CLAYTON, William Robert (1786-1866), of The Cottage, Great Marlow, Bucks.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



3 Mar. 1832 - 11 Apr. 1842

Family and Education

b. 28 Aug. 1786, 1st s. of Sir William Clayton†, 4th bt., of Harleyford, nr. Great Marlow and Mary, da. of Sir William East, 1st bt., of Hall Place, Maidenhead, Berks. educ. Eton 1802. m. 10 May 1817, Alicia Hugh Massy, da. and h. of Lt.-Col. Hugh O’Donel, MP [I], of Tralee, co. Kerry, 2s. d.v.p. 2da. suc. fa. as 5th bt. 26 Jan. 1834. d. 19 Sept. 1866.

Offices Held

Ensign 10 Ft. 1804; lt. R. Horse Gds. 1805, capt. 1809, maj. 1815, half-pay 1816; lt.-col. (half-pay) 1826; col. 1841; maj.-gen. 1851; lt.-gen. 1858; gen. 1865.

Sheriff, Bucks. 1846-7.


The founder of the Clayton family’s fortunes was Robert Clayton (1629-1707), a Northamptonshire carpenter’s son who rose to become the leading broker and wealthiest citizen of London. He was knighted in 1671, and acquired, with other property, Surrey estates at Marden and Bletchingley. He was succeeded to these by his nephew William Clayton, Member for Bletchingley from 1715 until his death in 1744, who was created a baronet in 1732 and bought the Buckinghamshire manors of Harleyford and Marlow, together with houses in the latter borough. He devised the Marden estate and Bletchingley property to his elder son Kenrick Clayton (c.1715-69), Member for Bletchingley from 1734 to his death, who was succeeded as 3rd baronet by his only son Robert Clayton (?1740-99), a Whig Member of Parliament, 1768-84 and1787-99.1 Sir William Clayton, 1st bt., devised his Buckinghamshire estates, plus purchased property in Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Surrey, to his second son and namesake.2

This William Clayton, who was born in about 1718, was Member for Bletchingley, 1745-61, and Great Marlow, 1761-83. His second wife Caroline Lloyd, the mother of his first son William, brought him an estate at Alltycadno in Carmarthenshire. With his third wife Louisa, daughter of the 1st earl of Pomfret, he had a son George, who settled at Stone Hall, near Westerham, Surrey. William Clayton inherited from his father the lease of the 86-acre demesne manor of Kennington, across the Thames from Westminster, which belonged to the duchy of Cornwall. It had been in the hands of the Claytons since 1661 and had been renewed at intervals. In 1776 Clayton, perceiving that the property was bound to increase in value with the urbanization of south London, obtained a private Act of Parliament which empowered him and his heirs to grant building leases on it. The following year he secured a renewed lease, at the old rent of £16 10s. 9d., and on payment of a fine of £468, for 99 years on the lives of his two sons and one James Medwin. Development of the north-eastern segment of the manor was well advanced by the time Clayton died in 1783.3 His affairs were in some disarray, and administration of his estate was initially granted to his creditor Samuel Young. There were further grants of probate in 1788, 1814 and 1829, and part of the estate became the subject of a chancery suit, although his son William’s inheritance of the landed property was not affected.4 As Member for Great Marlow, 1783-90, this William Clayton, whose sister was married to Fox’s brother, at first supported Pitt, but sided with opposition on the regency. He sold much of his property in Marlow in the early 1790s.5 In 1799 he succeeded his first cousin Sir Robert Clayton to the baronetcy and the main Surrey estates at Marden. He continued the exploitation of the Kennington estate, initiating housing development in its south-western portion in 1789. The Oval was rented to a market gardener, and sub-leases on the new properties were issued from 1797. By the late 1820s the whole manor was reckoned to be worth about £1,200 a year in ground rents. On the death of his half-brother George in 1828 Clayton, whose offer of 1808 to surrender the lease in return for an annuity of £1,238 for the remainder of the three lives had been refused, sought the insertion of a new life into the lease. The duchy authorities, keen to recover the property, demanded a punitive fine of £72,000, calculated on three years rack rent, as opposed to the sum of £1,800, being one and a half years actual rent, which he had expected to pay.

