WYNN, John (1554-1627), of Gwydir, Caern.
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Family and Education
b. 1554, 1st s. of Maurice Wynn of Gwydir by his 1st w. Jane (Siân), and bro. of Ellis. educ. All Souls, Oxf. 1570, BA 1578; Furnival’s Inn 1572; I. Temple 1576. m. Sydney, da. of William Gerard I, 10s. 2da. suc. fa. 1580. Kntd. 1606. cr. Bt. 1611.1
Clerk of the peace, Caern. 1575; j.p. Caern., Merion. from c. 1580, Denb. from 1601; sheriff, Caern. 1587-8, 1602-3, Merion. 1588-9, 1600-1, Denb. Feb.-Nov. 1606; dep. Lt. Caern. 1587; member, council in the marches of Wales c.1603; collector of royal loan, Caern. 1606, of aid 1614, farmer of escheat lands by 1615, custos rot. 1618, commr. for moneys raised for Ireland 1626.2
After Oxford, Wynn lived in London until the age of 26. He married into a family of lawyers, and retained all his life a passion for litigation. On succeeding to his father’s extensive estates in the counties of Caernarvon, Merioneth and Denbigh, he at once became involved in the political storms which centred in the two houses of Gwydir and Lleweni. Indeed, in the struggle between the Earl of Leicester and the gentry of Gwynedd he had already declared himself as the Earl’s man before he left London, and his wife’s family was heavily committed to the same service, although Leicester himself was by no means convinced that Wynn was not, like his father, a party to the ‘stalling’ tactics of his neighbours. Leicester, however, died before achieving his ambitions in North Wales, and his heir the Earl of Warwick, after declaring his intention of persisting with his brother’s schemes and appointing Wynn in 1590 one of his commissioners, died within the year.3
Wynn’s professed devotion to Leicester had stopped short of accepting an invitation to serve under him in the Low Countries in 1585, but from 1588 onwards reiterated threats of Spanish invasion and then the recurrent need for levying forces for Ireland and for Essex’s foreign adventures, made heavy demands on him as deputy lieutenant, and from time to time involved him in friction with his neighbours. In 1601 he was employed in rounding up local suspects after the Essex revolt. It was only in 1592 that it came to light that he had up to then failed to take the requisite oaths as magistrate; but no doubts were ever cast on his loyalty to the established order in church and state. Among the solemn injunctions he wrote in 1614 to his heir (who died before inheriting) an exhortation never to turn Papist takes pride of place.4
Litigation kept him equally busy. Sir Thomas Williams of Vaynol, near Bangor, accused him before the court of Exchequer in 1589 of trying to drive him from a neighbouring property by diverting necessary water supplies, and he declined to mend the quarrel by a match between the families. A more serious quarrel three years later with William Williams of Cochwillan, son-in-law and neighbour of the powerful Sir William Gruffydd of Penrhyn, led to a brawl in Conway church, two Star Chamber actions (in which Williams grossly insulted Wynn’s ancestors) and the intervention of the council in the marches of Wales, which censured and fined Wynn. He was again charged in the Exchequer court in 1594 with enclosure, interruption of mill and fishery rights and other high-handed actions in Trefriw, and this was followed four years later by another dispute about mill rights in Caernarvon with Rowland Puleston. Tenants as well as neighbours found him overbearing, especially those former bond tenants whose legal insecurity laid them open to exploitation; accusations of this character were brought against him in the Exchequer court from tenants in the Conway valley and on his Denbighshire escheat lands across the estuary.5
His bitterest fights, however, came in the next reign, when he was involved in a ten-year dispute over lands and rectories with Thomas Prys of Plas Iolyn, the bard and buccaneer, which ended in a Star Chamber suit and Prys’s imprisonment for debt. From 1611-15 Wynn was at odds with his second cousin, Richard Bulkeley I, the builder of Baron Hill, over fishery rights and lands in Caernarvonshire. There was a still more prolonged struggle with his Conway cousins, the family of Robert Wynn of Plas Mawr, over the division in his grandfather’s day of the ancestral lands at Dolwyddelan, when John was convinced that two of his uncles had conspired to defraud his ailing and pliable father. A compromise was arranged in 1588, but the dispute flared up again to keep the court of Exchequer busy from 1606 to 1619. There were also disputes about his Merioneth lands, complaints in Star Chamber of tyrannical conduct towards a widowed neighbour, and a wrangle with the Salusburys of Lleweni over ‘intermixed’ lands in Creuddyn.6
