WALPOLE, Robert II (1676-1745), of Houghton, Norf.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Feb. 1701 - 1702
1702 - 17 Jan. 1712
11 Feb. - 6 Mar. 1712
1713 - 6 Feb. 1742

Family and Education

b. 26 Aug. 1676, 3rd but 1st surv. s. of Robert Walpole I*; bro. of Galfridus† and Horatio Walpole II*.  educ. Great Dunham, Norf. 1682–90; Eton 1690–6; King’s, Camb. 1696–8, LL.D. 1728; L. Inn 1697.  m. (1) 30 July 1700 (with £7,000), Catherine (d. 20 Aug. 1737), da. of John Shorter of Bybrook, Kent, 3s. 2da.; (2) bef. 4 Mar. 1738, Maria, da. of Thomas Skerrett of Dover Street, London; 2da. illegit.  suc. fa. 1700. KB 27 May 1725; KG 26 May 1726; cr. Earl of Orford 6 Feb. 1742.

Offices Held

Freeman, King’s Lynn 1698, high steward 1738; freeman, Great Yarmouth 1728, high steward 1733; freeman, Norwich 1733.1

One of the council of ld. high adm. 1705–8; sec. at war Feb. 1708–Sept. 1710; treasurer of navy Jan. 1710–c.June 1711; PC 29 Sept. 1714; paymaster of the forces Oct. 1714–Oct. 1715, 1720–1; first ld. of the Treasury and chancellor of the Exchequer Oct. 1715–17, Apr. 1721–42.2


Lady Mary Wortley Montagu recalled in 1748 that ‘it was a maxim of Sir Robert Walpole’s that whoever expected advancement should appear much in public. He used to say, whoever neglected the world, would be neglected by it.’ Walpole himself grasped every opportunity. No sooner had his father died than he put himself forward to succeed to the family seat at Castle Rising, only for Parliament to be dissolved before the by-election could take place. At the general election in January 1701 he set a family precedent by contesting the county, but was decisively beaten, his interest lying too far from Norwich, where the election was held, and was obliged to fall back on Castle Rising. A ‘violent’ Whig since at least his Cambridge days, he was listed in February 1701 as one of those who were thought likely to support the Court in agreeing with the resolution of the supply committee to continue the ‘Great Mortgage’. In spite of a promise to Thomas Howard, his colleague and co-patron at Castle Rising, to ‘preserve a good correspondence betwixt the families by a joint interest there’, when Howard died in April 1701 Walpole proposed to put up a candidate of his own for the vacancy, offering to nominate his Tory uncle Horatio Walpole I*, who was keen to enter Parliament and who, as a trustee for Walpole’s father’s estate, was in a position to obstruct his own efforts to raise cash on the family property. On all sides Walpole was counselled not to challenge the Howard interest, now in the hands of Thomas Howard’s widow, Lady Diana, and when Uncle Horatio himself declined to do so no more was heard of the scheme. Walpole was soon active in Parliament, serving as a teller three times during his first Parliament, always on the Whig side: on 23 Apr. 1701, against the bill for preserving the Protestant religion; on 10 May, in an election case; and on 4 June, on a motion to proceed with consideration of the impeachments of the four Whig lords. On the subject of the impeachments, his brother Horatio commented, ‘I fancy the Parliament business in some measure run counter to your opinion, when I see the Lord S[omers] [Sir John*] so narrowly escape’. Walpole gave his maiden speech in this Parliament, but the subject and occasion are unknown: despite his schoolmaster having accurately forecast that he would be a successful orator, he made, apparently, an unimpressive debut. When in April 1701 his brother-in-law (Sir) Charles Turner, Member for King’s Lynn, had to return to Norfolk following the death of his wife, Walpole took over the care of Turner’s bill to set up a workhouse at Lynn. Turner wrote afterwards, ‘I heartily thank you for your care in our Lynn bill. It cannot surely but please the town, when no other bill of that nature but theirs hath been able to get through this session.’3

Walpole may have contemplated putting up again for the county at the second general election of 1701, but if so he thought better of it. Although his inheritance was substantial – an estate with a rent-roll of about £2,000 p.a. – it was encumbered with various mortgages; his wife and her mother were both extravagant; and his own political ambitions called for considerable expenditure beyond that incurred in making sure of his seat. Lacking useful aristocratic connexions other than the young Lord Townshend, his close friend and schoolfellow, he attached himself during his early years in Parliament to Lord Hartington (William Cavendish), who for most of the 1701–2 Parliament was his colleague at Castle Rising. Walpole had told Lady Diana Howard before Hartington’s election that he heartily approved of her choice:

When you tell me a new election at Rising may be a means not only to keep Mr Howe [John Grobham*] out, but to bring my Lord Hartington in, for whom I have the greatest honour, no considerations can sway with me not to join most heartily with your ladyship.

In this Parliament Walpole was a teller seven times, including on 19 Feb., against a proposed addition to the abjuration bill, to prevent office-holders from ‘departing from the communion of the Church of England’, and on 26 Feb., in favour of going on with the report of the committee on the ‘rights, liberties and privileges’ of the House, and hearing Hartington’s resolutions vindicating the Kentish Petitioners. In another debate on the abjuration bill he seconded a motion to extend the oath to all clergymen, fellows of colleges and schoolmasters. His brother Horatio wrote in March that he ‘wished myself in your soles to have re-echoed those victorious shouts (we hear you made in the House) after the decision of that grand question of impeachments’, and on 2 May, in a debate on the declaration of war, Walpole moved successfully to address that ‘no officer in the army should pay anything for renewing their commissions’. By the 1702 general election Uncle Horatio was once again eager to stand, and in order to provide for him Walpole himself switched to King’s Lynn, where with the help of his kinsmen the Turners he was returned without difficulty, even though some Whigs in the borough grumbled at his bringing in a Tory at Castle Rising. In December 1702 he was able to gratify his new constituents by voting against the coal duties bill. On 23 Dec., in a Whig riposte to a Tory attack, he moved unsuccessfully for leave for a bill to resume all crown grants made in King James’s reign. His six tellerships in the first session of this Parliament included three on behalf of Whigs in election disputes and one, on 5 Jan. 1703, against a Tory amendment, directed against the Dutch, to the address thanking the Queen for her message concerning the war. He was listed as having voted on 13 Feb. for agreeing with the Lords’ amendments to the bill for enlarging the time for taking the oath of abjuration.4

