Denbigh Boroughs


Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer


10 Oct. 1586ROBERT WROTE
28 Sept. 1597JOHN PANTON
16 Dec. 1601JOHN PANTON

Main Article

This group of boroughs comprised Denbigh, Chirk, Holt and Ruthin. Denbigh, shire town of the new county created at the Union, belonged to the Crown in 1558. The governing body included two aldermen, two bailiffs and a recorder, and its privileges were confirmed by charter in 1597. Ruthin, in the Vale of Clwyd, was also in the charge of two aldermen. The small village of Holt, in the crown lordship of Bromfield and Yale near the Shropshire border, had a mayor and two bailiffs. Its baronial charter, granted early in the fifteenth century, was confirmed by Elizabeth in 1563. The other contributory borough was Chirk, which in Leland’s time consisted of no more than ‘a few houses and ... a mighty, large and strong castle’. A survey of 1568 described it as a decayed `ancient borough’, with but 24 burgesses.2

The election for the knight of the shire took place in the county court, which met alternately at Denbigh and Wrexham, and the occasion seems to have been used for the borough election also. The Member for the Boroughs, therefore, was sometimes chosen at Wrexham, even though its townsmen could not vote, since it was not one of the ‘ancient boroughs of the shire’, as the Act of Union required. This is known to have occurred in 1559, 1588 and 1601 at least. An election case, recorded on a 1559 memoranda roll of the Exchequer, seems to indicate that the procedure was not clearly established by that date. The sheriff, knowing that the first borough election of the reign would be held at Wrexham, had evidently not known to whom the precept should be sent. The bailiffs of Denbigh claimed that they, as officers of the shire town, should receive the precept and conduct the election, even if it took place at Wrexham, and on this occasion their claim was upheld. The roll also lists the three other boroughs to which the Denbigh authorities should send notice of forthcoming elections. Whether the contributory boroughs sent burgesses regularly to the elections is not clear from the returns, though they were all represented in 1572. Electors from Ruthin are mentioned in 1597.3

An important new element was introduced into the political life of Denbighshire in 1563 by the grant to Robert Dudley, later Earl of Leicester, of the lordships of Denbigh and Chirk including the boroughs of the same name. From that date until his death a quarter of a century later he was by far the most influential man in the county, a situation reflected in parliamentary borough elections. Further, his brother, the Earl of Warwick, became lord of Ruthin in 1564 and succeeded Leicester in Denbigh and Chirk. For a short time, therefore, until his own death in 1590, Warwick was in possession of most of the country including three of its parliamentary boroughs.4

The quarrels which divided the Denbighshire gentry and led to two dramatic contests for the county seat in the second half of the reign, had little effect on the borough elections. The numerical superiority of the burgesses of Denbigh, especially when supported by those of Ruthin, meant that the leading gentlemen of the Vale of Clwyd, by asserting their influence in the two towns, could normally nominate the borough Member even if the county seat was denied them. Only Leicester’s intervention disturbed the pattern. Simon Thelwall I, whose family seat of Plas y Ward adjoined Ruthin, was elected as the borough Member for at least the third time in 1559, and again in 1571. His election in 1571 probably had the support of the Earl of Leicester, who had by then been established in Denbighshire for some years and was a patron of Thelwall’s uncle William Herle. The 1563 Member, Humphrey Lloyd, a scholar and doctor of some distinction and brother-in-law of Lord Lumley, was living in the town at the time of his election.

In 1572 the Earl of Leicester wrote to the aldermen, bailiffs and burgesses of Denbigh trouncing them for ignoring him in the election of their borough Member. Dates and names present a confusing problem, but it looks as if the leading west Denbighshire family, the Salusburys of Lleweni, had secured a footing in the boroughs through the burgages they held in Denbigh itself. At any rate the name of a Thomas Salusbury, either grandson of Sir John Salusbury of Lleweni, or, more likely, Sir John’s younger son who lived at Denbigh castle, appears on a Crown Office list,5 for 1572, but it was afterwards crossed out, and replaced by that of Richard Cavendish, a Suffolk gentleman in Leicester’s service. Presumably, the Earl was responsible for his nomination, and, as the return is a ‘blank’, either he or his agent inserted the name. Leicester wrote twice to the borough, ordering them in his second letter to revoke their first choice:

It will haply be alleged that your choice was made before the receipt of my letters. In reply I would little have thought that you would have been so forgetful or rather careless of me as, before your decision, not to make me privy thereto, or at the least to have some desire of my advice therein.

Evidently the borough had sent in a first return, bearing the name of Thomas Salusbury, but later, hearing from the Earl, they cancelled this and copied out another, leaving a space for the Member’s name in which the Earl or his agent inserted Richard Cavendish. The return bears the signatures or names of 25 burgesses from the four contributory boroughs.6 The re-election of Cavendish in 1584, again on a ‘blank’ return, strengthens the view that he must also have had Leicester’s backing in 1572. Robert Wrote (1586), another East Anglian, presumably also owed his election to Leicester patronage, though it is not certain that he was actually in the Earl’s service.

By the time of the 1588 election Leicester was dead. The boroughs chose John Turbridge, son of the general surveyor for North Wales who lived near Ruthin. The 1593 Member, Simon Thelwall II, came from a junior branch of the family: he was then at Lincoln’s Inn. John Panton, whose family: had lived near Denbigh for generations, was recorder of that borough and sat in the last two Parliaments of the reign. In 1601 fear of violence at a stormy meeting apparently persuaded the sheriff to postpone the county and borough elections. When they were finally held at Wrexham, the Parliament had only three days to run. The two bailiffs and two aldermen of Denbigh, together with seven other burgesses, appear to have been the only electors. All signed the return.7

Author: M.R.P.


  • 1. E371/402(1).
  • 2. CPR, 1494-1509, p. 586; 1550-3, pp. 102-3; CSP Dom. 1595-7, p. 442; J. Williams, Ancient and Mod. Denbigh, 105, 121; R. Newcome, Castle and Town of Ruthin, passim; Arch Camb. (ser. 6), vii. 13, 26-31, 311-12, 322; Leland, Itin. ed. Smith, 72; M. Mahler, Chirk Castle and Chirkland, 42, 109 seq., 136-7.
  • 3. E159/340 Trin. 1 Eliz. ff. xxviii-xxix; C219/28/198; 29/214; 30/135; 33/273; 34/89.
  • 4. CPR, 1560-3, pp. 534-43; 1563-6, pp. 59-62.
  • 5. C193/32/8.
  • 6. T. Pennant, Tours in Wales, ii. 164-5; Williams, op. cit. 98-99; C219/28/198.
  • 7. Neale, Commons, 120 seq.