WILLIAMS WYNN, Charles Watkin (1775-1850), of Langedwyn, Denb.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



29 July 1797 - Mar. 1799
14 Mar. 1799 - 2 Sept. 1850

Family and Education

b. 9 Oct. 1775, 2nd s. of Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, 4th Bt., of Wynnstay by 2nd w. Charlotte, da. of George Grenville; bro. of Henry Watkin Williams Wynn* and Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, 5th Bt.* educ. by tutor Rev. Robert Nares 1779-83; Westminster 1784; Christ Church, Oxf. 1791; L. Inn 1795, called 1798. m. 9 Apr. 1806, Mary, da. of Sir Foster Cunliffe, 3rd Bt., of Acton Park, 2s. 5da.

Offices Held

Under-sec. of state for Home affairs Feb. 1806-Apr. 1807; pres. Board of Control (with a seat in the cabinet) Jan. 1822-Jan. 1828; PC 17 Jan. 1822; sec. at war Nov. 1830-Apr. 1831; chancellor of duchy of Lancaster Dec. 1834-Apr. 1835, eccles. commr. 1835.

Recorder, Oswestry 1798-1835; bencher, L. Inn 1835.

Vol. London and Westminster light horse 1798-9, 1801-3; maj. Ruabon vols. 1798, lt.-col. commdt. 1803; lt.-col. commdt Mont. vol. legion 1803-8, col. E. Denb. militia 1808; commdt. Mont. yeoman cav. 1808-28, 1831-44.


Williams Wynn and his elder brother Sir Watkin were satirized as ‘Bubble and Squeak’ and Charles was the latter: he was celebrated for a voice defect that also caused contemporaries to label him ‘Sqwynne’ and, after his aspirations to the Speaker’s chair became known, ‘Mr Squeaker’. A timid young man with antiquarian and literary interests, he was ruled by his capable Grenville mother, and after his brother Sir Watkin had failed to find an opening for him at Wenlock in 1796, it was under the aegis of his uncle Lord Grenville that he entered Parliament, on his cousin Lord Camelford’s interest, on a vacancy in 1797. Neither Lord Grenville nor his brother Thomas Grenville had sons and Charles was the promising nephew whose public career they sought to promote. In the following year he was called to the bar and for seven years practised on the Oxford and North Wales circuits. Although he did so with some success his mother, a year after his marriage, decided to encourage his ambitions for a public career by granting him an additional allowance of £300 p.a.; before this, he had set aside part of his income (£160 p.a.) to assist his literary friend Robert Southey, for whom he obtained a pension in 1807, describing it as ‘the only benefit I reap from 12 months of office’.

Williams Wynn, who until 1801 supported Pitt, seems to have first spoken in debate on 19 June 1798, when he justified, against Sheridan, the sending of the militia to Ireland: soon afterwards he went there himself, in liaison with his brother Sir Watkin’s Ancient British Fencibles. In March 1799 he was returned unopposed for Montgomeryshire on the family interest, about which his mother reported to his brother Henry:

Nothing can have been more unanimous than his election and he was much flattered on the charm and distinctness with which he spoke which is a hint to some of the rest of his family that by painstaking, natural defects and difficulties may be much assisted.

While he expressed private dismay at ‘the introduction of so many Irishmen’ into the legislature, he did not oppose the Union. He spoke in favour of Lord Temple’s motion for the expulsion of Horne Tooke, 4 May 1801.1

With the Grenvillites, he went into opposition to Addington’s administration in 1801. On 19 Feb. he voted for an inquiry into the Ferrol expedition. He spoke against the peace terms, 4 Nov., as being ‘big with danger to the country’ and attacked the treaty, 14 May 1802: during a visit to Paris in October he despised the ‘almost Asiatic pomp, splendour and luxury of the government’2 and he doubted ‘the propriety of submitting to insults in order to preserve peace’, 3 June 1803. In the session of 1802 he had nearly succeeded in getting through a bill to prevent debtors from evading their creditors by living in comfort in prison. He voted for inquiry into the Prince of Wales’s financial situation, 4 Mar. 1803. After having been offered a volunteer corps in 1798, he accepted the command of the ‘Montgomeryshire legion’ of volunteers in 1803, though in the course of one of many speeches on the subject in the House, 6 Mar. 1804, he admitted that he himself knew ‘nothing at all’ of military matters: he was foiled in an attempt to secure the recommittal of the volunteer consolidation bill, 19 Mar. While serving on the Aylesbury election committee in the same month, he expressed his concern that elections should be pure and corruption punished where it was proven. He joined the Grenvillites in opposing Pitt’s second administration. He spoke against the Irish habeas corpus suspension bill, 15 Feb. 1805. Moreover, while he was expected by his connexions to stay away on the censure of Melville, he differed from them in supporting it both in April and June. He was balloted to the committee on the 11th naval report and in a speech which revealed his study of parliamentary precedents and procedure, 25 June, referred to his previous vote of 12 June for criminal prosecution, which he had given reluctantly, believing that ‘the evils of no proceeding at all’ were greater than ‘the evils of a proceeding by information’. Now he favoured Leycester’s motion for proceeding by impeachment, as being ‘more solemn, more suitable to the dignity both of the accusers and the accused’. He was a member of the committee to draw up the impeachment.

