WILLIAMS (afterwards WILLIAMS WYNN), Watkin (?1693-1749), of Wynnstay, Denb.
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Family and Education
b. ?1693, 1st s. of Sir William Williams, 2nd Bt., M.P., of Llanforda, Salop and Glascoed Denb.; bro. of Richard and Robert Williams. educ. Jesus, Oxf. 18 Dec. 1710, aged 17. m. (1) 20 Nov. 1715, Anne (d. 14 Mar. 1748), da. and h. of Edward Vaughan of Llwydiarth, Mont., 1s.; (2) 19 July 1748, Frances, da. of George Shakerley of Hulme Cheshire, 2s. suc. to estates of Llwydiarth and Glanllyn, Mont. and Llangedwyn, Denb. through his 1st w. on d.1718 of her fa. and 1725 of her sis.; to estates of Wynnstay, Denb. and Rhiwgoch, Merion. on d. of his mother’s cos. Sir John Wynn, 5th Bt., M.P., Jan. 1719, when he assumed add. name of Wynn; and fa. as 3rd Bt. 20 Oct. 1740.
Wynn was the grandson of Sir William Williams, James II’s solicitor-general, who prosecuted the seven bishops. In 1716 he was returned on his father’s interest at a by-election for Denbighshire, continuing to represent it but for a brief interval for the rest of his life. In 1718 he inherited his father-in-law’s estates, carrying a major electoral influence in Montgomeryshire; and in 1719 Wynnstay and other extensive property in North Wales from a distant kinsman, subject to his taking the name of Wynn. A member of the Cycle of the White Rose, a secret Welsh Jacobite society, he was included in a list of leading Jacobites sent to the Pretender in 1721. He ‘audaciously burnt the King’s picture’ during the general election of 1722, when he was largely responsible for the return of nine Tories out of eleven Members for North Wales. Opposing a loyal address from his county on the discovery of the Atterbury plot, he supported Kelly, the chief agent of the plot, during his imprisonment in the Tower. His vast estates, great electioneering activity, and personal popularity soon made him the head of the North Wales Tories, so dominating Welsh politics that he was called Prince of Wales.1
No speech of Wynn’s is recorded till 7 Mar. 1727 when he seconded an opposition motion attacking Walpole on a Treasury matter.2 At the general election of 1727 he had his brother, Robert Williams, returned for Montgomery Boroughs, but the return was petitioned against on the ground that the right of election lay in the freemen of the county town only. In the debate on the petition in April 1728, Wynn observed:
If a right of election supported by two Acts of Parliament, founded upon the union between England and Wales, several ancient returns evidently admitting the right, several resolutions made upon a formal hearing at the Bar of this House ... is to be broken through, I must appeal to the gentlemen, whose seat in this House can be secure? ... That scandalous practice of corruption and bribery I thank God has not crept amongst us, but if the number of electors are to be reduced, I am afraid our people could not withstand so great a temptation.3
In 1729 he introduced a bill to prevent bribery at elections which passed into law with an amendment by the Lords making the last determination of the House as to the right of election in every constituency final.4 In 1730 he spoke ‘popularly but not much to the argument’ against the taking of Hessian troops into British pay and in favour of a reduction in the size of the army, returning to the theme in 1732, 1733, and again in 1738, when his performance is described as ‘very weak’. He supported a bill for enforcing the existing land qualification for Members in 1732 and 1733;5 spoke in favour of the repeal of the Septennial Act in 1734; was one of six Members appointed to bring in a place bill in 1735, when he sent word to the Pretender that he would be ‘always ready’ to serve him both with his life and his fortune; and opposed the mortmain bill and the repeal of the Test Act in 1736. In 1737, on the motion for an increased allowance for the Prince of Wales,
Sir R. Walpole told Mr. Watkin Williams that if he or Mr. Shippen would vote against it and bring over some of the Tories to do the same he would get £20,000 to be given to Lady Derwentwater [see Bond, Denis], which he refused to do and told Sir R. Walpole that though he should be very glad that poor lady might have something out of her husband’s forfeited estate, yet he could neither apply for her or anyone else in so mean a manner.
He spoke against the Address in 1738 and seconded the place bill in 1740. According to Horace Walpole, he always began his speeches with ‘Sir, I am one of those’.6
In 1740 an emissary from the Pretender, sent to sound the English Jacobite leaders as to their attitude towards a project for a Jacobite rising combined with a French invasion, reported that Wynn was ‘hearty and may certainly be depended on’. Thenceforth he became deeply involved in Jacobite schemes, which culminated in the rebellion of 1745.
