WRANGHAM, Digby Cayley (1805-1863), of Wilton Crescent, Mdx.

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



1831 - 1832

Family and Education

b. 16 June 1805, 2nd s. of Rev. Francis Wrangham (d. 1842), rect. of Hunmanby, Yorks. and adn. of Yorks. (E.Riding), and 2nd. w. Dorothy, da. and coh. of Rev. Digby Cayley of Thormanby, Yorks. educ. Ripon; private tutor 1819-22; Brasenose, Oxf. 1822; G. Inn 1828, called 1831. m. 8 Dec. 1828, Amelia, da. of Walter Ramsden Fawkes† of Farnley Hall, Yorks., 2s. 2da. d. 10 Mar. 1863.

Offices Held

Asst. jun. clerk, foreign office Apr. 1827-Apr.1831; priv. sec. to Lords Dudley and Aberdeen as foreign secs. Apr. 1827-Nov. 1830.

Sjt.-at-law 1840; patent of precedence 1843; queen’s sjt. 1857-d.


Wrangham, whose paternal grandfather and uncle kept a large stationer’s shop in London’s Bond Street, was intended from an early age for the law. He spent his childhood at Hunmanby, near Scarborough, where his father, a prolific writer and bibliophile, was rector. His mother, a North Riding heiress with an annual income of £700, claimed decent from King Edward I and Eleanor of Castile. An ardent pro-Catholic emancipation Whig and excellent manager of clergy, Francis Wrangham’s successful career as a churchman and scholar is well documented, as is his advocacy of Joseph Lancaster’s teaching methods and the delight he took in educating his six children. ‘A six month reading at home’ and two years in the care of ‘Mr. Brass, a pupil of Tate’s’, near St. Neots, preceded Wrangham’s admission to Oxford, where he was president of the debating society and the union and gained a double first in mathematics and classics in 1826.1 This brought him to the notice of John William Ward*, Lord Dudley, who on becoming Canning’s foreign secretary in April 1827 secured him a junior clerkship in the foreign office and made him his personal private secretary at £400 a year. Contrary to the usual practice, Wrangham was retained as private secretary by Lord Aberdeen, Dudley’s successor following the Huskissonite exodus from the duke of Wellington’s ministry in May 1828.2 His marriage in December that year to Amelia Fawkes surprised at least one of his colleagues, who dismissed her as ‘a dowdy little body, with a very moderate portion, not likely either to fascinate and turn his head, or to be a bon parti in any way’.3 The ministerial changes of November 1830 left Wrangham with little more than his £130 foreign office salary to support his young family pending his call to the bar, 8 June 1831. However, his connections within the Tory opposition and their management committee in Charles Street were impeccable. He resigned from the foreign office directly the defeat of the Grey ministry’s reform bill in April 1831 precipitated a dissolution and vainly canvassed Hindon on the recommendation of Horace Twiss*. In response to an urgent plea for a second man from their partisan Sir John Benn Walsh*, William Holmes* sent him to the venal borough of Sudbury, which was scheduled to lose a Member under the bill. Drawing on the support of the corporation and the London freemen and on his father’s reputation as archdeacon of the East Riding, he overcame a challenge by the reformer Admiral William Windham after a two-day poll.4 Taking the credit for his return, Aberdeen recommended him to Wellington as ‘a very clever young man, and there is every hope that he will go well in the House of Commons’.5

As a party man, Wrangham was privy to the political manoeuvring, meetings and private dinners that accompanied opposition policy-making and the eventual formation of the Carlton Club in 1831-2. He was also instrumental in bringing the younger opposition Members, including Walsh, to the attention of Aberdeen and the party hierarchy.6 A certain jealousy, however, developed between Wrangham and Walsh over the former’s high connections and dependence on party funds to pay his electioneering costs, and the latter’s prior claim to corporation patronage in Sudbury.7 In the House, Wrangham took an active part in debate from the outset, defending and justifying the Wellington ministry’s policies and promoting the case against parliamentary reform in speeches and interventions that demonstrated his familiarity with departmental briefs and his mastery of legal niceties. Opposing the reintroduced reform bill at its second reading in his maiden speech, 6 July 1831, he countered the case made by his fellow barrister John Campbell for equating political power and property. He conceded that the enfranchisement of the great towns was necessary and overdue, but argued that the bill would ‘narrow the basis of the constitution’ and compared its likely impact with the effects of introducing a paper currency. (He voiced similar arguments before voting to amend it to perpetuate the voting rights of current freemen, 27, 30 Aug.) He voted for an adjournment, 12 July, to make the 1831 census the criterion for English borough disfranchisements, 19 July, and to postpone consideration of the partial disfranchisement of Chippenham, 27 July. He protested against the postponement of the Sudbury clause ‘from a full to a thin House’ at ministers’ convenience, 29, 30 July.8 On 2 Aug., drawing parallels with other towns separated from their suburbs by rivers, he used extracts of Paving Acts and parish and legal documents discovered by Walsh to present a strong case for including Ballingdon in the Sudbury constituency, which, if accepted, rendered arguments for depriving it of a Member on the ground of population untenable. They lost the division by 157-108. He pressed for separate representation for Kingston-upon-Hull and Sculcoates, 9 Aug., ten Members instead of six for Yorkshire, 10 Aug., and cautioned against authorizing the boundary commissioners, as political appointees, to determine county divisions and polling places, 1 Sept. He maintained that two-day polls would be unmanageable and too short, 5 Sept. Deferring to Peel and the party managers in Charles Street, who considered the bill’s detention in the Commons pointless, he abandoned his intention of reopening Sudbury’s case the following week.9 He divided against the bill’s third reading, 19 Sept., and passage, 21 Sept., and against the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept. He voted to deal with bribery at Liverpool, 5 Sept., and spoke against issuing the by-election writ because of the proven corruption there, 12 Oct. 1831. On the 21st he accompanied Walsh to Sudbury, where the corporation marked the reform bill’s defeat in the Lords with a celebration dinner.10 He also actively assisted the Tory Philip Yorke’s London committee during the Cambridgeshire by-election.11

