Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford, KG, KB, PC (26 August 1676 – 18 March 1745), known between 1725 and 1742 as Sir Robert Walpole, was a British statesman who is generally regarded as the de facto first Prime Minister of Great Britain.
Although the exact dates of Walpole’s dominance, dubbed the “Robinocracy”, are a matter of scholarly debate, the period 1721–1742 is often used. He dominated the Walpole–Townshend ministry and the subsequent Walpole ministry and holds the record as the longest-serving British prime minister in history. Speck says that Walpole’s uninterrupted run of 20 years as Prime Minister “is rightly regarded as one of the major feats of British political history… Explanations are usually offered in terms of his expert handling of the political system after 1720, [and] his unique blending of the surviving powers of the crown with the increasing influence of the Commons”.
He was a Whig from the gentry class who was first elected to Parliament in 1701 and held many senior positions. He was a country squire and looked to country gentlemen for his political base. Historian Frank O’Gorman says his leadership in Parliament reflected his “reasonable and persuasive oratory, his ability to move both the emotions as well as the minds of men, and, above all, his extraordinary self-confidence”. Hoppit says Walpole’s policies sought moderation: he worked for peace, lower taxes and growing exports and allowed a little more tolerance for Protestant Dissenters. He avoided controversy and high-intensity disputes as his middle way attracted moderates from both the Whig and Tory camps.
H. P. Dickinson sums up his historical role by saying that “Walpole was one of the greatest politicians in British history. He played a significant role in sustaining the Whig party, safeguarding the Hanoverian succession, and defending the principles of the Glorious Revolution (1688) […] He established a stable political supremacy for the Whig party and taught succeeding ministers how best to establish an effective working relationship between Crown and Parliament”.
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