Walpole was a British Whig statesman, considered to the first holder of the office of prime minister, who dominated politics in the reigns of George I and George II.
Robert Walpole was born on 26 August 1676 in Houghton, Norfolk into a wealthy landowning family. He was educated at Cambridge University and in 1701 became member of parliament for Castle Rising in Norfolk, where his father had previously been MP. He rose rapidly, becoming a member of the Admiralty Board, secretary of war and, in 1709, treasurer of the navy. His rise was temporarily halted by the Tories, who came into power in 1710. In 1712, they accused him of corruption and he was briefly imprisoned.
In 1714, George I came to the throne. George distrusted the Tories, whom he believed opposed his right to the throne, and as a result the Whigs were in the ascendant again. In 1715, Walpole became first lord of the treasury and chancellor of the exchequer. He resigned in 1717 after disagreements within his party but in 1720 was made paymaster general. He avoided the scandal that surrounded the collapse of the South Sea Company and was subsequently appointed first lord of the treasury and chancellor of the exchequer again. In this position he effectively became prime minister, although the term was not used at the time. He remained in this position of dominance until 1742.
Walpole consolidated Whig power through a system of royal patronage. He pursued a policy of peace abroad, low taxation and reducing the national debt and he knew the importance of keeping parliament on his side. He was also accused of bribery and corruption in his efforts to retain power. After George I's death in 1727, Walpole was briefly superseded by George II's favourite, Spencer Compton, but succeeded in returning himself to favour, partly through the support of the new queen, Caroline. In 1735, George II made Walpole a gift of 10 Downing Street, now the permanent London residence of the British prime minister.
Opposition eventually began to develop within Walpole's own party, and a trade dispute with Spain was used by his critics to force him to declare war in 1739, known as the War of Jenkins' Ear. A poor general election result in 1741 made his position more unstable. A number of Whig politicians opposed Walpole's conduct of the war and he resigned in February 1742. He was created earl of Orford in the same year and continued to maintain influence over George II. Walpole died on 18 March 1745.