Pembroke 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 Pembroke, Tenby, Wiston, Newport, Fishguard, Cilgerran and St. Dogmaels

Number of voters:



c. Mar. 1604RICHARD CUNY
28 Dec. 1620LEWIS POWELL
 Henry Wogan
c. Jan. 1626HUGH OWEN
25 Feb. 1628HUGH OWEN

Main Article

By the beginning of the seventeenth century Pembrokeshire’s boroughs were, with the exception of prosperous Haverfordwest, in an advanced state of economic decay. Pembroke was in places ‘very ruinous’ and severely depopulated, John Speed recording in 1611 that it had ‘more houses without inhabitants than I saw in any one city’. Though nominally the shire town, it had long since been eclipsed by Haverfordwest as the county’s administrative centre. Pembroke’s near neighbour Tenby, on the south coast, helped to distribute wine throughout west Wales, but it too was in decline by 1586, despite having been incorporated five years earlier, and was badly affected by the trade depression of the early 1620s. Newport, to the north, had ceased to hold a weekly market by the end of the sixteenth century, a disappearance which the lord of the manor supposed to be ‘the chiefest cause of the decay of that town’. Nearby Cilgerran retained its market, but was also decayed, as was Wiston which, situated in the centre of the county, nevertheless continued to host one of the shire’s two great annual livestock fairs.1

The 1536 Act of Union enfranchised all but one of the county towns of Wales, granting to each the right to return a single Member to Parliament. The responsibility for meeting the cost of parliamentary wages, however, was not exclusively fixed on the newly enfranchised county towns, but was extended to the other ancient boroughs within the affected shires. Throughout Wales this statutory provision was interpreted to mean that these ‘contributory boroughs’ were entitled to vote in parliamentary elections for the borough Member. In Pembrokeshire the contributory boroughs excluded Haverfordwest, which in 1543 was granted county status and the right to choose its own representative at Westminster, but until February 1621, when the committee for privileges ruled on the matter, it remained unclear which of the remaining towns were to be regarded as contributory boroughs. The committee’s decision was that the list should include Tenby, Wiston, Newport, Fishguard, Cilgerran and St. Dogmaels. However, the surviving election indentures suggest that in the early seventeenth century only Wiston and Tenby – being geographically closest to Pembroke – ever exercised voting rights.2

During the first Jacobean Parliament, Pembroke Boroughs was represented at Westminster by Richard Cuny, who twice obtained formal leave of absence and seems rarely to have attended the House. Settled at St. Florence, a few miles west of Tenby, Cuny was a former servant of Robert Devereux, 2nd earl of Essex (d.1601), whose ownership of Lamphey manor, near Pembroke, in the late Elizabethan period had given him electoral influence over the constituency. Cuny undoubtedly owed his election to the mayor of Pembroke, Nicholas Adams†. Like Cuny, Adams had been a member of the Devereux faction, and by 1609 at the latest the two men were brothers-in-law. When, in 1620, Cuny was himself appointed mayor of Pembroke, he chose Adams to be his deputy. Cuny was succeeded in 1614 as Member for Pembroke Boroughs by Walter Devereux, the younger brother of the 3rd earl of Essex and squire of Lamphey. Aged about 23, Devereux was old enough to exert his family’s influence over the seat on his own.

Devereux did not seek re-election in December 1620, when he probably served alongside Essex in the Palatinate. His absence left the way open for an alternative candidate. Richard Cuny was out of the reckoning, for being then mayor of Pembroke he was barred from standing. The former mayor, Lewis Powell, on the other hand, was a different proposition. In the run-up to the election, Powell, whose seat at Greenhill lay a few miles west of the town, received vigorous support from both Cuny and Nicholas Adams, both of whom were his brothers-in-law. However, a challenger to Powell emerged in the form of Henry Wogan of Wiston, whose elder brother John had served as knight of the shire in the previous Parliament. On learning that Wogan intended to stand, an alarmed Cuny declared that he ‘would admit no election unless Mr. Lewis Powell should be named’. He is also said to have ‘threatened the burgesses of the town of Pembroke that they were forsworn if they did not give their voices as he did, alleging the charter of the town for warrant thereof’. However, several burgesses refused to be intimidated. Their defiance prompted Nicholas Adams to summon before him the recalcitrant burgesses, whom he urged ‘with divers menaces and railings to give their voices as the mayor did’. If they refused to do so, he added, ‘they should be disgraded of their burgess-ships’.