In his uncle’s ministry, Williams Wynn was under-secretary at the Home Office, though Windham, who had another arrangement in mind, wrote to Lord Grenville, 17 Apr. 1806: ‘Has Wynn no object which he would like as well as an undersecretaryship?’; to which Grenville replied the same day, ‘Charles Williams is Member for a county, and all his objects are in the House of Commons and in the pursuit of business there’. Although it was thought he might seek to displace Abbot as Speaker, he was perfectly satisfied: he informed his mother that year, ‘My last ten years have certainly been more uniformly happy and less chequered with undesirable events than those of any person whom I have known’. He featured in debate in defence of government measures, particularly on militia matters. He secured a select committee on pauper lunatics, 23 Jan. 1807, which led to ‘Mr Wynn’s Act’ for the creation of county asylums, though only nine existed 20 years later. He rejoiced in the abolition of the slave trade.3

Williams Wynn, who was a firm supporter of Catholic relief, did not expect to return to office during the lifetime of the King on the fall of his uncle’s administration, and from 1807 became one of the leading opposition speakers, though he did not retain his membership of the finance committee in 1808. His mastery of procedure, in which he emulated Fox and Burke, and what he termed ‘constitutional jealousy’, led to frequent interventions in debate and he was an invariable spokesman on election law and parliamentary privilege. He was in favour of a discreet and temperate opposition, believing that the people were ‘engrossed by a sentiment of besotted attachment’ to the King: he had thought Brand’s ‘character for violence and democracy’ rendered him unsuitable as mover of the protest against the Talents’ displacement in April 1807, though he wrongly expected it to be successful. He succeeded in toning down a Montgomeryshire address against Catholic relief, but reported to his friend Charles Saxton, 21 July 1807, ‘we appear to me to have extremely mismanaged our game since the meeting of Parliament’ and, referring to the lack of an obvious leader of the party in the Commons once the ‘hourly threat’ of Lord Howick’s succeeding to the title was realized, added, ‘I fear that ... we shall act every man for himself— without concert and without plan’. In January 1808 he accepted George Ponsonby as leader, with reservations, supposing him to be ‘fitter ... than Lord Henry Petty’. While he thought the bombardment of Copenhagen ‘imprudent’, he said nothing against it in the House. He deplored the inadequacy of the grant to the Catholic college at Maynooth, 5 May 1808, and attacked the appointment of Patrick Duigenan* as a privy councillor as harmful to the Irish Catholics, 11 May. That autumn, Lord Powis, lord lieutenant of the county and a friend of government, removed the infantry from Williams Wynn’s militia command. He protested that this was a political move and interpreted it as a hint that he was to be opposed in Montgomeryshire in future, but after an angry exchange of letters, the quarrel was patched up and he retained the yeoman cavalry. There was no opposition to his return for the county in this period.4

The Duke of York’s alleged misconduct of army patronage provided Williams Wynn with an opportunity to display his passion for correct procedure and his contempt for corruption and profligacy (he was relentlessly hostile to the duke’s mistress Mary Anne Clarke and to General Clavering, a prevaricating witness), in February and March 1809. He did not expect the government, whose insecurity he constantly remarked on, to survive the inquiry. Objecting to Wardle’s and Perceval’s proposals on the subject, he spoke in favour of Bankes’s amendment for an address to secure the removal of the duke from his post, 14 Mar. He subsequently realized that the question had ‘widened the gap between the moderate and violent parts of the opposition’ and it was to the moderates that he belonged: thus, while voting for Folkestone’s motion for a committee on abuses, 17 Apr., he thought it ‘improper’, as being too general. He wholeheartedly supported Lord Archibald Hamilton’s motion of 25 Apr. charging Castlereagh with corruption and attempted unsuccessfully to persuade the House to register an admission of guilt by the latter. On the other hand he regarded Madocks’s motions on the same theme, 5 and 11 May, as extremist: he opposed the first and on the second, being hostile, stayed away; but was prepared to support Curwen’s more moderate proposals for electoral reform in the following month. In the autumn of 1809 he was ‘indefatigable’ in helping to secure Lord Grenville’s election as chancellor of Oxford University, hoping thereby to assist the cause of Catholic relief. He caused some surprise by the vehemence of his attack on the conduct of Lord Chatham over the Scheldt expedition, 5 Mar. 1810, as, to quote Wellesley Pole, Chatham was ‘brother of the great aggrandiser and benefactor of their family’: but it was characteristic of him that he deplored not so much the incompetence of the expedition as the want of constitutional propriety in Chatham’s communications with the King.