Clayton had five sons, of whom William, the eldest, entered the army. In 1812 he went with the Horse Guards to the Peninsula, and the following year he commanded squadrons at the battles of Vitoria, the Pyrenees and Pamplona. He saw action at Quatre Bras and Waterloo in 1815. A shadow hung over his conduct on the latter occasion, in that ‘having left the field as wounded, the surgeon of the regiment could not return him in the list of wounded’; but the duke of Wellington was prepared to believe that there had been extenuating circumstances, and Clayton’s subsequent promotions were not affected.6 He spent some time in Ireland after the war, and it was there that he married Alicia O’Donel, a ward of chancery, in 1817. The marriage was not a happy one. Clayton soon came to suspect his wife of an intrigue with one Captain Laing, whom he supposedly fought in a duel; and he removed her from temptation to Ireland, where they lived for a few years. In June 1830, when they were residing at Marlow, Clayton sent her in disgrace back to Ireland, to stay with her brother, and brought an action for crim. con. and £5,000 damages against Richard Franklyn, a young widower. The alleged acts of adultery at Marlow and in London the previous month could only be inferred from circumstantial evidence; and Clayton’s counsel conceded that his relations with his wife, from whom he had slept apart for some time, had long lacked ‘harmony’. For the defendant, it was argued that the occurrence of sexual intercourse could not be proved, and that Clayton had connived in his wife’s meetings with Franklyn in order to furnish grounds for divorce from a woman who had become tiresome to him. The jury found for Clayton, 23 July 1830, but awarded him only £100. A writ of capias was needed to extract payment from Franklyn.7 Clayton subsequently obtained a sentence of divorce in the consistory court, and on 13 Feb. 1832 he petitioned the Lords for leave to introduce a divorce bill. During the examination of witnesses on the measure, which was not opposed by Mrs. Clayton, it was revealed that having returned from Ireland in May 1831 in an advanced state of pregnancy, she had given birth to a child at a rented cottage in South Place, Knightsbridge on 16 June. The bill received royal assent on 23 May 1832.8

While this dirty linen was being washed in public, Clayton had been trying to revive the family interest at Great Marlow, where the pro-Catholic Williamses of Temple House, in control since 1796, had faced a serious independent challenge to their authority in 1826. Seeking to exploit anti-Catholic feeling in the borough, Clayton forced through a petition against Catholic claims at a town meeting, 24 May 1827. He built new houses to accommodate tenants evicted by the Williamses in reprisal for voting against them and in 1828 promoted a successful campaign to open the vestry and parish accounts.9 At the general election of 1830 he stood against Owen and Thomas Peers Williams, but was narrowly beaten into third place.10 On 7 Apr. 1831 he attended a Marlow meeting, held in defiance of the Williamses and chaired by his brother East George Clayton East, which was called to promote an address and petitions in support of the Grey ministry’s reform bill. In moving these, Clayton described it as

the noblest, the best, and the boldest scheme of legislation which had been brought into Parliament since ... 1688 ... It certainly deals a deadly blow to arrogance and usurpation ... and in taking great power from a few, it divides it amongst the great mass of the middle classes.

He admitted to some reservations over ‘minor details’, but contended that the bill had been ‘framed for healing great distempers and for securing liberty and repose’. He attacked the Williamses for voting against its second reading, and argued that reform would ‘prevent any further increase’ in expenditure and taxation. He presented the address to the king, 20 Apr. 1831. He stood again for Marlow at the ensuing general election with every confidence of success, led the poll for two days, but finished five votes behind the younger Williams. He demanded a scrutiny, but it did not benefit him, and he did not carry out his threat to petition.11 On the death of Owen Williams in February 1832 Clayton was first in the field and came in unopposed.12 He did not take his seat until 19 Mar., but was present to vote for the third reading of the revised reform bill three days later. He claimed that only his son’s ‘serious illness’ had prevented him from attending to vote for the address asking the king to appoint only ministers who would carry undiluted reform, 10 May.13 He was in the majority for the Liverpool disfranchisement bill, 23 May, and voted for the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May, and against a Conservative amendment to the Scottish measure, 1 June. Clayton, who is not known to have spoken in debate in his first Parliament, but who was reported to have kept his constituents fully informed of events there, divided with government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 12, 16 July 1832.14 He joined Brooks’s in 1836. He sat for Great Marlow until he was unseated for bribery in 1842, and was unsuccessful there in 1847.