In 1703 Walpole was elected to the Kit-Cat Club. A good speaker, handsome, with a friendly and ‘cheerful’ nature, as contemporaries described it, he was a popular as well as a useful man in his party, and one of his first friends in politics, James Stanhope*, wrote in October 1703 to inform him that ‘several of your friends having heard that you do not design to come up till Christmas, I am commissioned by a full committee of them to expostulate with you’, and he named Lords Hartington, Halifax (Charles Montagu*) and Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*) and John Smith I* in particular. Hon. Spencer Compton* was another with whom Walpole was ‘very intimate’. Walpole much preferred London to the country: a kinsman wrote from Norfolk in 1706, ‘I . . . beg you will think of us country men now you are in your kingdom’, and in the same year he was told that at Lynn ‘some were complaining that they had not seen . . . their representatives of a very long time, and hardly knew whether they were dead or living’. He was up for the 1703–4 parliamentary session in time to tell on 26 Nov. 1703 against leave for a bill which had been requested by Norwich corporation, to oblige wealthy ‘traders’ in the city who were not members of the corporation to carry their proper share of the burdens of municipal office. In December he presented a private bill, and in January 1704 spoke against a resolution on the Aylesbury case that ‘the sole judging of the qualification of the electors belongs to the House of Commons only’, which he considered were ‘words of too large extent and ill consequence’. On 1 Feb. 1704 he was a teller for a Whig amendment to the address thanking the Queen for communicating papers relating to the Scotch Plot, and on the 17th, with a Whig and opposite two Tories, against adjourning a debate on the bill to encourage English manufacturers. He told twice more this session, on the second occasion, 24 Mar., on a procedural motion to ensure that the commissioners for prizes would have to make their reply before the prorogation to charges made by the commission of accounts.5

In October 1704 Walpole was again slow in getting back to London from the country. Compton wrote in some anxiety: ‘Lord Hartington continues ill of the gout, and Mr Smith [John I] has a defluxion in his eyes, and if Mr Walpole should be absent, the poor Whigs must lose any advantage that may offer itself, for want of a leader.’ However, he was present for the opening of the session. He was a teller on 14 Nov. 1704 against giving leave to bring in the occasional conformity bill and, having failed to vote for the Tack on 28 Nov., was a teller against the bill at its third reading on 14 Dec. Later in the session he told against an amendment to the popery bill, designed to punish occasional conformists. He was a teller on 19 Dec. against a Tory move to tack to the recruiting bill a clause concerning the qualification of j.p.s. It was decided instead that this clause be presented as a separate bill and Walpole was included in the committee ordered to prepare it. Described during this session by the Dutch agent in London as ‘un de ceux qui se distinguoient le plus parmi les Whigs’, in January 1705 he and Stanhope acted as peacemakers following a clash between Speaker Robert Harley and a High Tory Member. He was a teller on 16 Jan. in favour of the bill appointing commissioners to treat for a union with Scotland: on 17 Jan. for agreeing with a resolution of the committee of ways and means; and on 27 Jan. against a place bill. In January it was being said that he would be given an office, and as early as February he knew that it would be a place on the council of the lord high admiral, with a salary of £1,000 p.a. Apparently this advancement was ‘at the particular recommendation of Marlborough (John Churchill†)’. Walpole needed the extra income from an official salary, for his rents had been very slow in recent years, and he had borrowed from almost all his acquaintances, seldom if ever repaying. There had been periodic crises: on one occasion the London tradesmen cut off supplies, and on another he was saved from prison by a timely loan of £1,500 from his scrivener. In January his uncle Horatio Walpole had informed him bluntly of ‘what the country said to me, more than I had before met with’, of Walpole’s money difficulties. ‘The ill posture of your present affairs’, which Horatio admitted, stemmed from his nephew’s being ‘left in very uneasy circumstances’ and having to support his own family and his spendthrift mother-in-law: ‘it did appear to me that, while the old woman lived, you could not without prejudice to your fortune live as well as you did without the reproach of many duns.’ The Admiralty appointment, when it eventually came, and it was not confirmed until June, did not solve Walpole’s financial problems, though it did enable him to move out of lodgings and take a house of his own in town. Meanwhile on 3 Feb. 1705 Walpole and his King’s Lynn colleague Sir Charles Turner told against a resolution critical of Lynn corporation from the committee investigating monopolies in the East Anglian coal trade. On 21 Feb. he was a teller, probably on the Court side, in favour of the first amendment made in committee to the bill banning trade with France.6

Walpole was classed in a list of the new Parliament in 1705 as ‘Low Church’. He was ill for a time after the election and perhaps missed the first few days of the 1705–6 session, though he was recorded as having voted for the Court candidate in the Speakership election. He may have helped to organize Smith’s nomination, as several of his associates took part in the debate, and he certainly canvassed for Smith among the Norfolk MPs. Walpole spoke in a debate on 4 Dec. 1705, on behalf of the Court, against a Tory proposal to address the Queen to invite over the heir presumptive to the throne. On 6 Dec. he was a teller in a division on the disputed election for Norwich, and two days later spoke for agreeing with a resolution of the Lords that the Church was not in danger. He acted as a teller on 19 Dec. for the regency bill at its second reading, having in debate joined in the hue and cry after Charles Caesar* for accusing Lord Godolphin (Sidney†) of a correspondence with the Pretender. Walpole wanted Caesar sent to the Tower. The following day he was a teller again, in favour of a Whig in an election case. He consistently supported the regency bill, though not the ‘place clause’, of which he was a leading opponent, speaking against its introduction on 12 Jan. 1706, telling against it twice and finally voting against it on 18 Feb. He was appointed to, and subsequently reported from, the committee, consisting mainly of Court Whigs, which thanked the Duke of Marlborough for his services in the last campaign, and his two other tellerships this session were on 13 Feb., against a Tory amendment to the recruiting bill, and on 23 Feb., on a disputed election for Bewdley. Since, like his father and Uncle Horatio, he too had attained the rank of colonel in the militia, he was in all probability the ‘Colonel Walpole’ who in March 1706 complained to the House about the pamphlet entitled A Letter to Sir Rowland Gwynne*. In the following session he was a teller three times: on 23 Jan. 1707, against a Tory in an election case; on 10 Feb., in favour of a Whig amendment to the bill for the security of the Church of England; and on 23 Feb., against a Tory amendment to the bill of union.7

