WRIGHT WILSON, Sir Henry (c.1760-1832), of Chelsea Park, Mdx.; Crofton Hall, nr. Wakefield, Yorks. and Drayton Lodge, Barton Stacey, Hants.
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Family and Education
b. c. 1760, 1st s. of Joshua Wilson of Pontefract and Crofton and the h. of Stevens of Glam. m. (1) 2 Aug. 1780, Jane, da. of William Chaloner of Guisborough, s.p.; (2) 17 Sept. 1799,1 Lady Frances Brudenell Bruce, da. of Thomas, 1st earl of Ailesbury, s.p. kntd. 23 July 1794; suc. fa. 1797; took name of Wright before Wilson by royal lic. 10 Dec. 1814. d. 3 Dec. 1832.
Ensign 2 Ft. 1778, lt. 1780; lt. 6 Drag. 1780; capt. army 1793; capt. 1 Life Gds. 1793, ret. 1798.
Wilson shared a common ancestor with Richard Fountayne Wilson*, namely Richard Wilson (1625-88), a Leeds merchant, the son of Thomas Wilson of Leeds. While Fountayne Wilson was descended from Richard’s first son, this Member belonged to the branch founded by his second, Joshua Wilson (d. 1693), a Danzig merchant, who married Eva Schmidt of that place. His grandson Joshua Wilson (1705-78) lived at Pontefract, married Anne Clifton of Houghton and purchased the estate of Crofton, about six miles from Pontefract and three from Wakefield.2 His eldest son and namesake was born in 1731 and became recorder of Pontefract and a magistrate of the West Riding: in the latter capacity, according to an obituarist, he was ‘prudent, temperate and decisive’. An amateur scientist and enthusiastic collector of fossils, he improved and tastefully embellished the mansion house at Crofton.3
With his wife, whose precise identity remains unknown, he had two sons, Henry and Edward, both of whom entered the army. Henry Wilson’s first marriage made him brother-in-law to Edward Lascelles† (1740-1820), later 1st Baron and 1st earl of Harewood. In 1794, when he was a captain in the Life Guards, he was knighted. His brother Edward, a cavalry officer, fathered an illegitimate daughter, Mary, with one Ann Hardwick in about 1791. On 28 June 1795, when he was a captain in the newly formed 29th Hussars, Edward composed a brief will, in which he made Mary Hardwick his universal heiress and commended her to the care and protection of his father. He went with the regiment to the West Indies and was dead of yellow fever by early 1797.4 His father had no time to prove Edward’s will before he too died, in the summer of 1797, at Doncaster, on his way to Buxton ‘for the recovery of his health’. By his own will, dated 10 Mar. 1797, Joshua Wilson, whose personalty was sworn under £5,000, left the Crofton estate, his Pontefract house and other property there to Henry, his residuary legatee and sole executor. He also directed that his leasehold estate at Kilham in the East Riding should be sold for Henry’s benefit. He enjoined Henry to ‘make a proper provision’ for Mary Hardwick, to whose mother and aunt Hannah he left annuities of £12 and £20 respectively. Henry Wilson proved his father’s and brother’s wills together and took his niece, who now became known as Mary Wilson, under his own roof.5
He retired from the army soon after coming into his inheritance. It is not clear for how long he had been a widower, but in 1799 he made another socially prestigious marriage, to the daughter of the 1st earl of Ailesbury, a lord of the bedchamber. At some time in the first decade of the nineteenth century he acquired a ‘pleasant habitation’ at Chelsea Park in the western suburbs of London, a ‘capital mansion, surrounded with extensive pleasure grounds’.6 In December 1812 he submitted to Lord Liverpool, the new prime minister, a scheme for the establishment of asylums to take in the sons of paupers and orphaned and abandoned boys and train them for the army and navy; nothing came of it.7 Fourteen months later Wilson and his wife had a windfall from a totally unexpected source. The eccentric William Wright (b. ?1731), a graduate of Cambridge and former student of the Inner Temple, died at his ‘obscure lodging’ in Pimlico, 14 Feb. 1814. It emerged that by a will made on 5 Aug. 1800, he had devised his extensive landed property in the Andover area of Hampshire, which included the house of Drayton Lodge, estates in Essex (near Braintree), Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, and £5,000, to Lady Frances Wilson, whom he did not know, but whom