Biography

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Charles Watkin Williams Wynn (1775-1850)

This article was written by William Prideaux Courtney and it was published in 1900


Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, a politician, was born on 9 October 1775. He was the second son of Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, fourth baronet of Wynnstay, Denbighshire (d. July 1789), who married, on 21 December 1771, as his second wife, Charlotte, daughter of George Grenville, sister of the first Marquis of Buckingham and aunt of the first Duke of Buckingham; she died at Richmond, Surrey, on 29 September 1832.

From 1779 to 1783 Robert Nares was tutor to Wynn and his elder brother, living with them at Wynnstay and in London. On 23 March 1784 Wynn was admitted at Westminster school, and in 1786 Nares, then an usher at the school, resumed his tutorship of the brothers. Wynn retained in after years his connection with Westminster. He was a steward at their anniversaries of 1799 and 1823, and was elected a Busby trustee in 1829. In 1826 and 1829 he gave for competition among the Westminster boys a writership in India.

Wynn matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford, on 24 December 1791, graduated B.A. in 1795, and M.A. in 1798. On 5 July 1810, the first year of office of his uncle, Lord Grenville, as chancellor of the university, he was created D.C.L. His rooms as an undergraduate were in 'Skeleton Corner,’ where Southey, who had made his friendship at Westminster in 1788 and kept it through life, used often to visit him. Wynn, though not a rich man, made Southey an allowance of £160 per annum, beginning with the last quarter of 1796 and ending in 1807, when, through the same friendly influence, a net pension of £144 a year was bestowed on him by the government.

In 1801 Wynn hoped to obtain for his friend the post of secretary to some Italian legation, but was disappointed. Southey in 1805 dedicated to him the poem of 'Madoc.’ On 21 April 1795 Wynn was admitted student at Lincoln's Inn and was called to the bar on 27 November 1798. He attended the Oxford and North Wales circuit, but his parliamentary duties prevented him from pursuing his profession with success. In 1835 he was elected a bencher of his inn. Through the influence of his connection, Lord Camelford, he was returned to parliament at a by-election on 29 July 1797 for the pocket-borough of Old Sarum. Before the parliament was out he resigned his seat to stand for a vacancy in Montgomeryshire, where his family had great interest, and was returned on 19 March 1799. There was a contest for its representation in 1831, but he was easily returned, and he held the seat continuously until his death in 1850, when he was the 'father’ of the House of Commons.

Wynn supported Pitt on the increase of the assessed taxes in 1798, and joined with him in acting adversely to Addington's administration, but voted on 12 June 1805 for the impeachment of Lord Melville. From its formation in 1803 until he resigned in 1844 he held the command of the Montgomeryshire yeomanry cavalry. The three brothers Wynn are depicted in Gillray's caricature of 'A Welch Tandem’ (21 January 1801), and on 19 May 1806 his elder brother, Sir Watkin Wynn, and he, figured in the same artist's caricature of 'The Bear [C. J. Fox] and his Leader’ [Lord Grenville]. In it they were called 'Bubble and Squeak, a Duet,’ nicknames which had been given to them through the peculiarity of their voices.

From 19 Feb. 1806 to October 1807 he was under-secretary of state for the home department in the administration of 'all the talents,’ which was presided over by his uncle, Lord Grenville. Wynn was fond of parliamentary life and took an active part in debate, being considered a great authority on points of procedure. He was proposed for speaker on 2 June 1817, and in the opinion of Sir Samuel Romilly was eminently qualified for the post, as he had 'by long attention to the subject made himself completely master of the law of parliament and the forms of parliamentary proceeding’. But Manners-Sutton was supported by the government, and won by 312 votes to 152. Canning said that the only objection to Wynn was that 'one would be sometimes tempted to say Mr. Squeaker’.

During 1818 and 1819 Wynn endeavoured, as leader of the members acting in the interest of his relative, the Marquis of Buckingham, to form a third party in the House of Commons, but some of the little party of politicians thought that he leaned too much to the side of the whigs. In 1819 he was on the civil list committee, and during 1820 he strongly objected to the conduct of the king and his ministers towards Queen Caroline. When these troubles were over, the support of Lord Buckingham's adherents was secured by the tory ministry.