Although Walpole had been unhappy at the Admiralty, and had considered resigning in May 1707 in protest against the council’s inadequacies, he stayed on and continued to ingratiate himself with the chief ministers and impress them with his efficiency. The Duchess of Marlborough somewhat spitefully recorded later in her life that her husband and Lord Godolphin had liked to say of Walpole and Lord Halifax ‘that they were both useful, but neither of them had any judgment’. Walpole stood by Godolphin and Marlborough throughout the first Parliament of Great Britain and was one of the leading ‘Lord Treasurer’s Whigs’. In a debate on 29 Nov. he spoke against the opposition’s attempt to have the privy council of Scotland abolished, and in one report was described as a man ‘who will always be either laughing or talking’. Early in December, against the advice of some Whig lords, he came to the defence of the admiral’s council against attacks from both Whigs and Tories, telling his friends that ‘he should be ashamed to sit at a board, and not be in a capacity to defend its proceedings’. He was a teller on 11 Dec. against an opposition move to extend the j.p. system into Scotland, and again the following day in favour of an additional clause to the land tax bill. When presenting papers concerning the war in Spain to the House in January 1708, as part of the inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the disaster at Almanza, he took the opportunity to add:

That it would appear by these papers, that the world was under a mistake as to the conduct of a certain lord [Peterborough], who had been mentioned in that House, as if everything that had been done well in Spain was solely owing to him, and all misadventures were to lie at other people’s doors.

On 29 Jan. he told, with another ‘Lord Treasurer’s Whig’, in favour of adjourning a debate on the Almanza affair. With the resignation of Harley and his followers in February, Walpole was immediately talked of for the office of secretary at war, and was appointed soon afterwards, probably through Marlborough’s influence. This new post carried a higher remuneration and greater opportunities for patronage, and also brought Walpole closer to the ‘duumvirs’, especially to Marlborough. At the same time it also brought him into the centre of the ‘Spanish troops’ scandal. As secretary at war it was he who was obliged to explain to the House why there had been such a great discrepancy between the number of troops paid for by Parliament and the number available at Almanza. He was also heavily involved in the ministry’s efforts to obtain a new recruiting bill. A teller on 21 Feb. against a Tory proposal that the House decide votes on election cases by balloting, he supported a motion on 1 Apr. to thank the lord high admiral for his care in preventing the attempted invasion. It was said that at this time he was also helping Godolphin draft the Queen’s speeches.8

Walpole was classed as a Whig in a list of the new Parliament in 1708. On his return to London after his election he found that his former Admiralty colleague George Churchill*, Marlborough’s Tory brother and a favourite of the lord high admiral, Prince George, had been spreading a rumour that Walpole, as secretary at war, had recently obtained a regiment for a friend of the disgraced Robert Harley, and at Harley’s recommendation. Coming from such a source, the story, though untrue, had been widely believed and had greatly embarrassed the ministry. Walpole confronted Churchill, exposing his treachery and duplicity to the satisfaction of Godolphin and Marlborough. Later in the summer Marlborough warned his brother of the likely consequences. Bearing in mind that ‘a good deal of the assistance you . . . had from the Whigs’ in the previous session ‘was owing to the personal friends of Mr Walpole, and to the defence he made in the House’, the Duke wrote, ‘I fear you must expect no such service now, after what passed between you’. Walpole had faced criticism from fellow Whigs for siding with the Court against his party, though in general their attitude had been devoid of bitterness. At one meeting of the Kit-Cat Club, for example:

Jacob Tonson in his cups, sitting between Dormer [Robert*] and Walpole, told them he sat between the honestest man in the world and the greatest villain, and explained himself that by the honest man he meant Dormer; the other was a villain for forsaking his patrons and benefactors the Junto, for which poor Jacob was severely bastinadoed.

By October Walpole had followed most of the Lord Treasurer’s Whigs, and in particular his friends Lords Townshend and Hartington (now Duke of Devonshire), back into the Junto camp. He was again a teller against the balloting scheme on 22 Nov. 1708. His other tellerships this session included five in support of Whigs in election disputes, for Westminster, Bramber, Abingdon, Bewdley and Midhurst. After the Bewdley case he wrote to Marlborough: ‘The spirit that has been shown in this election, when Mr Harley was so nearly concerned, and in that of Abingdon . . . has chiefly contributed to make this the easiest session of Parliament I ever saw’. He was busy in the House in his official capacity, in December failing in an attempt to put army recruitment on a more rational basis by introducing a system of fixed quotas for counties; and on 15 Feb. presenting the mutiny bill. Early in 1709 he voted in favour of the bill to naturalize the Palatines. He was now something of a favourite with the Duchess of Marlborough, and had the Duke’s trust as well. Marlborough wrote to Sarah in February 1709, ‘Walpole, who I agree is a very honest man, may be of use in keeping [Devonshire] and [Townshend] in good humour’. A teller on 10 Mar., in support of a motion vindicating the ministry’s conduct in dealing with the attempted invasion, on 8 Apr. Walpole spoke and acted as a teller against a clause proposed to be added to the treasons bill that attainders for treason should in no way affect inheritance.9

