WILLIAMS, Robert I (1764-1830), of Plas y Nant, Caern. and Friars, Anglesey.
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Family and Education
b. 20 July 1764, 1st s. of Sir Hugh Williams, 8th Bt.* educ. Blackheath; Westminster 1774; Harrow 1776-80. m. 11 June 1799, Anne, da. of Rev. Edward Hughes of Kinmel Park, Denb., sis. of William Lewis Hughes*, 3s. 7da. suc. mother 1770; fa. as 9th Bt. 19 Aug. 1794.
A.d.c. to ld. lt. [I] 1787-93.
Ensign, 1 Ft. Gds. 1782, lt. and capt. 1789, capt. and lt.-col. 1794, ret. 1795; capt. Caern. militia 1798; capt. Beaumaris vols. 1803, maj. 1803; commdt. loyal Snowdon rangers 1803; capt. Caern. militia 1808; maj. Anglesey militia 1809.
Mayor, Beuamaris 1800, 1804, 1807, 1811, 1815.
Williams joined his aged parent in Parliament in 1790, when he was returned for the county on the interest and largely at the expense of his half-brother, Thomas James, Baron Bulkeley, a friend of Pitt’s administration. The seat proved a safe one for 36 years and Williams survived a contest in 1796. He served seven years in Dublin with the Guards, which minimized his chances of parliamentary attendance and was the unwitting cause of a quarrel between the Marquess of Buckingham, who made him his aide-de-camp while lord lieutenant, and his colonel, the Duke of Gloucester, who was led to believe that the marquess had engaged him without leave. In 1791, in his absence, he was listed among opponents of repeal of the Test Act in Scotland. In 1793, when he saw active service at the siege of Valenciennes and was wounded, the new lord lieutenant, Westmorland, dismissed him, and despite Bulkeley’s intercession with Pitt, Williams was ‘entirely abandoned, and without any prospect of promotion’ according to the Marquess of Buckingham, who added, ‘He is second for purchase of a lieutenant-colonelcy in the first of Guards, but the prices are so extravagant that I doubt the possibility of his effecting it’.1 Williams was promoted in the following year when he served in Flanders, but his father died soon afterwards and his only brother was killed in action in 1795. He then retired from the army, confining his military enthusiasm to a militia command.
He also, after the contest of 1796, during which his private character as a sexual adventurer was lampooned,2 paid more attention to his parliamentary duties. Hitherto when present he had given a silent support to government, and so his conduct continued until 5 Mar. 1800, when he voted for Tierney’s motion to limit the duration of income tax. On 5 June he stood up and said that he had
hitherto supported ministers in the prosecution of the war, and was ready to grant them every means of prosecuting it with vigour and effect; but as they seemed determined to extend the income tax beyond the duration of the war, and make it a permanent tax, this was more than he thought himself warranted in agreeing to. As far as it regarded the war he would support it, but no farther.
On 30 Jan. 1801 Lord Bulkeley, with whom his relations were somewhat uneasy, advised him Pray come to town, and show yourself in Parliament: your hounds should not prevent you from doing a little public duty for even Sir Thomas Mostyn is in town who likes hunting as well as yourself and, considering how many favours I ask for our countrymen, it makes it very awkward for me your scarce ever appearing or voting in Paliament. On 25 Mar. 1801 he voted for Grey’s motion for an inquiry into the state of the nation, and on 25 Oct. Lord Buckingham, who had persuaded Bulkeley and Williams to act with him in opposition—a decision that the former soon regretted—described him as ‘a convert to the opinion of Caernarvonshire, ... that the high price of corn was owing solely ... to the war, for that it fell as soon as peace was known’.3 On 31 Mar. 1802 he voted for inquiry into the Prince of Wales’s Cornish revenues.
