Sir Robert Walpole and The South Sea Bubble of 1720
Walpole had opposed the South Sea scheme, though he made money out of speculation in the stock, and in the moment of disaster the king dismissed Stanhope and Sunderland, who soon died, and called upon Walpole to take charge of the finances.
It was the beginning of his long supremacy. He reorganized the South Sea Company, leaving it with a capital of £33,000,000 and still a gigantic corporation. The shareholders got one share in the new company for three in the old, government guaranteed dividends on half the stock, and with something short of utter ruin the crisis passed. It wrought much harm; that it brought Walpole to the front and made his real capacity apparent must be counted among its good results, for, as no one else, Walpole saw what England needed, and had the courage and ability to hold the government to its real tasks.
In earlier ages the king had been the real head of the government. Sir Robert Walpole is the first name in the long roll of British prime ministers – men who rule the state though they use the sovereigns name.