Wyndham, William (DNB00)

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WYNDHAM, Sir WILLIAM (1687–1740), baronet, politician, was born at Orchard-Wyndham, Somerset, in 1687, the only son of Sir Edward Wyndham, second baronet, and Catherine, daughter of Sir William Leveson-Gower, bart. His grandfather, William Wyndham of Orchard-Wyndham, was created a baronet on 9 Sept. 1661, and died in 1683; he was the eldest son of John Wyndham, and nephew of Sir Wadham Wyndham [q. v.] He was educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford, whence he matriculated on 1 June 1704. Afterwards he went abroad, and on his return he was chosen at a by-election to represent Somerset in parliament on 28 April 1710, a few months before the fall of the whig government (Return of Members of Parliament). In the autumn of that year the general election was held, and Wyndham found his party in office. Owing to his court influence (Tindal says that the queen was interested in his education) he joined the new administration as master of the buckhounds, and was promoted to the secretaryship at war on 28 June 1712. On 1 March in this same year his house in Albemarle Street, for which he had given 7,000l., was burned down, and many valuable pictures destroyed, Wyndham and his family escaping with some difficulty. In November 1713 he was appointed chancellor of the exchequer. In the new parliament, which met on 16 Feb. 1714, the disruption between Bolingbroke and Oxford was complete, and the tory majority was paralysed by its division into Hanoverian tory and Jacobite. Wyndham was under the influence of Bolingbroke; his wife had intrigued at court against Oxford. By the end of 1713 rumours were afloat that Bolingbroke and Wyndham were in the ascendant, and the ‘Examiner’ began to prepare the minds of its tory readers for a change in the leadership. The night before Oxford's dismissal was announced Wyndham was one of those who dined with Bolingbroke, and he was selected to be head of the five commissioners who were to control the treasury under the new arrangement. The death of the queen in the midst of these intrigues put an end to Wyndham's official career.

Wyndham's short period of office is marked by two events which indicate both his political purpose and method. He spoke early in the debate on Steele's expulsion from the House of Commons, and is mentioned (Parl. Hist. vi. 1274) among the courtiers who pressed for a division. Steele's offence, as explained by Wyndham, was that some of his writings ‘contained insolent, injurious reflections on the queen herself and were dictated by the spirit of rebellion;’ in reality Steele's crime was that he was a whig, and in desiring his expulsion Wyndham was carrying out the deliberate policy of Bolingbroke to limit freedom of speech and secure absolute control of the executive pending the death of the queen. The other event was the Schism Act of which Wyndham was sponsor. The purpose of the measure was to defend the church by closing the schools of the dissenters, but, as neither Bolingbroke nor Wyndham was animated by religious motives, its real significance was political. It marks the final resolution of the party which Wyndham led in the commons to throw in its lot with the high church and the Jacobites.

During the ceremonies of the succession Wyndham performed his official duties, and spoke in favour of the payment of Hanoverian troops from the English exchequer. But when parliament met after the election of 1715, he recognised the plight into which his party had fallen, and began his leadership of the opposition by objecting so strongly to the terms of the king's proclamation calling the parliament that only Sir Robert Walpole's tact prevented his being sent to the Tower. After a long debate, in the course of which, the house having requested him to withdraw, he left with the whole of his party behind him, he was formally censured. During the next few months, though actively opposing the vote for the king's privy purse (Stanhope, Hist. i. 183–4) and defending the treaty of Utrecht, he appears to have done little in the debates on the impeachment of the tory leaders. His hands were full of more serious work. He was plotting in the west for a rising in favour of the Stuarts. When the rebellion broke out he was arrested at Orchard-Wyndham on 21 Sept. 1715, escaped by a trick, surrendered in a few days on the advice of his father-in-law, the Duke of Somerset, and was sent to the Tower (a detailed account is given in A Full Authentick Narrative of the intended Horrid Conspiracy, 1715). Coxe (Memoirs of Walpole, i. 71), on the authority of Lord Sidney, relates that the cabinet would have overlooked Wyndham to please the Duke of Somerset had not Lord Townshend persisted in his arrest. The incident led to Somerset's withdrawal from the cabinet. Wyndham was liberated on bail in the following July, and was never brought up for trial. He was much blamed for raising the rebellion in Somerset and then running away from his responsibilities (Hervey).

