relations with Spain. A deputation of merchants petitioned the king in the autumn of 1737, complaining of depredations by Spanish officials upon English traders to the West Indies. In March 1738 the country was ablaze with the story of Jenkins's ear. Walpole stood almost alone for peace. His own colleagues in the Lords passed resolutions (2 May 1738) against the Spanish claim to search vessels for contraband, which he had succeeded in excluding from the resolutions of the House of Commons. During the autumn of 1738 the war fever, stimulated by the opposition, was steadily rising. Walpole, through Sir Benjamin Keene , the minister at Madrid, effected a convention with Spain in time for the meeting of parliament, which had been prorogued for this purpose till 1 February 1739. The convention provided for a settlement of disputes within eight months between plenipotentiaries to be appointed. But ‘No search’ was the popular cry, and upon this the convention was silent. Pitt thundered against it as ‘an insecure, unsatisfactory, dishonourable convention.’ Walpole himself spoke ‘in a more masterly, dexterous, and able manner than I ever heard him, to the satisfaction and applause of the whole House, and even of his enemies’. Nevertheless the address of approval was only carried by a majority of twenty-eight (8 March 1739). ‘The patriots,’ as the opposition styled themselves, now took the rash resolve to secede from the House of Commons (9 March). Walpole's answer to the declaration of this intention by Sir W. Wyndham was, said Chatham, one of the finest speeches he had ever heard. This decision was highly advantageous to Walpole. He had been seriously ill in the previous September with some form of fever, and had never recovered his strength. He now enjoyed an interval of three months' freedom from harassing attack. The opportunity was utilised by him in pushing through bills appealing to commercial interests. He carried his colonial policy a step further by extending to molasses and sugar from the West Indian colonies the principle of free exportation already accorded to rice (12 Geo. II, c. 30). He also gratified the manufacturers of cloth by taking off the duties from wool and woollen yarn imported from Ireland, and preventing their exportation elsewhere than to Great Britain (12 Geo. II, c. 21). This was pursuant to the principle of commercial policy formulated by him in the king's speech of 1721, ‘to make the exportation of our own manufactures and the importation of the commodities used in the manufacturing of them as practicable and as easy as may be.’
In May 1739 the English and Spanish plenipotentiaries met for the ratification of the convention. Walpole had foreseen that the stumbling-block to peace was the Spanish claim of search for contraband. But the king was eager for war. So were Walpole's colleagues, Newcastle and Hardwicke, and indeed the entire nation. He consented to a despatch instructing Keene, the English plenipotentiary, to demand the surrender of the right of search. Spain refused; and on 19 October, amid a burst of popular enthusiasm, war was declared. ‘They now ring the bells,’ said Walpole bitterly; ‘they will soon wring their hands.’ It has been observed by Burke that Walpole's conduct was stamped with weakness, that ‘he temporised, he managed, and, adopting very nearly the sentiments of his adversaries, he opposed their inferences’. But Walpole was the prey of two harassing diseases, gout and the stone, which left him but intermittent vigour and disturbed the balance of his naturally placid temper. ‘And all agree Sir Robert cannot live,’ wrote Pope in 1740. He might, it is said, have resigned. As a matter of fact he did twice tender his resignation, but was appealed to by the king ‘not to desert him in his greatest difficulties’. And behind resignation loomed impeachment, which, in the popular fury against the sole advocate of peace, was certain. He lost his hold alike of parliament, where nobody believed he could stand another session, and of the cabinet, where Newcastle, whose ‘name is “Perfidy,”’ as he justly said, was intriguing for his place. One rebuff followed another. In November 1739 Pulteney, in the face of his opposition, carried a bill ‘for the encouragement of seamen’ (13 Geo. II, c. 3). Against the place bill, limiting the number of officials in the House of Commons, his majority, which had been thirty-nine in 1734, sank to sixteen in 1739. In the Lords the bishops were wavering in favour of the prospective dispensers of patronage. His altercations with Newcastle were incessant. ‘The war is yours,’ he exclaimed; ‘you have had the conduct of it — I wish you joy of it.’ But a rupture with the greatest borough-monger in England would have ruined him, for Scotland was all but lost when, in March 1740, Argyll went over to the opposition. During an extraordinary series of years, from 1715 to 1740, with two slight exceptions in 1727 and 1728, there had been abundant harvests. The winter of 1739-40 was one of long and severe frost and of consequent distress. Bread rose in price, riots followed, and of all this Walpole bore the odium.
