WARDLE, Gwyllym Lloyd (?1761-1833), of Hartsheath, nr. Mold, Flints.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b. ?1761, o.s. of Francis Wardle, attorney, of Chester by Catherine, da. and h. of Richard Lloyd Gwyllym of Hartsheath. educ. Harrow 1775; Greenford, Mdx.; St. John’s, Camb. 12 Feb. 1780, aged 18. m. settlement 5/6 Nov. 1790, Ellen Elizabeth, da. and coh. of Love Parry of Madryn, Caern., 4s. 1da. suc. fa. by 1775.
Sheriff, Flints. 1791-2, Anglesey 1802-3, Caern. 1803-4.
Capt. Ancient British Drag. 1794, maj. 1797, lt.-col. 1799-1800.
Wardle, the son of a successful attorney who married the heiress of Hartsheath, left Harrow early because of ill health and did not take a degree at Cambridge. After returning from a European tour he married well and settled to the life of an active magistrate and improving agriculturalist in North Wales, with an interval of service in Ireland during the rebellion in command of a troop of the fencible regiment raised by his friend Sir Watkin Williams Wynn. In 1801 he was one of the leading opponents of the proposed Menai Bridge scheme, having become involved in the rival speculative ventures of the Whig William Alexander Madocks*, in whose cloth factory at Tremadoc he was a partner.1
In about 1804 he took rented accommodation in Bath, where he gained a reputation for advanced political views, and at the general election of 1807 he stood for Okehampton, having apparently been recommended by his attorney, one Corfield, who had connexions there, to a group of electors resentful of ‘some grossness’ in the recent sale of the chief property interest in the borough. He topped the poll and was said to have received 88 plumpers in his total of 113 votes. On 22 June 1807 one of the opposition head-counters wrote that a new recruit ‘makes up for a Mr Wardle of Okehampton who we calculated upon, but have lost’.2 He nevertheless voted with them on the address, 26 June, the state of the nation, 6 July, and for inquiry into places and pensions, 7 July, and on 11 July he was elected to Brooks’s, sponsored by Sir Watkin Williams Wynn.
Wardle voted against government in most of the important divisions of 1808, including those on Burdett’s motion on droits of Admiralty, 11 Feb., Whitbread’s third peace resolution, 29 Feb., and pensions for Scottish barons of exchequer, 4 May. On 21 June he moved amendments to the assessed taxes augmentation bill. Two days later he raised the issue of army clothing contracts and argued that, by adhering to a system of private contracts, successive governments had wasted large sums of public money since 1803, illustrating his case by referring to the rejection in 1806 of a tender from Scott & Co. of Cannon Row which would have saved £22,000. He suggested that the commander-in-chief, the Duke of York, the King’s second son, had thwarted attempts to establish a fair and open system of public contract, but did not press the matter any further.
On 24 Dec. 1808 he asked Whitbread to award the clothing contract for the Bedfordshire militia to Scott, who had given him ‘much clear information upon the army great-coat question’, and added that he was ‘now possessed of a variety of facts respecting the sale of commissions etc. etc. that must fully expose the corruption of HRH the commander-in-chief’. Whitbread, convinced that Wardle would be unable to prove his case and would ‘therefore come to disgrace’, strongly advised him to drop the matter; but he was ‘determined to persevere’ and on 20 Jan. 1809 gave notice of a motion on the conduct of the Duke of York regarding appointments, promotions, exchanges and the raising of levies.3 A week later, after making a declaration of the purity and patriotism of his motives, he introduced the name of Mrs Mary Anne Clarke, former mistress of the Duke of York, reviewed specific cases in which she admitted to having trafficked in military appointments in return for money and argued that the duke had partaken of the financial rewards of these transactions. His motion for an inquiry was seconded by Sir Francis Burdett, but to his surprise ministers, prompted by the duke himself, opted for a public investigation at the bar of the House rather than inquiry by select committee.
