Speculations on the Ancestry of the Williams Family.

by Nevil Harvey-Williams

Extracts from letters below are used here to augment narrative of the implied line of descent of the Thomas Williams (1753-1804) of Gosport and Nottingham family from Ednyfed Vychan, mentioned in some detail in the Preface of the main article . They are taken from the second half of the Word file 'Williams Family Letters.doc'. The full version is available upon request.

Since William Williams (1800 - 1878) first asserted a family connection going back to Ednyfed Vychan, many people have attempted to verify William's statement, but, without exception, they have failed to establish the line of descent. William Williams is the only source for the claim; no one else has confirmed it, nor indeed, made any reference to it. There is no record at the College of Arms in London of any search to verify a grant of arms.

Some research was done, around 1928, by a professional genealogist, who established conclusively that no Thomas had been born into this branch of the family and although there were plenty of sons named Thomas in another branch which bore the same arms, that title became extinct in 1696. The following letters, and extracts from letters, show some of the evidence that has been put forward in the argument:

Bishop William Williams to Hugh Carleton. 24th February 1868:

  '... With respect to the arms of our family, ...Our family is of the stock which now appears as Bulkeley-Williams, or rather Williams-Bulkeley, of which Burke gives the arms as three Saracens heads. There is an old book which Sydney Williams has  'The life of Archbishop Williams' in which is given an account of the origin of the heads. It was Ednyfed Vychan (I have not the orthography of the name) who took prisoner three Saxon Princes. Whether he cut their heads off, I know not, but this coat of arms was given him on that occasion. You will see the name of this notable under the head of Williams-Bulkeley. I cannot tell you the precise position in the line, but my mother told me when I was a boy that my great - grandfather was either the younger brother or the younger son of the baronet of our name.'

Notes written by Bishop William Williams for his grand-daughter, Sally Maclean.:

  '... The earliest Williams ancestor of whom we have any record is EDNYFED VYCHAN, known as Lord Brynffenigl in Denbighshire, and who lived about the 12th century. In fighting against the Saxons he took prisoner three of their chiefs and held them to ransom. His coat of arms which displays these three Saxon heads was given to him on that occasion. The motto, 'A Fynno Duw Fydd', means I keep the Faith'.

  His great-grandson, Griffith ap Heilin, lived at Cochwillan, Carnarvon. The great-grandson of Griffith, known as Robert ap Griffith, was beheaded at Conway in 1406. This was probably on account of complicity in Owen Glandower's revolt, which was finally subdued in that year. Robert's grandson was William ap Griffith, but as he had a son of the same name, the latter took the name of William Williams of Cochwillan, to avoid confusion with his father. Henry Williams, son of William Williams, sold the estate to the Earl of Pembroke.

  John Williams, grandson of William Williams of Cochwillan and nephew of Henry Williams, was born at Carnarvon in 1582 and educated at St. John's College, Cambridge, to which in later years he was a generous benefactor. He was ordained in 1605 and, after holding various benefices, was made Dean of Westminster in 1620. He seems to have advanced rapidly in Royal favour, and was appointed Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal by James I in 1621. But as the emoluments of the office had somewhat declined, he was also made Bishop of Lincoln in the same year. He seems to have been a man of great political ability and accompanied James I to Scotland, at a time when Scottish ecclesiastical affairs were causing some concern. On his accession, Charles I took the Privy Seal from him in 1625. In 1636 he quarrelled with Laud, the Archbishop of Canterbury and a prominent figure in politics, and in consequence was heavily fined and imprisoned in the Tower. On his release, he later regained a great part of his political influence and was appointed Chairman of a committee to inquire into innovations and the reform of the Church.

  The Long Parliament which assembled in1640 brought about the downfall of Laud and Stafford who, before that, had been practically the rulers of England. A Bill of Attainder was passed against Stafford and, when Charles hesitated to sign it, John Williams asked him to remember that he had two consciences - public and private. In 1642, John Williams was appointed Archbishop of York by Charles I. He spent little more time in York than was necessary for his enthronement. He joined Charles I at Oxford in 1644 and was with him throughout the Civil War.

  When the War ended he made the best terms he could and returned to Conway, where he lived in retirement till his death in 1650. He had previously bought back the family estate from the Earl of Pembroke for 10,000 and also bought the estate of Penrhyn from his cousin, Pierce Griffith. Those estates came to his nephew, Griffith Williams of Penrhyn, who was created a Baronet on 17th June 1661.

  The 10th Baronet, Sir Richard Bulkeley-Williams-Bulkeley, assumed the extra surname of Bulkeley in 1827, having inherited the estate of Viscount Bulkeley in 1822.

  Thomas Williams, who was minister of a Congregational chapel in Gosport for nine years prior to his death on June 3rd 1770, was a grandson of the 6th Baronet. His only son, Thomas, born in 1751, started a lace works in Nottingham. ...'

This is an odd last paragraph, considering the precision of what went before. First, of course, Thomas Williams was the minister at Gosport from 1750-1770; twenty years. I make no comment here on the claim that he was a grandson of the 6th Baronet, though I have plenty to say about it in my account of the family prior to N.Z. His son Thomas (and, of course, his own father) was born in 1753, not 1751, and according to John Marsh's Journal, Thomas 'had been invited by a Mr Green, a Stocking Manufacturer there, & intimate Friend of his, to enter into partnership with him on his Father's retiring from the Business, which he was to do in the following Spring.' (1794).

