Pembroke Boroughs


Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen of Pembroke, Tenby and Wiston

Number of Qualified Electors:


Number of voters:

570 in 1710


17 Mar. 1690ARTHUR OWEN  
30 Dec. 1695JOHN PHILIPPS  
2 Aug. 1698SIR JOHN PHILIPPS,  Bt.  
16 Jan. 1701SIR JOHN PHILIPPS, Bt.  
1 Dec. 1701SIR JOHN PHILIPPS, Bt.  
24 July 1702JOHN MEYRICK  
21 May 1705JOHN MEYRICK  
17 May 1708SIR ARTHUR OWEN, Bt.  
13 Oct. 1710SIR ARTHUR OWEN, 207207
 Lewis Wogan12413632
23 Feb. 1712LEWIS WOGAN vice Owen, on petition  
11 Sept. 1713LEWIS WOGAN  

Main Article

The Owens of Orielton had controlled the Pembroke Boroughs constituency almost without interruption since 1626, their influence centring upon the county borough, which provided both the venue for the poll and the returning officer. Until Queen Anne’s reign they were also the dominant power in Tenby, like Pembroke itself an ‘agreeable town’. The second and smaller of the out-boroughs, Wiston, was the manorial preserve of an impoverished branch of the Wogan family, which as yet had played only an insignificant part in elections. In 1690 the outgoing Member, Arthur Owen I, was re-elected, but on his retirement from active politics at the next election no representative of the Orielton line was available, and the Owen interest was presumably put at the disposal of John Philipps (later Sir John, 4th Bt.) of Picton Castle, who held the seat in the following four Parliaments. Some friendly connexion between Philipps and the new head of the Owen family, (Sir) Arthur Owen II* (3rd Bt.) may be inferred from Owen’s involvement in the activities of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, Philipps’ pet charity, and from the fact that the two men appear to have shared at one time an inclination towards the Country persuasion. Philipps may also have been developing some influence of his own, through his long tenure of the seat, reinforced by ‘many favours’ towards Pembroke corporation. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to suspect that control of the constituency was slipping away from the Owens. Philipps’ successor in 1702, John Meyrick, who as a Tory was later to differ sharply in politics from the Whig Owen, had been described the previous year as ‘a great friend’ of (Sir) Arthur, as had been the mayor of Pembroke who presided over Meyrick’s return, John Laugharne*, another Tory squire.3

Yet at this point, perhaps because party divisions were beginning to polarize alignments in Pembrokeshire, Owen embarked on measures to reinforce his family’s ascendancy. His brother Charles served as mayor of Pembroke in 1702–3, and he himself was chosen to the office in 1704, holding it for a further year in defiance of the charter, and exploiting his position to pack the common council (which chose the mayor) with ‘friends, tenants and servants’. This power was not used against Meyrick in 1705, but by 1708 Owen had determined to stand himself. He ‘procured one Jabez Rickson (a mean person, and no householder within the liberties of Pembroke) to be elected mayor’ in 1707, and Rickson in turn ‘irregularly admitted great numbers of the friends and tenants, dependants and servants of Sir Arthur’s to be burgesses of Pembroke’. Thanks to Rickson’s vigorous assistance, Owen was returned unopposed, or at least without a poll. There does appear to have been an attempt by freemen of Wiston to participate, perhaps in connexion with a candidature or a canvass, which was frustrated by Rickson’s refusal to give notice to that borough of the date of the election and subsequent rebuffs to Wiston men who happened ‘by accident’ to be in Pembroke at the right time. Since 1702, when as a reaction to the repeated failure of Wiston voters to attend, Pembroke corporation had resolved ‘that no notice [of election] should hereafter be sent to Wiston’, the franchise had in practice been confined to the two major boroughs. After Owen’s return in 1708 the mayor and ‘some’ freemen of Wiston petitioned the Commons to reassert their right to vote, but their case was not heard. Behind these efforts may well have lain the hand of Lewis Wogan of Wiston. ‘A cunning and designing man’, Wogan was to put up in 1710 after replenishing his weak financial resources by methods of doubtful propriety. He had also by 1710 secured election as mayor of Tenby, thus strengthening his prospects considerably, for there he could ‘make what freemen he liked’. Not at first among the front-running candidates, he emerged as the strongest Tory challenger to Owen because of his influence over the out-boroughs. Owen had by this time so manipulated Pembroke corporation that the common council had been inflated in number from the 12 stipulated in the charter to a total of ‘59 persons, 15 only whereof are inhabitants within the town’, and ‘the number of burgesses [freemen] amounts to above 300, whereof the greater part are foreigners, and not legally made, so that the government of the said town is entirely out of the inhabitants thereof and in the power of Sir Arthur Owen and his dependants who are foreigners’. To balance this weight of votes, Wogan relied largely on the freemen of Wiston, 239 of whom travelled to Pembroke to exercise their franchise. Their reception was described graphically:

