England in the Eighteenth Century

By J. H. Plumb | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
WHITEHALL

So far we have described the outer bulwarks of the constitution, but the citadel was the King's Household, which provided the vast majority of places and sinecures for the loyal. All ministers were the King's servants, appointed by him, dismissed by him, dependent for their powers almost entirely on his prerogative. They were responsible for all of his acts and answerable for them to Parliament as well as to the King; a divided command and one imperfectly understood by both commanders. In fact, the relationship between executive and legislature bewildered contemporary Englishmen as well as foreigners, and it was not only Montesquieu and Voltaire who saw powers separate that were united. Bolingbroke, the chief expositor of constitutional theory in the early decades, felt that the executive had no right to be in Parliament which was to be the judge of its acts, but the practical wisdom of Walpole and Newcastle saw that, if any continuity of policy was to be achieved, the executive needed to be in control. The need was all the more imperative because M.P.s were pledged only to very broad political principles and never to definite political programmes as M.P.s are to-day. Nor was there any party organization as we know it. Hence, left to its own devices, Parliament would have been an anarchy of individual minds and wills, swayed by the tide of circumstance. The solution to the problem was provided by the King's Household. Government supporters were given places -- usually sinecures, such as Master of the King's Tennis Court or Taster of the King's Wines in Dublin -- but what is not usually recognized is that many of these offices were filled by men who fulfilled the

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