Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


William Wright II (1619–1693)

Mayor of Oxford 1656/7 and 1667/8

William Wright II was baptised at St Martin’s Church, Carfax on 29 June 1619, the son of Martin Wright and his wife Katherine, and the grandson of William Wright I. Both his father and grandfather were goldsmiths and Mayors of Oxford, and his father’s house stood on the city wall (Canditch), now in the precincts of Exeter College. Although this was in St Michael’s parish, Wright family baptisms and burials took place in St Martin’s Church.

Wright carried on the family trade, but appears to have had more enthusiasm for politics: he was described as a firebrand, and was, according to Anthony Wood, clownish and ill-natured, and a Parliament man.

In 1646 at St Aldate’s Church, William Wright married Christian Smith, the daughter of John Smith (mayor in 1639) and Elizabeth Bosworth, and the granddaughter of Henry Bosworth). They had the following children:

  • Alice Wright (baptised on 22 July 1647 at St Martin's Church); she became the wife of Charles Harris, son of the Mayor John Harris, and was buried at St Michael-at-the-Northgate Church at the beginning of 1694
  • Christian Wright (baptised on 5 December 1649 at St Martin's Church and buried there on 15 February 1650)
  • William Wright (baptised on 27 December 1652 at St Martin's Church)
  • Another daughter who survived? (Wood (III:370) records the death in August 1692 of a Mr Trollop of St Mary-the-Virgin parish, who married “the daughter of alderman William Wright by his first wife”.

These children thus had a father, two grandfathers, and three great-grandfathers who were Mayors of Oxford.

Wright was elected to the Common Council in October 1649, paying a fine of 3s. 4d to avoid serving as as Constable, and immediately compounded for a bailiff’s place. In 1650 he was elected Senior Bailiff.

In November 1653 Wright was elected one of the eight Assistants, and in 1656 he was elected Mayor (for 1656/7) in immediate succession to his father: he nominated Thomas Dennis as his Child, and Richard Pratt as Senior Chamberlain.

During his mayoralty his first wife, Christian Wright, died and was buried at St Martin’s Church on 26 June 1656.

On 25 June 1657 at Islip Church, William Wright then married his second wife Mrs Mary Dewe (née Banks) of Islip, and had at least two more children:

  • A second William Wright (born in 1658/9: the registers of St Martin’s Church have no baptism or burial entries between 1653 and 1660).
  • Martin Wright (buried at St Martin’s Church on 18 April 1665)
  • Catherine Wright (1662–1741), who married Henry White

(As Wright had eight children alive at the time of the poll tax in March 1667, and two of the above seven children were already dead, there are at least three children still unaccounted for.)

In March 1659 Wright was elected an Alderman, and on 24 May 1660 he took an oath of allegiance to Charles II.

In January 1661 Wood records, “News that alderman W. Wright, a burgess for the city, had lately made a motion to a committee to have the formalitie of St Scholastick’s day laid aside. Townsmen goe about it to London. Grow insolent as in 1641.” Elsewhere Wood makes the aside that Wright was “a great cocker” (i.e. a patron of cockfighting).

In May 1661 Wright was chosen as a Commissioner of Barges. In August that year the new King, Charles II, paid a visit to the City, and the Aldermen, including Wright, went to meet him in scarlet gowns and tippets with footmen and foot-clothes.

In May 1664 Wright succeeded his father as Coroner, and in October that year became a Justice of the Peace for the city. In September 1667 he was elected Mayor of Oxford for a second time (for 1667/8), selecting Robert Burnham as his Child and Alexander Wright (his cousin) as Senior Chamberlain.

Wright was assessed as follows for poll tax in St Michael’s parish (in a house in Turl Street on the site of the present Exeter College front) in March 1667:

  • For himself: £5 1s. 0d. (£1 for his title, £4 tax on his money, and poll tax of one shilling)
  • For his wife and eight children: poll tax of one shilling each
  • For his servant Thomas Batchelor: five shillings (i.e. one shilling in the pound on his yearly wages of £4, plus poll tax of a shilling)
  • For his servants Alice and Anne Batchelor: three shillings each (i.e. one shilling in the pound on their yearly wages of £2 each, plus poll tax of a shilling)

This indicates that Wright’s personal wealth was £400, as the tax on personal estate was £1 per £100.

