WALPOLE, Hon. Horatio (1717-97), of Strawberry Hill, Mdx.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b. 24 Sept. 1717,1 3rd s. of Sir Robert Walpole; bro. of Hon. Edward Walpole. educ. Eton 1727-34; King’s Camb. 1735; Grand Tour (France, Switzerland, Italy) 1739-41. unm. suc. nephew as 4th Earl of Orford 5 Dec. 1791.
Inspector gen. of exports and imports Dec. 1737-Feb. 1738; usher of the Exchequer, clerk of the estreats, and comptroller of the pipe 1738-d.
Before entering Parliament, Horace Walpole was provided with life sinecures worth about £2,000 a year. On his father’s death in 1745 he inherited a share of a place in the customs granted to Robert Walpole in 1716 for the lives of his two elder sons, Robert and Edward, with power to dispose of the income as he pleased. The two elder sons having been otherwise handsomely provided for, this power was exercised in favour of Horace, to the extent of £1,000 out of the £1,800 a year produced by the place, the remainder, subject to an annuity of £200 a year to a family dependant, being divided equally between Horace and Edward, who was to inherit the whole if Horace predeceased him. Thus £1,300 out of Horace’s income of £3,300 a year depended on the lives of his two brothers, the younger of whom was 11 years older than himself.2
Returned for a family borough while on the grand tour, Horace Walpole made his maiden speech, 23 Mar. 1742, against the motion for a secret committee of inquiry into his father’s Administration. Chosen to second the vote for the Hanoverian troops on 18 Jan. 1744, he is described as speaking ‘extremely well’, ‘with deserved applause from everybody’, paying an ‘elegant’ Latin compliment to the King on the battle of Dettingen. After his father’s death in 1745 he took a more independent line in Parliament, speaking on 25 Oct. that year against the Government on a motion for recalling all British troops from Flanders to deal with the rebellion, which a number of other ministerial Members also supported; voted, 1 Nov., against them, in company with his friends Henry Fox and Thomas Winnington, on a proposal to give permanent commissions to officers of newly raised regiments, which cut across party lines; but stayed away when the question came up again, not wishing ‘to give hindrance to a public measure (or at least what was called so) just now’.3 In the division of 11 Apr. 1746 on the Hanoverians he voted with the Government, who in the Parliament elected in 1747 classed him as a supporter.
In fact since February 1747 Horace Walpole had been secretly contributing to the anti-government propaganda put out by the new Opposition launched in January that year by the Prince of Wales. During the next two and a half years he published 18 anonymous newspaper articles, which he sent to the editors without a name, attacking the Pelhams ‘for the misfortunes which have happened to the kingdom under the present Administration’; for ‘unconstitutionally’ dissolving Parliament before the completion of its term so as to ‘pack’ its successor; for setting up the Duke of Newcastle against the Prince of Wales for the chancellorship of Cambridge University; and generally for ‘engrossing power’, making themselves into ‘maires du palais’, and ‘laying illegal restraints on the royal will’. These activities came to an end in October 1749, when one of his articles, ‘occasioned by the very tyrannic behaviour of the Duke of Cumberland’, led to the prosecution of the printer. At the same time his unpublished pamphlet, Delenda est Oxonia, accusing the ministry of planning an attack on the liberties of the university, similar to that of James II, ‘which had given rise to the Revolution’, was seized at the printer’s. Presumably in return for these services he figures in the 2nd Lord Egmont’s lists of persons to receive office on the Prince’s accession, in one of which, dated 29 Apr. 1749, he is put down for a seat on the council of Prince George, the future George III, who was to be lord high admiral, a post last held by Prince George of Denmark, on whose council Sir Robert Walpole had begun his ministerial career in 1705.4
In Horace Walpole’s Short Notes of his life he states that his reason for these activities was that ‘Mr. Pelham had used my father and his friends extremely ill, and neglected the Whigs to court the Tories’. This however did not prevent him from accepting an invitation by Pelham to move the Address at the opening of the session of 1751, which may account for the deletion of his name from another of Egmont’s lists of a future Admiralty council. Nor did it prevent him a few weeks later, when the death of his eldest brother, Lord Orford, left him dependent on the life of his only surviving brother, Edward, for the £1,300 a year produced by the customs place, from applying to Pelham to add his name to the patent granting that office. Pelham
replied civilly, he could not ask the King to add my life to the patent; but if I could get my brother Edward to let my life stand in lieu of his, he would endeavour to serve me. I answered quickly, ‘Sir, I will never ask my brother to stand in a precarious light instead of me’, and, hurrying out of his house, returned to two of my friends who waited for me, and said to them ‘I have done what you desired me to do but, thank God, I have been refused’.
