WARD, Hon. John William (1781-1833), of Himley Hall, Staffs.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



1802 - 7 July 1803
18 July 1803 - 1806
1806 - 1807
1807 - 1812
1812 - 1818
8 Apr. 1819 - 25 Apr. 1823

Family and Education

b. 9 Aug. 1781, o.s. of William Ward†, 3rd Visct. Dudley and Ward, and Julia, da. of Godfrey Bosvile of Gunthwaite, Yorks. educ. privately at Paddington; Edinburgh Univ. 1797-8; Oriel, Oxf. 1799 (BA, Corpus 1802). unm. suc. fa. as 4th Visct. Dudley and Ward 25 Apr. 1823; cr. earl of Dudley 5 Oct. 1827. d. 6 Mar. 1833.

Offices Held

Sec. of state for foreign affairs Apr. 1827-May 1828; PC 30 Apr. 1827.

Capt. Dudley vols. 1803, lt.-col. 1803


In 1838 Lord Melbourne read Ward’s private journal (later destroyed by his executors because it contained pornographic descriptions of his remorseless but joyless sexual exploits with women ‘both in high and low life’): it was ‘full of nothing but discontent and dissatisfaction’ with himself, for ‘he was always doubting whether he made the most of his position and his fortune, and amused himself in the best way’.1 Lord Hatherton (Edward John Littleton*), one of the executors, wrote of the journals, 23 Aug. 1838:

There is really nothing worth preserving; and it is a remarkable circumstance that a man of ... [his] talents and observation should have kept a journal for so many years, without contriving to insert matter of more interest and importance. His object seems to have been merely to keep a mirror in which to contemplate himself ... What I have read has produced a melancholy and painful impression on me. They prove indisputably that rank, wealth, talents and reputation were largely possessed by one of the most unhappy of men.2

Ward was undermined by self-doubt and prone to bouts of abject depression which rendered him purposeless and made his entire existence appear a nullity. He gave his own explanation of this ‘malady’ to his friend Lord Aberdeen in 1822:

I have little doubt that it derives its origin from the brutal neglect and unkindness with which I was treated in my early years. There is something in habitual terror, subjection and persecution of which one never gets the better. I was bred under a task-master [his father], and the sound of the lash is never quite out of my ears. This early misfortune added to a somewhat more than average quantity of mistakes on my part furnishes abundant matter for disagreeable reflections whenever I am disposed to indulge in them.3

Politically, Ward had come full circle by 1820: he had entered the House as a supporter of Pitt; joined the Whig opposition in 1804; abandoned them for Canning in 1812 only to be stranded by the disbandment of his party a year later, and generally supported the Liverpool ministry, faute de mieux, after Canning joined it in 1816. There was no truth in the rumour that he had ‘gone over to the opposition’ early in 1820.4 He ignored a possibility of coming in for Worcestershire at the general election and retained his seat for Bossiney on the interest of James Stuart Wortley*. Before the new Parliament met he wrote to his friend Edward Copleston, later bishop of Llandaff:

The government must not quarrel with the Tories. I wish with all my heart there were moderate Whigs enough to save the country, for nobody has a greater disgust to Tory prejudices than I have. But unhappily the Tories compose the main body of the army with which the Jacobins are to be opposed.

He voted against the aliens bill (as he had in 1816), 1 June, and denounced it as ‘paltry’ and ‘unnecessary’, 7 July 1820. The Whig Sir James Mackintosh* considered this

a most brilliant speech in which he showed how an old subject could be made new. It was perfectly prepared. He had even arranged beforehand all the mistakes and corrections and repetitions and hesitations which were to give it an unpremeditated air. He acted an extempore speech as well as possible.5

