Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Cornwall, Charles Wolfran

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CORNWALL, CHARLES WOLFRAN (1735–1789), speaker of the House of Commons, grandson of Charles Cornewall [q. v.], and only son of Jacobs Cornwall of Berrington, Herefordshire, by his wife, Rose, daughter of Robert Fowler of Barton Priors, was born on 15 June 1735. He received his education at Winchester and New College, Oxford. Although he was called to the bar at Gray's Inn, and became a bencher of the inn, he does not appear to have had any considerable amount of practice, and soon retired from professional life. In 1763 he was appointed commissioner for examining the German accounts, and on his retirement from that office received a pension of 1,500l. a year. His political career was decided by his marriage in 1764 with Elizabeth, daughter of Colonel Charles Jenkinson, and sister of Charles Jenkinson, then secretary-at-war, and afterwards Lord Hawkesbury and Earl of Liverpool. In the parliament of 1768 he represented Grampound, in those of 1774 and 1780 Winchelsea, and in that of 1784 Rye. Having fallen out with his brother-in-law, he attached himself for a short time to Shelburne's party, and acted with the whigs in the Middlesex election case and some other like matters. His defection, however, did not last long. He held office as a lord of the treasury in North's government from 1774 to 1780, and was made chief justice in eyre of the royal forests north of the Trent, and a privy councillor. At the meeting of the parliament of 1780 he was chosen speaker of the House of Commons, being proposed by Lord George Germaine, seconded by Welbore Ellis, and elected by a large majority in the place of Sir Fletcher Norton. 'As speaker,' Wraxall says, 'he possessed a sonorous voice, a manly as well as an imposing figure, and a commanding deportment.' He seems, however, to have owed his position rather to family influence than to any peculiar merit, for he was not a man of ability. His habit of relieving the weariness of his position during the debates of the house by frequent draughts of porter is noticed by Wraxall and commemorated in the 'Rolliad:'

There Cornwall sits, and ah! compelled by fate,
Must sit for ever, through the long debate.
Like sad Prometheus fastened to the rock,
In vain he looks for pity to the clock;
In vain th' effects of strengthening porter tries,
And nods to Bellamy for fresh supplies.

He was re-elected in the parliament of 1784. On 27 Feb. 1786 Pitt brought forward a motion for fortifying the dockyards; the house divided, and the numbers being equal, 169 on each side, Speaker Cornwall gave his casting vote against the government. He died, while still holding office, on 2 Jan. 1789. Being master of St. Cross Hospital, near Winchester, he was buried in St. Cross Church. A long epitaph was inscribed on his monument. He left no children. His wife survived him until 8 March 1809, and was buried with him. Wraxall, in his spiteful way, says: 'Never was any man in a public situation less regretted or sooner forgotten.'

{{smaller block[Manning's Lives of the Speakers, 456-61; Return of Members of Parliament, ii.; Parliamentary History, xxv. 1156; Wraxall's Historical and Posthumous Memoirs (ed. 1884), i. 259-61, iii. 385, iv. 269; Gent. Mag. lix. i. 87.]}}

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