From January 1822 to February 1828 Wynn held the post of president of the board of control with a seat in the cabinet, and on 17 January 1822 he was sworn of the privy council. In September 1822 Canning, who liked him not, desired his transfer to some other office to make room for Huskisson. There were differences between them in the following year, and in 1824 Canning called him 'the worst man of business that I ever met’. Nevertheless he remained in office for six years, even through the brief administrations of Canning and Lord Goderich. When the Duke of Wellington formed his cabinet in 1828 the Duke of Buckingham, who had long pressed his claims to high office, thought that he, and not Wynn, should have a place in it, and Wellington thereupon ejected Wynn, as Southey said, 'with a want of courtesy, of respect, and of feeling.’ But even Southey had heard that Wynn was 'one of the most impracticable persons to deal with, taking crotchets in his head, and holding to them with invincible pertinacity’.

After his loss of office Wynn was drawn into opposition. He supported O'Connell's claims to sit for the county of Clare, and he voted for Sir Henry Parnell's motion on the civil list which brought about the downfall of the Wellington ministry. In the succeeding administration of Lord Grey he was secretary at war from November 1830 to April 1831, but without a place in the cabinet; and he was also a member of the board of control. He did not approve of Lord John Russell's disfranchisement proposals in the Reform Bill, and, although he voted for the second reading of the measure, he supported General Gascoyne's amendment, when the whig government were defeated by 299 votes to 291.

In 1831 Wynn was active on the commission for inquiry into the public records, and in Sir Robert Peel's short ministry of December 1834 to April 1835 he held the office of chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, but was not called into the cabinet. On 3 February 1835 he was appointed a commissioner to inquire into the state of the dioceses in England and Wales. He is said to have thrice refused the post of governor-general of India. Although he sat in parliament until 1850, he was not again offered office, and he gradually withdrew from public affairs, preferring to dwell at his pleasant country seat, with its 'noble terraces,’ Llangedwin in Denbighshire.

He was the first president of the Royal Asiatic Society, taking a leading part in its proceedings from its foundation in 1823, but he resigned the position in 1841. He was elected F.S.A. on 9 January 1800. Wynn died at 20 Grafton Street, London, on 2 September 1850, aged 74, and was buried by the side of his wife and son in a vault of St. George's Chapel, Bayswater.

He married, on 9 April 1806, Mary (d. 4 June 1838), eldest daughter of Sir Foster Cunliffe, bart., of Acton Park, Denbighshire, and had issue two sons and five daughters. The eldest daughter was Charlotte Williams Wynn; Sidney, the fourth daughter, married, on 12 December 1844, Sir Francis Hastings Doyle, who describes these sisters 'as women of a very noble type.’ The politician's sister, Frances Williams Wynn, who died on 24 June 1857, aged about seventy-seven, was the writer of 'Diaries of a Lady of Quality, 1797-1844,’ two editions of which appeared in 1864 under the editorship of Abraham Hayward.

Wynn was the author of 'An Argument upon the Jurisdiction of the House of Commons to commit in Cases of Breach of Privilege,’ published in May 1810, and twice reissued, with an appendix, by August 1810. It dealt with the arrest of Sir Francis Burdett, Wynn being clear that the house possessed the power of arrest. Many letters from him are in the Duke of Buckingham's 'Court under the Regency’; Bishop Heber's 'Life’ by his widow — he conferred on Heber the bishopric of Calcutta — in Southey's 'Life and Correspondence’; and in all the volumes of Southey's 'Letters,’ which were edited by Warter. A letter from him to Croker on the authorship of the letters of Junius is in the 'Croker Papers’. He was an exceptionally well-informed man. He possessed a copy of the first folio edition of 'Shakespeare,’ and he was horrified at the errors in Scott's 'Ivanhoe’. A graphic description by Southey of his fussy manner, always 'doing something else,’ is quoted in Southey's 'Letters’.


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