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Robert Walpole, 1st earl of Orford

Legacy

Walpole is usually described as the first prime minister of Great Britain, but he was not a prime minister in the modern sense. Although management of Parliament, and particularly the House of Commons, was an essential part of his power, so too was royal favor, on which he ultimately depended. The purge of his ministry in 1733, sometimes hailed as a major step in the development of cabinet solidarity, could not have been accomplished without royal support. Moreover, the contention that there was any idea of cabinet solidarity is refuted by the fact that when Walpole left office his most important colleagues remained in the ministry. Walpole's primacy was achieved and maintained through his own political talents and the circumstances of the time; he made little impact on constitutional development.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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