The mayor and burgesses [freemen] of Wiston came to Pembroke to vote in this election, and upon their coming thither the fire bell was rung; upon which there was a great tumult; the burgesses and inhabitants for several miles ran together [sic]; and the sitting Member made a speech, and told them, the Wiston burgesses were come to destroy their rights and privileges, but he would stand by the corporation of Pembroke with his life and fortune; and thereupon the Wiston burgesses were said to be enemies; and the mob went up and down, and huzzaed at the houses into which those burgesses were got, to avoid the danger of this tumult . . . The mob declared they would knock them of [sic] the head if they came to the poll; and guards were set against them at the hall stairs; upon which the Wiston burgesses went to the castle green at Pembroke, and were there called over, by a list of their names, and they declared, one by one, that they would vote for the petitioner: and then the mayor of Wiston went to the poll, and there tendered that list to the mayor of Pembroke [Joseph Rickson, brother to Jabez, mayor in 1708], and acquainted him that it was a list of the Wiston burgesses, who were there ready to vote for the petitioner; and desired they might be admitted to the poll: but the mayor of Pembroke rejected the list, and declared, he would not admit a Wiston burgess to vote there.

Wogan’s inevitable petition, and another in support from Wiston, which for the most part repeated verbatim arguments rehearsed in 1708, was eventually heard on 23 Feb. 1712. The main plank of the case, the right of Wiston freemen to vote, was easily proved by reference to signatures on returns in 1689, 1690 and 1695, and to notices sent to Wiston in 1701 and 1702. The borough clerk of Wiston then confirmed that the 239 freemen had registered their intention to vote for Wogan. Against this Owen produced one of the 239 who denied that any question about voting preference had been put to them, and further claimed that not all were genuine freemen, a charge given some plausibility by the clerk’s admission that only 104 were known personally by him to be freemen, the rest merely ‘claiming to be such’. Of these 104, some 64 he had sworn himself ‘several years ago’. Conveniently the admissions book was ‘missing since the death of Mr Howell, late steward’ some two years previously, Howell’s widow subsequently withholding it from borough officials. The House found for Wogan without a division.4

Pembroke corporation itself remained in Owen’s hands. Two Ricksons held the mayoralty in 1712–13, followed by a John Dunn, whose residence at Monkton was near Owen property. At the same time Tenby seems to have remained within Wogan’s orbit, to judge by the tenor of the congratulatory address on the peace sent up from that borough in August 1713, deploring ‘the factious temper of a despairing inconsiderable party at home’, and together with the Wiston voters rendered Wogan unassailable in 1713. His death in 1714, however, followed by numerous admissions and counter-admissions of freemen at Pembroke and Tenby, resulted in an Owen nominee, Thomas Ferrers, defeating the Tory Sir George Barlow, 2nd Bt.*, in 1715, and restoring supremacy to Orielton until the mid-18th century.5

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. Pembroke and Tenby freemen only.
  • 2. Wiston freemen included.
  • 3. Defoe, Tour ed. Cole, ii. 456; W. Wales Hist. Recs. v. 123; vi. 217–19; CJ, xiii. 350; Pemb. Life 1572–1843 ed. B. E. and K. A. Howells (Pemb. Rec. Soc. 1972), 55.
  • 4. W. Wales Hist. Recs. 117, 123–4; vi. 220–1; Pemb. Life, 56–57; M. E. Jones, ‘Parl. Rep. Pemb. 1536–1761’ (Univ. of Wales, M.A. thesis, 1958), 117; Hereford and Worcester RO (Worcester St. Helen’s), Hampton mss 705:349/BA4657/i, Robert Prust to [Lady Pakington], 30 June 1710; Acct. of Tenby (1818), 34; HMC Portland, iv. 569; NLW, ms 12172, case of Lewis Wogan [1710].
  • 5. W. Wales Hist. Recs. 123–4, 130; London Gazette, 4–8 Aug. 1713; Pemb. Life, 171.