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Robert Walpole

Robert Walpole (1676 - March 18, 1745) is generally regarded as the first British Prime Minister and is credited with inventing the position as well as being its longest-serving holder.

Walpole was born in Norfolk in 1676, and was educated at Eton College and Cambridge University. By the time he entered Parliament in 1701, as member for Castle Rising, he had witnessed much political change within the country. Within the Whig party (modern Liberal party) to which he belonged, he was soon recognised as an outstanding talent. At the time of the accession of King George I of Great Britain, Walpole was already First Lord of the Treasury - an office still nominally held by the prime minister in modern times - as well as Chancellor of the Exchequer.

British monarchs were gradually ceasing to play an active role in politics, and Walpole's position was strengthened by the fact that the new king spoke no English and had little knowledge of British tradition. He was soon able to assemble a small group of ministers who effectively ran the country, as whose chairman he came to be seen as the leader of the Parliamentary government. He also developed a good relationship with the future King George II, and particularly with George's wife, the Princess of Wales, Caroline of Ansbach, thus ensuring he maintained his position when the succession passed to them in 1727.

As "prime minister" from 1721 to 1742, Walpole held the kind of power that has not been equalled by an ordinary politician, before or since, but, like all politicians, he eventually succumbed to the opposition manoeuverings led by Lord Carteret - resigning after the government was accused of rigging the Chippenham by-election. He was created Earl of Oxford and was given the house now known as 10 Downing Street, which he presented to the nation to be used as the official residence of future prime ministers. He died in 1745.

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