Initially, few Whigs were prepared to support Wardle’s audacious move and Lords Grey and Grenville stood aloof throughout. The former considered that Wardle, an ‘informer’ who ‘formed an acquaintance and an intimacy with a vile prostitute to get into her secrets’, was fighting the influence of the crown ‘with poisoned weapons’. Others, like Francis Horner, who had ‘every reason at present to believe that Mr Wardle is a man of respectability and is actuated by none but the proper motives’, and Sir Samuel Romilly were prepared to wait and see. Only the Burdettites and the Whig ‘Mountain’, notably Whitbread, who thought that to have disclaimed Wardle would have been ‘totally unnecessary and would have had a very bad effect with the public’, Lord Folkestone, who soon found his way into Mrs Clarke’s bed, and Thomas Creevey rallied to him at first, while others, who knew Wardle in private life, reflected that whatever his motives, his means of procuring his information would do him no credit. William Cobbett, the radical publicist, greeted Wardle’s motion with delight, but wondered about his ‘capacity of proving the facts’.4
The inquiry, which began on 1 Feb. 1809 and occupied 12 parliamentary days, monopolized public attention, the saucy, shameless and resourceful Mrs Clarke being the star attraction. Sir Martin Browne Ffolkes told Farington that Wardle ‘speaks well for a new Member’, while another Whig, Robert Greenhill, recalled how at first ‘he stood unsupported, and seemed to feel it, looking very pale, so as to excite pity in the mind of Mr Greenhill and others’. Francis Place, the radical tailor, who later wrote Wardle off as a ‘vulgar minded ... weak and timid man’ with ‘neither the courage nor the capacity to examine himself and accurately to estimate either his own powers or resources’, wrote that ‘he came frequently [to me] for advice and consolation. He was at times and particularly towards the close of the business extremely agitated, generally about some matter of no real importance.’5 At first the investigation went badly for Wardle, who indeed was never able to prove that the duke had been privy to, participated in or connived at his mistress’s corrupt transactions, but the production by way of evidence, 13 Feb., of two of the duke’s letters to Mrs Clarke swung opinion in the House against the commander-in-chief. Many Whigs had to revise their initial view that Wardle’s case was hopeless, and the combative George Tierney, aware that opinion outside the House, stirred up by Cobbett and the popular press, was running strongly against the duke, even entertained hopes of bringing government down on the issue. Perceval, who was Wardle’s chief antagonist, lost his early confidence and had to tell the King, 21 Feb., that he feared it would be impossible to prevent the House from voting for the duke’s impeachment or removal from office.6
In the interval between the end of the inquiry and the formal debate on its findings, ministers and the Duke of York concocted a letter to the Speaker protesting his innocence and regretting his adultery, but it had little apparent effect on the mood of the House. On the other side Tierney tried to persuade Whitbread that opposition’s best tactic would be to let government make the first move, but he learnt, to his dismay, that Wardle planned to take the attack to them. He was unable to ascertain the form and content of Wardle’s intended motion, which, it was said, he kept to himself ‘solely under the direction of Cobbett’. Whitbread thought Wardle would ‘be moderate and act under his advice’, but Tierney supposed ‘he was more likely to be guided by Cobbett’ and feared the worst. On 8 Mar. 1809 Wardle, in a speech of about three hours before a packed House, reviewed the evidence and moved an address for the duke’s removal from office. The Grenvillite William Fremantle reported that ‘he did it very ill and very heavily’, but the Speaker thought it a ‘plain, distinct speech’.7 Perceval countered with a brilliant speech in favour of resolutions and an address acquitting the duke of corruption but regretting his association with Mrs Clarke. On 15 Mar. Wardle’s address was defeated by 364 votes to 123, but in the division of 17 Mar. on Perceval’s, which was carried by a majority of 82, 196 Members voted against the duke’s complete acquittal. Another hostile motion was tabled and on 18 Mar. the duke resigned, though it was always intended to reinstate him after a suitably decent interval.
Wardle basked for weeks in the glow of popular acclaim. Votes of thanks came in from nationwide meetings, commemorative medallions were struck in his likeness and Charles Williams Wynn thought he would walk in for Westminster with Burdett at the next general election. On 29 Mar. 1809 Burdett and Whitbread sang his praises at a Westminster reform meeting and on 6 Apr. common council voted to present him with the freedom of the City.8 The Duke of York scandal stimulated a cry for economical reform, while his acquittal by the House in the face of widespread public conviction of his guilt injected new life into the flagging parliamentary reform movement.
