WILLIAMS, Sir Robert, 9th bt. (1764-1830), of Friars, Anglesey and Plas y Nant, Caern.
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Family and Educationb. 20 July 1764, 1st s. of Sir Hugh Williams†, 8th bt., of Plas y Nant and Emma, da. and h. of Thomas Rowlands of Caerau, Llanfair-yng-Nghornwy, Anglesey and Plas y Nant, wid. of James Bulkeley†, 6th Visct. Bulkeley [I]. educ. Blackheath; Westminster 1774; Harrow 1776-80. m. 11 June 1799, Anne, da. of Rev. Edward Hughes of Kinmel Park, Denb., 3s. 7da. suc. mother 1770; fa. as 9th bt. 19 Aug. 1794. d. 1 Dec. 1830.
A.d.c. to ld. lt. [I] 1787-93.
Ensign 1 Ft. Gds. 1782, lt. and capt. 1789, capt. and lt.-col. 1794, ret. 1795. Snowdon rangers 1803; capt. Caern. militia 1808; maj. Anglesey militia 1809.
Mayor, Beaumaris 1800, 1804, 1807, 1811, 1815, recorder 1822-d.
Williams had been brought into Parliament for his native county in 1790 on the interest and largely at the expense of his half-brother Thomas James, Viscount Bulkeley†, whose 1784 arrangement with the Pagets of Plas Newydd gave them control of the representation of Anglesey and Caernarvon Boroughs, while Bulkeley returned Williams for Caernarvonshire and the Member for Beaumaris. Williams had supported the Grenvillite third party with Bulkeley early in his parliamentary career, but he had recently gravitated towards the Whiggism of his brothers-in-law William Hughes* and Owen Williams*, joining Brooks’s in June 1816, and declining to go over to administration with Bulkeley the following year or the rest of the party in December 1821.1 His personal fortune and estates were not large and financial difficulties had led him to grant Thomas Farncombe a £720 life annuity chargeable on them to secure a £5,000 loan in January 1819.2 His parliamentary attendance was at best erratic, but he was a powerful public speaker and presided at the meetings which adopted the customary addresses of condolence and congratulations to the new king from Anglesey, 3 Mar., and Caernarvonshire, 6 Mar. 1820. At his election, he declared his support for the constitution and the ‘restrictive measures’ adopted after Peterloo and claimed that he was ‘always ashamed to act on the same side of the House as some of the radical visionaries’, but said that as an advocate of retrenchment and lower taxes he would oppose any increases in civil list expenditure and all taxes ‘which abridged the comforts of the lower orders’. In Beaumaris, 16 Mar., he nominated the marquess of Anglesey’s eldest son, Lord Uxbridge, who replaced his uncle as Member for Anglesey.3
Williams presented Caernarvonshire’s petition for measures to combat agricultural distress, 9 May, and divided with the Whig opposition on the civil list, 5, 8, and the recent appointment of an additional Scottish baron of exchequer, 15 May 1820.4 He had been wounded at Valenciennes during the war against Buonaparte, and paid £600 to take his family on a tour of French and Low Countries battlefields in the summer of 1820, later renting a house near Paris, where they remained until 1822.5 He was disappointed at the failure of his eldest son Richard Williams Bulkeley* to obtain a scholarship to Magdalene College, Cambridge in December 1820.6 The Welsh language monthly magazine Seren Gomer reported that he was in the government majorities on the Queen Caroline case, 6 Feb., the additional malt duty, 3 Apr., and Hume’s motion for economy and retrenchment, 27 June, and divided against Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821; but his name does not appear in the surviving lists, and these were a few of many instances when votes cast by Robert Williams, the Member for Dorchester, were misattributed to him in the provincial press.7 On the eve of his return from France, 25 Mar. 1822, he asked the Tory chairman of Caernarvonshire quarter sessions, Colonel Richard Edwards of Nanhoron, to furnish him with petitions ‘against the leather tax and salt tax, anything for the relief of the agricultural interest’, adding:
I believe that the time is not far distant when the stock jobber and fund holder will get possession of the land. Ministers care not in whose hands the land may be placed, so that the interests of the debt may be paid and they may retain their places. Forgive me ... these observations on your friends, but are ministers the friends of the landed property? If you answer in the negative, then you must be pleased with my opposition.8
He also asked Charles Williams Wynn, president of the India Board and the Grenvillites Commons leader, if he intended ‘to propose any measure respecting the administration of justice in Wales’, 27 Mar., and hearing that he did not, promised to ‘bring it under the consideration of the whole House ... soon after the vacation’, but failed to do so.9 He divided for reform, 25 Apr. 1822, 24 Apr. 1823, and Lord John Russell’s resolutions to curb electoral bribery, 26 May 1826. He voted for remission of the remainder of Henry Hunt’s* sentence, 24 Apr. 1822, and after presenting the Caernarvon and Caernarvonshire tanners’ petition for repeal of the leather tax, 29 Apr., he wrote to Edwards:
Since the Grenville party have been bought over they are held in the greatest abhorrence by all the world, and so Lord John Russell has told them to their face. This will assist that moderate reform in Parliament that he has so judiciously brought forward, and I never gave a vote with greater pleasure. Tom Smith (not old Assheton) swears he will attack me at the first county meeting. I shall be too happy to have an opportunity of defending myself if it is necessary. I trust we shall run them hard on the leather tax, but I doubt it. The salt tax will be the first to be given up.10
According to Bulkeley, Williams’s vote to relieve Catholic peers of their disabilities, 30 Apr., provoked such hostility in Caernarvonshire that he felt compelled not to vote on it in the Lords ‘to allay the storm’.11 Williams divided for inquiry into the government of the Ionian Isles, 14 May, and reductions in ambassadorial expenditure, 15 May 1822.
