WRAY, Sir Cecil, 13th Bt. (1734-1805), of Fillingham, Lincs.
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Family and Education
b. 3 Sept. 1734, o.s. of Sir John Wray, 12th Bt., by Frances, da. and eventually h. of Fairfax Norcliffe of Langton, Yorks. educ. Westminster 1745, Trinity Camb. 1749. m. Esther, da. of James Summers, s.p. suc. fa. 26 Jan. 1752.
Cornet 1 Drag. 1755; ret. 1757.
Wray came of a very old Lincolnshire family and inherited large estates in that county, in Yorkshire, and in Norfolk. In 1768 he was returned for East Retford on an independent interest supported by Lord Lincoln. Wraxall writes that though Wray possessed ‘no superior talents [he] was independent in mind as well as in fortune’,1 and this is apparent throughout his parliamentary career. He voted with the Opposition on Wilkes’s petition, 27 Jan. 1769, and the Middlesex election, 15 Apr. and 8 May 1769. The same year, as a member of the Bill of Rights Society, he attempted to raise a petition in Lincolnshire against the Middlesex election, but his interest in the county was not sufficiently strong. All his other recorded votes in this Parliament were with Opposition. In 1774 he was again returned for Retford with the support of the Duke of Newcastle (as Lincoln now was). Wray consistently opposed North’s Administration till he left Parliament in 1780. He told the House on 21 Feb. 1783:
I have been ... in a constant opposition ... to his [North’s] Administration; I did it because the noble Lord had high prerogative principles, because he involved [us] in the cursed American war, the cause of all our ruin, because I constantly heard him accused ... for want of wisdom; my opinions were not therefore lightly adopted, and are never to be eradicated.
Wray denied that Parliament had any right to tax America, and on 27 Mar. 1775 said:
Even if Parliament had the right to tax America, he should be against using that power, as in that case justice would demand that we should give to America an equal power of paying tax; that that could only be done by opening the trade of the whole world to America, in common with Britain, a measure which no one could wish to see adopted.
On 6 Apr. 1778 he supported the motion to repeal the Declaratory Act from ‘a sincere conviction that ... the Parliament of Great Britain has no power to pass laws binding America in any case whatsoever’.2
In 1780 Newcastle withdrew his support at Retford from Wray who did not stand there, nor apparently anywhere else. In favour of parliamentary reform, he was in touch with John Cartwright by 1778, and in 1780 joined the Yorkshire Association. In June 1782 Wray was invited by Fox, on behalf of the committee of the Westminster Association, to stand at the approaching by-election. He replied that he had no desire to re-enter Parliament, and in any case could not stand an expensive contest. Fox wrote again urging him to stand and explaining that the Association would cover his expenses. ‘My resolution was completely staggered by this letter’, Wray wrote, ‘it came from one for whose political principles I entertained ... the most enthusiastic reverence.’ He stood, and was returned unopposed. After Rockingham’s death Wray wrote to Fox that he hoped Fox would fill the vacancy, adding ‘whoever did it, I have no objection provided that Lord North ... be kept out’. He voted with Fox’s party in the first division on Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783, but on discovering that their opposition was directed personally against Shelburne, voted with the Administration on the second division. On 21 Feb. he told the House that the miserable state of the country called for peace ‘almost at any rate’, and continued:
I have heard that a coalition is about to take place with that old ministry whose maladministration had led us into all those difficulties which made the present peace eligible ... I do solemnly declare, I never will support an administration so formed. For the present premier, I know little of him; various reasons concur to make me wish him out of power; but not for having made the peace on the table.
He had, however, several criticisms, and regretted for economic reasons that Gibraltar and Quebec had not been relinquished. He wrote later about his position at the formation of the Coalition:
So little was I in any secret that I would give no credit to any reports concerning it, and when it did take place was thunderstruck. I took the first opportunity to give my sentiments against it, and at the same time to declare my readiness to resign into the hands of my constituents that situation in which I feared I might be expected to act against my conscience.
At a constituency meeting he was dissuaded from resigning, and in the House ‘continued to act with perfect independence’. He voted for Pitt’s parliamentary reform proposals, 7 May 1783. He now spoke in the House with increasing frequency, and several times condemned the receipts tax which he described on 11 June as a tax ‘on the middling ranks of people and very partially and unequally laid’. Since the House had ‘occasioned the necessity for so many taxes by consenting to carry on the American war, the House then ought to pay for what it had occasioned’, and instead of the receipts tax lay an additional land tax. ‘The land tax far from being too great was in his opinion too low ... he was persuaded it might be raised considerably over its present rate.’ On 17 June Wray presented a petition drawn up by the Quakers which called for abolition of slavery, and said he ‘went heart and hand with the petitioners, and wished that something might be done towards abolishing an infamous traffic that disgraced humanity’. He voted against Fox’s East India bill, 27 Nov. 1783, which he condemned on 4 Dec. as ‘the most violent, arbitrary, and unprincipled bill he ever saw brought into the House’. And on 8 Dec.:
Should his Majesty give his assent, so much shall I think the ruin complete, that though I shall ever think it my duty to obey the instructions of my constituents, yet, when left to myself, I shall sometimes come down to debate a turnpike bill, but shall scarcely take the trouble to give any farther ineffectual opposition till people aroused from their present lethargy shall find it necessary to apply a decisive remedy.3
After the dismissal of the Coalition, Wray supported Pitt. He opposed Grosvenor’s motion of 2 Feb. 1784 for a union of parties because ‘he could not ... give a vote which might contribute to recall back to the Cabinet those men, who for the daring attack made by them on the rights and properties of their fellow citizens had been so very justly and properly dismissed ... some of whom ought to have been brought to the scaffold’.4 The people, he thought, believed the present ministers ‘to be a wise, an honest and virtuous set of people’.
At the general election Wray stood at Westminster as an Administration candidate with Lord Hood in opposition to Fox. After a violent contest with a poll lasting several weeks Fox and Hood had a majority, but Wray demanded a scrutiny, and it was almost a year before Fox and Hood were declared duly elected.
Wray does not appear to have made any further attempt to re-enter Parliament. A fellow Member, Lord Mahon, described him as ‘one of the most upright, one of the most virtuous, one of the most honourable and independent men’ in the House.5 Wyvill calls him ‘this unblemished patriot’, and mentions his pleasure in Wray’s ‘friendly regard and esteem, continued through all variations of political opinion, during more than 20 years’.6
Wray died 10 Jan. 1805.