Robert Walpole (1650 - 1700) MP

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Birthplace: Houghton, Norfolk, , England
Death: Died in Houghton, Norfolk, , England
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About Robert Walpole

Robert Walpole Esq. of Houghton, eldest son and heir of Sir Edward Walpole, was born 18 November 1650 and died 18 November 1700 and was buried at Houghton. The Walpole manuscripts from Houghton hall consists mostly of foreign dispatches, cabinet papers, parlimentary speeches and Treasury memoranda - the expected relics of a long ministerial career. But there were found among these papers a number of bundles of a more personal nature - private family letters, account books and household bills - unfortunately the documents are incomplete. There are very few private letters after 1707; the accounts illuminate only an occasional decade; the bills relate to a year here and there. Only a few of Robert Walpole's letters survive but his account books are extensive and they disclose the man.' In 1668, at the age of 17, he was left alone to look after a large estate and nursery full of young brothers and sisters. Fortunately he was built on a heroic scale, possesssing sufficient strength of will and acuteness of intelligence to carry him easily through the difficulties which beset him. The foundations of the family's future greatness were laid by this Rober Walpole, known to his friends as Colonel Walpole from his rank in Norfolk militia and it was simpler to call him by this title in order to distinguish him from his more famous son. His abilities have been overshadowed by the greatness of his son, but he cannot be dismissed as a simple Norfolk Squire. When his father died he was a Trinity College, Cambridge, where he had alreaady acquired the reputation "for study and learning extraordinary." His scholarly habits persisted throughout his life and he rarely came back from the great East Anglican fairs without a parcel of books strapped behind his man's saddle. At every fair in East Anglia there were bookstalls, and it was not only the local parson who bought there. At Houghton were good editions of the classics, Latin rather than Greek, weighty folios of hisory, European as well as English; some theology and a little law; Spencer's Fairie Queen and a few other volumes of poetry; most significantly there were copies of almost everything Francis Bacon wrote. His library was full of heavy, dullish books with a bias towards knowlege, to the factual life of the past rather than to the theory or speculation. His reading was deep and rather sombre, as one might expect of a serious, weighty man, old beyond his years. His account books tell the same story. Every penny that he spent was carefully entered, even a screw of black buttons for twopence, or the first shilling's pocket-money which he gave to the young Robert at the age of six. And he never changed; the meticulous record goes on year in and year out, decade after decade. Col. Walpole was a solid, well-integrated character. The steps which he took were those of a man who had measured carefully his opportunities. They were never hurried yet he was not an over-cautious man for he was quite capable of taking risks with the money which he garnered so carefully. He had temper and made it felt when his interests were endangered, but it was never rash. He remained rustic, rustic in his tastes, in his clothes, in his old house; rustic in his pleasures, in his devotion to the land. His life was simple in all its sspects but it was never uncultured. His farming was a model of effeciency and enterprise; his library was well stocked and well read; he had an abiding passion for his library. It still remains at Houghton. But it was a plain hard life that had its dark places. His children came and went like the swallows. "Paid for digging my little girl's grave... 2s 6k". So the accounts run, and the register at Houghton records their frequent funerals. Ususally they lived long enough - two, three, four or more years - for their deaths to be a deep sadness; on one occasion an epidemic with tragic suddenness emtied the nursery. At Houghton, few years passed without dying or suffering, and Mrs. Walpole never enjoyed good health. In the late 17th century the area around Houghton thrived. The draining of the fens opened up new, rich farming land whose products found their way down the Ouse. Improvements were made in navigation - by 1700 barges could reach Bedford and Cambridge - made the port a convenient entry for much trade to the East Midlands. The gentry's wealth was based on the land. Some of the estates they farmed for themselves; the rest let to tenants. Perhaps Col. Walpole's intelligence can best be seen at work in the way he had developed new agricultural methods on dry sandy soils similar to those at Houghton. He was convinced of the wisdom of the Dutch techniques and he became one of the pioneers of a new school of agriculture in which root crops and grasses played an important part. Nor was it only Dutch methods which Colonel Walpole adopted. The demands for food of the growing population of London had influenced the husbandry of southern and easter England for many generations; the influence gradually spread in ever widening circles until it reached Scotland. In London Scotch beef became a luxury food, and it occurred to Colonel Walpole and probably to others that Scotch cattle could be fattened in Norfolk after their long trek south for the London market. In 1676 he bought half a dozen steers, possibly as an experiment. There can be no doubt that Colonel Walpole was an intelligent, adventurous man, quick to seize his opportunities, and free from many of the prejudices of tradition and custom. By 1673, turnips were being grown at Houghton in very considerable quantities; they were weeded