Robert Walpole

On this date in 1676, British statesman Robert Walpole was born in Houghton, Norfolk, one of 19 children. Educated at Eton and Cambridge, he represented King’s Lynn in the House of Commons for most of his adult life. He headed the War Office as secretary in 1708 and was named treasurer of the Royal Navy in 1710. That year he was imprisoned by the Tories for leading the opposition Whigs 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 is considered by some as one of England’s greatest statesmen. Walpole has often been called England’s “first prime minister.” He is also its longest serving. Although he publicly identified with the Church of England for political expediency, biographer A.C. Ewald called him a “sceptic as regards religion” who “carefully avoided ever coming into collision with the clergy.”

When Queen Caroline, a deist, lay dying, it was advised that the archbishop of Canterbury 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.

Freedom From Religion Foundation