PAYNE, John Willett (1752-1803), of Brompton, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



9 May 1787 - 1796

Family and Education

b. 23 Apr. 1752, 2nd s. of Ralph Payne, c.j. and gov. St. Kitts, by 2nd w. Margaret, da. of Nicholas Gallwey of St. Kitts; half-bro. of Sir Ralph Payne, 1st Baron Lavington [I]. educ. private sch. Greenwich; Portsmouth naval acad. 1767. unm.

Offices Held

Entered RN 1769; lt. 1777, cdr. 1779, capt. 1780, r.-adm. 1799.

Private sec. to Prince of Wales 1785-95 and keeper of the Prince’s privy seal until 1796; auditor and sec. of the duchy of Cornwall Nov. 1791-July 1796; vice-adm. of the duchy ports 1799; ld. warden of the stannaries 1801-3; commr. gen. and auditor gen. to Prince of Wales 1800- d. ; treasurer, Greenwich Hosp. Aug. 1799- d.


As a naval officer, Payne had served with distinction in the West Indies and America until 1783. On his return to England from Italy in 1786 he became the Prince of Wales’s familiar, dubbed ‘Jacko’, and in 1788 the Prince described him as ‘my private secretary’. As such he was the Prince’s indispensable factotum during the Regency crisis, enjoying the confidence of the Prince’s friends and suitors and acting as whipper-in. He was not otherwise active in Parliament, where he was Lord Sandwich’s Member for Huntingdon, giving as his reason that he hated the faces of the majority; but this was after he had been thwarted of office (a seat at the Admiralty board was spoken of for him).1 Re-elected in 1790, Payne joined the Whig Club on 7 Dec.; he had been finally admitted to Brooks’s Club, after previous blackballing, on 6 Feb. 1788. He voted with opposition on the Oczakov question, 12 Apr. 1791, and was listed favourable to repeal of the Test Act in Scotland the same month. He either voted or paired against the Russian armament, 1 Mar. 1792, but there is no further evidence of parliamentary activity.

The reason was not far to seek: his increasing involvement in the Prince’s private affairs, which included a continental errand to raise funds in the summer of 1791. In November 1791 he became auditor of the duchy of Cornwall.2 When, after the death of Lord Sandwich, he appeared on a list of Portland Whigs in December 1792, the duke wrote against his name ‘Prince of Wales’ and he did not attend the meetings of Windham’s ‘third party’ in February 1793, though invited to do so. In May 1793 he joined Lord Howe’s Channel fleet and received a gold medal for his services in battle on 1 June 1794. In December 1794 he was put in command of the squadron escorting the future Princess of Wales to England.

Payne, who was friendly with Mrs Fitzherbert and contemptuous of Lady Jersey, the Prince’s latest favourite, fell out with him on his return to England in April 1795. His feelings were exacerbated by the Prince’s treatment of the Princess and of his friend Hugh Seymour Conway. The Prince had recently hoped that Payne would reside next door to Carlton House. In a draft will, 1 Jan. 1796, the Prince referred to the ‘unfortunate misunderstandings’ which had parted them, but enjoined mutual forgiveness. Writing to the Queen, 21 June 1796, he complained of Payne’s ‘infamous conduct’ the year before in taking the part of the Princess (and also of Mrs Fitzherbert) against him. On 10 July Payne submitted his resignation of the auditorship and the keepership of the Prince’s privy seal ( Thomas Tyrwhitt, his replacement as the Prince’s private secretary, was to have them). In doing so he refused any continuation of salary or pension, pointing out that it was as well he had not accepted the Prince’s original offer of the auditorship for life and that the saving might relieve the Prince’s debts. He set aside any implication that he had been clinging to his offices by reference to a previous attempt on his part to resign them.3 He also gave up his seat in Parliament at the dissolution.

The Prince had Payne on his conscience and on 8 June 1797 applied to Earl Spencer at the Admiralty for a vacant battalion of marines for him. This was bespoken, but he was placed in command of a detached squadron. He was taken ill after cruising in Biscay in 1798 and resigned with the rank of rear-admiral, February 1799. He had recently been reconciled to the Prince, thanks to his friendship with Mrs Fitzherbert, now once more in favour. At the same time he remained on good terms with the Princess of Wales. On 7 Aug. 1799 the Prince recommended him to Pitt for a naval appointment and he soon afterwards became treasurer of Greenwich Hospital, over the heads of the acknowledged contenders for that office. He sold his house at Brompton and took up residence adjoining Carlton House. He was once more keeper of the Prince’s secrets and anxious to smooth over difficulties between the King and his heir for the benefit of national unity, disclaiming party prejudice. Restored to duchy office on 1 Mar. 1801 he interviewed the new premier Addington on the Prince’s behalf: the Whigs now took a jaundiced view of him, accusing him of intriguing with Mrs Fitzherbert to keep Fox away from the Prince. In 1802 Addington proposed to Lord St. Vincent bringing Payne in on the Admiralty interest for Queenborough. He was unexpectedly defeated. He was still prepared to offer his naval services, but all that remained to him was to be the Prince’s boon companion at the Brighton Pavilion. He died 17 Nov. 1803, with few assets to dispose of. Wraxall described him as ‘one of the most honest and honourable men of his time’.4

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Prince of Wales Corresp. i. 305; Blair Adam mss, Payne to Adam [16 Jan. 1789]; Auckland Jnl. ii. 280.
  • 2. Geo. III Corresp. i. 723.
  • 3. The Times , 17 Mar. 1795; Prince of Wales Corresp. ii. 911, 919, 948-9; iii. 1067, 1118, 1172.
  • 4. Minto , iii. 48, 66; Prince of Wales Corresp. iii. 1268; iv. 1469, 1705; The Times , 20, 28 Aug., 9 Nov.; NMM, WYN/104, Young to Pole, 29 Aug. 1799; PRO 30/8/154, f. 354; Colchester , i. 248; Chatsworth mss, Duchess of Devonshire jnl. 1 Mar. 1801; St. Vincent Letters (Navy Recs. Soc. lxi), 86; Farington , ii. 62; PCC 988 Marriott; Wraxall Mems. ed. Wheatley, v. 84.