VAUGHAN, Sir Robert Williames, 2nd bt. (1768-1843), of Nannau Hall, nr. Dolgellau, Merion.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



25 Jan. 1792 - June 1836

Family and Education

b. 29 Mar. 1768, 1st. s. of Sir Robert Howell Vaughan, 1st bt., of Hengwrt, Merion. and Anne, da. and h. of Edward Williames of Ystumcolwyn, Mont. and Meillionydd, Caern. educ. Jesus, Oxf. 1787. m. 23 Sept. 1802, Anna Maria, da. of Sir Roger Mostyn†, 5th bt., of Mostyn, Flints. and Gloddaeth, Caern. suc. fa. as 2nd bt. 13 Oct. 1792. d. 22 Apr. 1843.

Offices Held

Sheriff, Merion. 1837-8.

Commdt. Dolgellau vol. inf. 1798; maj. commdt. Cader Idris vols. 1803, lt.-col. commdt. 1804.

Member, bd. of agriculture 1802, vice-pres. 1816.


Vaughan’s surgeon father, who had been awarded a baronetcy in 1791 on the recommendation of the Grenvillite Lord Bulkeley, had acquired control of the locally prestigious estate of Rûg through his second son Edward (d. 1807) in 1780, and inherited Hengwrt and Nannau on the death of his elder brother three years later. However, it was left to his eldest son Vaughan, a well-built and at times uncouth countryman over six feet tall, to realize their shared ambition to succeed their kinsman Evan Lloyd Vaughan of Corsygedol in the representation of Merioneth. Vaughan, who made no reported parliamentary speeches before 1820, consistently opposed parliamentary reform and Catholic relief and professed allegiance to ‘church and king’; but he was never more than a sporadic attender, who enjoyed living among his constituents and the prestige of representing them. He associated as readily with Tories as with his Whig in-laws, who shared his love of the chase, were bilingual and sponsored bards.1 He announced George III’s death by calling for a county meeting to adopt the customary addresses of condolence and congratulation, 28 Feb. 1820, when he extolled the blessings of the last reign, and made it known that he would seek re-election.2 There was little prospect of opposition, for his 12,000-acre Nannau estate in the parish of Llanfachreth was renowned as the seat of power in Merioneth, where his younger brother Griffith ap Howell Vaughan, the constable of Harlech Castle, had inherited Hengwrt and Rûg, making them the county’s premier resident landowners. The Tory North Wales Gazette commended Vaughan as a county Member and following his election at Harlech, 14 Mar., he reaffirmed his independence and commitment to ‘church and state politics’.3 Later that year he had a bilingual tribute to the late George III inscribed on a new extension to Llanfachreth church.4 Vaughan was the last surviving trustee under the will of Lady Essex Ker, and prosecuted as such by rival claimants to the 1st and 3rd dukes of Roxburghe’s estates in the courts of session and the House of Lords, 1823-32 (as previously, 1805-12). His attendance in the Commons often coincided with litigation concerning the case in the Lords, Mar.-June 1823, Mar.-May 1825, and Dec. 1830-Apr. 1831.5