As late as the beginning of November 1709 Walpole was still considered by Godolphin as a potential ally against the Junto. He was consulted on the vexed question of Admiralty Board appointments, over which Godolphin and Lord Orford (Edward Russell*) were at odds, but discussion ended when the lord treasurer ‘discovered that he [Walpole] was so much disposed to please Orford in this matter’. In mid-November Walpole was taken ill and retired to the country, but he was back in the House by 12 Dec., when he spoke in support of the motion to declare Dr Sacheverell’s two sermons ‘seditious libels’, and the following day was among the appointees to the committee to draw up the articles of impeachment against Sacheverell. He was offered the vacant treasurership of the navy in January 1710, probably through the interposition of the Marlboroughs and after his own brother had solicited it from the ministry on his behalf. Walpole accepted the office even though he thought at first that by doing so he would oblige himself to relinquish the more prestigious post of secretary at war. Financial considerations played the greatest part in persuading him, for, as he explained to the Duchess of Marlborough, if, as everyone believed, a peace would soon be concluded, the income from the secretaryship would fall by £1,000 p.a. which ‘will make [such] a great difference betwixt the two employments’ that he hoped he might be pardoned ‘for preferring so considerable an advantage before the particular honour that my present office entitled me to in receiving my lord Duke’s commands’. Moreover, it was also likely that in the event of a peace he would have to make way for the Duke’s private secretary, Adam de Cardonnel*. Cardonnel did receive a promise of the place when Walpole took over the treasurership of the navy, but it was agreed that he ‘leave the management of the office to Mr Walpole until his return from the summer’s campaign in Flanders’, and Walpole continued as secretary for the time being. Luttrell reported his appointment as treasurer on 14 Jan., and the writ for the necessary by-election at King’s Lynn was issued on the 23rd. He wrote to his agent in the borough, ‘if I can be excused coming down it will be a very great ease to me under my present circumstances by my late fall’. The by-election passed off satisfactorily on 4 Feb., and within two days Walpole had taken his seat again. The committee which had drafted the articles of impeachment against Dr Sacheverell having been constituted in the meantime as the committee to manage the impeachment, his was one of several names added subsequently. He acted as a teller on 15 Feb. in favour of an address to the Queen to send over the Duke of Marlborough to attend the peace negotiations and to prepare for an early campaign, this being the best way ‘to disappoint the artifices of our enemies, and to procure a safe and honourable peace’. In the preceding debate he had answered a Tory objection that it was an affront to the Queen to prescribe in this manner whom she should employ, with the argument that ‘all compliments to the Duke were so many compliments to the Queen’. Walpole took great pains in preparing his speeches for the prosecution of Sacheverell’s impeachment, and made his major contribution on 28 Feb., speaking to the first article, which vindicated the right of resistance. This speech delighted Whig hearers by its wit and its repeated scoring of party points. For the same reason it angered Tories. One reported that Walpole spoke:

With some fire but very abusively, and used language worthy of himself, but not at all becoming the great judicature they were before, and as little due to a man that appeared in the habit of his [Sacheverell’s] order. (His speech was all aiming at turns, and wit, but falling wretchedly short.)

Walpole’s basic argument, and he acknowledged ‘the difficulty and nicety that attends the speaking to this point’, was that, while resistance ‘was nowhere enacted to be legal’, and indeed that it ‘ought to stand in the eye and letter of the law as the highest offence, that there might not be any encouragement to folly or wantonness to rebel’, yet it must be allowable at a time of ‘the utmost necessity’ and ‘upon a fear of the total subversion of the constitution’, such as had been the case at the ‘late happy Revolution’. Walpole brushed aside the argument that the removal of King James had not involved resistance – that it had was as irrefutable a fact as ‘that the sun shines at noon-day’. On this ‘necessary and commendable’ act of resistance was founded ‘the very being of our present government’. Without it the Queen ‘never would have been a queen’, and ‘all the great privileges enacted in the petition of rights’ would be ‘mere pretences’. ‘To assert non-resistance in that boundless and unlimited sense, in which Dr Sacheverell presumes to assert it, is to undermine the very foundations of our government.’ Walpole made much of Sacheverell’s motives, which, he implied, must be treasonable. The advocates of non-resistance were ‘in their hearts’ Jacobites:

The doctrine of unlimited passive obedience was first invented to support arbitrary power, but [was] of no use in her Majesty’s reign, where the law was the only measure of the regal power and people’s obedience; and since it could be of no use or security to her Majesty there could be no other aim in it than to unhinge the government, and clear the way to the impostor’s title. In fine, if the sin of resistance was damnable, there must a sincere repentance ensue to wash away the guilt, and this could not be done without restitution.

Walpole had drafted other arguments, which more strongly affirmed Whig constitutional principles but which he did not employ in his speech, claiming for example that the sovereign could not expect obedience ‘beyond what the laws and constitution of every particular country do require’ and sneering at the Tories’ doctrine of hereditary divine right:

I am at a loss to discover where they will find this divine right in our government, or at least where they do find it in the reign of the late King, whose title to be rightful and lawful king they have all sworn, or where they will find it in the next Protestant successor, for whom they profess an equal zeal, is not very obvious to me.

He also prepared a brief speech to the second article and a speech in reply to the case for the defence but was not called upon to give them. On 24 Mar., however, when the Commons voted a fast day ‘to deprecate God’s judgments, because of the deluge of impiety and blasphemy, so long suffered to be vented with impunity in this nation’, he rose to propose in vain the addition of the words ‘now revised, and brought in with evidence by the doctor, maliciously, etc. (with a small string of such adverbial epithets)’. As secretary at war he was involved in the struggle between the Queen and the Duke of Marlborough over military promotion for Mrs Masham’s husband and brother. Walpole’s reluctant conviction that it was best to comply with the Queen’s wishes for Mr Masham (Samuel*) ‘if one could be assured that it would end there’ led the Duchess of Marlborough to suspect him of treachery, but by June his expressed views on political strategy and the necessity of resisting further changes in the ministry had become more determined than those of the Marlboroughs.10

As early as July 1710 Walpole’s impending dismissal was being publicly spoken of. Meanwhile he was making plans to put up for the county at the next election, at the request of the other leading Norfolk Whigs, in order to fill a gap for the party, at the same time ‘keeping his own borough in case of failure’. His prospects in the county were poor, and he tried without success to negotiate a compromise with the Tories through his uncle Horatio, on whom he was able to put pressure by threatening to replace him as the family Member for Castle Rising. Walpole was eventually dismissed as secretary at war in September, a move which according to Hon. James Brydges* made more difficult the establishing of any more ‘private arrangements’ between them, probably of an unsavoury kind, over government business, but he was kept on as treasurer of the navy. Robert Harley considered him a valuable man, ‘worth half his party’, and hoped to detach him. In the context of the election it was also useful to have an excuse to detain Walpole in London. When he asked the Queen for permission to go into the country ‘to employ his interest in her Majesty’s service for the election of such Members as would support her’, he was told he was needed where he was. At the election Walpole came bottom of the poll for the county. The Tory mob picked him out as the target for their abuse, crying ‘no manager, no scaffolder’, and ‘pelting him with dirt and stones . . . spoiling his fine laced coat, which they told him came out of the Treasury’. He had, however, taken the precaution of standing also for King’s Lynn and Castle Rising, and was returned in both boroughs, choosing to sit for Lynn and bringing in his uncle again at Castle Rising, which disappointed his brother Horatio, who also coveted the seat.11