By the death of the emperor Charles VI in October 1740 foreign affairs, of which Walpole still retained the direction, increased in complication. After a successful invasion of Silesia, Frederick the Great signed a treaty with France in June 1741. The Queen of Hungary had called upon England to enforce its guarantee of the pragmatic sanction. Again Walpole was for peace; the king and the cabinet for intervention. Again Walpole had to give way. On 8 April 1741 the king's speech invited parliament to support him in the maintenance of the pragmatic sanction, and £300,000 was voted as a subsidy to the Queen of Hungary. In May the king, despite Walpole's remonstrances, went over to Hanover to organise the defence of the electorate. On 28 October, without consulting Walpole, he hastily concluded a treaty with France, pledging Hanover to neutrality for a year, and leaving England to confront the storm alone. As in the war with Spain, so in this, upon the minister who had from the first opposed fell the opprobrium of the misconduct.
In view of the approaching expiration of parliament, the opposition determined early in 1741 to place their case before the country by a motion for an address to the king for the removal of Walpole. On 13 February the motion was introduced by Sandys, with a long review of the minister's policy both in home and foreign affairs. But the death of Sir W. Wyndham (17 June 1740) had dissolved the bond between the Tories and their Whig allies. It is just to say too that there were Tories who objected on principle to trying a minister upon general allegations. It was urged against Walpole that he had made himself ‘sole and prime minister,’ an unconstitutional invasion of the responsibilities of his colleagues justifying the imputation to him exclusively of the difficulties in which the nation was placed. It was a serious accusation at that epoch of constitutional development, for his accusers likened him to Strafford. In a defence of consummate ability Walpole repudiated the charge, but declared himself accountable for the conduct of the ministry. An extraordinary effect was produced by a short speech against the motion by Edward Harley, nephew to the minister whom Walpole himself had impeached. He was followed by ‘the country gentlemen to a man’. To the general amazement, Shippen, followed by thirty-four Jacobites, walked out of the House, and the threatened minister found himself in a majority of 290 to 106 votes. On the same day Carteret made the same motion in the House of Lords, and was defeated by 108 to 59. But it was significant that Lord Wilmington, who hoped to be Walpole's reversioner, and some other peers belonging to the government abstained from voting. Shippen's secession was afterwards explained as an act of gratitude to Walpole for having saved one of his friends from a prosecution for treasonable correspondence. Its more probable cause discloses one of the most curious episodes of Walpole's political career. A letter has recently been printed from the old pretender at Rome to his agent, Colonel O'Brien, at Paris, dated 1 September 1734. From this it appears that a friendly overture having been made on behalf of Walpole to O'Brien, the pretender directed a cautious reply to be made by O'Brien to Walpole's friend Winnington, then a lord of the admiralty. Among Walpole's papers was found an original letter from the pretender at Rome, dated 10 July 1739, written to the Jacobite Thomas Carte for delivery to the agent of some important personage in England who had demanded pledges as to the church and the safety of the reigning sovereign in the event of a restoration. Mr. Morley has summed up the probabilities against the identification of this personage with Walpole; but the discovery of the letter of 1734 inclines the balance the other way. It appears also to have been well known to a few persons that Walpole at critical moments was in the habit of buying off the Jacobite section of the opposition by encouraging hopes in the pretender. Sunderland had, with George I's consent, done the same thing before him. George II himself one day mentioned the fact that Walpole knew the pretender's hand. Lord Orrery, the pretender's secretary, is said to have received a pension of £2,000 a year from the governmen. His successor, Colonel Cecil, was quite persuaded that Walpole contemplated a restoration, and by this means he received early information of the Jacobite schemes. Another intermediary was the Duchess of Buckingham. ‘Sir Robert always carried them (the pretender's letters) to George II, who endorsed and returned them’. That this correspondence was simply a piece of parliamentary tactics there cannot be the shadow of a doubt. The secession of the Jacobites in 1741 ‘broke the opposition to pieces’. There was no doubt in the minds of the defeated party as to the real cause of the defection, and ‘Chesterfield was despatched to Avignon to solicit by the Duke of Ormonde's means an order from the pretender to the Jacobites to concur roundly in any measures for Sir Robert's destruction’. The pretender, chagrined at having been hoodwinked, despatched ‘at least a hundred letters’ which were transmitted to his friends, in November 1741, in this sense.