On 12 Mar. 1810 Williams Wynn objected to Sir Francis Burdett’s mode of application for the release of the radical John Gale Jones from Newgate. He took a leading part in the debate on Burdett’s breach of privilege in April. On 5 Apr. he showed that all the precedents favoured the House’s right to commit Burdett to the Tower, but voted against it, explaining that he would be satisfied with a reprimand by the Speaker. He also voted for Gale Jones’s release on 16 Apr. He insisted, 7 May, that Burdett’s attempt to take legal action against the Speaker should be referred to the committee of privileges: such proceedings were in themselves improper, as, to quote his speech of 9 May against the Burdettite petition of the livery of London, the privileges of the House ‘were part of the law of the land and coeval with it’ and were to be defended ‘either against the crown or the populace’. He rebuked Folkestone, 11 May, for supposing that the court of King’s bench might reverse the decision of the House: ‘the high court of Parliament was the source of power’. Dissatisfied with the report of the committee of privileges, he tried to secure its recommittal and on 8 June asked the House to resolve that persons instituting actions against a representative of the House were guilty of a high breach of privilege, and that Burdett was thus guilty. The resolutions were defeated by 74 votes to 14. He published his views in a pamphlet entitled Argument upon the jurisdiction of the House of Commons to commit, in cases of a breach of privilege’, which in its second edition incorporated his speech of 8 June. (In August there was a third edition.) Francis Horner described the tract as ‘perspicuous and moderate’. Thomas Grenville, who regarded Williams Wynn as spokesman for Lord Grenville on this occasion, deplored the reluctance ‘in our own friends’ to support him ‘in this last exertion for the authority and independence of the House of Commons’. Finding that Earl Grey was one of those who disliked Williams Wynn’s resolutions, he wrote, 27 May 1810, ‘I dare say that he will satisfy himself by moving them so as to have them upon record’, and added, ‘the fear of unpopularity makes our friends confederates with the government’. Four days later he informed Grey, ‘I comfort myself with thinking that Charles’ motion, if not pressed to a division, will not embarrass those of our friends who conscientiously differ from him’.5

Williams Wynn opposed Brand’s motion for parliamentary reform, 21 May 1810, lamenting the absence of a specific plan, of which he gave notice. Lord Grenville and Henry Brougham had tried to interest him in their proposals, but he would not be pushed. On 1 June, however, he was given leave to introduce a bribery prevention bill, which he thought would increase public respect for the House; after being adjourned, the bill was defeated at the second reading, 25 Mar. 1811, by 64 votes to 17. He had hoped to stop ‘trafficking in seats’ and, writing to Southey on the subject in the following year, explained that he preferred dealing with cases of corruption as they arose and suggested that a parliamentary commission might be set up to buy up and then abolish rotten boroughs. He could not reconcile himself to parliamentary reform and was to resign office on the issue in 1831.6

Williams Wynn opposed an adjournment during the King’s illness, 29 Nov. 1810, as there was no assurance of his recovery, and he favoured an address for a regency, 21 Dec., considering that the Regent should have full royal authority, 2 Jan. 1811. He secured an amendment to the ensuing Regency bill, 17 Jan. When in that month the Whigs envisaged a return to power, Lord Grey informed Lord Grenville, 14 Jan., that he wished Williams Wynn to have office ‘to promote his consequence in the House of Commons’ and asked, ‘What do you think of Ireland for him if Morpeth should decline?’. Soon afterwards, when Grenville could count on nothing else for him, Grey wrote that he would be happy to have him as his under-secretary. He himself informed his brother Henry, 13 Feb., that he would probably have become judge advocate, putting Ireland or the Speaker’s chair out of the question, but he was relieved that his friends did not return to office at this juncture. He disliked the idea of systematic penal reform, but concurred with Romilly’s dwelling house robbery bill, 8 Apr. 1811, being against capital punishment for ‘trifling’ offences. He opposed the reappointment of the Duke of York as commander-in-chief of the army, 6 June: Lord Grey was anxious that he should not do so, but Lord Auckland alleged that he thought himself bound to. He supported Morpeth’s motion on the state of Ireland, 4 Feb. 1812, urging the claims of the Irish Catholics. From then until the end of the session he was particularly active in opposition, attacking the framework bill and Nottingham peace bill in February, the grants proposed for the royal princesses, 23 Mar., and the appointment of McMahon as private secretary to the Regent, which he called ‘unprecedented’ in his motion of 14 Apr., and which was defeated by 176 votes to 100. He spoke in favour of the property qualification for Membership and thought bankrupt Members should be required to vacate their seats. He opposed the barrack estimates, 1 May. On 4 May he annoyed Henry Bankes by amending his sinecure offices bill, the principle of which he regularly, if unobtrusively, supported.

