Pembroke Boroughs


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


(?18) Sept. 1597EDWARD BURTON
12 Oct. 1601JOHN LOUGHER

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Elizabethan Pembrokeshire contained a number of towns and villages which had achieved borough status during the medieval period, and were therefore entitled to take part in the elections of the borough Member of Parliament. Haverfordwest, the largest of these, was excluded, however, since, as a county in itself, it chose its own Member. Pembroke, the shire town, was incorporated in 1485, and governed by a council consisting of a mayor, two bailiffs and twelve of ‘the more honest men of the town and precincts’. George Owen, a contemporary local historian, described it as ‘very ruinous and much decayed’. The port of Tenby, on the other hand, ‘very wealthy by merchandise’ when Leland visited it, continued to expand. It had a mayor, bailiff and council of burgesses, and received a royal charter of incorporation in 1581.2 The other boroughs were of little importance. Newport, with its mayor, bailiff and aldermen, was within the lordship of Cemaes, while Llawhaden received privileges from their lords, the bishops of St. David’s. Cilgerran, formerly a possession of the earls of Pembroke, was governed by a portreeve and two bailiffs, and Wiston, controlled by the Wogans, may have had a mayor.3

The borough election was probably always held in the guildhall at Pembroke, with the mayor presiding. It is difficult to say how many of the boroughs sent burgesses to take part. Those returns which survive suggest that Tenby took its position as a contributory borough seriously, while one or two others may have sent electors occasionally. In 1584 the sheriff noted on the back of the writ that he had drawn up an indenture with the mayor and burgesses of Pembroke, ‘shire town’ of Pembrokeshire, ‘and other burgesses of the aforesaid county’. The 1601 return is even more explicit. It names, among those present, the mayor, several aldermen and nearly a dozen burgesses of Pembroke, the mayor, aldermen and about 70 burgesses of Tenby, and two burgesses from Cilgerran. Clearly the burgesses of Pembroke were outvoted on this occasion by those from Tenby, and the same thing may have occurred in 1584, when about a hundred voters took part, and at other elections. Surviving evidence suggests that it was a rare occurrence in sixteenth century Welsh borough elections for the shire town to lose control to one of its contributory boroughs. The appearance in 1601 of two burgesses from Cilgerran, situated at the far end of the county from Pembroke, is surprising.

As Pembroke was so poor, it was open to outside influence. Only Nicholas Adams (1589), is known to have served as a councilman at Pembroke. He represented the third generation of his family to sit for the borough. The sheriff at the time of his election was his father, and the mayor, Morgan Powell, was shortly to become his father-in-law. He himself was to be mayor of Pembroke on four occasions in the next reign. John Vaughan III (1584, 1586) came from Castlemartin, near Pembroke, and his office of customer of Milford Haven would often have brought him to the county town. In view of Tenby’s voting strength, it is not surprising that one of its prominent families supplied two of the MPs. Robert Lougher (1572) was a civil lawyer and enjoyed the unusual, if not unique, distinction in the Elizabethan period of being a clerk in holy orders at the time of his election. He must have been away from home most of the time and presumably relied on the local influence of his father, four times mayor of Tenby, and of his father-in-law, John Rastell, a judge whose circuit included Pembrokeshire. Robert’s son John, elected in 1601, was also a lawyer. Crown Office lists for the 1563 Parliament give the Pembroke Member as William Bevell, probably in error for Revell, a local family from which came Thomas Revell, county Member in 1584 and 1586. A William Revell, apparently a Pembroke burgess, appears among the voters on the 1584 return, which also has his signature at the foot.4

None of the other Members is thought to have been a local man. Robert Davy (1571), who lived in London, was one of many royal officials to acquire a Welsh borough seat during the period. In 1567 he had been appointed receiver of crown lands in South Wales. Sir Conyers Clifford (1593) was a relative and companion in arms of the 2nd Earl of Essex: presumably the Earl, whose uncle George Devereux lived at Lamphey near Pembroke, secured his return. Henry Dodds (1559), who held the lease of some property in Pembroke, and Edward Burton (1597) have not been definitely identified, but they do not seem to have belonged to local families.

Author: M.R.P.


  • 1. E371/402(1).
  • 2. C219/26/167, 29/224, 31/255, 33/286, 34/250.
  • 3. Pemb. Recs. (Cymmrodorian Rec. Ser. vii), pt. 3, pp. 206-17; Desc. Pemb. (same ser. i), pt. 2, pp. 557-9; pt. 3, p. 359; Trans. Hist. Soc. W. Wales, v. 117; Leland, Itin. ed. Smith, 61; Pemb. Recs. pt. 3, pp. 217-44; Acct. Tenby (1818), 23, 40-44; NLW Jnl. v. 267; vii. 33, 37, 127-34; R. Fenton, Hist. Tour Pembs. (1903), 62, 276, 302-3, 313-14; Pemb. Recs. pt. 2, p. 517; J. Phillips, Cilgerran, 37 seq.
  • 4. C219/26/167, 29/224, 31/255, 33/286, 34/250.