It seems to have been this dispute that brought to a head the accumulated grievances against Wynn’s harsh dealings both in office and as a litigant. In 1615 he was summoned before the council in the marches of Wales (of which he was now a member), on a multitude of charges. He suffered a term of imprisonment, and but for a reluctant submission and the payment of a heavy fine he would have been stripped of all his dignities. It was a heavy blow to the political ascendancy of Gwydir. He had not himself put up for Parliament since 1586, when he left no trace in the records, though he might have attended the subsidy committee 22 Feb. 1587. He had, however, been untiring at every subsequent election, both in Caernarvonshire and in the neighbouring counties, in his efforts to secure the return of kinsmen and allies, until in 1620 a coalition of smaller squires from western Caernarvonshire procured the defeat of his son Richard—for which he ineffectively threatened reprisals in Star Chamber, but was overruled; and for 20 years Gwydir abandoned local electioneering.7
Like his ancestors, Wynn had few inhibitions about church property. When Bishop William Morgan, the translator of the Bible into Welsh—who had risen from humble beginnings as a protégé of Gwydir—was translated to St. Asaph in 1601, Wynn was incensed at his refusal to lease him the rectory of Llanrwst with the same complaisance as earlier bishops had shown towards his ancestors. The prebend and rectory of Llanfair Dyffryn Clwyd, which had been leased to his uncle Dr. John Gwynne II, was the occasion of much ‘bickering’ (as Wynn called it) in 1617-18 with Lewis Bayly, bishop of Bangor, who was determined to have it for his son; but this was too soon after Wynn’s humiliation in the council in the marches of Wales for him to show much fight and—fearing for his other rectory of Llandudno—he made it up with the bishop, who indeed became his close ally in the electoral fight of 1620.8
Wynn’s energy also found more constructive outlets. He had many plans for the economic development of North Wales, including Anglesey copper, Welsh cloth, and (in his closing years), the improvement of his Merioneth estates by the draining of Traeth Mawr—a project not realised till the nineteenth century. None of these came to fruition, nor did he make anything of the extensive leases of coal mines in Anglesey, Caernarvon and Flint which he acquired from the Crown in 1614. But on the Gwydir lands themselves he made trials for copper and had some success with the mining and even smelting of lead, and the fact that one of his sons was a factor at Hamburg helped him to find a continental market.9
Another of his varied interests was the fostering of Welsh literature and antiquities. He was one of those who in 1594 petitioned Elizabeth for another eisteddfod like the one held in 1567. He was much concerned with the production of a Welsh metrical psalter in 1610 and of a Latin-Welsh dictionary in 1624-5—though it was hinted that he was more liberal with unwanted advice than with hard cash. His own History of the Gwydir Family, which remained unpublished till 1770, remains, with all its inaccuracies, a valuable source for the history of the period. His genuine care for learning comes out in the trouble he took over the education of his sons, and in his foundation of a grammar school (with almshouses) at Llanrwst—although here again doubts have arisen about how much of Sir John’s own fortune actually went into the endowment.10
Wynn made his will 28 Feb. and died 1 Mar. 1627. He was buried in Llanrwst church. His eldest son having predeceased him, the will was proved, on 5 Dec., by his second son Richard. The estate afterwards passed to a third son who resumed the parliamentary predominance of Gwydir in Caernarvonshire, but with the death of this man’s son in 1674 the direct male line came to an end.