During the summer he was unwell: depressed by the poor weather, he craved the unattainable ‘paradise’ of ‘English comforts, English society, English interests, and an Italian sun’ and considered wintering in the Mediterranean. He was disgusted by most aspects of the Queen Caroline affair and would ‘rather read about it by an Italian daylight, than vote upon it in an English fog’. In the event he stayed at home to witness Canning’s resignation, which he believed would not harm his future prospects once the queen’s business was laid to rest. According to Lord Holland’s son Henry Fox*, Ward and Canning ‘sneered at the queen, and contended that the popular feeling was deadened about her, and would be so still more before Parliament met’. When, on the contrary, there was an upsurge of support for her Ward, still ‘full of his sneers about reform and the Whigs’, predicted that the ministry would be ‘outdebated’ but not ‘outvoted’.6 He felt vindicated in this view by the outcome of the debate on the omission of her name from the liturgy, 26 Jan. 1821, when he left the House before the division, though it was said that he was one of the ‘stragglers’ who sympathized with the Whigs on the issue and ‘would have voted with opposition if Canning had not been attacked’ by Lord Archibald Hamilton. He was reported to have been ‘writhing with vexation at the ill taste’ of Charles Ellis’s ‘unsatisfactory’ explanation of Canning’s absence.7 He did not vote in the division on the opposition censure motion, 6 Feb. 1821.

Ward still saw parliamentary reform as an evil threat to a constitution under which ‘the people not only enjoy nearly as much happiness as it is in the nature of government to confer’, but ‘possess an ample share of power, to prevent them from ever being deprived of their present advantages by the arbitrary will of their rulers’. At the same time he acknowledged the growth of pro-reform sentiment among non-partisan men of ‘understanding and education’ and, aware that a ‘discredited constitution’ could not be defended on the score of ‘practical benefit’, was prepared to remedy the more flagrant defects of the existing system as a defensive measure. It was in this spirit that he advocated the transfer of Grampound’s seats to Leeds, 12 Feb. 1821, when Charles Williams Wynn* thought that opposition’s success in carrying the proposal by two to one against ministers owed ‘much’ to Ward’s speech. The radical Whig Henry Grey Bennet* interpreted it (wrongly) as ‘pretty decisive that Canning is becoming more tempered on these topics’.8 Ward made what George Agar Ellis* considered ‘a good short speech’ against Mackintosh’s motion of 21 Feb. for information on the government’s response to the Holy Alliance’s suppression of the new constitution in Naples, which he saw as one of no confidence in ministers; but he strongly condemned these events as ‘the most alarming circumstances that had occurred in Europe for a long period of time’.9 He hoped, as he told Coplestone, that his own and other speeches would check the ‘Barbarian Triumvirate’ and compel ministers to ‘observe an honest neutrality’, to which he suspected ‘they were not inclined to adhere’. On 20 Mar. 1821 he upheld the principle of British neutrality but criticized government for ‘skulking in the rear of the allied powers’ and denounced ‘the monstrous principle of interference on the part of the despotic monarchs of Europe, to put down any principle of liberty’. His speech delighted Lady Holland, from whom he had been estranged for several years.10

Ward, who claimed no expertise on economic questions, but was attracted by the idea of making silver as well as gold legal tender, argued against repeal of the additional malt duty, 3 Apr. 1821, and urged those ‘members of the Pitt Club’ who had defeated government on it earlier to take a course ‘more consistent with their own principles’. He voted against the disfranchisement of ordnance officials, 12 Apr., and parliamentary reform, 9 May, and on 11 May opposed the imprisonment of the author of a libel on Grey Bennet because the Whigs had declined to inflict so severe a punishment on the perpetrator of a far worse attack on Canning in 1819.11 He voted for Catholic relief, 28 Feb., and criminal law reform, 23 May, 4 June. In his last known speech in the Commons, 22 June, he endorsed ministers’ refusal to press Austria for the immediate repayment of Pitt’s war loans, but delivered a scathing attack on every aspect of Austrian government and society. The ministerial view that his diatribe was inspired as much by ‘the slights offered to him at Vienna’ in 1818 as by his hatred of despotism was confirmed by Canning, who told Mackintosh, ‘You know he hates the Austrians. The Austrian postilions are so slow. The society at Vienna is dull and sometimes inaccessible. The lodgings are bad and dear’. He voted with ministers against economy and retrenchment, 27 June 1821, but soon afterwards it was said that, anxious to see Canning restored to office, ‘he talks of nothing but their weakness’.12