To judge by a letter written to Lord Grenville on the day of Stuart Wortley’s motion for a stronger administration, 21 May 1812, Williams Wynn, who anticipated the defeat of the government, was reconciled to a Whig union with Lord Wellesley and Canning, though he had previously deprecated such a junction from distaste for political adventures and he still hoped it might be avoided. When the change did not take place, he wrote, ‘Nothing can continue the present administration in office except our weakness in the House of Commons’ and deplored the absence of effective leadership. He had given up all hope of a junction with Wellesley and Canning. At the same time he was disgusted at the degree of disaffection in the country, which he instanced by the rejoicing, even in sedate Oswestry, at the assassination of Perceval.7

On the eve of the Parliament of 1812, there was speculation about a vacancy in the Speaker’s chair and Lord Grey informed Lord Grenville, who was anxious to promote Williams Wynn’s claims, 1 Nov. 1812:

No man can be more eminently qualified than he is for that situation in every respect but one. But I am afraid you would find the defect of his voice, increased as it has been by Canning’s jokes, a greater disadvantage to him than you are aware of.

He himself wrote to Grenville on one occasion: ‘I was extremely anxious to have spoken, particularly after Burdett’s speech ... but attempted it in vain four times, after which it was so late and the House so clamorous that I knew I should not be heard’.8 No vacancy arose then and he soon realized that Charles Manners Sutton was his rival for the honour. He continued in moderate opposition. He espoused the cause of the Princess of Wales in 1813 and did so to the end. He was particularly active in debates on electoral corruption and controverted election procedure, on which latter he introduced a clarifying bill, 12 May 1813. On 29 June he introduced a motion (afterwards withdrawn) against the Orange lodges in Ireland, which he described as ‘in direct contradiction to the law of the land’, since they made loyalty conditional on a protestant ascendancy. He expressed his distaste for the radical proposals of Burdett and others by procedural objections: for instance, he opposed a petition from Nottingham for parliamentary reform because it was printed, 30 June. From November 1813 he was considered as being of the war party, since he offered no opposition on foreign affairs, until in April 1814 he championed Norwegian independence: his motion on the subject was rejected, 12 May. He supported the election expenses bill in the same month, being anxious to establish a resident franchise and to purify elections. On 27 June 1814 he seconded Castlereagh’s vote of thanks to Wellington, but was less disposed to thank the Duke of York, 6 July. He was sympathetic to the cause of the Genoese and of Spanish Liberals, 21 Feb., 1, 13 Mar., 27 Apr. 1815. He favoured the resumption of war with Buonaparte in 1815 and applauded the allied victory. He soon resumed his criticism of government, however, in protest at the cost of the peacetime establishment, which he found ‘enormous’, 13 Feb. 1816. He had already protested about the grants to the Regent, 31 May, and to the Duke of Cumberland on his marriage, 28 June 1815. He now opposed the renewal of the property tax (which he had supported in April 1815) and defended the petitions against it. He objected to the army estimates, 27 Feb., since they did not provide for the army of occupation in France, thus placing it beyond parliamentary control: this objection was accepted, 4 Mar. In any case, he wished for reductions in the interests of retrenchment, 8 Mar., and was partly successful in obtaining a discussion of the estimates head by head. In March and April he likewise opposed the navy estimates and the multiplication of government offices. He opposed the aliens bill on principle, 20 May 1816. He declined to serve on the finance committee in the session of 1817.

A staunch defender of the dignity of the House, Williams Wynn readily rebuked all who threatened it, whether inside or outside, and he was no respecter of persons. In February 1817, during the debates on parliamentary reform, he rebuked Lord Cochrane for boasting of his ‘crimes against the constitution’ in buying seats, and he deplored the historical errors on which many reformers based their case and the improper petitions they presented to the House. In the following year he wrote, ‘I verily believe that no one cause has been more conducive to evil, than the passive submission of the House to every species of indignity in the shape of petition, during the last eight years’. He supported the suspension of habeas corpus, 26 Feb. 1817, believing there was ‘some degree of danger’, and accepted the seditious meetings bill, 3 Mar., but warned that he could not pledge support ‘to the whole of these measures’: though a man of humanitarian views, he saw no objection to capital punishmant for violation of the bill, 10 Mar. Yet Lord Darlington, in a letter to Lord Grey, 7 Mar., about the secession of the Grenvillites from the Whigs, wrote: ‘I am glad to find that Lord Nugent and C. Wynne continue with us’.9 He certainly voted with the minority on 29 Apr. 1817, on Tierney’s motion on the third secretaryship of state.

