WALPOLE, Robert (1650-1700), of Houghton, Norf.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1698 - 18 Nov. 1700

Family and Education

b. 18 Nov. 1650, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Sir Edward Walpole. educ. Trinity Coll. Camb. 1667. m. lic. 22 Feb. 1671, Mary, da. and coh. of Sir Jeffrey Burwell of Rougham, Suff., 10s. (7 d.v.p.) 7da. suc. fa. 1668.1

Offices Held

Commr. for assessment, Norf. 1673-80, 1689-90; j.p. Norf. 1673-Feb. 1688, 1689-d., Suff. 1679-87; commr. for recusants, Norf. 1675, dep. lt. 1677-Feb. 1688, Nov. 1688-d.; freeman, King’s Lynn 1681; col. of militia ft. Norf. by 1690-d.2


Walpole was only 17 when he inherited an estate of £800 p.a., from which he had to provide for three younger brothers and four sisters. ‘An intelligent, adventurous man, quick to seize his opportunities’, he greatly increased the value of his estates by applying strict economy, and by pioneering in England the new agricultural methods developed in the Netherlands, using both rotation of crops and green manuring, and investing all accumulated capital in additional land. Although he lived as a typical hunting and drinking Norfolk squire, he had enjoyed at Cambridge a reputation ‘for study and learning extraordinary’, and he founded the great library at Houghton. In 1675 he was one of the Norfolk justices who drew up a manifesto for curtailing the expenses attending the office of high sheriff by reducing the number of servants with livery attending him at the assizes and limiting the hospitality he was expected to extend. To the surprise of the lord lieutenant, he signed the loyal address in March 1682 expressing abhorrence of the Association.3

To the lord lieutenant’s questions on the repeal of the Test Act and Penal Laws in 1688 Walpole replied that ‘he will not oppose an Act to confirm the King’s declaration for liberty of conscience, but cannot consent to the taking off the Tests till he is convinced of the necessity of it’. He refused to promise support to court candidates, and was removed from local office. When the offer was made to restore him in October he followed the example of Sir John Holland in declining to act ‘in conjunction with persons unqualified or incapacitated by the laws of this realm’. As cousin to the Duke of Norfolk’s receiver-general, he was returned for Castle Rising, 8 miles from Houghton, in the general election of 1689 at the cost of a mere £20. He took no known part in the Convention except to apply for leave on 6 Mar., and was not listed as a supporter of the disabling clause; but he was doubtless already a Whig. In Norfolk he began to build up his own interest at Castle Rising by buying up burgages, and he succeeded the non-juror Sir Christopher Calthorpe as colonel of the local militia regiment. A court Whig under William III, he died on 18 Nov. 1700 and was buried at Houghton. He was the father of Sir Robert Walpole, the prime minister.4

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Author: Eveline Cruickshanks


  • 1. Gen. Mag. ii. 301-3.
  • 2. HMC Lothian, 125; Lynn Freemen, 191; Norf. Ltcy. Jnl. (Norf. Rec. Soc. xxx), 104.
  • 3. J. H. Plumb. Men and Places, 121-30; Plumb, Sir Robert Walpole, i. 83-85; North, Lives, iii. 304; HMC Lothian, 122-4; Add. 36988, ff. 180, 182.
  • 4. Norf. Ltcy. Jnl. 89, 99; Blomefield’s Norf. Supp. ed. Ingleby, 33-34.