WILLETT, John Willett (1745-1815), of Merley, Dorset.
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Family and Education
b. 1 Jan. 1745, 2nd s. of Stephen Adye of St. Kitts by Clara, da. of Abraham Payne of St. Kitts. educ. L. Inn 1763. m. (1) 22 Aug. 1780, Catherine (d. 10 Oct. 1798), da. of Henry Brouncker of St. Kitts, and Boveridge, Dorset, 2s. 1da.; (2) 3 July 1805, Frances née Wilson of Marylebone, Mdx., s.p. suc. to Dorset and W.I. estates of his cos. Ralph Willett and took name of Willett by royal lic. 28 Feb. 1795.
Willett, like his first wife’s stepfather John Stanley*, owed his position in English society to his mother’s first cousin Ralph Willett, a wealthy West India proprietor and the owner since 1751 of a large Dorset estate, who had adopted him from infancy. Like Stanley, he may have been intended for the bar, but he seems rather to have inclined towards the antiquarian and artistic interests of his benefactor, whose valuable collection of books and pictures he inherited in 1795, together with his name and estates, said to be worth £10,000 a year, thus frustrating the hopes of another of Willett’s cousins, Ralph Payne*, 1st Earl of Lavington.1
The circumstances of Willett’s two returns for New Romney are not known, but they must have been the result either of private negotiations with the Dering family, patrons of the borough, or of a recommendation from administration, to whom the Derings frequently turned for guidance. He apparently gave silent support to Pitt’s first ministry. His first recorded vote was in favour of Calcraft’s motion for inquiry into the Prince of Wales’s debts, 4 Mar. 1803, an action which may have been prompted by his cousin John Willett Payne*, a companion of the Prince. He voted once only, so far as is known, in the divisions leading to Addington’s fall—in favour of Pitt’s motion for inquiry into naval strength, 15 Mar. 1804—and was classed ‘doubtful’ by George Rose in May 1804; but in September Rose listed him as ‘Pitt’, and he voted in the ministerial minority against Whitbread’s motion of censure on Melville, 8 Apr. 1805. He did not vote on the repeal of the Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. 1806, and was not retained by the ‘Talents’ at New Romney at the subsequent general election, after which he played no further part in politics.
By 1813 Willett was heavily in debt. In December the collections at Merley were sold at an auction lasting 17 days and realizing some £20,000, and shortly afterwards his son reported that his father had put his affairs in the hands of trustees and was
living upon £1,000 a year till all the debts are paid. Poor Merley looks very miserable ... yet with all these sales I am afraid it will be a long time before the debt to the trust, which is very large, will be paid off.
My father, I am happy to say, has hitherto kept his health and spirits as well as could be expected under such an accumulation of misfortunes.2
He died 26 Sept. 1815.