Ward spent the winter at Nice and did not return to London until 24 June 1822.13 During his absence he continued to lament the incapacity of ministers, though he could see no credible alternative to them, and feared that Canning would put a ‘singular and unsatisfactory’ end to his career by deciding to become governor-general of India. By June 1822 he had been encouraged to think that the events of the current parliamentary session had undermined the case for parliamentary reform and

must have convinced all reasonable men, that though the present House of Commons is not the direct and complete representative of the people ... it is quite as far removed from being a servile tool in the hands of the government. Public opinion strongly expressed is sure to control its votes.

In April 1822 he had a bad fall from his horse on his way to Florence, where he was taken ill and attacked by his ‘old enemy’ melancholia. He attended the Commons to vote against the aliens bill, 1 July 1822, but was by now close to nervous collapse:

Anxiety, regret for the past, apprehensive uneasiness as to my future life, have seized upon me ... I dread solitude, for society I am unfit, and every error of which I have been guilty in life stands constantly before my eyes.

Yet on 5 July he ‘ventured into the sanctuary of Whiggism’ at Brooks’s and gave Mackintosh ‘an hour of more pleasant conversation than I should have had with an orthodox Whig’.14 Overall, however, he remained in a ‘deplorable state’ for several weeks, but in mid-August claimed a ‘partial recovery’, though he felt that

a somewhat darker shade is to be spread over the remainder of my life. Up to a certain period hope triumphs over experience - after that, experience gradually extinguishes hope. One sees pretty clearly the best that can come of this life, and that this best is not very good.

He expected Canning to be restored to the cabinet after Lord Londonderry’s* suicide, but discounted himself for office for the ‘honest and sufficient reason’ that he was temperamentally and physically unfit for it. In September he toured southern England with Lady Davy and contemplated returning to the continent.

On 21 Sept. 1822 Canning, now foreign secretary, asked Ward if he would take the post of under-secretary, which Lord Binning* had declined. In doing so Canning, as he confided to Lord Granville, was merely offering Ward a placebo: ‘I wish him not to accept the offer but ... think the offer itself may be mentally and medicinally good for him’. Ward, tempted to accept but wracked with indecision, unwittingly called Canning’s bluff by asking for time to consider and consult his friends. Canning, who now professed himself happy for Ward to take the job provided his health was equal to it and he genuinely wanted it, gave him ‘all the latitude he asked’. Ward explained his first impressions to Copleston:

The office is altogether subordinate, and it involves going out of Parliament. These seem objections; but then I prefer subordination to responsibility, and Parliament is no great object to me, as I am quite sure never to cut any figure in it. Then the under-secretaryship is an occupation, and that too of an agreeable and interesting sort. Yet, perhaps, any fatigue, particularly coming in the shape of a task, is what I ought not to venture upon, and I am not free from apprehension lest the acceptance of such a situation should be held as a degradation.

He said he was determined ‘not to accept it if my father should declare himself positively against it’; but when Lord Dudley did precisely that, arguing that it would destroy his ‘independence’, he could not submit gracefully.15 Ellis, who had initially ascribed Ward’s hesitancy to his ‘morbid inability to come to a decision’, told Granville:

He read to me a part of his reply, in which he pressed his father to revise his opinion, on the ground of the occupation which the business of the office would afford him, and the great discomfort which he now felt from the want of such distraction. This letter was written in the tone of a person, not undecided as I had supposed, but anxious for the situation; and if his father’s objections are not very strong, they ought to yield to an anxiety so strongly expressed and so rational in itself.