Wyndham's mentor both in politics and morals was Lord Bolingbroke, who in the spring of 1715 had fled to France and committed himself to the Jacobite cause, a course to which, he said, Wyndham was the chief to urge him. Henceforth Wyndham was little more than Bolingbroke's mouthpiece in England. He laboured assiduously for the reinstatement of the high church and its principles, and in 1717 succeeded in getting parliament to appoint Dr. Snape, a high churchman and a believer in passive obedience and non-resistance, to preach at St. Margaret's on the anniversary of the Restoration. His strong Jacobite leanings were chiefly the cause of the suspicion under which the tory party rested, and which made it impotent for so many years to take advantage of whig dissensions. To Wyndham, Bolingbroke addressed some of his most famous letters from exile. The letter giving an account of the sorry experiences of Bolingbroke at the court of James in Paris was sent to him; he was the first whom Bolingbroke, disgusted with James and desiring to be pardoned by George, urged to abandon the Jacobites. To him Bolingbroke sent his well-known apology in 1717. Nine years later, when Bolingbroke was at Twickenham attempting to carry out his cherished plan of detaching a body of whigs from Walpole, Wyndham was his confidant and, under his instructions, was co-operating with Pulteney in the House of Commons, attacking the foreign policy of the Walpoles, the increase of the standing army, the pension bills, the financial administration, and drawing attention to the corruption prevalent at elections.

When, in 1728, an organised opposition to Walpole was formed, Wyndham retained the leadership of the tory wing, and gave Walpole considerable trouble. But Wyndham was Bolingbroke's mouthpiece still. When he attacked Walpole in 1730 for permitting the defences at the harbour of Dunkirk to remain undemolished, Bolingbroke's secretary investigated the matter on the spot; the series of attacks which he delivered on Walpole's finance, from the salt to the excise duties, which have been considered his finest oratorical and intellectual efforts, must be credited very largely to Bolingbroke. The heat of these debates culminated in 1734, when the Septennial Act was under discussion. Wyndham had attacked Walpole with special causticity (his speech winning from Smollett the eulogium ‘the unrivalled orator, the uncorrupted Briton, and the unshaken patriot’); the premier replied by a violent attack upon Bolingbroke. The tory policy was a failure. Bolingbroke's dream of a tory-whig opposition led by himself in the person of Wyndham proved an impossibility. When the election of 1745 renewed the whig majority, Bolingbroke again left the country, and Wyndham led his opposition with diminished heat. The correspondence with his chief was renewed, and ranged from advice given to form a coalition with the Pelhams to hunting intelligence and appeals to sell Dawley.

The chief episodes of the last few years of his parliamentary life were his support of the Prince of Wales in his quarrel with the king about his allowance, and his opposition to the convention with Spain, when he walked out of the House of Commons, followed by his party, as a protest. He knew that his tactics had been fruitless, and he discussed with Pope, shortly before his death, a project for forming a new method of opposition (Elwin and Courthope, Pope, ix. 178). Speaker Onslow's estimate of Wyndham was: ‘the most made for a great man of any that I have known of this age’ (Coxe, Walpole, ii. 560). He belonged to the gay political and literary circles which mixed together in the reigns of Anne and George, and was a leading spirit in coteries like the October Club. He was one of the founders of the Brothers' Club, of which Swift became a member in June 1711. He recommended the small poet Diaper to the members in March 1712. One of the Brothers, ‘Duke’ Disney, left him 500l. in 1731. Lord Stanhope, commenting on Pope's lines in the ‘Epilogue to the Satires’—

    Wyndham, just to freedom and the throne,
    The master of our passions and his own—

says: ‘Pope's praise does not apply to his private life, since it appears that, though twice married, he resembled his friends Bolingbroke and Bathurst as a man of pleasure.’ His manner was excellent; his oratory was impressive although he had a stutter in his speech, and he attended very closely to politics. His speeches owe something in polish and intellect to Bolingbroke, but his leadership was rendered ineffectual by his complete surrender to his friend. He died at Wells on 17 June 1740.

He was twice married: first, 21 July 1708, to Catherine, second daughter of Charles Seymour, sixth duke of Somerset, by whom he had four children—Charles Wyndham [q. v.], who became the Earl of Egremont; and Percy, who, adopting the surname O'Brien, became the Earl of Thomond; Catherine; and Elizabeth, who married George Grenville [q. v.] Wyndham married, secondly, Maria Catherina, daughter of Peter d'Jong of Utrecht, and widow of the Marquis of Blandford, by whom he had no issue.

A three-quarter length portrait of Wyndham in his chancellor's robes by Kneller is dated 1713. There are two engraved portraits—a mezzotint by Faber, executed in 1740, and a line engraving by Houbraken for Birch's ‘Lives,’ after Richardson; the latter was reduced by Ravenet for Smollett's ‘History.’

[Authorities quoted; Gent. Mag. 1740, pp. 229, 317; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714; Wyon's and Boyer's Histories of the Reign of Queen Anne; Lecky's Hist. of the Eighteenth Century, vol. i.; Jesse's Court of England, 1688–1760, 1843; Murray's Somerset; Collinson's Somerset, 1791, iii. 490; Wentworth Papers, 1883, pp. 109, 269, 274, 383; Macknight's Bolingbroke; Parl. Hist.; Swift's Journal to Stella.]

J. R. M.