GWYNNE, Sir Rowland (c.1659-1726), of Llanelwedd, Rad.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Mar. 1679 - 1681
1689 - 1690
1690 - 1695
10 Dec. 1695 - 1698
1698 - 1702

Family and Education

b. c.1659, 1st s. of George Gwynne† of Llanelwedd by Sybill, da. and h. of Roderick Gwynne of Llanelwedd.  educ. St. John’s, Oxf. matric. 16 July 1674, aged 15; G. Inn 1679.  m. Mary (d. 1722), da. and h. of William Bassett, DCL, of Broviscan, Glam., s.psuc. fa. c.1673; kntd. 28 May 1680.1

Offices Held

Gent. privy chamber 1671–?83; treasurer of chamber 1689–92.2

Freeman, New Radnor by 1681, common councilman by Feb.–Dec. 1690; sheriff, Brec. Jan.–July 1688; steward of crown manors, Rad. 1689–91; custos rot. Rad. 1689–1702, Brec. May–Oct. 1689; gamekeeper, manor of Havering-atte-Bower, Essex 1689.3

FRS 1681–c.1719.4

Chairman, cttee. of privileges and elections 1698–1702.


Gwynne was a political adventurer, reckless and outspoken, whose achievements were frequently marred by indiscretions. Having wasted an inheritance estimated at £1,000 p.a., he had thrown himself with such desperate zeal into the cause of Exclusion that he fell to plotting in 1683 and was obliged to spend the years before the Revolution in exile in Holland. He was able to cash in on his sufferings to some extent in 1689, receiving various local offices and the treasurership of the chamber, though not the more lucrative post of master of the Household, which he had coveted. Active in the Convention, he had been blacklisted prior to the 1690 election as one who had voted in favour of the disabling clause in the corporations bill, and afterwards was listed by Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) as a Whig. He stood both in Breconshire, where he was re-elected unopposed, and in New Radnor, where he defeated Robert Harley*. According to the family tradition of the Harleys, Gwynne had given an ‘undertaking’ to the Court that he would keep Robert out of the House: the only contemporary evidence has him confiding to one of Harley’s Foley kinsmen that his motive was to keep a seat free for the postmaster-general, John Wildman†, who, he considered, would be ‘of more use’ as a Member. Gwynne had certainly been anxious, as he told Thomas Morgan*, ‘that we get good men chosen for this Parliament, otherwise the nation will be in great danger of ruin’. As steward of the crown manors, and now a common councilman himself in New Radnor, he was more confident of the Boroughs than of the county seat, which in this election he left to his ally Richard Williams*. An agreement was rapidly concluded with Williams while the Harleys were preoccupied elsewhere, and subsequent approaches from Robert Harley were dismissed as insultingly belated. The election itself was decided by the partiality of the bailiff, with the eventual result that Gwynne’s return was set aside on petition on 12 Nov. 1690 in what proved to be a humiliating rebuff from the House. Gwynne was reduced to making a long speech in his own behalf in the committee, and when it was revealed there that he had also voted for himself at the poll, laughter broke out. At the report only one voice, that of Richard Williams, was heard in his defence. He himself reached the House too late for the vote, and retreated disconsolately. Worse was to follow: in December he lost his place on New Radnor common council in a local coup; the next year he lost his stewardship to Robert Harley in a trial of skill at court; and in 1692 he backed a candidate against the Harley nominee in a by-election for Radnorshire, and was soundly beaten. The setback over the stewardship, a decisive loss, had been surprising given that Gwynne held a Household office at the time and Harley was associated with the emerging ‘Country’ opposition. Gwynne’s ministerial connexions, however, were confined to ‘new Whigs’ like Sir John Somers*, who as lord keeper in 1693 was able to assist Gwynne’s interest in Radnorshire in the matter of remodelling the commission of the peace, while the Harleys’ friendships in 1690–1 were more catholic, Sir John Trevor* (chief commissioner of the great seal) seeming to have had the greatest share in Gwynne’s replacement as steward. Thus although Gwynne was marked by Harley as a Court supporter in April 1691, there was still room for the qualification ‘doubtful’. On 22 Dec. 1690 he had acted as a teller against the Court Tory Sir Thomas Fowle* in the Devizes election. In April 1692 he was reported as having voted with ‘the Court justices’ in a division on the Middlesex bench over an appointment to the clerkship of the peace, but these were in the main close Whig allies like Sir William Forester* and Hon. Thomas Wharton*. Almost simultaneously his uneasy relationship with the less Whiggish elements in the administration came to an explosive climax. In an interview with Queen Mary in March he had brought to her attention information that ‘offices and employments in Ireland were being sold to the highest bidder’, and had at least implied that the lord lieutenant himself, Lord Sydney (Henry Sidney†), was personally implicated. The Queen promptly apprised Sydney of the charge against him, and after an indecisive confrontation between accuser and accused Gwynne was summoned to a Cabinet to explain himself. He at first ‘had the confidence’ to tell the Queen she had misunderstood him, a piece of effrontery which stunned his audience into a quarter of an hour’s silence. Even when witnesses were produced to prove that at his meeting with Sydney he had ‘tacitly’ admitted some allegation, he devised an explanation, that he ‘supposed this maybe meant of £700 I spoke to the Queen about, which was given to a custom house officer’, to procure the release of a French ship seized in the Scilly Isles. He failed to convince his audience, however, and the Queen declared in Council, and ordered it to be entered in the Privy Council books, that Gwynne’s allegations were ‘groundless and scandalous’. He was promptly dismissed as treasurer of the chamber, a serious blow to his already shaky finances, for the post was worth an estimated £2,000 a year and he had been embezzling a further £1,000 a year besides from the funds at his disposal. That he was not also removed as custos may have been a surprise, given that the talk in Radnorshire was of ‘Mr Harley’s undermining Sir R. Gwynne’, but in this respect the damage had already been done.5