he had long admired from a distance before her marriage. After overcoming her initial incredulity, Lady Frances went to view Wright’s corpse, and recognized him as a man who had years ago discomfited her by staring at her in her box at the opera. (In seven codicils to his will, Wright left substantial legacies to Lords Eldon and Sidmouth, Lady Rosslyn, and Charles Abbot, Speaker of the Commons, with none of whom he had the remotest personal acquaintance.) Lady Frances, the residuary legatee, proved the will with Abbot, the other executor, 3 Oct. 1814, when Wright’s personalty was sworn under £45,000. The residue alone was calculated for duty at £38,250, and the real estate was thought to be worth over £30,000 a year. It was supposed that Sir Berkeley William Guise*, the heir-at-law, might contest the will, but he apparently did not do so; and at the end of the year Wilson and his wife added Wright’s name to their own ‘out of respect’ to his memory.8
At the general election of 1820 Wright Wilson stood for the venal and open borough of St. Albans, but he finished a distant third. The suddenly deteriorating health of one of the successful candidates, the Whig Robarts, encouraged him to continue cultivating the borough; and by the time of Robarts’s death in early December 1820 he had the start over his two rivals for the vacant seat, though in the event his victory at the fiercely contested by-election was a narrow one. In the view of a hostile observer, he owed his success almost entirely to the length of his purse, and deviously secured promises of support ‘from persons of opposite principles and of none’:
To some he hinted the necessity of reform, to others he represented himself as the friend of the queen, and talked of the independence of the borough; while, by a more palpable species of argumentation, he gained over a large number of the poorest voters to his interest. Since then ... [he] has thrown off the mask, and proclaimed the queen from the hustings to be a common prostitute.9
Wright Wilson, who made no mark in the House, duly voted in defence of the Liverpool ministry’s conduct towards the queen, 6 Feb. 1821, and he went on to give them general but apparently silent support. He voted against Catholic claims, 28 Feb. 1821, and Canning’s bill for the relief of Catholic peers, 30 Apr. 1822. He was in the minority for repeal of the tax on agricultural horses, 6 Mar., but he divided with government on the revenue the following day, and did likewise on repeal of the additional malt duty, 3 Apr., the army estimates, 11 Apr., and economy and retrenchment, 27 June 1821. He voted against more extensive tax reductions, 11, 21 Feb., and abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar. 1822, but (perhaps bearing a grudge over the rejection of his own military asylum scheme) divided with Hume to reduce the grant for the Royal Military College, 20 Mar. 1822, 10 Mar. 1823. He sided with ministers on the sinking fund, 3 Mar., the assessed taxes, 10, 18 Mar., and against repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., inquiry into the prosecution of the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr., and Scottish parliamentary reform, 2 June 1823. Soon afterwards he successfully applied to the duke of Wellington, the lord lieutenant, to be placed on the commission of the peace for Hampshire.10 His only known parliamentary activity in the 1824 session was the presentation of a St. Albans petition for reform of the licensing laws, 11 May.11 A defaulter on a call of the House, 28 Feb., he was ordered to be taken into custody after failing to attend, 2 Mar. 1825. Two days later the Speaker notified the House that Lady Frances had informed him that Wright Wilson was detained in the country by illness, and the order was discharged. He voted against Catholic relief, 21 Apr., 10 May, and the Irish franchise bill, 26 Apr., 9 May. His last known vote was for the duke of Cumberland’s grant, 30 May 1825. It was thought at St. Albans in September 1825 that Wright Wilson intended to take ‘final leave’ of the borough at the next dissolution.12 Two months later he was introduced to East Retford by the recently formed True Blue Club to challenge the two candidates who had declared themselves for the next general election on the Fitzwilliam interest. In a blatant