Dudley reluctantly gave way, but Ward still hesitated. He obtained a further extension of time and moaned that ‘Do what I may, my character must be lowered and my feelings wounded’. On 14 Oct. 1822 he declined the offer. Ellis thought it ‘really quite lamentable to see such fine talents rendered useless by such weakness of character’; and Canning ‘almost’ feared that ‘he begins to repent’.16 At first Ward, who nurtured vague hopes of ‘diplomatic employment’ at a future date, did not regret his decision, though he smarted at the thought that it would appear that he had made it because he considered the job beneath his dignity and talents. This was certainly the view of many casual observers; and Mackintosh commented that he would have been ‘no more than a piece of ornamental furniture in Canning’s office’.17

Within two months Ward concluded that he had made an irredeemable mistake and, having lapsed into ‘what is now my natural state of depression’, he considered going to Paris, ‘not as I should formerly have done to amuse myself, but to hide myself’. To Aberdeen, who tried to rally him, he wrote:

The source of my happiness and misery lie more exclusively than you appear to imagine within the circle of private life. I do not mean to cant about ambition, or to pretend that I should not have been better pleased to play a distinguished part. But ... I shall not be made unhappy by the want of fame and power. They have always been too far off.18

He stayed in England, but his sense of failure and remorse was undiminished when he wrote to Copleston, 4 Jan. 1823:

I think the decision wrong to which I came after such long and anxious doubts ... As to Parliament I am only anxious to withdraw from it as quietly and as decently as I can ... It is a bad bargain to worry one’s spirits and impair one’s health for the sake of a little, third-rate, precarious, fictitious reputation, unattended by any solid self-satisfaction, or by any real influence on human affairs. I meditate a speedy retreat ... and I shall then try what literature and society will do for me during the remainder of my days.

He was considered for seconding the address, but Canning thought he ‘would not have undertaken it in my absence from the House’.19 He supported ministers silently and hopelessly, voting with them on parliamentary reform, 20 Feb., the Irish estimates, 11 Apr., the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., and the legal proceedings against the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr. 1823. According to Thomas Creevey,* he believed that the government was doomed, Peel being ‘incompetent’ and Canning having ‘no one of any party with him’: ‘a pleasant statement this to be made by a man who calls Canning his master, or at least who has called him so’.20 His father’s sudden death that month removed him to the Lords, ‘where he has long wished to be’, as Agar Ellis, who found him ‘nervous and rather low’, believed.21 He wrote gloomily to Lord Lansdowne of his change of circumstances and the inheritance of extensive Staffordshire and Worcestershire estates, which included coal and mineral deposits and brought him £120,000 a year, 6 May 1823:

Whether I shall be happier for it depends something upon my prudence, and something upon my luck ... Such an accession of wealth is not received by me as it perhaps would have been twenty years ago. After a certain age and beyond a certain amount is valuable chiefly as power. As a purchaser of gratification it has lost a good deal of its power, especially to me who have not much natural taste for personal expense. Besides ... I am to a certain degree confounded and made nervous by so large a share of the goods of fortune devolving upon a person that has done so little to earn them ... I almost envy the self-complacency of twenty blockheads as rich and as undeserving as myself who strut about the world as if all this were a matter of course, and who seem never once to suspect that their existence is one of the miracles of human society, and that it requires a tract of refined though just reasoning to show that they ought not to be condemned to work for their bread, and their estates given to be divided among wiser and stronger men. However, I shall endeavour to fulfill my duties towards society and towards the order to which I belong. My efforts ... will probably be of no long duration. At present I am well, but I am quite aware that mine is a frame calculated to last but a few years more.22

Four years later he belatedly attained the public eminence he craved by accepting Canning’s invitation to become foreign secretary in his ministry. He was curious ‘to have a peep at official life’, but was little more than Canning’s instrument. After Canning’s death he stayed in office under Lord Goderich, on whose first resignation in December 1827 he was even spoken of as a possible premier: ludicrously, thought Mrs. Arbuthnot, for he ‘is as mad as Bedlam, knows nothing of business and is proverbially idle’.23 Princess Lieven called him ‘an amateur minister’ who ‘combines much real ability with so exaggerated a diffidence that he is capable of asking his colleagues if he dare say "perhaps"’; while William Lamb* (Melbourne) remarked that ‘without the experience of a clerk, he has the tone of one’.24 He retained his office in the Wellington ministry but resigned (very reluctantly, it seems) with his fellow Canningites in May 1828.25 His tenure of the office, though not disastrous, was largely undistinguished and memorable chiefly for his notorious affair with Lady Lyndhurst, wife of the lord chancellor, which spawned the joke that he was trying to ‘put a Ward in chancery’. He may well have succeeded, for she later claimed that one of her daughters was his child.26