Williams, who thought of retiring from Parliament in 1802 but changed his mind, supported Fox’s amendment for a council of general officers, 2 Aug. 1803, but defended the Irish military arrangements on 11 Aug. He had opposed the coroners bill, 27 Apr. 1803, for local reasons, but failed to amend it, 2 May. He went on to support Pitt’s second administration, except on the Duke of Atholl’s compensation, 19 June 1805, and paid tribute to the minister after his death.4
Williams eventually supported the Grenville ministry. Bulkeley informed Grenville, 24 June 1806:5
As Sir Robert Williams did not attend my first summons soon after your coming into office and chose rather to stay in the country contrary to my wishes I wrote to him on my leaving town to say that as he had chosen to absent himself so long there could be no occasion for him to attend Parliament till the next sessions. By one of his singularities I see he is guided in coming up now and though contrary to my opinion as to necessity and utility still it may happen that he may have an opportunity of appearing in a division or two on some questions of importance and I hope he may for otherwise his long journey will be quite useless.
Williams duly attended and, on the training bill, 3 July, observed that much as he regretted the loss of Pitt, ‘while the measures of the present ministry went to promote economy, and the real interests of the country, as he thought they had, for the most part, hitherto done, they should always have his warm approbation and cordial support’. On 11 July 1806 and 17 Jan. 1807, he further defended their military arrangements. While he did not appear in the division lobby with them when they went out, he paired with them, was listed as one of those who approved the conduct of late ministers in July 1807,6 and subsequently voted with the Grenvillite Whigs. The Whigs listed him as one of their ‘thick and thin’ supporters in 1810, though after voting with them on the Scheldt divisions he was inactive until the spring of 1812.
Williams led the opposition to the militia transfer bill, 27 July 1807, expressing a preference for the system of the previous administration; this bill was a stigma on the militia, 5 Aug. He also, allowing for his constituents’ evident hostility to Catholic relief, deplored Foster Barham’s motion of 11 May 1808, as it heaped ‘insult upon insult on the Catholics of Ireland’. He cross-examined witnesses involved in the charges against the Duke of York, February-March 1809. On 26 Feb. 1812, writing to Grey to regret his inability to attend on Sir Thomas Turton’s motion next day, he expressed his approval of Grey’s and Grenville’s conduct in refusing to form an administration.7 He voted for sinecure reform on 4 May and for a stronger government on 21 May 1812. On Catholic relief, Williams seems to have been torn between the dislike of his county for it and the Grenvillites’ support of it, for his votes on the subject varied and after 1813 he seems to have avoided publicly supporting it.8 On 27 May 1815, during the debate on the allied subsidy, he took the Grenvillite line of supporting the renewal of hostilities against Buonaparte: ‘he had the honour of a seat in that House at the commencement of the last war, which war, he firmly believed, was the salvation of the country; and he conceived the present war was equally just’.9 In other respects, particularly on issues of retrenchment, he continued to vote with opposition. On 11 June 1817 he voted for Folkestone’s motion for a scrutiny of detainees under the suspension of habeas corpus. He voted for Tierney’s Bank motion on 2 Feb. 1819 and paired in favour of his censure motion on 18 May. His last known vote in 1819 was in favour of Brougham’s motion to inquire into charity abuses, 23 June. Williams retained his Grenvillite complexion after 1820. He died 1 Dec. 1830.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. PRO 30/8/117, f. 202; Debrett (ser. 4), iii. 1044; HMC Fortescue, i. 291-2; ii. 251, 465, 469.
- 2. NLW mss 12411, Eliza Griffith to Phoebe Lloyd, 13 June 1796; A. Aspinall, Parl. Affairs, xv. 38.
- 3. UCNW, Baron Hill mss 6160, 6167, 6178; HMC Fortescue, vii. 66.
- 4. Baron Hill mss 6282, 6283; Parl. Deb. vi. 72.
- 5. Fortescue mss.
- 6. Buckingham, Court and Cabinets, iv. 163; Morning Chron. 22 June 1807.
- 7. Grey mss.
- 8. Fortescue mss. Grey to Grenville, Wed. night .
- 9. Courier, 27 May 1815.