Meanwhile, at midsummer 1741, the general election had taken place. The Scottish boroughs followed the Duke of Argyll, encouraged, it was suspected, by the treachery of Islay. The Cornish boroughs fell away to Lord Falmouth and to Thomas Pitt of Boconnoc, the electioneering agent employed by their duke, the Prince of Wales. Walpole foresaw the end of his political career. He, who had been distinguished by his boisterous spirits and hearty laughter, now sat ‘without speaking and with his eyes fixed for an hour together’. On 1 December 1741 the new parliament met. It was known that the ministerialists and the opposition were, as Pulteney said, near equilibrium. A long attack having been made by Pulteney on the conduct of the war, Walpole accepted his challenge by fixing 21 January for the consideration of the state of the nation (8 December). In the meanwhile the state of parties would be determined by the results of the trials of contested election returns, which were fought out on political grounds. The first of these was a division on the Bossiney election on 9 December 1741, in which ministers had a majority of six. On 16 December Walpole's candidate for the chairmanship of the committee on elections was defeated by four votes. On 17 December the ministerialist members for Bossiney were unseated by six votes, and five days later (22 December) those for Westminster by four votes. This last defeat produced an immense moral effect. Upon 24 December the House adjourned till 18 January Walpole, still unwilling to resign, employed the recess in an attempt to detach the Prince of Wales from the opposition by an offer from the king of an additional £50,000 a year to his income (5 January 1742). The prince returned a refusal to entertain the proposal so long as the minister remained in power. But the failure of the negotiations inspired Walpole with the hope that the king would refuse to consult the leaders of the Whig opposition, while the Tories would be unable to form a ministry. Apparently this was also the fear of ‘the boys,’ represented by George Lyttelton, Pitt, and the Grenvilles, who secretly approached Walpole, offering to make terms with him unknown to the Prince of Wales. Walpole was thus encouraged to resistance, and astonished his friends by his ‘spirit, intrepidity, and cheerfulness’. On 21 January 1742 Pulteney moved for referring to a secret committee the papers relating to the war — in effect a vote of want of confidence in the government. Walpole roused his flagging powers. ‘He exceeded himself; he particularly entered into foreign affairs, and convinced even his enemies that he was thoroughly master of them. He actually dissected Mr. Pulteney’. He carried the division by three votes. But the opposition had united again, and on 28 January its triumph came. In a division on the Chippenham election government was beaten by one vote. The effect of this defeat was a panic among the place-hunters, and Walpole's own family urged him to resign. On 2 February the opposition members returned for Chippenham were declared by a majority of sixteen to have been duly elected. This result was only achieved by lavish bribery on the part of ‘the patriots,’ the constant declaimers against ministerial corruption. The Westminster and Chippenham election divisions cost the Prince of Wales alone £12,000, as he himself confessed, ‘in corruption, particularly among the Tories’. On the same day Walpole made up his mind that further resistance was impossible. He had that morning sent notice to the virtual head of the opposition, the Prince of Wales, upon whom he subsequently called, and received from him the strongest assurances that he should not be molested, for the Jacobites were already clamouring for his head. On the other hand, he promised to give a general support to a Whig administration. Parliament was adjourned on 3 February. The king ‘burst into a flood of tears’ upon his announcing his retirement. On 9 February he was created Earl of Orford, and on the 11th he resigned all his employments, receiving a promise of a pension of £4,000 a year. ‘The great and undaunted spirit and tranquillity almost more than human’ with which, as a witness tells us, he met his reverses, revived the personal affection so widely felt for him, and his levees were more crowded than at the height of his power.