regularly and double-hoed - payments for both processes occur regularly year after year in the account books. The accounts also refer to "The Great Clover Close." Clover, along with turnips, had become a part of the established Houghton practice. He was also experimenting with wheat, a difficult crop on those dry sandy soils, on a modest but not insignificant scale, for he bought seven bushels of seed wheat in October 1679, at thirteen shillings and sixpence. He rotated his crops. During his early years as a farmer he never once visited London and his knowledge was mostly probably derived from the talk he heard in Lynn or what he saw about him in Norfolk. These homespun squires' visits outside their counties were rare. They were associated in their daily life with merchants, attorneys and prosperous yeomen. Slowly but surely Colonel Walpole made his way in the world. His prudence and capacity for steady, dependable friendships brought him the leadership of the Whigs in his neighborhood. His great reputation was based not only on the soundness of his judgment but also on his capacity for business. Amongst the few papers which he left behind are a mass of legal arguments and counsel's opinions on the complicated and entangled affairs of Sir Thomas Hare of Stow Bardolph of whose children he had become a trustee. He devoted hours to this complex and tiresome case, soothed the vexed and vexatious widow, and finally secured a private Act of Parliament to put the estate on a sound footing. It was some seventeen years after Colonel Walpole's inheritance of Houghton before he ventured to London. The accounts illustrate a life of utmost simplicity. The extent of his family obligations constrained him to a plain way of living, unless he were to risk burdening his estates with debt. On 25 April 1671, he had married Mary Burwell, only a girl of sixteen, and their children arrived with the regularity of the harvest. During the early years of his marriage his sisters were boarded out, rather expensively; his brothers, Horatio and Edward, had to be maintained at school. The picture which emerges from Colonel Walpole's account books is one of prudence and careful husbandry, of growing riches wisely invested in yet more land, that solid basis of his wealth. But with Colonel Walpole prudence was allied with ambition. He rode regularly to elections at Norwich; and he became a freeman of Lynn, no doubt in order to acquire a parliamentery vote there. He was appointed a Justice of the Peace; he was active in the Norfolk militia; he managed his political career with the same wise patience with which he conducted his private affairs, and it was not until 1689 that he stood for parliament for the pocket borough of Castle Rising which lay on his own property but partially belonging to the Howard family. For the next ten years he played the part of one of the leading men in his county, going up to London for the Parliamentary sssion, sitting on the back bench, voting no doubt as his conscience dictated. And when he died in 1700, at the early age of fifty, his life could be taken as typical of the most enterprising and effetive members of his class - the Country Gentleman. He took to his bed yet could not believe that he was dying. He loved life and clung desperately to it. At fifty years of age he stood on the threshold of achievement. He had built up his estates; at first honoured and respected in his county, he was now enjoying the same honour and respect in Parliament. Indomitable in his optimism, he dictated a letter to his son for Lord Townshend, telling him that he would soon be on the road to London to take up his duties at Westminister, refusing to accept what must have been clear to his family. The end came quickly and he died on his fiftieth birthday, 18 November 1700. (He was born 18 November 1650). He was buried as simply as he lived under a plain stone in the chancel of his parish church. On 25 April 1671, he had married Mary Burwell, only daughter and sole heir of Sir Geoffery Burwell, knight, London Lawyer, who owned property at Rougham. He possessed lands close to Walpole's Suffolk property. He was a bookish man, given to theololgy, and his books, with others he gave his daughter, and those of Colonel Walpole are still at Houghton. The Will of Robert Walpole,Esq. the elder of Houghton, dated 29 may 1700, proved 22 Feb 1701, reads: to be buried among my ancestors in the church - and mentions wife Mary; son Robert Walpole, Esq.; younger children, Horatio, Galfridus, Dorothy and Susan; daughter Turner, Mr. Edmund Hammond; Mr. Richard Hammond; brother and sister Hoste; Sir Geoffery Burwell, dec'd, grandfather of my daughters Susan and Dorothy. - from FILM, Visitation of Norfolk. A portrait of Robert W. Walpole, taken at age 45 (1695) described in Vol. 1, page 299, of Portraits in Norfolk Houses, show he had dark gray eyes, a pointed nose, double chin, long fuzzy fair wig and wore black satin doublet partly buttoned, with tiny black buttons, showing white shirt, sleeves widely slashed also showing the shirt, very long linen collar joined but no tassel, red ribbon of the Bath across the right shoulder, with the badge of the order strung on it, not pendent. (Medium sized, generally 30 by 24 inches, in sham oval).

I, Donna, will type "Generation 18" on Sunday, January 7, 2001.

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Colonel Robert Walpole, MP's Timeline

1650
November 18, 1650
Houghton, Norfolk, , England
November 28, 1650
Houghton, Norfolk, England
1671
April 25, 1671
Age 20
Rougham, Suffolk, , England
1672
June 6, 1672
Age 21
1673
June 8, 1673
Age 22
Houghton, Norfolk, , England
1673
Age 22
England
1674
June 23, 1674
Age 23
Houghton, Norfolk, , England
1675
August 26, 1675
Age 24
1676
August 26, 1676
Age 25
Houghton, Norfolk, England
1677
September 3, 1677
Age 26