Wyvill, Christopher (1740-1822) (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 63
Wyvill, Christopher (1740-1822)

by Thomas Seccombe
Contains subarticle Sir Christopher Wyvill (1614–1672?).

WYVILL, CHRISTOPHER (1740–1822), advocate of parliamentary reform, born at Edinburgh in 1740, was the son of Edward Wyvill (d. 1791), supervisor of excise at Edinburgh, by Christian Catherine, daughter of William Clifton of Edinburgh.

The name of Wyvile is found in the Battle Abbey roll, and the family trace their pedigree without any break back to Sir Richard Wyvill, who was slain at Towton, the presumed descendant of Sir Humphry of Walworth and Slingsby Castle, who came over with William the Conqueror. Of the same family, without doubt, was Robert Wyvil, a native of Stanton Wyvil in Leicestershire, who in 1329, despite his ill-favoured person and illiterate mind, was nominated to the see of Salisbury. He recovered the castle of Sherborne for the see from William de Montacute, earl of Salisbury, and is said to have begun the building of the famous spire a few years before his death at Sherborne on 4 Sept. 1375. A beautiful monument commemorates him in the north end of the eastern transept of Salisbury Cathedral (see Dodsworth, Salisbury, 1814, pp. 43–4, 210–11). Sir Marmaduke Wyvill (d. 1616) of Constable Burton in the North Riding was knighted by Queen Elizabeth, was created a baronet by James I on 25 Nov. 1611, and lies in the north aisle of Masham church, Bedale, under a cumbrous marble monument (see Whitaker, Richmondshire, ii. 103).

Sir Marmaduke's great-grandson, Sir Christopher Wyvill (1614–1672?), third baronet, of Constable Burton, baptised on 6 Dec. 1614, who was M.P. for Richmond in 1660, has been credited with a rare little octavo in the Bodleian Library entitled ‘Certaine serious Thoughts which at severall times & upon sundry occasions have stollen themselves into verse and now into the publike view from the author [monogram, ‘C. W.’], Esquire. Together with a chronological table denoteing the names of such Princes as ruled the neighbor states & were con-temporary with our English Kings’ (London, 1647). This volume of verse is described at some length in Brydges's ‘Censura Literaria’ (1808, vii. 261–4), and there dubiously attributed to C. Warwick. The Wyvill arms on the title-page point almost conclusively to (Sir) Christopher's authorship, which is conjecturally adopted in the British Museum Catalogue (cf. Hazlitt, Handbook, p. 681; Halkett and Laing, col. 351). The third baronet was also the author of an anti-papal duodecimo entitled ‘The Pretensions of the Triple Crown’ (London, 1672). He married Ursula, eldest daughter of Conyers, lord Darcy.

The third baronet's younger son, Christo- pher Wyvill (1651–1710), was dean of Ripon from 4 Nov. 1686.

The third baronet's elder son, Sir William Wyvill (d. 1684), fourth baronet, had a younger son, Darcy Wyvill (d. 3 Jan. 1734–5), collector in excise for Derby, who was grandfather of Christopher, the political reformer.

The fourth baronet's eldest son, Sir Marmaduke (d. 1722), M.P. for Richmond from October 1695 to July 1698, was father of (1) Sir Marmaduke (d. 1753), sixth baronet, who was appointed postmaster-general of Ireland in February 1736; and of (2) Christopher (d. 1752), a successful place-hunter, whose daughter Elizabeth (by his first wife) became an heiress on the death in 1753 of her uncle, Sir Marmaduke, sixth baronet, and married her cousin Christopher (see below); while his son (by his second wife), Sir Marmaduke Asty Wyvill (1740–1774), was seventh baronet, and high sheriff of Yorkshire in 1773, and on his death without issue on 23 Feb. 1774 the baronetcy became dormant—the eldest surviving male branch of the family being domiciled in America.

