Global Encounters and the Archives: Britain’s Empire in the Age of Horace Walpole
Included here are short biographies of many of the men and women featured in this exhibit. More detailed biographies can be found at Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (institutional access required), History of Parliament Online (free public access) and Oxford Art Online (institutional access required).
Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland (1721-1765)
William Augustus was the son of King George II and Queen Caroline. As the favorite of his parents, William was granted the dukedom of Cumberland in 1726, at the age of five. Cumberland began his military career in 1740, but remains most infamous for his role in suppressing the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion. Cumberland achieved a decisive victory against the Jacobites at the Battle of Culloden, which resulted in a slaughter with over one hundred Jacobite rebels hanged, earning William the nickname, “The Butcher.” Thereafter, the Duke was involved in politics and briefly in further military campaigns, but he was little loved throughout the three kingdoms. His reputation was somewhat mended by his support of the Rockingham administration, which oversaw the repeal of the Stamp Act, but Cumberland’s death shortly after, in 1765, meant that his legacy has remained largely negative.
Alured Clarke (1696-1742)
Alured Clarke was a Church of England clergyman whose theological thoughts are expressed mainly in his correspondence with Charlotte Clayton, Lady Sundon. Unlike so many other clergymen, Clarke cautioned against dedication to scholarship, calling instead for men to engage in social and political issues in order to leave their mark on posterity. After all, Clarke himself was a strong supporter of the Whig party. Nevertheless, he was not averse to academic pursuits, as he received a BA and MA in theology. He also was a great advocate for the arts, as is clear in his correspondence about the patronization of the poet, Stephen Duck. While Clarke had always sought a bishopric, that position eluded him as his health declined rapidly and he died on May 31, 1742.
Charlotte Clayton, Lady Sundon (c.1679-1742)
Charlotte Clayton became a woman of the bedchamber to Caroline, princess of Wales (and later Queen), in 1714. Such close access to the princess provided Clayton with great knowledge which granted her great power at Court. Throughout her time at Court, Lady Sundon—who won that title when her husband became a baron in 1735—found conflict with the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, who resented and feared her control over Queen Caroline (coronated in 1727). While Lady Sundon left Court following the Queen’s death in 1738, her feud with Walpole continued until her death in 1742. Despite Walpole’s disdain, Lady Sundon enjoyed great success at Court and great respect as a patronizer of the arts, as is evident in her correspondence with Alured Clarke.
Lord Robert Clive, 1st Baron Clive of Plassey (1725-1774)
Robert Clive, 1st Baron Clive of Plassey, was instrumental in securing Britain’s eighteenth-century empire in India. While acting as lieutenant-colonel in the British Army in India during the Seven Years’ War, Clive led his troops in the Battle of Plassey, which resulted in the transfer of power in Bengal from the Indian Nawab to the British, with Clive as governor. Over the next decade, as Clive’s political influence in both England and India grew, so too did the supremacy of the East India Company. Following the Battle of Plassey, the Company had grown from a commercial trading company to a territorial and political force in Bengal. By the 1765, it had been granted the diwan, or the right to collect taxes in Bengal. Despite his success and his political reforms of the East India Company, Clive was plagued by a negative reputation in a hostile political environment and died with few allies and fewer friends.
Henry Seymour Conway (1719-1795)
Henry Seymour Conway was the cousin and incredibly close friend and confidant of Horace Walpole. He was a military man and Irish parliamentarian who was intimately involved in the peace negotiations for the end of the Seven Years’ War in the European context. On the American front, Conway acted as Secretary of State during the implementation of and reaction to the Stamp Act. Conway, however, was one of the principal parliamentarians advocating the repeal of the Stamp Act and opposing colonial taxation.
George Cruikshank (1792-1878)
As the son of the established caricaturist, Isaac Cruikshank, George Cruikshank began painting as a young child and learned from not only his father, but also other great British artists including James Gillray and William Hogarth. Working mostly in the nineteenth century, much of Cruikshank’s earlier works depict the Napoleonic Wars that consumed the European Continent from 1803 to 1815. In the British context, Cruikshank’s most popular target was his king, George IV. A successful political caricaturist in the first half of his career, Cruikshank turned to book illustration in the 1820s and collaborated with the Brothers Grimm and Charles Dickens, among several others.
James Gillray (1756-1815)
James Gillray was a prominent political satirist from the 1780s on. Drawing on the foundations laid by other artists such as George Townshend and William Hogarth, Gillray injected wit—particularly a dark, cynical wit—into his work, sparking a new kind of approach to political caricature. In the 1790s, Gillray became particularly fascinated by the French Revolution and then on his own king. His prints simultaneously reflected and influenced public opinion and contributed to the evolution of graphic satire as well as the evolution of public engagement with the realm of high politics.
George Grenville (1712-1770)
Following posts as Treasurer of the Navy, Leader of the Commons and Northern Secretary, George Grenville served as Britain’s Prime Minster from 1763-1765, during which time his administration faced great resistance from the North American colonies after Grenville decided to tax America. Most famously, Grenville authorized the passing of the Stamp Act during the first year of his tenure as Prime Minister. Before the consequences of the new taxation policies were realized, however, King George III had already dismissed the insolent Prime Minister from his post. Just five years later, Grenville died, best known for his outspoken political convictions and his commitment to American taxation.
George Keppel, 3rd Earl of Albemarle (1724-1772)
George Keppel, 3rd Earl of Albemarle is most famous for his role in the conquest of Havana from the Spanish. Subsequently, Keppel became an incredibly controversial governor of the island. He found tension with the bishop of Havana as well as the merchants of the city, who accused him of levying illegal taxes. Despite these conflicts, George III approved of Keppel’s military prowess and financial gain for the Empire and rewarded with the Garter in 1765. Thereafter, Keppel returned to England where he joined the opposition Whig party, but his legacy has remained tied to his tenure in Cuba.