The new Parliament opened in November 1710 with Walpole still treasurer of the navy but resolved on outright opposition to Harley’s ministry. Swift characterized him at this point in his career as ‘among those of his faction . . . a sort of leader of the second form’, and a little later as ‘one of the Whigs’ chief speakers’. When he arrived in London he was ‘much pestered with company’, and he was soon the centre of controversy in the House. During the deliberations of the committee preparing the Address he

took notes and wrote down what he seemed not to like. They there told him, it was unparliamentary to write so, before the thing was finished. But he maintained it to be the right of every Member to write what he pleased . . . After some squabbling they yielded him the point, but when it was finished they desired to have his notes, but he made no answer, but took his paper and [?wrapped] it up very deliberately and went away with it into the House and showed it to Lechmere [Nicholas] and some more, who set their heads together how they would desire to have it amended when it came into the House.

In the subsequent debate Walpole pressed to ‘have the Pretender mentioned’. ‘Honest Robert Walpole’ was also one of the speakers for the Whigs on the Bewdley case and was a teller on 19 Dec. against a motion condemning the 1708 charter to the borough. Harley was now resolved on his dismissal as treasurer of the navy, and on 2 Jan. 1711 Walpole received a letter to this purpose from Secretary Dartmouth, though he was not actually removed from office until about the end of the parliamentary session. On the same day that Dartmouth’s letter arrived Walpole made the principal speech in a debate on an address concerning the war in Spain. It was proposed that the House promise to assist the Queen to take whatever measures she thought fit to prosecute the war vigorously, in Spain and elsewhere, upon which Walpole

said that he was glad to hear that the measures which had been concerted for carrying on the war in Spain were put in a right way, viz. by hiring foreign troops and sending them from Italy, which in many respects he thought it was the most effectual way of doing it. But that there having been so much talking without doors as if that was to be carried on by sending troops from Flanders (which, by the by, he said could not be done without breaking the treaties of the alliance), and that the words of this address being general . . . he was afraid it might be interpreted afterwards as if the House had given their opinion in a matter which was not then in their view; and therefore proposed an amendment to the motion, viz. these words, ‘in concert with the allies’; that is to say, ‘such measures as her Majesty, in concert with the allies’, etc.

On 10 Jan. 1711 he opposed the appointment of commissioners of accounts:

It is obvious, that the people of England are at this moment animated against each other, with a spirit of hatred and rancour. It behoves you, in the first place, to find a remedy for these distempers which at present are predominant in the civil constitution.

He also assisted his friend Arthur Maynwaring* to write the Four Letters to a Friend in North Britain, which set out to exonerate the old ministry from charges of financial mismanagement. Walpole was possibly no stranger to the press, for it has been suggested that he had already collaborated with Maynwaring on A Letter from M. Pett[cu]m to M. Buys (1710), which gave an account of the joy of the French at the downfall of Godolphin and the Whigs. He was a teller on 10 Apr. 1711 in favour of exempting Sir John Anstruther, 1st Bt., from having to seek re-election on succeeding to his family’s hereditary office in the Scottish customs; on 15 May, in the committee on the public debts, against the motion that increasing public expenditure beyond the supplies voted by Parliament had been ‘the chief occasion of the debts of the nation, and an invasion of the rights of Parliament’; and on the 19th, to defer consideration of the Scots linen bill. In May he nearly became involved in a duel with the High Tory Charles Eversfield* over an incident in the House:

A young Member rose to speak. Mr Walpole, being very attentive, looked earnestly in his face, for which offence Mr Eversfield told him he was very impudent and that nothing but a _____ [sic] could be capable of such an action. Mr Walpole went out without returning any answer and Mr Eversfield followed, but their friends interposed and reconciled them without any bloodshedding.

Walpole voted on 25 May 1711 against the amendment to the South Sea bill, and may have spoken in the debate. The pamphlet A Brief Account of the Debts Provided for by the South Sea Act (1712) has also been ascribed to him.12

During the summer of 1711 Harley made a last attempt to persuade Walpole to support the ministry, but failed. Walpole attended a conference of the Junto lords and their allies at Lord Orford’s house in November, probably the only commoner present, and when Parliament met led the Whig attack in the Commons on the peace negotiations. He proposed, and was a teller for, the ‘No Peace without Spain’ amendment to the Address. The Tories were, however, ‘resolved to put [him] out of the way of disturbing them in the House’, William Bromley II* having described this as the ‘unum necessarium’, and the accounts commissioners had discovered a means of doing so. It appeared that when making the forage contracts for the army in Scotland in 1709 and in 1710, Walpole had on each occasion awarded a share to his kinsman and ‘man of business’ Robert Mann, who had then agreed to resign his share to the other contractors, all Scotsmen, on payment of 500 guineas compensation. The arrangement was condemned for two reasons. First, one of the contractors, John Montgomerie I*, gave evidence that Walpole had never intended Mann’s appointment seriously and had used it merely as a device to extort money from the other contractors. Mann denied this, claiming that the initiative for his withdrawal had come from the contractors themselves. Unhappily, the contractor who had performed all the original negotiations with Walpole and Mann, Sir Samuel MacClellan*, had since died, and Montgomerie’s evidence was only hearsay, so no firm judgment could be made on this point. The second charge, however, was supported by clear evidence: in each case Mann’s compensation money had been paid by means of a note to Walpole himself, and the first note had been returned with his signature to the receipt. Mann protested that he had received the whole sum himself, but the accounts commissioners insisted that the receipt proved Walpole to have benefited directly. ‘It was at the same time publicly known’, commented the chairman of the commission, George Lockhart*, ‘that Mr Mann was Mr Walpole’s agent and accustomed to receive and pay out his cash.’ That the commissioners had charges to bring against Walpole was known as early as the beginning of December 1711, and by the middle of the month Swift could write of him that ‘he has lately had a bribe proved against him’. Once the commissioners had made their report in December Walpole began to marshal his defence, writing urgently to one of the contractors, Hon. George Douglas*, to come down to London, ‘as my justification’ in the matter of having benefited directly on the first occasion ‘will in a great measure depend upon you’, and insisting that he be heard by the House in his own defence. He was no doubt aware of the intentions of the Tories, for he also took pains to reassure his supporters at Lynn of his innocence and that he was confident he would be able to acquit himself, and begged them to ‘receive no ill impression of me till I have an opportunity to clear my character’. So convinced was he of the soundness of his case that he committed the tactical blunder of moving that the various affidavits received by the committee be read out in the House. As a Tory remarked

the consequence of their being read there is, that they are in the Votes, which for these three weeks at least will leave an impression upon people’s minds in the country that . . . [he has] been guilty of notorious bribery . . . Some fancy he has overshot himself, fancying the Tories would oppose it, being it came from him.