Christopher Wyvill was educated at Cambridge, obtaining the honorary degree of LL.D. from Queens' College in 1764. On 1 Oct. 1773 he married his cousin Elizabeth the heiress, and early next year came in for the large landed estates of the family in Yorkshire and elsewhere, and the mansion at Constable Burton, the building of which he completed from his cousin, Sir Marmaduke's, designs. He had some years previously taken orders and been presented through his cousin's influence to the rectory of Black Notley in Essex, which he continued to hold and administer by means of a curate down to 22 Sept. 1806. Debarred though he was from entering the House of Commons, Wyvill soon began to take a prominent part in county politics. In 1779 he was appointed secretary of the Yorkshire Association, which had for its primary objects to shorten the duration of parliaments and to equalise the representation. He soon afterwards became chairman of the association, drew up a circular letter enunciating its political sentiments, and took a leading part in drawing up the great Yorkshire petition presented to parliament on 8 Feb. 1780. A number of moderate whigs, including Horace Walpole, regarded Wyvill's ‘manifesto’ as chimerical. ‘You told me,’ complained Walpole to Mason (22 March 1780), ‘that he was a sensible man. How could he set his name to such a performance? I never saw such a composition of obscurity, bombast, and futility, nor a piece so liable to be turned into ridicule. … In short my dear friend, we shall lose all the benefit of the present spirit by the whimsies of men that have not common-sense, nor can express even what they mean.’ Sir Cecil Wray wrote in a similar strain, and Rockingham himself complained of the zeal of the association leaders, and wanted to know if they had ever considered the practicability of the annual parliaments which they recommended. Wyvill's contention was that the unavailing protraction of the American war and the expenditure of seventy millions of money were due primarily, not to the wish of the people, but to the votes of the members of the close boroughs, and that such a dangerous defect in the representative system needed an instant remedy. The association, of which Wyvill became ‘the backbone,’ had the sympathy of many statesmen, including Pitt and Charles Fox, and with greater moderation Wyvill would undoubtedly have achieved more than he did. As it was, a committee, with Wyvill at its head, was appointed to continue the propaganda by correspondence, and the example of Yorkshire was rapidly followed by Middlesex, Chester, and other counties to the number of twenty-five. With the cessation of the war, however, and the fall of Lord North, the association soon became disintegrated, and Wyvill had the mortification of seeing one after another of his noble colleagues slacken in their zeal and finally drop off, only a few remaining true to the cause. Among the few who were staunch were Sir George Savile [q. v.] and Sir Charles Turner, who spoke of the House of Commons as resembling a parcel of thieves that had stolen an estate and were afraid of letting any person look into their title-deeds for fear of losing it (cf. Daly, Radical Pioneers of the Eighteenth Century, 1886, p. 118). Wyvill strongly disapproved of the war with France, to which he attributed the industrial distress in Yorkshire, and this completed his alienation from Pitt. In 1793, with a view of throwing into injurious relief Pitt's former elastic views on the subject of parliamentary reform and the policy of reaction induced by the events of 1789–92, he published in pamphlet form the correspondence that had passed between them. Some supplementary letters appeared at Newcastle in a further brochure, and both had a large sale. Wyvill attached himself to the extremest section of the opposition led by Fox, and he defended in a short pamphlet (dated Burton Hall, 10 Jan. 1799) the secession of 1798; after Fox's death he gave his support to Whitbread and the peace-at-any-price party.

In the meantime he had found absorbing occupation in the preparation of his voluminous correspondence for publication. Three volumes appeared in 1794–5 as ‘Political Papers, chiefly respecting the Attempt of the County of York and other considerable Districts, commenced in 1779 … to effect a Reformation of the Parliament of Great Britain. Collected by the Rev. Christopher Wyvill, Chairman of the late Committee of Association’ (York, 8vo). The preface is dated Burton Hall, 26 May 1794; in June 1802 Wyvill wrote the preface to a fourth volume, and the papers were eventually concluded in six. They exhibit not only the proceedings of the association, but the sympathy of all those outside it who were interested in the reform of parliament. The correspondence includes letters between the chairman of the association and, among others, the Duke of Grafton, Lord Holland, Lord Lansdowne, Lord Stanhope, Charles Fox, Major Cartwright, Capel Lofft, William Mason, William Strickland, Dr. Priestley, Dr. Price, Bishop Watson, Tom Paine, Granville Sharpe, Dr. John Jebb, Sir George Savile, and Benjamin Franklin.

