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First Edition 1889

Reprinted 1S90, 1893, 1896, 1899, 1903, 1906, 1909, 1913, 1919






Early Years and First Stages of Public Life . . 1


The Last Four Years of Queen Anne 18


The New Reign — Whig Schism 40

Rise to Power— Bolingbroke . 61

The Court ......... 85

Characteristics 104





The Cabinet .... .... 139

Fiscal Policy 166

Domestic Affairs . 183

Foreign Policy ,,,...,,. 200

Walpole's Fall r 222



Walpole was born in August 1676. He came fifth
among nineteen children born to Mr. Robert Walpole, a
country gentleman of Norfolk, of good estate and ancient
lineage. The founder of the family had come over with
William of Normandy, and the stock had shown its
vigour by an unbroken descent in the male line for no
fewer than eighteen generations. Walpoles had been
knights of the shire as far back as Edward II. Edward
Walpole, grandfather of the future minister, sat in the
Convention Parliament of 1660. He is said to have ac-
quired a respectable character for eloquence and weight ;
he voted for the restoration of Charles II, and he was
made a Knight of the Bath. Robert, his son, was
in Parliament from the Revolution until his death in
1700. An active Whig in politics, he was a man of
marked prudence and credit in his private conduct. A
good name in those days was not incompatible with a
jovial temper and much steady drinking. Mr. Walpole
was fond of sport, fond of farming and business, and
fond of plenty of company and plenty of Nottingham
ale. He always took care of his money. An old book,

* B

2 WALPOLE chap.

in which he set down all his expenses, showed that he
knew how to live in London for upwards of three
months for the moderate sum of sixty-five pounds seven
shillings and fivepence.

Mr. Walpole sent his third son to Eton and to King's
College at Cambridge, not because he valued education,
even if education could now have been obtained in those
famous foundations, but because he designed the young
man to push his fortunes in the Church, then the usual
field for a cadet of decent family. ^But the youth had
higher destinies before him than fat livings and an easy
bishopric. His elder brother died in 1698, and Robert
the younger, becoming heir to the family estates, quitted
the university, and settled down with his convivial father
to learn all that pertains to the management of land and
the enjoyment of country life. It is said that Robert
the elder used to insist on making his son drink more
than his just share, on the ground that no son should
ever be allowed to have enough of his senses to see that
his father was tipsy. Amid such surroundings, which,
though compared with the more polished surface of
modern manners they seem coarse and rough, yet were
vigorous, hearty, and practical, Walpole reached his
twenty-fourth year. His father vowed that he would
make him the first grazier in the country. Higher
destinies were in store for him. The young squire,
under a homely exterior, covered a powerful under-
standing, a strong will, a good eye for men, and a union
of solid judgment with commanding ambition, which
fitted him to rule a kingdom, and to take his place
among the foremost men in Europe.

In the summer of 1700 he married Miss Catherine


Shorter, a grand - daughter of Sir John Shorter, once
Lord Mayor of London. The lady brought him beauty,
good manners, and a fortune. Before the end of the year
his father died at the early age of fifty, and Robert
Walpole came into the estate. Nearly the whole of
it lay in the county of Norfolk, and as it was then let,
the rent-roll amounted to something over two thousand
pounds a year. The property carried with it a couple of
pocket boroughs, Castle Rising and Lynn. Mr. Walpole
was at once (January 1701) elected for the first of them,
rendered vacant by his father's decease, and he retained
the seat until the death of King William. In 1702, on
the accession of Queen Anne, he was returned for Lynn
Regis ; he continued to sit for the same borough without
interruption until his fall from power forty years later.
It is sometimes said that the advance of democracy has
destroyed this stability of relation between representa-
tives and constituents ; but it is worth noting that two
members of the existing House of Commons (1889) have
held what are virtually the same seats without a break,
one of them for fifty-nine years, and the other for fifty-

