Ballad-singers trolled out their rimes to the crowd on "the cur-dog of Britain and spaniel of Spain." His position had been weakened by the death of the Queen; and it was now weakened yet more by the open hostility of the Prince of Wales. His mastery of the House of Commons too was no longer unquestioned. The Tories were slowly returning to Parliament. The numbers and the violence of the "Patriots "had grown with the open patronage of Prince Frederick. The country was slowly turning against him. With the cry for a commercial war the support of the trading class failed him. But it was not till he stood utterly alone that Walpole gave way and that he consented in 1739 to a war against Spain. "They may ring their bells now," the great minister said bitterly, as peals and bonfires welcomed his surrender; "but they will soon be wringing their hands." His foresight was at once justified. No sooner had Admiral Vernon appeared off the coast of South America with an English fleet, and captured Porto Bello, than France formally declared that she would not consent to any English settlement on the mainland of South America, and despatched two squadrons to the West Indies. At this crisis the death of Charles the Sixth forced on the European struggle which Walpole had dreaded.
France saw her opportunity for finishing the work which Henry the Second had begun of breaking up the Empire into a group of powers too weak to resist French aggression. While the new King of Prussia, Frederick the Second, claimed Silesia, Bavaria claimed the Austrian Duchies, which passed with the other hereditary dominions, according to the Pragmatic Sanction, to the Queen of Hungary, Maria Theresa. In union therefore with Spain, which aimed at the annexation of the Milanese, France promised her aid to Prussia and Bavaria; while Sweden and Sardinia allied themselves to France. In the summer of 1741 two French armies entered Germany, and the Elector of Bavaria appeared unopposed before Vienna. Never had the House of Austria stood in such peril. Its opponents counted on a division of its dominions. France claimed the Netherlands, Spain the Milanese, Bavaria the kingdom of Bohemia, Frederick the Second Silesia. Hungary and the Duchy of Austria alone were left to Maria Theresa. Walpole, though still true to her cause, advised her to purchase Frederick's aid against France and her allies by the cession of part of Silesia; but the "Patriots" spurred her to refusal by promising her the aid of England. Walpole's last hope of rescuing Austria was broken, and Frederick was driven to conclude an alliance with France. But the Queen refused to despair.
She won the support of Hungary by restoring its constitutional rights; and British subsidies enabled her to march at the head of a Hungarian army to the rescue of Vienna, to overrun Bavaria, and repulse an attack of Frederick on Moravia in the spring of 1742. On England's part, however, the war was waged feebly and ineffectively. Admiral Vernon was beaten before Carthagena; and Walpole was charged with thwarting and starving the war. He still repelled the attacks of the "Patriots " with wonderful spirit; but in a new Parliament his majority dropped to sixteen, and in his own cabinet he became almost powerless. The buoyant temper which had carried him through so many storms broke down at last. "He who was asleep as soon as his head touched the pillow," writes his son, "now never sleeps above an hour without waking: and he who at dinner always forgot his own anxieties, and was more gay and thoughtless than all the company, now sits without speaking, and with his eyes fixed for an hour together." The end was in fact near; and in the opening of 1742 the dwindling of his majority to three forced Walpole to resign.