Robert Walpole is a very important figure in British History as being the first Prime Minister (although that term was not used then), maintaining the longest serving administration in history, as well as playing a strong role in the ascension and dominance of the Whig Party. As a member of the Whig party, his political career rose quickly once his administrative skills were noticed. He started to gain power, serving once as the Secretary of War as well as the Treasurer of the Navy. During his early tenure, he was a victim of political slander, after refusing to join the dominant Tory party he was eventually impeached and then jailed. The public however, took pity on his case and viewed him as a victim of an unjust trial. This really helped later on his re-entry into politics.
Robert Walpole was involved in the infamous South Sea Bubble having returned to the cabinet shortly before. The South Sea Company offered an IOU for a massive amount of money to the government in exchange for control of trade in the South Seas. The system collapsed as a result of the artificial value of the South Sea Company. Walpole however, was one of the lucky few saved from losing his wealth by selling his shares before the market crash. Walpole was not a major player in the promotion of letting the Bank of England assume the debt, so he avoided accusations of corruption. However, he played a strong role in protecting members of the Cabinets from being indited and punished with his political influence. When he finally was appointed Prime Minister, he then had a major credibility issue to deal with in the resulting wake of the South Sea Bubble.
Walpole’s success was most apparent in making the Whigs the dominant political party while relegating the Tories to insignificance, out of office for almost 40 years during his involvement in politics. Walpole was a passionate orator, and more importantly, masterful at using his personality to gain favor. He seemed to have a natural inclination in the area of politics, quite adept at gaining power and then keeping it. He got rid of his closest rivals by getting them to resign (Townshend and Carteret). He also was known for using the favor of the king rather than the House of Commons to help with his ascension. Through these methods, he was able to be the most influential politician for twenty years. When King George II took the throne, it was well known that Walpole was not in the King’s favor, however, he used his favor with Queen Caroline, and got her to convince the king to let him stay. Over the years his popularity began to decline, becoming most apparent in his being forced to declare war with Spain, known as “The War Against Jenkin’s- Ear” as well as a few other missteps such as tobacco taxation. This led to his eventual forced resignation due to mounting political pressure and personal hardships. Staying true to his name however, he continued as an important figure in politics being named the Earl of Orford that same year, and remained so for the rest of his life.
Robert Walpole, 1st earl of Orford”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2012. Web. 30 Oct. 2012
Robert Walpole.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 29 Oct. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Walpole>
“Britannia Government: Prime Ministers.” Britannia Government: Prime Ministers. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Oct. 2012. <http://www.britannia.com/gov/primes/prime1.html>