Friday, 27 September 2013

Cromwell versus Walpole Part 2: Lessons from Aesop

So, last time we left off with a brief look at why Cromwell's office of Lord Protector didn't survive his death; his changes were far too sweeping, and made in far too short an amount of time. So, now it's time to look at Walpole.

Also shut up I knew this was meant to be a quick series but University happened.


In contrast to Cromwell's lightning strike approach to constitutional change, Walpole's position of Prime Minister (in all but name) began to develop before he was even born. Under Charles II, who was restored with little limitations to his power to return the country to a somewhat constitutionally stable state,  Lord Councillor Clarendon became a prominent, but was deposed of in 1667 and replaced by a collection of Charles' influential favourites, known as the Cabal. Graham Goodlad writes that 'the name suggests a misleading sense of unity'[1] which I feel was precisely the restored monarch's aim; he was still very much in control of his ministry, never allowing more than one or two key ministers to know of a new or different line of policy, so there was little opportunity for them to oppose it. Despite this, the group, who appeared worryingly Catholic, proved to be far more unpopular than Clarendon, with Parliament fearing that they were too corrupt and powerful to be trusted with representing their views on policy. Discontent for the Cabal grew organised, as the Parliament created a country opposition who would represent their opinions. The fall of the Cabal in 1673 (mainly due to the internal conflict between Buckingham and Arlington) seemed to prove to the Parliament that organised opposition could be successful and wouldn't lead to impeachment, which in turn led to many members of parliament allying themselves with the pro-monarchy Tories or the more radical Whigs, where they would find a power base through which any opposition or lines of policy could be channelled in an organised manner.
            The theme of two party politics and influential favoured ministers continued under the rule of William and Mary. William initially attempted to balance the influence of both the newly formed parties, and their importance in running the country, ensuring that he was still a key component in the running of government in a similar manner to Charles II. However by 1690 he fully supported the Whigs and appointed a group of young Whigs- the Junto- to be his leading ministers. They compensated for the his lack of knowledge concerning the English political system and his vendetta against the French Louis XIV which left England with the more passive Mary to rule in his absence, and, following her death in 1694, his ministers. An example of his reliance on ministers during his absence came shortly after the quelling of the Irish Jacobite rebellion in October 1691; it was his ministers who managed Irelands return to peace, instead of overseeing it himself or delegating the duty to his wife.
            But the increase in ministerial influence grew most quickly under Queen Anne, whose rule was dominated by political parties and divided by most historians not by her life, but by the rule of her ministers; 1702-1710 was the period of the Marlborough-Godolphin ministry, and 1710-1714 was the time of Harley's Tory ministry. Marlborough was a military genius, negotiating expensive battles in the War of Spanish Succession that disrupted (as of 1707's Act of Union) Britain's European trade. Godolphin was promoted from his position in William's ministry to Lord High Treasurer. Evidence of the two party system's influence can be found in the fact that neither Marlborough or Godolphin were favourites of Queen Anne, but rather had their party behind them. Anne may have removed their influence eventually, but it could be argued that this was down to Godolphin moving towards the Whigs and away from the Tories, who eventually orchestrated his downfall through the manipulation of clergyman Secheverell's impeachment. The Tories appealed not to the Queen to dismiss the Whig dominated ministry, but instead for the politically astute public to rally for him against the Whigs in February 1710. However, Richard Wilkinson dismisses this argument in his History Review Article 'Queen Anne'[2], stating that Anne didn't bow to ministerial power and instead was far more in control than most historians have given her credit for. I personally largely disagree with Wilkinson's argument. If Anne was in complete control then why did it take so long for Anne to dismiss Marlborough, whose position depended not just on Parliamentary support but also his wife Sarah's influence; the Queen's relationship with the couple deteriorated due to political differences as early as 1704.
            It was under George I that Walpole gained what was, in effect, the office of Prime Minister. Described as having an 'admirable degree of dedication, perseverance, and ambition to become known, in an age of corrupt and venal politicians, as a particularly corrupt and venal politician' [3]-An accurate description considering that politics at this point was based on personal gain, without consideration for contemporaries- it is suggested that Walpole used the now solidly established two-party system and manipulated George I's lack of knowledge of both English, and British politics, to become leading minister. George was only interested in what aid Britain could provide for the Electorate of Hanover to make it the dominant Protestant power in mainland Europe. Therefore, when it came to domestic issues that would affect the nation, but not the King's interests, Walpole was only too willing to step in and save Britain from ruin. One example of this follows the South Sea Bubble crisis in 1721, which led to the ruination of thousands of investors in the company; Walpole directed Parliament to restore public confidence so that it would retain investment and avoid the problems of the investors trickling down to affect the everyday man of England through inflation and redundancies. 


[1] Goodlad, G. Charles II and the Politics of Survival. Published in History Review 2010 [online]
[Accessed 27 February 2013]

[2] Wilkinson, R. Queen Anne. Published in History Review 1998 [online]
[Accessed 26 February 2013]
[3] Tumath, A. Today in History from A New History Podcast, 26th August: Robert Walpole
[Accessed 2nd February 2013 via iTunes podcasts]


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[Accessed 1st February 2013 via iTunes podcasts]

 Tumath, A. Today in History from A New History Podcast, 26th August: Robert Walpole

 [Accessed 2nd February 2013 via iTunes podcasts]

Tumath, A. Today in History from A New History Podcast, 30th January: The Execution of Charles I

[Accessed 1st February 2013 via iTunes podcasts]

Wilkinson, R. Queen Anne. Published in History Review 1998 [online]

[Accessed 26 February 2013]

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[Accessed 29th December 2012]

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