Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wynn, John
WYNN, Sir JOHN (1553–1626), antiquary, born in 1553 at Gwydir in Carnarvonshire, was the eldest son of Maurice (or Morris) Wynn (son of John Wynn ap Meredith ap Ieuan), by his first wife, Jane, daughter of Sir Richard Bulkeley of Beaumaris. He was thirteenth in direct lineal descent from Owen Gwynedd, son of Gruffydd ap Cynan (who was the founder of the chief royal tribe of Wales), and his ancestors had been for generations notorious for the number of their progeny, both legitimate and illegitimate. The first to settle at Gwydir was Meredith, to whose sons the surname of Gwyn or Wynn (Anglicè White) appears to have been first commonly attached, presumably because of their fair complexions.
Meredith's great-grandson, (Sir) John Wynn, became a student of the Inner Temple in October 1576, and probably supplicated for B.A. at Oxford on 10 June 1578. He is supposed to have also travelled abroad in his youth, as he is referred to by his kinsman and neighbour, Archbishop Williams, as having seen ‘multorum mores hominum et urbes.’ On the death of his father on 10 Aug. 1580 he succeeded to the Gwydir estate, to the development of which and the advancement of his own family he thereafter devoted himself almost exclusively. He served as sheriff for Carnarvonshire in 1588 and 1603, and for Merionethshire in 1589 and 1601, and was M.P. for the former county from October 1586 to the following March. He was knighted on 14 May 1606, and created baronet (on the introduction of that dignity) on 29 June 1611. He was sworn in as member of the council of the marches at Ludlow in 1608 (Clive, Ludlow, p. 273).
In 1609 Wynn was involved in a dispute with his tenants at Dolwyddelan, refusing to renew the twenty-one years' leases which he had been ordered to grant them, and evicting those who petitioned the crown for protection (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1603–1610, pp. 588, 640, 643; cf. Yorke, p. 6, n. 2). The exchequer eventually decided in the tenants' favour (Exchequer Decrees, 11 James I, 4th ser. i. fol. 278; Welsh Land Commission, 1896, Evidence, v. 383–5, 391, Report, p. 140), but Wynn did not change his treatment of them. Some time after, the president and council of the marches were requested by the crown to proceed against Wynn for ‘various flagrant acts of oppression.’ In December 1615 they fined him a thousand marks, imprisoned some of his servants, and recommended that he might be dismissed from their body and from the lieutenancy of Carnarvonshire. Wynn himself had gone to London, instead of appearing before the council, and there he petitioned the king (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1611–18, pp. 336, 353). A bribe of 350l. to a groom of the bedchamber appears to have procured him both remission of his fines and pardon for his offences (Yorke, pp. 7, 154), to facilitate the granting of which he also made a voluntary ‘submission to the censure of the court’ (Hist. MSS. Comm. 13th Rep. App. pp. 14, 85 b).
Wynn did not, however, neglect less questionable means of advancing his own interests. He purchased from the crown lands, with coal mines, in North Wales (Cal. State Papers, 1611–18, p. 241); he worked a lead mine near Gwydir, and appears to have been interested in the copper mines of Anglesey. He suggested and perhaps attempted the introduction of Irishmen for the manufacture of Welsh friezes in the vale of Conway. He urged Sir Hugh Myddelton [q. v.] to undertake (along with himself) the reclamation of the extensive sands between the counties of Carnarvon and Merioneth, a work which Myddelton declined, but which was carried out nearly two hundred years later by William Alexander Madocks [q. v.] Wynn was also a general collector of Welsh antiquities, especially such as related to his own family. Partly with the object of showing his descent from Owen Gwynedd, and partly to serve as an abstract of title to his property, he wrote a ‘History of the Gwydir Family,’ the manuscript of which was so prized in North Wales during the next 150 years that ‘many in those parts thought it worth while to make fair and complete transcripts of it.’ It was at last published by Daines Barrington in 1770 (cf. Nichols, Lit. Illustrations, v. 582–3; Lit. Anecdotes, iii. 5), and reprinted with additional notes in his ‘Miscellanies’ in 1781. For these editions Dr. Thomas Percy (1768–1808) [q. v.] contributed genealogical tables and notes. A third edition by Angharad Llwyd appeared in 1827, and another, for which William Watkin Edward Wynne [q. v.] contributed numerous notes, was published in 1878 (Oswestry, 4to). Its chief interest is that it is the only work extant which gives an account of the state of society in North Wales in the fifteenth and the earlier part of the sixteenth centuries. A transcript of the ‘Record of Caernarvon,’ with Wynn's notes thereon, forms volume No. 4776 in the Harleian collection at the British Museum. He also made a survey of Penmaenmawr, and his manuscript was quoted by Gibson in his additions (under Carnarvonshire) to Camden's ‘Britannia.’ It subsequently came into the possession of Thomas Wright (1810–1877) [q. v.], and thirty copies of it, edited by J. O. Halliwell, were privately printed in 1859.
Besides being himself a good scholar, Wynn, like his father, was a generous patron of learning. In 1594 he joined several of the gentry of North Wales in petitioning for a royal commission to hold an eisteddfod similar to that held in 1568 at Caerwys (Gwenogyryn Evans, Report on Welsh MSS. i. 293). To his encouragement was due much of the literary work of his kinsman, Thomas Williams (1550?–1620?) [q. v.], whose Latin-Welsh dictionary he sought to get published during the author's lifetime. Another work, a collection of Welsh proverbs, being Mostyn manuscript No. 204 (op. cit. p. 276), Williams dedicated to Wynn.
