WYTHENS, Francis (c.1635-1704), of Southend, Eltham, Kent and the Middle Temple.
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Family and Education
b. c.1635, o.s. of William Wythens of Southend, gent. of the privy chamber to Charles I, by Frances, da. of Robert King of St. Mary Cray, Kent. educ. St. John’s, Oxf. 1650; M. Temple 1654, called 1660. m. 21 May 1685, Elizabeth, da. of Sir Thomas Taylor, 1st Bt., of Park House, Maidstone, Kent, 1da. suc. fa. by 1647; kntd. 18 Apr. 1680.1
J.p. Kent 1675-80, Westminster 1677-Feb. 1688; dep. steward, Westminster ?1677-83; commr. for assessment, Kent 1679-80; bencher, M. Temple 1680, reader 1680, treasurer 1681-2; recorder, Kingston-upon-Thames 1685-Mar. 1688.2
KC 1683; serjeant-at-law 1683; j.K.b. 23 Apr. 1683-22 Apr. 1687.
Wythens’s great-grandfather, a London vintner of Cheshire origin, acquired a modest estate in Kent in 1586. His grandfather served as sheriff in 1610-11, and his father became a courtier. But none of the family is known to have taken part in the Civil War.3
Wythens himself became a lawyer and was appointed deputy steward of Westminster and chairman of quarter sessions by the Duke of Ormonde. He contested the autumn election of 1679 in the court interest, and was successful, though the return was doubtful, since his majority depended on the votes of the King’s servants who had been brought over from Windsor. He assisted Sir George Jeffreys in the abhorring movement. On 17 Apr. 1680 he presented a loyal address from the grand jury of Westminster, expressing ‘their dislike and abhorrence of the late petition for a Parliament that was carrying on here’, and he was knighted on the following day. When the second Exclusion Parliament met in October, the House began to attack the Abhorrers, and Wythens was summoned to appear in his place. After several witnesses had been examined, he was ordered to make his defence. Roger North wrote of him:
he was of moderate capacity in the law, but a voluptuary, and such are commonly very timid, and in great difficulties abject. Otherwise he was a very genteel person, what was called a very honest man, and no debtor to the bottle. Some cunning persons that had found out his foible and ignorance of traps first put him in a great fright, telling him he would certainly be hanged as the ringleader of all this business, and then they fetched him off with advice which was the best way for him to escape. He must by no means justify what he had done, no, that would but irritate. ... Now there were many gallant gentlemen in the House of great estates and interests in their countries, who were friends to these Abhorrers, and would have done this gentleman all the service they could, if he had not lost himself by his behaviour: that is, if he had stood manfully to what he had done, and declared that he knew no law he had broken and would justify himself. But instead of this, or anything like it, he stood up in his place, and, after a few whimpers and a wipe, he said to this effect, viz. that he did promote and carry up that abhorrence, but he knew at the time he was in the wrong, only he thought it would please the King, and so, owning the thing was against the law, begged pardon. This sneaking come-off so disgusted even his friends, that they joined all with the country party, and with one consent, nemine contradicente, kicked him out of the House, as one not fit for gentlemen’s company.
Kneeling at the bar, he received the sentence of expulsion from the Speaker, who told him:
you, being a lawyer, have offended against your own profession; you have offended against yourself, your own right, your own liberty as an Englishman. This is not only a crime against the living, but a crime against the unborn.
On 15 Nov. his election was declared void after the votes of the King’s menial servants were disallowed, and his opponent, Sir William Waller II was seated. His standing in his profession was unaffected, nor did Ormonde take the advice of Lord Longford (Francis Aungier) that Wythens should be urged to resign his place as deputy steward of Westminster because ‘the Commons will take it ill of your grace to continue him in that employment after so severe a mark of their displeasure against him’. In 1683 he was made a judge to assist in declaring the London charter forfeit. He made himself still more obnoxious to the Whigs on the bench, and even the loyal Evelyn was shocked to see Wythens and Jeffreys roistering at a wedding feast in the City, shortly after condemning Algernon Sidney. In May 1685 he pronounced sentence on Titus Oates for perjury, expressing regret that the death penalty could not be imposed. He was a close friend of Jeffreys, whom he accompanied on the Bloody Assizes, though he frequently attempted to restrain him.4
Early in 1687, Wythens was dismissed by James II for declining to rule in favour of the death penalty for desertion. On 17 May 1689 he appeared before the House of Lords to give reasons for his judgment against Oates, which was later pronounced erroneous. On 18 June, despite the plea of his sister’s stepson, Sir John Lowther III, that Wythens had opposed James II’s arbitrary measures and that ‘he was never corrupt, he never took a shilling’, Wythens was excepted by name from the indemnity bill. His wife, the mistress of Sir Thomas Colepeper, 3rd Bt., involved him in extraordinary expense, apparently with the object of incarcerating him in a debtors’ prison. She failed, but he had to settle large sums on her behalf after a lawsuit in 1693. Three years later, Wythens brought an unsuccessful action for assault against Colepeper. He died on 9 May 1704, and was buried at Eltham, the only member of his family to enter Parliament. His widow married her lover, who sat for Maidstone as a Whig in five Parliaments, and his daughter married the eldest son of Sir William Twisden.5
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Author: Eveline Cruickshanks
- 1. DNB; Vis. Kent (Harl. Soc. liv), 182; Arch. Cant. xx. 38.
- 2. HMC Ormonde, n.s. v. 468; Luttrell, i. 255; Manning and Bray, Surr. i. 342.
- 3. H. Drake, Hundred of Blackheath, 194-5, 207.
- 4. CSP Dom. 1679-80, p. 246; Luttrell, i. 41, 255; CJ, ix. 641, 643, 654; North, Examen, 544; HMC Ormonde, n.s. v. 468;; Evelyn Diary, iv. 352; H. W. Woolrych, Judge Jeffreys, 163-4; S. Schofield, Jeffreys of the Bloody Assizes, 78, 139.
- 5. Grey, ix. 312, 343-4; HMC Lords, ii. 77; Luttrell, iv. 144; v. 422.