The moment of Walpole's entrance upon parliamentary
life was one of critical importance in national history.
The great question which had been opened and provi-
sionally closed by the events of 1688, was whether the
English monarchy should be limited and Protestant, or
absolute, Catholic, and dependent on France. The work
of the Revolution may seem at this distance of time to
have been out of danger by the beginning of the
eighteenth century. Even if it were true that the bulk
of the nation had made up its mind, this is not always a

4 WALPOLE chap

guarantee again3t surprise and against accident, as an
incident of our own generation may serve to show.
France in 1873 had made up its mind for a Eepublic,
yet only a personal caprice, or stubborn principle, in the
Comte de Chambord saved France from a legitimist
restoration. The calamity of a legitimist restoration
in England was only avoided by the sagacity and the
resolution, first of the king, and then of the Whig leaders.
Walpole joined the Whigs in supporting the Act
of Settlement, but he is not known to have taken
part in debate. Personal emulation is stated to have
been the spur that first made him a speaker. At Eton
he had been the schoolfellow, if not the rival of a lad
who was destined to one of the most singular careers in
political history. St. John, better known by his
later title of Bolingbroke, was two years younger than
Walpole, and he entered Parliament about the same
time. He had not been many months in the House of
Commons before gifts of incomparable brilliancy brought
him to the very front place among the debaters of his
time. The occasion of Walpole's maiden speech is not
known. All that is told is that he was confused and
embarrassed, and failed to realise the expectations of his
friends. He was followed by somebody more fluent
than himself. " You may applaud the one," said an
acute onlooker, " and ridicule the other, as much as you
please ; but depend upon it, the spruce gentleman who
made the set speech will never improve, and Walpole
will in time become an excellent speaker." Walpole
took pains to fulfil the prediction by relying on his
native qualities; he was active in business, attentive to
all that went on, keen in observing men and watching


opportunity, and staunch to the principles and the party
that he had adopted for his own.

Walpole was first introduced into government, — that
important moment in the life of a member of Parliament
— in u subordinate post on the council of Prince George
of Denmark. The appointment was made on the re-
commendation of no less important a personage than
Marlborough. The prince was the queen's husband, and
because he was the husband of the queen, he had been
made Lord High Admiral of England. The naval board
had provoked bitter complaints of mismanagement,
negligence, and corruption, and the leading Whigs, not
yet fully reconciled with the administration of Marl-
borough and Godolphin, whose transformation was still
incomplete, actively echoed the outcry of the merchants
against the Lord High Admiral and his advisers. Wal-
pole said the best that could be said for his colleagues,
and when he was reproached with the terrible sin of
speaking against some of his own party, he answered
with spirit that he would never be so mean as to sit at
a board and not defend it. At the same time, as he had
to defend the board, he did his best to improve it. In
this inferior office he first showed those qualities of a
great man of business which, along with his extra-
ordinary general power of mind and character, after-
wards made him a great minister. Godolphin, then
the head of the government, was himself a man of busi-
ness just short of the very first class. The contemporary
authorities tell us that Walpole won his chief's ad-
miration by his energy and punctuality in affairs,
his precision in accounts, his insight into finance, and
his easy manners. In a short time he was called

6 WALPOLE chap

upon to exhibit these qualifications in a more important-

The first Parliament of Anne was strongly Tory. The
House of Lords, numbering before the Union with Scot-
land about one hundred and ninety members, including
the bishops and the Catholic peers who could not sit,
contained the representatives of the great families who
had made and guided the Revolution of 1688. Here,
therefore, the Whigs held a uniform predominance. But
they had no share in the leading posts of administration
for three years after the accession of the queen. Marl-
borough and Godolphin were the two heads of Anne's
first government, and they remained so until the great
ministerial revolution in 1710. During this period of
eight years the government passed through no fewer
than three important changes. First Marlborough and
Godolphin were joined by the high Tories, with the
Earl of Nottingham at their head. Then in 1704 the high
Tories were displaced, and Godolphin took in the more
moderate and, we must add, the more unprincipled
section of the same party, in the persons of Harley
and St. John. They were brought in as the par-
ticular friends of Marlborough, and were meant by
him to balance the Whig influence of Cowper and
Sunderland. It was to be not government by parties,
but government by groups. Finally, the General and the
Treasurer, as the two leaders were called, found them-
selves slowly driven to look in the Whig direction,
and in 1706 they pressed the Earl of Sunderland into
the government, against the vehement wishes of the
queen, and to the great displeasure of their colleagues.
Halifax told them they were mixing oil with vinegar


