Caernarvon Boroughs


Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer


16 Oct. 1588ROBERT WYNN
5 Oct. 1597JOHN OWEN 2

Main Article

Caernarvon, shire town of Caernarvonshire and setting for the parliamentary elections for the county and borough seats, was prospering in the sixteenth century. John Wynn of Gwydir put this down to expanding trade and to the fact that the ‘exchequer, chancery and common law courts for all North Wales were there continually residing’. In accordance with the charter of Edward I, the town was governed by the constable of the castle (ex officio mayor) and two bailiffs chosen annually by the burgesses. A deputy mayor, called simply mayor by the end of the Tudor period, performed some of the duties of absentee constables. An attempt in 1573 to create a common council of 14 to replace the general assembly of burgesses proved abortive.

The election for the borough MP, usually presided over by the deputy mayor, took place in the guildhall at Caernarvon, on the same date apparently as the county election. Four other Caernarvonshire boroughs established a claim to take part. Conway, a predominantly English town, and Criccieth, which Leland found to be ‘clean decayed’, possessed charters similar to Caernarvon’s, while the small Welsh villages of Nevin and Pwllheli, down the Llyn Peninsula, had been made free boroughs by the Black Prince. It is not known how frequently they sent burgesses to vote at Elizabethan elections: the returns, most of which are in poor condition or missing, are not very helpful. Both the return for 1584, containing upwards of one hundred names, and that for 1601, refer vaguely to all the burgesses of the county being present. The 1597 return alone is precise on the point: about 20 Caernarvon burgesses, together with three from Pwllheli and two from Criccieth, took part in the election. Regular participation by Pwllheli is suggested by an Exchequer commission of 1590 noting that the freeholders from there ‘go to the election not only for the knight of the shire, but also for the burgesses of the Parliament’. Nevin and Conway may have been represented intermittently. Attendance was probably hindered by Caernarvon’s slackness in informing the other boroughs, which gave rise to complaints early in the seventeenth century; there was also the difficulty of travelling through what a contemporary called ‘the most rugged, unpassable, barren country in Wales’. The influence of the contributory boroughs on the choice of Members appears, in this early period, to have been negligible.

The parliamentary representation of Caernarvon was dominated by the Griffith family. John Griffith II (1571, 1572), Edward (1584) and William Griffith I (1586) were all brothers. Nicholas Griffith (1601) was the son of John Griffith II. Robert Griffith (1593) has not been positively identified but he was either the brother or second son of John Griffith II. Robert Wynn (1589), uncle of John Wynn of Gwydir, was related to the Griffith family by marriage. He was a country gentleman, resident at Plas Mawr, Conway. The remaining MPs all held official positions at Caernarvon. Maurice Davies(1559), from an ancient North Wales family, was an Exchequer official there: his father had sat for the constituency in Edward VI’s time. John Harington I (1563), an Englishman, was constable of the castle for over 30 years, though probably never resident. John Owen, elected in 1597 when a Griffith won the county seat for the only time in the reign, was deputy constable for a time in the 1590s. He married into the family of William Maurice, another leading member of the Gwydir group, and eventually succeeded to the estates at Clenennau.3

Author: M.R.P.


  • 1. E371/402(1).
  • 2. C219/284/31-33.
  • 3. W. H. Jones, Old Karnarvon, 43-45, 71; Bull. Bd. Celtic Studies, vi. 66; Cal. Charter Rolls, ii. 276, 280; R. Williams, Hist. Aberconwy, 24-30; Leland, Itin. ed. Smith, 88; CPR, 1381-5, pp. 229, 267; Trans. Caern. Hist. Soc. i. 37-46; v. 15, 37-38; ix. 45; Cal. Wynn Pprs. no. 30; C219/27/57, 28/194, 29/211, 31/246, 34/92, 284/33.