Gwynne seems to have become significantly busier in subsequent sessions of the 1690 Parliament. He acted as a teller on 13 Jan. 1693 in a division of local interest, on the Wye and Lugg navigation bill, and the following month reported and carried to the Lords a private bill (8, 13 Feb.). From his activity in the next session it might be inferred that his political sympathies had veered temporarily towards the ‘Country’ opposition: he was a teller on 22 Dec. 1693 in favour of an amendment to the triennial bill which would have strengthened the bill’s force; was named to the committee of 29 Dec. to examine Sir Charles Meredith as to the articles of impeachment against Sir Charles Porter* and Lord Coningsby (Thomas*, another Court Whig and a Herefordshire rival of the Harleys), reporting from this committee on 2 Jan. 1694; reported on 12 Jan. from the committee to receive proposals concerning the Irish forfeitures, and was the same day appointed to a drafting committee to produce a bill to apply those forfeitures to the use of the public; and on 16 Feb. 1694 even acted as a teller with Robert Harley in favour of finding Lord Falkland (Anthony Carey*) guilty of a high misdemeanour and a breach of trust in disbursing naval funds secretly on the King’s order. During this session he assisted, in March, in the management of Sir John Maynard’s* estate bill, with which his future patron Lord Stamford was concerned. In March 1695 he took the chair of the committee to inspect precedents on the conduct of the House of Commons at the Queen’s funeral; on 20 Mar. he reported upon the petitions of the Hackney coachmen; and on 12 Apr. he was a teller against going into committee on the glass duty bill. He also took a prominent part in the Commons’ inquiries into corruption, principally levelled at the Duke of Leeds (the former Carmarthen) and his associates. On 17 Apr. he chaired the committee of the whole on the bill to punish the army contractors James Craggs I*, Richard Harnage*, and Edward* and Tracy Pauncefort*; was appointed later the same day to manage a conference with the Lords over the bill to indemnify Sir Thomas Cooke*, as part of the examination of charges of bribery against the East India Company; on 23 Apr. was elected to the secret committee to take Cooke’s evidence, in 20th place out of 24 in the ballot; and on 1 May acted as a teller against a rider to the bill for imprisoning Cooke and others, which would have admitted Sir Thomas to bail. The committee of 27 Apr. to draw up the abortive articles of impeachment against Leeds himself included Gwynne among its members.

At the 1695 general election Gwynne made no attempt in New Radnor, confining himself to Breconshire, where he was defeated in a hard-fought contest. He petitioned against this reverse, but when the dispute came before the House on 22 Feb. 1696, he again suffered the ignominy of rejection, his case being dismissed on the report without a division. In the meantime he had been found a seat at a by-election for Bere Alston by Lord Stamford. Later in that year he was described as an intimate of Stamford’s, and in 1700 an analysis of the Commons ascribed him to Stamford’s interest. Though not returned for Bere Alston until 10 Dec. 1695, Gwynne had been nominated five days earlier to draft a bill to regulate proceedings in the courts of Equity. On 31 Dec. 1695 he was appointed, with Sir Richard Onslow, 3rd Bt., to prepare a bill ‘for the increase and encouragement of seamen’. He was a teller on 7 Jan. 1696, to excuse Henry Priestman’s absence on a call of the House, and again on 15 Jan., against adjourning the committee on the coinage bill; and on 21 Jan. presented a bill to require lawyers to subscribe the oaths of allegiance and supremacy, subsequently chairing the committee. The omission of his name from the forecast for the division of 31 Jan. 1696 on the proposed council of trade was presumably a clerical error, as on that day he told in favour of the Court-inspired motion to preclude MPs from serving. It was Gwynne who moved on 24 Feb. 1696 for the Association, in response to the King’s revelation of the discovery of the Assassination Plot, and the same day he was named as a manager for a conference with the Lords over the loyal address. When the bill for the security of the King’s person was debated in April, Gwynne told, on the 7th, in favour of the clause imposing the Association on Members. Naturally, he was one of those who signed promptly. In conjunction with his friends in Radnorshire he attempted to exploit the Association to strike a blow at the Harleys, arranging for a copy to be smuggled down to the country, circulated secretly and returned to London without the signatures of the Harley family or their agents. If, as has been suggested, his aim was to obtain a pretext on which to demand a purge of his enemies from the Radnorshire commission of the peace, he was to be disappointed, for the revision of the justices’ list in 1696 proved to be a routine affair in which Robert Harley’s views were taken into consideration. As to the conspirators themselves, Gwynne had recommended to Secretary of State Sir William Trumbull* on 2 Apr. that the executions of Freind and Parkyns be postponed until the passage of the security bill, since their deaths would ‘relieve their party [?the Tories] from fears of further confessions’. In February and March 1696 he assisted in the management of two bills: to naturalize Lord Tunbridge (William Henry Nassau de Zuylestein*), with whose family he was on terms of close friendship, and to prevent the export of wool. Gwynne was listed as having supported, in March, fixing the price of guineas at 22s. In the same month he also reported, on the 26th, the petition of the City of London car-men. Finally on 18 Apr. he was a teller against an amendment to the bill confirming Lord Torrington’s (Arthur Herbert†) grant in the Bedford level, which would have obliged Torrington to perform all the covenants and agreements previously made by King James II.6