Wrangham briefly justified spending on diplomatic messengers when Hume queried the practice, 8 July 1831. He defended the Wellington ministry when Dixon, representing the merchants affected, ordered papers on the Brazilian capture of British ships, 19 July, but he failed to extract information on the Belgian insurrection from the foreign secretary Lord Palmerston, 9 Aug. He presented a Sudbury petition against permitting the use of molasses in brewing and distilling, 3 Sept., and voted against the sugar refinery bill and the truck bill, 12 Sept. He expressed support for amending the bankruptcy court bill, 13 Oct. As a principal speaker against its third reading, 18 Oct., he criticized those who attributed his opposition to ‘factious motives’, and argued against separating the administration of bankruptcy from the chancery court. He nevertheless conceded that the current system was severely overloaded and recommended replacing it with one that dispensed with the part-time commissioners and replaced them with full-time judges sitting daily; he suggested one chief and three puisine judges. He also proposed creating a separate review court for appeals. Appraising him later that month, Walsh observed in his journal:

Wrangham will never, in my opinion, make an effective speaker in the House of Commons. He is too lengthy and round about ... [He] is certainly a man of talent, but he has an overweening ambition and conceit, which runs away with him. He is deficient in that rarest of all gifts to an Englishman, tact.12

Wrangham was surprised to see Parliament recalled before Christmas and privately speculated that it was on account of the unrest caused by the political unions and differences within the cabinet over Lord Grey’s negotiations with Lord Wharncliffe and the prospect of a modified and moderate reform bill.13 The revised bill restored its second Member to Sudbury, which duly rewarded him with its freedom.14 As they had agreed at a strategy meeting at Peel’s, 5 Dec.,15 he voted against its second reading, 17 Dec. 1831, and committal, 20 Jan., and divided against enfranchising Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., and the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He quibbled only briefly over the omission of Northallerton as a North Riding polling town, 24 Jan., and the provisions for Huddersfield, 5 Mar., and Lincoln, 9 Mar. He presented Great Grimsby’s petition pleading to retain two Members, 21 Feb. The popular reform petitions prompted by a further Lords defeat and the king’s abortive invitation to Wellington to form a government riled him, and he vainly raised points of order when the Manchester one was brought up, 11 May. He insisted that his opposition to Baring’s ‘ill-advised and most injudicious’ bill to exclude insolvent debtors from Parliament was one of principle and not personal, but freely admitted that his small fortune made him vulnerable to such an imputation, 6 June. On the boundary bill, he contributed to the discussions on the addition of Corfe Castle to Wareham and the parish of St. Martin to Stamford, 22 June, and thanked the commissioners for including Ballingdon in the redrawn Sudbury constituency. He pointed to anomalies and double standards in the Scottish freeholder voting qualification, 27 June 1832.