Neither Thomas Williams nor Wright Coldham and the Nelsons are listed in the Nottingham records as lace-makers, but the Nottingham trade directories and other contemporary references, such as Abigail Gawthern's diary, the notice of his death in the Nottingham Journal, and his mother's Will, drawn up in 1797, all describe Thomas as a hosier. Edward Garrard Marsh describes Wright Coldham as 'an agent for a cotton manufactory at Nottingham' and a partnership agreement dated 1st July 1796, between Francis Hart and himself, describes them both as hosiers, not lace-makers. I suspect that the Nelsons were hosiers too.

From Herbert William Williams (Sixth Bishop of Waiapu) to his nephew, Samuel Frederick Harvey-Williams (my father). 14th December 1930 mentioning the 'arms' used by the family:

' My dear Sam,

  .....I have never heard as an actual fact, but have always understood that when my grandfather became bishop some enquiries were made and I have in my possession a painting, now somewhat damaged, evidently done by a professional showing his arms marshalled (that is the technical term with those of the Diocese. But that might have been done by the engraver, who has, alas, no heraldic authority. I believe your grandfather's cousin Sydney W [of the firm Williams & Norgate] had made some enquiries at least 10 years before as I used to have a copy of a bookplate of his which he had in use in the early 50's [the consecration was 1859]. The arms are those used by John Williams Archbishop of York 1621 - 1641, and represent the Williams of a family Bulkeley-Williams in Wales: but I do not know that we can actually trace the connexion with either. I do not think any further enquiries were made when your grandfather became bishop.

  Thomas Williams, an army clothier at Gosport, had a son Thomas, a cotton spinner in Nottingham, m. Mary Marsh Ap17, 1783, their youngest son William was b. July 18, 1800, his eldest s., William Leonard, was b. July 22, 1829 - & you know the rest. ...'

Even here, the errors creep in. The first Thomas Williams he refers to was, of course, the Rev. Thomas Williams, Congregational Minister of the Independent Chapel in Gosport. His son, Thomas, was born in Gosport, where he became an army clothier, before moving on to Nottingham, where he was a cotton spinner (or hosier).

I have a letter written on airmail paper, addressed to Miss K.S. Williams, 18, Addison Gardens, London W14, with copied extracts from other letters. It ends with a P.S from N.W. - possibly Canon Nigel Williams. I can't think how it came into my possession but I suspect it may have been a copy Canon Williams made for me when I started my research into the history of the Williams family in the U.K. It contains a lot of speculation about our supposed connection with the ancestry asserted by Bishop William Williams. One of these letters, from Hilda Williams to Algar Williams, (date unknown) refers to the claimed grant of the Williams arms.:

  '... When William Williams ....... was made Bishop of Waiapu in 1859, his episcopal seal and patent were granted to him in the same arms as the Williams of Penrhyn, Caernarvonshire, (see Wooten's English Baronets, Vol 11, page 271) and the same as those halved of John Williams, Bishop of Lincoln and the Archbishop of York, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal in the reigns of King James and Charles the First (died 1650). This was done after a search conducted at the time, but the evidence leading to a grant of these arms were destroyed by fire during a war or rebellion in New Zealand. ...''

  On 25th June 1981 I wrote a speculative letter to Mrs. S.M. Woods, c/o The Pegasus Press (the publishers of her biography of 'Samuel Williams of Te Aute'), explaining the research I was doing and asking if she might be able to fill in some more detail for me on a number of aspects. Sybil replied in a letter dated 1st July mentioning the notorious 'supposed connection with the Williams - Bulkeley family'. In a subsequent letter dated 2nd September 1981 she says:

  '... About the Williams - Bulkeley connection. What complicates matters there is that Thomas Williams (grandfather of Henry & William Williams) became a Congregationalist while at Oxford University & so was struck out of his father's will & almost certainly his name was removed from the family tree too, so Burke's Peerage & Baronetage, & the Royal College of Arms, would find it hard to trace him. I explored a possible link with a Williams baronet of Llanforda Hall near Oswestry when I was in England in 1972. The Hall has now been pulled down & part of the stone was used to build a terrace at nearby Llangedwyn Hall in Montgomeryshire, where the present baronet, Sir Owen Watkyn Williams - Wynn lives. I found nothing conclusive there, though the first Baronet, Sir William Williams, who was a Speaker of the House of Commons in the reign of Charles II, did have a son Thomas, born 29/4/1696, who graduated from Oxford as B.A. in 7/7/1714 & then disappeared from the family records. Sir Owen told me that his ancestors so detested Dissenters that they used to set their bloodhounds loose to chase wandering preachers - methodists etc. So this might be our Thomas?' [I'm afraid not; our Thomas was born in 1724/1725. N.T.H.W.]

  What is certain is that the family is of Welsh origin. In his Will, signed on 3rd. October 1752, our earliest proven ancestor, the Rev. Thomas Williams, refers to, '...certain legacies which shall be due at the death of some of my relatives in the Principality of Wales'. Amongst the Castellmarch, Cochwillan and Penrhyn branches of the Williams family there was considerable landed property, which could have been the source of the expectations that the Rev. Thomas Williams describes. In addition, non-conformist gentry families were very common in parts of Breconshire from the the late 17th century to the early 19th century, and there was a strong and secure non-conformist community in the Welsh border areas during that period. Thus the distaste for dissenters expressed by some members of the family in New Zealand has no foundation whatsoever. The research on which the account of The Williams Family in the 18th and 19th Centuries has been based shows that the Williams family was firmly moulded in the non-conformist tradition for at least three generations, and perhaps we should keep an open mind into the possibility that the family was descended from good Welsh Dissenting stock!

© Nevil Harvey-Williams.

July 2005