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  John William Ward (1781–1833), by Frederick Christian Lewis senior (after Joseph Slater) John William Ward (1781–1833), by Frederick Christian Lewis senior (after Joseph Slater)
Ward, John William, earl of Dudley (1781–1833), politician, was born on 9 August 1781, only child of William Ward (1750–1823), later third Viscount Dudley and Ward, and his wife, Julia (1754–1833), daughter of Godfrey Bosvile of Gunthwaite, Yorkshire. He was descended from Humble Ward (c.1614–1670), who married Frances (1611–1697), granddaughter of Edward Sutton, fifth Baron Dudley, and was created Baron Ward in 1644. His son Edward (1631–1701) succeeded to both baronies, and Edward's great-nephew John Ward (c.1704–1774) became sixth Baron Ward in 1740. He was created Viscount Dudley and Ward in 1763, and his second son, William, the father of this subject, succeeded as third viscount on the death of his elder half-brother, John, in 1788.

William was a harsh and neglectful parent to John William, who later blamed the ‘malady’ of depression and self-loathing which blighted his adult life on ‘the brutal neglect and unkindness with which I was treated in my early years … I was bred under a task-master and the sound of the lash is never quite out of my ears’ (Ward to Lord Aberdeen, 17 Dec 1822, BL, Add. MS 43231, fol. 36). After his education by a succession of private tutors and at the universities of Edinburgh (where he found in Mrs Dugald Stewart a surrogate mother) and Oxford, his father bought him a seat in parliament for the second earl of Radnor's borough of Downton at the general election of 1802, just before he came of age. In August 1803 he was returned unopposed for Worcestershire, where his family had a leading interest. Initially he adhered, like his father, to Pitt, but he became disillusioned with him and joined the Foxite and Grenvillite opposition to his second ministry in 1804. He supported them in office, 1806–7, having abandoned the county and come in as a paying guest, at his father's expense, for Petersfield on the interest of the Jolliffe family at the general election of 1806. He was at first loyal to the whigs in opposition from 1807 when, now politically estranged from his father, he found a seat for Wareham, where the Calcraft family were the patrons. He made a few impressive speeches, which gave him the look of a rising star, but he was never a frequent, and seldom an influential, debater. He was made chairman of the Commons select committee on sinecures in 1810. By then he had become disenchanted with the divisions and incompetence of the whigs. His drift towards a personal attachment to Canning was confirmed by their mutual support for Catholic claims and hostility to parliamentary reform. He declined to be considered for office when the whigs were cabinet-making at the start of the regency in 1811; and in June 1812, when they refused to assume power on a point of punctilio, he washed his hands of them and enlisted with Canning. He thereby lost some whig friends and gained a reputation as a place-seeker.

At the general election of 1812 Ward bought a seat for Ilchester from Sir William Manners. To his mortification, which he tried unsuccessfully to conceal with wry jokes against himself, he was left stranded by Canning's disbandment of his parliamentary squad in July 1813. On Canning's rapprochement with the Liverpool ministry the following year Ward refused the offer of a privy councillorship and an unpaid place at the India board. He spent much time on the continent until May 1816, when he resumed his seat and, with Canning back in the cabinet, supported the government faute de mieux. Abroad at the time of the 1818 general election, he lost his seat for Ilchester, but in April 1819 he was returned by Canning's friend James Stuart Wortley for Bossiney, where he sat for the remainder of his Commons career, turning down an opportunity to stand for Worcestershire in 1820. In deference to Canning he stayed neutral in the parliamentary struggle over Queen Caroline in 1821. On 12 February during that session his speech in support of the transfer of Grampound's seats to Leeds as a safe and practical reform was reckoned to have been instrumental in carrying the question against ministers (Grenville, Memoirs of the Court of George IV, 1.123). He was abroad for most of the 1822 session and returned to England in the summer in a state verging on nervous collapse. In September Canning, having been made foreign secretary after Lord Londonderry's suicide, offered him the under-secretaryship. He did so merely to raise Ward's self-esteem, and neither expected nor wished him to accept; but Ward took him seriously and agonized for three weeks, during which he overcame his father's objections, before declining. Within two months he was torturing himself with remorse over what he now considered a fatally wrong decision. He supported the government silently and without hope of recognition until his father's death removed him from the Commons on 25 April 1823, when he succeeded to the viscountcy and to extensive estates in Staffordshire and Worcestershire, which contained lucrative coal and mineral deposits and brought him £120,000 a year.

In April 1827 Dudley belatedly attained the public eminence which he craved by accepting Canning's invitation to become foreign secretary in his new administration, in the first instance until the end of the session. He was sworn of the privy council on 30 April. After Canning's death he was persuaded to stay in office under Lord Goderich, who had him created earl of Dudley on 5 October 1827. The duke of Wellington retained him in January 1828, but he resigned with Huskisson and the other former Canningites in May. His performance at the Foreign Office, where he was initially Canning's cipher, was adequate but undistinguished. His tenure coincided with the British naval victory at Navarino. At home his notorious liaison with Lady Lyndhurst, the wife of the lord chancellor, prompted the jest that he had become ‘a ward in Chancery’ (Creevey Papers, 2.141). Lady Lyndhurst later claimed that one of her daughters was his child and seems to have blackmailed Dudley, who never married, and whose journals, which were destroyed by his executors along with all his other papers, contained pornographic descriptions of his remorseless but joyless sexual exploits with women ‘both in high and low life’ (Greville Memoirs, 5.438).