He was a minority teller against the usury laws repeal bill, 17 June, and carried the amendment by which it was lost, 27 June. 1823.12 He supported inquiry into the coronation expenses, 19 June, and Irish disturbances, 24 June, and voted to refer the Catholics’ petition against the administration of justice in Ireland to the grand committee, 26 June 1823. Bulkeley had died the previous June, leaving his North Wales estates in trust for Richard and making Williams his trustee, but the controlling interest was Lady Bulkeley’s.13 In July 1823 he negotiated the release of the Farncombe annuity and a settlement making over all his debts to Richard as heir to his parents’ estates and Baron Hill.14 He felt wronged by Bulkeley’s will and his forced dependence on his son, but Lady Bulkeley observed: ‘I never talk upon business with Sir R. Williams for he is quite incapable of understanding anything of the sort’.15 He was instrumental in securing the enactment of the 1824 Porthdinllaen roads bill,16 paired against a government amendment to Lord Althorp’s motion for inquiry into the state of Ireland, 11 May, and presented the Hollywell tanners’ petition against the hides and skins bill, 19 May. His vote in condemnation of the indictment in Demerara of the Methodist missionary John Smith, 11 June 1824, was commended in the Welsh press.17 When in August Thomas Clarkson brought the Anti-Slavery Society’s campaign to Wales, he was informed, ‘Sir Robert Williams ... must be with us, being a man of extraordinary tenacity; and ... if we were to speak to him when in London, he would secure Beaumaris in our favour’.18 Ill health, for which he received three weeks leave, 17 Feb., and a fortnight, 15 Apr., curtailed Williams’s attendance in 1825, but he paired for Catholic relief, 10 May, and assisted with the Caernarvon-Llanllyfni railway bill, 14 Feb., and the abortive Ffestiniog railway bill, 18 Feb. He accused ministers with interests in rival concerns of mounting ‘vexatious opposition’ to the Caernarvon railway, 12 May, and was relieved to see it enacted, 20 May 1825.19 He voted in a minority of 29 that day for making puisne judges immovable, and against the duke of Cumberland’s annuity, 6, 9, 10 June, and he defended William Kenrick†, a judge on the North Wales circuit whose conduct as a Surrey magistrate was criticized, 14 June.20 It was rumoured in August 1825 that Williams planned to give up Friars.21
A dissolution seemed likely, and by September Lord Newborough* of Glynllifon, whose supporters included Bulkeley’s successor as lord lieutenant of Caernarvonshire, Thomas Assheton Smith I*, was canvassing the county. Williams promptly defended himself, ensured that the Plas Newydd interest remained loyal and ignored Anglesey’s intimation that he should withdraw because ‘your political line of conduct is very generally disapproved of throughout the county’.22 Assheton Smith informed Anglesey:
Friends in Caernarvonshire must have thought me the most inconsistent of men if I had given my support to Sir Robert who has so constantly voted with every radical measure that has ever been proposed whenever he has been in the House.23
Williams was refused a face-saving compromise whereby he was to be returned unopposed and resign voluntarily in Newborough’s favour before the next election.24 He admitted that his health was ‘so bad that I am now obliged to give up attending the House of Commons’ and that he stood for Parliament in 1826 against medical advice.25 He presented a petition from Llangollen for the abolition of colonial slavery, 15 Mar., and divided for Hume’s state of the nation motion, 4 May. Sparing little time for canvassing, he decided ‘to try his strength in Caernarvonshire, but not to put himself to any expense’, remaining in London and Brighton, where his daughter Harriet’s wedding and his younger children’s whooping cough kept him busy. However, he ordered freeholders’ lists, and William Hughes vainly tried to negotiate a compromise with Newborough through Sir Coutts Trotter.26 Lady Bulkeley’s death, 23 Feb. 1826, had put Richard in control of Beaumaris, and ‘to soften in a great degree the mortification of losing my seat for Caernarvonshire’, Williams asked to be returned for Beaumaris, with reversion to Richard. Discussing Caernarvonshire with his Beaumaris agent, he wrote, 12 May:
Colonel Hughes I believe understands with myself that I am to appear on the day of election and to be proposed and seconded ... and then to inform my friends that it is quite impossible for me to spend money, but to show them that I do not mean to desert them or fly my colours I will offer the Baron Hill interest which is all that I am in possession of. 27