The uneasy combination lasted until the beginning of
1708. It then fell to pieces, and government by groups
came necessarily to an end. Harley's furtive ambitions,
spurred on by the restless and intrepid St. John, made
any subordinate position privately irksome to him. He
began, in Bishop Burnet's phrase, to set up for himself,
and to act no more under the direction of the Lord
Treasurer. Where anything was to be got, said his
bitterest enemy in later years, Harley always knew how
to wriggle himself in ; when any misfortune threatened,
he knew how to wrisscle himself out. A bedchamber
revolution helped him. The Treasurer and the General
soon discovered Harley's practices; they went to the
queen, and finding her unwilling to part with him,
declared themselves bound to quit her service. The scene
that followed is a curious example of the difference
in ministerial procedure between that time and our
own. The day was Sunday, and a Cabinet council had
already been summoned. The queen in those days
sat at their meetings, just as she systematically at-
tended on all important discussions in the House of
Lords, and was even upon one occasion personally ap-
pealed to by Marlborough in the course of the debate
in that chamber. After Marlborough and Godolphin
had left the presence, Anne immediately went to the
Cabinet council. "Harley," says Burnet, "opened
some matters relating to foreign affairs : the whole
board was very uneasy ; the Duke of Somerset said he
did not see how they could deliberate on such matters,
since the General was not with them ; he repeated this
with some vehemence, while all the rest looked so cold
and sullen that the Cabinet council was soon at an end ;

8 WALPOLE chap

and the queen saw that the rest of her ministers and
chief officers were resolved to withdraw from her service
if she did not recall the two that had left it." It was
said, the writer goes on to tell us, that she was ready to
put all to the hazard, but the caution and timidity
of Harley prevented her. She sent for Marlborough the
next day, and after some expostulations told him that
Harley would go. Anne's resentment was deep, and
though she was obliged to take the two leaders back into
her service, they never recovered either her favour or her
confidence. The important fact during the first eight
years of the reign of Queen Anne is not that the adminis-
tration was first Tory, then composite of Whig and Tory,
and in its final stage pure Whig, but that it was in all its
stages, whether Whig or Tory, a Marlborough adminis-
tration, seconding the policy, providing means for the
projects, and devoted to the person of that great and
powerful genius.

This was the most important of the three changes
that preceded the great party revolution of the last four
years of the reign. It brought about that govern-
ment by a particular political connection which Burke
some sixty years later singled out as the grand illustra-
tion, furnished by one of the most fortunate periods in
our history, of the virtue of Party. " These wise men,"
he said, " for such I must call Lord Sunderland, Lord
Godolphin, Lord Somers, and Lord Marlborough, were
too well principled in those maxims upon which the
whole fabric of public strength is built, to be blown
off their ground by the breath of every childish talker.
They were not afraid that they should be called an am-
bitious junto ; or that their resolution to stand or fall


together should, by placemen, be interpreted into a scuffle
for places." Godolphin noAY for the first time formed
his government on a basis exclusively Whig. It was
on this occasion, in the spring of 1708, that Walpole was
made Secretary for War in the room of St. John.

The Lord Treasurer was far from being a mere figure-
head. Godolphin was one of the men of a type that
a great revolution seldom fails to throw up — silent, able,
pliant, assiduous, indispensable. He was the younger
son of a Cornish gentleman. The Godolphins made their
first appearance in public life in the latter half of the six-
teenth century, and the fortunes and influence of their
house grew so rapidly that throughout the seventeenth
century their only rivals in Cornwall were the Grenvilles. 1
It was to the head of the house of Godophin, as his most
honoured friend, that Hobbes dedicated the Leviathan.
His brother, Sidney, is described by Clarendon as a young
gentleman of incomparable parts, who being of delicate
education and constitution, and unacquainted with con-
tentions, upon his observation in the House of Commons
of the wickedness of the king's enemies, out of the pure
indignation of his soul and conscience to his country,
engaged himself with the royalists. The Sidney Go-
dolphin of Queen Anne was of less delicate mould. He
began his career as a page in the household of Charles II,
and at the same time, oddly enough, he had, like Harley,
entered the House of Commons as member for one of
the twenty-two parliamentary constituencies which Corn-

