Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of voters:

about 3,000


30 June 1790SIR RICHARD PHILIPPS, Bt., Baron Milford [I] 
7 June 1796SIR RICHARD PHILIPPS, Bt., Baron Milford [I] 
15 July 1802SIR RICHARD PHILIPPS, Bt.,Baron Milford [I] 
12 Nov. 1806SIR RICHARD PHILIPPS, Bt., Baron Milford [I] 
3 June 1807SIR RICHARD PHILIPPS, Bt., Baron Milford [I]1195
 Sir Hugh Owen, Bt.1102
30 Oct. 1812JOHN OWEN1529
 Hon. John Frederick Campbell1344
24 June 1818(SIR) JOHN OWEN, Bt. 

Main Article

The county representation had long been in dispute between the two leading interests, the Owens of Orielton and the Philippses of Picton Castle, popularly styled the Orange and Blue parties respectively.1 Sir Hugh Owen, 5th Bt., who had ousted his rival Lord Milford, died in 1786 leaving an infant heir, whereupon Milford obtained the lord lieutenancy and resumed his seat unopposed, strengthened by his alliance with Lord Kensington, whom he returned for Haverfordwest. It appears that Kensington had an eye to the county seat, but that Milford obliged him to be content with Haverfordwest by securing the backing of Orielton during its heir’s minority.2 He was not threatened until Sir Hugh Owen came of age. The only speculation that arose was over the likelihood of his obtaining a British peerage: Thomas Knox, anxious for a seat for Haverfordwest, thought this desirable in 1790 and assumed that Kensington could then obtain the county seat, on condition that the young Hugh Owen obtained it when he came of age. Sir Watkin Lewes* hoped in 1797 that Milford would obtain the peerage for his token leadership, as lord lieutenant, during the French ‘invasion’ of the county, so that he himself might offer. It was also supposed that John Campbell I* of Stackpole Court might offer himself: for instance, Sylvester Douglas*, then on circuit, had reported to the Duke of Portland in September 1789, that ‘unless Campbell himself could be prevailed upon to stand for Pembrokeshire ... the representation of that county must remain in its present state’. Knox believed (in 1790) that Campbell would be willing to give up his seat for Cardigan Boroughs in favour of the county seat at the next vacancy and clearly thought better of Campbell’s prospects than of Kensington’s, though he favoured the latter for his own sake. Campbell went on to interest himself in the Pembroke Boroughs seat, then obtained the Cawdor peerage in 1796, so the problem did not arise. Early in 1802, when Milford was under pressure from Joseph Foster Barham* to bring him in for Haverfordwest, he offered, for the promise of a British peerage at the dissolution, to vacate the county for young Lord Kensington, Member for Haverfordwest, it being understood, however, that Cawdor would claim the county honours. This did not come off, not least because of Owen hostility to it, even before Milford was denied peerage promotion.3

In 1806 Sir Hugh Owen was of age and his friends pressed him to stand: he ‘hit upon the novel method of sending the crier at Pembroke to proclaim his intention of offering himself for the county in case of a vacancy’. The 2nd Baron Kensington described this as ‘an open declaration of war’: the supposition was clearly that Milford would retire in Owen’s favour. Owen, who ‘never positively asked a vote’, was content, however, to signify his intentions by publicly declining to stand on this occasion and Kensington claimed, 25 Oct. 1806, ‘the steps I took prevented his personal canvass. He went to Picton yesterday with the olive branch.’ Kensington and Milford had agreed that their Blue friends should be warned not to engage themselves for the future.4

On 29 Apr. 1807 Owen came forward again, as a friend of the protestant constitution; Milford was ill in London and relied on Kensington to defend him, raise funds and canvass for him. Though neither equal to the contest, nor expecting it to materialize, he still did not retire, to the indignation of one of Owen’s supporters, Rev. Dr John Philipps, who wrote to him, 4 May 1807:

You solemnly promised me on my bringing the Orielton interest to support you against the late Lord Kensington, who then threatened to oppose you for the county, that you would hold the county of Pembroke for Sir Hugh, till he came of age and would then resign it to him. You said that by that time you should be an old man, and in all probability would be tired of sitting in Parliament, or if you were not, that you could slip into your borough of Haverfordwest. By that union, which I laboured hard to obtain, you have peaceably held the county for 21 years last January.

