Historical Portraits Picture Archive

William Pulteney, Earl of Bath 1684 - 1764 1740s

Studio of Jean-Baptiste Van Loo (1684-1745)

William Pulteney, Earl of Bath 1684 - 1764, Studio of Jean-Baptiste Van Loo
Oil on canvas
18th Century
50 x 40 inches 127 x 101.2 cm
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Pulteney has a claim to a dubious record in British politics, namely that of the shortest serving Prime Minister, though it is generally discounted that the two days in which he was invited to form a Government but could not persuade anyone to serve under him actually qualifies as an administration.

His life was marked by political successes of a moderate kind whose pleasure and benefit to him was overwhelmed by his rivalry with Robert Walpole, in opposing whom he was willing to sacrifice what benefit he had and because of which his reputation best survives as the losing party in a three decade contest conducted in the House of Commons and - on Pulteney's part who was an insatiable pamphleteer - in a torrent of printed broadsides one of which resulted in a challenge to a duel by Lord Hervey. Pulteney's fortunes remained inextricably bound to his former friend's, and despite taking a contrary position on the war with Spain in 1739 to Walpole - who strenously hoped to avoid it - sank along with the administration in 1741. He was elevated to the peerage in 1742 as among other titles Earl of Bath when Walpole was created Earl of Orford, and their encounter in the Upper House was the occasion of Walpole''s famous remark: ''Here we are, my Lord, the two most insignificant fellows in England.''

Pulteney now Lord Bath did not grasp the essential truth of the observation, and when Henry Pelham's administration resigned in1746 accepted the seals of Office from the King on February 10th to begin his much ridiculed administration, which lasted as the wits observed ''Forty eight hours, three quarters, eleven minutes and seven seconds.''
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