WILLIAMS, Sir Trevor, 1st Bt. (c.1623-92), of Llangibby, nr. Usk, Mon.
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Family and Education
b. c.1623, 1st s. of Sir Charles Williams† of Llangibby by 2nd w. Anne, da. of Sir John Trevor of Plas Teg, Flints. educ. G. Inn, entered 1634. m. 1640, Elizabeth, da. of Thomas Morgan† of Machen, Mon., 4s. (1 d.v.p.), 6da. suc. fa. 1642; cr. Bt. 14 May 1642.1
Col. of ft. (royalist) 1643-5; gov. of Monmouth (parliamentary) 1645-6.
Commr. of array, Mon. 1643-5, j.p. 1646-c.48, Mar. 1660-7, 1671-80, 1689-d., commr. for assessment 1647-8, Jan. 1660-80, 1689-90, militia 1648, Mar. 1660, custos rot. Mar.-July 1660, col. of militia ft. Apr. 1660-?67; commr. for oyer and terminer, Oxford circuit July 1660., dep. lt. Mon. c. Aug. 1660-7, 1689-d., commr. for recusants 1675.2
Williams’s family rose in importance during the 16th century as clients of the Earls of Pembroke. His father, the first to enter Parliament, was an outspoken defender of the Church of England till his death early in 1642. Williams was one of the most active local royalist commanders in the Civil War; but in March 1645, allegedly from ‘dislike of Popery’, he sent a messenger to London undertaking to deliver Monmouthshire and its garrisons into the power of Parliament, on condition of receiving ‘some command of honour and trust’. A few months later he told the royalist commander-in-chief in South Wales that he and his friends were ‘for both King and Parliament, and not to divide between them, as they perceived his intention was’. Charles I ordered him to be imprisoned, but Williams was quick to ‘chew his treasonable letters’, and he was released on bail. In the following month he assisted the capture of Monmouth by the Parliamentarians at the head of 1,700 clubmen. However, Parliament rejected his grandiose plans for the military establishment in Monmouthshire, and in March 1646 he threw up his command. During the second Civil War, he kept in the background, but was suspected to be ‘the malignant who set on foot the plot’ to surprise Chepstow Castle, and Cromwell, giving orders for his arrest, described him as ‘full of craft and subtlety, very bold and resolute; hath a house at Llangibby well-stored with arms and strong; his neighbours about him very malignant, and much for him’. He was discharged from sequestration in 1652, but he played no part in public affairs until the overthrow of the military regime. He was marked as a commissioner on the list compiled by Roger Whitley; and on 30 June 1659 Charles II wrote that he was assured Williams would endeavour with all his friends and interest to advance the royal service. He was made custos rotulorum and colonel of the militia in March 1660, and under his command the militia declared for the King even before the general election.3
Williams was only moderately active in the Convention, being appointed to 15 committees and making four recorded speeches. His most important committees were to draft legislation in accordance with the declaration of Breda, to prepare a form of thanksgiving, to meet the Lords committee on the proclamation of Charles II and to draw up the indemnity bill. He acted as teller against the proposal to oblige office-holders during the Interregnum to repay their salaries and perquisites. On 9 July he ‘moved to establish the religion according to the Thirty-Nine Articles, and not only according to the Old and New Testaments, which all that own Christianity profess’. But a week later he favoured laying aside the whole question for three months. He spoke in favour of a grant of £10,000 to Sir George Booth, and later of some reward to the sister-in-law of Colonel Francis Wyndham, who was akin to him through the Tredegar family.4
Williams lost his seat at the general election of 1661, but returned to the House in 1667 as knight of the shire, defeating the candidate put up by the Marquess of Worcester (Henry Somerset) at a by-election. For his temerity he was removed from the commission and the lieutenancy. He was a very active Member of the Cavalier Parliament, in which he was named to 273 committees, and made 21 recorded speeches. His first committee of political importance was on the bill for banishing Clarendon. In the debate on the conventicles bill on 28 Apr. 1668 he brought in a proviso for putting the recusancy laws into execution ‘on purpose to clog the bill’, and so extreme was his language that he narrowly escaped being called to the bar. Worcester, with his Roman Catholic kinsfolk and dependants, was vulnerable to the charge of leniency towards Popery, and henceforth Williams never failed to bang the Protestant drum at every opportunity. The next move in the feud was to summon Williams before the treasury board to account for £600 of local tax arrears in his servant’s hands; Williams disclaimed parliamentary privilege at the time, but when the same servant was arrested at Caerlyon Fair a year or two later, Williams went into the country to bring the offenders up in custody without even serving them with the order of the House. On 10 Jan. 1671 he spoke against proceeding with supply until the bill provoked by the assault on Sir John Coventry had passed, and he acted as teller against committing the subsidy bill. As chairman of the committee on the suppression of Popery, he was the first to draw attention to the Jesuit college at the Combe, just across the border in Herefordshire. He informed the House, with some exaggeration, that half the county of Monmouth were already Papists and that there were more priests than clergymen to be seen. He complained of the general remissness in convicting recusants, and of their exemption from such chargeable offices as sheriff and deputy lieutenant. The committee drew up an address, which Williams carried to the Lords, and he helped to manage a conference on 3 Mar. The Upper House, presumably under Worcester’s influence, doubted Williams’s facts. He defended them in the Commons, and was sent to desire another conference. Meanwhile he had brought in a bill to prevent the growth of Popery, and on 9 Mar., rather surprisingly, he acted as teller for the unsuccessful amendment to exempt from its provisions Cavaliers whose estates had been sold or who had borne arms for Charles I.5
