PAGET, Lord William (1803-1873), of Plas Newydd, Anglesey
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Family and Educationb. 1 Mar. 1803, 2nd s. of Henry William Paget†, 1st mq. of Anglesey (d. 1854), and 1st w. Lady Caroline Elizabeth Villiers, da. of George Bussey Villiers†, 4th earl of Jersey; bro. of Henry Paget, Lord Uxbridge* and half-bro. of Lord Alfred Henry Paget†, Lord Clarence Edward Paget† and Lord George Augustus Frederick Paget†. educ. Westminster 1813-16. m. 22 Jan. 1827, Frances, da. of Lt.-Gen. Francis, Bar. de Rottenburg, 3s. (2 d.v.p.). d. 17 May 1873.
Entered RN 1817, midshipman 1823, lt. 1823, cdr. 1825, capt. 1826; capt. vice-regal yacht 1827-9; half-pay 1833, ret. 1846.
Paget was named after his father’s sailor brother William, who had died in 1794. Like most of his family, he attended Westminster School, leaving in December 1816 to join the navy shortly after his fourteenth birthday as a first class volunteer on the Glasgow, 1 Apr. 1817. He served on her in the Mediterranean, the home station and the West Indies before being made a lieutenant, 18 Apr. 1823. His father, an eminent soldier and courtier who had been created marquess of Anglesey in recognition of his gallantry at Waterloo, feared that his promotion might have been delayed because of his own lack of favour.1 Paget served briefly on several ships and was posted to South America, where he was made commander of the Fly, 20 Apr. 1825, for her return voyage to England.2 When a dissolution was anticipated that autumn his father suggested him for Caernarvon Boroughs, where an anti-Catholic candidate was sought to replace Sir Charles Paget. Anglesey now described William as ‘a nice lad, shy, but sensible [with a] lot of engaging manners’, and added that as the inhabitants of Caernarvon considered it ‘a port hardly second to Liverpool’, a ‘naval character [would be] the most proper person to represent it’. Lord William’s candidature was not advertised, but in November he accompanied his brother, Lord Uxbridge, and uncle, Berkeley Paget*, to North Wales for the necessary introductions.3 Next month he was made commander of the Philomel, then fitting for the Mediterranean, and he was on his way to Lisbon when Parliament was dissolved in May 1826. The admiralty was asked to help, but it proved impossible to bring him back in time for his election, 15 June, at which Berkeley Paget deputized. Plas Newydd agents drafted the addresses, the tone of which lent credence to the popular belief in North Wales that Sir Charles was standing down ‘in a gentlemanlike manner’ because of his pro-emancipation views, while William’s anti-Catholic views coincided with their own. When the Philomel arrived at Caernarvon, 28 June 1826, Paget was admitted to the freedom of the borough and presided over a second round of entertainments, so increasing the cost of his election to over £1,020.4
He was made a post captain, 18 Oct. 1826, and spent much time in Bath wooing Fanny, the daughter of General de Rottenburg, a veteran like Anglesey of the 1809 Walcheren campaign. He married her in January 1827 despite his father’s objections.5 In Parliament, he presented a petition from Caernarvon and divided with Uxbridge against Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827.6 He voted against the spring guns bill, 30 Mar., and after serving on the Denbigh election committee, he was awarded a week’s leave, 3 Apr. In May, when corporation activists took him to task for failing to contribute towards the defeat in committee of the Caernarvon improvements bill, he responded with a spirited address blaming others.7 Relations with his father remained strained, and he owed his £1,200 a year appointment as captain of the vice-regal yacht, the Royal Charlotte, during Anglesey’s Irish lord lieutenancy to the duke of Clarence, who informed the marquess, 6 Nov.:
As Lady William Paget is far advanced in her state of pregnancy and your Lordship is a man of gallantry, I am sure you, my excellent and old friend, will approve my having this day signed the commission.8
She was seriously ill following their eldest son’s birth, and Paget subsequently claimed that de Rottenburg’s £1,000 loan to provide her with a carriage and £120 allowance towards their expenses had encouraged him to live lavishly in Ireland,9 where he soon courted controversy by visiting a Catholic Association meeting, 19 Apr. 1828, with Anglesey’s secretary Baron Tuyll, Sir Hugh Adenyl, the Rev. Caesar Otway and Lord George Hill*.10 On 15 Apr. the premier, the duke of Wellington reminded Anglesey
how liable such a step is to misconstruction both here and in Ireland, how much it will be exaggerated beyond its real importance and how many unfounded influences will be drawn from it ... I am very much afraid that the presence of persons so high in your household and so entirely in your confidence will be considered by the Roman Catholics as a sanction of their proceedings and, what is still worse, will give great offence to the Protestants and incite in them feelings of suspicion and distress, if not of alienation and enmity.