appeal to anti-Catholic feeling, Wright Wilson and his supporters kept the borough in turmoil with a spate of ‘No Popery’ propaganda as they canvassed during the winter. When Wright Wilson made what he described as a ‘triumphal’ entry to East Retford in February 1826, there were serious disturbances, and the Fitzwilliam candidates were forced to abandon their canvass and flee the town. Wright Wilson then visited the duke of Newcastle, whose rump of supporters on the corporation had originally inspired the anti-Fitzwilliam agitation, and who connived in their activities by turning a blind eye. He accepted the duke’s invitation to stay the night, and left him convinced that he was ‘decidedly the favourite and will ultimately, so I hope and expect, succeed in his election’.13 He duly came forward at the general election later in the year, but on the first day of polling, which was marked by drunkenness and violence, he trailed a distant third. The disorder escalated into a riot, in which the Fitzwilliam candidates were attacked, and troops were called in to restore order. Wright Wilson was said to have made things worse by delivering an inflammatory rant against military intervention to an already agitated crowd. The next day, though he claimed to have many votes not yet polled, he declined to proceed further, ostensibly because of the threat from the army, and made it clear that he would petition against the return of his opponents. It seems certain that Wright Wilson and his allies had all along been aiming at a petition; and there is a strong suspicion that they deliberately provoked the introduction of troops to furnish a pretext for lodging one. Wright Wilson and four aldermen petitioned for a void election, 4 Dec. 1826, alleging partiality by the returning officers, the unconstitutional intervention of the military and bribery and treating. Shortly before the ballot for the election committee, 3 Apr. 1827, Wright Wilson solicited support for his cause from Peel, home secretary in the disintegrating Liverpool ministry, on the ground that he had ‘always been a true friend to the administration’; Peel made his excuses.14 The committee declared the election void, but directed the attention of the House to the evidence of systematic corruption which it had uncovered. The case of East Retford became a bone of political contention for three years, and no new writ was issued before the dissolution of 1830.15
Wright Wilson died at Chelsea Park in December 1832. By his will, made on 4 July that year, he left his wife £2,000 in cash, and £4,000 in three per cent consols, and confirmed the terms of their marriage settlement. He devised his Yorkshire and Chelsea estates and recent acquisitions in Hampshire and Essex to her for her life, and thereafter to his niece Mary, to whom he also left £2,000, his London house at 24 Grosvenor Street and his shares in the Wakefield Assembly Rooms. His personalty was sworn under £50,000 within the province of Canterbury.16 On the death of Lady Frances Wilson in 1836, Crofton passed to Mary, who married John Henniker. On her death without issue in 1866, it went to her kinsman Henry Wilson (1806-69), Sir Henry’s godson and the son of his cousin Christopher Wilson. The Hampshire property went after Lady Frances’s death to Christopher Wilson’s daughter Frances Elizabeth, who married Sir Michael McCreagh.
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: David R. Fisher
- 1. Gent. Mag. (1799), ii. 812.
- 2. The fullest pedigree of this Member’s branch of the family is in the 8th edn. of Burke LG (1894). There is a defective one of the whole Wilson of Leeds family in J. Foster, Peds. Yorks. Fams.
- 3. Gent. Mag. (1797), ii. 619.
- 4. PROB 11/1295/580.
- 5. Gent. Mag. (1797), ii. 619; PROB 8/190 (22 Aug. 1797); 11/1295/580.
- 6. London and Its Environs (1820), 55; T. Faulkner, Hist. Chelsea (1829), i. 151.
- 7. Add. 38378, ff. 295-300.
- 8. The Times, 28 Feb. 1814; Gent. Mag. (1814), i. 308; PROB 11/1561/591; IR26/630/606.
- 9. The Times, 6, 15, 18 Jan. 1821.
- 10. Wellington mss WP1/765/9.
- 11. The Times, 12 May 1824.
- 12. Add. 76036, J. Harrison to Spencer, 22 Sept. 1825.
- 13. Nottingham Univ. Lib. Newcastle mss Ne2 F2/1/99.
- 14. Add. 40393, f. 114.
- 15. See EAST RETFORD.
- 16. Gent. Mag. (1833), i. 283; PROB 11/1813/196; IR26/1339/102.