About this time he began his Memoirs of 1751, which contain a violent attack on the Pelhams and Hardwicke (i. 158 et seq.).5Horace Walpole’s attack on Hardwicke arose from a scheme which he had concocted with his friend, John Chute, for marrying the new Lord Orford, a youth of 21, ‘whose intellects were never very sound and which were afterwards much disordered’ (iii. 185 n.), to Chute’s cousin, Miss Nicoll, a 16-year old ward in Chancery, with ‘an immense fortune’, estimated at over £150,000. When Miss Nicoll, whom Chute had already once abducted but returned to her legal guardian after an interview with Hardwicke, upset the scheme by refusing to apply to the court to be transferred to the guardianship of Chute’s sister-in-law, Chute’s behaviour to her became so outrageous that in July 1751 her lawyers obtained an order from Hardwicke, as Lord Chancellor, prohibiting Chute and his sister-in-law from seeing her except in the presence of her new chosen guardian.6 Beside himself with rage at the loss of this rich prize, Horace Walpole inserted in his Memoirs of 1751 a scarifying portrait of Hardwicke, on which his editor, Lord Holland, justly observes that his ‘resentments blind his judgment and disfigure his narrative’ (i. 160 n.).
When Parliament re-assembled in January 1752, Horace Walpole resumed his clandestine attempts ‘to traverse Mr. Pelham’s measures’ and ‘to blow up an opposition underhand’, by inciting the Duke of Bedford, with whom he was connected through his friend, Richard Rigby, to attack the Government in the Lords (i. 242-53, 262-75). On 25 Nov. 1752, shortly before the opening of the next session, he renewed his application to Pelham, asking him to give him the reversion of the customs place. Pelham told him
that as to granting a reversion, that was what he had never done and what the King did not love to grant. That if he did ask it, the King would probably mention what I have already for my life; however, if I desired it, he would mention it to the King though he did not believe it would succeed. I replied, he knew best, and took my leave.7
A little over a fortnight later he proceeded, in his own words, to ‘sow seeds of discontent in a rank soil, which did indeed produce an ample crop’. The ‘seeds’ were contained in an anonymous memorial purporting to have been signed by ‘several noblemen and gentlemen of the first rank and fortune’ but actually concocted by himself alone. Modelled on a leaflet recently circulated by Leicester House against the Duke of Cumberland, which had created enough stir to be burned by the common hangman (i. 9-12, 427-9), it accused the Pelhams of entrusting the education of the future George III to ‘none but the friends and pupils of the late Lord Bolingbroke,’ who were bringing him up on ‘books inculcating the worst principles of government and defending the most avowed tyrannies’, and of being themselves the tools of a ‘dangerous faction, who intend to overthrow the Government and restore the exiled and arbitrary House of Stuart’. The ‘rank soil’ was Lord Ravensworth (Henry Liddell), to whom Horace Walpole sent the memorial as being ‘rather a factious and interested than an honest Whig’. The ‘crop’ was charges of drinking disaffected healths some 20 years ago, brought by Ravensworth against Andrew Stone and William Murray, the ‘dangerous faction’ referred to in the memorial, which were found by a Cabinet inquiry to be false and malicious. A debate in the Lords on the affair initiated by Bedford merely gave the Cabinet ministers in that House an opportunity of publicly re-affirming this verdict (i. 298-332).
