He was the younger son of a prominent Whig family of Norfolk. After the death of his father and elder brothers he was returned (1701) to Parliament from the family borough of Castle Rising, and in 1702 he took the seat for King's Lynn, from which he was regularly returned thereafter. Walpole soon made his mark as a hardworking administrator. In 1708 he was appointed secretary of war and later (1710–11) was treasurer of the navy. As a Whig, he led the opposition in Parliament to the Tory administration of 1710–14 and as a consequence was falsely convicted (1712) of corruption and spent some months in the Tower of London.
The accession of George I (1714) returned the Whigs to power, and Walpole served variously as paymaster of the forces, first lord of the treasury, and chancellor of the exchequer (1715) under his brother-in-law, Viscount Townshend, and James Stanhope (later 1st Earl Stanhope). The dismissal of Townshend led to Walpole's resignation (1717), and together they formed an opposition nominally headed by the prince of Wales (later George II). The two returned to office in 1720.
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