WILLIAMS WYNN, Sir Watkin, 5th Bt. (1772-1840), of Wynnstay, Denb.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



20 Oct. 1794 - 1796
1796 - 6 Jan. 1840

Family and Education

b. 26 Oct. 1772, 1st s. of Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, 4th Bt., of Wynnstay, and bro. of Charles Watkin Williams Wynn* and Henry Watkin Williams Wynn*. educ. by Rev. Robert Nares;1 Westminster 1784-9; Christ Church, Oxf. 1789-90; European tour (Brussels to St. Petersburg) 1792.2 m. 4 Feb. 1817, Lady Henrietta Antonia Clive, da. of Edward Clive*, 1st Earl of Powis, 2s. 1da. suc. fa. as 5th Bt. 29 July 1789.

Offices Held

Ld. lt. Merion. 1793-d., Denb. 1795-d.

Steward, Bromfield and Yale Feb.; mayor, Oswestry 1800, 1831, Chester 1813.

Col. Ancient British Drag. 1794-1800; col. Denbigh militia 1797; lt.-col. commdt. 3rd batt. militia for service in France Mar.-June 1814; col. commdt. Denbigh yeoman cav. 1820; a.d.c. Welsh militia 1830-d.

Pres. Soc. of Ancient Britons.

Member, board of agriculture 1796.


The third Sir Watkin of Wynnstay, who inherited at 17 an estate worth £32,000 p.a. from a father who was one of the most exquisite gentlemen of his day and often styled ‘The Prince of Wales’, presented something of a contrast to his progenitor: ‘a person of great weight in every sense of the word’, he caused chairs to collapse beneath the burden of his 17½ stone. Wynnstay in his time ceased to be a cultural centre and became a focus of military exercises, country sports, agricultural meetings and an appanage of Sir Watkin’s mother’s family the Grenvilles, under whose aegis, inevitably, he entered public life. To quote Lady Holland: ‘Sir Watkin is a Grenville in person and manner all over him; his tongue is immensely too big for his mouth, and his utterance is so impeded by it that what he attempts to articulate is generally unintelligible’.3 The local honours and county seat for Denbigh which had become virtually hereditary in his family were at the Grenvilles’ instigation put into custody for him until he came of age. On the death of Richard Myddelton senior of Chirk Castle in 1795 he was also awarded the stewardship of Bromfield and Yale, in preference to the pretensions of Lord Grosvenor.

Rather than displace his locum tenens for the county Robert Watkin Wynne, Sir Watkin waited until the dissolution of 1796 before occupying the county seat, which thereafter was his for life without question, and came in instead on a vacancy for Beaumaris on the interest of Viscount Bulkeley. In Parliament he followed the Grenvillite line and supported Pitt’s first administration. In October 1795 he assured his uncle Thomas Grenville that he would rather ‘attack the foxes’ than attend the House. His maiden speech was a denial of the validity of a petition from Wrexham, presented by William Smith, against the sedition bill, 30 Nov. 1795. A week later he countered what he clearly regarded as political poaching by bringing up a favourable petition from Denbigh, but it was deemed irregular. In March 1797 he showed an independent streak by voting for the addition of Fox to the emergency committee on the Bank. His military ardour was satisfied when, as colonel of the Ancient British light dragoons, he served in Ireland, 1797-8. Francis Burton informed the Speaker, 26 Aug. 1798:

Sir Watkin is adored in Taffyland, and deserves it much. Besides what you have heard of his spirit, it is certain he acted a mere volunteer often enough to partake in five actions when no duty required it.

‘Sir Watkin’s lambs’ were ‘the terror of the rebels’, but suffered heavy losses; he had subsequently to defend them against charges of cruelty and, although he volunteered for foreign service with them in 1799, when they were prepared ‘to follow him to any part of the globe’, the offer was refused, despite his uncle Lord Grenville’s efforts on his behalf. They were disbanded in May 1800.4

In a speech of 23 Apr. 1798, Sir Watkin had moved unsuccessfully for a call of the House on the land tax redemption bill. He objected to the bill to encourage potato growing on waste land, 24 Mar. 1800. On 2 Feb. 1801 he moved the address ‘in a speech of great manliness and good sense’, so Pitt informed the King. In it he warmly commended the Irish union and justified the war policy.5 On 19 Feb., however, he joined the minority critical of the Ferrol expedition. He was never deeply involved in politics,6 although he followed Lord Grenville into steady opposition to Addington and, subsequently, to Pitt’s second administration. He asked for an explanation of the large peacetime establishment, 8 Dec. 1802, but not from an anti-military standpoint, for he was of the belligerent party who had voted against the peace treaty on 14 May, and he opposed the discharge of enlisted men before they had served their five years. On 4 Mar. 1803 he spoke in defence of the financial claims of the Prince of Wales. On 3 June he voted for Patten’s censure motion. He disliked the volunteer exemption bill, 13 Dec. 1803, and proposed an amendment to the volunteer consolidation bill, 6 Mar. 1804. In May he was cast for the part of Madame Buonaparte in a burlesque of the Emperor’s coronation. In August 1804 he was reported to be ‘driving cart loads of voters in his dog cart to Brentford in support of Sir Francis [Burdett]’.7 He subsequently spoke on militia matters, and opposed the agricultural horse duty bill on behalf of his constituents, 12 Mar. 1805. He paired in favour of the criminal prosecution of Melville, 12 June, and accompanied Whitbread to the Lords on 26 June to announce Melville’s impeachment.

