Many people will have heard of the name of Robert Walpole, the first Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in the early eighteenth century but has anyone heard of the first leader of the opposition?
William Shippen, hailed from Stockport, where his father was rector,was educated at the Town’s Grammar School and would gain noteriaty in his political life by finding himself imprisoned in the Tower of London after he was critical of the King.
The Shippens were an important Cheshire family.As said his father was Stockport’s rector, his uncle emigrated to America where he became the first Mayor of the town.
Little is known of his early life,William was born in 1673 and after Stockport Grammar School would continue his education at Westminster and Trinity College Cambridge before studying law and being called to the bar.
He married a daughter of Sir Richard Stott of Northumberland, bringing him a significant amount of income.
He entered the House of Commons first in the reign of Queen Anne as a member for Sussex but in 1714 he became the MP for Newton in Lancashire.
The accession of George I in 1715 saw the Tory party split and William became the leader of the Jacobins in Parliament, supporting the claims of the Stuart dynasty for the throne, but would steer clear of the various plots of that time to put the Stuarts back on the throne.
In 1717 he made a speach refering to the King as a starnger to our language and constitution and was thrown into the Tower of London.
Learning his lesson on his release he resumed his activities in the background and became an admired adversary of Sir Robert Walpole.”Robin and I” he declared ” are two honest men-He for King George and I for King James” while Walpole once said of the Jacobite leader, “Whoever is corrupt, Shippen is not”
In 1741 Shippen led the opposition as it walked out of Parliament following a bringing of a motion against the Prime Minister, declaring that he could not support the Whig Pulteney as the Prime Minister, instead prefering his friend Walpole.
He died in 1743, two years before Bonnie Prince Charlie led his troops from Scotland intent on taking the throne.