Gwynne’s association with Lord Stamford was again evident on 29 Oct. 1696, when he defended Stamford against Tory allegations that as lord lieutenant of Devon he had been responsible for purging from the lieutenancy and commission of the peace gentlemen ‘of the best estates and interest’ who had failed to vote in Parliament according to his wishes. According to Gwynne, Stamford had ‘advised with those he confided in, to give commissions to such as were of unquestioned fidelity to the government’. Gwynne voted on 25 Nov. 1696 in favour of the bill of attainder against Sir John Fenwick† and was one of those Members who, at the prompting of Lords Monmouth and Stamford, ‘entertained unintelligible notions’, in James Vernon I’s* words, ‘of advantages to be made by Sir John’s confession’. He told on three occasions in this session: for an instruction to the committee on the bill to prohibit the wearing of cloth imported from the East Indies, that petitioners on both sides be heard by counsel (30 Dec.); against declaring Humphrey Courtney* duly elected for Mitchell (4 Feb. 1697); and against referring the Royal African Company’s petition to the committee considering the bill to regulate the Africa trade (11 Mar). He also involved himself in other matters relating to trade and manufacture, reporting upon the petitions of the London merchants over letters of marque (9 Feb.); of the widows of seamen killed on the West Indian expedition (24 Mar.); and that of the widow of a captain killed on the Newfoundland expedition (14 Apr.). Gwynne also presented, on 11 Mar., an abortive bill for the encouragement of the Royal Lustring Company, and on 1 Apr. was one of two Members appointed to prepare a bill to restrain the numbers and ill practices of brokers and stock-jobbers. On the same day he carried to the Lords the bill to ease sheriffs in the passing of their accounts.7

Gwynne was named for the first time on 3 Dec. 1697 to the committee on the Address. Later that month, in a debate on the bill to prohibit persons returning from France without licence, he moved for a clause to make it treason for anyone to receive a pardon from King James, or for those who had received pardons not to deliver them to the King in Council before 13 Feb. 1698. At this there was ‘a general laugh’ in the House, and ‘some debate . . . as to what the offence of receiving the pardon should be’. James Vernon commented privately, ‘I know not whom Sir Rowland Gwynne’s clause is aimed at, but the proofs and trial must be as in other cases of treason, according to the late Act’. Gwynne followed up the point in March 1698, moving for an address requesting a list to be published of all those ‘who have leave to stay in England, pursuant to the late Act’. Again Vernon was puzzled, confessing that he always suspected ‘these gentlemen’ (Gwynne had been seconded by John Dutton Colt*) of some design to embarrass the ministry and prove their supererogatory zeal for the public safety; perhaps on this occasion by opening a way to criticize the issuing of licences. During the 1697–8 session Gwynne was nominated to, and reported from, committees inquiring into the defalcations of regimental agents (2 Feb., 8 Mar., 20 May) and petitions from clothiers and cloth-workers (17, 18, 19 May). He also reported and carried to the Lords a naturalization bill (12, 17 May, 22 June). The most notable aspect of his parliamentary activity, however, was the demonstration of a vigilant public-spiritedness. In May 1698, for example, together with John Arnold* (another of Vernon’s ‘gentlemen’), he was ‘upon the hunt’ for a copy of William Molyneux’s Case of Ireland . . . Stated, the better to expose Irish designs for ‘independency’, and create difficulties for the Irish (and by implication English) administration. He had earlier served on the committee of 24 Mar. to inquire into the Anglo-Irish woollen trade. But his particular quarry was the clandestine importation into England during the Nine Years War of lustrings and alamodes from France. On 10 Mar. he reported from a committee on another petition from the Royal Lustring Company, complaining of competition from surreptitious interlopers. This resulted in a bill for the encouragement of the company, presented by Gwynne on 13 May and referred to a committee from which he reported on 1 June. Between 5 and 9 May Gwynne had reported upon a number of occasions upon the investigation of precedents of the House giving bail in cases of impeachment for misdemeanour, and on 16 May he was appointed to prepare articles of impeachment against the interlopers. Subsequently there were further committees to manage the trial, and to undertake conferences with the Lords, and during May and June he also managed through the Lower House a bill for the encouragement of the Royal Lustring Company. An intervention of his is recorded in one of the debates arising from the conferences on the impeachments. Abel Boyer paid tribute to Gwynne, who, ‘eagerly laying hold on this opportunity to serve the nation, with unwearied application and wonderful industry’ had fully exposed the smugglers. Vernon’s assessment was, typically, more cautious:

Sir Rowland Gwynne has got himself a good deal of reputation by his diligent and prudent management of this prosecution, and nobody will grudge it him, as long as his industry is employed in the service of the public, and ferreting out rogues. I hope his being so well employed, will make him honester and inoffensive in all other particulars.