He welcomed the development of Porthmadog, and amid fears that the coastwise coal duties would stunt the growth of the North Wales slate industry by increasing the cost of steam power, on 18 May 1820 his brother chaired the Merioneth meeting which petitioned against them. Vaughan presented the petition, 12 June.6 Soon afterwards he suffered an illness, for which he received six weeks’ leave, 23 June, having paired for ministers on Wilberforce’s compromise resolution on the Queen Caroline affair, 22 June 1820. He divided against parliamentary reform, 9 May 1821, but cast a wayward vote for inquiry into the prosecution of the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr. 1823. Lord Bulkeley had informed the duke of Buckingham when Vaughan voted against enfranchising Catholic peers, 20 Apr. 1822, that he was one of North Wales’s ‘ultra anti-Catholics’, who were generally ready to support ‘government under your standard ... but upon the Catholic question they are raving mad’.7 He presented a petition from the clergy of Bangor archdeaconry against changing the law on Catholic marriages, 3 May 1824,8 and several from Caernarvonshire and Merioneth against Catholic relief, 15, 19 Apr.,9 and divided against the measure, 21 Apr. 1825. He voted against the attendant bill to disfranchise Irish 40s. freeholders, 26 Apr. 1825. According to a radical publication of that year, he ‘appeared to attend very seldom and to vote with opposition’.10 Vaughan’s large stature and reputation for capitalizing on enclosure and promoting new turnpikes had earned him the nickname ‘Colossus of Roads’, but he played no part in the passage of the 1824 Radnor, Hereford and Merioneth roads bill through the House.11 The coming of age of his eldest son Robert Williames Vaughan junior (‘Y Fychan’), 25 June 1824, was celebrated in verse and with subscriptions, dinners and illuminations throughout Merioneth and on the family estates in Conway and Meillionydd, Caernarvonshire, and Llanfyllin and Llansantffraid, Montgomeryshire, while 200 guests were entertained in a specially erected pavilion at Nannau, where Sir Robert spoke at length but ‘Y Fychan’ was too overwhelmed to utter a word.12 Thomas Clarkson recorded in his diary, 17 Aug. 1824, how difficult it was to muster support for the Anti-Slavery Society ‘in the teeth of Sir Robert Vaughan’, but he presented and endorsed petitions for the abolition of colonial slavery from ‘some towns in Caernarvonshire’, 9 Mar., and Barmouth, Corwen, Dolgellau and Towyn, 16 Mar. 1826.13 He faced no opposition at the general election.

Vaughan had mellowed towards the Methodists, whom he steadfastly denied permission to build chapels on his estates, and he neither presented petitions nor divided on repeal of the Test Acts in 1828.14 He voted against Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827, 12 May, having presented hostile petitions, 8 Apr., 2 May 1828.15 In December he became vice-president of the Brunswick Club that William Ormsby Gore* established at Criccieth.16 The Wellington ministry’s patronage secretary Planta listed him as ‘opposed to the principle’ of Catholic relief in February 1829, but he neither brought up petitions nor voted on the measure. Instead, he co-operated in the preparation of hostile petitions from Merioneth and elsewhere and entrusted them to Ormsby Gore or Lord Eldon.17 In view of recent malicious gossip concerning his parliamentary conduct, on 20 Apr. he asked the anti-Catholic North Wales Chronicle to explain ‘that had he not been confined to his room with a severe attack of gout, a longer time than was taken to carry the Catholic relief bill through the Commons, he would have attended in his place and opposed the measure in every stage’.18 He advocated protection as a means of alleviating agricultural distress, divided against revision of the corn laws, 2 Apr. 1827, and presented petitions from the maltsters of Caernarvonshire for repeal of the 1827 Malt Act, 26 Mar., and from his constituents for tariffs on foreign wool, 1, 15 May 1828. He was also instrumental that session in securing the passage of the Dyffryn- Nantlle railway and Llanfrothen enclosure bills. During the summer recess he was involved in a dispute with Sir Watkin Williams Wynn*, the lord lieutenant of Merioneth, over access rights to an unenclosed sheepwalk in the parish of Llanuwchllyn, and negotiated a £12,700 loan (finalized in March 1829) to Aethelstan Corbet of Ynysmaengwyn.19

He signed the Merioneth gentry’s memorial asking the justice commission to investigate the expediency of assimilating the Welsh courts of great sessions and judicature into the English assize court system, with his brother and their political associates, 7 Nov. 1828, and delegated the task of giving the commissioners his views to the chairman of the magistrates, R.W. Price of Rhiwlas.20 The commissioners’ 1829 report designated Dolgellau as the assize town for Merioneth, north Cardiganshire and west Montgomeryshire, when the great sessions were abolished; but the partitioning of counties this entailed was widely resented and Vaughan was one of several Welsh Members to oppose the 1830 administration of justice bill that encapsulated the proposals, on this count.21 Making his only reported parliamentary speech at the bill’s committee stage, 27 May 1830, he argued that the attorney-general should have treated the two issues (abolition and assimilation) separately and added:

As the representative of a county, which feels strongly on this subject and the majority of whose constituents are strongly opposed to this measure, I feel bound to give it my opposition; and I oppose it on the ground of its abolishing the ancient jurisdiction of the country, and one to which the people are with justice attached. The charges which [the home secretary Peel] has brought against the opponents of this measure shall not prevent me from pursuing this course; and, aware of the ultimate object of this bill, I should betray my duty to those who sent me here did I not endeavour, by every means in my power, to prevent its passing into law.