These tactics may have overawed the electors of Pembroke, but the latter numbered at most around 70 individuals, whereas the contributory boroughs were reckoned to be capable of fielding around 160 voters between them. It seems unlikely that Cuny wielded much influence outside Pembroke, even over Tenby, where he was nominally deputy constable of the local castle, as his position there had effectively been usurped by another man.3 Certainly, neither he nor Adams was capable of influencing the Wogan stronghold of Wiston. Nevertheless, Cuny attempted to intimidate the outboroughs by nominating Powell in the formal notification of the impending election that he sent to each of them. This clumsy tactic probably did more harm than good, and by the time the election came round a desperate Cuny refused to allow the electors from the contributory boroughs to cast their votes.4 His decision was upheld by the sheriff, Alban Philipps, whose return bears only the names of Pembroke’s electors.5 This highly partisan behaviour by the sheriff was undoubtedly motivated by personal considerations, as the Philipps family of Picton Castle had long been enemies of the Wogans of Wiston. Moreover, Alban Philipps’ brother, (Sir) John Philipps†, bt.,6 had particular reason to detest the Wogans, as in 1616 they had engineered his removal from the captaincy of the local company of the trained band, an insult which he deeply resented and which eventually caused him to complain in Star Chamber.7

The manner in which the election was managed by Cuny and Philipps inevitably provoked howls of protest from the outboroughs, which claimed that Wogan would have won had their votes been admitted. Their evidence was compelling. On 27 Feb. 1621 the committee for privileges dismissed Pembroke’s claim that the outboroughs were not entitled to participate in parliamentary elections for the borough seat, and condemned the outrageous behaviour of Cuny and Adams.8 However, these findings were not reported to the House until 18 May, when the committee also recommended that Powell’s election be quashed. Judgment was further delayed after Sir Samuel Sandys, who observed that there was no evidence that Powell himself had behaved improperly, persuaded the House to grant Powell and Cuny a hearing. Ignoring the advice of Sandys’s brother Sir Edwin, who pointed out that Powell had already told the committee all it needed to know, the Commons decided to allow Powell three weeks in which to answer as he had been permitted leave to return to Pembrokeshire four days earlier.9 This delay proved fatal: before the three weeks had elapsed, Parliament was adjourned, and by the time it had reconvened in November the question of Powell’s election had been quietly forgotten.

In 1624 Lewis Powell was obliged to look to Haverfordwest for a parliamentary seat rather than Pembroke Boroughs, where Sir Walter Devereux, no longer squire of Lamphey, made himself available for re-election. The damaged condition of the 1624 election indenture10 makes it impossible to establish whether the voters of Pembroke’s outboroughs were restored to their electoral rights. In 1625 the electorate’s choice fell once more on Lewis Powell, as Devereux was again absent, this time serving alongside his brother in the Netherlands. Although Powell presumably enjoyed the backing of Cuny, who was in his third term as mayor of Pembroke, his election was a surprising result. No less than 27 of the 44 freemen who voted were from Wiston, of whom three were Wogans.11

Neither Powell nor Devereux was returned again. Instead, Pembroke Boroughs was represented in 1626 and 1628 by the young Hugh Owen. As squire of Orielton, a manor situated two miles south-west of Pembroke, and as lessee of Pembroke’s former priory lands at Monkton, Owen was well placed to dominate the shire town, whose freemen formed the majority of the voters in 1628 at least.12 In 1626 he may have encountered opposition from Devereux, who certainly required a seat, as he was returned for Tamworth on his grandmother’s interest. However, in 1628 Devereux may have allowed Owen a free hand at Pembroke, as he was elected at Tamworth nine days before the voters of Pembroke Boroughs went to the hustings.

Author: Andrew Thrush


  • 1. Pemb. County Hist. III: Early Modern Pemb. 1536-1815 ed. B. Howells (Pemb. Rec. Soc.), 18-20, 27-8; G. Owen, Description of Penbrokshire ed. H. Owen (Cymmrodorion Rec. Ser. i. pt. 3), p. 359; B.E. Howells, ‘Pemb. Farming c.1580-1625’, NLW Jnl. ix. 242; G. Dyfnallt Owen, Wales in Reign of Jas. I, 132; B.G. Charles, ‘Recs. of Bor. of Newport’, NLW Jnl. vii. 136; Anon. An Acct. of Tenby, 40-4; J. Phillips, Hist. Cilgerran, 46.
  • 2. C219/39/264; 219/41B/24. The indentures for 1604 and 1614 are missing. The compilers of OR mistook the 1604 return relating to Poole, Dorset for that of Pembroke Boroughs.
  • 3. Exch. Procs. concerning Wales in Tempore Jas. I comp. T.I. Jeffrey Jones (Univ. of Wales, Bd. of Celtic Studs., Hist. and Law ser. xv), 308.
  • 4. Som. RO, DD/PH 216/6, f. 11.
  • 5. C219/37/363.
  • 6. Dwnn, Vis. Wales ed. S.R. Meyrick, i. 115.
  • 7. HP Commons 1558-1603, iii. 217; STAC 8/239/20.
  • 8. Som. RO, DD/PH 216/6, ff. 11-12.
  • 9. CJ, i. 621a, 624a, 624b; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, ii. 89-90; CD 1621, iii. 285-6.
  • 10. C219/38/336.
  • 11. C219/39/264.
  • 12. C219/41B/24. The 1626 indenture is illegible.