In the debate on the Declaration of Indulgence, Williams acted as teller against the use of the suspending power in religion. He helped to manage another conference on the growth of Popery on 6 Mar. 1673, and he was one of four Members ordered to bring in a Sunday observance bill. In a debate on 15 Mar. he exclaimed, without much obvious relevance, that ‘what he has heard makes his heart bleed, and therefore moves for Monday to consider redress of grievances’. Chief among these, in his view, was the condition of Ireland, and he was perhaps the first MP to attack the heir to the throne on the floor of the House for turning many Protestants out of his troops, and taking in the notorious Richard Talbot. In the 1674 session, Williams was appointed to the committees to consider the state of Ireland; his high standing in the House was shown by his selection to thank the preacher of one of the sermons on the anniversary of the execution of Charles I. He took the chair of the committee considering the petition of Lord Ibrackan (Henry O’Brien), but made no report. He complained that Arlington had advised a Herefordshire j.p. to accept bail for a priest, and called William Garway to order for criticizing the harshness of the Penal Laws. In the debate on the Castle Rising election, he alleged that Samuel Pepys had insulted Lord Brereton (Hon. William Brereton) at the commission of public accounts. Williams was prominent in the next session in the disputes between the two Houses. On 4 May 1675, with three other Members, he was appointed to search the Journals for precedents, and on the following day he was sent to desire the Lords to have regard to the privileges of the Commons in the case of Shirley v. Fagg. He acted as chairman for Prince Rupert’s private bill, and on 19 May carried it with two others to the Lords. Two days later he returned to the Upper House to ask for a conference on another privilege case. He was appointed to three major committees in this session, for appropriating the customs to the use of the navy, for hindering Papists from sitting in Parliament, and for suppressing Popery.6
Williams had not abandoned all connexion with the Court. With Sir Edward Mansel he celebrated the appointment of (Sir) Joseph Williamson as secretary of state by tossing ‘not a few glasses’ to and fro, and Williamson sent him the government whip in September 1675. On the working lists he was assigned to the management of Mansel and William Morgan. When the House met, Williams produced a letter, picked up by his servant in St. James’s Park, in which a prominent Roman Catholic described William Cavendish, Lord Cavendish, and Sir Thomas Meres as ‘barbarous incendiaries’, and he was sent, with four other Members, to ask the signatory if he would own it. He was appointed to the committees to inspect scandalous books, to abolish the suspending power in religion, to exclude Papists from both Houses of Parliament, to recall British subjects from the French service, to prevent the growth of Popery and to preserve the liberty of the subject. On 20 Oct. 1675 he was given leave to bring in a bill to prevent the export of wool from England or Ireland. Danby still hoped that so good an Anglican could be brought back to the fold, either by Mansel, or, as Sir Richard Wiseman advised, by his own brother-in-law William Morgan. But Williams’s conduct in the 1677 session finally disillusioned the Court. Though he was too concerned about getting his estate bill passed to make any speeches, he was noted as ‘doubly worthy’ by Shaftesbury. He sat on the committees for the recall of British subjects from the French service, the prevention of illegal exactions, and the Protestant education of the children of the royal family. On 29 Mar. he acted as teller against re-committing the address undertaking to support the King in event of war, and on the next day he carried up to the Lords the bill to abolish the punishment of burning for heresy. On 5 Apr. he was teller for adjourning the debate on Irish cattle imports. Williams’s estate bill passed both Houses unamended, but at the end of the session it was the only private bill out of 15 to be refused the royal assent. ‘Some say the reason was because he did not behave himself in the House of Commons’, wrote Daniel Finch. ‘Others say that the Marquess of Worcester was his enemy in it.’7