On 17 Jan. 1712 the case against him was heard, and after a long debate, in an unusually full House, he was voted by a majority of more than 50 to have been guilty of ‘a high breach of trust and notorious corruption’. By further votes he was committed to the Tower and expelled the House. This was considered a great victory for the Tories, and a ‘leading card to maul the Duke of Marlborough for the same crime’. The Whigs regarded it as a piece of unjustified victimization, acknowledging that Walpole had ‘made a slip in suffering his name to be used’ but convinced that Mann, not he, had been the one to profit from the two transactions. Walpole’s own summing-up, to his friends at Lynn, was that:

The most unrighteous judgment was passed upon me in the House that was ever heard of . . . against the most positive evidence that it was possible in any case to give . . . I am made a sacrifice to the violence of a party and entirely innocent.

To his wife he declared, ‘this barbarous injustice, being only the effect of party malice, does not concern me at all, and I heartily despise what I shall one day revenge’. On the other hand, it should be remembered that the day after Walpole was committed to the Tower Mann followed him into custody for refusing to answer further questions from the commissioners of accounts, and, as George Lockhart wrote:

’Tis observable that, although he was a considerable trader, he chose rather to continue during this session under a long and expensive confinement, than apply to the House for his release, being afraid, as was believed, he might come to be examined at the bar and perhaps expose his patron.13

Walpole’s imprisonment made him a national celebrity. Pamphlets, ballads and broadsheets were published for and against him, one of which, The Case of Mr Walpole, in a Letter from a Tory Member of Parliament to his Friend in the Country, he may have contributed himself. ‘The jewel in the Tower’ was how a Whig ballad described him. Daily he was visited by ‘persons of distinction’, including the Marlboroughs, Lord Godolphin and the Whig leaders. He succeeded in organizing his re-election campaign from the Tower, a principal object of which was to demonstrate that the voters of Lynn still believed in his innocence, and he was easily victorious against a local Tory in the one contest in the borough in this period, only for the Commons to declare void the election on the grounds that no Member who had been expelled could return to the House in the same Parliament. At the end of the session, in June 1712, the Parliament was adjourned for three weeks rather than prorogued forthwith, and some observers surmised that this ‘was intended as a further mortification to Mr Walpole, who rather chose to continue prisoner in the Tower, than to make his submission’. The prorogation, and with it his release, came on 8 July, when he apparently met with another disappointment ‘for he had no music nor dinner prepared for him by the Hanover Club’, but he was thereafter able to publish a vindication of his conduct, in which he bitterly criticized the Commons’ decision to prevent him from taking his seat once re-elected, a punishment tantamount to ‘a second expulsion’. The Whigs may have contemplated challenging this ruling, for it was said during the recess that Walpole was to be brought in on Lord Wharton’s (Hon. Thomas*) interest at a by-election at Malmesbury, but nothing came of this. His presence was reported in August 1712 at a conference of opposition politicians presided over by the Duke of Marlborough, and before the Marlboroughs left England in the following winter the Duchess sent Walpole a draft of her own ‘vindication’, which he persuaded her to defer publishing until ‘a more favourable time’. He himself wrote A Short History of the Parliament in 1713, in which he attacked the peace and the French treaty of commerce. A Tory pamphleteer observed that the arguments offered by merchants to the Commons in 1713 against the commercial treaty contained ‘every cavil and quirk, that Lechmere’s law education or Walpole’s sophistry could furnish them with’, and Walpole was also said to be the author of the Letter to a West Country Clothier, which not only condemned the treaty but accused the Tory ministers in their turn of misapplying public funds.14

In his address to the electors at King’s Lynn before the 1713 election, an address which he later published, Walpole rehearsed the main arguments he and other Whigs were to employ time and again in the forthcoming session. He directed attention to the failure of the Commons’ address to the Queen to exercise her influence with foreign powers for the removal of the Pretender from their dominions – ‘he is at present removed as near us as the power of France can place him’; the failure of the ministry’s efforts to secure the demolition of the fortifications at Dunkirk; and finished with a contemptuous dismissal of the peace: ‘I dare be bold to affirm that, had the King of France beaten us, as we have done him, he would have been so modest as to have given us better terms than we have gained after all our glorious victories.’ Perhaps the leading Whig in the Commons in this Parliament, Walpole was in the forefront in the first set-piece debate, over the expulsion of Richard Steele. In December 1713 the Hanoverian envoy had reported that Steele was being assisted in a work by Walpole and James Stanhope, who were to be Steele’s principal defenders in the House. Walpole survived attempts by the Tories to have him expelled again, on the grounds, it would seem, that he had ‘reviled’ the Queen, her ministers and Parliament in his election address. The Hanoverian court was told in February that ‘an inquiry is made, in a most scandalous and inquisition-like manner, against Mr Walpole . . . and it is resolved to have him per fas and [sic] nefas voted out of the House’. He had also made speeches against the ministry over the South Sea Company and the Dunkirk fortifications. Then, on 18 Mar. 1714, he rose in support of Steele. Walpole, Joseph Addison* and William Pulteney* had helped Steele prepare his defence, and Walpole’s was the first speech on his side. Its force and eloquence were much admired, and friends agreed that he had never spoken better: ‘He spoke for an hour and a half, replying article by article, and with every sentence raking the ministry with his volleys, which were as witty as they were powerful.’ So ran the report to Hanover. Setting out to prove that what Steele had written was in fact true, Walpole denounced the whole range of the ministry’s policies, emphasizing the danger to the Protestant succession rather than, as the ministry had intended, Steele’s attack on the peace. Finally came the innuendo that the whole enterprise of attempting to have Steele punished was designed as a way of prejudicing the succession: ‘this is to feel the pulse of the Parliament.’ It was unprecedented for Parliament to punish a man in his public capacity for what he had written as a private individual, and there was something sinister in the fact that it was ‘the advocate for the Protestant succession only’ who was attacked: ‘[the] government would not have exerted itself so to make it criminal to say King James was a papist had they not been conscious, I hope it is not so, as to the succession’. He left his hearers to answer the question: ‘How comes writing for the succession to be a reflection on the ministry?’ Afterwards Steele dedicated to him his Apology, ‘for your generous defence of me in this great adversity’.15

