WOODLEY, William (1728-93).

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



1761 - June 1766
1780 - 1784

Family and Education

bap. 27 June 1728, 1st s. of William Woodley of St. Kitts by Ann, da. of Abraham Payne of Christ Church, St. Kitts, aunt of Ralph Payne.  m. 30 Mar. 1758, his 2nd cos. Frances, da. and h. of Abraham Payne, jun. of St. Kitts, 2s. 3da.

Offices Held

Gov. Leeward Is. 1766-71, 1791-d.


Woodley inherited estates in St. Kitts and was connected with several of the leading families in the island. In 1761 he successfully contested Great Bedwyn on Lord Bruce’s interest. He voted against the Bute and Grenville Administrations; was classed by Newcastle on 10 May 1764 as a ‘sure friend’; and by Rockingham, July 1765, as likely to support his Administration. In 1765 he was nominated by Rockingham to be governor of the Leeward Islands, but his appointment did not take effect until October 1766. He relinquished his post in 1771, but seems to have had no further interest in a parliamentary career, and when in 1780 he proposed to re-enter Parliament it was merely to hold the seat for the Earl of Ailesbury (as Bruce had become) till his son, Lord Bruce, was of age. Ailesbury was anxious to accept the offer, but doubtful about Woodley’s political attitude: ‘I will own to you disposition to support Government (let who will be the minister) is a sine qua non’, he wrote to Woodley on 2 Sept., ‘and your delicacy on that point I well remember.’ But later that day he saw Woodley, who ‘said ... that he would not give a vote against Government but would go away when he could not vote for them’. Ailesbury wrote again on 8 Sept.:

I know no man better qualified to act as a friend and stop-gap (as you call it) than yourself, and I thankfully accept your kind offer of keeping a seat warm till I shall want it, or whoever succeeds me, and I have no doubt of your assurance likewise of not opposing, though it may be sometimes contrary to your inclination to support Government in that situation. Upon the faith of your compliance with these conditions which I understand you most kindly offer in your last very obliging favour, I am going to propose that upon the idea of being a locum tenens (as one of my most intimate friends) for my son who will be of age, please God, March two years.1

Woodley accepted the bargain, and did not vote against North’s Administration, but did not vote for it either. On 16 Feb. 1782, a few days before the censure motion against the Admiralty, Sandwich wrote to Robinson: ‘There is no making anything of Woodley.’ 2 Ailesbury’s son dying on 28 Mar. 1782, five days after he came of age, Woodley continued to hold the seat. He supported Shelburne’s Administration, but on 16 Nov. 1782 wrote to Shelburne that gout would deprive him of the ‘satisfaction of attending ... Parliament as a well-wisher of Government’; and a month later repeated the excuse. On 25 Jan. 1783 he asked Shelburne for the governorship of the Leeward Islands, pointing out that there was an opportunity to give Governor Shirley an appointment of equal or greater value, ‘whereas the whole of my property lying within the island of St. Christopher’s, and being myself under the necessity of going there to regulate my affairs after the capture it has undergone, and in hopes a warm climate may restore me the use of my limbs’.3 Nothing came of the application, but Woodley voted for Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783. He did not vote on Fox’s East India bill, 27 Nov. 1783. Robinson commented in his electoral survey, drawn up in December 1783:4 ‘Mr. Woodley seldom attends and still seldomer votes. He is said to hold the seat only temporarily and occasionally.’ He was classed as a follower of Pitt in Robinson’s list of January 1784, and in Stockdale’s of 19 Mar. He did not stand again at the general election.

Woodley continued to hope for re-appointment to the governorship of the Leeward Islands. He wrote to Lord Sydney on 21 Dec. 1787 repeating his request and pointing out that Shirley had for the past two years publicly declared his intention of returning to England.5 Some time after this he returned to St. Kitts, and when Shirley retired in 1791 was at last re-appointed governor.

He died 2 June 1793.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Mary M. Drummond


  • 1. Ailesbury mss at Savernake.
  • 2. Abergavenny mss.
  • 3. Lansdowne mss.
  • 4. Laprade, 93.
  • 5. Caribbeana, v. 201.