Robert Earl of Orford

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Robert Earl of Orford
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J Houbraken after Arthur Pond
Robert Earl of Orford
London, Knapton 1746
Copper engraving
370 x 230 mm
£75
Robert Walpole won the general election of 1734, which had given rise to many violent contests and a resurgence of the old bitterness about excise, but his growing unpopularity was underlined by the loss of many seats in the large seaports and heavily populated counties. Nevertheless, his majority, although diminished, remained comfortable. The war with Spain did not prosper, and opposition continued to mount against Walpole. He succeeded in winning the general election of 1741, but many Whig politicians, and a number of independents, did not consider him capable of directing the war vigorously enough or of surviving another seven years’ Parliament. His resignation was forced on February 2, 1742, on a minor issue. The king created him earl of Orford (he had been knighted in 1725) and gave him an annual pension of £4,000, but the Commons set up a committee to investigate his ministry with a view to impeachment. They failed to secure sufficient evidence and the rancour against Orford petered out. For the rest of his life he continued to play an active and valuable part in politics.
One side of Walpole’s life is too little noted. He possessed remarkable delight in and judgment of works of art. His house, Houghton Hall, Norfolk, built and furnished under his close supervision, is a masterpiece of Palladian architecture. To the distress of his son Horace, the famous man of letters, Walpole’s collection of pictures was sold to the empress of Russia by Walpole’s grandson George in 1779. Now in the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, it was one of the most remarkable collections in Europe. He delighted in ostentation and lived in great magnificence, spending freely the huge fortune that he made out of judicious speculation and public office.