Walpole was the chief thorn in the government’s side throughout the session. He was probably the ‘Mr Walpole’ who appears as a teller four times: twice on election cases; on 25 May against a resolution of the committee of supply; and on 22 June against an address of thanks to the Queen for turning over to the South Sea Company her share in the asiento, the supposed benefits of which he had ‘bantered’ in an earlier speech. He intervened in March in a debate on the tobacco drawbacks bill, to attack the ministry’s Irish policy. It had been proposed that the drawbacks on tobacco and other goods sent to Ireland for re-export be withheld until the resumption of the Irish excises, to protect the future yield of the Irish revenue. The opposition argued that this was in effect to tax Ireland. Walpole, as reported by the Dutch agent, was prepared to enlarge upon the ministry’s reasons for refusing to let the Irish parliament meet:

L’une pour empêcher qu’on ne fît venir à compte un violent ministre, parlant du grand chancelier que la chambre des communes vouloit poursuivre, lequel, dit-il, étoit le boutefeu de ce pays-là; et l’autre parce que le parlement avoit mis la tête du prétendant à prix.

In April it was reported that he ‘fights inch by inch at the committee of estimates’, and on 15 Apr., in a debate in the committee on the state of the nation as to whether the succession was in danger under the Queen’s government, Walpole, ‘with great spirit, showed the Protestant succession to be in danger, not from her Majesty, but from the dubious conduct of some persons in high stations’, and therefore moved that the Queen’s name be omitted from the question. The next day, when the committee’s resolutions were reported, he again made a very strong speech, in which

among other things [he] applauded the public spirit the Speaker [(Sir) Thomas Hanmer II (4th Bt.)] had shown the day before, but added, he despaired of seeing truth and justice prevail, since notwithstanding the weight of a person of his known integrity, merit and eloquence, the majority of votes had carried it against reason and argument.

He opened the Whig attack in the debate of 22 Apr. on agreeing with the Lords’ address on the peace, with what even a Tory spectator described as a ‘very long and entertaining discourse’, with ‘many pretty turns’ and witticisms. He ‘bantered and scouted’ the narrative of the peace which the ministry had presented, so effectively that Bromley, in trying to answer him, could make little impression. Walpole’s speech was a comprehensive indictment of the peace, concluding with an observation on a well-known saying of Heinsius that ‘he that was against a peace was a traitor to his country’: Walpole remarked, ‘that might be true if he spoke against peace in general, but he that was for any peace was much more a traitor’. He had not, however, forgotten all his old friends, and it was reported on 7 May that ‘Mr Walpole, in the select committee, has proposed a general indemnity for Mr Brydges [Hon. James]’. A determined opponent of the schism bill, when leave was given on 19 May for it to be introduced he

took notice of the nonjurant schoolmasters and tutors, and of popish schools in England, and of the education of youth in the popish seminaries abroad, and . . . moved that [to] the motion might be added ‘popery and’, and the title of the bill be ‘for preventing the growth of popery and schism’.

This motion having been defeated, he spoke against the bill at its third reading ‘with a great deal of vivacity’, denying that the Dissenters were dangerous to Church and state, and when the amended bill came down from the Lords with a clause extending it to Ireland Walpole proposed with Nicholas Lechmere that another clause be added likewise extending to Ireland the provisions of the Toleration Act.16

On 4 Aug. 1714 Walpole seconded the motion for the address of condolence on the death of Queen Anne and congratulation on the accession of King George, and proposed to add ‘something more substantial . . . by giving assurances of making good all parliamentary funds’. He was appointed to the committee to prepare this address. Two days later he and James Stanhope were entertained to dinner with Baron Bothmer and others by Marlborough, and the following day Walpole spoke in the House against a Tory move to have Sir William Wyndham, 3rd Bt., named as chairman of the committee of supply. It was he who proposed on 13 Aug. that the arrears due to the Hanoverian troops be paid forthwith, a motion which passed without opposition. Walpole was given the lucrative office of paymaster-general under the new King, partly because ‘he was very lean and needed to get some fat on his bones’, his financial position having worsened considerably since 1711, and partly because the greater posts were already spoken for. None the less, he was regarded as having risen high. Contemporaries put his success down to presumption and audacity. Swift wrote of ‘his bold, forward countenance, altogether a stranger to that infirmity which makes men bashful, joined to a readiness of speaking in public’, while Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, in about September 1714, commented ruefully to her husband: ‘No modest man did or ever will make his fortune. Your friend Lord H[alifa]x [Charles Montagu], R[obert] W[alpo]le and all other remarkable instances of quick advancement have been remarkably impudent’.17

Walpole died on 18 Mar. 1745.

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: D. W. Hayton


Unless otherwise stated, this bigraphy is based on J. H. Plumb, Walpole.

