temporary absence from the House of Commons a motion for an inquiry into the administration of the last twenty years was defeated by a narrow majority. On his return a similar motion, extending over ten years only, was brought in, at his instance, by Lord Limerick, and carried; but Pulteney excused himself from serving on the committee. A few months later he made his last speech in the commons in opposition to a resolution reflecting on the lords for throwing out the bill indemnifying witnesses in the Oxford inquiry.
Pulteney had, on the formation of the new ministry, resolved to accept the king's offer of a peerage, but he delayed his withdrawal to the House of Lords in the twofold hope of being able to leaven the ministry with a larger proportion of opposition members, and of pushing through the commons certain measures—a place bill and some bribery bills with which his name had been associated (Newton, Life, pp. 53–69). After bringing into the government a few only of those for whom he wished to find places, he, on 13 July 1742, became Earl of Bath. His political prestige was at once ruined. Walpole unjustifiably boasted that he had ‘turned the key’ upon Pulteney, who, after ‘gobbling the honour,’ perceived his error too late, and on the day when he took his seat in the lords dashed the patent on the floor in a rage (Walpole, Letters, ix. 379; cf. Edinburgh Review, u.s. p. 197). Bath afterwards told Shelburne that during the political crisis of 1742 he ‘lost his head, and was obliged to go out of town for three or four days to keep his senses’ (Fitzmaurice, i. 46–7; Caricature History, p. 145). Yet, if he behaved unwisely, he acted, according to Chesterfield, deliberately and disinterestedly (Stanhope, iii. 118). He had not conciliated the king, who ‘hated him almost as much for what he might have done as for what he had done.’ Nor had he treated his enemies vindictively. And Lady Hervey wrote with great truth on the eve of his downfall: ‘Sure the people who adhered to him in particular have no reason to find fault with him; he has taken sufficient care to provide for them’ (Letters of Lady Hervey, p. 5). But the public failed to understand his position, and assailed him with virulent abuse. To gain a title for himself and for the ‘wife of Bath,’ as she was called in a ballad which caused him great annoyance, he had sold himself to his former adversaries (see also Hanbury Williams, ‘A Dialogue between the Earl and the Countess of Bath,’ Works, i. 174–5; Walpole, Letters, i. 121; Hanbury Williams, Works, iii. 86–9; Coxe, Walpole, iv. 295–6, and note). The wittiest verse-writer of the day (unless Pulteney himself deserve that name) and the least scrupulous, Sir Charles Hanbury Williams, persecuted him in a series of odes which did more execution in six months than the ‘Craftsman’ had done in twice the number of years (cf. The Country Girl, i. 132–6; the Ode to the Earl of Bath, i. 146–9; and The Statesman, i. 150–2). In another ballad he was compared to Clodius, and, with more point, to Curio by Akenside in his famous ‘Epistle’ (cf. Gent. Mag. November 1744; Poetical Works of Akenside, Aldine edit. vol. xxvi.) In 1743 Lord Perceval (afterwards Earl of Egmont) ventured, in a pamphlet called ‘Faction Detected,’ attributed to Bath himself by Williams (Works, i. 194–7), to defend his conduct; but, according to Horace Walpole (Last Ten Years, i. 31), with no other result than that of losing his own popularity. It was answered with acrimonious minuteness in ‘A Review of the whole Political conduct of a late Eminent Patriot and his Friends’ (1743), at the close of which (pp. 156–9) the charge of personal corruption was brought forward against him with renewed vehemence.
On 2 July 1743 Wilmington died, and it then appeared, if the information of Coxe (Memoirs of the Pelham Administration, i. 82–5) is to be trusted, that during the interval Bath had nursed the ambition of recovering the position which he had let escape his grasp in 1742. He despatched a private messenger to Carteret, who was at Hanau with George II, asking for the vacant headship of the treasury. But, though Carteret supported the application, the king decided in favour of the Pelhams (Coxe, u. s. 103, 110–13; cf. Hanbury Williams, Works, iii. 108–200; and the ballad on the ‘Triumvirate—Carteret, Sandys, and Bath,’ in Caricature History, p. 150).
Until 1746 Bath made no outward effort to shake Pelham's position. He and Granville, however, maintained a personal connection with George II, through Lady Yarmouth, and tacitly encouraged the king's dislike of the ministry (Walpole, Last Ten Years, i. 149). Early in 1746 the king grew desperate when he was requested by Pelham to assent to Pitt's admission to the government. At the moment the Dutch were remonstrating against the ineffectiveness of British support, and George addressed complaints to Bath and Granville as to the impotence to which he found himself reduced. After some hesitation, Bath agreed to form an administration of which he should be the head and Granville the right arm, and from which Pitt should be excluded. But Harrington refused to co-operate, and on