The king offered the premiership to Pulteney ‘with the condition only that Sir Robert should be screened from all future resentments’. Pulteney refused any further assurance than that he was ‘not a man of blood’. On 9 March, when Lord Limerick moved for the appointment of a committee to inquire into Walpole's administration during the preceding twenty years, Pulteney absented himself with an intimation that he was averse from it, and the motion was defeated by two votes. But on 23 March he supported another motion by Lord Limerick, limiting the inquiry to ten years, which was carried by a majority of seven only. A secret committee of twenty-one members was nominated, of whom nineteen were Walpole's political opponents. The first subject of inquiry was into the distribution of the secret-service money. But John Scrope], the secretary, and Paxton, the solicitor to the treasury, refused to make answer on the plea that they were accountable only to the king, all the money for secret service being paid by the king's special warrant. This refusal was justified by a precedent in 1679. The committee reported their inability to collect evidence on 13 May, Paxton having in the interval been committed to Newgate for his contumacy (15 April). The report was followed on the same day by a bill to indemnify witnesses who would bring evidence of any kind against the Earl of Orford. This was carried on the second reading by only 228 to 216 votes. When the bill reached the Lords it was opposed by Lord-chancellor Hardwicke, in a brilliant speech, upon the constitutional ground that ‘a general advertisement for evidence against a person would be a high misdemeanour, and it would be illegal in the crown’. It was accordingly thrown out by the striking majority of fifty-two (25 May). on 13 July Pulteney was created Earl of Bath. On the first occasion of meeting him in the House of Lords, Walpole remarked, ‘My Lord Bath, you and I are now two as insignificant men as any in England,’ in which, says the narrator with truth, ‘he spoke the truth of my Lord Bath, but not of himself’. The distractions of the new ministry further turned the tide in Orford's favour. An admiring crowd followed him when he went to Ranelagh. The secret committee was still at work, but its failures had set its members quarrelling, and before the summer was over it was ‘already forgotten’. Its second report was presented on 30 June. Its charges were threefold: the exercise of undue influence in elections, the grant of fraudulent contracts, and peculation and profusion in the expenditure of secret-service money. The proofs of the first were of a trifling character concerning the promotion of officials and the displacement of revenue officers in the borough of Weymouth; those of the second were confined to one contract for furnishing money in Jamaica, in which the contractors gained a fraction over fourteen per cent., no very undue sum considering the risks run. The case against him was therefore felt to rest on the secret-service expenditure. Of peculation there was no evidence whatever. Profusion was established by the comparison of a carefully selected decade, 1707-17, during which the secret-service money expended was no more than £338,000, with the decade 1731-41, when it amounted to £1,440,000. Even this result was only obtained by garbling the figures of the first decade. The account fairly taken shows that the expenditure by Walpole on secret service was about £79,000 a year; much less, according to Coxe, than the annual expenditure before the revolution. That much of this money was well laid out we know, for Walpole was better furnished with information from the continent than any of his predecessors. It was admitted that £5,000 a year was used to subsidise ministerial newspapers. There cannot be much question that votes had from time to time been secured by direct payments instead of by places and pensions. It was a system which Walpole had inherited from Sunderland, whom Onslow marks out as the corruptor of parliament. Such indications as we have justify Burke in his statement that ‘the charge of systematic corruption is less applicable to Walpole, perhaps, than to any minister who ever served the crown for so great a length of time’. The fact that there were very few whom he gained over from the opposition is, as Burke suggests, evidence of this.