Frederick North, 2nd Earl of Guilford (1732-1792)
Lord North continues to occupy the pages of both British and American history books for his position as Prime Minister (1770-1782) during the American Revolution. In response to the Boston Tea Party of 1773, Lord North instituted the Coercive, or Intolerable, Acts which cut off trade with Boston. Instead of deterring the colonists form rebelling, however, this measure increased morale and pushed Britain and her colonies closer to war. Following defeat, the British forced Lord North to resign, only the second Prime Minister to do so. North’s legacy has been mixed and characterizations of him have varied over time, but ultimately he was a brilliant statesman whose greatest defeat has forever marked his name.
Robert Nugent (1702-1788)
Born to a Roman Catholic Irish family, Robert Nugent occupied an unusual space in British parliamentary politics of the seventeenth century. In order to avoid marriage to his cousin, Nugent left co. Meath for London in 1730, where, after the death of his first wife, he converted to the Church of England. Soon, Nugent became a vocal politician as a member of the Opposition party. As a politician and poet, his speeches to Parliament were often exuberant, but nevertheless witty. His true political acumen, however, was demonstrated through his speeches and writings on commerce and trade, which garnered attention from merchants and won him a position as a lord of the Treasury in 1754. Over time, though, Nugent’s contrarian opinions cost him friends and party allegiance. By the end of his life, Nugent had come full circle, reconciling with the Catholic faith and returning to Dublin.
John Stuart, Lord Bute (1713-1792)
John Stuart, Lord Bute, was the first Scot to hold the position of Prime Minister (1762-1763). Lord Bute was raised in Scotland and educated in England and Leiden. He moved to London and became a Westminster fixture during the Jacobite Rising of 1745, when he also became tutor to the royal princes, George—who would later become King George III—and Edward. Amidst the political jockeying between Whigs and Tories, Lord Bute eventually became the first Tory Prime Minister in 1763, three years after his pupil ascended the British throne. While Bute laid the groundwork for the American taxation policies that would mark the premiership of his successor, George Grenville, his most significant action in office was the negotiation of the Treaty of Paris (1763), which ended the Seven Years’ War.
George Townshend (1724-1807)
George Townshend was a prominent parliamentarian in the mid-century, best known for his role in the submission of Quebec in 1759 and as Viceroy to Ireland (1767-1772). Throughout his career, Townshend recognized the power of propaganda and became a prolific political caricaturist, using graphic prints to influence public opinion and ridicule his opponents. While the tradition of political caricature was not new, it was revived and consumed widely thanks in large part to the works of George Townshend.
John Trusler (1735-1820)
John Trusler was a Church of England clergyman whose curiosity led him down several different paths. He began a medical degree at Leiden University; he opened a teaching academy; he published a circular called Plan of the Literary Society which announced the creation of a new society dedicated to promoting the arts. Moreover, he published widely on a vast array of issues from farming to medicine to politeness to self-help and finally, his memoirs. His actions and writings demonstrate that Trusler was committed to the arts and to education.
Horace Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford (1717-1797)
Horace Walpole was a politician, author and eminent arts collector and patron throughout the mid-eighteenth century. His passion for collecting was reinvigorating by Wilmarth Lewis, whose reconstruction of Walpole’s own collections now forms the Lewis Walpole Library. Through his connections to the realms of both politics and the arts, Walpole cultivated relationships with many of the individuals featured in this exhibit, whether in print or manuscript.
Thomas Walpole (1727-1803)
Thomas Walpole was the nephew of Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, and cousin of Horace Walpole. Thomas’s interests brought him around the globe and made him into a true international statesman. He served as an MP for Sudbury, held shares in the East India Company, spent time as a banker in Paris and Lisbon, and, most notably, served on the Grand Ohio Company dedicated to expanding British territory in North American through Anglo-indigenous diplomacy. However, faulty investments and bad luck led to financial ruin that subsequently infected business deals.
Edward Weston (1703-1770)
Edward Weston began his career as tutor to Charles Townshend’s children in 1729. When Townshend obtained the post of Secretary of State for the North, Weston was named his secretary, a post which he retained even after Townshend’s death. Under Townshend’s successor, Lord Harrington, Weston traveled throughout Ireland until his deteriorating health brought him back to England in 1751. Weston resumed government service for three years (1761-1764) during which time he worked with prominent politicians including John Stuart, Lord Bute and George Grenville. Following his retirement in 1764, Weston enjoyed a literary career, contributing particularly to the London Gazette until his death in 1770.
Sir Charles Hanbury Williams (1708-1759)
While Hanbury Williams served as a Member of Parliament and loyal supporter of Sir Robert Walpole as well as an imperial diplomat, his political career was ultimately undistinguished. However, Hanbury Williams served the Whig party well through his political satirical writings. Through poetry, he attacked opposition to the Whig party, accusing individuals of corruption and hypocrisy with the same language that they had deployed against Walpole. In addition to his poetry, Hanbury Williams also dabbled in verse, songs, love poetry and other literary genres, but was by far most successful in satire.
Benjamin Wilson (1721-1788)
Benjamin Wilson received his training as a painter in both London and Dublin in the middle of the eighteenth century. By the 1750s, he had risen to fame as one of the leading portrait painters in England, with powerful patronage connections in the Court and in theater circles. Known for his portraits and his depictions of theatrical scenes, Wilson was also a successful political caricaturist and was most famous in that regard for his engagement through prints with the Stamp Act. In addition to his career as a painter, Wilson was also a scientist, a Fellow of the Royal Society and a correspondent of Benjamin Franklin.