And on the 22nd:
All I want to do is to face my enemies. I am not ashamed of any public act I ever did and I shall see how I am supported by the independent gentlemen. In case of need can you get a requisition by 12 respectable freeholders for a day of nomination?28
He attributed his late withdrawal to health and financial reasons, stayed away from the election, and defended his conduct and reputation in the correspondence columns of the North Wales Gazette, where his opponents made much of his ‘posting from Versailles to Westminster at the fag end of the  session to give his conscientious vote in favour of the vagabond Hunt’. He went to Beaumaris to be elected, 13 June, and commended his supporters in speeches that day and at the Anglesey nomination on the 16th.29 Afterwards he insured Richard’s life and negotiated a new mortgage for the Baron Hill, Caerau, Nant and Friars estates, 17 July 1826.30
Williams distanced himself from a flurry of controversial local legislation affecting Caernarvonshire in 1826-7. His health remained poor, and he received two months’ leave, 6 Mar. 1827. He divided against the funding proposed for the Canadian waterways, 12 June 1827. The duke of Wellington as premier agreed to his second son Robert Griffith Williams obtaining a commission as an extra aide-de-camp to Anglesey as Irish lord lieutenant, and he remained in Dublin following Anglesey’s dismissal in January 1829.31 Reports that Williams voted against Catholic relief, 12 May, were false.32 He reaffirmed his opposition to repealing the usury laws when certain London merchants, traders and bankers petitioned requesting it, 15 May, and promised ‘to divide the House at every stage’ should it be proposed. As was his custom when in town, he cast a handful of late session votes: against restricting the circulation of one and two pound bank notes, 5 June, for revision and reduction of civil list pensions, 10 June, and against the additional churches bill, 30 June, and the ordnance estimates, 4, 7 July 1828. He entertained the corporation of Beaumaris at Friars at Michaelmas, to celebrate Richard’s birthday, and attended the Anglesey magistrates’ meeting, which joined him in resisting any proposal to transfer assize business from Beaumaris to the mainland or abolish the Welsh courts of great sessions, 2 Dec. 1828.33 In a futile attempt to stem local opposition to Catholic emancipation, he spoke at the Anglesey county meeting, 6 Jan. 1829, of the ignominy of his dismissal as Member for Caernarvonshire ‘for voting for civil and religious liberty’, and of the ingratitude and inconsistency of the Dissenters, who had benefited from the recent repeal of the Test Acts, in opposing Catholic relief. His amendment to delay petitioning until the details of the government’s legislation were announced was soundly defeated.34 He brought up a petition against militia reductions from corporals in the Anglesey regiment, 23 Feb. His recent attempts to enclose Beaumaris’s prestigious green had soured his relations with his constituents.35 Owen Williams commented:
I have been all my life pretty much habituated to the vagaries of our friend, the Bart., but really this last piece of charity outsteps in absurdity almost anything I have ever known him before gratuitously to offer. I really never could have imagined I should find in a connection of mine a parallel for Jonathan Martin !!! Firebrands both in their way, one moral and the other physical, with the difference only that the one is inextinguishable, but time and money will repair the other.36
The patronage secretary Planta predicted in late February that Williams would support Catholic emancipation without requiring additional securities, but ill health, for which he received a fortnight’s leave, 4 Mar., prevented him from voting on the issue. Nevertheless, at the Caernarvonshire Protestant meeting, 11 Apr., he made a rousing speech in defence of Peel and Wellington and drew attention to the absence that day of gentry who had hitherto opposed emancipation. As anticipated, he made little headway, but his personal standing remained high.37 His only reported vote that session was for a reduction in the hemp duties, 1 June 1829. He was too ill to deal with parliamentary business in 1830. He was granted a month’s leave, 26 Feb., and attended on 6 July, when, speaking against the regency bill, he stressed the ‘great delicacy of the subject’ and urged its deferral to the next Parliament.
