WYNDHAM, Sir William, 3rd Bt. (c.1688-1740), of Orchard Wyndham, Som.
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Family and Education
b. c.1688, o. s. of Sir Edward Wyndham, 2nd Bt.* educ. Eton 1696; Christ Church, Oxf. matric. 1 June 1704, aged 15; travelled abroad (Low Countries, France, Italy) 1704–6. m. (1) 21 July 1708 (with £10,000), Lady Catherine (d. 1731), da. of Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset, 2s. 2da.; (2) 1 June 1734, Maria Catherine, da. of Peter de Jong, burgomaster, of Utrecht, wid. of William Godolphin†, Mq. of Blandford, s.p. suc. fa. as 3rd Bt. June 1695.1
V.-adm. Som. by 1710–?16; freeman, Bath 1713.2
Master of buckhounds 1711–12; sec. at war 1712–13; chancellor of the Exchequer 25 Aug. 1713–14; PC 1 Nov. 1713–14.3
Commr. Chelsea Hosp. 1712–?14.4
As a youth, Wyndham was regarded as something of a prodigy and even Queen Anne reputedly took an interest in Wyndham’s progress at Eton and Oxford. After leaving the university he travelled abroad in company with Charles King, an acquaintance of the Tory Lord Gower, enjoying an allowance of £1,000 a year. There was no little jealousy among Wyndham’s friends in May 1708 when it was announced that he was to marry ‘the fine Lady Catherine Seymour . . . because she, being a woman of so great quality, will have a jointure and pin money far above what is commonly allowed for her fortune, which is £10,000’. Preparations for the marriage included the passage of a bill enabling him, while still technically a minor, to make a settlement of his estates. On coming of age he took the first opportunity to enter Parliament and was chosen knight of the shire for Somerset at a by-election towards the end of April 1710, by which time, however, Parliament had been prorogued. In August there were rumours that he was to be raised to the peerage with a barony, but these proved unfounded and he was again returned unopposed in the October general election. In his first full session, he quickly established himself in the House as a young MP of great promise: at the report on the disputed Lymington election, he acted as a teller on 11 Jan. 1711 in favour of a ‘popular’ franchise, thus favouring the Tory petitioners; and over the next five weeks took the lead in the initiation of two bills, one private, the other at the behest of constituents in Frome, Somerset, to prohibit the importation of wool cards and to prevent abuses in making them at home. He acted as a teller on a further six occasions, including three times during the hearing of the Cockermouth election case, and on the other three occasions with the government in connexion with various items of government business, the most significant of which was the division occurring on 15 May on the motion that spending by the previous administration in excess of the supplies voted by Parliament was ‘the chief occasion of the debts of the nation and an invasion of the rights of Parliament’. Accordingly, he was classed as one of the ‘worthy patriots’ who during the 1710–11 session assisted in detecting the mismanagements of the previous administration. He was also listed as a member of the October Club.5
It is not clear exactly when Wyndham fell under the spell of Henry St. John II*, but their friendship, certainly from Wyndham’s point of view the most important and enduring political relationship he was to forge, was clearly in evidence by the summer of 1711. As a High Tory he was a warm admirer of the secretary and in June became a founder member of St. John’s ‘Society of Brothers’. It was almost certainly through St. John’s patronage and goodwill that he was appointed master of the Queen’s buckhounds early in June. On 7 Dec., at the beginning of the 1711–12 session, Wyndham was included on the committee appointed to draw up the Address, a certain indication of his growing importance in government counsels. Before the year drew to a close, suggestions that he might feature in the planned bulk creation of peers evidently gave way to a realization of his value in the Commons. In January 1712 he spoke against the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†) when the Duke was accused of corruption, and on 9 Feb. was a teller against receiving a petition from the Quakers. He ‘inveighed’ strongly against the Barrier Treaty in the debate on 16 Feb., arguing that,
under colour of securing the Protestant succession they had made a treaty dishonourable to England . . . We ought never to admit foreigners to be judges of our laws. A standing army was what he hoped we should never see in England, but to allow of 20 or 30,000 foreigners to come over was of more pernicious consequence, and that, by this treaty, the Dutch might do when ever they judged it proper.