Replying, 29 Apr., Anglesey acknowledged that it was ‘an unfortunate occurrence and I have felt it much, but there is no use grumbling about it’.11 Paget, though apparently under no pressure to espouse Anglesey’s growing conviction that emancipation was essential to the pacification of Ireland,12 announced his own ‘conversion’ when a relief bill was proposed, 9 May 1828:
I am persuaded that if the Catholics of Ireland were placed on a footing of equality with their Protestant brethren, they would speedily forget and forgive all the injuries which they have endured; and would exhibit as much loyalty and good conduct as any other class of the community. I ... shall vote in favour of a cause, the success of which I honestly and conscientiously feel and believe to be intimately connected with the peace and prosperity of Ireland and the well-being of the empire at large.
John Croker* thought his words ‘very well conceived and delivered with modesty and taste’ and Edward Littleton* considered the speech ‘most useful’; while others regretted that ‘the noise in the House and the lowness of the Hon. Member’s voice prevented our catching the purport of his first sentence’.13 The Catholic press welcomed his vote for concessions, 12 May, but Protestant papers sought to discredit him by stressing his past differences with his father, Caernarvon’s attempt to oust him for allegedly breaking an election pledge, and Uxbridge’s continued opposition to emancipation.14 On the 17th he returned to Dublin whence Anglesey announced that as an elected Member was ‘the representative of the people of the empire, not of his electors merely ... he will not and he ought not to vacate his seat’.15 He stayed away from the Caernarvon meeting that called for his resignation, 27 May, and, refusing to comply, issued an address confirming his belief that the removal of civil and religious disabilities was essential. He implied that his critics were in the minority and reiterated Anglesey’s arguments concerning a Member’s local and national responsibilities.16 Speakers at the Catholic Association meeting, 29 May, vilified the burgesses of Caernarvon and suggested introducing a resolution thanking Paget and inviting him to stand for an Irish county. Daniel O’Connelb considered ‘the advocacy of their claims by Lord William Paget ... one of the most important incidents in the Catholic cause’. The resolution was carried, 11 June, but by then they had received Paget’s letter stating:
I cannot consider myself entitled to the thanks of the Roman Catholics as a distinct body. Whilst I am anxious that in discharging my duty as an independent Member of Parliament, consulting for the general interests of the empire at large, I wished to forward that important question which in my conscience I believe to be as much for the interests of the Protestants as of the Catholics.17
Asked by the O’Gorman Mahon* to stand at the county Clare by-election, ‘he very properly said he would never take another step but by ... [Anglesey’s] sanction and that he was sure ... [he] should object to that’.18 On 19 June ‘Lord William and the Ladies Paget’ sailed for England, whence he returned after the Clare election, but in time for the Kingstown regatta, at which he was accused by the Protestant press of permitting the Sabbath to be broken.19 Paget remained unpopular in Caernarvon where, at the Michaelmas dinner, 29 Sept., he refused to drink to any but his own interpretation of ‘the Protestant Ascendancy’, bravely proclaiming:
I must and will, upon all vital questions be unfettered. I will fearlessly and conscientiously support or oppose any and every measure as I shall believe it to be for the good of the empire, without for an instant allowing party or local attachments to influence my conduct’.20
