Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Main Article

On the attainder of the 3rd Duke of Buckingham in 1521 the last great marcher lordship still in private possession escheated to the crown. While Bishop Veysey remained president of the council in the marches no advantage was taken of the opportunity to bring marcher administration into line with that in the principalities of North and South Wales, but in 1534 Veysey was replaced by the more vigorous Rowalnd Lee. Although appointed by Cromwell, Lee was not always in accord with the minister and there is evidence to suggest that the pair disagreed over the measure enacted early in 1536 for the administration of justice in Wales (26 Hen. VIII, c.26). The Act, commonly known as the (first) Act of Union reorganized Wales in the English manner with shires and commissions of the peace and extended the common law to the area. It provided for exchequers and chanceries for marcher use to be set up at Brecon and Denbigh within five years and made the sheriffs and other local officers accountable there: no mention was made of the exchequers abd chanceries which had long existed at Cardiff, Caernarvon, Carmarthen and Pembroke, but these survived the Union. By placing the new county of Monmouth within the orbit of Chancery and making its sheriff subject to the Exchequer, Mommouthshire was annexed to England. The Act also provided for the return of Members for Wales and for Monmouthshire 'for this present Parliament and all other Parliaments to be holden' and for their payment. Monmouthshire was allowed two knights but the Welsh shires only one each, and the 'borough of Momouth' and 'every borough being a shire town' in Wales save that for Merioneth were enfranchaised as single-Member constituencies; the Members' wages were 'to be levied and gathered as well of boroughs and shire towns as they be burgesses of as of all other ancient boroughs within the same shire'. A proviso empowered the King 'within the next three years' to suspend or revoke any part of the measure.1

The Act of Union received the royal assent on 14 Apr. 1536, the last day of the Parliament of 1529. Writs for the next Parliament went out two weeks later, but not to Wales or Monmouthshire, and neither is included in the parliamentary pawn for its successor in 1539. Presumably the King had exercised his authority to suspend their enfranchaisement until the processes of election, return and payment could be applied to the area. An Act (28 Hen. VIII, c.3) passed during the Parliament of 1536 ordered the division into shires to be completed within three years, but the work had not been finished by 1539 when another Act (31 Hen. VIII c.11) extended the deadline by a further period of three years. A year later the task was all but done when the Act revoking grants for life of Welsh shrievalties (32 Hen. VIII, c.27) was passed, and in the autumn sheriffs serving for a term of a year were picked for the first time in the 16th century. By 1541 the reorganization had been achieved and Members for Wales and Monmouthshire were summoned to the Parliament of 1542 to testify to the region's integration into the 'body of the whole realm'. Wales had sent Members to Parliament twice during the reign of Edward II but the examples of 1322 and 1327 had set no precedent. A letter from John Salusbury I (q.v.) to Cromwell in 1539 has been wrongly construed as evidence that Members from Wales and Monmouthshire sat in the Parliament of that year.2

Concern for the fate of the principality as the patrimony of Prince Edward led to a 'breviat of the effects devised for Wales' during 1540-1, from which emerged the Act of 1543 for certain ordinances in the principality (34 and 35 Hen. VIII, c.26). This Act, sometimes called the second Act of Union, codified the system of administration in existence and gave statutory authority to the council in the marches: in response to representation from the Welsh Members it modified the Act of 1536 and enfranchaised Haverfordwest. The return of the prince's secretary Thomas Eynns, at a by-election for Cardiganshire iin 1543 while the bill was apssing through Parliament, was perhaps intended to provide a spokesman in the Commons for the prince's interest. An Act of 1544 (35 Hen. VIII, c.11) confirmed the proviso in the Act of 1536 for the payment of Welsh Members and clarified the role of the contributory boroughs by letting them send representatives to take part in the elections of the Members for the Boroughs 'in such manner as the burgesses of the ... shire towns have or use', and ordering two justices of the peace to assess the contributions of the various boroughs towards the payment of the Members. The Acts for the folding of the cloth in North Wales (33 Hen. VIII, c.11) , restoring certain lordships to Flintshire (33 Hen. VIII c.13), regulating cotton production in Cardiganshire, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire (34 and 35 Hen. VIII, c.11), for exigents and proclamations in Wales (1 Edw. VI, c.10), regulating cloth production (5 and 6 Edw. VI, c.6 amended in 1558), to end the silting of Glamorganshire ports (1 Mary, st.3, c.11) and confirming the liberties of the lords marcher (1 and 2 Phil. and Mary, c.15) had official origin and support, but other measures introduced for the region during the 1540s and 50s were the work of the localities. Those for keeping of county days in Anglesey (2 and 3 Edw. VI, no. 54) and in Cardiganshire (1 Mary st.2, no. 23) passed, but a similar one for Radnorshire in 1552 failed. Nothing came of six bills introduced in 1547, those for courts and forests in Wales and for a school at Carmarthen being lost in the Lords and those for avoiding the office of rhaglaw (constable), for cotton production and for the nursing of children failing in the Commons; a bill for outlaws to surrender themselves failed in March 1553 and two more regulating cotton production in the autumn of 1554. The variety of legislation for Wales and the number of bills committed to Welsh Members suggests that the 23 Members (26 if Monmouthshire is included) added to the Commons in 1542, and the further one after Haverfordwest's enfranchaisement, were far from inactive there.3