In 1667 Wood describes Wright as “lately goldsmith”, and in 1668 and again in 1682 he was granted a lease of the Three Goats Heads at 32 Cornmarket Street.

In 1673 Wright surrendered his office as Coroner.

On 27 November 1674 William Wright II’s son by his second wife, William Wright junior (c.1659–1720) was matriculated at the University of Oxford from Trinity College at the age of 15.

In January 1679 the Cavalier Parliament that had been elected in April 1661 came to an end, and in February William Wright was elected Member of Parliament (with Brome Whorwood) to serve in the new Whig Parliament. This was prorogued by Charles II in May and finally dissolved in July 1679, when the same two citizens were re-elected to the second Whig Parliament.

On 16/17 September 1680 Prince James, Duke of Monmouth, visited the city, and went racing in Port Meadow on both days. Wood (II: 496) records that Alderman Wright with a crew cried out, “God save him and the Protestant religion.” The entertainments provided for the Duke were mocked in a 14-verse ballad (Wood III: 506–10) that included the following two verses lampooning Wright:

But first I must tell you an unlucky mischance
Which lately did Happen to Alderman Wright,
Who thinking the Duke’s good old Cause to Advance
Had like to have Ruin’d his purposes quite.
In an Alehouse of late
He zealously sate
To prate of Succession and matters of State,
To pull down the Scholars and Set up the Town
But alas! hee was dasht at the Sight of a Gown.

“For how,” quoth the Maior, “shall the Schoalrs bee rul’d
Since they neither vallue Religion nor Law?”
“Why,” quoth Wright, “our bold Bargmen that will not bee fool’d
Shall deal with these Youngsters and keep them in awe.”
When the fool’s bolt was shot
Hee turn’d to his pot;
But a Master of Arts coming in spoild his draught,
And roughly demanded “with whom they would deal,”
“With nothing,” quoth Wright, “but with selling of ale.”

In February 1681. William Wright was again elected Member of Parliament (again with Brome Whorwood) in to the third Whig (“Oxford”) Parliament.

In 1681 Wright was granted a new lease from the council of the house in his possession, as well as Dr Holland’s Tower and the Mount, and in December he invited the whole Council Chamber to dine at his own expense.

On 16 April 1684 Anthony Wood (III:93–4) records in his diary:

Apr. 16, W., first day of the terme, alderman William Wright appeared at the King’s Bench barr where he was severely check’d by Lord Chief Justice <George> Jeffry. He pleased not guilty to a long information for publishing scandlous libells and other words viz. that “the king and duke are brothers in iniquity, and if Eheocles did ill must not Policnices know of it?” Lord Chief Justice asked him “’if it were Oxford wit,” that also “he should say that if Magna Charta would not do it Longa Sparta [i.e. a long hangman’s rope] should do the busines.” Lord Chief Justice told him “every pitifull mechanick rascall instead of mending their shop tools pretended to mend the government.” Lord Chief Justice “was in doubt whether to bayle him or not, because his words were rather high treason than grand misdemeanour,” etc. Four then were appointed to give in bayle of 5000li. a piece; yet but two only did, viz. his lame son and Mr. Dew his son-in-law. Whereupon he was committed to custody to the King’s Bench prison. It was then certified in court that Brome Whorwood was dead, by an attorney upon oath. Etheocles and Polinices, two tyrants of Thebes and brothers – see Statius. All that know alderman William Wright never knew him to be guilty of so much learning as to know these names and similes.

On 21 January 1687/8 the King wrote to the Mayor requiring the City inter alia to re-elect William Wright forthwith as an alderman and justice of the peace. Accordingly on 16 February Wright was sworn in again as a freeman and awarded a bailiff’s place by the Mayor. He was immediately elected Alderman by scrutiny, taking the oath, subscribing the declaration for regulating corporations and the oath of an Alderman upon the Exchequer Table, and giving the Macebearer a purse and a Jacobus piece of gold.

In 1688 Wright was suspected of being involved in he Rye House Plot and was imprisoned by Judge Jeffreys. On 30 September that year he resigned his position as Alderman, as he was unwilling to swear the oath of obedience and supremacy to Charles II. On 3 October he also resigned his freedom.

† William Wright II died on 26 October 1693 aged 74 and was buried in the chancel of St Martin’s Church on 30 October. Wood (III:433) wrongly gives his age at death as 98, and says that the burial was also recorded in St Michael’s parish register, “in which parish alderman Wright’s house was”. That parish register duly records his death and burial on those dates.