When Lord Grenville came to power in 1806, his brother Thomas informed him, 27 Feb., ‘Sir Watkin wishes to be a privy councillor, but if you see difficulties, tell him so, and you will find him very reasonable’. Unlike his brothers, he did not take office and he refused a peerage.8 He followed Grenville into opposition and was listed one of their ‘thick and thin’ supporters by the Whigs in 1810. In debate he favoured expelling Members found guilty of bribery at elections and throwing open the borough of Penryn to prevent electoral corruption, 22 Apr. 1807, and supported Curwen’s reform bill, 19 May 1809. He allegedly voted against Brand’s reform motion on 21 May 1810, but his brother said he was absent.9 He tried to amend the local militia bill, 18 May, and opposed the corn distillery prohibition bill on behalf of barley growers, 23 May 1808, 22 Feb. 1810. He was a critic of the Anglo-Irish militia exchange, 27 May 1811. He invariably favoured Catholic relief.

In the spring of 1814 he accompanied the Marquess of Buckingham to Bordeaux with their militia regiments, to join Wellington’s army: they arrived too late, for peace had been concluded.

Before they re-embarked for their native land however, they took good care to impress upon the inhabitants of Bordeaux their value as soldiers, by parading their battalions with all the pomp and circumstance of war, both in the morning and at noon. Those for whose benefit this spectacle was intended never failed attending these military parades; not with the idea of gaining any hints as to evolutions, etc., but to gaze on the commanding officers, whom they denominated ‘les boeufs gras Anglais’.

Sir Watkin himself was described as ‘le gros commandant Whof Whof Whof’. On his return to Wynnstay, he was presented with a silver jardini‘re inscribed in English, Welsh and Latin ‘to the patriot leader of his countrymen during the rebellion in Ireland and invasion of France’. Sir Watkin’s brother Charles had despaired of ‘putting Sir W. W. W. and the county of Denbigh into verse’: in his view, ‘it too nearly resembles Sir Roger de Coverley’s father’s near escape, at the battle of Edge Hill, by being sent away on the preceding day, to be practical’.10

During the intervals of visits to Vienna and Paris, he supported the corn bill in Parliament, 6 Mar. 1815, and advocated the grant of crown lands to the Duke of Wellington, 23 and 26 June 1815. Once peace was concluded, he voted steadily for retrenchment and his occasional speeches were virtually all concerned with agricultural distress. He was a great improver and in 1818 received the gold medal of the Society of Arts for planting 845,500 forest trees. On 1 May 1817 he seconded Ponsonby’s motion for a select committee of inquiry into the Welsh judiciary. He voted for the suspension of habeas corpus, 23 June. His marriage earlier that year to Lord Powis’s daughter caused something of a stir, as hers was a ministerial family, but it was not only a ‘politic choice’ which doubled Sir Watkin’s rent roll at a time when his estates were weakened by ‘fraud and plunder’, but a pointer to the imminent rapprochement between the Grenvillites and the government, into which Sir Watkin was inevitably drawn. True, his brother Charles could not ‘engage to keep him in order’, 20 Mar. 1819, and, while he acted like Charles in the divisions on Wyndham Quin*, 29 Mar. 1819, and appears to have voted for Tierney’s censure motion on 18 May, he offered to augment the Denbighshire militia in anticipation of disturbances in the autumn of 1819 and no longer joined opposition that session. Charles feared he might have, out of pique at the dismissal of Earl Fitzwilliam from his lord lieutenancy.11

His marriage alliance further consolidated the supremacy of the house of Wynnstay in North Wales. When Sir Watkin was presented to the Prince Regent on St. David’s Day, 1815, the Prince is said to have remarked ‘Surely you must be the Prince of Wales’, to which Sir Richard Puleston, coming to Sir Watkin’s rescue, replied ‘No, your Royal Highness, Sir Watkin is the Prince in Wales’. He died 6 Jan. 1840. ‘His rank, as a commoner of the first consideration, he preferred to a peerage, which was repeatedly offered to him.’12

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Glenbervie Diaries, i. 100.
  • 2. Leveson Gower , i. 56.
  • 3. C. J. Apperley, My Life and Times, 48; Hunting Reminiscences, 18; [Askew Roberts], Wynnstay and the Wynns, 25; Horace Walpole Corresp. (Yale ed.), xxxiv. 95; Jnl. of Lady Holland, i. 238.
  • 4. Add. 41855, f. 71; Colchester, i. 13, 161; Wynnstay and the Wynns, 19; Corresp. of Lady Williams Wynn, 30, 40; HMC Fortescue, iv. 226; v. 390; Bye Gones, 1878-9, p. 33; Apperley, 232; NLW mss 2789, Lady to H. Williams Wynn, 15 Mar. 1799.
  • 5. Geo. III Corresp. iii. 2339.
  • 6. Corresp. of Lady Williams Wynn, 13, 260.
  • 7. Minto, iii. 343; PRO 30/8/188, f. 318.
  • 8. HMC Fortescue, viii. 42; Holland, Mems. Whig Party, i. 219; Normanton mss, Clifden to abp. of Dublin, 19 Feb. 1806.
  • 9. NLW, Coedymaen mss 8, f. 505. On 1 Apr. 1819, Sir Watkin allegedly paired in favour of burgh reform.
  • 10. Corresp. of Lady Williams Wynn, 164, 188; HMC Fortescue, x. 360; Gronow, Reminiscences (1900), ii. 217; HMC Bathurst, 278; NLW mss 4814, Williams Wynn to Southey, 14 Sept. [1815].
  • 11. Carm. Jnl. 12 June 1818; Add. 51644, Lady Holland to F. Horner, 7 Jan. 1817; Correp. of Lady Williams Wynn, 186; HMC Fortescue, x. 419; NLW mss 12413, F. Price to Phoebe Lloyd, 13 Jan. 1817; Buckingham, Regency, ii. 331, 365.
  • 12. Wynnstay and the Wynns, 23; Gent. Mag. (1840), i. 429.