Wardle plunged into both campaigns. He voted for inquiry into abuses, 17 Apr., and in support of charges of corruption against Castlereagh and Perceval, 25 Apr. and 11 May. It was strongly rumoured that, armed with incriminating documents, he intended to accuse Lord Hardwicke of electoral corruption at Reigate, but he did not bring the matter before the House.9 On 28 Apr. 1809 he moved for papers to substantiate his allegations of waste and inefficiency in the army pay office. After exchanges with ministers in which, reflecting his alignment with the Burdettites, he avowed that ‘he did not wish to see any other set of gentlemen in their places’, he withdrew the motion, but he reintroduced and carried it on 10 May. In January 1809 Major Cartwright had claimed a favourable response from Wardle to his request for attendance at a parliamentary reform dinner, and he was one of only seven MPs present when it took place under Burdett’s chairmanship, 1 May.10 He voted for Folkestone’s ironic amendment to the preamble of Curwen’s emasculated reform bill, 12 June, and three days later was in the minority of 15 who supported Burdett’s parliamentary reform scheme. In the debate on Curwen’s bill, 26 May, Wardle, stung by the Whig leader Ponsonby’s mocking allusion to his reported public declaration that he had a scheme of economical reform which would enable the income tax to be dispensed with, denied having said this, but boasted of having ‘plans of economy by which many millions of the public money might be saved’, which he was willing to produce. On 19 June he presented his scheme, which detailed heavy potential cuts in expenditure, including a one-third reduction in the naval estimates and a saving of two million pounds by granting Catholic relief. Ministers agreed to supply the long list of accounts which Wardle moved for, but they did so secure in the knowledge that William Huskisson had exposed the scheme as half-baked nonsense. It was a blow to Wardle, and the Whig Henry Brougham, who blamed him for making effectual opposition to government impossible, noted with satisfaction that he was ‘discovered to be no wizard’. Whitbread later claimed that he had often told Wardle in private ‘how egregiously he had erred in naming a sum in his cups, to which he was afterwards obliged to work, instead of working his sum first, and proving it in the House of Commons’.11
Far worse was to come and Wardle, ‘after being for a few weeks the god of the people’ was, as Horner put it, ‘whirled from high by the same Mrs Clarke’ who had helped to raise him to his pinnacle of popularity. William Jerdan, editor of the Morning Post and a champion of the Duke of York, later claimed that even during the inquiry there had been ‘no small modicum of envy, jealousy, backbiting and all uncharitableness’ within the ‘enemy camp’;12 and in June 1809 Mrs Clarke, who had recently been paid £10,000 and given an annuity of £400 by government in return for the surrender of the Duke of York’s letters and destruction of her prepared memoirs, persuaded Francis Wright, an upholsterer, to take Wardle to court for alleged nonpayment of a bill for furniture for her house in Westbourne Place. The case was heard in King’s bench, before Lord Ellenborough, on 3 July 1809, and the appearance for Wright of the attorney-general was taken as a clear indication that government were out to destroy Wardle. For the first time the public heard that Wardle had sought out Mrs Clarke through one Pierre McCallum, an embittered soldier, in the autumn of 1808 and that late in November he had taken her, in the company of Thomas Dodd, military secretary to the Duke of Kent, and James Glennie, a former artillery officer, on a trip to the Martello towers, ostensibly to collect information for a parliamentary attack on their expensive uselessness, but in reality to pump her on her relations with the Duke of York and her dealings in military patronage while under his protection. Mrs Clarke alleged that Wardle had bought her testimony with a promise to pay the cost of furnishing her new house and that he had contributed half, with Dodd, to a payment of £500 made to Wright by a circuitous route. The jury, after lengthy deliberation, returned a verdict for Wright and Wardle was ordered to pay £1,095 for the furniture and costs of £1,194. Next day Wardle issued a public letter claiming that in not calling Dodd and Glennie to give evidence his counsel had gone against his wishes, and vowing that he would vindicate himself before the law. He subsequently indicted Mrs Clarke, Wright and his brother Daniel for conspiracy. Mrs Clarke replied with a public threat to expose him completely and the country expectantly awaited their next clash.13
Wardle’s many enemies, particularly those in the Whig camp, were delighted by his ‘exposure’ which, thought Grey, was ‘more than could have been hoped for or expected’. Brougham, who condemned him as ‘a shuffling fellow as well as a great coxcomb’, whose ‘political conduct is of the very worst description, founded on trick and quackery’, heard that his counsel ‘give a very different account of the thing from his letter’ and concluded that it was ‘all up’ with him. Tierney wrote that he was ‘going down hill fast’ and Whishaw had ‘bad accounts’ of Wardle, who was ‘said to be in great pecuniary difficulties, and to be raising money by annuities on his wife’s fortune’. Lady Williams Wynn wrote:
They say he is quite ruined, that there are of course many other demands upon him of this same nature and with the same claim, and that nothing but his being in Parliament keeps him out of the Fleet ... The triumph and exaltation of the Yorkists is very great, though certainly founded on the gratification of the foul spirit of revenge.