In view of the hopelessness of parliamentary reform Wyvill returned in later life to his early enthusiasm in the cause of universal toleration. ‘The object nearest to his heart was to obtain relief for the Roman catholics,’ and he published several pamphlets in support of his views. He died at his seat, Burton Hall, near Bedale in the North Riding, on 8 March 1822, at the age of eighty-two, and was buried at Spennithorne; a portrait is in possession of his great-grandson, Marmaduke D'Arcy Wyvill, esq., M.P., now of Constable Burton.

His first wife died in London on 22 July 1783, aged 68. He married, secondly, on 9 Aug. 1787, Sarah, daughter of J. Codling, and by her had issue, with several daughters, three sons, all educated at Eton: Marmaduke Wyvill (1791–1872), M.P. for York city from March 1820 to July 1830 (see Courtney, Parl. Hist. of Cornwall, p. xxiv); Christopher [q. v.]; and Edward, rector of Fingal in Yorkshire, who died on 15 Sept. 1869 (see Foster, Alumni Oxon. 1715–1886).

Apart from his correspondence with Pitt and the political correspondence, commonly spoken of as the ‘Wyvill Papers’ [see under Savile, Sir George], Wyvill's writings—for the most part shilling tracts in advocacy of radical reform—include: 1. ‘Thoughts on our Articles of Religion with respect to their Proposed Utility to the State,’ London, 1771, 4to, several editions (cf. Jebb, Works, iii. 1; Monthly Review, xlv. 239). 2. ‘Letters to the Committee of Belfast on the proposed Reformation of the Parliament of Ireland,’ 1782, 4to. 3. ‘Summary Explanation of the Principles of Mr. Pitt's intended Bill for Amending the Representation of the People in Parliament,’ 1785, 8vo. 4. ‘A Defence of Dr. Price and the Reformers of England,’ 1792, 8vo (a fairly well written plea for reform, with some reflections upon ‘the Asiatic eloquence of Mr. Burke’). 5. ‘A State of the Representation of the People of England on the Principles of Mr. Pitt in 1785, with an Annexed Sketch of Additional Propositions,’ York, 1793, 8vo. 6. ‘Considerations on the Twofold Mode of Elections adopted in France,’ 1804, 8vo. 7. ‘A Serious Address to all the Independent Electors of the United Kingdom,’ 1804, 8vo. 8. ‘A more extended Discussion in Favour of Liberty of Conscience Recommended,’ 1808, 8vo. 9. ‘Intolerance, the Disgrace of Christians, not the Fault of their Religion,’ 1808, 8vo (cf. Quarterly Review, ii. 301). 10. ‘An Apology for the Petitioners for Liberty of Conscience,’ 1810, 8vo. 11. ‘Papers on Toleration,’ 1810, 8vo (several editions). 12. ‘Political and Historical Arguments proving the Necessity of Parliamentary Reform,’ 2 vols. 1811, 8vo.

[Whitaker's Hist. of Richmondshire, 1823, i. 322 (pedigree); Foster's Yorkshire Pedigrees; Wotton's Baronetage, 1771, i. 100; Burke's Extinct Baronetage, p. 591; Burke's Commoners and Landed Gentry; Gent. Mag. 1822, i. 375; Public Characters, ix. 1806–7, p. 342; Walpole's Correspondence, ed. Cunningham, vii. 343, 347, and Walpoliana, p. 91; Lord Albemarle's Memoirs of the Marquis of Rockingham, 1852, vol. ii. chap. xiv; Correspondence of William Wilberforce, 1840, i. 61; Official Returns of Members of Parliament; Watt's Bibliotheca Britannica; Wyvill Papers; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

T. S.