On the resignation of Speaker Abbot, Williams Wynn, who was descended from Sir William Williams, a former Speaker, was proposed for the chair by William Dickinson and seconded by Sir Matthew White Ridley, 2 June 1817. Wilberforce, Arthur Onslow and Sir Charles Burrell spoke in his favour, Wilberforce commending his defence of the seditious meetings bill as an additional merit. The Marquess of Buckingham, who had hoped in April to negotiate Lord Liverpool’s support for him as Speaker, reported, 28 May, ‘Charles is here full of the Speakership, and but for that, inclined to be constitutional in the matter of the habeas corpus suspension. That however will keep him straight.’ He was defeated by Manners Sutton, who got 312 votes to his 151. Over half his supporters were opposition regulars, one seventh opposition backwoodsmen and most of the rest more inclined to opposition than to government, if the Grenvillites are counted thus. No more than ten Members in the habit of supporting ministers voted for him. His mother thought the result gratifying for him, anticipating that ‘while the one great bar to preferment continues, we cannot look to his leaping it’, and thought that Liverpool’s desire to have a ‘Protestant Speaker’ was the reason for her son’s defeat, though she thought the rumours of a junction of the Grenvillites with government may have contributed. Romilly thought him ‘a man far more eminently qualified for the Chair than Mr Sutton, and who has, by long attention to the subject, made himself completely master of the law of Parliament and the forms of parliamentary proceeding’. He appears to have given up his aspirations to the Chair in the course of the next few years, though he would probably have filled the office with far greater credit than those he subsequently held.10

It was typical of Williams Wynn that his first intervention in debate after this contest should be to oppose the Regent’s message announcing a peerage for the retiring Speaker, in order to insist that the House should first address the Regent requesting the honour for the Speaker. On 24 June he brought in an Election Laws amendment bill, to shorten polls. To quote Brougham, ‘Sqwynne’s pretty bill was thrown out in the Lords!!!’. On 26 June he looked forward to the end of the suspension of habeas corpus and voted in the minority for its termination in December. During the recess, the Grenvillites took stock of their position: Lord Grenville and his brother Thomas were no longer active politicians and Williams Wynn came to terms with his cousin and contemporary, the 2nd Marquess of Buckingham: they agreed on co-operation in parliamentary conduct and Buckingham wished him, to quote Thomas Grenville, ‘to take a separate lead and separate bench for himself, which I trust he will do next session’.11

So it was that he became virtual leader of a Grenvillite group in the House, sitting ‘on the front bench, near the bar, on the right hand side of the House, as you enter it’. He had anticipated this in writing to Southey, after his defeat in the contest for the Speakership:

The only view in which I anticipate that this discussion may be of use to me is that it has to a certain degree brought me forward in the House and in public estimation, which is of some importance when by the course of events which it has been impossible to control I find myself obliged to act entirely for myself in concert with a few friends only and without connection with either of the two great parties. We are to be sure a little like the army of the republic of San Marino which take the field consisting of a general and five men and a drummer of great experience, but when we cannot lodge in either of the great camps, nothing remains but to pitch a tent of our own, or to retire from the field altogether.

To Lord Grenville he wrote, 19 Nov. 1817:

I am too much aware of my own deficiency, particularly as a speaker, to think that I can ultimately succeed in steering for myself, but I also see that ... there is no party under which I can consistently act. So situated I can only determine to go straight forward, do my best and leave the event to Providence which probably will bring forward some man equal to the emergency with whom I may unite. Lord B[uckingham] is, as might be expected, impatient to be doing something and desirous that I should open communications with those who may be likely to join us, but you will I am sure agree with me in thinking that this could only serve to cast an air of ridicule over our attempt.

On 31 Jan. 1818, Buckingham’s protégé Joseph Phillimore reported:

On the day of meeting, Wynn, Stanhope and myself very quietly took our seats on the bench we had agreed upon ... Wynn and myself have been in the House every night, just for the sake of showing that we have not changed our places accidentally. There has been no division, and no fair opportunity of interposing a speech.

Williams Wynn himself, writing to Buckingham on 2 Feb., regretted Lord Grenville’s withdrawal symptoms which, he thought, might spoil the chances of this ‘third party’, which could ‘only be the work of time, and the effect of steering a steady course, without connexion or coquetting with either party’. He kept Buckingham informed of their conduct. On 5 Feb., as a member of the secret committee, he conceded that the suspension of habeas corpus was still necessary, which, if it was a sop to government, irritated his former Whig associates. Thus when he reintroduced his Election Laws amendment bill of the previous session, it was defeated at the third reading by 51 votes to 44, 2 Mar. Fremantle reported to Buckingham, 4 Mar., ‘Charles Wynn lost his bill entirely from party anger. It was our quondam friends, who threw it out’. He himself wrote, 6 Mar.:

The fates conspired against my bill. Its supporters could not be persuaded that it was in any danger, and went to their dinners. Lord George Cavendish, Macdonald, etc. who voted for it last year, came down to vote against it, upon the professed ground of my change of seat; Brougham, who last year opposed it, now voted for it with Romilly, Curwen, and divers of the Mountain. Vansittart and Bragge Bathurst, the only cabinet ministers there, voted for it, but Palmerston ... was also in the majority. So was Croker ... All those who objected against any one particular clause or part of a clause joined to throw out the bill. The House is very dull, and the debates flat ... our bench does not increase in regular attendants, but has several occasional visitors.

