Given a free rein? Representations of power in the stables at Houghton Hall, Norfolk, and John Wootton’s Sir Robert Walpole with his Hunter and Groom, Jemima Hubberstey
When Sir Robert Walpole first rose to political power from humble origins, he had much to prove to the world. In order to consolidate his position as Prime Minister against the backdrop of the new Hanoverian dynasty, Walpole capitalised on extravagant displays of power, impressing political peers and local squires alike by inviting them for entertainment and hunting at his estate at Houghton Hall, Norfolk. This was hardly coincidental: although relatively unexplored in scholarship, historically, horses served as vehicles to showcase a man’s elite social standing and ability to govern. However, it was also important for Walpole to recognise the limits of his power in order to demonstrate that he was no threat to the monarchy. This study examines the stable architecture at Houghton Hall and the equestrian portrait of Walpole by John Wootton (1726) in order to demonstrate the extent to which equestrian representations could function as a metaphor for both power and submission, which is particularly pertinent when applied to the hierarchical relations between Prime Minister and King.