Sir Robert Walpole by BW Hill - review by Patrick Taylor-Martin

Patrick Taylor-Martin

A Good Bottle Man

Sir Robert Walpole


Hamish Hamilton 226pp £17.95

The substantial figure of Sir Robert Walpole in Hans Hysing's famous portrait looks out from the cover of this new biography. His barrel chest is adorned with the badge and ribbon of a Knight of the Garter and he wears the black and gold robes of the First Lord of the Treasury. The face framed by the full-bottomed wig is plump and fresh-complexioned, the expression confident, intelligent and good-humoured. Although Walpole was the most powerful and successful politician of his age, he never lost the down-to-earth manners of a simple country squire. It was his ability to command the respect and affection of his opponents as well as to manage the business of government, in an age when exceptional skills were required to balance and placate competing interests, which kept him in the highest office for a remarkable twenty-one years.

Although he is sometimes called the first Prime Minister, as Dr BW Hill makes clear in his scholarly biography, Walpole would never have called himself by such a title. Indeed, in Walpole's time, the term 'prime minister' was a gibe and the various attempts to bring him down centred on accusations

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