It is possible that grants made to Gwynne from the Treasury in the following June and December, ‘to discharge seizures’, arose from these investigations; so too perhaps, in a less direct way, did the payments of around £305 and £55 from the secret service list, in June 1698 and January 1699 respectively, as a reward for services rendered to the crown. They were well enough known for Gwynne to be included in a list of placemen dating from July.8

Having made a preliminary, and one must assume discouraging, canvass in Radnorshire in 1698, Gwynne again took the precaution of a double candidacy: in Breconshire and at Bere Alston, where he enjoyed not only Stamford’s backing but the active support of a former Member, Sir Henry Hobart, 4th Bt.* In both cases he was returned unopposed. He was classified as a supporter of the Court in a comparative analysis of the old and new Parliaments, and on 15 Dec. 1698 was elected to the chair of the committee of privileges and elections, presumably as the Court candidate. Having spoken on 4 Jan. 1699 for an instruction to the committee on the disbanding bill, to enable them to alter (that is to say increase) the numbers of troops the King was to be allowed to retain, he voted on 18 Jan. against the third reading of the bill. On 12 Jan. he had presented a naturalization bill. His Whiggism was strongly in evidence in his motion on 19 Jan. ‘to address the King to issue out his proclamation to remove papists and such who will not conform to the government ten miles from this city’, and in his sharp reaction to news of a petition from Norfolk ‘against the Quakers’, telling the two knights of the shire for that county that if the petition was presented to the House ‘they will reject it’. He was the first-named Member appointed the same day to prepare an address for a proclamation ‘to put in execution the laws against papists’, and on 18 Feb. reported from this committee. On 11 Mar. he acted as a teller for the Court in favour of giving a second reading to the land tax bill. As a reward for this loyalty to the ministry, and, it was thought, as a corollary to Stamford’s reported admission to ministerial favour, Gwynne was expected to be provided with a place, most probably in the customs commission. But in June 1699 the gossip of the town was that he had been offered and had refused a commissionership, ‘not thinking it worth his accepting’. The following month James Vernon reported that Gwynne had hinted to him that his preference was to be appointed to the Board of Trade, of which Stamford had recently become a member, but following the death in October of the Admiralty commissioner Sir Robert Rich, 2nd Bt.*, Gwynne pressed his claims for this vacancy. ‘There is now a talk’, wrote James Vernon, ‘as if Sir Rowland Gwynne had waited for this vacancy, having more a mind to the Admiralty than to the custom house.’ He added, ‘I find the King would still give him the latter, if he will take it’. In fact, the Admiralty post appears never to have been offered, but in spite of his having received no advancement, Gwynne drew closer to the ministry. In late November he was reported to have been ‘at the meeting at my Lord Chancellor’s [Somers], so . . . he is weaned from his old gang’. He was re-elected chairman of privileges and elections. In the new year Gwynne presented a bill ‘for the better relieving and employing the poor’ (15 Jan.), and another to the same purpose but restricted to the city of London (5 Mar.). Between February and April he also oversaw the progress of a bill to facilitate discoveries of lands formerly donated to ‘superstitious uses’, which were to be applied to a different charitable intent, the development of Greenwich Hospital. The superstitious uses bill combined philanthropy with Gwynne’s customary anti-Catholicism, which was also prominently displayed in his chairmanship of the committee of the whole House on 7 Mar. on the bill to prevent the further growth of popery. Seven days later he carried this bill to the Lords. In its turn, a vigorous anti-Catholicism was characteristic not only of traditional Whiggery but of the ‘reformation of manners’ movement, and in this context it is interesting to find Gwynne nominated to the committee of 29 Nov. 1699 to prepare heads of a bill against gaming and duelling, and taking the chair, on 25 Mar., of the committee of the whole on the Duke of Norfolk’s divorce bill (in which his old associate Lord Monmouth, now Earl of Peterborough, had a personal, and pecuniary, interest). Philanthropic concern and a commitment to ‘moral reformation’ might suggest some sympathy for the ‘Country’ point of view, as perhaps would Gwynne’s presentation, on 25 Mar. 1700, of the bill for raising the militia for the ensuing year. That he remained a reliable ministerial spokesman, however, is shown by his part in the debate of 15 Jan. 1700 on the Darien affair. Gwynne, as had been previously ‘resolved . . . at a meeting at my lord chancellor’s’, opened the subject by drawing the House’s attention to a ‘Scotch libel’, and then moved unsuccessfully for the reading of a former address, ‘which was made when the Scotch Company [the Company of Scotland] were endeavouring to get subscriptions here’. Then on 15 Feb., when the Commons were debating crown grants, he leapt to Somers’ defence. He first accused Hon. James Brydges* of aiming the motion condemning the recipients of grants at the lord chancellor personally, a remark which produced ‘some warmth between these gentlemen’, and inquired of the opposition ‘who they would have in his [Somers] place’.9

Gwynne’s standing in the Whig party was now such that he was considered as a possible nominee for the Speakership in February 1701, and he was re-elected as chairman of privileges and elections against the Tory Hon. John Granville without a division. On behalf of the Whigs he moved on 14 Feb. that the House take the King’s Speech into consideration on the following Saturday. The next day Gwynne moved the supply, and on the 22nd he made the motion to make good the deficiency of funds granted since 1689. During this session Gwynne concerned himself with a number of minor matters. Between February and March he guided an estate bill through the Commons. He also presented, on 11 Mar., a bill for setting the poor to work, and nine days later was appointed to draft a bill to prevent bribery and corruption at elections. Of more note, however, was his activity throughout this Parliament in the Whig cause. He acted as a teller on 28 Mar. against declaring illegal the grant to Lord Bellomont (Richard Coote*) and others of prizes taken by Kidd. Similarly he was nominated to the committees of 21 Mar., to draft an address against the Partition Treaty, and 1 and 10 Apr., to prepare the articles of impeachment against Lords Halifax (Charles Montagu*), Orford (Edward Russell*), Portland and Somers. Early on in the session, in a debate on 29 Mar. on the Partition Treaty, he scorned Sir Bartholomew Shower’s* ‘bringing my Lord Somers upon the stage on all occasions’, and towards the end, in a debate on 3 June on the impeachments, he seconded a motion for a committee to inspect precedents, a Whig delaying tactic in the face of Tory demands for a conference with the Upper House. More particularly, he acted once more as Lord Stamford’s champion in the Commons, over the issue of deforestation: on 3 May he presented his bill ‘for the better preservation and increase of the timber of the kingdom’, and on 26 May told against a motion that Stamford had neglected his duty and broken his trust as chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster in respect of depredations in Enfield Chase. At other times service to party interests blended with service to the crown, and thus self-advancement. He was quickly to his feet in the crucial debate on the succession on 11 Mar. to second the nomination of the Hanoverian line, and was subsequently selected to carry the bill of settlement up to the Lords. He spoke at length on 5 May in opposition to a demand for the reappropriation of part of the civil list, commending ‘the merit of the King and . . . the great things he had done for us’ and concluding ‘that we should not proceed in this matter’. His support for the King’s foreign policy was wholehearted. On 9 May, on the question of aid to the Dutch, he seconded a motion ‘that we should resolve to maintain the balance of Europe and send the Dutch our men and ships according to the treaty of [16]79’. He accompanied these demonstrations of fealty with approaches to the King of a more mercenary nature. James Vernon wrote to his royal master in August:

