środa, 7 grudnia 2011

My book about Rober Walpole

Piotr Napierała, Sir Robert Walpole (1676-1745) – twórca brytyjskiej potęgi, Wydawnictwo Naukowe UAM, Poznań 2008. ISBN 978-83-232189-8-2

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The Walpole family originated from Norfolk. It gained certain importance already in the 13th century. Robert Walpole’s grandfather Edward Walpole played some role in the restoration of the English Monarchy in 1660. Robert Walpole senior (b. 1650) was interested in science and agriculture. He arranged his son’s first marriage (to Catherine Shorter) and it was after him that Robert Walpole junior (1676-1745) inherited the estate and the constituency. Had Walpole’s brothers not died early, he would not have made any career in politics.

The future prime minister Robert Walpole entered parliament in 1701. By 1704 he had already been well known among other Whig politicians. In 1705 he become member of the Council of Admirality, where he was dealing with public finances. In those days he was called often “the laughing admiral ” because of his jovial disposition. In 1710 the Tories seized power. Among them was the Walpole’s greatest enemy Henry St. John, viscount Bolingbroke. During the investigation of the Whig financial policy Walpole was to play a role of a scapegoat, and was subsequently imprisoned for a couple of months.

The new king George I of Britain has chosen in 1714 only Whigs as members of the new cabinet. The Whigs used this situation to revenge for the persecutions of 1710-1714. At tat time Walpole was not given the position of “prime minister” yet , because the group of “old Whigs” (James Stanhope, Charles Spencer, 3rd Earl of Sunderland) still controlled all situation, and had the King’s ear. In 1717 Walpole and his brother-in-law Charles Townshend were forced to join the opposition, and it was only the economical crisis (known as “South Sea Bubble”) which caused by financial speculation in 1720/1721 and discredited the government, enabled them to take charge and rule the country.

For over twenty years afterwards (1721-1742) Walpole ruled Britain as it’s first prime minister in the modern sense of the word. Many of his individual ways of working and acting become a pattern, subsequently reproduced by his successors. It would suffice to mention the residence at Downing Street 10 given to him by king George II, which he refused to accept as a private man, but accepted as minister of the government.

Walpole offered Britain stability and peace, both at home and abroad. Most of the books (by John Morley, Henry Dickinson, John Harold Plumb, Jeremy Black and many other not necessarily British authors) have so far focused, either on the moral problem of the usage of corruption when he was in the capacity of prime minister, or his dealings with the opposition, the press and his revolutionary economical policy (excise scheme, sinking fund). Only few authors decided to take a closer look on his foreign policy. Many doubted Walpole’s ability to conduct international affaires and suggested that it was Townshend who directed it all or at least had decisive vote. Only F.S. Oliver in the early 30’s and Jeremy Black in the 80’s and 90’s assumed that it was always Walpole who made crucial decisions.

My contribution to this research is a book entitled “Sir Robert Walpole (1676-1745) Twórca Brytyjskiej Potęgi” (The Architect of British Power) in which I have attempted to find a satisfying balance between Walpole’s home policy and diplomacy. My work is the first Polish attempt of a biography of a person who is one of the most important figures in the history of Great Britain, but still not so much recognized outside Britain.

Piotr Napierała

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