After Pelham’s death in 1754, Horace Walpole, still classed by the Government as a supporter, entered into a negotiation in April 1755 with the new head of the Treasury, Newcastle, for the sale of the customs place for £20,000, subsequently reducing the price to £14-15,000, but ‘the affair went off’ owing to Edward Walpole’s asking too much for his share. In 1758 he tried to get Newcastle to allow him to exchange his share of the place for the office of master of the mint, worth £1,200 a year, for his life, if and when it fell vacant, pointing out that this would give Newcastle a ‘very fair pretence for asking [the King] at the same time for one or two lives in the custom house place’, which ‘would be a great provision for a younger son of my Lord Lincoln’, Newcastle’s nephew and heir, but nothing came of this either.8 Deciding about this time to retire from politics, he inserted at the end of his Memoirs of 1758, finished in 1759, a self-portrait, confessing that ‘a propensity to faction’, aggravated by ‘prejudices contracted by himself’, had kept him ‘balanced for a few years between right and wrong’, till ‘virtue extinguished this culpable ardour’. Among the objects ‘of his greatest prejudices’, he mentions Pelham and Hardwicke, from whom ‘he had received trifling offence’ and for whom ‘he avows he had strong aversion’; and his former friend, Henry Fox, from whom ‘he had felt coldness and ingratitude’, evidently referring to Fox’s failure to include the reversion among the favours which he obtained for his friends in return for allying himself with Newcastle in September 1755. But, though admitting that ‘he had too much weakness to resist doing wrong’, he claims that ‘one virtue he possessed in a singular degree—disinterestedness and contempt of money—if one may call that a virtue, which really was a passion’ (iii. 158-63). Nevertheless in his Memoirs of 1763 he confesses to being ‘much provoked’ on learning that Bute had given the reversion to his secretary, Charles Jenkinson, M.P.,
and took occasion of fomenting the ill-humour against the Favourite, who thus excluded me from the possibility of obtaining the continuance of that place in case of my brother’s death.
By this time he had persuaded himself that he had refused an offer by Fox to try to procure him the reversion from Newcastle in 1755, because ‘I will never accept that reversion from the Duke’, later improved into ‘because it is a greater favour than I will ever accept from any man’. By 1771 he had succeeded in convincing himself of the rectitude of the political conduct which in 1759 he had confessed to have been ‘culpable’. The occasion for this favourable reconsideration of the anonymous memorial etc. was the publication in 1770 of Burke’s Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents, which set him to work on constructing an alternative theory of his own. In his opinion, Burke had made the mistake of ‘not going back far enough’.
The canker had begun in the Administration of the Pelhams and Lord Hardwicke, who, at the head of a proud aristocracy of Whig lords, had thought of nothing but establishing their own power; and who, as it suited their occasional purposes, now depressed and insulted the Crown and royal family, and now raised the prerogative. Their factious usurpations and insolence were even some excuse for the maxim taken up by Frederick, Prince of Wales, by the Princess dowager, and the reigning King, of breaking that overbearing combination: and so blinded were the Pelhams by their own ambition that they furnished the Princess with men whose principles and abilities were best suited to inspire arbitrary notions into her son, and to instruct him how to get rid of his tyrants, and establish a despotism that may end in tyranny in his descendants.
In short, Stone and Murray ‘were the real sources of those discontents which Burke sought but never discovered’, though Walpole’s penetration had detected them at the time, as his earlier Memoirs showed. By 1778 he was suggesting that Murray, now Lord Mansfield, had ‘drawn out the steps of James II, and recommended them one by one, in order to ruin the House of Hanover by the same measures that paved their way to the throne’.9
Walpole’s theory, by justifying his political activities, enabled him to raise the veil originally drawn over them in his Memoirs of 1751-60, in the body of which he gives no indication of his responsibility for the culpable behaviour described in them, only disclosing it in foot-notes added many years later. In 1775 he carried his self-deception a stage further by persuading himself that he had received and refused an offer of the reversion from Lord North. When it was pointed out to him that the reversion had already been granted, he assented, observing that Bute
would have been overjoyed to have given me my place for my life, but I would not accept it; and so the reversion was given to Jenkinson,
notwithstanding which he describes himself as ‘much pleased with this offer’. By 1782 he had come to believe that his application to Pelham in 1751 was ‘the first and last favour I ever asked of any minister for myself’. On his brother’s death in 1784 he wrote, referring to his imaginary offers from Fox and North:
I had twice been offered the reversion for my own life, and positively refused to accept it, because I would receive no obligation that might entangle my honour and my gratitude and set them at variance.10
Thus Horace Walpole came to believe not only that his anonymous lies had been far-sighted warnings but that his rejected solicitations had been improper proposals, which he had virtuously refused.
In a review of the Memoirs of the Reign of George II, Croker drew attention to such of these facts as were then available, in the hope of preventing Walpole from ‘poisoning the sources of history’. In this he was unsuccessful Popularized by Macaulay’s second essay on Chatham, which was based on the then unpublished Memoirs of 1760-71, the story that George III was brought up on the neo-Tory doctrines of the Patriot King became for a time part of the canon of English history.11
He died 2 Mar. 1797.