WILLIAMS, Henry (c.1603-by 1656), of Gwernyfed, Aberllynfi, Brec.
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Family and Education
b. c.1603,1 1st s. of Sir Henry Williams* of Gwernyfed and Eleanor, da. of Eustace Whitney of Whitney, Herefs. educ. M. Temple 1621. m. 25 Aug. 1631 (with £3,000), Ann, da. of (Sir) Walter Pye I* of the Mynde, Herefs. 2s.2 suc. fa. 1636. cr. bt. 4 May 1644.3 d. by May 1656.4 sig. Henry Williams.
Steward (jt.), reader’s feast, M. Temple 1629.5
Steward (jt.), lordship of Crickhowell, Brec. 1629-at least 1636, Tretower (jt.) 1631-6, (sole) 1636-at least 1641;6 j.p. Brec. 1630-46 (custos rot. 1636-42),7 dep. lt. by 1637, capt. militia ft. 1637,8 sheriff 1639-40,9 commr. disarming recusants 1641,10 poll tax 1641,11 array 1642-6,12 assessment (roy.), Brec. and Rad.1643, levying forces (roy.) 1643, impressment (roy.) 1643, accts. (roy.) Brec. 1644.13
This Member has often been confused with his father and namesake, Sir Henry Williams, but the Breconshire indenture of 1628 clearly specifies that it was ‘Henry Williams, esq.’ who was elected. Furthermore, at that time Sir Henry was acting as sheriff and returning officer, dispelling any ambiguity on this point.14 The 1628 Member, then, was a scion of one of the leading political dynasties in the modest world of Breconshire gentry politics. He cannot, however, have been the individual who matriculated at St. John’s College, Oxford aged 16 in 1605, as this would have made his father only nine years old at the time of his birth.15 The family had a strong legal tradition: Henry’s grandfather (Sir) David† became a leading Welsh judge, his father attended the Middle Temple, and his uncle Robert qualified as a barrister.16 Not surprisingly, in May 1621 Henry was admitted to the Middle Temple, his fine being remitted at the request of (Sir) Walter Pye I, an intimate of his father and chief justice of the Brecon circuit.17 When Pye’s son, Walter II* was in turn admitted, Williams stood as one of his sureties.18 Williams’ manucaptors in 1621 included William Morgan* of Y Dderw, a Breconshire man and another ally of Sir Henry Williams and (Sir) Walter Pye I.19
At his election in 1628, Henry Williams was a rather green proxy for his father, as he was not yet even a magistrate; nor is there is any record that he ever spoke or was named to any committees. He was certainly not the ‘Mr. Williams, one skilful in gold and silver mines’ who gave evidence before the committee of grievances on 4 June 1628.20 He was, however, one of those appointed to provide for the reader’s feast at the Middle Temple on 6 Feb. 1629, when Parliament was still in session.21
Williams began to assume the mantle of a local governor in the early 1630s, following his marriage to Anne, daughter of Sir Walter Pye I, who was hugely influential in the politics of early Stuart Breconshire. This marriage brought a substantial portion to the Williams’ coffers, and also allied the Member with a powerful family on the Welsh border.22 Williams assumed the leadership of the Gwernyfed house after his father’s death in 1636, immediately taking up the chairmanship of the bench, which his father had held for nearly 20 years, and replacing his father as a deputy lieutenant. He did not distinguish himself in the period before the Civil War, although he was clearly an important member of the Breconshire political community. Named a commissioner of array in 1642, he became a committed royalist, acquiring a baronetcy in May 1644 for his efforts on behalf of Charles I. The king stayed at Gwernyfed on 6 Aug. 1645, seven weeks after the battle of Naseby, underlining Williams’ status as a leading royalist in the county. In 1646 a hostile commentator described Williams as the ‘capital commissioner of array’ and a ‘man of great power’ in Breconshire, who had acted ‘with a high hand to the great terror and consternation of all the well affected inhabitants thereabouts’. He further complained that, despite the king’s defeat, Williams continued in ‘his wonted greatness and tyranny’, protected by ‘some rotten Members of the House of Commons’, a reference, almost certainly, to the politically suspect Member for Breconshire, William Morgan*. Williams’ estate had yet to be sequestered, and consequently Williams continued to prosper in the comparative remoteness of Gwernyfed, ‘grinding the face of the poor in pieces, especially such as hate [his] ... ungodly proceedings’.23 In the event, Williams never suffered sequestration, possibly because of Morgan’s protection, but perhaps also because his estate was too encumbered to bear a fine, although he was assessed at £1,500.24
Williams lived quietly for the remainder of his life in the seclusion of Gwernyfed. He was dead by May 1656, when his second son entered the Middle Temple.25 His eldest son, also Henry, the second baronet, represented Brecon in the Convention and the county in the Cavalier Parliament.
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Author: Lloyd Bowen
- 1. Assuming an age of 18 at admission to M. Temple.
- 2. NLW, Gwernyfed 43; C2/Chas.I/W29/11; M. Temple Admiss.
- 3. Docquets of Letters Patent 1642-6 ed. W.H. Black, 244-5.
- 4. MTR, 1095.
- 5. Ibid. 743.
- 6. NLW, Badminton (manorial) I/57-70, 107-17.
- 7. JPs in Wales and Monm. ed. Phillips, 267-71.
- 8. HEHL, EL7443.
- 9. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 239.
- 10. LJ, iv. 386a.
- 11. SR, v. 165.
- 12. Northants. RO, FH133; SP19/126/96.
- 13. Docquets of Letters Patent, 48-50, 111, 219.
- 14. C219/41B/5.
- 15. Al. Ox.
- 16. Bodl. Add. A281, f. 240v.
- 17. MTR, 663.
- 18. Ibid. 713.
- 19. For the relationship between Sir Henry and (Sir) Walter, see NLW, Tredegar Park 138/39, 108/17, 118/80.
- 20. CD 1628, iv. 100.
- 21. MTR, 743.
- 22. NLW, Gwernyfed 31.
- 23. SP19/126/96.
- 24. CCAM, 733.
- 25. MTR, 1095.