Mrs Clarke succeeded temporarily in alienating Folkestone from Wardle and even Whitbread was inclined to wash his hands of him, but he still had a champion in Creevey, who on 15 Nov. 1809 noted that ‘he takes the whole business, as he has done throughout, with the most perfect composure’, and that ‘I can’t bring myself to think there is anything bad in him, and I have looked at him in all ways in order to be sure of him’.14
When the the case was tried in King’s bench, 11 Dec. 1809, the attorney-general, appearing for Mrs Clarke, closely examined Wardle on the question of his alleged promises of financial reward. He denied having given her anything more than a general assurance that ‘for any services she might render the public, the public would reward her’, and flatly refuted her allegation that he had admitted from the outset to being an agent for the Duke of Kent who, jealous of his brother York and embittered by his recall from Gibraltar in 1803, was thought by many people to have instigated the attack on the former commander-in-chief. Wardle admitted to having given Mrs Clarke £120 to meet pressing bills and, although he prevaricated about the circuitous payment of £500 to Wright by himself and Dodd, the testimony of other witnesses strongly suggested that it had taken place. Mrs Clarke’s attorney Stokes made a considerable impression with his testimony as to Wardle’s promise to pay for the furniture. A verdict was returned for the defendants. One observer commented: ‘The swearing was so positive and so equal on both sides that the judgement was chiefly to be formed from circumstances and probability; these were most evidently against Wardle’. Brougham, who was also present at the trial, wrote to Grey, 12 Dec.:
The result ... is very satisfactory in many respects. He was puffed up by most unmerited popularity and made the worst use of his sudden influence ... He is in truth not a right, straightforward man. He shuffled yesterday, though his cross examination did not materially damage him. But the case failed and even without Stokes’s evidence the verdict would have been against him, although he had all the benefits of a leaning toward him and presumption in his favour, which usually belong to defendants. In fact it was he who was tried rather than Mrs Clarke and the Wrights, and so everybody felt ... After all the country will be slow to decide that Wardle perjured himself from beginning to end of his evidence and so will not damn him as much as if the conclusion were less strong against him.
Whitbread wrote to Holland, 13 Dec., that the verdict against Wardle
plunges him into an abyss from which he can never rise. I am very sorry for him, but I thought the first verdict right and I think this verdict right too. There will no doubt be great exultation in his ruin, and I suppose they will pursue him in his turn with the utmost vengeance.
