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The Augustan Age: the Hanoverians and Sir Robert Walpole

The dynasty of Hanover followed the Stuart when Queen Anne died in 1714 and George (Hanover) I ascended to the throne of England. George I was Anne’s nearest protestant relative but was unpopular among the people as he didn’t speak English and had a preference for Germany. During the Restoration period the Parliament had gained more power but was not very representative of the country; for example many of its members were not chosen by the people but paid by the greatest noble families and less than 10% of them represented Scotland. Being the votes non secret people were induced by the landowners to give their vote to certain politicians who in return promised money and jobs. When a Jacobite rebellion that had broken out in Scotland in 1715 was overpowered, the Tory party weakened and the Whigs took the lead. Their ministers started to assemble without the King beginning the kind of Government by Cabinet as it exists today. All Cabinet ministers were equal at first but slowly some gained more power and began to lead the others. The first leading minister, known as the Prime Minister, was Sir Robert Walpole who stayed in power for more than twenty years. Under his guidance, the international trade flourished thanks to the removal of customs duties on import-export of raw materials, and taxes were kept low. At the death of George I his son, George II, came to the throne and Walpole kept his position as Prime Minister although his government had been accused of corruption by the opposing newspaper “The Craftsman”. On the contrary, the new King relied deeply on Walpole and gave him a house in Westminster, house which was to become, and still is, the official residence of the Prime Minister of England. But the opposition was still strong and although Walpole won the elections, with difficulty, the Government and the Prime Minister’s abuse of legal power were the object of satirical attacks even in theatres, until they were censured in 1737. Meanwhile, England was characterized by a remarkable industrial development and progress was made in particular in cloth-making, coal mining and iron-smelting. But the lack of capital and the poor transport facilities delayed this progress and led to the first signs of the upcoming Agrarian and Industrial revolution.

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