Despite his strong words, he failed to divide with the ‘Cambrian Warriors’ against the bill’s recommittal, 18 June, when, having received a month’s leave on account of ill health, 5 Apr. 1830, he had remained in London on business.22 He had divided with the revived Whig opposition on the Bathurst and Dundas pensions, 26 Mar., supply, 3 May, the Irish coal duties, 13 May, and privy councillors’ emoluments, 14 May; but he paired against Jewish emancipation, 17 May 1830. He gave Ormsby Gore his interest against the marquess of Anglesey’s brother Sir Charles Paget* in Caernarvon Boroughs at the general election that summer, when his own return was naturally unopposed.23

Ministers listed Vaughan as one of the ‘moderate Ultras’ and endorsed the entry to ‘friend’, but he was absent when they were brought down on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. He received a month’s leave on account of ill health, 30 Nov. 1830, and Merioneth’s anti-slavery petitions were now entrusted to others. Urgent private business, for which he was granted a month’s leave, 9 Feb. 1831, kept him away from the House when it considered the Ffestiniog railway bill, over which opinion in Merioneth was divided, and which failed on a technicality.24 He voted against the Grey ministry’s reform bill at its second reading, 22 Mar., and for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. His canvassing address at the ensuing general election made no statement of policy and he was not denied his eleventh unopposed return.25 He chaired the county meeting at Dolgellau, 17 June 1831, which petitioned requesting that Merioneth be granted borough representation, and was praised for his impartiality. Griffith ap Howell was the petition’s principal opponent, and Vaughan tactfully persuaded its advocates that their views would carry greater weight if presented by Lord John Russell rather than himself.26 He divided against the reintroduced reform bill at its second reading, 6 July, and to make the 1831 census the basis for borough disfranchisement, 19 July, and paired against the bill’s passage, 21 Sept. 1831. The Times had recently written of him: ‘In this gentleman there remains the finest specimen of the old country Tory school. The race is nearly extinguished’. 27 He offered the Rhuddlan votes of certain tenants at Rûg to the Glynnes at the Flint Boroughs by-election in September,28 and received three weeks’ leave on urgent business on the 29th. Though still regarded as staunch anti-reformer, he is not known to have voted on the revised reform bill, which made no additional provision for Merioneth, and was absent when party affiliation was tested on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12, 16 July 1832.

Vaughan’s offer of hospitality to the duchess of Kent and Princess Victoria during their visit to North Wales in the summer of 1832 was not taken up.29 The appearance of his name as an early requisitionist of the Conservative Ultra Lloyd Kenyon* in Denbighshire prompted an opponent to remind readers of the Chester Courant that Vaughan’s stake in that county was ‘very small’, and to urge the voters of Merioneth to reject him and the ‘parasites who daily glut themselves at the cost and pamper the pride of the uninformed but well-intentioned host of Nannau’. The writer acknowledged that Vaughan was ‘a very meritous country gentleman’, but claimed that he was ‘not fitted for the great duties of a Member’, and made much of his erratic attendance and tendency to ‘divide’ and ‘pair’ rather than to ‘discuss or listen to the discussion’.30 Undeterred, the Vaughans supported Ultras in Denbighshire and Caernarvon Boroughs at the general election in December, when The Times found the squires conspicuously absent from his election at Harlech.31 He kept his seat until ill health forced him to retire in 1836, when he was succeeded by his chosen nominee, Richard Richards of Caerynwch, whose father had facilitated his own return in 1792. Vaughan had chaired annual meetings in Wales of gentlemen educated at Jesus College since at least 1819, and the county commemorated his long service with a subscription which funded the Vaughan exhibition for Merioneth scholars at Oxford.32 His son’s marriage in June 1835 was celebrated with the customary ostentation and family settlements, revised to take account of his brother’s debts.33 These stood at almost £250,000, and required further action in 1842 and January 1843.34 Vaughan died in April that year and was commemorated in a long eulogy in the Welsh language by Meurig Idris. Among many stipulations about his funeral at Llanfachreth he had requested that the woollen cloth used for mourning hat-bands for his tenants and workers should be of sufficient size and thickness to make each a waistcoat later.35 His will, dated 19 May 1835, was proved, 7 Sept. 1843, after his failure to appoint an executor had been dealt with. He left his ‘entire estate’ to his son, the last quadruple possessor of Nannau, Hengwrt, Meillionydd and Ystumcolwyn, who died without issue in 1859, whereupon the baronetcy lapsed and the estates were scattered. He also allowed his wife £500 in addition to her settlement, and made many small bequests to servants and friends.36