  • 1. Cal. Freemen King’s Lynn, 207; Cal. Freemen Gt. Yarmouth, 162; Norf. Rec. Soc. xxiii. 103.
  • 2. Cal. Treas. Bks. xxiv. 495; xxv. 74.
  • 3. Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu ed. Halsband, ii. 397–8; Norf. RO, Howard (Castle Rising) mss, Walpole to Thomas Howard, 20 Nov., 2 Dec. 1700; Coxe, Walpole, i. 4, 13, 14–15; Univ. of Chicago Lib. Walpole mss, Horatio Walpole I to Walpole, 20 Apr. 1701, Horatio Walpole II to same, 5 Apr. 1701; Camb. Univ. Lib. Cholmondeley (Houghton) mss, Edmund Hamond to Walpole, 7 Apr. 1701, Sir Charles Turner to same, 9 Apr. 1701, Lady Diana Howard to same, 17 Apr. 1701, Turner to same, 8 June 1701.
  • 4. Coxe, i. 6, 15–16; ii. 3–4; Howard (Castle Rising) mss, Walpole to Lady Diana Howard, 11 Jan. 1701[–2]; Cholmondeley (Houghton) mss, Horatio Walpole II to Walpole, 3 Mar. 1702, Sir Charles Turner to same, 7 May 1702, John Turner* to same, 8 May, 16 Dec. 1702; Cocks Diary, 280.
  • 5. G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 231; Cholmondeley (Houghton) mss, Ld. Townshend to Walpole, 26 May [1708], Sir Charles Turner to same, 24 Oct. 1706; Walpole mss, James Hoste† to Walpole, 27 June 1706.
  • 6. Coxe, ii. 4–5; Add. 17677 AAA, f. 271; Surr. RO (Guildford), Midleton mss 1248/2, ff. 163–4; Walpole mss, Horatio Walpole I to Walpole, 16 Jan. 1704[–5]; Coxe, Marlborough (Bohn edn.), i. 26; Boyer, Anne Annals, iv. 20–21.
  • 7. Bull. IHR, xxvii. 28; Cholmondeley (Houghton) mss, Townshend to Walpole, 10 Oct. 1705; Cam. Misc. xxiii. 31–32, 49, 56, 64, 76; Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 24.
  • 8. Coxe, Walpole, i. 22–24; Duchess of Marlborough Corresp. i. 283; ii. 144; Holmes, 111; Add. 70284, [Godolphin] to [Harley], n.d.; HMC Lonsdale, 118; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, iii. 286–7, 313; Burnet, v. 343; 7th Duke of Manchester, Court and Soc. Eliz. to Anne, ii. 280, 331; Luttrell, 270; Speck thesis, 212, 221–2.
  • 9. Marlborough– Godolphin Corresp. 1027, 1083, 1217; HMC Portland, iv. 493; Holmes, 233–4; Parlty. Lists Early 18th Cent. ed. Newman, 82; Nicolson Diaries ed. Jones and Holmes, 494–5.
  • 10. Huntington Lib. Q. xxxv. 337; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxiii. 452; G. Holmes, Trial of Sacheverell, 89, 136–42, 191–2; Coxe, Marlborough, iii. 72; Duchess of Marlborough Corresp. i. 293–5; ii. 151; Luttrell, 534; Norf. RO, Rolfe mss, Walpole to Edmund Rolfe, 17 Jan. 1709–10; Wentworth Pprs. 110; Poems on Affairs of State ed. Ellis, vii. 401–2; Yale Univ. Beinecke Lib. Osborn coll. ‘Acct. of trial of Dr Sacheverell’, 28 Feb., 24 Mar.; Tryal of Dr Sacheverell (1710), 61, 63; P.H., An Impartial View of the Two Late Parls. (1711), 174–5; Cholmondeley (Houghton) mss 67/41/1, 2, 4, 7; Boyer, Anne Annals, viii. 262–3; J. P. Kenyon, Revol. Principles, 230; Coxe, Walpole, i. 30; ii. 15, 24–25; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 1415, 1492, 1531.
  • 11. Luttrell, vi. 604; Norf. RO, Bradfer-Lawrence mss, Ashe Windham* to [Ld. Townshend], 8 June 1710; Cholmondeley (Houghton) mss, Horatio Walpole I to Walpole, 27 July 1710; HMC Portland, iv. 561–2; vii. 20; Boyer, Anne Annals, ix. 243; Huntington Lib. Stowe mss 57(4), p. 184; Coxe, Walpole, 32; Addison Letters, 239; Huntington Lib. Q. iii. 242; Holmes, Trial of Sacheverell, 231; Walpole mss at Wolterton Hall, Horatio Walpole II to Walpole, 12 Sept. 1710. N.S.
  • 12. Swift, Prose Works (Bohn edn.), x. 84; Swift Stella ed. Davis, 302; HMC Townshend, 75; Wentworth Pprs. 160; Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 313; Add. 17677 EEE, f. 29; HMC Dartmouth, i. 303; G. Holmes and W. A. Speck, Divided Soc. 93; Coxe, Walpole, i. 34–35; Bull. IHR, xliv. 229–38; Huntington Lib. Q. xxxiii. 144–53; HMC Var. viii. 251.
  • 13. G. M. Trevelyan, Eng. Under Q. Anne, iii. 107, 199; HMC Portland, v. 106; Stanhope, Reign of Anne, 501; Burnet, vi. 100–1; Lockhart Pprs. i. 362–3; Verney Letters 18th Cent. i. 307; Swift Stella, 302, 320; Add. 17677 FFF, ff. 6, 30; 70213, Jane Bradshaigh to [Oxford], n.d.; Rolfe mss, Walpole to Edmund Rolfe, 25 Dec. 1711, 18 Jan. 1711–12; Wentworth Pprs. 233–4, 256; Boyer, Pol. State, iii. 26.
  • 14. Boyer, Anne Annals, xi. 140; Add. 17677 FFF, f. 33; Rolfe mss, Walpole to Rolfe, 18 Jan., 13 Feb. 1711–12; Boyer, Pol. State, iv. 45, 124; vi. 89, 102–16; Wentworth Pprs. 291; Folger Shakespeare Lib. Newdigate newsletter, 9 Oct. 1712; Egerton 2543, ff. 365–71.
  • 15. HMC Portland, 333, 344; Orig. Pprs. ed. Macpherson, ii. 521, 565; Bull. IHR, xxxiv. 212; Add. 17677 HHH, ff. 120, 130; Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. vi. 1274–9; Holmes and Speck, 75–76; Douglas diary (Hist. of Parl. trans.), 18 Mar. 1714; Cholmondeley (Houghton) mss 65/8b/2.
  • 16. Wentworth Pprs. 376–7; Add. 17677 HHH, ff. 148–9; 40621, f. 192; Chandler, v. 124–5, 149–56; Douglas diary, 22 Apr. 1714; Bodl. Ballard 25, f. 113; HMC Portland, v. 436; NLS, Advocates’ mss, Wodrow pprs, letters Quarto 8, f. 118; Boyer, Pol. State, vii. 499.
  • 17. Coxe, Walpole, 58–59; Boyer, Pol. State, viii. 153, 169; Add. 17677 HHH, f. 549; Swift Works ed. Davis, x. 84; Lady Mary Wortley Montagu Letters, i. 226.