The representation of the shires was firmly in the hands of gentlemen from the localities, with Thomas Eynns the only known intruder. He was almost certainly the first man to be returned for a Welsh seat at a by-election. Cardiganshire as one of the poorer counties with few wealthy residents was more susceptible than most to pressure; it was the only shire which elected knights with homes elsewhere, although all of them save Eynns were qualified for election as property owners with experience in local affairs. The families within the shires were often closely interknit and the pattern of Membership within at least Anglesey, Breconshire, Flintshire, Glamorganshire and Radnorshire reflects this feature. In Caernarvonshire, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire the representation was more or less divided between the leading families while in Denbighshire and Montgomeryshire it was controlled by one familiy alone. Kinship with the sheriff seems to have been important in a number of counties, among them Anglesey, Merioneth, Pembrokeshire and Radnorshire, but disputes among relatives, usually over inheritances, played little part in local and parliamentary matters except in Anglesey. The incident at Oxwich in 1556, which threatened to divide Glamorganshire was a product of overlapping jurisdictions and had no lasting effect.

Only the wealthiest of the boroughs, Beaumaris and Haverfordwest, were represented by townsmen. The Members for Brecon Boroughs, Caernarvon Boroughs, Flint Boroughs, Montgomery Boroughs, Newborough and New Radnor Boroughs all had proerty in the shire towns or lived nearby, and save for Gruffydd Done the same holds true of those for Cardigan Boroughs and, with the exception of William Aubrey II and William Wightman, for Carmarthen Boroughs. Although most of the Members qualified for election as freemen of the shire towns, some did so as residents in the contributory boroughs; examples of these can be found among the Members for Cardiff Boroughs and Denbigh Boroughs, and perhaps also for New Radnor Boroughs and Pembroke Boroughs. A few came from adjoining counties or further afield in Wales but six were English by birth: John Evans, John Garnons and Sir John Hoby were marchermen with Welsh kin, and John Herle from Oxfordshire had a Pembrokeshire mother, but John Harington II and William Wightman from near London seem to have lacked Welsh relatives. Pembroke Boroughs was almost a preserve for outsiders, only the Adams father and son being townsmen; the explanation probably lies in the crown's ownership of Pembroke itself and the modest resources available for payment after the enfranchisement of Haverfordwest. The Membership of Beaumaris, Brecon Boroughs and Montgomery Boroughs was virtually controlled by one family or interest.

Local affiliations and experience thus being common to nearly all the Members for Wales, other considerations helped to determine their choice. In the absence of records the part played by the various administrative centres is not easy to assess, but the number of their officers returned creates a strong presumption that official support was often decisive. There is little doubt that the influence wielded at elections by the 3rd Lord Ferrers of Chartley until the rise of the 1st Earl of Pembroke in the 1550s owed as much to his chamberlainship of South Wales as to his personal position there; or that the Herberts of Chirbury, the Salusburys of Lleweni and the Vaughans of Porthaml made similar use of their posts in Brecon, Denbigh and Montgomery respectively. The council in the marches is known to have intervened at elections. If its request in favour of Richard Mytton* in 1542 was ignored by the Merioneth electors, its nominees for the knighthood of Carnarvonshire in 1555 was accepted, and there are grounds for believing that Sir Rhys Gryffydd was not its only successful candidate. At least four of the Members, John Bassett II, John Evans, Thomas Phaer and Sir John Price, were members of the council when elected, as may have been Sir Edward Carne and Sir George Herbert. Kinship with current members seems to have mattered in Radnorshire and other counties not distant from Ludlow, and links with successive presidents were valuable. Apart from Ferrers and Pembroke the only magnates known to have played any part were the 2nd and 3rd Earls of Worcester.