The marquess’s agent John Sanderson thought it the best speech heard in Caernarvon and arranged for it to be printed in the North Wales Chronicle; while the Dublin Evening Post reported, ‘this rash young man has again rushed into print and wantonly forced himself once more upon public notice’. It did little to improve his prospects of a second unopposed return.21 Paget’s visit to the Catholic Association was mentioned in dispatches as a contributory factor in Wellington’s decision to dismiss Anglesey in December 1828. He took part in the ensuing round of entertainments, attended his father at the official leave taking, 22 Jan. 1829, and accompanied him back to Beaudesert.22 He congratulated him on his pro-emancipation speech in the Lords, 5 Feb., and the patronage secretary Planta predicted later that month that he would vote ‘with government’ for emancipation without insisting on additional securities. 23 However, despite reports to the contrary in the North Wales press, Paget did not vote on emancipation in 1829.24 The Catholic Association incident was discussed again in May, when the Lords considered Anglesey’s departure from Ireland and the attendant correspondence was printed.25
Paget had been accumulating more debts than he could discharge from his patrimony of £10,000 since at least the autumn of 1825, and in March 1829, when the consequences of his extravagant lifestyle could no longer be avoided, his father was informed. He rejected a suggestion that he should live rent free at Druids Lodge on the Plas Newydd estate, and instead took High Beeches, Waltham Forest, spending £1,300 on furnishings.26 On 22 July he wrote:
More than one execution is on the point of being put upon my property, poor and scanty, God knows as it is. ... Under these circumstances and after many thoughtful days and sleepless nights I do not hesitate to say that I feel no alternative is left to me but that of giving up my seat in Parliament and surrendering my person, when, if it appears that I am in fact totally bereft of property, I shall be ready and am indeed fully prepared to pay in my person whatever penalty the law may deem me liable to and thenceforward be exempt from my present hourly vexations.27
Anglesey, who liked to blame de Rottenburg for William’s plight and conduct,28 was furious to be thus forced to intervene and informed Sanderson, 23 July:
I have long doubted Lord William Paget’s feelings of honour and am therefore scarcely surprised at the circumstances you announce ... I will merely say that he is the worthy son-in-law of such a man as his father-in-law and that he has ably profited by the lessons he probably got from a scoundrel in Dublin who very narrowly escaped hanging and with whom I found him clearly connected. ... [Druids] would not have answered his purpose ... He can ... keep his seat till the first dissolution when he ought to go abroad and hide himself. Of course I would not, if I could again, return him to Parliament, and if after the present relief he chooses again to play the rogue, he must incur the penalty.29
With £20,000 needed to reimburse London, Dublin and Anglesey traders and pay off navy debts in Dublin, London, Plymouth and Portsmouth, Anglesey judged William to be ‘irretrievably ruined, for his character is gone’; and he resolved to ‘speak openly of him and throw myself and my family and this degraded young man at the mercy of the admiralty’.30 He dismissed a requisition, 13 Sept., for William to stand for county Louth with the endorsement, ‘I take no part in regard to Lord William Paget’s remaining or again becoming a representative of the people’. Grange and Carlingford’s address thanking him for his support for emancipation was not acknowledged.31 Meanwhile, Paget’s stepmother Lady Anglesey was annoyed that while £10,000 was being raised for him and a trust established, he was ‘at his country house and coming up to London constantly, just as if nothing had happened’.32 When appointed to command the North Star in December 1829, he immediately threatened to resign both his posting and his seat to force a better financial settlement.33 He resorted to the same tactic in April 1830, shortly before his ship sailed for the West Indies, to try to secure £300 a year for his wife during his absence.34 Sanderson replied, 19 Apr:
Neither your privilege of Parliament, nor your rank in the public service, nor even your highly honoured name would protect you from the consequences of hostile proceedings by those of your creditors who hold dishonoured drafts ... In short, my dear Lord William, ask yourself the question whether the result might not be expulsion from Parliament, a suspension from the service and possibly a criminal process.35
