WAKE, Sir William, 8th Bt. (1742-85), of Courteenhall, Northants.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1774 - 1784

Family and Education

b. 1742, 1st s. of Sir William Wake, 7th Bt., by his w. Sarah Walker of Weston, Yorks.  educ. Eton 1755; Trinity, Camb. 1760; L. Inn 1764.  m. 6 June 1765, Mary, da. of Richard Fenton of Banktop, Yorks., 2s. 2da.  suc. fa. 25 Sept. 1765.

Offices Held

Sheriff, Northants. 1771-2.


In 1774 Wake was returned at the top of the poll on the anti-Woburn interest: that of the corporation and of Sir Robert Bernard, with Bernard’s brother-in-law, Robert Sparrow, for colleague and Horne Tooke for their very active election manager. Only three speeches by him are reported in that Parliament. In the first on 1 May 1775, when Whitbread, seated on petition vice Sparrow, presented a petition from resident burgesses of Bedford against the mass creations of honorary freemen by the corporation, Wake defended their action as intended to rescue the borough ‘out of the hands of a certain noble Duke’. The second, 8 Nov. 1775, was in a debate on the land tax, and the third, 11 Mar. 1779, was in support of the bill to exclude Government contractors from the House.1 Wake’s name appears in nine out of twelve division lists, 1774-80, each time on the Opposition side. ‘He ... piques himself on his independence’, wrote the Public Ledger in 1779. And the English Chronicle in 1781: ‘a very independent Member’ with ‘a small mixture of tenaciousness, or perhaps obstinacy, in his disposition’.

Re-elected in 1780 against a candidate supported by the Government, he spoke on 27 Nov. 1781 against the American war, and his name appears in four out of the six division lists before the fall of the North Administration, again each time on the Opposition side. When on 9 July 1782, Fox, attacking Shelburne, now first lord of the Treasury, contended that he had not heard one person say that Shelburne ‘was a fit and proper person for the high office he held; if there was any such person, he wished to see him’, Wake defended Shelburne with whom he had lived ‘in habits of great friendship and intimacy for a number of years’.2 He was absent from the division on Shelburne’s peace preliminaries 18 Feb. 1783 but in March was listed by Robinson as one of Shelburne’s supporters. He voted against Fox’s East India bill, and adhered to Pitt’s Government. On 20 Feb. 1784 he spoke against a motion for Pitt’s removal: ‘The House of Commons, indeed, was against the minister; but what was a small majority of that House, compared with the other two branches of the legislature, and the voice of the people.’3

Wake declined standing again in 1784 but took an active part in the election at Bedford.  He died 29 Oct. 1785.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. Almon, i. 445; iii. 157; xii. 129.
  • 2. Parl. Hist. xxiii. 187-8.
  • 3. Debrett, xiii. 170, 173.