WROTTESLEY, Sir John, 9th Bt. (1771-1841), of Wrottesley Hall, Staffs.
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Family and Education
b. 25 Oct. 1771,1 1st s. of Maj.-Gen. Sir John Wrottesley, 8th Bt.†, and bro. of Henry Wrottesley*. educ. Westminster 1782; Angers military acad. 1787. m. (1) 23 June 1795,2 Lady Caroline Bennet (d. 7 Mar. 1818), da. of Charles, 4th Earl of Tankerville, 5s. 3da.; (2) 19 May 1819, Julia, da. of John Conyers of Copt Hall, Essex, wid. of Capt. the Hon. John Astley Bennet, RN (bro. of Wrottesley’s 1st w.), s.p. suc. fa. as 9th Bt. 23 Apr. 1787; cr. Baron Wrottesley 11 July 1838.
Ensign, 35 Ft. 1787; lt. 19 Ft. 1790, 29 Ft. 1790; capt. 16 Drag. 1793; maj. 32 Ft. 1794, ret. 1795; lt.-col. commdt. W. Staffs. militia 1809, lt.-col. 1835-d.
Wrottesley was expelled from his school for his part in leading a rebellion. He was a contemporary of Sir Arthur Wellesley at de Pignerolles’s military academy at Angers. He gave up his military career in disillusionment after serving in the disastrous Flanders campaign. In 1799 he was his kinsman the 1st Marquess of Stafford’s choice for the vacant seat for Lichfield when Lord Granville Leveson Gower transferred to a seat for the county. He was returned after a rowdy contest for which the marquess faced the expense and was expected to support Pitt’s administration. On 19 Mar. 1800 he opposed the allocation of waste lands to potato growing during the grain famine and on 24 Mar. thwarted the bill to promote it. Ironically, he had been an advocate of it, but disliked being ridiculed in Staffordshire under the nickname of ‘Potato Jack’. On 2 Apr. he informed the House that they would be offered a bill against cock-fighting, as well as the one against bull-baiting then being debated. Next day he was a supporter and teller for Baker’s bill to prevent the displacement of poor vagrants. Later that year he rebuked the bread rioters in the Wolverhampton district, some of whom confronted him at Wrottesley.3 On reading his report to government, George Rose commented to Pitt, 22 Sept., that Wrottesley was ‘a right-headed man but he may be something panic-struck’. He was cooled down by an invitation to move the address, which he did on 11 Nov. 1800, despite a report that he would not be in town, which casued Pitt to invite Charles Abbot to do so instead. His speech covered the price of grain, the benefits of enclosure, the famine riots and the impracticability of peace negotiations at that time. Shortly before he made it, Lady Holland described him as ‘Tierney’s convert’. His marriage certainly gave him Whig connexions and on 22 Jan. 1801 his brother-in-law sponsored his membership of Brooks’s Club. There is a curious reference in Lord Boringdon’s diary, 22 May 1801, to ‘Sir J. Wrottesley’s illness, just like the King’s’.4
Wrottesley was spared a contest in 1802. His hostility to Addington’s ministry now became apparent: on 23 Nov. he opposed the address and called for the restoration to power of Pitt. He had been a steward at Pitt’s birthday dinner in May. Lady Melbourne was scarcely correct in describing him as one of the Grenville party at this time: Tierney called him one of ‘Canning’s country gentlemen’, engaged in the plot to bring back Pitt. In this he was of course encouraged by Canning’s lieutenant, Lord Granville Leveson Gower. On 2 Mar. 1803 he called on the government to heed the petitions against the malt duty. He supported inquiry into the Prince of Wales’s debts, 4 Mar. On 26 Apr. Canning reported him as having come to town prematurely for Patten’s censure motion which he eventually missed, though on 6 May he spoke against and was teller for opposition to the adjournment. On 5 Feb. 1804 he was one of three Canningites present at the Speaker’s dinner for the Grenville and Windham party. On 8 Feb. he criticized an aspect of the volunteer consolidation bill, which discriminated against those districts (including south Staffordshire) which had not been permitted to raise volunteers. The same day he gave notice of a motion critical of the conduct of the Irish government in July 1803 (when Emmett’s rising took Dublin by surprise) and intended to clear the name of Gen. Fox. This motion, which was postponed and did not come on until 7 Mar., had interesting possibilities of uniting the opposition to Addington, though Viceroy Hardwicke was well prepared to meet its charges. His motion for an inquiry was defeated by 178 votes to 82, despite ‘the mustered and united forces of Messrs Fox and Windham, with the addition of some three of Pitt’s men’ (Canning, Sir Henry St. John Mildmay and Sturges Bourne). Pitt remained aloof, but Fox described the mover as ‘a Pittite’.5
Until Addington fell, Wrottesley divided with opposition in nine out of ten of the ensuing divisions that survive. He proposed an amendment to the volunteer consolidation bill, 19 Mar. 1804, but it was defeated by 79 votes to 37. On 11 Apr. he objected to the Irish militia augmentation bill. Then and on 25 Apr., when he was teller for Pitt’s motion, he reproached ministers for their want of energy: Addington had used the Army of Reserve Act ‘as he had used the right hon. gent. [Mr Pitt], he had used it as a boat to carry him safe over, and then deserted it’. Wrottesley at first remained a supporter of Pitt on his return to power, speaking in approbation of his additional force bill, 8, 15 June 1804. On 7 June he had said of the slave trade abolition bill that it was ‘founded upon correct notions of humanity’, but ‘he did not perfectly concur in the mode of proceeding’. He also spoke on the corn trade bill, 20 June. Pitt’s subsequent reconciliation with Addington affronted the 2nd Marquess of Stafford who sent ‘an authoritative message’ to Wrottesley:
announcing his intention of voting with Lord Grenville’s friends, not immediately but soon, and wishing him to vote immediately. All the baronet’s independent blood rose at this order, and tho’ he was on the brink of going to tell [Stafford] the day before that, from disapproving of the new lord [i.e. Addington], he wished to oppose him, he was almost tempted ... to do the contrary, merely to show he looked upon himself as free. However, he contents himself with going out of town, and said among other things that he neither liked the manner of being told what he was to do nor the changeableness of the person who told, for that if in consequence of this he joined Mr Fox’s friends, ten to one your brother would make it up with Mr Pitt in a week or two, and want him to go back.