1 See p. 45 of Mr. W. Prideaux Courtney's Parliamentary Repre-
sentation of Cornwall to 1832 — an excellent piece of work, of
especial interest in connection with Walpole, who owed so much
to Cornish boroughs.

10 WALPOLE chap.

wall at that time possessed. From 1626 to 1766 a
Godolphin had been returned thirty -seven times for
Helston, and with a very brief interruption the minister
held the seat until his elevation to the peerage. Charles
used to say of him, that Sidney Godolphin was never
in the way and never out of the way. He guarded the
public treasury with the jealous watchfulness of a miser
over his hoard. He resisted a job, even when it was
backed by the mighty influence of Marlborough, and
when he sanctioned a warrant for the supply of a new
silver trumpet for a troop of the Guards, he minuted
it with an inquiry what had become of the old one.
All governments were equally indifferent to him, and he
took care not to make himself impossible either at
Kensington or St. Germains. Before the death of
Charles II, Godolphin had risen to be a peer and
First Commissioner of the Treasury. James II made
him chamberlain to the queen, and he was often
bitterly reproached in after years for the exuberant
complacency with which he had attended his royal
mistress to her papistical devotions. After William
of Orange had landed, and James was about to leave
Whitehall, Godolphin was one of the five Lords whom
he left to represent him in his absence. This did not
prevent him from immediately acquiring in turn the
confidence of King William, or from resuming his post
at the Treasury, the one Tory in a Whig administration.
Then for a while he withdrew, but before long he was
again First Commissioner, and while he was thus the
trusted servant of William, he secretly took pains to send
messages to James at St. Germains that no kindness
from the usurper could ever make him forget his duty


to his lawful king. This was the shiftiness of the times.
It did not prevent Pope from praising Patritio's hand
unstained, his uncorrupted heart, his comprehensive head
(Moral Essays, i. 80). By a strange paradox, the most
solid and precise financier of his day was one of the most
inveterate gamesters : " His pride was in piquet, New-
market fame, and judgment at a bet." It delivered him,
he said, from the necessity of talking. Godolphin was
at least free from the vice of personal rapacity. His
probity at the Exchequer' was absolute^ unstained.
When he died, after more than five and twenty years
of nearly continuous public employment, he left no
larger sum behind him than twelve thousand pounds.
It has been justly contended on his behalf that a
financier who could year after year raise the vast
sums that were required for Marlborough's great cam-
paigns without public disturbance, and without serious
detriment to the national credit, must have been a
minister of extraordinary skill, capacity, and resource.

Besides this strong testimony to his abilit}^Godolphin's
ministry will always be remembered in connection with
one domestic event of the highest degree of political
importance : I mean the incorporating union between
England and Scotland. This was a transaction that
abounded in delicate issues. Many sober judges
despaired of ever seeing the consummation of so
momentous a treatj^. Tho?e who were most sanguine
expected the negotiations to be protracted for several
years. With an expedition that was of happy omen,
the matter was begun and closed within the compass of
a single year. Brilliant as was the lustre, and real as
was the importance of Blenheim and Bamillies, Ouden-

12 WALPOLE obap.

arde and Malplaquet, those glorious days were infinitely
less fruitful in fortunate consequences to the realm than
the 6th day of March 1707, when Queen Anne went down
to the House of Lords and gave the royal assent to the
Act approving and ratifying the Treaty of Union be-
tween the two kingdoms henceforth to be known as
Great Britain.