Quite apart from the problems connected with the Kennington lease, Clayton’s father’s financial affairs were beset with difficulties. He had let Marden to Joseph Buonaparte and taken up residence at Boulogne, where he died, 26 Jan. 1834. His personalty was sworn under £10,000, and his estate, of which administration was granted to Clayton, though he was not named as an executor in the will, was in chancery for several years.15 Medwin had died in 1833, and the suit for a reduction of the fine required for renewal of the duchy lease came before lord chancellor Brougham on 29 May 1834. He ruled against the Claytons, 11 June, and the estate reverted to the crown.16 Clayton, who lost his sons in 1848 and 1857, died at Southsea in September 1866 and was succeeded in the baronetcy and settled estates by his grandson William Robert Clayton (1842-1914).17 In his will, dated 13 Sept. 1848, he provided modest annuities for his daughters and various grandchildren. He had been obliged to sell an advowson in Norfolk intended for his then surviving son Henry Hugh O’Donel Clayton in order to meet some of his ‘very heavy liabilities’ (almost £20,000) as his father’s administrator in respect of the Kennington estate. In lieu of this, he left Henry £1,250 and he made other cash bequests amounting to about £9,000. He had mortgaged his Norfolk and Welsh properties to the tune of £70,000 to purchase farms in Buckinghamshire and Norfolk; to buy and build houses in Marlow ‘for the purpose of recovering that elective interest ... formerly enjoyed by my ancestors’; to defray his former wife’s debts and pay for the divorce; to raise the portions of his brothers and sister, and to pay the balance of the costs of the Kennington estate saga.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. HP Commons, 1660-1690, ii. 84-87; HP Commons, 1715-1754, i. 557, 559; HP Commons, 1754-1790, ii. 218-19; HP Commons, 1790-1820, iii. 446-7.
  • 2. PROB 11/737/6; VCH Bucks. iii. 71.
  • 3. Survey of London, xxiii. 8-9; xxv. 9, 18-22; VCH Surr. iv. 58; O. Manning and W. Bray, Surr. ii. 487-8; E.W. Brayley and E. Walford, Hist. Surr. iii. 99- 100.
  • 4. PROB 11/1105/346; 11/1324/343.
  • 5. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 24-25.
  • 6. Gent. Mag. (1866), ii. 691; Add. 34703, f. 201; Wellington Dispatches, viii. 300; Athenaeum, 17 Nov. 1838; Disraeli Letters, iv. 840R.
  • 7. The Times, 26 July 1830.
  • 8. LJ, lxiv. 49, 64, 72, 74-75, 76, 77, 79, 90, 92, 96, 97, 101, 157, 229 and app. pp. 843-59; CJ, lxxxvii. 200, 203, 214, 222, 252, 257, 322.
  • 9. Bucks. Chron. 26 May 1827, 9 Feb., 10 May, 21 June, 20 Sept., 29 Nov. 1829, 3 Apr. 1830.
  • 10. Reading Mercury, 5 July; The Times, 26 July 1830.
  • 11. Reading Mercury, 4, 11, 25 Apr., 2, 16, 23 May 1831.
  • 12. Bucks Gazette, 25 Feb., 10, 24 Mar. 1832; R.W. Davis, Political Change and Continuity, 87.
  • 13. The Times, 7, 14 May 1832.
  • 14. Bucks Gazette, 26 May 1832.
  • 15. Gent. Mag. (1834), i. 439; PROB 11/1828/141; IR26/1347/117.
  • 16. The Times, 30, 31 May, 2, 4, 5, 12 June 1834; Survey of London, xxvi. 20, 22; collections of pprs. on Kennington law suit in BL 517.c.29; 718.f. 2, and 798.l.37.
  • 17. Gent. Mag. (1866), ii. 691-2.