Another factor that operated in Owen’s favour was that his uncle and guardian John Colby was sheriff and fixed the election at Pembroke, in Owen territory, rather than at Haverfordwest, where Milford’s influence prevailed; but this was counterbalanced by Lord Cawdor’s support of Milford from the Pembroke side, and after an eight-day poll Owen conceded victory. Espousing the independence of the county, he attributed his defeat to stratagems, though he did not pursue his threat of a petition against the return and failed to carry a ‘loyal’ petition.5 Yet before his early death in 1809, he had proposed to Cawdor, the only Blue with money to spend, that if the Blues would support him for the county next time, he would offer them Pembroke Boroughs in exchange and, subsequently, that if they let him in unopposed for the boroughs seat, he would support a Blue for the county.6 Cawdor, finding that his protégé John Hensleigh Allen* was not prepared to contest the boroughs seat in 1809, had welcomed the latter proposal, but Owen’s death invalidated it.

Owen’s pretensions were, however, taken up by his heir at law John Lord, who assumed the name of Owen. He wrote to a member of the government, 14 Dec. 1809:

I do not like to tease you with repeated applications, but at no distant period, if I live, I shall certainly be a candidate for the representation of the county, which the obliging of two or three gentlemen in my neighbourhood would undoubtedly secure to me.

In September 1811 the retirement of Milford was anticipated, together with the candidature of Cawdor’s heir at the next election. On 21 Nov. this was publicly confirmed and Owen disparaged the arrangement and offered himself as the champion of independence. There had been some suspicion of a compromise, which called into existence an ‘armed neutrality’ of auxiliary gentry, under the chairmanship of John Philipps Laugharne of Orlandon, who protested publicly, 11 Sept. 1811, against ‘a combination of the present Members and others for this county and for one of the boroughs, to dictate to the voters’. This junto was referred to by John Hensleigh Allen as ‘the independent gentlemen of both sides, who have publicly in the course of the year expressed their apprehension of the danger of accumulating parliamentary influence in the hands of a single individual’.7

No compromise took place; Joseph Foster Barham feared in December 1811 that a contest would bring violence and lawlessness in its wake8 and, following a defiant manifesto from Owen’s friends, ‘A Friend to Peace’ published in the Carmarthen Journal, 29 Feb. 1812, an appeal for peace, in the absence of public issues. He proposed that Owen should have the county and James Mackintosh*, Cawdor’s Whig friend, the Pembroke Boroughs seat.9 Owen rejected this: the utmost he was prepared to concede was the Pembroke Boroughs seat to the loser of the contest for the county. He was accused of being a ministerial tool, and as if to add point to this he received a promise of a baronetcy while fighting his election. Lacking a suitable candidate, he had decided to defend the Pembroke Boroughs as well as contest the county and, when opposed in the former, intervened at Haverfordwest as well, so that what Cawdor termed an ‘amicable arrangement’ eluded the protagonists: there was a total trial of strength between Orange and Blue in the three Pembrokeshire seats. Accusations of overweaning ambition on both sides were the order of the day: Barham subsequently alleged that Owen boasted that he would carry all three seats and that his wife ‘talked familiarly’ of an imminent peerage; Sir Thomas Picton, Owen’s nominee for the boroughs seat, referred to ‘a combination which aspires to the whole parliamentary representation of Carmarthen and Pembrokeshire’. He had Cawdor in mind and Carmarthen was certainly drawn in, for Cawdor’s brother was there opposed by John Jones with cordial support from Owen. Cawdor, who was reproached for claiming ‘the largest stake in the county’, was said to be unpopular among the ‘country gentlemen’ for his attack on the Orielton interest.10

The sheriff William Henry Scourfield*, a Blue, fixed the election of 1812 at Haverfordwest. Cawdor and his friends attempted to ridicule Owen’s pretensions by treating him as a parvenu:

Campbell he is a gentleman born do you see

As his father before him, and so he will be

But for Owen he’ll still be, I give you my word

A sly little lawyer, although he’s a Lord.