The inquiry had proved a signal failure. The ‘cant’ of corruption, as Burke calls it, had done its work, and the satisfied placemen with whom Walpole was personally on friendly terms had no desire to prosecute the matter further. But the weapon which had done such good service against the last ministry could now be employed to embarrass the new one. On 1 December Lyttelton moved for another secret committee of inquiry, and was supported by Pitt, but defeated by 253 to 186 votes. In 1741 the old Duchess of Marlborough had predicted that in the event of a change of ministry ‘Sir Robert will still sit behind the curtain'. During Carteret's administration the king constantly consulted Orford through intermediaries. He gave places to Cholmondeley, his son-in-law, and Henry Fox and Pelham, his adherents. Orford, on the other hand, successfully exerted his influence with his party to support the retention of the Hanoverian troops, though he was himself too ill to attend the debate in the Lords (31 January 1744). His time was chiefly spent at Houghton, whence on 24 June 1743 he wrote a pathetic letter expressing his solace in rural pleasures. He appears to have spoken in the House of Lords on only one occasion, 24 February 1744, when he spontaneously moved an address to the king upon the presentation of papers conveying intelligence of an apprehended invasion by the French on behalf of the pretender. He made, says Horace Walpole, a ‘long and fine speech,’ which led to a reconciliation with the Prince of Wales. Though ostensibly in retirement, it cannot be doubted that he was at first watching an opportunity, should his health be restored, for resuming office. He had conceived a plan for the recovery of his popularity by a proposal to separate Hanover from England. Throughout 1743 and 1744 he paid the closest attention to affairs, and was the constant adviser of Pelham. His efforts were directed to thwarting Carteret's war policy, and preventing the introduction by him of the Tory party into the government. ‘Whig it,’ he wrote to Pelham on 25 August 1743, ‘with all opponents that will parley, but 'ware Tory.’ When he was in London his house in Arlington Street was crowded with callers. But, as time went on, the exhaustion arising from his disease grew upon him. On 29 May 1744 Horace Walpole writes of him as ‘grown quite indolent,’ having abandoned all exercise, and very low-spirited. At the beginning of November the king urged him to return from Houghton to London, being desirous of consulting him on the state of affairs before the opening of parliament. But his complaint was so acute that he could not bear the motion of travelling. On 19 November he was sufficiently recovered to leave Houghton, but the excruciating agonies which he suffered protracted the journey to four days. In December he began taking Dr.James Jurin's medicine for the stone, in spite of his son Horace's common-sense expostulation with his physician. The consequence was a laceration of his bladder such as his son had predicted, and his torment became so acute that he was drenched with opium and for six weeks was in a state of stupefaction. When not under narcotics he would converse with full possession of his faculties and his natural vivacity and cheerfulness. He died of exhaustion on 18 March 1745 at the age of sixty-eight, and was buried on the 25th at Houghton.
The policy of Walpole may be summarised in two phrases — in domestic affairs, ‘quieta non movere’; abroad, ‘the French alliance.’ By the latter he revolutionised the Whig tradition, and the dissentient Whigs joined with the Tories in denouncing it as ‘Sir Robert's new system of politics’. Its justification was seen in 1745 when, with French assistance, the young pretender landed, fulfilling the prediction often made by Walpole that a breach with France would be followed by a struggle for the English crown upon English soil . The limitations of the French alliance prescribed themselves. National traditions and the doctrine of the ‘balance of power,’ which was constantly invoked against it, concurred in forbidding it to be anything but a ‘connection to be formed upon the principle of preserving the peace,’ or, as he said, ‘preventive and defensive’. It implied a practice of non-intervention, distasteful at once to the king and to the inheritors of the political traditions of William III and Anne. To this he made it his aim to educate his party. To this he sacrificed Carteret and Townshend, and its abandonment under pressure led to his fall. After his death his opponents confessed that he had been in the right. ‘He was the best minister,’ said Dr. Johnson, ‘this country ever had, as if we would have let him he would have kept the country in perpetual peace’. Behind the French alliance lay the security of the Protestant succession. In face of the difficulty of maintaining this paramount object, Macaulay's criticism that his ministry was not an era of great reforms falls flat. The reforms which might have been undertaken would have yielded results small in importance compared with the reversal of the foreign policy of the country, and its reconciliation to the new dynasty, which Walpole actually accomplished. There was always present to his mind the peril of strengthening the prevalent disaffection, or of exciting it in fresh quarters. In 1739, when sounded by Lord Chesterfield as to a project for the taxation of America, he replied, ‘I have old England set against me, and do you think I will have new England likewise?’ But he vindicated his refusal also on the higher ground that the true policy was one of the development, not the exploitation, of colonial prosperity. It has been alleged against him that he overlooked the military resources to be found in the enrolment of the highland clans in the king's service. The proposal was made in 1738, recommended by Lord Islay, and a tentative experiment approved by Walpole. His caution was justified. In 1743 a highland regiment mutinied against embarkation for foreign service, and a highland soldier was synonymous with rebel.