Sir Rowland Gwynne has desired I would let him have £100 upon the offer your Majesty was pleased to make him at your going away that he should have what money he wanted, but he then having no occasion reserved the favour for another time, and, now finding himself pressed, he hoped I would supply him, which I have done accordingly, and believing he can’t subsist but by your Majesty’s bounty, and that his services may entitle him to a support.10

In the ‘paper war’ which preceded the second general election of 1701 a Tory pamphlet, Additional Queries . . ., singled out Gwynne for abuse, asking

which part Sir R[owlan]d G[wyn]n[e] acts best, eating voluptuously, wh[orin]g insatiably, or railing against the deceased Queen of blessed memory and living King William ungratefully, which as Mr How[e] [John Grobham*], looking him in the face in the House, told him was his daily practice?

The author went on to allude to a sum of £500 that Gwynne had allegedly received from Lord Halifax for his role in the detection of French smugglers. Notwithstanding these efforts, Gwynne was once again returned for Breconshire unopposed, and once again chosen to chair the committee of privileges and elections, with the ‘unanimous’ consent of the Members. The Dutch agent, L’Hermitage, reported that Gwynne had talked of resigning in favour of Heneage Finch I*, at which the Whigs had been much alarmed. It would not have been out of character for Gwynne to express reticence in order to try and extort some ministerial concession, but his conduct during the remainder of this Parliament betrayed no inkling of disloyalty. He was classed with the Whigs in Robert Harley’s list of December 1701, and on 2 Jan. 1702 he moved for a bill of attainder against the Pretender and was ordered to draft it. He presented the bill eight days later and played a major role in subsequent proceedings, which included a conference with the Lords in order to remove areas of disagreement between the two Houses. On 21 Mar. he reported from the committee considering the oath of abjuration, and was appointed to the committee of 6 May to prepare reasons for disagreeing with the Lords’ amendments to the ensuing bill for altering the oath. In debates arising from these amendments he made two interventions on points of procedure. He was also nominated in this Parliament to prepare a bill against bribery and corruption at elections (17 Jan.), a perennial concern; to draw up an address of condolence on the death of King William and congratulation on the accession of Queen Anne (8 Mar.); to draw up an address on the Queen’s speech (30 Mar.); and to make arrangements for the coronation (18 Apr.). He spoke on 14 Feb., in a debate on whether to discharge from custody the petitioners in the Malmesbury election, and on 28 Feb. seconded a motion of Henry Boyle that the House inquire after the King’s health and ‘express their sorrow for his misfortune’. On 19 Mar. he moved for leave for a bill to enable the Queen to appoint commissioners to treat for an Anglo-Scottish union, acting as a teller for his motion and then being named to bring in the bill. This he presented on 25 Mar., but on the meeting of the committee he found his nomination to the chair (by Lord William Powlett) rejected on a voice vote in favour of Henry Boyle. Further speeches show him defending Lord Sunderland on 18 Apr., when ‘reflected’ on by Sir John Bolles, and, even more improbably, defending Robert Harley on 28 Apr., against another angry Tory, John Manley*. On the latter occasion he professed himself perfectly satisfied that Harley had ‘behaved himself well in the Chair’. He took a particular interest in Irish forfeitures, telling on 14 Mar. for a bill to relieve Robert Edgworth from the effects of the Resumption Act, piloting through the House in April bills for the relief of Sir William Ashurst* and Elizabeth Wandesford, chairing another similar measure on behalf of Lord Mountjoy, and finally on 27 Apr. presenting a general bill for the relief of the ‘Protestant purchasers’. As in previous sessions, he was also active in matters pertaining to trade and manufacture. On 29 Apr. he reported from the committee investigating the petition from the London merchants trading to Naples and Sicily, and in a debate on the bill to encourage the Greenland trade he proposed a rider, ‘to encourage the refiners of sugar’, which was rejected on the grounds of irrelevance to the subject of the bill: ‘it was very inconvenient’, observed some Members, ‘to bring clauses into bills that had no relation to the clause.’ A concern for West Indian interests was also demonstrated by his reporting on 5 Mar. on Thomas Hodge’s petition about the government of Barbados, and for Mediterranean merchants in his oversight of the bill for the importing of Sicilian silks via Leghorn. Having reported on 19 May from a committee to prepare reasons for disagreeing with the Lords’ amendments to a bill to encourage privateers, he was given leave three days later to introduce a second bill. Between March and May he assisted in the management of the bill obliging Jews to maintain their Protestant children, and on 15 May chaired a committee of the whole on the bill for raising the militia for 1702. He carried this measure to the Lords three days later.11

