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SIR ROBERT WALPOLE,
EARL OF ORFORD.*
THIS statesman, whose transactions make a conspicuous figure in the annals of the first two Georges, was born at Houghton in August 1676, of a family which had flourished in the county of Norfolk from the time of the Conquest.
After being initiated in the rudiments of learning in his native county, he was placed on the foundation at Eton, and thence in 1696 elected to King's College, Cambridge.f Here he first became known by
* AUTHORITIES. Walpole's Royal and Noble Authors, the New General Biographical Dictionary, and Coxe's Life of Sir Robert Walpole.
+ A collection being made, after he was Prime Minister, for the New Building at this place, he subscribed 500l.; saying, “I deserve no thanks, I have only paid for my board.". Neither VOL. VI.
his zeal for Whig principles. He was, originally, designed for the church; but the death of two elder brothers * having rendered him heir to the familyestate, he was in 1698 taken from college, and initiated into all the jovial conviviality of rustic life. In 1700, he married the daughter of Sir John Shorter, Lord Mayor of London, with whose dowry he was enabled to clear the patrimonial property of 2,0001. per ann. now become his own.
In the same year, he was elected Representative of Castle Rising, in which capacity he distinguished himself by his political activity. In Queen Anne's first parliament of 1702, he was returned for Lynn in Norfolk. This borough he continued to represent, till he took his seat in the House of Lords. By accustoming himself to speak frequently upon private occasions, he gradually acquired confidence and fluency, and without any extraordinary splendor of eloquence at his outset, excited in his hearers the hope or the fear of his subsequent ascendency.f In 1705, under the pa
did he forget his early intimacies. Of his more particular col. lege-friends, Hare and Bland, he promoted the first to the see of Chichester and the latter to the deanery of Durham. And after-life witnessed in himself and the brilliant St. John the continuation of that rivalry, which began within the walls of Eton.
* He had, originally, eighteen brothers and sisters ; of whom, however, two were still-born.
+ His first public subject was the celebrated case of the Aylesbury election in 1704, Ashby versus White; when the Tories, by a motion of privilege, sought to sanction an injustice, which had been committed by the House. In this debate, conducted with uncommon vehemence and ability, upon the motion of the Solicitor General Sir Simon Harcourt, . That the sole right of examining and determining all matters relating to the election of members to serve in parliament, except in such cases as were otherwise provided for by an Act of Parliament, is in the House of Commons, and that neither the qualification of the electors
tronage of Lord Treasurer Godolphin, who strongly recommended him to the notice of the Duke of Marlborough, he was nominated one of the Council to Prince George of Denmark, Lord High Admiral of England, in the affairs of the admiralty. In this situation, he exerted himself to correct abuses with so much judgement, that his advice was generally fol. lowed. In 1708, he was appointed to succeed St. John (afterward Lord Bolingbroke) as Secretary at War; and, in 1709, he was made for a short time Treasurer of the Navy.
Upon Dr. Sacheverell's impeachment,* he was
por the right of the persons elected is elsewhere cognisable or determinable,' the principal Tory speakers were Harley, St John, and Sir Edward Seymour; opposed, on the part of the Whigs, by Sir Joseph Jekyll, Cowper, King, the Marquis of Hartington, and Walpole. Ashby had successfully prosecuted White, Constable of Aylesbury, for having refused to admit his vote. The verdict, however, was set aside by the Court of Queen's Bench. This decision was again reversed, upon appeal to the House of Lords. It's final determination was suspended by the perseverance of the latter assembly, who declared that
a Writ of Error was a matter of right, not of grace,' by the steady resolution of the Queen not to obstruct the course of judicial proceedings, and by the manly opposition of Lord Chief Justice Holt. The quarrel between the two Houses, which followed in consequence of these contrary pretensions, was terminated by a dissolution. From this time, the Commons assumed the prerogative of deciding upon all cases connected with elections into it's own body: and disputed returns, seldom regulated by the merits of the case, became questions for the most part of personal or political expediency; till Mr. Grenville's celebrated bill referred them to a Committee, chosen by ballot and acting upon oath.
* In a pamphlet, entitled • Four Letters to a Friend in North. Britain, &c.,' which he published upon this trial, he with strong reasoning affixed the stigma of Jacobitism on the abettors of that turbulent priest.
chosen one of the Managers of the House of Commons to make good the articles against him; and, in common with his collegues, received the thanks of his employers.*
On the change of the ministry † in August 1710, having declined the flattering offers of Harley, who anxiously endeavoured to detach him from his party, he was removed from all his posts for the remainder of the Queen's reign. But mere dismission did not satisfy his enemies.
In consequence of his opposition to the Tory administration, and his spirited defence of Lord Godolphin, he was charged, by the Commissioners appointed to examine the Public Accounts, with having received while Secretary at War two notes, of five hundred guineas and five hundred pounds respectively, as douceurs for granting two advantageous contracts; I voted guilty of a high breach of trust and notorious
* The result of this trial, says Coxe, was far different from what Godolphin and his friends had expected. By a sentence of great lenity the obnoxious Sermon was only to be burnt, and it's author suspended from preaching for three years; the unpopularity of the ministers was highly increased; the partiality of the Queen to their opponents ostentatiously manifested; the populace dangerously inflamed; and the movers of the ill-judged inquiry precipitated from their offices, which they had hoped by it's issue to confirm and to secure.
+ This disgraceful and disastrous measure (occasioned by the overbearing temper of a Mistress of the Robes, and effected by the petty intrigues of a Lady of the Bedchamber!) which saved Louis XIV. from being compelled to make his grandson Philip renounce the crown of Spain, and retarded instead of accelerating the peace, by encouraging that Monarch to break up the congress at Gertruydenberg, threw the Queen of England en tirely into his power.
# To supply forage for the cavalry quartered in Scotland.