William Wickham (spymaster) bigraphy, stories - British diplomat and spymaster

William Wickham (spymaster) : biography

11 November 1761 - 22 October 1840

William Wickham PC, PC (Ire) (11 November 1761-22 October 1840) was a British politician who acted as a spymaster during the French Revolution, and was later a Privy Counsellor and Chief Secretary for Ireland.

Hampshire Record Office

Substantial additions were received to two collections which have been in the Record Office for some years. One of the office's most important holdings is the papers of William Wickham, Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs in the late 18th century, in which capacity he organised the English spy service during the war with revolutionary France, and later Chief Secretary of Ireland after the 1798 rebellion. The archive relates also to his grandson, another William Wickham, who was Vice-Chairman on the first County Council. To these papers have been added several more. Most are personal and estate papers, but they include grants of full powers to Wickham in 1799 and 1801; also poll books for the election of members of parliament representing Oxford University in 1801 and 1809, a plan showing the arrangement of wine in the cellars, and papers about Wickham's success in growing fig trees, which continue to flourish at his home in Binsted.. His other property was Lullebrook Manor at Cookham in Berkshire.

Early years

Born into wealth in Cottingley, Yorkshire, England, he was the eldest son of Henry Wickham, Esq., of Cottingley, Lieutenant-Colonel in the lst Regiment of Foot Guards, and a Justice of the Peace for the West Riding. His mother was Elizabeth, daughter of William Lamplugh, vicar of Cottingley. Wickham attended Harrow School and Christ Church, Oxford. He took a law degree in Geneva, Switzerland in 1786. He was also called to the bar in England, at Lincoln's Inn.

Political career

In 1798, Wickham was appointed Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. In 1802 he was appointed to the Privy Council and named Chief Secretary for Ireland, a post he held until 1804. He also entered Parliament as MP for the Irish borough constituency of Cashel: he sat for Cashel from 1802 to 1806, and for Callington in Cornwall from 1806 to 1807.

Personal life

He married Eleonora Madeleine Bertrand (d. 1836), whose father was professor mathematics in the University of Geneva; they married in 1788. They had one son, Henry Lewis Wickham, and his son, William, was a Member of Parliament for Petersfield.

Diplomatic career

Wickham then entered the diplomatic service. Because of his knowledge of Switzerland, Wickham was sent to that country in 1794 as assistant to the British ambassador. A year later he himself was named ambassador. His duties were chiefly that of a spymaster. By 1795, England was openly combating the French revolutionaries who had usurped and beheaded King Louis XVI and his Queen, Marie Antoinette. Wickham established a spy network in Switzerland and in France and directed his agents to plan invasions of France by royalists or even foreign powers who might be able to restore the French monarchy of King Louis XVIII, who was then living in exile.

At every turn he attempted to discredit French Revolutionaries, foment rebellion against their rule, and disable the workings of an already shattered government. To accomplish those goals, the British government secretly endowed Wickham with an enormous amount of money. A good deal of that money was spent in a complex plot to bring French General Charles Pichegru, then a revolutionary general, into the royalist camp with all of his troops. its cause, going over to the ranks of Louis Joseph, Prince of Condé who maintained an army on the Rhine. Condé's agent was Comte de Montgaillard who used a Swiss printer named Louis Fauche-Borel as the contact with Pichegru. Fauche-Borel, a born intriguer, gave Pichegru £8,000 which Wickham advanced to feed and supply Pichegru's troops. Once the French general received this payment, however, he vacillated, then reported that the time was not right for him to make his move. Pichegru would make his move in 1804, but his revolt against Bonaparte was short-lived. Joseph Fouché's agents quickly detected his plot and he was arrested and imprisoned, found mysteriously murdered in his cell a short time later.

Wickham nevertheless went on spying against the French, successfully reporting their troop positions, armaments and operations. French spies, however, learned of his network. France pressured Swiss authorities to oust the British spymaster and he resigned, returning to England. He returned to Switzerland in 1799 where he again directed his spy network for another three years, this time applying his espionage against Emperor Napoleon I. Again the French caused his ouster from Switzerland and this time William Wickham remained at home.


  • at Cottingley Connect
  • Parliamentary Election Results in Ireland, 1801-1922, edited by B. M. Walker (Royal Irish Academy 1978)
  • Elizabeth Sparrow The Historical Journal, (Jun., 1990) Cambridge University Press (JSTOR)
  • Michael Durey The English Historical Review, (Jun., 2006), Oxford University Press (Abstract)
  • (1870) From Internet Archive.
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