WHELER, Sir Charles, 2nd Bt. (c.1620-83), of Birdingbury, Warws.
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Family and Education
b. c.1620, o.s. of William Wheeler, goldsmith, of London and Nantwich, Cheshire by Eleanor, da. of Edward Puleston of Allington, Denb. educ. Charterhouse 1631-6; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1636, BA 1639, MA 1642. m. lic. 7 Aug. 1648, aged 28, Dorothy, da. of Sir Francis Bindloss† of Borwick, Lancs., 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 2da. suc. fa. c.1655, Sir William Wheeler as 2nd Bt. 6 Aug. 1666, cos. Sir Thomas Trevor, 1st Bt., in Leamington Hastings estate 1676.1
Fellow of Trinity Coll. Camb. 1640-4; commr. for assessment, Camb. Univ. 1677-9, Warws. 1677-80; dep. lt. Warws. by 1680-d.
Maj. of horse (royalist) ?1642-4; col. of ft. 1644-6; maj. King’s Gds. (Spanish army) ?1656-8; capt. 1 Ft. Gds. (later Grenadier Gds.) 1661-72, Duke of Richmond’s Horse 1666, Prince Rupert’s Horse 1667; col. (later 7 Ft.) 1678-9.2
Gent. of privy chamber June 1660-?79; gov. Leeward Is. 1671-2.3
Wheler’s ancestors had been minor Worcestershire landowners in the 16th century, but his uncle sold the estate in 1619, and his father became a goldsmith. Wheler himself was sent to Cambridge to be educated for the Church. As a fellow of Trinity at the outbreak of the Civil War, he is said to have helped to convey the university plate to the King. After conspicuously gallant service, chiefly in the Newark garrison, he was promoted colonel by Rupert in 1644; but he submitted to Parliament early in 1646, and was allowed to go into exile. He compounded in 1649 for books and other goods worth £40, but apparently concealed the annuity of £200 and the estate of £450 p.a. which he had acquired by marriage. The greater part of this was sold in 1654, and he took service with the King’s guards in Flanders. Lord Mordaunt asked for him to be sent to England in 1660, but he was apparently undergoing surgery.4
At the Restoration Wheler was given a commission in the guards and £1,260, a third of which he spent at the King’s command in attending the coronation. He also obtained a baronetcy, with special remainder to himself, for Sir William Wheeler. He expected to inherit the estate as well, but so disobliged the old gentleman by urging him to execute a settlement that he received only £120 p.a. to add to his army pay. At a by-election in 1667 he was returned for his university as a country Cavalier by a narrow majority over Sir Christopher Wren. A very active Member of the Cavalier Parliament, he was appointed to 185 committees, acted as teller six times, and made about a hundred speeches. He distinguished himself from the first as a virulent enemy of Clarendon. He was among those ordered to search for impeachment precedents and to reduce the accusations against the fallen minister into heads. In debate Wheler described him as the only obstructor of the settlement of the government, who had countenanced nonconformists in their stubbornness and hindered poor Cavaliers from preferment. He acted as teller for the charge of betraying the King’s counsels, and was appointed to the committee for the banishment bill. Although reputed ‘a severe son of the Church’, as befitted a university Member, in the supply debate of 19 Feb. 1668 he delivered ‘an invective speech’ against the church government and all its abuses, which was ruled out of order. ‘A man fertile in expedients’, he next launched an attack on Ormonde, in collusion with Lord Orrery (Roger Boyle), and acted as teller against the Irish Adventurers’ petition. He declared ‘a great kindness for Presbyterians’ (though not for other dissenters), ‘being assistant in their prayers and endeavours in the Restoration’. As a result perhaps of his own services during the Fire of London, he was keenly interested in the rebuilding bill, acting as teller against the proviso for public wharves, and for the clause for the Thames Street allotments. In 1669 he was appointed to the committee to consider a petition from Magdalene College: but during the debate on the public accounts report six days later he chose to consider his capacity for logic impugned by Sir Nicholas Carew, and was compelled to apologize for causing a disturbance in the House. On 19 Nov. he proposed in general terms a motion for supply. He defended the conventicles bill on 2 Mar. 1670 by pointing out that it implied a toleration, compelling nobody to come to church, and he helped to manage the conference at the end of the month. As an army officer, he was included in both lists of the court party at this time. A hostile pamphleteer described him as a foot captain who ‘had once hopes to promise himself to be master of the rolls. ... A seamster’s son, yet by a cheat he got the title of baronet, but not owner of one foot of land.’5
When charging Clarendon with the loss of Nevis, Wheler had alleged that the island could be worth £20,000 p.a. to the King, and in 1671 he was given the chance to prove his assertion. But his appointment as governor of the Leeward Islands was terminated for incompetence within a year, and he also lost his commission. In the debate on the Test in the spring of 1673 he intervened only to express a High Church view of the sacrament; but in the autumn he protested against the Modena marriage, and was among those appointed to draw up the addresses against the marriage and the standing army (to which he had so recently belonged). Apparently he blamed Arlington for his dismissal, and was preparing to bring in an impeachment when Parliament was prorogued. In the 1674 session, he announced that he hoped for a supply, once grievances were redressed, and joined in the attack on the Cabal. He was prepared to give Buckingham a hearing, but showed himself as implacable towards Arlington as formerly towards Clarendon. He seconded the charges brought by Gilbert Gerard II, and, as a university Member, undertook to prove him ‘a constant and most vehement promoter of Popery’, especially in Ireland. He was appointed to the committees to consider the accusations and to bring in a bill for a general test.6