In 1741, on the motion for Walpole’s dismissal, Wynn and another Jacobite, Sir John Hynde Cotton, now joint leaders of the Tory party in the Commons, went ‘about the House to solicit their friends to stay the debate’ but failed to prevent a considerable body of Tories from abstaining.7 At the general election, on which he spent over £20,000,8 his candidates for Denbigh Boroughs and Flint Boroughs were defeated, and he himself temporarily lost his seat for Denbighshire, taking refuge in Montgomeryshire till the return was reversed on petition. He participated in the final assaults on Walpole, seconding the successful opposition candidate for the chairmanship of the committee of elections and speaking in support of Pulteney’s motion for an inquiry into the conduct of the war.
After Walpole’s fall Wynn did his best to secure that the Duke of Argyll, who had had dealings with the Pretender, should become commander-in-chief. On Argyll’s refusal to accept this office unless his Tory friends were given places
Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, with a considerable number of other Parliament men, repaired to his Grace, and exposed to him that unless matters were in a further way of settlement, they should all break to pieces next Thursday, when Parliament was to meet; that when the question about the army should come on, he and the rest were determined to oppose continuing the same number, unless his Grace were at the head of it, and therefore they pressed him hard to accept his Majesty’s offer to restore him to his posts.
They not only released Argyll from his pledge to them but even offered to accompany him to court, and when he kissed hands
above a hundred Lords and Commons, among whom were the chiefs of the Tory party, Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, Sir John Cotton, etc., waited on the King, whose rooms had not been seen from the beginning of the reign so crowded.9
The army was duly voted without a division, but next month, on the King’s refusal to appoint Cotton to the board of Admiralty, Argyll resigned and Wynn reverted to opposition.
At the opening of the next session in November 1742 Wynn, supported by Pitt, attacked the policy of the new Administration. He followed this up by unsuccessfully moving for the revival of the secret committee on Walpole, seconding a place bill, which was rejected, and voting against the Hanoverian troops. He appears in a list of ‘persons of distinction’ drawn up for the French Government in the spring of 1743 with the comment: ‘il jouït de £18,000 sterling de rente en terres qu’il fait valoir’; and a marginal note: ‘indécis dans cette affaire á cause de ses richesses mais au fond bien intentionné’.10 In the summer of 1743 he and other leading Jacobites met emissaries from the Pretender, their opposite numbers in Scotland, and the French Government to discuss arrangements for a Jacobite rising supported by a French invasion next year. They ‘all declared their readiness to give what assistance was in their power, provided a considerable body of troops were landed in England, but would not consent to give any writing under their hand’. When the necessity of raising money was mentioned Wynn said that ‘it was natural to expect a large contribution from him, being possessed of a very great fortune, but ... he was obliged to live at a vast expense, and had it less in his power to be assisting in that way than if his income was smaller’.11 The French emissary reported that Wales was ‘entirely at the orders of the Dukes of Beaufort and Powis, Lord Bulkeley, Sir Watkin Williams and those who think with them, and they have all undertaken to hold themselves in readiness to take to the saddle as soon as the first signal is given by Lord Barrymore’, the Pretender’s general. Despite fears that many supporters would be loath to turn out in cold weather, the invasion date was fixed for the end of February, when the main business of the House would be over and Wynn and his friends could leave for their counties without exciting suspicion.12
Shortly before Parliament re-assembled in December 1743 Wynn became one of the Tory representatives on a committee appointed by the Opposition to co-ordinate their activities in the Commons during the coming session. When Lord Barrymore was arrested at the end of February 1744 on a charge of being implicated in the threatened invasion, Wynn and his Tory colleagues on the committee protested but did not press the matter to a division. At the height of the invasion crisis he nearly defeated the Government on the Denbigh Boroughs petition, which had belatedly come up, only losing it after a protracted struggle, during which the Government majority fell to one.13He was almost certainly the ‘gentilhomme anglois député par le parti Tori’— referred to as W— who went over in October 1744 to persuade the French Government to make another attempt and was given favourable assurances from the King of France for the English Jacobites.14
On the formation of the Broad-bottom Administration at the end of 1744, Wynn was offered a peerage. He is said to have replied that
as long as his Majesty’s ministers acted for the good of their country, he was willing to consent to anything; that he thanked his Majesty for the earldom he had sent him, but he was very well content with the honours he had and was resolved to live and die Sir Watkin.
He followed this by speaking and voting with the Government for the first time in his life. He supported the despatch of an army to Flanders, saying ‘that he did not doubt that all his friends would do the same, and that the whole nation would be unanimous in it, because we must all stand or fall together, there being no medium’.15 Meanwhile he was sending assurances to the Pretender that ‘all your Majesty’s friends will stand to the engagements of last year’, were ‘impatient for H.R.H.’s arrival with a body of troops’, and answered ‘for his success’.