Gwynne lost his election in Breconshire in 1702 to an unprecedented combination of Tory interests against him. He later ascribed this defeat to ‘very extraordinary means’ on the part of ‘my Lords Rochester and Nottingham’, and, although this explanation may have been the product of a deluded self-importance, his absence from the new House was sufficiently remarkable to be noticed in L’Hermitage’s despatch to the States General. ‘Having no employment under the Queen’, he now ‘thought it best to go abroad and live as privately as I could, having settled most part of my estate, to pay the debts I had contracted by endeavouring to serve the late King and my country’. What this account of his omitted to mention was the increasing pressure from the Treasury to receive his accounts as treasurer of the chamber, which were still not passed in April 1704 when the Queen’s remembrancer was ordered to prosecute the matter. It would appear that some action was indeed taken, for in November 1706 a custodiam lease was granted of some of the Glamorgan property of ‘Sir Rowland Gwynne . . . outlaw’. On leaving the country, Gwynne had spent eight months in Holland and had then settled in Hanover at the invitation of the Electoral house – if we are to credit his own story – but without place or pension. Aside from some long-distance and unsuccessful marriage negotiations to repair his shattered finances, his principal occupations seem to have been ingratiating himself with the Hanoverian and other German courts, and writing to politicians in England to demonstrate his goodwill, influence with the Elector, and potential usefulness. In his letters to the Hanoverian minister, Robethon, he set himself up as an oracle on the English political scene, vouchsafing his opinions and prognostications on the basis of information his friends were supplying. In 1704 the tone of his commentary was still resolutely Whiggish. He rejoiced to hear that Queen Anne ‘is sensible . . . the violent High Churchmen . . . are not so much her friends as they pretend to be, since they were so violent for the bill against occasional conformity and so ready to prevent a thorough examination of the Scotch Plot’. He regarded it as essential that the Plot be rigorously investigated; and identified Hanoverian interests with those of the Whig party. At this point his main English correspondents seem to have been Whigs: Lord Halifax, Sir Richard Onslow, and more independent figures like Lord Shaftesbury (Anthony, Lord Ashley*). As time went by he began to divert his attentions to the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†), who received a stream of flattering letters, and to his erstwhile enemy Robert Harley. In both cases the flow of compliments was occasionally interrupted by requests for employment – as envoy at Hanover or in some other diplomatic posting – or for a pension. Although he could not suppress his glee at the prospect of Whig appointments in the English ministry, the act of supplicating to Marlborough and Harley seems to have enhanced his appreciation of ‘moderate men’ and the desirability of unity among pro-Hanoverian loyalists. He had in December 1703 recommended to Halifax that ‘little animosities and jealousies’ be put aside for the good of the Protestant succession. By 1705 he was reassuring Harley of his determination to support ‘moderate counsels’, and to Robethon was expressing his disapproval both of the recent place bill in England, believing that ‘the crown ought to have a power to employ whatever subjects it thinks fit’, and of the conduct of the Junto in pressing ‘to come into the ministry solely’. Indeed, he went so far as to deplore the very existence of ‘party’: ‘it is a weak government, and a weak ministry, that must support itself by parties’.12

The 1705 general election presented Gwynne with an opportunity to rehabilitate himself, and to return to England under the protection of parliamentary privilege. However, having sold his Radnorshire property, his one chance was in Breconshire, where he did ‘offer himself’ to the voters. As he himself realized, a three-year absence had done nothing to resuscitate an expiring interest, and he did not make the journey to risk a contest; nor did Shaftesbury or any other friends find him a bolt-hole. His exile confirmed, he made another serious mistake, though probably calculated with an eye to long-term advantage, in allowing his name to be subscribed to an essay written by Leibniz in support of the motion to invite over the Hanoverian heir-presumptive to reside in England, a scheme Gwynne had himself long favoured. Translated into English by Gwynne, this was published in London in the form of an open Letter from Gwynne to his former patron Stamford. It defended the so-called ‘Hanover motion’ from insinuations of underhand Jacobite motives and strongly implied that the Electress Sophia had given the proposers her backing. All shades of opinion in the Commons regarded it as offensive. The Court and the Whigs were embarrassed at the affront given to the Queen and the danger posed to Anglo-Hanoverian relations. Tories who had old scores to settle with Gwynne, and feared and resented his presence at the Hanoverian court, were happy to join in the hue and cry. Both Houses addressed against the Letter as ‘a scandalous, false and malicious libel, tending to create a misunderstanding between your Majesty and the Princess Sophia, and highly reflecting upon your Majesty, upon the Princess Sophia, and upon the proceedings of both Houses of Parliament’. The Tories ‘to a man’, and ‘some Whigs’, even demanded that it be burned by the common hangman. Parliament and ministry could do nothing directly against Gwynne, though the publisher was fined heavily, but they could take indirect action, and pressure was brought to bear on the electoral court by Marlborough and Godolphin (Sidney†), by Harley, and finally by Halifax, who was due to visit Hanover on a diplomatic mission. Sophia remained unrepentant, but her son was annoyed with Gwynne and ordered him to leave Hanover before Halifax’s arrival, to avoid further embarrassment. Gwynne then retired to Hamburg, where he stayed until just before the death of Queen Anne, cutting an increasingly unhappy figure. To friends he boasted of the continued favour of the Electress and Elector, but while Sophia at least responded politely to his letters, neither the pension nor the permission to return to Hanover which he begged were forthcoming and this in spite of reminding her of his manifold services in her cause, his role in securing the Act of Settlement, which, he claimed, ‘the late King did recommend . . . to my care in Parliament’, and in introducing the bill to attaint the Pretender and the first bill of union with Scotland. No money was forthcoming from England either, because of the laxity of those ‘who manage my affairs’. He recommenced a prolonged bombardment of the Duke of Marlborough, beseeching him to intercede with Lord Treasurer Godolphin and, more importantly, with the Queen, for leave to return to England, for a post abroad, or for money. Petitions to Anne begging her pardon for his past ‘indiscretion’ were transmitted by the Duke, but without success. Marlborough himself considered Gwynne ‘an honest, indiscreet man’ who ‘does heartily repent . . . of his indiscretion’ and represented his character as such to the Queen. However, as he told Godolphin,