While his debts continued to mount and legal action threatened, the trustees (Lord Forbes, Captain Hart and Sanderson) made repayment of Irish creditors their priority.36 It was agreed that Paget’s allowance from Lord Anglesey should be ‘increased to enable him to live on naval half-pay; he was to go abroad, but not to a capital city, sell his carriages and horses, and ordered to give up certain of his friends’.37 Early in June 1830, Anglesey, thinking himself close to death,38 dwelt on the pain ‘my unfortunate William’ had caused in a farewell letter to Uxbridge, but hopes that he would ‘reform and entitle himself to this indulgence’ [a further £10,000] proved short-lived.39 Caernarvon welcomed his retirement at the general election, when, for the first time in 50 years, the seat passed out of Paget control - a just reward for Lord William’s ‘ratting in the last Parliament’.40
The North Star’s voyage was marred by the death of a ship’s boy, William Heritage, who threw himself overboard rather than face the dozen lashes ordered by Paget as punishment for his carelessness with the ship’s water. Courts of inquiry at Bermuda and Halifax absolved Paget, and when a new inquiry was ordered at Portsmouth in January 1831, he rejected it as ‘offering me a third loophole’, and elected to be tried by court martial. His acquittal with honour, 7 Feb., did much to heal the breach with Anglesey, who had returned to Ireland as the Grey ministry’s lord lieutenant, and received good reports of William’s conduct from Grey, Lord Holland and the first lord of the admiralty, Sir James Graham.41 William had already asked Sir Charles Paget, the duke of Argyll, and his brother-in-law, the postmaster-general the duke of Richmond, to intervene to secure him a posting to the West Indies and command of the Westminster, claiming that Admiral Colpoys had offered Lady William a home ‘should she decide to come out’. He added in his letter to Sir Charles, 1 Feb:
Loving Lady William however and my darling boy as I do, I cannot but feel my absence from them and from him particularly at his interesting age. But I love them too well to drag them about the ocean with me.42
With prosecutions then pending, he proved hard to assist, and no sooner did he step ashore than he was arrested for debt, forcing Uxbridge to intervene to pacify his creditors before he could put safely to sea again, 28 Feb.43 Sir Charles had ‘not a word to say in extenuation of Lord William’s extravagance’ but felt ‘it is not inconsistent in me to continue on the most affectionate footing with him’, and to facilitate the proposed move to Bermuda or Halifax, he persuaded Graham to give Paget the command of the Winchester, 10 May 1831.44 Paget’s wife did not sail for the West Indies. Her father died at Portsmouth, 24 Apr. 1832, and in September she and her mother left for Brussels, confident that Paget would join them.45 He brought the North Star back to England, was paid off with the rest of her crew in September 1833 and sought refuge in Brussels.46 While away, he had turned frequently to Richmond for patronage and free mailing and invoked Richmond and Uxbridge’s names when creditors loomed. He was briefly thought of as a possible successor to Uxbridge as Member for Anglesey.47 His father dismissed the idea, and Sanderson advised, 7 July 1831, that
Lord William must be aware that a return to Parliament, although securing to him for the time freedom from arrest, would tend to increase the irritation of his creditors and I cannot omit to call to his recollection that there are some circumstances in this case which might render a public disclosure extremely detrimental to himself.48
Between 1830 and 1840 Paget’s debts cost his family £26,916. The 1830 settlement was substantially revised in 1836, following his imprisonment in the Marshalsea, and again in 1840, when, after fighting against Don Carlos in Spain, he returned to Britain to escape creditors at Pau.49 Though pledged to live abroad, he remained in England until 1846, and was returned to Parliament in 1841 as Liberal Member for Andover. From pecuniary motives, he regularly and dishonestly abused his family connections, and in December 1843 brought an unsuccessful action for crim. con. against the earl of Cardigan for alleged adultery with his wife.50 An additional £15,000 was added to his trust fund under the terms of his father’s will, proved in July 1854 and January 1855.51 He died in Boulogne in May 1873 after a long illness.52
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Margaret Escott
- 1. Paget Brothers ed. Lord Hylton, 308.