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Margaret Escott


  • 1. HP Commons, 1790-1820, v. 445-6.
  • 2. N. Wales Gazette. 2, 9 Mar. 1820.
  • 3. Add. 40266, f. 141; N. Wales Gazette. 9, 23 Mar. 1820.
  • 4. UCNW, Nannau mss 712-14.
  • 5. LJ, lv. 806; lvii. 108, 132; lxii. 148, 213; lxii. 191, 406
  • 6. N. Wales Gazette, 18 May; Cambrian, 27 May; The Times, 26 June 1820; NLW, Porthmadog mss 279; CJ, lxxv. 302.
  • 7. Buckingham, Mems. Geo. IV, i. 334.
  • 8. The Times, 4 May 1824.
  • 9. CJ, lxxx. 309, 321; Cambrian, 30 Apr. 1825.
  • 10. Session of Parl. 1825, p. 488.
  • 11. C. Thomas, ‘Merion. Estates, 1790-1850’, Merion. Hist. and Rec. Soc. v (1965-6), 222, 234-5.
  • 12. Nannau mss 719-48; N. Wales Gazette, 21 June, 1 July 1824.
  • 13. NLW ms 14984 A, p. 3; The Times, 10, 17 Mar. 1826.
  • 14. J. Hughes, Methodistiaeth Cymru, i. 604-11.
  • 15. The Times, 3 Mar. 1827; CJ, lxxxii. 256; lxxxiii. 277, 305.
  • 16. N. Wales Chron. 1 Jan. 1829.
  • 17. Ibid. 19 Mar. 1829; UCNW, Mostyn of Mostyn mss 7450.
  • 18. N. Wales Chron., 16, 23 Apr. 1829.
  • 19. Nannau mss 755, 756, 3783.
  • 20. N. Wales Chron. 8, 15 Jan. 1829; PP (1829), ix. 382, 413. His name was entered as ‘W.H.M.E. Vaughan’ in the commissioners’ report, an error not made in the N. Wales Chron.
  • 21. PP (1829), ix. 42-44.
  • 22. UCNW, Plas Newydd mss i. 759.
  • 23. Ibid. ii. 218; G.I.T. Machin, ‘Catholic Emancipation’, Trans. Hon. Soc. Cymmrodorion (1962), 81-92.
  • 24. NLW, Maybery mss 2316; Caernarvon Herald, 30 Apr. 1831; ‘Mems. of Samuel Holland, 1803-92’, Merion. Hist. and Rec. Soc. extra publications ser. i, no. 1, pp. 18-19.
  • 25. Chester Courant, 3, 17 May 1831.
  • 26. Salopian Jnl. 22 June; Shrewsbury Chron. 24 June; The Times, 25 June 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 611.
  • 27. The Times, 16 Aug. 1831.
  • 28. NLW, Glynne of Hawarden mss 5399.
  • 29. Nannau mss 760.
  • 30. Chester Chron. 3, 17 Aug.; Chester Courant, 7 Aug. 1832.
  • 31. N. Wales Chron. 11 Dec.; The Times, 25 Dec.; Caernarvon Herald, 29 Dec. 1832.
  • 32. Cambrian, 13 Nov. 1819; Caernarvon Herald, 23 July 1836; Nannau mss 3787A.
  • 33. Nannau mss 767-82, 3784, 3785.
  • 34. Ibid. 793, 794.
  • 35. Ibid. 783, 795; Caernarvon Herald, 29 Apr. 1843.
  • 36. PROB 8/236; 11/1986/668; Nannau mss 3769-71; DWB.