Dudley made his last speech in the Lords against the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 5 Oct. 1831. His later years were marked by his increasing ‘absences and oddities’, particularly his ‘inveterate trick of talking to himself’: ‘Dudley talking to Ward’, as the wags said. In April 1832 he exhibited ‘every mark of harmless derangement’ and was placed under restraint at Norwood.27 Thomas Raikes commented:

Here is a man with high rank, character, very cultivated talents, and a colossal fortune, courted in society, surrounded with every means of receiving and conferring happiness - the most enviable position perhaps in life that could be pictured - and what is the result? One single dispensation annihilates the whole!28

The duke of Bedford remarked:

It is melancholy to see so fine an intellect and well cultivated a mind laid prostrate. With all his obliquities, he had some good points about him, and it is to be hoped that with proper care and skill he may recover his reason.29

He never did, but was at least oblivious to the unsavoury stories which circulated concerning his relationship with Lady Lyndhurst, who seems to have blackmailed him shortly before his confinement.30 Littleton visited Norwood in June 1832 and

saw him, evidently much weakened by frequent depletions from fear of paralysis ... I afterwards saw proofs of increasing mental decay, in writings of his. His great amusement is billiards, at which his resident surgeon and attendants play with him, taking especial care to leave the victory on his side. His constant book is Tacitus. His whole life has been one constant enjoyment of the classics, and now his relish for them has survived every other enjoyment. He is driven out about 15 miles daily, and fancies he is journeying to London. If he were a sovereign, he could not be better attended, or his susceptibility of enjoyment improved.31

He died after suffering a stroke in March 1833.32 His barony of Ward of Birmingham passed to his cousin William Humble Ward (1781-1835), ‘a mad parson’, on whom he settled £4,000 a year. Most of his vast fortune went to his heir’s son William Ward (1817-85), who was created earl of Dudley in 1860. By a codicil to his will, which was proved under £350,000, he left annuities of £2,000 to Lady Lyndhurst (‘the wages of prostitution’, thought Agar Ellis) and £800 to Susan, wife of the poet William Spencer, and a legacy of £25,000 to one of her sons, ‘whom he always tacitly acknowledged’.33

On reading Ward’s journal Littleton was struck by the absence of

a single trace of anything like rural tastes or the slightest knowledge of rural affairs. Frequent expressions of envy when he sees persons enjoying the sports of the field, and lamentations of his father’s neglect of a cultivation of a taste for those objects in his early years ... If his parents had given him in early life opportunities of imbibing the usual tastes of his class and enjoying the associations that belong to them, he would probably have been a more conspicuous man; at all events, his time would not have been engrossed with the idle pursuits of the town. Nothing would have destroyed his vigorous understanding or checked his pursuit of knowledge.34

Lord Holland wrote of him:

A man of highly cultivated mind and of exquisite and refined though somewhat elaborate wit. He was accused of wanting affections but I think that, although confined to a few and certainly not in proportion to his bitter hatreds and unwarrantable resentments, he was not entirely devoid of benevolence and even generosity.35

Henry Brougham* paid him a generous and perhaps inflated tribute as

one of the most remarkable men that have appeared in this country ... He possessed one of the most acute and vigorous understandings that any man ever was armed with ... His wit was of the brightest order ... His powers of reasoning ... were admirable ... Vast expectations were raised of his success. Nor can it be said with any truth that these were disappointed ... His capacity and his acquirements were fully developed, and bore him to high honours, to great fame, and to exalted station. But he had an over-sensitiveness, an exquisitely fastidious taste, a nervous temperament ... Unsteadiness of purpose, therefore, unwillingness to risk, and reluctance to exert, incapacity to make up his mind ... greatly chequered his existence as a public man during the latter years of his brilliant, but unhappy life.36

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


Based on Ward’s Letters to bp. of Llandaff (1841), 241-377, except where otherwise stated. See also Oxford DNB.

