Spencer Compton, 1st Earl of Wilmington

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Spencer Compton, 1st Earl of Wilmington

Spencer Compton, 1st Earl of Wilmington KG KB PC (* around 1674 in Compton Wynyates , Warwickshire , † July 2, 1743 in London ) was a British statesman of the Whig Party and Prime Minister .


Compton was the third son of James Spencer Compton, 3rd Earl of Northampton . He was educated at St Paul's School and Trinity College , Oxford , and was then admitted to the Middle Temple .

He served continuously in the government from 1715 until his death. He had several titles: Sir Spencer Compton (1722-1728), The Lord Wilmington (1728-1730), and finally The Earl of Wilmington (after 1730). From 1742 until his death in 1743 he was the nominal head of the government. In truth, however, he was only the figurehead for the real Prime Minister John Carteret, 2nd Earl Granville , the foreign minister for the northern areas.


On June 3, 1698 he entered the House of Commons for the first time as representative of Eye (Suffolk) . Although his family consisted of strict Tories , he turned to the Whigs after an argument with his brother George. He soon became a prominent MP in parliament. He entered into a partnership with Robert Walpole that would last for more than forty years.

In 1707 he became Paymaster of Pensions. He held this post for the next six years, although he left parliament in 1710 when a Tory government came to power. It is believed that the Tories kept him in office because they wanted to keep the Compton family's support. In 1713 Compton returned to Parliament, this time for East Grinstead . When the Whigs came back to power in 1715, he was hoping for high office but was disappointed. He became treasurer of the Prince of Wales (later King George II ). Shortly thereafter, he was unanimously elected speaker of the lower house. He held this post from 1715 to 1727. He kept this role despite the split of the Whigs in 1717, where he joined the Walpole-Townshend Alliance and suddenly found himself in opposition to the then government. He managed to hold his position until 1720 when the split was overcome.

Compton was known as the lax speaker of the House of Commons. Once, when a MP complained that he was being interrupted, Compton said to him, "You have the right to speak, sir, but the House has the right to decide whether to listen to you."

When Walpole became the leading minister in 1721, there was speculation about his future should King George I die and his son become king. The heir to the throne was more Compton than Walpole inclined, and declared that he would replace Walpole with Compton. To avoid this, Walpole tried to keep Compton on the fringes of government, even though he was paymaster general from 1722 to 1730. In 1730 Compton joined the government as keeper of the Lord Seal and was appointed Knight Companion of the Order of the Bath . In 1727 George II ascended the throne and tried to bring about the change of power that he had promised. However, Queen Caroline convinced her husband that Walpole, who had just got a generous appanage for the king, was the better head of government.

To get Compton out of the House of Commons, Walpole raised him to hereditary nobility as Baron Wilmington in 1728 . Two years later he was made Earl of Wilmington and Viscount Pevensey and named Lord President of the Council . He came closer and closer to those Whigs who were critical of Walpole, but in Parliament he stayed on the line of official government policy.

After Walpole's resignation in 1742, Wilmington finally took over the business of government. However, his health had since deteriorated and he found that many appointments were made without consulting him. He remained in office until his death in 1743. He was succeeded by Henry Pelham , paymaster of the armed forces. Wilmington died with no legitimate descendants, so all of his titles became null and void upon his death. But he had several illegitimate children. His fortune was inherited by his nephew James Compton .

The American cities of Wilmington (North Carolina) and Wilmington (Delaware) are named after him.

Individual evidence

  1. in the literature is usually given as 1674 or 1675
  2. see web link www.number10.gov.uk
  3. ^ Powicke & Fryde: Handbook of British Chronology. Second Edition, London, 1961, 95
  4. ^ Powicke & Fryde: Handbook of British Chronology. Second Edition, London, 1961, 107

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