Dudley made his last speech in the Lords, a vehement denunciation of the Reform Bill, on 5 October 1831. His later years were marked by increasing absences of mind and eccentricities of behaviour, particularly his habit of conducting tormented dialogues with himself in different voices. In the spring of 1832 he exhibited ‘every mark of harmless derangement’ and was placed under restraint at Norwood, Surrey (Croker Papers, 2.171). 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!’ (Portion of the Journal, 1.20). Dudley never appeared in society again and died at Norwood, after suffering a series of strokes, on 6 March 1833. His earldom and viscountcy became extinct, but the barony passed to his second cousin, William Humble Ward (1781–1835), on whom he had settled £4000 a year. The bulk of his great fortune went to his heir's son, William Ward (1817–1885), who was created earl of Dudley on 17 February 1860. By a codicil to his will, which was proved under £350,000, Dudley left annuities of £2000 to Lady Lyndhurst and £800 to Susan, the wife of the poet William Spencer, and a legacy of £25,000 to one of her sons, ‘whom he always tacitly acknowledged’ (GM, 2nd ser., 103, 1833; TNA: PRO, PROB 11/1821/566). His letters (1814–23) to Edward Copleston, bishop of Llandaff, and to Mrs Stewart (1803–32) were subsequently published.

Lord Holland recalled Dudley as ‘a man of highly cultivated mind and of exquisite and refined though somewhat elaborate wit’ given to ‘bitter hatreds and unwarrantable resentments’, but ‘not entirely devoid of benevolence and even generosity’ (Fox, 165). Five years after his death Brougham paid him a fulsome and perhaps inflated tribute as ‘one of the most remarkable men that have appeared in this country’, who ‘possessed one of the most acute and vigorous understandings that any man ever was armed with’, but was undermined by ‘an over-sensitiveness, an exquisitely fastidious taste, a nervous temperament’, so that ‘unsteadiness of purpose … greatly chequered his existence as a public man during the latter years of his brilliant, but unhappy life’ (EdinR, 67, 1838, 77–9). Creevey wasted no words on his epitaph: ‘Poor Ward, with all his acquirements and talents, made little of it, went mad and died’ (Creevey Papers, 2.255).

D. R. Fisher


‘Ward, John William’, HoP, Commons · Letters of the earl of Dudley to the bishop of Llandaff (1840) · S. H. Romilly, Letters to ‘Ivy’ from the first earl of Dudley (1905) · EdinR, 67 (1838), 1–80, esp. 77–9 · The Creevey papers, ed. H. Maxwell, 2 (1903), 141, 255 · Lord Holland [H. R. V. Fox] and J. Allen, The Holland House diaries, 1831–1840, ed. A. D. Kriegel (1977), 165 · The Croker papers: the correspondence and diaries of … John Wilson Croker, ed. L. J. Jennings, 2 (1884), 171 · A portion of the journal kept by Thomas Raikes from 1831–1847: comprising reminiscences of social and political life in London and Paris during that period, 1 (1856), 19–20 · GM, 1st ser., 103/1 (1833), 367–9 · Duke of Buckingham and Chandos [R. Grenville], Memoirs of the court of England during the regency, 1811–1820, 2 vols. (1856) · GEC, Peerage · Duke of Buckingham and Chandos [R. Grenville], Memoirs of the court of George IV, 2 vols. (1859) · letter to Lord Aberdeen, BL · The Greville memoirs, 1814–1860, ed. L. Strachey and R. Fulford, 8 vols. (1938), vol. 2, p. 360; vol. 5, p. 438


BL, corresp. with Lord Aberdeen, Add. MSS 43230–43231 · BL, corresp. with Sir William A'Court, Add. MSS 41555–41556 · BL, corresp. with Sir Robert Gordon, Add. MS 43214 · BL, corresp. with William Huskisson, Add. MSS 38737–38756 · BL, letters to Prince Lieven, Add. MSS 47262 · BL, corresp. with Lord Melbourne, Add. MSS 60424–60447 · Bodl. Oxf., letters to Edward Copleston, MS Eng. lett. d.309 · Derbys. RO, letters to Sir R. J. Wilmot-Horton · Devon RO, letters to Edward Copleston · Durham RO, letters to Lord Londonderry, D/Lo · LPL, letters to Edward Copleston · Staffs. RO, letters to Lord Hatherden · TNA: PRO, corresp. with Stratford Canning, FO 352 · TNA: PRO, book of dispatches from Lord Cowley, FO 519 · TNA: PRO, corresp. with Lord Granville, PRO 30/29 [copies]


E. Berens, lithograph, c.1800, BM, NPG; repro. in Letters of the earl of Dudley · J. Slater, drawing, c.1828, repro. in Romilly, Letters to ‘Ivy’ · F. C. Lewis senior, stipple (after J. Slater), BM, NPG [see illus.]

Wealth at death  

under £350,000: TNA: PRO, death duty registers, IR 26/1317/615