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Spencer Compton, 1st Earl of Wilmington

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The Earl of Wilmington
Term of Office: 16 February 1742 - 2 July 1743
PM Predecessor: Robert Walpole
PM Successor: Henry Pelham
Date of Birth: c. 1674
Place of Birth: Compton Wynyates, Warwickshire
Date of Death: 2 July 1743
Place of Death: St James' Square, London
Political Party: n/a (Whig)
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Arms of Spencer Compton

Spencer Compton, 1st Earl of Wilmington (c. 1674 - 2 July 1743) was a British Whig statesman who served continuously in government from 1715 until his death. He had several styles: Sir Spencer Compton (1722–1728), The Lord Wilmington (1728–1730), and The Earl of Wilmington (after 1730). He served as the nominal head of government from 1742 until his death in 1743, but was merely a figurehead for the true leader of the government, Lord Carteret, the Secretary of State for the Northern Department.

Compton, the third son of James Spencer Compton, 3rd Earl of Northampton, was educated at St Paul's and at Trinity College, Oxford, then was admitted into Middle Temple. He entered the House of Commons for the first time in 1698 representing Eye, Suffolk. Although his family were High Tories, he turned to the Whigs after a quarrel with his brother George, future 4th Earl of Northampton. In Parliament he soon stood out as prominent amongst the Whigs and began a partnership with Robert Walpole which would last for over forty years.

In 1707 he became Paymaster of Pensions, a post that he retained for the next six years despite leaving Parliament in 1710 when he disagreed with his patron Lord Cornwallis and the taking of office by a Tory government in that year. It is believed that the Tories retained him as they sought to maintain the support of the Compton family. In 1713 Compton re-entered Parliament for East Grinstead and when the Whigs took power in 1715 he was hopeful for a high office but it did not come. Instead he became Treasurer to the Prince of Wales (later George II), and shortly afterwards was unanimously elected as Speaker of the House of Commons. He held this post from 1715 to 1727; one year after his appointment in that capacity, he was invested a Privy Counsellor. He maintained the role despite the split in the Whigs in 1717 in which he joined the Walpole-Townshend alliance and found himself in opposition to the government of the day. He managed to maintain his position throught until 1720 when the split ended.

Compton had a reputation for being a lax Speaker, once telling an MP who complained of being interrupted, "No sir, you have a right to speak, but the House have a right to judge whether they will hear you."

When Walpole became the leading minister of the day in 1721 there was speculation about his future should George I pass away and be succeeded by his son, who was more favourably inclined towards Compton than Walpole and declared that he would replace the latter with the former on accession. In order to avoid this Walpole sought to keep Compton on the margins of government, though he was appointed as Paymaster General from 1722 until 1730. In 1725 Compton entered Walpole's government as Lord Privy Seal and was also created a Knight of the Bath. In 1727 George II acceded and sought to bring about the change in leadership he had promised. However Compton felt he was not up to the tasks of government and in particular proved unable to compete with Walpole's proposals for an allowance for the King. At a meeting between the three Compton declared he was not up to the task of government. He maintained a hatred of Walpole for the humiliation.

In order to remove him from the Commons, Walpole raised Compton to the peerage as Baron Wilmington in 1728; two years later, he was created Earl of Wilmington and Viscount Pevensey and appointed Lord President of the Council. He became increasingly associated with those Whigs critical of Walpole but in Parliament generally stuck to the official line of the ministry. However, during the Excise Crisis of 1733, he failed to carry through a threat to resign, after being brought off with the promise to make him a Knight of the Garter, which he duly was. He served as Lord President until 1742. In January of that year he succeeded Walpole as First Lord of the Treasury and titular head of the Carteret Ministry, though the government was actually dominated by Lord Carteret. Wilmington was by now in poor health and found that other appointments were made without consulting him. He remained in office until his death, when he was succeeded by the Paymaster of the Forces, Henry Pelham. He died without issue, and therefore all his titles became extinct upon his death.

The cities of Wilmington, North Carolina, and Wilmington, Delaware are named in his honor.


Preceded by:
Thomas Hanmer
Speaker of the House of Commons
1715–1727
Succeeded by:
Arthur Onslow
Preceded by:
The Lord Cornwallis
Paymaster of the Forces
1722–1730
Succeeded by:
Henry Pelham
Preceded by:
The Lord Trevor
Lord Privy Seal
1730
Succeeded by:
In Commission
Preceded by:
The Lord Trevor
Lord President of the Council
1730–1742
Succeeded by:
The Earl of Harrington
Preceded by:
Sir Robert Walpole
Prime Minister
1742–1743
Succeeded by:
Henry Pelham

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