Thomas Wyse

For other people named Thomas Wise, see Thomas Wise (disambiguation).

Sir Thomas Wyse KCB (24 December 1791 – 16 April 1862), an Irish politician and diplomat, belonged to a family claiming descent from a Devon squire, Andrew Wyse, who is said to have crossed over to Ireland during the reign of Henry II and obtained lands near Waterford, of which city thirty-three members of the family are said to have been mayors or other municipal officers.


From the Reformation the family had been consistently attached to the Roman Catholic Church. Wyse was educated at Stonyhurst College and at Trinity College, Dublin, where he distinguished himself as a scholar. After 1815 he passed some years in travel, visiting Italy, Greece, Egypt and Palestine. In 1821 he married Princess Letizia Bonaparte (ca.1805–1871), daughter of Lucien Bonaparte, and after residing for a time at Viterbo he returned to Ireland in 1825, having by this time inherited the family estates.

He now devoted his great oratorical and other talents to forwarding the cause of Roman Catholic emancipation, and his influence was specially marked in his own county of Waterford, while his standing among his associates was shown by his being chosen to write the address to the people of England.

In 1830, after the passing of the Catholic Relief Act 1829, he was returned to parliament for the Tipperary constituency, and he attached himself to the Whig Party and voted for the great measures of the reform era. But he was specially anxious to secure some improvement in the education of the Irish people, and some of his proposals were accepted by Edward Stanley, later 14th Earl of Derby, and the government, he was chairman of a committee which inquired into the condition of education in Ireland, and it was partly owing to his efforts that provincial colleges were established at Cork, Galway and Belfast.

His work as an educational pioneer also bore fruit in England, where the principles of state control and inspection, for which he had fought, were adopted, and where a training college for teachers at Battersea was established on lines suggested by him. From 1835 to 1847 he was MP for the Waterford City constituency, from 1839 to 1841 he was a Lord of the Treasury, from 1846 to 1849 he was Secretary to the Board of Control, and in 1849 he was sent as British minister to Greece. In that capacity he was a major figure in the notorious Don Pacifico Incident. He was very successful in his diplomacy, and he showed a great interest in the educational and other internal affairs of Greece. In 1857 he was made a KCB, and he died at Athens on 16 April 1862.

Wyse wrote Historical Sketch of the late Catholic Association of Ireland (London 1829), Education reform or the necessity of a national system of education (London 1836), An Excursion in the Peloponnesus (1858, new ed. 1865), and Impressions of Greece (London 1871).

His two sons shared his literary tastes: They were Napoleon Alfred Bonaparte-Wyse (1822–1895) and William Charles Bonaparte-Wyse (1826–1892), a student of the dialect of Provence. The marriage to his wife Letizia, thirteen years younger than him and only sixteen years old when the wedding took place, did not last. After an especially violent fight in 1824 (so fierce that their carriage rocked on its springs), she fled to a convent and asked for a separation. Wyse and Letizia got a papal order of seclusion in the convent. After eight months, when Wyse threatened to leave Italy without her, she submitted and travelled to Ireland with him.

However the arguments continued and in May 1828 they agreed to a separation. Letizia threw herself in a suicide attempt into the Serpentine and was rescued by Captain Studholm John Hodgson (1805–1890), a British Army officer who became her lover. They had three children who survived to adulthood: the writer Marie Laetitia Bonaparte-Wyse (1831–1902, called secretly Studholmina-Maria) who was known as Princess Marie de Solms in her first marriage; Adeline (1838–1899), who married in 1861 the Hungarian general István Türr; and the explorer Lucien Napoléon Bonaparte-Wyse (1845–1909). All of them married and left issue; all the children of Captain Hodgson and Princess Letizia used the surname Bonaparte-Wyse.[1]

Wyse was the subject of a biography written by James Auchmuty, Sir Thomas Wyse, 1791–1862: the life and career of an educator and diplomat, London 1939.

Family and issue

Wyse married Princess Letizia Bonaparte, daughter of Lucien Bonaparte and his second wife Alexandrine de Bleschamp, in 1821. Their children were:


  1. D. G. Paz, 'Wyse, Sir Thomas (1791–1862)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 accessed 7 Nov 2011


Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Francis Aldborough Prittie
John Hely Hutchinson
Member of Parliament for Tipperary
With: Francis Aldborough Prittie to 1831
John Hely Hutchinson 1831–32
Robert Otway-Cave 1832
Succeeded by
Cornelius O'Callaghan
Richard Lalor Sheil
Preceded by
William Christmas
Henry Barron
Member of Parliament for Waterford City
With: Henry Barron
Succeeded by
William Christmas
William Morris Reade
Preceded by
William Christmas
William Morris Reade
Member of Parliament for Waterford City
June 1842 – 1847
With: Henry Barron
Succeeded by
Thomas Meagher
Daniel O'Connell
Political offices
Preceded by
Edward Adolphus Seymour
Robert Stewart
Richard More O'Ferrall
John Parker
Junior Lord of the Treasury
Succeeded by
James Milnes Gaskell
Henry Bingham Baring
Alexander Pringle
John Young
Preceded by
Viscount Mahon
Secretary to the Board of Control
Succeeded by
John Edmund Elliot
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Sir Edmund Lyons, Bt
British Minister to Greece
Succeeded by
Peter Campbell Scarlett
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