Walpole, Robert, 1st earl of Orford biographical name
(born Aug. 26, 1676, Houghton Hall, Norfolk, Eng.died March 18, 1745, London) English statesman generally regarded as the first British prime minister. Elected to the House of Commons in 1701, he became an active Whig parliamentarian. He served as secretary at war (1708–10) and as treasurer of the navy (1710–11). He was also a member of the Kit-Cat Club. The Tory government sought to remove his influence by impeaching him for corruption, and he was expelled from the Commons in 1712. With the accession of George I (1714), he regained his position and rose rapidly to become first lord of the treasury and chancellor of the Exchequer (1715–17, 1721–42). Although associated with the South Sea Bubble scandal, he restored confidence in the government and maintained the Whigs in office. He cultivated the support of George II from 1727 and used royal patronage for political ends, skillfully managing the House of Commons to win support for his trade and fiscal programs, including the sinking fund. With his consolidation of power, he effectively became the first British prime minister. He avoided foreign entanglements and kept England neutral until 1739 but was forced into the War of Jenkins' Ear. He resigned under pressure in 1742 and was created an earl. His acclaimed art collection, sold to Russia in 1779, became part of the Hermitage Museum collection.
Robert Walpole, detail of an oil painting by Sir Godfrey Kneller, c. 1710–15; in the National
—Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, London
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