Monmouth Boroughs


Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen of Monmouth, Abergavenny, Caerleon, Chepstow, Newport, Trelleck and Usk

Number of voters:



c. Dec. 1620Thomas Ravenscroft
26 Jan. 1624Walter STEWARD
  Election declared void, 28 May 1624.
c. May 1625Walter STEWARD
c. Jan. 1626William Fortune
21 Feb. 1628William Morgan

Main Article

Monmouth was established around a Norman castle situated at the confluence of the rivers Monnow and Wye. It thus occupied a significant strategic and cultural position on the boundary between Wales and England. In the thirteenth century the borough passed into the hands of the house of Lancaster, and thereafter it remained a duchy possession down to 1631. The town enjoyed good trading contacts by river and land, and possessed a market by the end of the eleventh century, but suffered severely in the Glynd?r rebellion and struggled to recover economically.1 In the 1590s it was described as ‘somewhat decayed’ and a common stock was provided to stimulate the manufacture and dressing of Welsh freizes.2 Despite these difficulties, by the early seventeenth century Monmouth possessed guilds of mercers, drapers, grocers, tanners and glovers.3 A major cottage industry in the town had been the manufacture of knitted Monmouth caps, although production ultimately migrated to Bewdley, Worcestershire.4 Trade in commodities such as wine and timber along the Wye had been impeded since Marian times by the nearby Monmouth weir, but in the early 1620s orders were given to level the weir by the local sewer commissioners.5

Monmouth was incorporated in 1549, under a charter which provided for the election of a mayor and two bailiffs from the burgesses. A fresh charter ‘for the better government, regulation and bettering of the town’ was granted in December 1605. This created a common council of 15 chief burgesses, from among whom the mayor and bailiffs were chosen, which was empowered to make ordinances for the town.6 This charter may have been the product of internal divisions, as Thomas Sadler, mayor in 1604-5, had been accused of corruption in office by a burgess and glover, James Gwillim. The new charter named Sadler and his bailiffs as common councillors and omitted Gwillim, suggesting that the purpose of the grant was to confirm Sadler’s position.7 Indications of continued division may be seen in ordinances passed in 1611, which recounted that the borough was liable to ‘fall to utter ruin’ on account of the multiplicity of suits brought against townsmen by their fellow inhabitants. Provisions were also made to disenfranchise any who attempted to overthrow the charter.8 Municipal unrest seems not to have affected Monmouth’s parliamentary elections, however, as the borough generally returned outsiders.

Although Monmouthshire had been created (in 1536) as an essentially English county, Monmouth itself was treated like a Welsh borough, being given the right to return only one Member. Furthermore, several other towns within the shire were entitled to vote in the borough election, an arrangement which was uniquely Welsh. Of these, four were controlled by the earls of Pembroke (Caerleon, Newport, Trellech and Usk), Chepstow belonged to the earls of Worcester, and Abergavenny was subject to the influence of the Neville family. It is unclear, however, how far these contributory boroughs were involved in practice in Monmouth’s elections, as many of the election indentures have been lost. Although the return of 1628 refers to the ‘full assents and consents of the burgesses and commonalty of all other borough towns’ within the county, the contracting parties can generally be identified as townsmen of Monmouth.9 The 1624 indenture, meanwhile, acknowledges only the assent of the ‘mayor, bailiffs and the whole burgesses and commonalty’ of Monmouth.10

Even though the duchy of Lancaster owned the borough until 1631, there is no indication that successive chancellors attempted to exert any patronage there; nor does Pembroke’s influence in several of the contributory boroughs appear to have had any impact on electoral politics in this period.11 However, Monmouth was amenable to the influence of the earls of Worcester, stewards of the manor, who resided at nearby Raglan. The family owned several burgages within the town, most of them held by the sons of the 4th earl of Worcester, which would have afforded significant electoral influence.12 Many of those elected can be identified with the Worcester interest. The Member in 1604 and 1614, Robert Johnson, was an associate of the 1st earl of Salisbury (Robert Cecil†), but his interest at Monmouth almost certainly stemmed from his earlier employment as an auditor for the earls of Worcester. The 1621 Member, Thomas Ravenscroft, owned burgages in Monmouth, but more importantly he married into a closely linked circle of families with ties to Worcester. Similarly William Fortune, although a prominent burgess with properties in the borough, had links with townsmen described as Worcester’s retainers.13 The election of the courtier Walter Steward in 1624 and 1625 was doubtless engineered by Worcester, who held the office of lord privy seal. Only William Morgan, Member in 1628, appears to have had no ties to the earl, although the presence of men like William Fortune on his election return suggests that he was not distasteful to the Raglan interest.

Borough business occasionally came before Parliament in the early Stuart period. The Chepstow bridge over the Wye collapsed in 1603, and a bill was promoted in 1606 to provide for the building and maintenance of a new structure. Robert Johnson offered a proviso for Monmouth exempting it from contributing to the costs of construction and repair, but was successfully countered by John Hoskins, Member for Hereford.14 Johnson also moved for a similar exemption for the town during a debate over a bill concerning the repair of bridges in 1614.15 Also in 1614, a bill was introduced for the provision of a school and almshouses in the town as part of the bequest of William Jones, a wealthy Haberdasher and Monmouthshire native. The bill was sponsored by the Member for Gatton, Sir John Brooke, who had sold the Haberdashers’ part of the manor of Hatcham Barnes to provide the bequest. Brooke assured the Company that the bill would exempt the purchase of the remainder from mortmain legislation, but though it passed both Houses it was lost at the acrimonious dissolution.16

Author: Lloyd Bowen


  • 1. K. Kissack, Monmouth, 1-2.
  • 2. DL1/166/420.
  • 3. Monmouth Mus., Monmouth bor. mss Miscellanea 3.
  • 4. Kissack, 15-17.
  • 5. NLW, Tredegar Park 59/5-6; Add. 21567, f. 3; DL4/72/26; 1/161/196; 1/175/329-30.
  • 6. Charters of Town and Bor. of Monmouth, 14-30; C66/1674.
  • 7. STAC 8/152/21.
  • 8. NLW, Arnott 49.
  • 9. C219/41B/98.
  • 10. C219/38/165. A survey of 1609, stated that Monmouth’s franchise was reserved to all free and customary tenants in the town: Survey Duchy of Lancaster Lordships ed. W. Rees (Univ. of Wales, Bd. of Celtic Studies, Hist. and Law ser. xii), 4.
  • 11. Cf. J.K. Gruenfelder, Influence in Early Stuart Elections, 45, 80, 83.
  • 12. Survey, xxix.
  • 13. DL1/166/419-20.
  • 14. L. Bowen, ‘Wales in British Pols. c.1603-42’ (Cardiff Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1999), pp. 134-8; CJ, i. 296b-7a.
  • 15. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 174.
  • 16. GL, ms 15842/1 ff. 184v-88; I. Archer, Haberdashers’ Co. 72-82; CJ, i. 478a, 486a, 492a, 493b; HLRO, main pprs. 23 May 1614; Bowen, 140-2.