Lord Folkestone, whose radical views Williams Wynn had never found palatable, had written to Creevey, 23 Feb.:

The would be Speaker (alias Squeaker) has, as I suppose you have heard, moved down to my old anti-Peace of Amiens bench ... I rejoice sincerely I did not vote for said Squeaker: but some of those who did, are, I hear, very much ashamed of themselves for it.12

Williams Wynn soon found himself walking a tightrope: he had already voted once in the minority on Hamilton’s motion of 10 Feb. against the prosecution of state prisoners in Scotland. He probably sympathized with Althorp’s motion of 6 Mar. for the reduction of the army by 5,000 men, but stated that he doubted whether it could be effected. He clashed with Sir John Newport over the indemnity bill, 13 Mar., and supported Phillimore’s motion on behalf of the claims of Spanish shipowners involved in the slave trade, a traffic he deplored, 18 Mar. He complained of difficulty in attracting the Speaker’s eye at this time. In April he insisted on acting with opposition against the grants to the royal dukes on their marriages. This was soon after he had felt obliged to write a letter to the Whig Morning Chronicle in justification of the ‘third party’ and to avoid ‘giving to our secession the appearance of ratting’. Fremantle, writing to Buckingham, 4 Apr., reported him as saying that he did not expect to have a cabinet place himself, should they join government, nor did he feel himself called upon to demand it, but thought the Grenvillites should have one cabinet seat. He thought that the measures he was pledged to (i.e. Catholic relief) were an insuperable difficulty, which was why he ridiculed rumours that he was to be offered office in Ireland as ‘the most improbable event’ he could imagine. He thought Fremantle too impatient for office and envisaged a genuinely neutral party, but was forced to acknowledge that it was unpopular. Other members of the Grenvillite group found him difficult to act with: James Hamilton Stanhope reported, ‘he has a line of his own’, and resigned his seat ‘because they would not return any person to Parliament who would not follow Charles Wynn as leader’. What disappointed Williams Wynn most was Buckingham’s disillusionment with the ‘third party’; he regarded this as a ‘breach of faith’. Buckingham admitted that Lord Grenville’s retreat from politics had reduced his enthusiasm. In May 1818 Williams Wynn tried unsuccessfully to secure the disfranchisement of tax and salt duty officers to place them on a par with other revenue officers: little interest was shown in such measures. Meanwhile he voted as usual for the resumption of cash payments, 1 May. Fremantle reported in November 1818 that Williams Wynn’s speeches had tended to involve him ‘past hope with the opposition’, while Thomas Grenville informed the marquess, 7 Dec.: ‘W[ynn] will be of use if he is steadily with you, but disappointment has, I am told, made him captious and factious.’

Matters came to a head on the motion to add Brougham’s name to the Bank committee, 8 Feb. 1819, which Williams Wynn felt obliged to support. The marquess informed Fremantle, 10 Feb.: ‘I have written to Charles Williams who I think did very foolishly both in speaking and voting. But he cannot resist hearing himself speak and seeing himself vote.’ Fremantle himself described such conduct as ‘party and nothing but party’. As if to palliate matters, Williams Wynn wrote to the marquess next day:

In the committee on the Windsor establishment this morning, they [government] were beaten on the number of equerries to be retained about the King, and would have been so a second time had it not been for the vote of Morpeth and myself.

In reply to Buckingham’s expostulatory letter, he wrote, according to the former,

an answer full of arguments excellently good as they referred to Charles Williams but bad as they were applied to the keeping a party together. In fact I see that Charles Williams will never do this, as he never will consult the political feelings and opinions of others. Upon one point I am exceedingly anxious that all my friends should if possible agree, and that is the Duke of York’s allowance, and I am the more anxious as I find Charles Williams disposed to run riot upon it.

Fremantle, who no longer found himself able to follow Williams Wynn when he went into the opposition lobby, complained, 16 Feb.:

As to his conducting a fair and candid neutrality, he is incapable of doing it: he is too much inclined to the opposition; he is constantly at Brooks’s in the morning, and has no disposition to wean himself from there.

On the other hand, Joseph Phillimore, who was much more ready to act in concert with him, reported, 22 Feb.:

You will have heard, from other quarters, what a respectable appearance our bench has assumed. Indeed Charles Wynn seems now the person most looked up to by the House, and has not, I think, voted without having his opinion backed by at least twenty votes.