James Scarlett* reported to Cawdor from the hustings, however, that though Campbell spoke well, ‘I must say too that little Owen spoke better than I supposed he would, not distinctly certainly, but with force and upon topics well calculated to catch the populace’. Kensington was given credit for a ‘very humourous and effective’ rebuttal of Archdeacon John Philipps’s speech for Owen, as chairman of his election committee.11 After 11 days, Campbell gave up, outnumbered in five of the seven hundreds. Owen gained a majority in Dewisland and Roose, which his cousin had lost in 1807. Many votes were disputed and a petition presented, but the Blues were rightly dubious of its success: they had been swamped by Orielton’s strength in the north of the county and dismayed by the defalcation of Milford’s tenants in Dungleddy hundred. They had already spent £10,290 on the election.12

Owen’s victory in county and boroughs had also cost him dear and he could not afford to hold on to both when it became clear that Cawdor was prepared to continue the struggle for the boroughs. Cawdor also preferred to avoid the uncertain expense, and early in 1816 negotiations for a compromise were started; after initial failure, it was achieved, in August, as follows:

With a sincere view to a permanent arrangement, and to preventing further animosities in the county, it is suggested that for the next two succeeding Parliaments, at least, the party of Lord Cawdor shall support Sir John Owen in the county and that Sir John Owen shall for the same period give his entire support to a candidate named by Lord Cawdor’s party for the borough[s], and that the proceedings in the quo warranto’s shall not be farther prosecuted during that period.

This proposal was drawn up by James Scarlett who had urged the compromise on Cawdor, on behalf of Cawdor, Milford and Foster Barham, the Blue leaders, and assented to by Sir John Owen, who put Milford’s mind at rest by promising not to intervene at Haverfordwest.13 Milford had at first been ‘very cool’ about the proposal and, his mind poisoned by suspicion, disposed to regard it as a bargain whereby Cawdor secured Pembroke Boroughs, rather than a measure to secure the peace of the county: but he was won round.14 Not so Kensington, who protested at any compromise with the ‘system of ambition and aggrandisement and I might add of political insolence’ pursued by Owen. Dazzled, according to Cawdor, by the mirage of the county seat for himself, Kensington ignored the fact that neither Cawdor nor Owen could afford renewed warfare. Kensington could do no more than protest—his own alliance with Milford was now ruptured. Although the compromise was attacked as ‘a monstrous coalition’ by ‘an independent freeholder’ in the local press, it worked.15 The grounds were made clear by John Frederick Campbell writing to mollify Kensington: it would ‘secure effectually the peace of the county by putting the two great disturbers of it, Sir John Owen and myself completely at rest’.16 Moreover, Foster Barham writing to Cawdor, 12 Aug. 1816, supporting him against his critics, pointed out how unlikely it was that his Blue friends could quarrel with him: ‘their chance of success in a future contest would be confined to the single ground of the difficulty Sir John might find in procuring the means of carrying on the war’. They could not object to Cawdor’s negotiations about Pembroke, as ‘there was no point of understanding between you and the county respecting Pembroke but this: that if you succeeded for the county, you would not also seek to appropriate the borough’. As to the county, Cawdor was morally obliged to obtain his friends’ consent to the arrangement, but he was ‘clearly at liberty to withdraw as a principal ... either from a consideration of the expense or the chance of failure’. Foster Barham added that Cawdor’s friends would have no other candidate to propose if he withdrew (as Cawdor’s heir was now seated for Carmarthen, Cawdor did not seek to promote his candidature); and that they would therefore not oppose Sir John Owen, but that there could be no arrangement made to cover the county for the election after next. Cawdor himself had rejected Owen’s proposal of an agreement for Cawdor’s life, to safeguard the pretensions of Milford’s and Kensington’s heirs, who were minors.17 Kensington, writing from Pisa early in 1818 about the compromise, admitted his desire ‘of throwing a live shell into such a magazine of filth and abomination’. He insisted that

if old Milford is firm and a candidate on proper terms could be started Sir John would be turned out; Greville, Meyrick, Miss Bowens of Berry, Mrs Barlow with many others are actually ready to take up arms and Morris Williams and Harries of Priskilly declare they will not exert themselves again at any election after such treatment. Colby was neuter before but he is now willing to subscribe to get rid of the little man. On the other side some of the Blue party have joined Sir John, such as Martin of Withybush, Sir Henry Mathias, etc. etc. ... but with such a tool as Lord Milford little can be effected; open to the insinuations of servants and every low disgraceful feeling that can degrade human nature he may for the order of St. David or some such valuable consideration desert at the moment of battle without some person that could manage him was always at his elbow.18