On 29 Jan. 1678 Williams was appointed to the committee for drawing up an address to limit France to her frontiers at the Peace of the Pyrenees. But in the first sessions of the year he was less concerned with foreign policy than with the cloth trade. He was one of the Members ordered to bring in bills for burying in woollen and for empowering quarter sessions to make by-laws for the regulation of the industry. On 27 Mar. he was among those to draw up reasons for a conference on the growth of Popery. Meanwhile dissatisfaction over Worcester’s high-handed treatment of the Monmouthshire commissions and his leniency with Papists had come to a head, although credit for exposing them to the Government and to Parliament must be given to Morgan and John Arnold respectively, rather than to Williams. As knight of the shire he was one of the Members who were ordered to acquaint the lord chancellor with Arnold’s information on 29 Apr. He took part in drawing up the address for the removal of counsellors, and acted as teller against adjourning the debate on alliances on 25 May; he seems to have been in touch with the Austrian ambassador at this time. His activity over the woollen bills continued; he was ordered to prepare reasons for a conference, and on 28 May he was among those to whom was committed consideration as a breach of privilege of printed objections against the bill for wearing wool. On 15 July his estate bill under an altered style received the royal assent.8
The ten previous years of Williams’s political life might seem like a preparation for the events of the concluding session of the Cavalier Parliament. But the exploitation of the Popish Plot largely fell into other hands. He was one of the six Members ordered to search the cellars for explosives on 28 Oct., he was named to the committee for the impeachment of Lord Arundell of Wardour, and added on 7 Nov. to the committee to investigate the plot. But his concern was chiefly with minor figures, such as Dr Short and Lord Carrington, and his attack on (Sir) Job Charlton carried so little conviction that he ended by begging the House’s pardon. His last important committee in this Parliament was to draw up the address for the arrest of Papists and suspected Papists, but on 5 Dec. he was given the dubious honour of visiting Titus Oates to find out how far the restraint on him had been relaxed.9
Williams stepped down from the county seat at the general election to make way for Lord Herbert of Raglan (Charles Somerset). Herbert’s father tried to deny him the borough seat too, but Morgan estimated that if it came to a poll Williams would carry it three to one. He was marked ‘worthy’ by Shaftesbury for the first Exclusion Parliament, in which he was very active, with 27 committees, including those to consider the security bill, the summons to Danby to give himself up and the habeas corpus amendment bill. On 8 Apr. 1679 he acted as teller for the motion to debate Irish cattle imports in a committee of the whole House. His only speech was to remind the House how Arnold had been replaced by a Roman Catholic on the Monmouthshire bench. But the time for a full-scale parliamentary attack on Lord Worcester had not yet come. Williams voted for exclusion, and, at the second election of 1679, ousted Lord Herbert from the county seat. He was even more active in the second Exclusion Parliament, in which he made four speeches and was named to 42 committees, including those to receive information about the Popish Plot and to draw up the impeachment of Edward Seymour. But as chairman of the committee for the address on the opposition journalist Harris he sadly bungled his report, which was recommitted. Another attack on Worcester fizzled out on 13 Dec. 1680 in spite of Williams’s bloodcurdling climax: ‘A man, so rotten in his principles, to have such a command! You may all have your throats cut.’ However, he had the satisfaction of carrying up to the Lords the bill for the abolition of the court of the marches. On 18 Dec. he moved for a committee, to which he was subsequently appointed, to draw up an address of grievances. He seconded the repeal of the clause in the Corporations Act renouncing the Covenant, and was one of six Members ordered to draft a bill accordingly. But from Williams’s point of view the highlight of the Parliament was the debate on Lord Worcester on 7 Jan. 1681. ‘Mass was constantly said in his garrison’, he alleged, ‘and when he was told of it, he would say: "You have nothing to do with my garrison".' Arnold pressed the attack home, and it was resolved to address the King for the removal of Worcester from all his offices.10
Williams was re-elected to the Oxford Parliament, in which he was appointed only to the committee of elections and privileges. An anonymous letter from 'Cambro-Briton' of 30 July 1681 informed Secretary Jenkins that Williams 'continues a firebrand, and has most of the youth of the county at his command to attend the drinking of barrels of ale, where he plots his roguery, being needy and indebted, by endeavouring his unlawful stirs'. But nemesis was at hand; in 1683 Worcester (now Duke of Beaufort) was awarded £20,000 damages for scandalum magnatum against Williams. In vain he begged Jenkins to intercede for him, in May 1684 he was committed to the King's Bench prison.11
Little is heard of Williams for the next few years, except that he was entered on Danby's list among the country Opposition. He was again returned as knight of the shire at the general election of 1689, although still a prisoner. A moderately active Member of the Convention, he made no recorded speeches, and was appointed to only 22 committees, of which the most important were to inspect the coronation oath, to examine the precedents in 1660 for the bill of indemnity and to consider the bill for restoring corporations. He was not listed as a supporter of the disabling clause. A bill was introduced to reserve the judgment against him, but Beaufort anticipated its provisions by giving him a release. Williams did not sit again, and died in November 1692.12