  • 1. Melbourne Pprs. 379; Greville Mems. iv. 254; v. 438.
  • 2. Add. 61937, f. 136.
  • 3. Add. 43231, f. 36.
  • 4. Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Lonsdale, 22 Jan. 1820.
  • 5. Add. 52444, f. 192.
  • 6. Fox Jnl. 50, 61; TNA 30/29/6/7/47.
  • 7. Grey mss, Ellice to Grey, 15 Jan.; Castle Howard mss, G. Howard to Lady Morpeth, 28 [Jan.]; Add. 38742, f.173; Macpherson Grant mss 361, G. Macpherson Grant to Lady Stafford, 27 Jan. 1821.
  • 8. Buckingham, Mems. Geo IV, i. 123; HLRO, Hist Coll. 379, Grey Bennet diary, 18.
  • 9. Northants. RO, Agar Ellis diary, 21 Feb. 1821; Grey Bennet diary, 27.
  • 10. Lady Holland to Son, 4.
  • 11. Grey Bennet diary, 80.
  • 12. Add. 51654, Mackintosh to Lady Holland, 15 July 1821.
  • 13. Northumb. RO, Blackett Ord mss 324/A/33, Ward to Ord, 26 Oct. 1821.
  • 14. Add. 52445, f. 94.
  • 15. Harewood mss, Canning to Granville, 21, 25 Sept. 1822; TNA 30/29/8/6/293-5.
  • 16. TNA 30/29/6/3/57; 8/6/297; 9/5/16-18.
  • 17. Add. 51654, Mackintosh to Lady Holland, 3 Oct. 1822.
  • 18. Add. 43231, f. 36.
  • 19. Add. 38744, f. 49; Arbuthnot Corresp. 43.
  • 20. Creevey Pprs. ii. 69.
  • 21. Agar Ellis diary, 26, 28 Apr. [1823].
  • 22. Lansdowne mss.
  • 23. Add. 43231, f. 228; Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 152.
  • 24. Lieven Letters, 107; Herts. Archives, Panshanger mss D/Elb F78, W. to F. Lamb, 3 Dec. 1827.
  • 25. Agar Ellis diary, 26, 27 May 1828; Arniston Mems. 346.
  • 26. Fox Jnl. 234-5; Lady Holland to Son, 70; Creevey Pprs. ii. 141; Creevey’s Life and Times, 252-3, 255; Williams Wynn Corresp. 366; Three Diaries, 205-6; Hatherton diary, 8 May [1832].
  • 27. Lady Holland to Son, 93, 132; Croker Pprs. ii. 170-1; Macaulay Letters, ii. 43; Greville Mems. ii. 273-4; Hatherton diary, 18, 20, 23 Mar., 8 May; Agar Ellis diary, 2 Apr. [1832].
  • 28. Raikes Jnl. i. 19-20, 22.
  • 29. Add. 51671, Bedford to Lady Holland, 5 Apr. [1832].
  • 30. Lady Holland to Son, 140; Three Diaries, 225-6; Aberdeen Univ. Lib. Arbuthnot mss 3029/1/2/53; Hatherton diary, 8 May [1832].
  • 31. Hatherton diary, 17 June [1832].
  • 32. Gent. Mag. (1833), ii. 367-9, 558; Oxford DNB.
  • 33. Agar Ellis diary, 9 Mar. [1833]; Greville Mems. ii. 364; Creevey’s Life and Times, 363; PROB 11/1821/566; IR26/1317/615/.
  • 34. Hatherton diary, 8 Mar. 1840.
  • 35. Holland House Diaries, 165.
  • 36. Edinburgh Rev. lxvii (1838), 77-79..