Wynn died at Gwydir on 1 March 1626–1627, and was buried at Llanrwst on the night of the day following (Peter Roberts, Cwtta Cyfarwydd, p. 117). His portrait engraved by Robert Vaughan is now extremely rare. There are prints of it at Peniarth and Wynnstay, and there was another formerly in the possession of James West. It is also reproduced in the third and fourth editions of the ‘History,’ and in the first edition of Pennant's ‘Tours in Wales’ (1781), ii. 140. Another engraving by Vertue is mentioned by Granger (Biogr. Hist.) Wynn's memory is preserved at Llanrwst by the fact that in 1610 he founded a hospital and endowed a school there. Owing to what was regarded as much sharp practice on his part, or, according to another version, his persecution of Roman catholics, his spirit is believed to lie under the waterfall of Rhaiadr y Wennol, there to be purged of all his offences (cf. Watts-Dunton, Aylwin, p. 86).
Wynn married Sidney, daughter of Sir William Gerard [q. v.], chancellor of Ireland. She died on 8 June 1632, and was buried at Llanrwst. By her Wynn had eleven sons and two daughters. The eldest son, John, died without surviving issue at Lucca in 1614 (cf. Pennant, Tours in Wales, ed. Rhys, iii. 373), and Wynn was succeeded in the baronetcy by his next surviving son,
Sir Richard Wynn (d. 1649), groom of the chamber to Charles I while Prince of Wales, in which capacity he accompanied him to Spain in 1623. An account of the expedition written by him for Charles I was published by Hearne in the same volume as ‘Historia Vitæ et Regni Ricardi II’ (pp. 297–341). He subsequently became treasurer to Queen Henrietta. From designs by Inigo Jones he built in 1633 the beautiful Gwydir chapel in Llanrwst church, and also in 1636 the bridge over the Conway close by. His portrait by Jansen is preserved at Wynnstay, and an engraving of it by Bartolozzi was given in Pennant's ‘Tours in Wales’ and the last edition (1878) of ‘The Gwydir Family.’ He married Anne, daughter of Sir Francis D'Arcie of Isleworth, but died without issue on 19 July 1649, and was buried in Wimbledon church, leaving the title and estate to his next surviving brother, Owen (1592?–1660), third baronet, whose son Richard, fourth baronet, died without male issue. The baronetcy then passed to Sir John Wynn, whose father Henry (younger brother of Owen) had been judge of the Marshalsea, steward of the Virge, solicitor-general to Queen Henrietta, secretary to the court of the marches, prothonotary of North Wales, and M.P. for Merionethshire. John, the fifth baronet, married the heiress of Watstay, near Ruabon, and changed its name into Wynnstay, but died without issue on 11 Jan. 1718–19 (in his ninety-first year), when the baronetcy became extinct. He left the Wynnstay estate to his kinsman, Sir Watkin Williams, who adopted the additional surname of Wynn, and is separately noticed [see Wynn, Sir Watkin Williams]. The house and estate of Gwydir remained, however, in the descendants of the fourth baronet, Sir Richard Wynn, whose only daughter, Mary (d. 1689), married at Westminster, on 30 July 1678, Robert, sixteenth baron Willoughby de Eresby (afterwards created Marquis of Lindsey and Duke of Ancaster), and so conveyed the estates into that family, in which they remained until 1895, when the present Earl of Ancaster disposed of the whole property. The mansion, some heirlooms, and a small portion of the estate were purchased by his kinsman, Earl Carrington, who through his mother (the daughter and coheiress of the twenty-second baron Willoughby) is a direct descendant of Sir John Wynn.[Most of the materials for a biography of Wynn are to be found, though badly arranged, in the last edition of his Hist. of the Gwydir Family. Neither the State Papers nor the Phillipps MSS. (now at Cardiff) were, however, consulted by the editor. The latter comprise a large collection of letters and other papers made by Sir Thomas Phillipps relating to Wynn and his family, including letters addressed to him by Archbishop Williams, Bishop Parry of St. Asaph, and the Earls of Salisbury, Leicester, and Bridgwater. Some memoranda by Wynn, the correspondence relating to his dispute with Bishop Morgan, and four letters sent to him from Cambridge by John Williams (afterwards archbishop), are printed from other sources in Yorke's Royal Tribes of Wales (ed. 1887, pp. 134–54). Other authorities are Beaufort Progress, ed. 1888, pp. 138–47; Yorke's Royal Tribes of Wales, ed. 1887, pp. 5–12, and 134–54 ut supra; Pennant's Tours in Wales, 1st edit. 1781, ii. 137–45, 453–64; Breese's Kalendars of Gwynedd; Williams's Parl. Hist. of Wales, p. 59; Lloyd's Powys Fadog, iv. 269–74, 357; Allibone's Dict. of English Literature, p. 2877. As to the genealogy of the Wynn family, see also Lewys Dwnn's Heraldic Visitations, ii. 158–9; Collins's Baronetage, 1720, i. 280–92; Burke's Peerage, under Wynn, Lindsey, Willoughby de Eresby, and Headley; Burke's Extinct Baronetage, p. 589; Nicholas's County Families of Wales, 2nd edit. pp. 313, 350, 418.]