WALPOLE, Horatio (1678-1757), of Wolterton, Norf.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1715-1754, ed. R. Sedgwick, 1970
Available from Boydell and Brewer



10 Jan. - 21 Sept. 1710
11 Dec. 1710 - 1715
1715 - Nov. 1717
2 Dec. 1718 - 1722
1722 - 1734
1734 - 4 June 1756

Family and Education

b. 8 Dec. 1678, and surv. s. of Robert Walpole, M.P., of Houghton, Norf.; bro. of Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford, and Galfridus Walpole. educ. Eton 1693-8; King’s, Camb. 1698, fellow 1702-14; L. Inn 1700. m. 21 July 1720, Mary Magdalen, da. and coh. of Peter Lombard of Burnham Thorpe, Norf., 4s. 3da. cr. Baron Walpole of Wolterton 4 June 1756.

Offices Held

Sec. to envoy to Spain 1706-7, to chancellor of Exchequer and sec. of state 1707-9, to embassy at The Hague May 1709-March 1711; under-sec. of state 1708-10, 1714-15; commr. of revenue [I] 1713-16; minister to The Hague Jan.-Apr. 1715, Oct. 1715-Oct. 1716, May-July 1722; sec. to Treasury 1715-17, 1721-30; surveyor and auditor gen. of the revenue in America (for life) 1717; sec. to ld. lt. [I] 1720-21; P.C. [I] 1720; envoy to Paris 1723, ambassador extraordinary May 1724-7, ambassador extraordinary and plenip. 1727-30; plenip. and jt. ambassador, congress of Soissons 1728; cofferer of the Household 1730-41; P.C. 12 Nov. 1730; ambassador and plenip. to The Hague Apr. 1734-Nov. 1739; teller of the Exchequer 1741-d.


At George I’s accession Horace Walpole was appointed under-secretary to his brother-in-law, Lord Townshend, but soon exchanged this post for that of secretary to the Treasury under his brother, Robert, obtaining the reversion of a valuable colonial sinecure for life which soon fell in. In 1717 he followed his brother into opposition, speaking against the Government on the repeal of the Occasional Conformity and Schism Acts and on the peerage bill in 1719. After an interlude as secretary to the lord lieutenant of Ireland on the reunion of the Whig party in 1720, he was reinstated at the Treasury, dealing with patronage and elections,1 when his brother became first lord again in 1721. Sent to Paris by Walpole and Townshend in 1723 to counteract the activities of their rival, Carteret, he was appointed ambassador next year, coming over to England each session to defend the Government’s foreign policy in the House of Commons. As ambassador he was on excellent personal terms with Cardinal Fleury, the French first minister, who never forgot his action in calling on him at a time when Fleury was supposed to have been disgraced at court. On the death of George I he came over to England with a letter from the Cardinal which, by re-affirming the policy of Anglo-French co-operation established in the late reign, contributed to the new King’s decision to retain the existing ministry, consisting in practice, according to Hervey, of the two Walpole brothers, Townshend, and Newcastle.2

When Townshend resigned in 1730, Horace Walpole was brought home as cofferer of the Household to assist his brother in the House of Commons, where he seems to have acted as deputy leader. In 1731 he took an active part in the proceedings of an important select committee of the House, set up to consider petitions from all over the country, including his present and future constituencies of Yarmouth and Norwich, complaining of the harm done to the woollen manufacturing industry by the illegal export of Irish yarn to France and other foreign countries. On 12 Apr. he moved for a bill, which passed the Commons but was rejected by the Lords, taking off the duty on the importation of Irish yarn into Great Britain, with a view to inducing the Irish to bring it to this country instead of smuggling it abroad. He also supported a bill, which passed into law, allowing unenumerated goods from the plantations to come direct to Ireland without first passing through England. When Sir Robert Walpole complained that he had not heard of this bill, the 1st Lord Egmont explained on behalf of the Irish Members of the House, who had been negotiating about the bill with Horace Walpole, that

it was only out of respect that we did not in the multitude of his business trouble him with it, presuming he was sufficiently acquainted with the thing by his brother.

Next year he seconded a motion, which led to an Act, taking away a concession allowing Irish seamen to carry with them 40s. worth of woollen goods on the ground that

the Irish had made a compact with the English that upon giving them the advantage of the linen trade they should quit the woollen, but the Irish had broken the agreement, to the very great prejudice of our manufacturers.

