Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in the freemen
Number of Qualified Electors:
Number of voters:
|6 Mar. 1690||JEFFREY JEFFREYS|
|24 Oct. 1695||JEFFREY JEFFREYS|
|25 July 1698||THOMAS MORGAN||110||79|
|17 Jan. 1701||SIR JEFFREY JEFFREYS|
|29 Nov. 1701||SIR JEFFREY JEFFREYS|
|23 July 1702||SIR JEFFREY JEFFREYS|
|12 May 1705||SIR JEFFREY JEFFREYS|
|8 May 1708||SIR JEFFREY JEFFREYS|
|28 Nov. 1709||EDWARD JEFFREYS vice Jeffreys, deceased|
|9 Oct. 1710||EDWARD JEFFREYS|
|11 Sept. 1713||ROGER JONES||114||64|
The corporation of Brecon was controlled by a close oligarchy of 15 common councilmen, who annually elected from their number a bailiff and two aldermen as magistrates, and who were solely responsible for the admission of freemen. There were no out-boroughs, though claims were later advanced for the rights of inhabitants of such places as Hay, Llanywern, Llywel, Talgarth and Trecastle. The franchise was settled in the freemen at large, but not without the possibility of dispute. Jeffrey Jeffreys, who had bought the Brecon Priory estate shortly after the Revolution from another branch of his family, inherited with the property not only a natural influence over the town but also a claim the previous owner had put forward in 1679 to a restriction of the franchise to resident freemen. On that one occasion John Jeffreys† of the Priory had been able, with the assistance of a friendly bailiff, to enforce his interpretation. In 1690 Jeffrey Jeffreys did not press the point, presumably because he was already ahead in the contest. Opposition in this election came, as always, from the other major interest in the borough, and traditional rivals of the Priory, the Morgans of Tredegar. Thomas Morgan, the head of the family, who had been returned unopposed for Brecon to the Convention, was confident enough in 1690 to stand for knight of his principal shire of Monmouth and leave Brecon to a younger brother, Charles. Jeffreys’ success, repeated in the 1695 election when there was no Morgan candidate, changed his mind for him, and in 1698 he stood again himself. Despite the tightness of the Jeffreys’ grip on the corporation (John Jeffreys*, brother of Jeffrey, had served as bailiff 1694–5 and alderman 1695–7), Morgan won back the seat. Jeffreys petitioned against Morgan’s return, and renewed his petition early in the following session. Some notes on the committee hearing of Jeffreys’ petition indicate that the defeated party based their case on the old assertion that only resident freemen could vote. Their polling figures left the two sides equal at 78 votes apiece, once Morgan’s 32 ‘out-burgesses’ had been subtracted. Another surviving polling list, presumably the sitting Member’s, gave the gross figures as 79 votes to 68 in Morgan’s favour, and with a substantial number of ‘ex’ or ‘out’ freemen on each side, so that even after the ‘correction’ upon which Jeffreys insisted there would still have been a slim majority for Morgan. It is noteworthy that Jeffreys took the bailiff to court for denying him a copy of the official poll book; with what outcome is uncertain. Against the evidence of the 1679 election Morgan could produce witnesses to testify that a residential qualification had been imposed neither previously nor subsequently: the 1690 contest in particular served as an unshakable precedent. His counsel were careful to dissociate their client from any pretensions of the ‘out-boroughs’; it was the ‘honorary freemen’ on whose rights he insisted. The committee’s decision went to Morgan, but not until February 1700, and no report was made.5
What restored the balance of power in Brecon was the death in December 1700 of Thomas Morgan. His brother and heir, John*, showed no enthusiasm for carrying on the family’s involvement in the borough. Enemies of the Jeffreys searched in vain for an alternative candidate. The Tory lawyer Robert Price* for one received several letters from Brecon urging him to stand and promising that his election ‘would be secure if the outboroughs and foreign burgesses were admitted’. With Tredegar quiescent, (Sir) Jeffrey Jeffreys was returned at five successive elections unopposed. His family’s dominance over the corporation was reflected in brother John’s further election as an alderman in 1703 and 1711 and as bailiff in an election year, 1710. As yet the presence of a Beaufort agent on the common council, Gabriel Powell, a solicitor employed as steward of Lord Arthur Somerset’s Breconshire property, produced no obvious disturbance: there was certainly no tangible Beaufort interest in the borough at this stage. Edward Jeffreys, Sir Jeffrey’s son, inherited the seat on his father’s death in 1709, and was returned again without difficulty at the general election the following year. Addresses from the corporation, which since 1702 had consistently exuded High Tory sentiments, reached new peaks in 1712 and 1713, when the ‘glorious’ peace and ‘wise ministry’ were extolled. But surprisingly, the 1713 election saw the Priory interest overthrown by the young Roger Jones of Buckland, possibly in combination with Morgan of Tredegar. Two polling figures were published in the London newspapers, one representing the votes of resident freemen and the other (greater), number presumably including freemen at large. Jeffreys’ petition, turned over to the elections committee but again unreported, appears to have focused on ‘bribery and other undue practices’ and not to have raised the franchise question, perhaps because (if the Post Boy’s account is to be believed) Jones had established a majority of resident as well as non-resident freemen. But the issue did not die, and eventually in 1727 the Jeffreys family won its point after a struggle at law and an appeal to the Lords. By then, however, it was too late to release what had developed into a Morgan stranglehold on the constituency.6
Author: D. W. Hayton
Unless otherwise stated, this article is based on the account of Brecon elections by P. D. G. Thomas in Brycheiniog, vi. 99–103.
- 1. Petitioner’s figure, including 32 non-resident votes for Morgan.
- 2. Probably sitting Member’s figure, including 35 ‘ex’ freemen for Morgan and 26 for Jeffreys: Harl. 6846, f. 304.
- 3. Post Boy, 17–19 Sept. 1713.
- 4. Ibid. 26–29 Sept. 1713 (resident freemen only).
- 5. Notes on cttee. hearing, 19 Feb. 1699[–1700], from photocopy of a ms in the possession of Hist. of Parl. Trust; NLW, Penrice and Margam mss L1385, Sir Rowland Gwynne* to Thomas Morgan, ; Harl. 2289, f. 176; 6846, f. 304; HMC Portland, iii. 606; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 615.
- 6. Add. 70020, ff. 38–39; Harl. 2289, f. 176; T. Jones, Hist. Brec. (1909–30), ii. 61; J. Lloyd, Hist. Memoranda Brec. i. 127, 163–4; London Gazette, 16–20 Apr. 1702, 12–16 Oct. 1704, 19–22 July 1712, 6–9 June 1713.