Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wynne, William Watkin Edward

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WYNNE, WILLIAM WATKIN EDWARD (1801–1880), antiquary, was the eldest son of William Wynne of Peniarth, Merionethshire, and Elizabeth, youngest daughter and coheiress of Philip Puleston of Pickhill Hall, Denbighshire, where he was born on 23 Dec. 1801. The Wynnes were lineally descended from Osborn [q. v.], called Wyddel (or ‘the Irishman’), and their senior representatives in the present day are the Wynnes of Peniarth [cf. art. Wynn, Sir John].

Wynne was admitted to Westminster school on 27 Sept. 1814, and matriculated from Jesus College, Oxford, on 24 March 1820 (Foster, Alumni Oxon.) He was M.P. for Merioneth from 1852 to 1865, and high sheriff in 1867.

In 1859 the Hengwrt collection of manuscripts, which had been originally formed by Robert Vaughan (1592–1667) [q. v.], was bequeathed to Wynne by his distant kinsman Sir Robert Williames Vaughan of Nannau on his death without issue. It was thereupon removed to Peniarth, where it is now preserved, and in 1869–71 Wynne published in the ‘Archæologia Cambrensis’ (3rd ser. vol. xv. and 4th ser. vols. i. and ii.) a catalogue of its contents which ‘in amplitude of description may be almost classed among catalogues raisonnés.’ Besides containing an early version of the ‘Canterbury Tales’ (published in 1868 by the Chaucer Society) and some Cornish mystery plays, the collection is unequalled in its wealth of early Welsh manuscripts, which include numerous mediæval romances (some of them published in Robert Williams's ‘Selections from Hengwrt MSS.,’ 2 vols. London, 1876–92), two of the ‘Four Ancient Books of Wales’ (edited by W. F. Skene in 1868), and no fewer than twelve versions of the laws of Howel Dda. The collection has recently been calendared by Mr. Gwenogvryn Evans for the Historical Manuscripts Commission (Report on MSS. in the Welsh Language, 1900, vol. ii.) While his manuscripts were jealously guarded against every possibility of damage, their possessor gave to all genuine scholars every facility for their inspection and reproduction. He was himself thoroughly versed in their contents; his knowledge of the genealogy of North Wales families was quite unrivalled, while in general archæology and especially ecclesiology his information was both extensive and accurate. He fixed the date of the ‘extent’ of Merioneth for Sir Henry Ellis's edition of the ‘Record of Carnarvon’ in 1838 (introduction, p. xx), and himself made large collections for a history of Merionethshire which are preserved at Peniarth. He supplied genealogical notes of the first importance to Sir Samuel R. Meyrick's edition of Dwnn's ‘Heraldic Visitation of Wales’ (1846), for Breese's ‘Kalendars of Gwynedd’ (1873), and for the ‘History of the Gwydir Family,’ edited by Askew Roberts in 1878. Numerous contributions from his pen also appeared in the ‘Archæologia Cambrensis’ (see Index for 1846–83), commencing with a ‘List of the Lords Lieutenant of Merionethshire’ in the first number of the journal (1846), and ending with a history of his own parish of Llanegryn in 1879. He also wrote frequently for ‘Bye-Gones,’ in which some archæological notes of his relating to Merioneth were published in 1895–6 (see Bye-Gones, 22 May 1895).

In 1872 he prepared for private circulation a ‘Pedigree of the Family of Wynne’ (London), and, in conjunction with G. T. Clark, published in 1878 a small history of Harlech Castle, of which in 1874 the crown had appointed him constable.

He died at Peniarth on 9 June 1880, and was buried at Llanegryn. On 8 May 1839 he married Mary, second daughter and coheiress of Robert Aglionby Slaney, M.P., of Walford Manor, Shropshire, and by her had two sons: William Robert Maurice Wynne of Peniarth (1840–1909), lord lieutenant of Merioneth, and Mr. Owen Slaney Wynne of Dol'rhyd, Dolgelly.

[Pedigree of Family of Wynne; Arch. Cambr. (1880), 4th ser. xi. 229 (with portrait); Bye-Gones for June 1880; Times, 11 June 1880; Nicholas's County Families of Wales, 2nd ed. ii. 653, 712; Burke's Landed Gentry, sub nom. ‘Wynne of Peniarth;’ Williams's Parliamentary History of Wales, p. 118; Report of Welsh Land Commission, 1896, p. 162; Old Welsh Chips, p. 334.]

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