Robert Walpole

On this date in 1676, (Sir) Robert Walpole was born in England. Educated at Eton and Cambridge, he represented King's Lynn in the House of Commons for most of his adult life. He was named Secretary at War in 1708 and Treasurer of the Navy in 1710. That year he was imprisoned by the Tories for leading the Whigs, the opposition party, and was barred from office until 1715. He then became First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer. Walpole was the only public official to openly oppose the Spanish War, and was considered one of England's greatest statesmen, according to freethought historian Joseph McCabe. Walpole has often been called England's "first Prime Minister." Although he publicly identified with the Church of England for political expediency, biographer A.C. Ewald called him a "sceptic as regards religion" (Sir R. Walpole, 1878). When Queen Caroline, also a deist, lay dying, it was advised that the Archbishop be summoned. Walpole, who was in attendance, remarked: "Let this farce be played; the Archbishop will act it very well . . . . It will do the Queen no hurt, no more than any good" (Lord Hervey's Memoirs). D. 1745.

“[Walpole was] a man whose life reflected a genial paganism, who regarded all creeds with the impartiality of indifference, and who looked upon religion as a local accident and as the result of hereditary influences.”

—Biographer A.C. Eward, Sir R. Walpole (1878)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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