This story was conveyed to Stafford’s brother Granville (12 Feb. 1805) by Lady Bessborough, who was told it by Wrottesley’s brother-in-law Ossulston. On 25 Feb. Wrottesley was ‘not ... in town’.6
Nevertheless Wrottesley went into opposition. He was a critic of the mutiny bill, 12 Mar. 1805, and he joined both majorities against Melville, commending the zeal of the naval commissioners of inquiry, 2 May. Whitbread had proposed him for his select committee of inquiry into the charges against Melville, 25 Apr. But he refused to attend the attack on Pitt’s probity, 14 June. He was listed ‘Opposition’ by the Treasury a month later. In February 1806 he successfully solicited a place for his brother Henry from the new premier, Lord Grenville. He voted with ministers for the repeal of Pitt’s Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. 1806. On 22 Apr. he was a critic of the East India Company directors when James Paull assailed Lord Wellesley’s conduct in India. On 25 Apr. he was teller against the stipendiary curates bill, about which he had expressed reservations the year before. On 9 May he was a leading spokesman for the Midlands ironmasters’ opposition to the proposed duty on pig iron and had the gratification of seeing it shelved.7 He also blocked the Birmingham canal bill, 27 June 1806. He twice (8 June 1804, 20 June 1806) gave his views on Members giving notice of motions: they ought to do so but, even without notice, any motion finding a seconder should be considered by the House.
Wrottesley was replaced at Lichfield at the election of 1806. He found no opening until in 1811 the state of Sir Edward Littleton’s health encouraged him to aspire to a county seat— his father had been Member for Staffordshire. It was to the Whig leader Earl Grey that he appealed for assistance in February 1811 and he obtained it, together with that of Lord Anson, leader of the Staffordshire Whigs. By August he was all set to contest the county. His prospects were damaged in the following year by the challenge of Charles Wolseley, sponsored by the radical freeholders’ association: to put him off, he promised to support parliamentary reform and the reform of abuses in general. This bargain, concluded at Sir Francis Burdett’s house in Piccadilly, alienated his more conservative supporters; and even his timely espousal of the campaign against the orders in council proved inadequate against the superior forces of Edward John Littleton, who offered on his uncle’s death. Wrottesley declined a poll then and could not be induced to offer again at the ensuing general election. The story that he intended to offer with Earl Grey’s backing on the vacancy anticipated in 1814 through Lord Granville Leveson Gower’s obtaining a peerage proved unfounded. In March 1817 he applied unsuccessfully to Lord Liverpool to sponsor some public work to relieve distress in his neighbourhood. He could not be induced to offer for the county in 1818 and bided his time until 1823. He remained a Whig and was subsequently esteemed ‘a man of good understanding, rather austere in manner, a man of business, and a proper person to represent this county’.8
Wrottesley was ‘a large farmer’ and an agricultural improver on his model demesne. According to the Staffordshire historian Pitt (1817), the public were ‘much indebted’ to him ‘when he represented Lichfield in Parliament, for obtaining an exemption from duty for draining tiles’. (He himself used from 40,000 to 70,000 tiles a year.) He was also (by 1816 and until 1834) a partner with Francis Holyoake in a Wolverhampton bank.9 He died 16 Mar.1841.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Authors: Lawrence Taylor / R. G. Thorne
- 1. Colls. Hist. Staffs. (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. n.s.), vi(2), 364 seq.
- 2. Reg. St. Marylebone (1792-6), 83.
- 3. Old Westminsters, ii. 1027; Colls. Hist. Staffs. loc. cit.
- 4. PRO 30/8/173, f. 220; Colchester, i. 209; Add. 48247, f. 61; 51744, Lady Holland to Caroline Fox [Oct. 1800].
- 5. Herts. RO, Spencer Cowper mss D/EP13, Lady Melbourne to Cowper, 26 Nov.; Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 4 Dec. 1802; Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 26 Apr., 7 May 1803; Add. 35705, ff. 119, 127, 133, 135, 143; 35747, f. 44; 47565, f. 112; Colchester, i. 412, 487.
- 6. Leveson Gower, ii. 16-17; PRO 30/29/6/5, f. 913.
- 7. Malmesbury mss, FitzHarris to Malmesbury, 15 June 1805; Fortescue mss, Wrottesley to Grenville, 4 Feb.; Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 12 May 1806.
- 8. See STAFFORDSHIRE; Add. 38265, ff. 216-17; Dyott’s Diary, ii. 146.
- 9. Dyott’s Diary, ii. 185; Broughton, Recollections, iii. 125; White, Hist. Gazetteer and Directory of Staffs . (1834), 198; Colls. Hist. Staffs . loc. cit.