His parliamentary activities were interrupted for a while following a fire on the night of 1–2 Mar. which destroyed his house in Albemarle Street, only recently purchased for £6,000. Two maids were killed jumping to safety, and his wife miscarried shortly afterwards. Although the jewellery, most of the plate and all his writings were saved, his overall loss was estimated at £9,000. On 12 May he was teller in favour of an allowance to woollen manufacturers to be made from the ‘lottery fund’, and on the 26th told in support of the East India Company’s application for a bill to extend its charter. In the same month he managed a private bill. He was teller again on 10 June in favour of condemning the sermons of the zealously Whig Dr William Fleetwood, bishop of St. Asaph, as ‘malicious and factious’.6
On 28 June 1712 Wyndham was appointed secretary at war, and in this capacity he presided over the disbandment of the army following the conclusion of peace. His close relations with St. John (now Viscount Bolingbroke) were emphasized at the beginning of October when the two spent a hunting holiday together. At the opening of the last session of this Parliament, 9 Apr. 1713, he was included on the Address committee. Not surprisingly, much of his activity throughout the session related to his responsibilities at the war office, and he frequently presented accounts, estimates and other papers relating to the military establishment. During May he managed through the House a bill to enable disbanded troops to resume civilian employment by relaxing regulations which would otherwise have prevented them from setting up in trade, and in June was in charge of the opening stages of a bill to regulate the army in peacetime. He also found time to handle a private bill on behalf of his wife’s brother-in-law, the Whig Earl of Thomond (Henry O’Brien*). He helped the ministry to pilot the treaty of commerce with France through the House, speaking twice in its favour, on one occasion asserting, somewhat incautiously, that the opposition were attacking it because they knew that its success would spell their downfall. On 6 June he was teller against a poorly received Whig motion that sought to expose a loophole in the treaty. He duly voted for the French commerce bill in the crucial division on the 18th, and was a teller for the Court on two subsequent occasions. His ministerial zeal was rewarded in mid-August when, still only 24, he was appointed chancellor of the Exchequer. George Lockhart* wrote that the appointment had been secured solely by the interest of Bolingbroke since Wyndham was ‘a person having neither experience nor a character sufficient for such a post, though in other respects a very deserving young gentleman’. In the following November he was admitted to the Privy Council.7
Returned unopposed in 1713, Wyndham was accorded his usual place on the Address committee on 2 Mar. 1714. In the ensuing session he acted openly as a loyal henchman to Bolingbroke and was regarded as ‘the leader of Bolingbroke’s party’. He twice joined in the attack on Richard Steele* on 18 Mar., claiming that ‘some of Mr Steele’s writings contained insolent, injurious reflections on the Queen herself and were dictated by the spirit of the rebellion’, but when he subsequently declared that ‘the subjects had lost two millions by the writing of The Crisis as making the stocks fall, he was taken up and told it was the Post Boy and the Examiner, by telling us that the Pretender was coming over with a French and Irish army’. On 12 May he successfully moved for leave to bring in ‘a bill against the further growth of schism’, the aim of which was to remove the right of Dissenters to educate their children in their own seminaries. As part of Bolingbroke’s plan to rally Tories under his own banner and create major difficulties for Lord Treasurer Oxford (Robert Harley*), the bill’s intent was nothing less than the extermination of Protestant Dissent through the destruction of its educational system. Robert Walpole II* attempted to scupper the measure and embarrass the Tories by proposing to extend its scope to Catholicism, but the suggestion was effectively scotched by Wyndham and William Bromley II* and ‘flung out’. The schism bill, which Wyndham duly presented on the 21st, encountered little difficulty in its subsequent passage through the Commons, Wyndham himself presiding over the committee of the whole House on the 26th. He supported it at its third reading on 1 June, and