He himself believed that some unattached new Members ‘gave their votes on the question of Brougham entirely on my speech’.13

His tendency to opposition continued, as was revealed by his attitude, though a member of the civil list committee, to the Windsor establishment grant, 22 and 25 Feb. 1819. Royal grants always caused him to see red, and despite Buckingham’s wishes he was averse to supporting the Duke of York’s. He did, however, give a silent vote. Fremantle had written, 23 Feb., after the division of the night before:

I was in hope of persuading Wynn not to vote, but to go away; and I thought I had once succeeded, but it ended in his voting in the minority. I prevented his speaking, by urging the great injury it would occasion to your party, by his taking so decided a line, and not being supported by your Members; and I added that I should feel compelled to speak myself, in order to explain the grounds of our difference; indeed, I was prepared to do so ... if Wynn had not made up his mind to vote for the amendment.

He added, ‘for what purpose are you and your friends to make themselves personally obnoxious to the royal family ... sure I am that Wynn will do so’. Williams Wynn’s own defence was:

With respect to what you say about staying away, it may suit others, but will not do for me. The place I fill in the House of Commons has been gained by constant attendance and exertion only, and would be lost immediately, if they were discontinued.

Yet he agreed to stay away on the question of Admiralty salaries, 18 Mar. 1819. He voted for an inquiry into the criminal law, 2 Mar., and first in the majority, then in the minority, on the case of Wyndham Quin*, 29 Mar., wishing, like seven other Members, to excuse the House from proceeding to expulsion. He supported the reform of the Scotch burghs, 6 May, as it was a particular reform, and likewise interested himself, after failing to realize his plan for a further declaratory bill on controverted election procedure, in the reform of the Cornish boroughs after the scandals at Penryn and at Grampound. (He went on, after at first opposing it on 14 Dec. 1819, to support Lord John Russell’s motion of 18 Feb. 1820 on the subject.) He objected to the severity of the foreign enlistment bill, 13 May, but defended it in principle then and on 3 June. He had announced that he would not vote on Tierney’s censure motion of 18 May, which he thought premature while cash payments had not been resumed by the Bank. So ten Grenvillites abstained on the motion.

Williams Wynn found himself once again in agreement with Lord Buckingham over the Peterloo incident. He disagreed with the Whig promotion of county meetings in the autumn of 1819, and in the debate on the Regent’s speech, 24 Nov., clashed with Burdett in asserting the illegality of the meeting at Manchester. He opposed concessions to popular agitation, stated that the constitution contained within itself a perpetual source of improvement and supported the address. He went on to defend the seditious meetings prevention bill, 6 Dec., and he voted against none of the repressive measures introduced by government. On the contrary, he interested himself in an augmentation of militia to anticipate disturbances and threatened to move Burdett’s committal to Newgate, but was discouraged by ministerial indifference. He still did not expect overtures from ministers to the Grenvillites, so he informed Buckingham, 30 Oct. 1819, since ministers now had their support gratis, but soon afterwards he learned that Lord Grenville was willing to mediate in negotiations for a junction with government.14

The expectation of this coalition did not prevent Williams Wynn from espousing the cause of Queen Caroline in 1820, and when he finally accepted office in December 1821 he insisted that his support for Catholic relief should be respected before taking a cabinet seat. He did not make a good impression at the Board of Control, nor was he expected to: Lord Harrowby protested, 22 Dec. 1821, ‘really the Squeaker’s compass of voice and mind are overstrained at the head of a great empire’.

The fact was that Williams Wynn was pushed into a situation which did not suit him, as part of a political deal. He had no ambitions in that line, witness his thrice refusing the governor-generalship of India (1822, 1827, 1830); his cousin Buckingham, who had, fell out with him on this ground. He was ejected in 1828. He resigned his office under the Whigs in 1831 through opposition to the extent of parliamentary reform, and briefly held office under Peel, who, like Grey, failed to promote his views on the Speaker’s chair. When in 1839 the opportunity arose, he felt too incapacitated by rheumatism to undertake it. His love of cold baths is said to have been the cause of it. In an age of gourmets, he fasted. His tastes were those of a scholarly country gentleman, but he was an obstinate man: his friend Southey called him ‘one of the most impracticable persons to deal with, taking crotchets into his head, and holding to them with invincible pertinacity’. A man of great family pride, given to quoting his ancestors in the House, he was devoted to the traditions of Wynnstay, which involved him in the study of the language and antiquities of Wales and also in the less congenial task of managing his brother’s estate, which he discovered in 1814 to have been depredated by a rascally agent. He was never rich, nor received a pension like other members of the clan, and his lack of decision and of self-confidence prevented him from being a great public figure and caused him to eschew popularity. His devotion of over half a century to the House of Commons was, however, entire and he died Father of it, 2 Sept. 1850. Brougham had described him on 24 Nov. 1819 as ‘a man learned beyond all others in the history of that assembly ... a man who was even supposed by most people to know the whole of the journals of the House by heart’. No Member could be a hero to the clerks of the House and John Rickman thought otherwise:

This man’s vanity and self-importance are to be sure infinite ... we are never safe a day, the House under the influence of a man of daily vacillation in the matters he affects to understand; and in truth he has collected a good quantity of laborious ignorance of precedent and misconstruction of Acts.15

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


Based on the C. Williams Wynn mss, NLW mss 10804; H. Williams Wynn mss, NLW mss 2789-91; Corresp. of Lady Williams Wynn ed. Leighton; the T/S Mem. of C. Williams Wynn by his grandson A. W. Williams Wynn, NLW mss 10798; Gwyneth Evans, ‘Charles Williams Wynn’ (UCW, MA thesis, 1934).