In 1896 St Martin's Church was demolished (apart from its tower), and all bones uncovered were transferred to an unknown communal grave in Holywell Cemetery.

William Wright III (?1652–1720), Recorder of the City of Oxford

Son and grandson of the two Mayors called William Wright

A flat memorial stone to William Wright III and his family is shown below. It used to lie within the altar rails of St Martin’s, but when that church was demolished it was moved to All Saints’ Church (now Lincoln College Library) and is now mostly hidden under the carpet in the library office.

Memorial to William Wright

HSE [Hic sepultum est]
Guilielmus Wright Filius Giulelmi Wright
Hujus Civitatis Aldermanni
Anno Aetatis 63, Aetae Christianae 1721
Vita foeliciter defunctus

In hac Academia liberali disciplina imbutus:
In Interiori Templo Legum Scientia instructus

Ab Anno Religionis et Libertatis
Per Guilielmum Tertium restauratae
Civitatis Oxoniae Recordator:
Ab Inauguratione Georgii Regis
Perfugis jam tum res Novas Molientibus
Walliae Australis Capitalis Iustitiarius

Ob eximiario Iuris Anglicani peritiam
Simplici probitate conjunctam
Publicum bonis Praesidium,
Legum bonarum vindex egregius
Dominationis Legibus solutae acerrimus Impugnator
Haud simplici vice
De libertate et salute decertantis

“Patriae Tutela”

De Ecclesia pariter et Academia
Semper optime meritus,
Hanc ingenuis Artibus excultam,
Illam infucata Religione exornatam coluit
Utramque omnigena corruptela expurgatam

Probit et Patriae amantibus
Sollicitum sui Desiderium reliquit
Caeteris Gaudium

Dorothy Uxor Dilectissima
Patriaeque aemula virtutis septena Proles
Neutri circumfusa Collachrymanti
Civium Luctus inter et Plausus
Hoc Monumentum posuerunt.

[Here lies buried William Wright, son of William Wright Alderman of this City, who died at the age of 63, in 1721 of the Christian era.

He was imbued with liberal education in this University, and instructed in the knowledge of the law in the Inner Temple.

He was Recorder of the City of Oxford from the time that religion and freedom were restored under William III, and chief judge of South Wales….

Dorothy his most beloved wife and his seven children put up this monument….]

On 22 August 1683 William Wright III was licensed to marry Dorothy Dunch of Radcot, Oxfordshire and they had one daughter. His first wife called Dorothy died on 29 May 1686, aged 24.

A year later on 22 June 1687 at St Clement Danes, Middlesex, William Wright III married his second wife Dorothy Finch (20) of St Clement Dane, Middlesex (with the consent of her guardian William Torke of the Inner Temple, her parents being dead). He became a barrister of the Inner Temple and Recorder of the City of Oxford in 1674. He died in on 8 March 1721/2, and was buried at St Martin's Church on 14 March.

According to the above memorial stone, seven of his children survived him. His two eldest surviving sons by his second wife were as follows:

  • Martin Wright (born 24 March 1691) was matriculated at the University of Oxford by Exeter College on 1 March 1708/9 at the age of 18 and was a Judge of the King's Bench from 1740 to 1755. He was knighted on 23 November 1745, and died at Fulham on 26 September 1767.
  • John Wright was matriculated at the University of Oxford by Exeter College on 6 April 1709 at the age of 16, and he became a Barrister of Law at the Inner Temple. He also served as Member of Parliament for Abingdon from 1741 to 1747.

See also:

  • Martin Wright, Mayor 1635 and 1655 (his father)
  • William Wright I, Mayor 1614 (his grandfather)
  • Biography of William Wright II on History of Parliament website
  • Fletcher, Carteret J. H., A History of the Church and Parish of St Martin (Carfax), Oxford (B. H. Blackwell, 1896), “Appendix VI: Monumental Inscriptions, baptisms, and burials of the Wright family”
  • Ann Natalie Hansen, Oxford Goldsmiths before 1800 (At the Sign of the Cock, 1996), pp. 126–130
  • PCC Will PROB 11/417/242 (Will of William Wright of Oxford, proved 22 November 1693)

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 3 September, 2019

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