Robert Walpole Resigns
The 11th of February 1742 AD
Though in his era the title did not exist, Robert Walpole is thought of as our first Prime Minister, heading governments in the reigns of the lazy George I and (somewhat surprisingly given their early antipathy) his son George II , effectively creating the concept of cabinet government in Britain.
Robert Walpole was a consummate if far from model politician, whose career as de facto Prime Minister remains the longest in our history, running from 1721 to his eventual resignation in 1742 (with a brief gap). As with all too many who serve as premier the ageing Walpole tried to cling to power too long: after the 1741 election his majority was slender, and he lost several votes. He failed to avoid The War of Jenkins’ Ear which he opposed, his downfall coming partly because of the great defeat suffered at the Battle of Cartagena de Indias in what is now Colombia in that conflict. When he lost what had been agreed as a vote of confidence (concerned with a disputed election result for Chippenham ) he resigned on February 11 1742, having five days previously been elevated to the Lords.
His career and end echo certain modern figures: while his son Horace Walpole was at university he was given several well-paid government sinecures; and when he lost power he faced an enquiry (in his case into missing secret service monies). But it is unlikely that any modern British politician will be found to equal Walpole’s personal corruption, though his response to theatrical criticism of Parliamentary abuses by the likes of Henry Fielding would have those found out recently green with envy: his 1737 Licensing Act silenced his critics at a censor’s pen-stroke.
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