In 1733 he introduced the bill, which eventually became the Molasses Act, for assisting the sugar colonies.3Nevertheless his nephew’s statement that ‘he was a dead weight on his brother’s ministry’ is confirmed by Hervey, who describes him at this time as

a very good treaty dictionary, to which his brother often referred for facts necessary for him to be informed of and of which he was capable of making good use. But to hear Horace himself talk on these subjects unrestrained, and without being turned to any particular point, was listening to a rhapsody that was never coherent, and often totally unintelligible. This made his long and frequent speeches in Parliament uneasy to his own party, ridiculous to the other, and tiresome to both. He loved business, had great application, and was indefatigable, but from having a most unclear head, no genius, no method, and a most inconclusive manner of reasoning, he was absolutely useless to his brother in every capacity but that which I have already mentioned of a dictionary.

In 1734, finding that ‘he made no figure in Parliament, or rather a ridiculous one’,4 he returned to diplomacy as ambassador at The Hague, continuing to come over each session. In 1739 he moved an address of thanks for the Spanish convention in a two hours speech, also introducing another bill for taking off the duty on Irish yarn, which this time passed both Houses.5 At the end of this year, tiring of diplomacy, he came home for good, occasionally attending meetings of the war cabinet.6 In 1741 he exchanged his cofferership for a tellership of the Exchequer, a life sinecure, worth £3,000 a year.

On the fall of the Administration in 1742 there was a move to impeach not only Robert but Horace Walpole,

who being auditor of the plantations, an office fairly not worth above £7 or £800 per annum, is supposed by secret practices and a kind of force upon the plantations, to make it worth £8 or £9,000 per annum,

Discussing this possibility with Sir John Shelley, Egmont remarked that he ‘found some Members, who wish well to Sir Robert, his brother, very ready to give up this man, and even to vote for confiscating his estate’. Shelley replied that

he was not surprised at it, he having neither the love or esteem of any man, being conceited, overbearing, excessive covetous, and never having done one good thing that is known in his life. That not contented with his several great employments, he asked and obtained £2,000 per annum under pretence of keeping a table to entertain Members, and by discoursing with them at such times to keep them steady to the court, but his dinners were so scandalous that few cared to dine with him.7

When a secret committee was set up by the Commons to inquire into the late Administration, he went down to Wolterton, where he burned numerous documents, including his private correspondence with his brother, fearing that the committee would order the seizure of his papers.8 However, the storm blew over, though the 2nd Lord Egmont noted under Norwich in his electoral survey, c.1749-50:

Old Horace Walpole—to be routed if possible. An early inquiry into the frauds of the revenue may reach him in the affair of the sugars and if clearly proved that he was concerned he may not only be expelled but obliged to refund a great sum.

In 1743 he fought a duel with William Richard Chetwynd for saying that he deserved to be hanged. The duel took place at the bottom of the stairs leading out of the lobby of the House of Commons, where they drew.

Chetwynd hit him on the breast, but was not near enough to pierce his coat. Horace made a pass, which the other put by with his hand, but it glanced along his side—a clerk, who had observed them go out together so arm-in-armly, could not believe it amicable, but followed them, and came up just time enough to beat down their swords as Horace had driven him against a post, and would probably have run him through at the next thrust.9

In 1747 he was still one of the men of business who were invited to Pelham’s house to hear the King’s speech read before the opening of Parliament.10 At the end of a long speech against the Government on the Bavarian subsidy treaty in 1751, for which he nevertheless voted, he announced that in future he would confine himself ‘to those low trifles ..., woollen manufacture and the improvement of our trade’.11 His only subsequent speeches in this Parliament were in support of a bill throwing open all ports to Irish wool, which under the 1739 Act had been restricted to certain specified ports, and against the repeal of the Jewish Naturalization Act.

He died 5 Feb. 1757.

Ref Volumes: 1715-1754

Author: Romney R. Sedgwick


  • 1. See STRICKLAND, Sir William, 4th Bt., and SHEPHEARD, Samuel.
  • 2. St. Simon, Mems. (Boislisle ed.), xv. 199 et seq; Hervey, Mems. 29-31.
  • 3. HMC Egmont Diary , i. 150, 173, 178-9, 183-4, 239, 334; CJ , xxii. 71.
  • 4. Walpole, Mems. Geo. II , i. 140; Hervey, 284-5.
  • 5. Coxe, Walpole , iii. 316; HMC Egmont Diary , iii. 31, 36.
  • 6. EHR , xxxiv. 296 et seq.
  • 7. HMC Egmont Diary , iii. 239-40.
  • 8. Coxe, Lord Walpole , ii. 46.
  • 9. Walpole to Mann, 14 Mar. 1743.
  • 10. Owen, Pelhams , 143 n. 4.
  • 11. Coxe, Lord Walpole , ii. 340.