Creevey, who claimed that Folkestone now believed Mrs Clarke’s allegations of Wardle’s involvement with the Duke of Kent to be a pack of lies and that the Fitzwilliams ‘stand by him like lions’, remained convinced of Wardle’s innocence and argued that Whitbread was being too hasty in abandoning him, though he conceded that he was ‘a rash, foolish, sanguine man’. While few Whigs shared Creevey’s views, Wardle’s popularity outside the House did not evaporate overnight. Meetings were held to start subscriptions to pay his legal expenses and, according to Place, over £4,000 was collected for him between December 1809 and May 1810. On 30 Jan. 1810 he was formally presented with the freedom of the City.15
In the House he continued to act with the Burdettite group. He voted against government on the address, 23 Jan. 1810, and throughout the investigation into the Scheldt fiasco. He unsuccessfully moved for papers in order to prove his contention that corruption was rife in the barracks and certain naval departments, 15 Feb., pointed out ways of reducing the army estimates, 26 Feb., attacked, somewhat belatedly, the Martello towers, 14 Mar., and supported Tierney’s motion to reduce the staff estimates, 23 Mar. He played a prominent part in the Burdett affair and was said to have been one of Burdett’s principal abettors and advisers in his defiance of the Speaker’s warrant. He attended the London Livery dinner, 19 Apr. 1810, when he exhumed his descredited financial scheme, but Whitbread, rebuked by Lord Grenville for apparently supporting these notions, contended that he had declined to join in the applause for Wardle’s ‘absurdities’ and had taken the opportunity to contest his argument, which he had voiced in debate, 16 Apr., that the House had no power to commit for libel.16 Defending the Livery petition for Burdett’s release, 9 May, Wardle attacked both ministers and opposition for combining to cover up the sale of seats ‘exposed’ by Madocks in 1809. He had spoken for parliamentary reform at the Palace Yard meeting of 9 Feb. 1810, and on 21 May he presented a reform petition from Canterbury. He was the only member of the radical group to speak in the subsequent debate on Brand’s moderate reform motion and he advocated taxpayer suffrage and parliaments lasting a maximum of three years.
Mrs Clarke had not done with Wardle yet, for in the summer of 1810 she published The Rival Princes in which, admitting that she had assisted in the attack on the Duke of York purely for financial gain, she portrayed the whole affair as a conspiracy organized by the Duke of Kent. Wardle, ‘the mushroom patriot’, had promised her lavish rewards from the duke and, being a ‘poor man’ with a wife, mistress and two families to support, was himself in search of material reward and expected Kent to make him secretary at war when he supplanted his brother as commander-in-chief. She discredited Wardle’s attack on the army clothing contracts in 1808 by alleging that Scott was a partner in the Tremadoc enterprise, and repeated charges levelled in an earlier hostile pamphlet that he had been involved in smuggling gin from a Jersey distillery and had been refused a commission in the regular army when the ‘Ancient Britons’ were disbanded because of his suspected dishonesty in buying remounts for the regiment. While some of Mrs Clarke’s wilder allegations cannot be taken seriously, it is hard to believe that the Duke of Kent was wholly innocent; but whether Wardle was in his confidence and pay is another and imponderable question. Fremantle accepted Mrs Clarke’s book as ‘the most disgusting proof of infamy and conspiracy on the part of all the detestable nest of Wardellites’, and years later Lord Holland wrote Wardle off as a man ‘of mean capacity and meaner disposition’ who was ‘remarkable for nothing but the atrocities he had perpetrated and encouraged against the Irish insurgents’, as ‘a party to the designs and a tool in the hands’ of Dodd, Glennie and company. On 30 Aug. 1810 Charles Williams Wynn, replying to a question from Southey, gave a more thoughtful verdict on Wardle:
until last year I had no doubt of his honour or integrity. He had lived certainly rather a debauched life but not more so than many others. I thought him a headlong and indiscreet man, very likely to have taken up such a question as that of the Duke of York upon insufficient grounds, but certainly did not suspect him of any unworthy motives. Of the falsehood of many of Mrs Clarke’s allegations ... I have not a particle of doubt, but enough remains to have altered my opinion respecting him. Nothing can justify the means which even by his own account he used to procure her testimony ... Still the bias of my mind is to look upon him as a wrong judging man run away with his own violence and really not aware of the impropriety of his own conduct, but adopting that most dangerous ... of maxims that the end justifies the means ... Wardle may be a rogue but I am sure he is also an enthusiast and blinds himself to his own misconduct.17
Wardle voted with opposition on the Regency, 15 and 29 Nov. 1810, 1 Jan. 1811. On 26 Feb. 1811 he moved for an inquiry into the allegedly brutal corporal punishment of a soldier in the Oxfordshire militia, but only Burdett supported him and the motion was rejected by 91 votes to 1, with Wardle and Burdett tellers for the minority, which consisted of William Gore Langton, colonel of the regiment. Robert Ward wrote that Wardle ‘showed all that the most stupid ignorance, joined to the most wicked dispositions could attempt’, and, from the other side of the House, Brougham told Grey that the division had finished Wardle, that Burdett ‘treated him with the most marked coldness and distance and hit him some pretty hard knocks’—a claim not substantiated by the published report of Burdett’s speech—and that Folkestone and Creevey were among those who had voted against him.18 Wardle was courted by the Friends of Constitutional Reform in 1811 and attended their meeting in June, but thereafter he faded from the scene of radical politics. His last recorded vote was cast, appropriately, against the Duke of York’s reinstatement as commander-in-chief, 11 June 1811, when he also addressed the House for the last known time, but only late in the debate, having been goaded to say a few words in his own defence by ministerialist jibes.
