History and Tour

Earl of Wilmington

Spencer Compton Born: 1673 in Compton Wynyates, Warwickshire

First entered Parliament: 3 June 1698

Age he became PM: 69 years

Maiden speech: His first recorded speech in the House of Commons was on 17 March 1715 on being chosen Speaker

Total time as PM: One year, 136 days

Died: 2 July 1743 at St. James’ Square, London

Facts and figures

Education: St Paul’s School, Westminster and Trinity College, Oxford

Family: Wilmington was the third son and the youngest of five children. He had a half-sister from his father’s first marriage. He was unmarried.

Interests: Good food, exotic plants and coin collecting

Biography

The stop-gap PM

Walpole’s successor, the Earl of Wilmington served only a brief term in the highest political office, and is generally viewed as a stop-gap PM.

As Spencer Compton, he was first elected MP for Eye, Suffolk in 1698, followed by East Grinstead in 1713. He served as Speaker of the House of Commons under Walpole, and as Paymaster General.

He was also Treasurer to the Prince of Wales, and expected to be rewarded by him with the position of prime minister when he acceded as George II. But Walpole outmanoeuvred him and gained the office instead.

As compensation, Spencer Compton was elevated to the House of Lords as Baron Wilmington in 1727, and later made an earl. He served as Lord Privy Seal and Lord President of the Council under Walpole, but did not oppose the 1741 censure motion against his leader.

Government at last

After the failure of King George II to put the opposition in power after Walpole’s fall in 1742, Wilmington was finally was asked to form a government.

His time in office was undistinguished. He was indecisive and a poor leader, and from his position in the House of Lords his direct influence was limited.

His brief premiership was dominated by foreign affairs. He chose to keep Britain in the War of the Austrian Succession, fighting the forces of Prussia, France and Spain.

Wilmington died in office in 1743, only a year and a half into his term.

Quote unquote

On the Duke of Newcastle: “Sir, you have a right to speak, but the House has a right to judge whether they will hear you.”

Did you know?

One of Wilmington’s most notable domestic achievements was the passage of a Bill to curb public drunkenness by increasing the tax on spirits, making liquor more expensive. Unsurprisingly, it proved an unpopular measure.

Wife

Wilmington was unmarried, but some sources say that he had illegitimate children, of whom one daughter married James Glen, a Governor of South Carolina.

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