Wrangham divided with opposition on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan. 1832. Walking home with Lord Ellenborough afterwards, he described the government’s ‘miserable’ showing, O’Connell’s effort to save them by sending away ‘seven or eight Liberal Irish Members’, Palmerston’s good speech spoilt by his bad temper and how Peel had sacrificed ‘15 votes by intimating that the payment, although contrary to law, might yet be fit to be made in equity’.16 As previously trailed in asides and anonymous paragraphs in the press, when opposition tested their strength with a motion for information on Portugal, 9 Feb., Wrangham gave a ‘long and forcible’ defence of Dudley and Aberdeen’s policies towards Dom Miguel, in a speech that according to The Times (whose editor Barnes was one of his personal friends) was well received.17 He now claimed that he had been professionally but never politically involved with the 1827-30 administrations and could consequently take a balanced overview of events. Brandishing correspondence deliberately selected to counter letters ‘leaked’ to the Edinburgh Review, he read extracts from Aberdeen’s November 1830 dispatches to prove that the Wellington ministry had had the situation under control before they were brought down, and that it was therefore the Grey ministry who should have acted earlier and interfered more rigorously to prevent the detention of ships on suspicion of involvement in Dom Pedro’s expedition. Gally Knight countered that Wrangham had failed to establish his case. The ensuing 274-139 division was perceived as a disappointing one for opposition.18 Wrangham divided silently against government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 12 July 1832.

Walsh had repeatedly sought and grudgingly received confirmation from Wrangham of his superior claim to the corporation and Conservative vote in Sudbury. This encouraged Wrangham to test the ground in York in the summer of 1832, but considering his Sudbury prospects better, he resumed his canvass there in late October and finished in third place behind Walsh and the Whig veteran Michael Angelo Taylor at the general election in December.19 Reappraising him that month Walsh wrote:

He was not particularly well received by the House, and his one or two speeches were rather considered failures. To these particulars of his previous history I may add that he has the advantage of a very elegant distingué appearance and particularly gentlemanlike manners, that he has a certain easy assurance which seems to stand his friend in all societies, and qu’il s’empare beaucoup de la conversation. He has a delicate consumptive constitution, and a great want of natural flow of animal spirits, though his conversation is occasionally enlivened with anecdote, yet the serious is his style. He is thoroughly ambitious, aspiring, and actively pushing ... There was more of the special pleader, or the diplomatist in Wrangham’s conduct, than of perfect candour and fair dealing with me.20

Wrangham did not stand for Parliament again although his legal appointments did not disqualify him from doing so. Poor health impaired his progress on the northern circuit, but he developed an enviable practice at the parliamentary bar, where he was counsel for the disfranchisement of Sudbury in 1844. He signed the invitation to Peel to stand for the chancellorship of the university of Oxford in 1834, appealed to him as prime minister in 1841 and to Aberdeen in 1842 for ‘a mastership in chancery or any appointment of that class’ and was accorded the rank of a queen’s counsellor by patent of precedence in 1843.21 His appointment as queen’s serjeant in 1857 was among the last made before the office fell into abeyance. He died, recalled as an exemplary legal practitioner and formidable opponent in court, at his Gloucestershire home, ‘The Rocks’, Marshfield, near Bath in March 1863.22 His Gloucestershire and Wiltshire property and his reversionary interest in the North Riding estate of his mother (d. 1860) passed to his sons Digby Strangeways Wrangham and Walter Francis Wrangham.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Margaret Escott


  • 1. Oxford DNB; M. Sadleir, Archdeacon Francis Wrangham, 4-26 and passim.
  • 2. C.R. Middleton, Administration of British Foreign Policy, 1782-1846, pp. 207-8; Add. 43245, f. 232.
  • 3. NLW, Ormathwaite mss F/G/1/5, p. 178.
  • 4. Ibid. pp. 178-80; Ipswich Jnl. 30 Apr.; Bury and Norwich Post, 4 May; Suff. Chron. 7 May 1831.
  • 5. Wellington mss WP1/1184/25.
  • 6. Ormathwaite mss FG/1/5, pp. 183-4, 192.
  • 7. Ibid. FG/1/6, pp. 175-86.
  • 8. The Times, 30 July 1831.
  • 9. Ormathwaite mss G39, f. 84.
  • 10. Ibid. FG/1/5, pp. 211-3.
  • 11. Wellington mss WP1/1199/13.
  • 12. Ormathwaite mss FG/1/5, pp. 213-4.
  • 13. Ibid. pp. 225-7.
  • 14. Suff. RO (Bury St. Edmunds), Sudbury Cockett bk. p. 112;
  • 15. Ormathwaite mss FG/1/5, pp. 233-4.
  • 16. Three Diaries, 184.
  • 17. Grey mss, Ellice to Grey Nov. 1831; The Times, 10 Feb. 1832.
  • 18. The Times, 12 Feb. 1832.
  • 19. Ormathwaite mss FG/1/6, pp.97, 104, 153-4, 159, 163, 167, 170, 172; The Times, 3, 14 Dec. 1832.
  • 20. Ormathwaite mss FG/1/6, pp. 179, 185.
  • 21. Add. 40453, ff. 216-17; 40601, ff. 22, 29; 40488, ff. 351-5.
  • 22. J.H. Baker, Order of Serjeants at Law, 61-62, 235, 545; PP (1842), vii. 847; (1843), vi. 503, 547; The Times, 16 Mar.; Gent. Mag. (1863), i. 532.