Thus Owen retained the county seat unopposed in 1818, and in 1826 regained the boroughs seat for his heirs. The Blues could provide no effective challenge until 1831. Only then was political animosity added to the family rivalry, ambition for honours and pretexts for tumult and debauch which were the traditional ingredients of Pembrokeshire elections.19

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. R. D. Rees, ‘Parl. Rep. S. Wales 1790-1830 (Reading Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1962), i. 279.
  • 2. Carm. RO, 1 Cawdor 130, J. Philipps to Milford, 4 May 1807.
  • 3. HMC Var. vi. 212; PRO 30/8/152, f. 69; Ginter, Whig Organization, 97; Bodl. Clarendon dep. C431, bdle. 5, Milford to Foster Barham, 7 Apr.-28 June 1802.
  • 4. 1 Cawdor 130, Kensington to Cawdor, 20, 24, 25 Oct., Allen to same, 29 Oct.; Cambrian, 1 Nov. 1806.
  • 5. Cambrian, 9, 16 May, 13 June 1807; Bodl. C431, bdle. 5, Kensington to Foster Barham, 10, 16 May 1807, draft reply, n.d.; 1 Cawdor 130; NLW 6418 and Pemb. RO, D/LLX/413 (1807 poll bks.).
  • 6. 1 Cawdor 225, Cawdor to ?, n.d.
  • 7. Harrowby (Westbrook Hay) mss, Owen to Ryder, 14 Dec. 1809; Cambrian, 21 Sept., 23, 30 Nov.; 1 Cawdor 225, printed bill, 11 Sept. 1811; NLW mss 6108, address of ‘the friends of Mr Owen and independence’, 18 Jan., Allen’s address, 6 Oct. 1812.
  • 8. 1 Cawdor 133, Foster Barham to Cawdor, 24 Dec. 1811.
  • 9. The Carm. Jnl. was the Blue and the Cambrian the Orange newspaper during the election campaign: see Rees, loc. cit.
  • 10. Add. 38458, f. 182; 1 Cawdor 225, Foster Barham to Cawdor, 12 Aug. 1816; W. Wales Recs. xiii. 14; Bodl. C431. bdle. 5, Cawdor to Foster Barham, 29 Sept. 1812; Farington, vii. 152; NLW mss 6108, newspaper report of meeting of Owen’s friends at Tenby, 3 Feb. 1812.
  • 11. 1 Cawdor 129, election squibs; 133, Scarlett to Cawdor, Mon. 4, 30 [Oct. 1812].
  • 12. NLW mss 6419-21 and Pemb. RO (1812 poll bks.); Cambrian, 7 Nov. 1812; CJ, lxviii. 50, 266; 1 Cawdor 133, Foster Barham to Cawdor, 4 Nov. 1812, Scarlett to same, n.d.; 209, election bills.
  • 13. 1 Cawdor 225, memo [Aug.]; Sir J. Owen, 5, 18 Aug. 1816.
  • 14. Ibid. Mathias to Cawdor, 5 Aug.; NLW, Picton Castle mss 1599, Cawdor to Milford, 25 July 1816.
  • 15. 1 Cawdor 225, Kensington to Campbell, 28 July; Bodl. C431, bdle. 5, Cawdor to Foster Barham, 7 Apr., 25 May; Carm. Jnl. 30 Aug. 1816.
  • 16. 1 Cawdor 225, n.d. [Aug. 1816].
  • 17. Ibid.; Bodl. C431, bdle. 5, Cawdor to Foster Barham, 7 Apr. 1816.
  • 18. Bodl. C431, bdle. 5, Kensington to Foster Barham, 30 Jan. 1818.
  • 19. D. Williams, Welsh Hist. Rev. i. 37.