- 2. W.R. O’Byrne, Naval Biog. ii. 850.
- 3. UCNW, Plas Newydd mss i. 262, 277, 283, 284, 289, 298, 301, 303, 307.
- 4. O’Byrne, ii. 850; Plas Newydd mss i. 24, 314-16; N. Wales Gazette, 8, 15, 23 June, 6, 13 July 1826; G.I.T. Machin, ‘Catholic Emancipation as an Issue in North Welsh Politics, 1825-1829’, Trans. Hon. Soc. Cymmrodorion (1962), 85-86.
- 5. O’Byrne, ii. 850; Lord William Paget mss (privately held at Plas Newydd) 7M/644G/21, Vivian to Anglesey, 25 Jan. 1827; Mq. of Anglesey, One Leg, 235.
- 6. The Times, 7 Mar. 1827.
- 7. N. Wales Gazette, 31 May, 7, 14 June 1827.
- 8. Lord William Paget mss 644G/21.
- 9. Ibid. 644G/1/1-4.
- 10. Ibid.; Patriot, 21 Apr.; Dublin Evening Mail, 23 Apr. 1828.
- 11. Wellington mss WP1/929/6, 13.
- 12. PRO NI, Anglesey mss D619/32G, p. 127; Machin, Trans. Hon. Soc. Cymmrodorion (1962), 86.
- 13. Croker Pprs. i. 419; Anglesey mss 31B/1; Patriot, 12 May 1828.
- 14. Dublin Evening Mail, 12, 14, 28 May; Patriot, 14, 26, 28, 30 May; N. Wales Chron. 22, 29 May; Dublin Evening Post, 23, 31 May 1828.
- 15. Dublin Evening Post, 17 May 1828; Plas Newydd mss vii. 2004.
- 16. Dublin Evening Mail, 28 May; N. Wales Chron. 29 May, 12 June; Dublin Evening Post, 9 June; Cambrian, 21 June 1828; Machin, Trans. Hon. Soc. Cymmrodorion (1962), 86-89.
- 17. Dublin Evening Post, 31 May, 3, 5, 14, 16 June; N. Wales Chron. 26 June 1828.
- 18. Anglesey mss 26C, pp. 48-51; Machin, Catholic Question in English Politics, 121; Paget Pprs. ed. A. B. Paget, ii. 395; Add. 51567, Anglesey to Holland, 1 July 1828.
- 19. Dublin Evening Post, 21 June; Dublin Evening Mail, 30 July 1828.
- 20. N. Wales Chron. 2 Oct.; Dublin Evening Post, 3 Oct.; Shrewsbury Chron. 10 Oct. 1828; Machin, Trans. Hon. Soc. Cymmrodorion (1962), 90.
- 21. Dublin Evening Post, 3 Oct. 1828; Plas Newydd mss i. 1891, 1893, 1901; vii. 2009-11; Machin, Trans. Hon. Soc. Cymmrodorion (1962), 90-92.
- 22. Wellington mss WP1/966/17; Anglesey, 202-17; N. Wales Chron. 22 Jan. 1829.
- 23. Anglesey mss 32/A/3/64.
- 24. N. Wales Chron. 12, 26 Mar. 1829.
- 25. The Times, 5 May; Dublin Evening Post, 9 May 1829.
- 26. Lord William Paget mss 644G/1/3-7, 24, 55-9.
- 27. Ibid. 644G/1/14.
- 28. Ibid. 644G/3/132.
- 29. Ibid. 644G/1/14A.
- 30. Ibid. 644G/1/8-13, 19-21, 24, 26-34; 19A, 19E.