The classes disaffected to the Hanoverian dynasty were the country gentlemen, the clergy, and, from time to time, the mob. Of these the squires, who controlled the county representation, were the most influential. Walpole entered upon his political career in full sympathy with their grievances, and as one of the most considerable of their class. To gratify them he reduced the land-tax from 4s. in the pound, at which it stood after the revolution, to 1s. in 1731 and 1732. With the same object he renounced one of his favourite fiscal principles — the abolition of taxes upon the necessaries of life — and in 1732 reimposed the salt-tax. The support of the clergy he could never expect to win, unless by the sacrifice of the firmest friends of the Hanoverian family, the dissenters. But the clergy were the only class who were capable of finding arguments for disaffection, and the Sacheverell trial had warned him of the danger of offering them gratuitous provocation. All he could do was to place them under the control of an episcopal bench, carefully selected for the soundness of its Whig principles, and, ‘while leaving the flag of church privilege still flying,’ to secure to dissenters by the indirect method of indemnity acts a substantial emancipation. The city had been Whig from the revolution, and when it came to a question of alienating his financial supporters by lowering the interest on government loans, or risking the allegiance of the Whig country gentlemen by taxing them to find the higher rate, he preferred the general interests of his party to the immediate interest of his class. Twice he found himself confronted by a storm of popular fury, in the matter of the excise bill and the war with Spain. On both occasions he gave way, not from weakness, but in pursuance of a principle observed by him, even in his own cabinets, never to let his own opinion prevail against a majority.
In the time of Walpole parliament had become absolute. He maintained this supremacy, but he changed the centre of gravity from the House of Lords to the House of Commons; and this he effected by the force of his own personality, despite the fact that he did not belong to one of the great aristocratic families. It was impossible that power should continue to emanate from a House of which the sovereign's chief adviser, the minister who engrossed the direction of every department of domestic policy, was not a member. With this change came the development of parliamentary management, an art of which Chesterfield acknowledged Walpole to have been the greatest master that ever lived. ‘He knew the strength and weakness of everybody he had to deal with’. The saying attributed to him, ‘Every man has his price’ unfairly conveys an impression of general cynicism. ‘All those men,’ he said of ‘the patriots,’ ‘have their price’. Their subsequent history and the judgment of their contemporaries proved the saying true. But this talent of shrewd insight had its associated defect. The arts of management may suit a House of Commons; they cannot touch the multitude. It was the perception of this weak point, the ‘delusion that the majority of the House of Commons is the majority of the nation’, that led the opposition, and Pitt among them, in George II's famous phrase, ‘to look for the sense of my subjects in another place than the House of Commons’. Before the force of public passion the minor arts of management broke down.
Upon the transfer of power to the House of Commons followed as a consequence that the ministry was no longer dependent upon the caprice of the sovereign. The change was not recognised at once. Sunderland, Townshend, and Carteret, all members of the House of Lords, conceived of ministers as the personal servants of the kings, and each in turn became a competitor with the rest of the cabinet for the largest share of the royal favour. This tendency explains and justifies the unreasonable jealousy of his colleagues generally attributed to Walpole. ‘He was unwilling,’ says Hervey, ‘to employ anybody under him, or let anybody approach the king and Queen, who had any understanding, lest they should employ it against him’. In place of the traditional system, or want of system, he insisted that a ministry should be jointly and severally responsible, and that in its communications with the sovereign it should be represented by its head. Of this collective responsibility the guarantee was party connection. The change involved, as the opposition truly alleged, the appearance in the constitution of a prime minister, and the extinction of composite administrations of intriguing courtiers. It was not the outcome of any preconceived view of the right principles of government on Walpole's part. The principle of the ministry's collective responsibility was formulated by him, probably not for the first time, in 1733, when his excise scheme was thwarted by his own subordinates. Politics with him lay not in the application of theories, but in the ‘providing against the present difficulty that presses’, always with an eye to the paramount interest, the maintenance of the Protestant succession. He declared, if we may credit Chesterfield, that he was ‘no saint, no Spartan, no reformer.’ Political life was the transaction of state's business; not, as with Sunderland or Carteret, one of the distractions of an elegant leisure. He himself spoke of his position as being ‘in business’. He was the first minister since the Restoration who made a special study of finance and commerce. He laid the foundations of free-trade and of modern colonial policy. His capacity of lucid exposition of finance was such that ‘whilst he was speaking the most ignorant thought that they understood what they really did not’. ‘He never had his equal in business,’ said George I. His transaction of it was marked by the method, tranquillity, and despatch of a counting-House. His speeches were of the same character. ‘An artful rather than an eloquent speaker,’ says Chesterfield. His speech on the Sacheverell trial has been quoted by Burke for its exposition of constitutional principle. He rarely attempted the higher flights of oratory, in this approaching the parliamentary speakers of our own day more nearly than did the debaters of that and the next generation. The speeches attributed to him in the parliamentary history have, unfortunately, been transmuted into the turgid rhetoric of Johnson. This indisposition to eloquence in part arose from indifference to literature. ‘I totally neglected reading when I was in business,’ he said to Henry Fox at Houghton, ‘and to such a degree that I cannot now read a page’. He declined to read Butler's ‘Analogy’ to please the Queen. The only book he read in his retirement was Sydenham. His house was no rendezvous of literary men, though he entertained Pope, to whose ‘Odyssey’ he subscribed ten guineas. He also himself introduced the ‘Dunciad’ to the notice of the king and Queen. He was on friendly terms with Addison, to whom he presented a Latin translation by Dr. Bland, provost of Eton. Steele was a political ally. Congreve he made a commissioner of customs; to Gay he gave a commissionership in the lottery for 1722; to Young a pension. He patronised Ephraim Chambers and Joseph Mitchell , known as ‘Sir Robert Walpole's poet.’ There is some truth in Swift's sarcasm that he had ‘none but beasts and blockheads for his penmen’. His memory was ‘prodigious’. He quoted Virgil and Horace, and, as his son says, ‘governed George I in Latin, the king not speaking English and his minister no German, nor even French’. If a story told by Horace Walpole is to be relied upon, he must have had some slight knowledge of Italian. He himself never attempted any literary composition beyond political pamphlets. In religion, if we may judge from the anecdote related by Lord Hervey respecting the attendance of Archbishop Potter at the Queen's death, Walpole was a sceptic, though in the previous year he had spoken of himself in the House of Commons as ‘a sincere member of the Church of England.
His recreation was in field sports. He is said always to have opened first the letters from his huntsman. He kept a pack of harriers at Houghton, and a pack of beagles at his House in the New Park, Richmond, where he used to hunt one day in the middle of the week, and also on a Saturday), the origin of the modern weekly parliamentary holiday. He attributed his strength to this exercise. Every November he held at Houghton a ‘hunting congress’ of the neighbouring gentry, of which Horace Walpole has left an entertaining description. A detailed and appreciative account of his magnificent mansion at Houghton, the construction of which occupied from 1722 to 1735, is to be found in a letter from Sir T. Robinson to Lord Carlisle, dated 9 December 1731. His profusion not only furnished the opposition with a constant theme for declamation against the alleged malversation of public money; it also provoked the jealousy of his neighbour, Lord Townshend. It was said that he had spent £100,000 upon his collection of pictures, but a more sober estimate, taking note of the fact that many of them were presents to him, puts their cost at less than £30,000. He also spent £14,000 on his hunting lodge in Richmond New Park. Besides these he maintained establishments in Chelsea and London. He was, in fact, reckless of expenditure, while ‘deceiving himself with the thoughts of his economy’. His means were derived from three sources: first, his landed estate, the rent-roll of which is computed to have risen from £2,000 a year when he succeeded to it, to £5,000 — £8,000 a year in 1740; secondly, the large fortune he made by the sale of South Sea stock at a thousand per cent. profit; thirdly, from official sources, estimated at about £9,000 a year. He had also realised considerable profits while paymaster. In conformity with the practice of that and later times, he provided for his family by placing them in profitable offices. He was granted on his retirement a pension of £4,000 a year, but he did not apply for it until June 1744, compelled no doubt by his embarrassments. He died £40,000 in debt, and as late as 1778 his creditors still remained unpaid. Whatever else they show, the facts at least clear his character from the suspicion of peculation. So little grasping was his disposition that he never received any presents of money from George II, and in 1738 he refused the king's offer as a gift of the House afterwards occupied by him in Downing Street.