The elections for the shire and for its Boroughs did not always coincide as to date or place, at least in Cardiganshire and Pembrokeshire, although the arrangement had much to commend it. Nothing has come to light about the part, if any, played by the local chanceries in the transmission of the returns unless the note concerning the 'return for Breknok' on the list of Members of Parliament of November 1554 affords a glimpse: the delivery of the return on that occasion by the lord steward of the Household might have been a break with normal procedure, but Brecon belonged to the crown and was thus possibly answerable to the lord steward.

The uproar at the election of the knight for Carmarthenshire in 1542 was referred to the council in the marches for investigation, whereas the series of irregularities in the autumn of 1553 led to prosecutions by the attorney-general in the Exchequer against the returning officiers. The sheriffs of Anglesey and of Haverfordwest were accused of making flase returns, the sheriff of Cardiganshire of holding the election without due notice and returning a non-resident, and the sheriffof Radnorshire of not sending a precept to the county town for the election there. The aggrieved candidate in Anglesey also brought an action against the sheriff in the common pleas. Although the outcome is known only in the Anglesey cases, Adam Mytton* assked for the action against himself as sheriff of Radnorshire to be dropped on the ground that the rules governing elections in England did not apply to Wales. A further irregularity occurred in September 1547 when the man elected for Cardigan Boroughs was replaced by Gruffydd Done. The election of the knight for Carmarthenshire in 1545 was a contested one, as perhaps was that for Pembrokeshire in 1558.

The role of the shire towns and other 'ancient boroughs' in the election of the Members for the Boroughs had been discussed at length elsewhere, but since then further information has come to light. Only the burgesses of the shire towns are known to have voted at the elections to the Parliament of 1542, and they seem to have been the only electors on a number of occasions for the rest of the period. Representatives from the contributory boroughs are mentioned at the elections for all but Brecon Boroughs, Caernarvon Boroughs, Montgomery Boroughs and Pembroke Boroughs, where they were present later in the century: they may also have been present at Carnarvon during the 1550s. Nothing is known about payment outside the Acts stipulating it, but the suit brought by Thomas Kynnyllyn, the Member for Monmouth Boroughs in 1542, was perhaps a collusive one to obtain a ruling for Monmouth and for Wales.4

Only two of the Members, John Evans and William Wightman, had any previous parliamentary experience before filling Welsh seats. A further six, William Aubrey II, John Bassett II, Thomas Eynns, William Devereux, John Hartington II, John Herle and John Perrot, went on to sit for English constituencies, and Robert Massey was simultaneously elected for Scarborough, and Sir Henry Jones perhaps for Old Sarum, presumably as a safeguard against the defeat in Wales. Many of the Members were familiar figures at court or in the field, or widely travelled crown servants and merchants, and thus had much in common with those whom they joined in the House.

Author: A. D.K. Hawkyard


  • 1. This entry and the constituency articles for Wales draw upon P. R. Roberts, 'The Union with England and the identity of Anglican Wales', TRHS, ser. 5, xxii. 49-90 and 'The Acts of Union and the Tudor settlement of Wales' (Camb. Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1966) and P. S. Edwards, 'Parlty. rep. of the Welsh Boroughs in the mid 16th century', Bull. Bd. of Celtic Studies, xxvii. 425-39 and 'Parlty. rep. of Wales and Mon. 1542-58' (Camb. Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1970).
  • 2. C54/406, m. 43; 218/2.
  • 3. LJ, i. 303, 309; CJ, i. 1, 3, 4, 24, 25, 38.
  • 4. Bull. Bd. of Celtic Studies, xxvii. 425-39.