  • 1. M. D. George, Cat. Pol. and Personal Satires, viii. 10566; Corresp. of Lady Williams Wynn, 19, 26, 35, 60; Rev. C. C. Southey, Life and Corresp. R. Southey, i. 167; iii. 72; NLW mss 2789, C. to H. Williams Wynn, 2 Apr. [1800]; 10804, same to same, 15 Mar. 1799, to Grenville, 8 Apr. 1807.
  • 2. Corresp. of Lady Williams Wynn, 67.
  • 3. HMC Fortescue, viii. 103; PRO 30/9/15, Monckton to Abbot, 9 Nov. 1806; Corresp. of Lady Williams Wynn, 114; NLW mss 10804, Williams Wynn to Grenville, 8 Apr. 1807; D. H. Tuke, Hist. Insane in the British Isles, 127.
  • 4. NLW mss 10804, Williams Wynn to Saxton, 21 July, to Elmsley, 19 Nov. 1807, to Temple, 10 Jan., to his uncle, 27 Jan., to Saxton, 20 Apr., to Powis, 30 Oct.; Powis to Williams Wynn, 5 Nov. 1808.
  • 5. Creevey Pprs ed. Maxwell, i. 194; HMC Fortescue, ix. 349-415; NLW mss 2791, C. to H. Williams Wynn, 14 May 1809; NLI, Richmond mss, Saunders Dundas to Richmond, 12 May 1809, Wellesley Pole to same, 7 Mar.; Fortescue mss, Fremantle to Grenville, 22 May; Horner mss 4, f. 281; Grey mss, Grenville to Grey, 25, 27, 31 May 1810; Add. 41858, ff. 49, 56; NLW, Coedymaen mss 1/23.
  • 6. Grey mss, Grenville to Grey, 27 Apr.; Fortescue mss, Brougham to Grenville, 18 Apr.; NLW mss 10804, Williams Wynn to his uncle, 2 Oct. 1810; 4814, same to Southey, 25 July 1812.
  • 7. HMC Fortescue, x. 106, 108, 141, 142; Grey mss, Grey to Grenville 24 Jan.; NLW mss 2791, C. to H. Williams Wynn, 13 Feb. 1811, 19 May, 7 July 1812; 10804, C. Williams Wynn to Southey, 22 July 1808, to Temple, 18 Oct. 1809; Fortescue mss, Williams Wynn to Grenville [21 May 1812].
  • 8. HMC Fortescue, x. 298, 364; Fortescue mss, Williams Wynn to Grenville, Fri. [n.d.].
  • 9. Creevey Pprs. i. 214; Grey mss, Darlington to Grey, 7 Mar. 1817; Buckingham, Regency, ii. 239.
  • 10. Corresp. of Lady Williams Wynn, 198-203; Fremantle mss, box 55, Buckingham to Fremantle, 21, 25 Apr., 28 May 1817; NLW mss 2791, Charlotte to H. Williams Wynn, 4 June 1817; Romilly, Mems. iii. 296; Colchester, iii. 261.
  • 11. Brougham mss, Brougham to Lambton [12 July 1817], Brougham letters 352; HMC Fortescue, x. 32.
  • 12. NLW mss 4814, C. Williams Wynn to Southey, Wed. [1817]; Staffs RO, Hatherton diary, 7 Feb. 1818; Creevey Pprs. i. 271; Buckingham, ii. 211-35.
  • 13. Hatherton diary, 6 May; Coedymaen mss 20, Buckingham to Williams Wynn, 14 May, Sunday [1818]; Buckingham, ii. 237, 238, 241-4, 255, 291, 294, 301, 302, 305, 308, 317, 325; Fremantle mss, box 46, Buckingham to Fremantle, 10, 14 Feb. 1819.
  • 14. PRO 30/9/16, Rickman to Colchester, 10 Mar. 1819; Buckingham, ii. 319, 321, 325, 352, 353, 363, 384; Heron, Notes (1851), 110; NLW mss 4815, Williams Wynn to Southey, n.d. [end 1819].
  • 15. HMC Bathurst, 525; Letters R. Southey ed. Warter, iv. 132-3; Corresp. of Lady Williams Wynn, 171; NLW mss 10798, A. W. Williams Wynn, Mem.; Parl. Deb. xli. 224; PRO 30/9/16, Rickman to Colchester, 10 Mar. 1819.