Walpole was, even Chesterfield admits, ‘good-natured, cheerful, social’. He was chairman of a small club of six members who met in Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, and he also belonged to the Kit-Cat Club. Pope has left some fine lines testifying to the charm of his hospitality. His friends loved him. He was coarse in his conversation, even for that age. ‘His prevailing weakness was to be thought to have a polite and happy turn to gallantry’, which made him, according to the same authority, ‘at once both a wagg and a boaster’. This kind of conversation was to the taste of the Queen, whence Swift satirised him as ‘a prater at court in the style of the stews’. He laughed loudly, ‘the heart's laugh,’ said his admirers; ‘the horse-laugh,’ according to Pope. He was ‘certainly a very ill-bred man,’ said the courtier, Lord Hervey, to whom ‘the Queen once complained that he had tapped her on the shoulder in chapel’. He was ridiculed by Gay as Bluff Bob in the ‘Beggar's Opera’. But this ‘hearty kind of frankness’ had its political value, for it ‘seemed to attest his sincerity’. It is said by Coxe that ‘he never entirely lost the provincial accent’.
Walpole's first wife died at Chelsea on 20 August 1737, and was buried in King Henry VII's chapel, Westminster. By her he had three sons and two daughters. The sons were Robert, who succeeded as second Earl of Orford, and died on 1 April 1751, leaving an only son, George, third earl, who died unmarried on 5 December 1791; Sir Edward Walpole, K.B., who also died unmarried on 12 January 1784, leaving, by Maria Clements, three illegitimate daughters, of whom the eldest, Laura, married Bishop Frederick Keppel , and the second, Maria (d. 1807), married, firstly, James, second earl Waldegrave , and secondly, William Henry, duke of Gloucester, while the youngest, Charlotte, was wife of Lionel Tollemache, fourth earl of Dysart; and Horatio or Horace Walpole , who succeeded his nephew George as fourth Earl of Orford. Of the daughters, Mary married (14 September 1723) George, third earl of Cholmondeley. She died at Aix in Provence in 1731, and was buried at Malpas. The other, Katherine, died young.
During his first wife's lifetime Sir Robert maintained an irregular connection with a Miss Maria Skerrett or Skerritt. She was Irish by birth, the daughter of Thomas Skerrett, a merchant living in Dover Street (d. 1734. She was a woman of wit and beauty, with a fortune of £30,000. She moved in fashionable society. Under the name of Phryne she was scandalously associated by Pope with Lady Mary Wortley-Montagu, who writes of her as ‘dear Molly Skerritt’. Her connection with Walpole began some time before 1728, and his suppression of ‘Polly’ is said to have been due to resentment at her identification by the public with Polly, the heroine of the ‘Beggar's Opera’ produced in that year. She lived at his House in Richmond Park, where he spent Saturdays and Sundays, and occasionally at Houghton. As early as November 1737 there were rumours that he had married her. The marriage was privately celebrated by Walpole's confidential friend, the Rev. H. Etough, early in March 1738. She was at once welcomed by society, and was introduced at court. She died on the following 4 June of a miscarriage. She was, Walpole had declared, ‘indispensable to his happiness’, and her loss plunged him into a ‘deplorable and comfortless condition’, which ended in a severe illness. By her he had two illegitimate daughters, one of whom died before 1738 . Of the other (Catherine), Horace Walpole narrates that her father had intended to marry her to Edmund Keene, then rector of Stanhope. On his retirement he obtained from the king a patent of precedence for her as an earl's daughter, which ‘raised a torrent of wrath against him’. She married Colonel Charles Churchill, illegitimate son of General Charles Churchill by Anne Oldfield . She became housekeeper at Windsor Castle, and died about the beginning of the nineteenth century.
Walpole successively occupied several houses in London. In 1716 he lived on the west side of Arlington Street, on the site of the present No. 17, and also occupied a House at Chelsea. In 1722 he bought another House at Chelsea ‘next the college’ for £1,100. Here he and Lady Walpole lived much during the summer months, and he retained it till his death. In 1727 his son, Lord Walpole, was appointed ranger of Richmond Park. Sir Robert, for the convenience of hunting, then hired a House on Richmond Hill, pending the construction of the House built by him in the park called ‘The Old Lodge,’ on the site now known as Spanker's Hill Enclosure. The official House in Downing Street was offered him by George II in 1731, but it needed reconstruction, and he did not move into it till 22 September 1735, occupying in the interval a House in St. James's Square. In 1742 he left Downing Street for a small House in Arlington Street (No. 5), where he died.
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