The immediate consequences of the measure were not
favourable to the ministers who carried it. The Union
involved the admission of Presbyterians to Parliament,
and this strengthened the cry, which was so loud during
the first fifteen years of the century, that the Church was
in danger. The exclusion of Harley, St. John, and the
Tories from government had sent the Church over into
violent opposition. The disappearance of the measure
against Occasional Conformity heightened the alarm, and
an Act (1709) for nationalising all foreign Protestants who
had settled in England, was full of offence to the in-
flamed partisans of a national Establishment. At the
general election of 1705 the clergy and the universities
had spread over the country tragic apprehensions of the
danger of the Church, but Marlborough's victories were
an irresistible argument on the other side. In the
general election three years later, — for the reader will
not forget that this was the time of triennial Parlia-
ments, — the drum ecclesiastic had again been beaten, with
no better result to the High Churchmen in Parliament.
A reaction was near at hand, and prudent observers like
Walpole may well have foreseen it.

The tide was undoubtedly setting against the Whigs.
But in politics the occasion is everything. The general
current of the time may be for a government or against


a government, yet the breaking of the wave often
depends upon some small incidental thing done or left
undone. Godolphin gratuitously furnished his antagon-
ists with the occasion that was wanted, and the great
crisis came rapidly to a head in a wholly unexpected*
form. In disturbed times an important feature is the
calendar of political fasts and festivals. The com-
memoration of anniversaries has always marked danger-
ous moments in the last hundred years of French
government, and on a humbler scale in the annals of
Ireland since the Union. The political saints'-days in
England in the reign of Anne were the 30th January,
the date of the martyrdom of the blessed King Charles
I j the 29th May, the birthday and the day of the
restoration of his blessed son, King Charles II ; and the
5th November, the day on which, in 1605, the king and
the three estates of the realm had their wonderful
escape from the most traitorous and bloodily-intended
massacre by gunpowder, — and the day on which also,
by a striking coincidence, William of Orange had
landed at Torbay eighty- three years later for the
deliverance of our Church and nation. Sermons on
these famous dates then, and for many years to come,
gave an opportunity too good to be lost for talking
violent politics. A sermon at St. Paul's was like a
modern demonstration in Hyde Park, and the great con-
troversy between Hoadley, of St. Peter-le-Poer, and
Blackhall, of St. Mary Aldermary, excited the same kind
of interest as Newport programmes and Midlothian
manifestoes. Dr. Price's discourse at the dissenting
meeting-house in the Old Jewry on 4th November 1789
laid the train for Burke's Reflections on the French Revolt*


Hon. It was Dr. Sacheverell's sermon on November 5th,
1709, that provoked the most violent Tory explosion of
the century. Sacheverell was a clergyman of respectable
family, a fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, and
"preacher of St. Saviour's Church, Southwark He pos-
sessed no marked ability, but he had some of the gifts of
the pulpit, and was a popular city preacher on the Tory
side. Addison had been his contemporary and friend at
Magdalen, and is supposed to have dedicated one of hia
early poems to him. In a sermon in 1702 he had
boasted that he hung out " a bloody flag and banner of
defiance " against all dissenters, and the pleasant phrase
gave lively satisfaction to his friends. His historic
discourse at St. Paul's on November 5th, 1709, is
vehement, heated, and uncompromising, and it contains
much strong language about dissenters, and the false
brethren who connived at dissent ; but it hardly deserves
to be dismissed as absurd and scurrilous. It was a bold
declaration, without qualification or exception, of the
general principle of passive obedience and non-resistance
to government, with practical inuendoes that pointed un-
mistakably against the whole revolution settlement. The
Lord Mayor, who was among the congregation at St.
Paul's, ami who was a Tory member of Parliament,
thanked the preacher for his sermon, took him home to
dinner, urged him to publish it, and accepted the dedi-
cation. Forty thousand copies found buyers.

The government felt that this was an attack on the
existing order that could not be passed over. Marl-
borough, Somers, and Walpolo inclined to the view that
it might be left to an ordinary prosecution at law.
Godolphin, however, stung by a nickname cast upon


him by Sacheverell, supported the violent and impetuous

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Online LibraryJohn MorleyWalpole → online text (page 1 of 18)