later in the month, on the 23rd when the House considered the Lords’ amendments, he helped to defeat a Whig move to introduce an amendment extending the benefits of the Toleration Act to Irish Protestant Dissenters, arguing that ‘if leave were given to bring in such a bill, they hoped they should have leave also to bring in another to incapacitate Dissenters from voting in elections for Parliament men’. During a supply debate on 12 June regarding payments to the army in the period immediately before the peace had come into effect, strong objections were raised to the provisioning of the Hanoverian troops. The replies given by the moderates ‘raised the spirits of the Jacobites or those of Bolingbroke’s party to a great height of bitterness in their speeches’, compelling Wyndham to intervene at a critical moment with an assurance that it was not the Queen’s intention that any payments should be made to the Hanoverian army. One observer noted that had he not done so ‘there had certainly been a discovery of the strength of the Jacobites, but Sir William Wyndham, being the head of the faction, quieted them’. On 24 June he opposed moves to raise the reward offered for the capture of the Pretender from £5,000 to £100,000 on the grounds that ‘it was an extravagant proposition and that he might as well propose £200,000 and £300,000’. On 30 June he failed to prevent Lockhart from throwing out the ministry’s bill to regulate the militia in Scotland of which Wyndham had been a named sponsor.8
With the rivalry between Oxford and Bolingbroke coming to a head in July 1714, Wyndham unequivocally sided with the latter and there were rumours that he would be secretary of state in a new administration. On the day of Oxford’s dismissal, 27 July, Wyndham was present at a meeting between Bolingbroke and several Whig leaders at which Bolingbroke seems to have sought some agreement in return for his support for Hanover, but the Whigs were unco-operative. That night at a consultation of the Cabinet it was agreed that Wyndham should be one of the new Treasury commissioners, but no agreement could be reached on the others. The next day, while travelling in a coach, his travelling companion Lord Lansdown (George Granville*) was reported to have remarked to him that ‘now they had got the power entirely into their hands, they might easily bring about a Restoration’, to which Wyndham replied, ‘put that out of your head, that will never be: [the Pretender] is an impracticable man . . . and will never be brought in’. A rumour that he had gone to France ‘to negotiate some affair of great consequence’ was unfounded. Following the death of the Queen on 1 Aug., Wyndham was among those who signed the proclamation of George I at St. James’s. In the Commons, on the 7th, he was proposed as chairman of ways and means but Walpole secured the continuance of John Conyers* as the best way of securing a supply for the royal household. Even so, it was Wyndham and Bromley who appeared ‘most forward’ to do the King’s business by moving for the civil list. According to Boyer, on 13 Aug. 1714 Wyndham supported the payment of arrears owed to the Hanoverian troops, and indeed seconded the motion to this effect, but Charles Ford, writing to Swift, claimed that on 14 Aug.,
Sir William Wyndham, [Henry] Campion and two or three more gave some opposition to it [paying the arrears], for which they are extremely blamed. I think they had acted right if they had spoke against it yesterday, but it seems they were not then in the House. They had not strength enough today to come to a division.
Wyndham was soon afterwards deprived of office and spent the rest of his political career in opposition. He remained a loyal disciple of Bolingbroke until his death on 17 June 1740, when Bolingbroke was moved to comment: ‘to lose a friend with whom one has lived 30 years in an intimacy that has no reserve, is to lose half of oneself’.9
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Andrew A. Hanham
- 1. Evelyn Diary, v. 236–7; H. A. Wyndham, Wyndham Fam. 36–37; Staffs. RO, Sutherland mss D.868/41b, 43b, 44a, 44b.
- 2. Bath RO, Bath council bk. 4, 3 Sept. 1713.
- 3. Cal. Treas. Bks. xxvi. 50; xxvii. 51, 422, 518; Boyer, Pol. State, iii. 387.
- 4. Hull Univ. Lib. Bosville mss DD/BM 32/1, E. Burgess to Godfrey Bosville, 25 Dec. 1712.
- 5. Wyndham, 36–37; Sutherland mss D.868/6/30b, King to Ld. Gower, 4 July [n.y.]; Grosvenor mss at Eaton Hall, Sir Richard Grosvenor, 4th Bt.†, to John Pigot, 27 Jan. 1706;