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Sir Robert Walpole

Walpole was educated at Eton College and Cambridge University and entered Parliament in 1701 at the age of 25. Within 10 years he was secretary at war and treasurer of the navy. When the Tories came to power in 1710 he lost his office. He became leader of the opposition in the Commons and a Tory target. He was convicted of graft in 1712 and sent to prison by the Tories, but was back in Parliament in 1713. His star began to rise again in 1714 after George I became king.

Before becoming 'prime minister' in 1721, Walpole was first lord of the treasury in the government dominated by James Stanhope and Charles Spencer, 3rd Earl of Sunderland. While at that post, he introduced the first sinking fund (1717), but resigned his office shortly thereafter. He returned in 1720 as paymaster general and was first lord of the treasury for a second time in 1721 prior to becoming prime minister.

His position as prime or first minister was solidified by his response to a Jacobite conspiracy uncovered in April, 1722, known as the Atterbury plot after Francis Atterbury, the tory bishop of Rochester. The conspiracy was to have taken control of the government, but was aborted. One conspirator was executed and Atterbury was exiled for life. Walpole used the episode to advantage, branding all Tories as Jacobites. The resulting public sentiment not only gave Walpole a secure hold on his new post, but effectively kept the Tories out of office until 1770.

From the Atterbury plot onwards, Walpole was the single most influential politician in England for a period of 20 years. He played the game of influence and power brokering very well. To protect his position he engineered the resignations of his rivals, Carteret (1724) and Townshend (1730). After George II took the throne, Walpole survived an attempt by the king to replace him with Spencer Compton, Earl of Wilmington, by securing the backing of Queen Caroline.

Remembered for little in the way of legislation or leadership, Walpole was the first prime minister to occupy the official residence at 10 Downing Street. He took up residence there in 1735 and its proximity to Parliament, a mere five minute walk, surely contributed to Walpole's longevity. It was said that while he was an accomplished debater he dominated the Commons by his ever-presence, most other members of Parliament making the trip to London infrequently.

Walpole concentrated on building influence in the House of Commons and held sway by force of personality, leaving the administration of foreign affairs to others. His support of the status quo and propensity for doing little, led to criticism from William Pitt. His attempt to raise the excise tax on wine and tobacco, to shift the tax burden from landowners to merchants, failed due to widespread opposition. After being forced into war with Spain in 1739, his hold on the Commons waned. He resigned in 1742 due to failing health. He was named 1st Earl of Orford, a newly created title, and served in the House of Lords till his death in 1745.


1721 - Peter the Great is heralded as Emperor of All the Russias. Chancellor of the Exchequer, John Aislabie, is sent to the Tower of London for fraud. Regular postal service is established between London and New England. Rifles are brought to American by immigrants from Switzerland.
1722 - Parliament disallows journalists from reporting on their debates. Defoe publishes "Moll Flanders."
1723 - England and Prussia sign the Treaty of Charlottenburg. The duty on tea is reduced by Walpole.
1724 - Philip V abdicates the Spanish throne. Luis I succeeds him, dies and Philip is king once more. Defoe publishes "Tour through Great Britain". Catherine, wife of Czar Peter the Great, is crowned Czarina. Immanuel Kant is born in Germany. Gin is the popular drink in Great Britain.
1725 - Casanova, the Italian adventurer, is born. Peter the Great dies, Czarina Catherine succeeds him. The Prague Opera House is founded. Homer's "The Odyssey," is translated by Alexander Pope.
1726 - The first circulating library is established in Edinburgh. Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels" is published.
1727 - Catherine of Russia, the Czarina dies. Reign of George II begins. The Spanish lay seige to Gibraltar in their war with England. Sir Issac Newton dies.
1728 - Spanish abandon their 14 month siege of Gibraltar. Irish Catholics are deprived of the vote. Parliament meets.
1729 - Treaty of Seville signed between France, Spain and England. Charles Wesley founds the Oxford Methodists. Emperor Yung Cheng, prohibits the smoking of opium in China. Benjamin and James Franklin publish "The Pennsylvania Gazette."
1730 - The Serpentine, Hyde Park, London, is laid out.
1731 - 10 Downing Street, the residence of British prime ministers, is built in Westminster.
1732 - George Washington is born. A London theatre company performs in New York for the first time.
1733 - France declares war against Emperor Charles VI. Savannah, Georgia is founded by James Oglethorpe. American trade with the French West Indies is prohibited by the Molasses Act. Santa Cruz in the West Indies comes under Danish control.
1734 - Death of Rob Roy. War between Turkey and Prussia breaks out. George Sale finishes his translation of the Koran into English.
1735 - Parliament meets. William Pitt is elected an MP for Old Sarum. John Adams, 2nd U.S. president and Paul Revere, American patriot, are born.
1736 - The Porteous riots in Edinburgh. Witchcraft abolished as a crime. Patrick Henry, American Revolutionary leader, is born.
1737 - Construction begins on the Radcliffe Camera at Oxford. Richmond, Virginia is founded by William Byrd.
1738 - British troops are sent to Georgia in response to a border dispute with Spain. Joseph Guillotin, inventor of the guillotine is born in France.
1739 - Persians sack Delhi lead by Nadir Shah.
1740 - Famine in Ireland. The War of the Austrian Succession begins. Arne composes "Rule Britannia". Frederick the Great becomes king of Prussia. University of Pennsylvania is founded.
1741 - Parliament meets. Victor Behring dies of hunger and exposure after discovering Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. Handel composes "The Messiah" in only 18 days. Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" is translated into German.

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