The year 1721 has many splendours- great houses built by William Kent, fine pictures and the fruits of commerce. But there are also thirteen public hanging days a year, drunkenness is endemic, organised crime rampages through the streets. And politics are ferocious. Only a generation earlier, The Pretender failed to take the Crown; the new King is cursed as a damned foreigner; James's followers - the Jacobites - conspire and are persecuted; the South Sea Bubble collapses.Robert Walpole, once imprisoned for financial chicanery, assumes political control and becomes 'Prime Minister'. He personally detects a Jacobite plot, is dismissed in 1727 on the death of George I, recruits the new King's clever wife, Caroline, and bounces cheerfully back. Coarse, corrupt and cynical, Walpole dominates King, Parliament and Government until 1742. This is Mr Worldywiseman, keeping England out of war for twenty years and setting up a stable and growing economy. All politics of a kind we can recognise today begin with Robert Walpole. And here, in Edward Pearce's elegant book, he is brought vividly back to life.
Edward Pearce, after a national newspaper career starting in 1977, still keeps his hand in with book reviews, obituaries and travel pieces. However, for several years now he has concentrated on writing history. The Lost Leaders (about three near-Prime Ministers) was followed by Lines of Most Resistance (about English Resistance to Irish Home Rule), Denis Healey (the authorised biography), Reform! (about the 1832 Act), and The Diaries of Charles Greville, both published in Pimlico. He lives in North Yorkshire.