Wheler was not slow to hitch his wagon to Danby’s rising star, although according to rumour his wife stood even higher in the lord treasurer’s favour. He took a prominent part in the spring session of 1675, proposing a measure for educating the royal children as Protestants and helping to draft the address for the removal of Lauderdale and the two bills to exclude Papists from Parliament and prevent the growth of Popery. He went out of his way to tell the House on 26 Apr. that he believed ‘there is not one penny paid out of the Exchequer but by order’, and was granted an excise pension of £400. But his appetite was unsated: after all the inconveniences he had had these thirty years, he told the House, ‘he should be highly tempted if he take an office’, and he vigorously opposed the place bill, because ‘it creates a perfect incapacity in a man to serve his prince and country at one time’. He defended Danby against impeachment; his chargeable way of living was modest by continental standards, and necessary for the King’s honour, and his lady deserved consideration too, in view of her family’s record in the Civil War. On British subjects in French service, he remarked: ‘You can stop them no more than you can the exportation of wool’. When the King rejected the demand for Lauderdale’s dismissal, Wheler urged the House to proceed no further. In the dispute over the jurisdiction of the Lords, he helped to draw up reasons for three conferences, and to deliver the resolution of 15 May demanding a cessation of proceedings in the case of Shirley v. Fagg. He was appointed to the committee on the bill for appropriating the customs to the use of the navy, which was lost on the prorogation. When it was revived in the autumn, he declared himself in favour of the principle ‘as much as any man’ but desired it to depend on the King’s grace and favour; nevertheless he was again named to the committee, and to those for the two anti-Papal bills. Together with Sir Thomas Meres, he was sent to ask Sancroft to preach to the House on the anniversary of Gunpowder Plot, and to thank him for his sermon. He helped both to consider the bill and to manage the conference on the recall of British subjects in French service. His name appears in Danby’s papers among the court dependants, as a government speaker, and on the working lists. Sir Richard Wiseman was sure that he need say nothing of him, and Shaftesbury marked him ‘thrice vile’.7
During the long recess which followed, Wheler at last acquired an estate, by inheritance from his mother’s cousin. But he was no less active in 1677, serving on the committees to draw up the address on the danger from French power, to consider the bill to prevent the growth of Popery, and to provide for the Protestant education of children of the royal family. He was appointed one of the managers of a conference on the bill for the general naturalization of children born abroad to exiled Cavaliers. Although he had two sons in the Prince of Orange’s service, he was dubious about the demand for an alliance, offensive as well as defensive, with the United Provinces, both on constitutional and practical grounds. ‘By this address’, he told the House, ‘a war is declared. Perhaps you may come into a war, and then he shall declare himself further; but he is not for an alliance with the Dutchmen.’8
Wheler was one of three Members sent to thank Spratt for his sermon on the anniversary of Charles I’s execution in 1678. He took the chair in committee for the Cobham Hall estate bill, and returned it to the Lords on 11 Feb. In accordance with the reversal of English foreign policy, he was given a regiment in the newly-raised forces, and declared: ‘I have as great sadness to think what the war will cost as any man, but with as great sadness not to provide necessaries’. On 14 Mar. he told the House:
I am old enough to remember that the inquiry into evil counsellors began the late war, took off Lord Strafford’s head, and was followed by such an effusion of blood that I hope the like will never be again.
He helped to draw up reasons for a conference on the danger from Popery and to summarize foreign commitments. He was one of the Members who were summoned to the meeting of the government caucus on 30 May, and acted as a whip. On the proposed exclusion of Papists from Parliament, he said: ‘I desire our government may be preserved as we have found it. Let those that come after struggle as well as we, without these extreme and violent ways.’ Nevertheless he was appointed to the committee. He was on both lists of the court party. Before the final session of the Cavalier Parliament, Wheler wrote to (Sir) Joseph Williamson to ask for a commission for his second son: ‘The benefit I receive is very private, but this preferment to my son will be noticed as a mark of his Majesty’s grace to me’. Danby supported the application, because Wheler served the King so faithfully in the House. Nevertheless he supported the attack on Williamson for granting commissions to Popish officers, alluding to his successor in the West Indies as an example, and helped to draw up the address defending the secretary’s commitment to the Tower. On 21 Nov. he spoke in favour of allowing the Duke of York to continue to sit in the House of Lords. He was appointed to the committee to prepare instructions for disbanding the army. He continued to defend Danby even after the production of his letters by Ralph Montagu: ‘It is plain in that paper that the treasurer did what he could to advance the war with France. ... The letter to Montagu was by the King’s command. ... How can a man say that he assumed regal power?’ On 23 Dec. he was one of the eight Members ordered to compare the engrossed articles of impeachment with the draft.9
Wheler’s political position did not survive the fall of Danby, who recommended him to the electors of Lichfield without effect. The King’s letter to Cambridge University was scarcely more successful, and he was defeated at the poll. Although he was the first pensioner named by (Sir) Stephen Fox in the first Exclusion Parliament, and listed in the ‘unanimous club’, he put himself up for the university again at the next election, with the support of the bishop of Ely, but did not go to the poll. He died on 26 Aug. 683, aged 64, the only member of his family to sit in Parliament, and was buried at Leamington Hastings.