I never could find her easy that he should come over. She says she has forgiven him, and that she would not have him starve, but when one presses for leave that he may come over and have the honour to kiss her hand, she always says she thinks he is very well there.

So Gwynne continued to ‘languish’ in Hamburg, ‘without relief’. On the ministerial revolution of 1710 he turned again to Robert Harley, among others, congratulating Harley on his accession to power and repeating his request to be permitted to come back to England or to have a diplomatic appointment abroad. ‘I have passed many days here in retirement’, he wrote, ‘with a few books, and, though they are the best I can choose, I think that I rust for want of the conversation I was used to in England.’ To Robethon, he declared his view that Harley was ‘sincere’; that the power-hungry ‘priests’ were the real enemies of liberty and of the Protestant succession; and that Harley, having exploited the High Church furore in order to achieve power, would do his best to jettison his clerical friends now he had accomplished this aim. To Harley, he strove hard to recall more amicable days:

You may remember that we were born neighbours, that there was always a friendship between your father and mine, and that your father did continue it to me all his life; and you are a witness of my conduct in Parliament these many years, that it was ever moderate, and that I equally supported the prerogative and the liberties of the people.

This was straining even Gwynne’s powers of cajolery and disingenuousness, and made no impression whatsoever on Harley.13

The Hanoverian succession, like the Glorious Revolution before it, proved Gwynne’s lifeline. He accompanied the new King on his journey to England, purportedly remarking along the way, ‘your Majesty is the second King I have the honour to come over with’. Perhaps surprisingly, George I did at last redeem the pledge he had made to Gwynne in forbidding his return from Hamburg in 1707, when he wrote, ‘I do not think it proper, that you should return again, after the noise which your printed letter occasioned . . . I shall be very happy to show you, in some other manner, the esteem which I have for you’. Gwynne was granted a pension of £400 a year, together with the Duke of Ormond’s former lodgings in Whitehall, which he subsequently relinquished, ‘at the request of several of his Majesty’s ministers’, in return for an addition of £200 to his annual pension. Yet by 1718 he was anxiously petitioning for payment of this extra sum (which he alleged had not been honoured), ‘in regard of his past national services, which obliged him to contract several debts, and for the better enabling him to make satisfaction to his creditors’ (some of them having now petitions at the Board of Green Cloth against him).14

No more is heard of Gwynne until his death, ‘in the rules of the King’s Bench’, 24 Jan. 1726, aged 66. The entailed Glamorgan estate reverted to his wife’s family. All other landed property had long since been disposed of. In his will, drawn up on the day of his death, and in which his address was given as ‘St. George’s, Southwark’, he detailed only bequests of furniture, plate, clothes and household goods. He desired to be buried in Southwark.15