He had ‘no intention to move in Caernarvonshire’ at the general election, gave his Caernarvon Boroughs interest to Sir Charles Paget* and was returned in absentia for Beaumaris.38 Ministers naturally listed him among their ‘foes’, but he was too ill to oppose them, and died at Nice in December 1830, recalled as the last of the Williamses of Arianwst to represent Caernarvonshire in Parliament. His body was brought back for burial in the family vault at Llanfair-yng-Nghornwy, where the gentry and corporation of Beaumaris were in attendance and the inhabitants formed a long cortège.39 Richard succeeded him in the baronetcy and representation of Beaumaris and to entailed estates over £30,000 in debt. Limited probate on personalty sworn under £3,000 (of which £1,200 was life insurance) was granted to his widow, 27 July 1831, after counsel’s opinion had been obtained on his liabilities. He provided small annuities and gifts to his children, sons-in-law, servants and solicitors, asked to be commemorated by a fountain in Beaumaris, and left tokens to William Hughes, the Beaumaris attorney Owen Williams, and Assheton Smith (who had predeceased him in 1828) noting:
Although I conceive that Mr. Assheton Smith acted most treacherously by me, nevertheless, I request that some token of remembrance may be offered to him as a mark of my entire forgiveness of whatever is past.40
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Margaret Escott
- 1. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 483-4; v. 582-3; J.J. Sack, Grenvillites, 127, 164.
- 2. UCNW, Baron Hill mss 3404-9.
- 3. N. Wales Gazette, 17, 24 Feb., 2, 9, 16, 23 Mar. 1820.
- 4. Seren Gomer, iii (1820), 190.
- 5. Baron Hill mss 5358.
- 6. Add. 34585, ff. 57-60.
- 7. Seren Gomer, iv (1821), 93, 124, 154, 252.
- 8. Sack, 224; NLW, Nanhoron mss 823.
- 9. The Times, 28 Mar. 1822.
- 10. Nanhoron mss 824.
- 11. Buckingham, Mems. Geo. IV, ii. 334.
- 12. N. Wales Gazette, 2 July 1823.
- 13. Baron Hill mss 3399, 3421.
- 14. Ibid. 3436, 3437, 3452.
- 15. NLW, Llanfair and Brynodol mss C365.
- 16. CJ, lxxix. 54, 172, 467.
- 17. Seren Gomer, vii (1824), 224-5.
- 18. NLW ms 1498 A, ii. 45, 46.
- 19. CJ, lxxx. 35, 74, 411, 441; G.I.T. Machin, Catholic Question in English Politics, 75; The Times, 13, 14 May 1825.
- 20. The Times, 15 June 1825.
- 21. Llanfair and Brynodol mss C302.
- 22. Llanfair and Brynodol mss C345; N. Wales Gazette, 1, 8, 15, 22, 29 Sept., 6, 13 Oct.; Cheshire and Chester Archives, Stanley of Alderley mss DSA45 [W.O.] Stanley to mother, 25 Sept. 1825; Nanhoron mss 819; UCNW, Plas Newydd mss i. 213-18, 233, 238, 242.
- 23. Plas Newydd mss i. 224.
- 24. Ibid. 5173; Plas Newydd mss i. 213, 218-21, 226, 227, 232, 311.
- 25. Baron Hill mss 5173.
- 26. Ibid 5173; Gwynedd Archives, Caernarfon, Vaynol mss 2599; Plas Newydd mss i. 313.
- 27. Baron Hill mss 3399, 3421.
- 28. Ibid. 5173.
- 29. N. Wales Gazette, 1, 8, 15, 22, 29 June, 6, 13 July; Shrewsbury Chron. 2, 23, 30 June 1826.
- 30. Baron Hill mss 3442, 5173.
- 31. Wellington mss WP1/987/27; PRO NI, Anglesey mss D619/32/A/6.
- 32. CJ, lxxxiii. 67, 334; Seren Gomer, xi (1828), 188.
- 33. N. Wales Chron. 2 Oct. 1828; Plas Newydd mss i. 748, 752; PP (1829), ix. 411.
- 34. Plas Newydd mss vii. 2018; N. Wales Chron. 8 Jan. 1829.
- 35. UCNW, Henllys mss 435.
- 36. Ibid. 289.
- 37. N. Wales Chron. 12, 26 Mar., 16 Apr. 1829.
- 38. Plas Newydd mss i. 399, 401, 404, 405, 457; Shrewsbury Chron. 6 Aug.; Chester Courant, 10 Aug 1830.
- 39. N. Wales Chron. 16, 30 Dec. 1830.
- 40. Baron Hill mss 3452, 3453; PROB 11/1788/433; IR26/1276/342.