Monmouth Boroughs


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


10 Jan. 1559MOORE POWELL
28 Nov. 1562MOORE POWELL
22 Apr. 1572MOORE POWELL
1576SIR WILLIAM MORGAN vice Powell, deceased
29 Sept. 1586MOORE GWILLIM
30 Oct. 1588PHILIP JONES

Main Article

Monmouth was made the shire town of the new county which came into being in 1536 as a result of the Act of Union. The town was incorporated in 1549 and the government of the borough placed in the hands of a mayor and two bailiffs. It had long been a possession of the duchy of Lancaster. The leading local duchy offices, those of steward and receiver, were held throughout the Elizabethan period by the earls of Pembroke and by another branch of the powerful Herbert family.

The clause of the Act of Union relating to Monmouthshire provided for the return of two county Members of Parliament, ‘and one burgess for the borough of Monmouth’. An Act of 1544 stipulated that the borough Member should be chosen by the burgesses of Monmouth and of the other boroughs in the shire. Of these there were six, perhaps seven. Four, Caerleon, Newport, Trellech and Usk, together with the lordships of which they formed part, were granted to William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke, during the reign of Edward VI. Herbert influence, exercised in each borough through the Iord’s steward or the constable of the castle, was great and included the formal appointment of local officials. Caerleon was governed by a mayor and two bailiffs. Newport, the privileges of which were confirmed by the Queen in 1595, was the largest of the four towns and had a mayor, bailiffs, aldermen and recorder. The mayor was chosen from three nominated aldermen by the constable, who was usually a member of the St. Julian’s branch of the Herbert family. Trellech, a village near Monmouth in the lordship of Usk, had at least a mayor, while Usk itself had a portreeve and two bailiffs, former portreeves holding the title of alderman. Here the Iord’s steward seems to have acted as recorder also.

Two other boroughs forming part of the Monmouth group were Chepstow and Abergavenny. Chepstow belonged to the Somerset family, earls of Worcester, from whom it received a charter in 1524. It was governed by a steward and two bailiffs. Abergavenny, a Neville possession, also received a charter from its lord during Henry VIII’s reign. Two bailiffs were the leading officials. It is not clear whether Grosmont, belonging to the Herberts, was also a contributory borough.

Parliamentary borough elections were held at Monmouth under the supervision of the mayor and bailiffs. As the surviving returns from the early part of the reign claim that the MPs were chosen by the mayor, bailiffs and burgesses of Monmouth ‘with the consent of the burgesses of the whole shire’, it is likely that electors from the other boroughs were already taking part in the proceedings during this period, as they certainly were from 1584 when their presence is recorded on the surviving returns (that for 1593 is missing). Usk sent two burgesses to each election from 1584 until the end of the reign. The others were represented occasionally. Chepstow sent burgesses to the three elections in the 1580s, while Caerleon is mentioned only in 1584. Abergavenny sent four burgesses in 1586 and two in 1588-9; Trellech voters appeared for the last two Parliaments of the reign. Surprisingly, the prosperous port of Newport, which was host to the county court alternately with Monmouth and later established itself as one of the contributory boroughs, is not known to have taken part in Elizabethan elections. The number of Monmouth burgesses present, apart from the mayor and bailiffs, varied between six and twenty-six, all of whom are named. There is nothing to suggest that the burgesses from the other boroughs, who were always outnumbered by those of Monmouth, materially affected the choice of Members.

Most of the Elizabethan Members were local men. Moore Powell, returned to three out of the first four Parliaments, lived in a ‘great house’ in the town and was the recorder by 1564. His nephew Moore Gwillim (1584 and 1586) was clearly a leading property owner and was mayor at the time of his second election. Philip Jones (1589) was a London grocer, but his roots were in Monmouth, where he owned some land and to which he retired, and he was one of the electors in 1597; he was, besides, related to Moore Gwillim and to powerful county families like the Herberts and the Morgans.

Duchy influence at elections appears to have been slight. Sir Ambrose Cave, Elizabeth’s first chancellor of the duchy, may have contemplated intervention in 1563. Two surviving lists of Members, emanating apparently from the duchy office, have the names of two likely duchy nominees written in next to Monmouth. Neither was selected; and it is significant that the chancellor does not seem to have been aware that the borough returned one Member only. He is not likely to have given his approval to Powell, a man with Catholic convictions. Edward Hubberd (1593) was an Essex country gentleman and a Chancery official. Sir Gilbert Gerard, master of the rolls and Hubberd’s superior, was also vice-chancellor of the duchy and it therefore seems probable that Hubberd was a duchy nominee.

The influence of the earls of Pembroke is difficult to assess. It is tempting to see Pembroke backing in the election of Charles Herbert in 1571. However, if the MP has been correctly identified as Charles Herbert of Hadnock, near Monmouth, he would have been elected on the strength of his local influence and his father’s standing as duchy receiver in the county. Sir William Morgan (1576) is another possible Pembroke nominee: he is known to have been connected with the family, and was a standard bearer at the 1st Earl’s funeral in 1570. On the other hand, his family was an important one in the county. Robert Johnson (1597, 1601), a Buckinghamshire man, probably owed his election to Herbert influence, though his exact connexion with the family is not known; he continued to sit for Monmouth in the next period.

Statutes, iii. 563 seq.; CPR, 1548-9, p. 178; Charters of Monmouth, 3-13; Somerville, Duchy, i. 649, 651; E. Havill, ‘Parl. Rep. Mon. and Monmouth Boroughs, 1536-1832’ (Univ. Wales MA thesis 1949), chapters 1, 2 and 4; Bradney, Mon. passim; Cardiff Recs. i. 303, 457, 464; Newport Charters ed. Rees, passim; B. P. Jones, From Elizabeth to Victoria: the Govt. of Newport, 19-21; C219/26/61, 27/27, 28/77, 29/84, 30/58, 31/108, 33/129, 34/66; C193/32/4.

Author: M.R.P.