Britain in the Age of Walpole by Jeremy Black

By Jeremy Black

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The electoral system was undoubtedly influenced by patronage and corruption, but the majority of voters were not simply bought and sold nor were they entirely submissive to the landed elite. Constituencies under the absolute control of a patron remained rare. Many quite small constituencies still needed constant and careful management by those who wished to preserve their electoral interests. In the large, more open constituencies elections were often contested and the voters were never under the complete control of the propertied elite.

Walpole had drawn the right conclusions from the failures of his predecessors. In the reign of Queen Anne, Robert Harley had gone to the Lords as Earl of Oxford, while Henry Stjohn had become Viscount Bolingbroke. There had been good reasons for this since the Tory government's position there had been precarious, even after the creation of the dozen peers in 1712. They had left the management of the Commons, however, to second-ranking politicians such as William Bromley, Arthur Moore and others of insufficient stature to carry the House in the last stormy years of the Queen's reign.

7 24 BRITAIN IN THE AGE OF WALPOLE Walpole was the first modern prime minister, introducing a new style of premiership, because he chose to stay in the House of Commons. He sat in that House for 41 years, one year longer than John Birch, a recruiter to the Long Parliament who was still sitting in 1690. Walpole had drawn the right conclusions from the failures of his predecessors. In the reign of Queen Anne, Robert Harley had gone to the Lords as Earl of Oxford, while Henry Stjohn had become Viscount Bolingbroke.

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