George Walpole, 3rd Earl of Orford

George Walpole, 3rd Earl of Orford (Jean-Etienne Liotard, 1751)
Armorial of Walpole: Or, on a fesse between two chevrons sable three crosses crosslet of the field[1]

George Walpole, 3rd Earl of Orford (2 April 1730 – 5 December 1791) was a British administrator and peer.


Lord Orford was the only child of the 2nd Earl of Orford and his wife Margaret Rolle, Baroness Clinton in her own right. His parents separated shortly after his birth. His father's mistress, Hannah Norsa, a celebrated singer and actress at Covent Garden, took up residence at Houghton Hall from 1736 until his father's death.[2] Orford's mother married again in 1751 and was buried at Leghorn in 1781, "a woman of very singular character and considered half mad".

Resident at Houghton Hall in Norfolk, between 1751 and 1791 he served as High Steward of King's Lynn, recently but by then no longer the nation's third most important port because of the expansion of transatlantic trade from the west coast, and also High Steward of Yarmouth, then a major fishing port.

He was Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk from 1757 and was appointed Colonel of the Norfolk Militia in 1759. He also served as a Lord of the Bedchamber to King George II until the latter's death, and then to King George III until 1782.

On his father's death, 31 March 1751, he succeeded as 3rd Earl of Orford. On the death of his mother in 1781 he became the sixteenth Baron Clinton.

An intended marriage to an heiress, Margaret Nicoll[3] was disrupted by his uncle Lord Walpole of Wolterton.[4] Instead, Margaret married the Duke of Chandos.

Orford was a celebrated falconer. He also enjoyed hare coursing and founded Swaffham Coursing Club in 1776, initially with twenty-six members, each naming their greyhounds after a different alphabet letter. For some years it was the leading coursing club in England, holding several meetings a year. He also organised coursing for neighbouring farmers and provided prizes. He became extravagant (his father died probably bankrupt) and increasingly eccentric and eventually died insane. He left no legitimate heirs, having never married, and at his death, aged 61, his titles — except the title of Baron Clinton, which due to its great antiquity had the peculiarity of being able to descend through the female line and passed into the Trefusis family, descendants of Walpole's great-aunt Bridget Rolle (1648–1721) — were passed to his uncle, Horace Walpole, who also took the still heavily encumbered Houghton estate.

There is documentary evidence that he had an illegitimate daughter, named Georgina Walpole, whose mother was Mary Sparrow of Eriswell.[5]

Gross mismanagement and extravagance

Frans Hals
Portrait of a young man:
an item from Houghton Hall's magnificent art collection which Orford sold to Catherine the Great

Orford is particularly remembered for his 1778 sale of his grandfather's magnificent art collection to Catherine the Great. It now forms part of the core of the collection at The Hermitage in St Petersburg.[6]

Orford intended his sale of the pictures to have taken place in secrecy but his plan soon leaked out and became of intense interest to the public. The trustees of the British Museum petitioned parliament for their purchase and the erection of a new building in the grounds of the British Museum. The eventual sale to the Empress of Russia was regarded as a national calamity.

204 paintings were received in St Petersburg; some were sold during the 1930s; and 126 pictures now remain at The Hermitage.[7]

Styles from birth to death


  1. Debrett's Peerage, 1968, Baron Walpole, p.1128
  2. Olive Baldwin Thelma Wilson, ‘Norsa, Hannah (d. 1784)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 accessed 10 Oct 2011]
  3. Matthew Kilburn, ‘Nuthall, Thomas (bap. 1716, d. 1775)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online ed., May 2008 accessed 10 Oct 2011
  4. Paul Langford, ‘Walpole, Horatio , fourth earl of Orford (1717–1797)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2011 accessed 10 Oct 2011
  5. "Anthony Hamond of Westacre - Correspondence". HMN 4/46/1-9 1792-1806, 1813. The National Archives (held at Norfolk Record Office). Retrieved 22 June 2013. Letters concerning the affairs of Georgina Walpole, natural daughter of Lord Orford...
  6. Frank Herrmann, ‘Christie, James (1730–1803)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 10 Oct 2011
  7. Roy Bolton (Ed.) The Collectors: Old Master Paintings, Sphinx Books, London 2009

See also

Honorary titles
Preceded by
The Earl of Buckinghamshire
Vice-Admiral and
Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk

Succeeded by
The Marquess Townshend
Peerage of Great Britain
Preceded by
Robert Walpole
Earl of Orford
Succeeded by
Horace Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford
Peerage of England
Preceded by
Margaret Rolle
Baron Clinton
Succeeded by
Robert Trefusis
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