His political humiliation was complete and he was in severe financial trouble. He did not seek re-election in 1812, spent a few years farming in Kent and in about 1815 went abroad to escape his creditors. He took up residence at Florence, whence in 1827 he issued a pamphlet advocating Catholic relief, and where he died ‘in his 72nd year’, 30 Nov. 1833.19
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: David R. Fisher
Genealogical information amplified by documents calendared in NRA report on Hartsheath mss.
- 1. Drakard’s Edition of Life of Col. Wardle, 3-11; Corresp. of Lady Williams Wynn, 30; UCNW, Baron Hill mss 6179, 6180, 6295; PRO 30/9/13, pt. 1, Wardle to Abbot, 15 Sept., 8 Nov. 1801.
- 2. Life, 12-15; W. H. Reid, Mems. Col. Wardle, 6; Buckingham, Court and Cabinets, iv. 187.
- 3. Whitbread mss W1/452; Grey mss, Whitbread to Grey mss, Whitbread to Grey, 29 Jan., Tierney to Grey, 1 Feb. 1809.
- 4. Grey mss, Grey to Lady Grey, 8 May, Whitbread to Grey, 9 Feb.; Horner mss 4, f. 24; Romilly, Mems. ii. 270-1; Bankes mss, W. J. to Mrs Bankes [Feb.]; NLW mss 2791, Henrietta to Henry Williams Wynn, 7 Feb. 1809; Melville, Cobbett, ii. 26.
- 5. Farington, v. 119, 148; Add. 27850, f. 113.
- 6. Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 10, 25, 27 Feb. 1809; Romilly, Mems. ii. 270; Buckingham, iv. 322; Ward, Letters to ‘Ivy’, 64-65; Geo. III Corresp. v. 3820-1.
- 7. Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 25, 27 Feb.; Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lonsdale, 8 Mar.; Fortescue mss, Fremantle to Grenville [8 Mar.] 1809; Colchester, ii. 170.
- 8. Gent. Mag. (1809), i. 252, 348, 373; NLW mss 2791, C. to H. Williams Wynn, 2 Mar. 1809; Procs. Electors of Westminster (1809), 11, 25.
- 9. Add. 35648, ff. 28, 50; HMC Fortescue, ix. 289.
- 10. Whitbread mss W1/4434; Procs. at Crown and Anchor (1809).
- 11. Brougham, Life and Times, i. 437; Waldegrave mss, Whitbread to Grenville, 25 Apr. 1810.
- 12. Horner mss 4, f. 96; Jerdan, Autobiog. i. 113.
- 13. This and subsequent events are described in Paul Berry, By Royal Appointment (1970), 177-203.
- 14. Hants RO, Tierney mss 33i; Brougham mss 187, 36413, Brougham to Grey, 12 July 1809; Brougham, Life and Times, i. 471, 479; Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 17 July 1809; Corresp. of Lady Williams Wynn, 148; Berry, 192-8; Creevey Pprs. ed. Maxwell, i. 113; Whitbread mss W1/373/17.
- 15. HMC Hastings, iii. 275; Brougham mss; Add. 51576; Creevey Pprs. i. 115; Whitbread mss W1/374, 375, 377; Add. 27850, ff. 114-17.
- 16. Romilly, Mems. ii. 318; Waldegrave mss, Grenville to Whitbread, 23 Apr., reply 25 Apr. 1810.
- 17. Fortescue mss, Fremantle to Grenville, 15 June 1809; Holland, Further Mems. Whig Party, 27-28; NLW mss 4814.
- 18. Prince of Wales Corresp. vii. 2896; Brougham, Life and Times, i. 521.
- 19. Gent. Mag. (1834), i. 555.