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. W. R. Williams, Old Wales, i. 250, 379; G. T. Clark, Genealogies of Glam. 354; Boyer, Pol. State, xxiii. 235.
  • 2. CSP Dom. 1689–90, p. 68, 119; 1691–2, p. 255; LS 13/231/16.
  • 3. Jones, Brec. i. 131; Arch. Camb. (ser. 3), iii. 189; CSP Dom. 1689–90, pp. 89, 240, 271; Add. 70014, f. 355;
  • 4. M. Hunter, R. Soc. and Its Fellows, 100, 154.
  • 5. Ailesbury Mems. ii. 534–5; P. Jenkins, Making of a Ruling Class, 128–30; NLW Jnl. xxi. 169; Foxcroft, Halifax, ii. 213; Brycheiniog, vi. 100–1; D. R. L. Adams, ‘Parl. Rep. Rad. 1536–1832’ (Wales Univ. M.A. thesis, 1969), 159–86; Trans. Rad. Soc. xlvi. 11–17; Add. 70270, Robert Harley to his wife, 13 Nov. 1690; 70014, f. 359; 70247, Thomas Lloyd to Robert Harley, 21 Apr. 1691; 70119, Robert to Sir Edward Harley*, 9 Jan. 1692; 70217, Charles Chetwynd to Robert Harley, 30 May 1692; 70116, Abigail to Sir Edward Harley, 5 May 1692; L. K. J. Glassey, Appt. JPs. 114–15; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Harley) mss PW2Hy 409, Robert Price* to [Robert Harley], 17 Apr. 1691; Mdx. RO, 249/863, [Ralph Hawtrey] to [–], 7 Apr. 1692 (Horwitz trans.); Luttrell, Brief Relation, ii. 404, 407, 412, 418, 436; iii. 40; CSP Dom. 1691–2, pp. 221–2; Epistolary Curiosities . . . ed. Warner, i. 210–14; Boyer, Wm. III, ii. 323; PRO NI, De Ros mss D638/13/127–9, 131, John Pulteney* to Ld. Coningsby, 29, 31 Mar., 2, 7 Apr. 1692; Portledge Pprs. 135; Cal. Treas. Bks. xix. 101; info. from Prof. R. O. Bucholz.
  • 6. Adams, 193–8; Brycheiniog, vi. 102; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, i. 85; Bull. IHR, Sp. Supp. 7, pp. 8, 52; Macaulay, Hist. Eng. v. 2602; D. Rubini, Court and Country, 64; Glassey, 125; J. Garrett, Triumphs of Providence, 226; Add. 28883, f. 145; Stowe 222, f. 221.
  • 7. Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, i. 35, 85; H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 186–7; Northants. RO, Montagu (Boughton) mss 46/56, Vernon to Duke of Shrewsbury, 20 Jan. 1696–7.
  • 8. CSP Dom. 1697, p. 522; 1698, pp. 42, 248, 306; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, i. 453; ii. 27, 82–83; CJ, xii. 255–6, 263–4, 287, 290, 293, 300, 304, 313; Boyer, Wm. III, iii. 318; Cal. Treas. Bks. xiii. 96; xiv. 46; xvii. 831, 845; Magdalene, Camb. Pepys Lib. PL2179, pp. 71–74.
  • 9. Adams, 198; Add. 70117, Abigail to Sir Edward Harley, 10 July 1698; Add. 17677 UU, f. 129; 40774, ff. 104–5; CSP Dom. 1698, p. 370; Luttrell, iv. 461, 490, 493, 589; Cam. Misc. xxix. 382; Bodl. Carte 130, f. 397; E. Suff. RO, Gurdon mss M142(1), p. 35, Sir William Cook, 2nd Bt.*, to Thornhagh Gurdon, 16 Feb. 1698[–9]; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 297, 315, 361, 371, 406–8; Cumbria RO (Carlisle), Lonsdale mss D/Lons/W2/2/2, James to Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt. I*, 6, 17 June 1699; BL, Althorp mss, Edward Southwell* to Ld. Halifax (William Savile*), 20 June 1699; Macaulay, vi. 2956; Cocks Diary, 84; Yale Univ. Beinecke Lib. Osborn coll. Manchester mss, Robert Yard* to Ld. Manchester, 15 Feb. 1700; Som. RO, Sanford mss DD/SF 4107(a), Edward Clarke’s* notes on debate, 15 Feb. 1700.
  • 10. Rubini, 209, 213; Folger Shakespeare Lib. Newdigate newsletter 8 Feb. 1701; Luttrell, v. 21; Flying Post, 2–4 Mar. 1699; HLRO, HC Lib. ms 12, f. 58; Cocks Diary, 69, 77, 110, 118, 161; Horwitz, 283; Add. 40775, f. 95.
  • 11. Additional Queries Worthy of Consideration . . . (1701); Add. 17677 XX, ff. 160, 165; Luttrell, v. 127; Cocks Diary, 214, 229, 251, 264–5, 271, 274, 285–6, 290.
  • 12. Egerton 929, f. 51; Add. 61147, ff. 15–19, 21–24; 17677 YY, f. 178; 70229, Gwynne to Robert Harley, 11 July 1704; Cal. Treas. Bks. xv. 283; xvi. 332; xvii. 373; xix. 216; xxi. 112; Luttrell, v. 338, 341; Stowe 222, ff. 225, 280, 286–7; Orig. Pprs. ed. Macpherson, i. 690, 692–3; Shaftesbury Letters, 318–20, 322; HMC Portland, iv. 180–1.
  • 13. Add. 61147, ff. 22, 25–27, 29–30, 33–35; 61109, ff. 168–9; 61111, ff. 143–4; 61113, f. 98; 61115, f. 79; 70229, Gwynne to Robert Harley, 11 July 1704, 9 Dec. 1710; 70255, Robert Harley to Robethon, 20 Apr. 1706; Brycheiniog, xiv. 80–81; HMC Portland, iv. 180–1, 577; v. 19; Stowe 222, f. 287; 223, ff. 25–29, 192, 196, 199, 426, 444; Shaftesbury Letters, 334–5; E. Gregg, Q. Anne, 210, 213; R. M. Hatton, Geo. I, 78; Orig. Pprs. i. 690; ii. 31, 92, 136, 206–7; Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. vi. 519–31, 533; [C. Gildon,] A Review of the Princess Sophia’s Letter . . . and that of Sir Rowland Gwynne . . . [1706], p. 15; Luttrell, vi. 24; Cam. Misc. xxiii. 56–57; CJ, xv. 191; Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/C9/31, Sir John Cropley, 2nd Bt.*, to James Stanhope*, 26 Mar. 1706; Boyer, Anne Annals, v. 489; Northants. RO, Isham mss IC 2305, 2372, 2360, 4061, 3731, 2363, 4098, 2370, Justinian to Sir Justinian Isham, 4th Bt.*, 20 May 1706, Ld. Lincoln to Justinian Isham, 4 Oct. [?1706], Gwynne to same, 15 Jan. 1706[–7], 15 Apr., 7, 11 May, 4 June 1707, 23 Feb. 1707[–8]; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 800, 901, 910, 1018, 1046, 1054, 1246, 1376, 1447, 1450.
  • 14. Ailesbury Mems. ii. 534–5; Orig. Pprs. ii. 92; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxx. 230, 293; xxxii. 530, 546; Add. 61602, f. 185.
  • 15. The Gen. n.s. vii. 42; Old Wales, i. 379; Jenkins, 161; PCC 6 Brook.