In August 1745, when England was stripped of troops and the war was going badly, Wynn and the other heads of the English Jacobites sent an appeal to the French government for a French invasion, pledging themselves to raise the Pretender’s standard in the various parts of the country the moment the French disembarked. On learning that the Young Pretender had already landed in Scotland without French support they made no move, beyond pressing ‘loudly and vehemently for a body of troops to be landed near London as the most effectual means to support the Prince, and the only method by which a dangerous and ruinous civil war can be avoided’.16Parliament, when Pitt and his friends attacked the Government for the inadequacy of the steps taken to deal with the rebellion, ‘Sir Watkin nor none of his friends meddled in the debate [Lord Hartington wrote], but left it for us and our new friends to dispute it’.17 When the rebels reached Derby, Wynn and Barrymore sent an oral message to Prince Charles assuring him that his English friends were ready to join him in the capital, or to rise in their own counties, whichever he preferred. The message never reached the Prince as he had left Derby two days before it arrived there.
Next year Murray of Broughton, turning King’s evidence, disclosed to the Government treasonable conversations between the English Jacobite leaders and the Pretender’s representative in 1743. ‘The moderation of Mr. Pelham and the Cabinet ministers’, Hardwicke records, ‘then satisfied with having brought the leaders of the rebellion to the block, and having the rest at their mercy, did not choose to push inquiries further’. However, at Lord Lovat’s trial in 1747 Murray was allowed to mention the 1743 conversations in his evidence, giving the names of Wynn, Cotton and Barrymore. ‘The Tories’, Hardwicke adds, ‘at first seemed very angry with us for letting the names of Sir Watkin etc. slip out of Murray’s mouth, and Prowse, a Tory, but no Jacobite, asked Speaker Onslow if some notice ought not to be taken of it in the House. Mr. Onslow intimated that he believed the parties concerned would not choose it’.18 Nor did they.
In December 1747 Wynn sent a message to the Young Pretender that ‘the whole body of your loyal subjects in England’, wished
for nothing more than another happy opportunity wherein they may exert themselves more in deeds than in words, in the support of your Royal Highness’s dignity and interest and the cause of liberty, and that if they failed joining your Royal Highness in the time you ventured your sacred person so gloriously in defence of their rights, it was owing more to the want in them of concert and unanimity than of real zeal and dutiful attachment. They beg leave to represent most earnestly to your Royal Highness that if the foreign succours of men and arms so often promised by your faithful allies can be obtained in the present circumstances they will join the remains of the injured Scotch to be revenged of the others of their misfortunes.19
In the meantime he was one of the prominent Tories who agreed to support the Prince of Wales’s programme in 1717.20 His last public action was to attend and speak at a joint meeting between the two opposition parties, at which one of the Prince’s friends, ‘to the great abashment of the Jacobites, said, he was very glad to see this union, and from thence hoped, that if another attack like the last rebellion should be made on the royal family, they would all stand by them. No reply was made to this’.21
On 20 Sept. 1749 Wynn died of a fall from his horse when hunting. ‘This accident will in all probability change the whole face of things in that part of the world’, wrote Henry Pelham, ‘and a great stroke it is for the King and his family. ... The cause in general must be the better for the loss of such a man’.22
Ref Volumes: 1715-1754
Author: Eveline Cruickshanks
- 1. Stuart mss 65/16, 178/6; Yorke, Hardwicke, i. 76.
- 2. Knatchbull Diary.
- 3. ‘The Montgomery Boroughs constituency 1660-1728’, Bull. of Bd. of Celtic Studies, Nov. 1963, pp. 301-2.
- 4. CJ, xxi. 265, 301; 2 Geo. II. cap. 24.
- 5. HMC Egmont Diary, i. 26, 240, 346; HMC Carlisle, 66, 193.
- 6. Harley Diary; NLW, Wynnstay mss C. 97, 341F; Corresp. H. Walpole (Yale ed.), xvii. 243 n. 8; Stuart mss 194/10.
- 7. Mahon, iii. 29-30 and app. p.v.
- 8. NLW, Wynnstay mss 341 F; Add. 32919, f. 267; 35600, f. 232.
- 9. HMC Egmont Diary, 254-5.
- 10. Stuart mss 248/151.
- 11. Murray of Broughton, Memorials (Sc. Hist. Soc. xxvii), 55, 456.
- 12. AEM and D Angl. 82, ff. 49-57; J. Colin, Louis XV et les Jacobites, 49-50.
- 13. Owen, Pelhams, 199, 214-16.
- 14. Stuart mss 260/6, 260/107.
- 15. HMC Hastings, iii. 49; Stuart mss 261/54; Mahon, iii. app. p. lx.
- 16. Sempill to the Pretender, 28 Dec. 1744 and 13 Sept. 1745, Stuart mss 261/54, 268/5.
- 17. Owen, 286 n. 4.
- 18. Mahon, iii. 277 and app. p. lxxii et seq.; Yorke, i. 582. See also BARRY, James.
- 19. Stuart mss 288/172.
- 20. Add. 35870, ff. 29-30.
- 21. Walpole to Mann, 3 May 1749.
- 22. Pelham to Hartington, 30 Sept. 1749, Devonshire mss.