Cardiff Boroughs


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


23 Jan. 1559DAVID EVANS
10 Oct. 1586GEORGE LEWIS

Main Article

The political life of south-east Wales in the Elizabethan period was dominated by the earls of Pembroke. By a series of grants between 1547 and the early 156os William Herbert, the 1st Earl, acquired most of the former lordship of Glamorgan, together with the power to fill many important offices. Neither he nor his son Henry (2nd Earl from 1570 to 1601), lived in the area, but they exercised their influence through relatives and allies. Their Glamorganshire possessions included at least six of the county’s medieval boroughs, headed by the shire town of Cardiff. Within the boroughs, they claimed—sometimes in the face of strong opposition—most of the rights and privileges enjoyed by the former lords of Glamorgan.2 At Cardiff, for example, Pembroke was constable of the castle and his deputy, usually a member of the Herbert family, ex officio mayor. The common council included 12 aldermen and 12 capital burgesses. The Earl had the last word in the appointment of two bailiffs, chosen annually from ‘the saddest and gravest aldermen’, and in the nomination of the steward (or recorder) and other officials: he also controlled the trading activities of the port on behalf of the Crown.3

Herbert influence also prevailed in other boroughs, as at Cowbridge, where Pembroke’s deputy was mayor. Here there were two bailiffs and 12 aldermen.4 Kenfig, greatly in decline because of the silting of its harbour earlier in the century, was granted to Herbert in 1550. It had a portreeve, recorder and aldermen and, after 1572, eight nominated burgesses.5 Llantrissaint, a small inland borough, elected a portreeve, aldermen and a steward, but the constable of the castle, nominated by Pembroke, controlled its affairs.6 Aberavon was granted to Herbert in 1550. Again, the governing body including the constable of the castle, a portreeve, recorder and aldermen.7 Neath was not acquired by Pembroke until the 156os. A series of ‘orders and laws’ of 1542 mention the ‘constable, portreeve and burgesses’.8

The only two Glamorgan boroughs not under Pembroke control were Swansea and Loughor in the Gower Peninsula, but these were among the possessions of kinsmen, the earls of Worcester. At Swansea, a prosperous port nearly as large as Cardiff, the lord of the borough appointed the steward and chose the portreeve from two nominated aldermen. Loughor was reduced to insignificance by the sixteenth century, but still chose a similar body of officials.9

The bailiffs of Cardiff usually presided over the borough elections and indentures were made between the sheriff and those of the Cardiff council who were present. It is not known whether burgesses from the other boroughs took part in elections, surviving returns being silent on the matter. Swansea, however, is known to have contributed £3 towards George Lewis’s wages of £17 12s.0d. for the 1586 Parliament, and the sheriff sought £1 6s.8d. from it in 1593. The election appears to have been arranged to coincide with the county election, and since the county court varied its meeting place, the borough election was not always held in Cardiff. In 1601, for example, it was at Bridgend that, after proclamation in the county court, about 30 officials and burgesses of Cardiff chose the Member. It is not clear whether the county court met alternately at Cardiff and Bridgend, or whether other towns were involved.10

The Earl of Pembroke’s influence can be seen in the choice of Members, most of them being either relatives and political allies, or local men in his service. In the first category is Nicholas Herbert, returned in 1584. He lived at Cogan Pill in Cardiff, and was active in local affairs. In 1586, when Nicholas Herbert was sheriff, the Lewis family of The Van, who were among the Earl’s most loyal allies, supplied the Member, as they did in 1589 and 1601. George Lewis, a younger son, lived at Llystalybont as a tenant of Thomas Carne, his partner for the shire in Parliament. Lewis’s first cousin Gabriel, of Llanishen, sat in 1589, while the 1601 Member, William Lewis III, was probably uncle to both of them. Henry Lewes (1563) does not appear to have belonged to this family. Perhaps a descendant of the house of Lewis of St. Pierre, Monmouthshire, he lived at Cardiff and was, apparently, in Pembroke’s service. Others in the Earl’s service were David Roberts (1572, 1593), who no doubt owed his position as comptroller of the port of Cardiff to his master’s patronage, and Henry Morgan I (1571), another Cardiff official. At different dates Morgan is found as searcher and customer. David Evans, Member for the borough for at least the third time in 1559, was of some prominence at Neath. A lawyer who may have been helped in his career by Pembroke, he appointed another Herbert as overseer of his will.

The election of Nicholas Hawkins (1597) is more difficult to explain. Though a prominent townsman of Cardiff who had served as bailiff in 1595, he is unlikely to have enjoyed Pembroke patronage, for he was a bitter opponent of both Nicholas Herbert, the 1584 Member, and of his brother (Sir) William I of the Friars, Cardiff, the Earl’s leading supporters in the shire town who probably exercised much of his patronage there. This election may, indeed, have been a direct challenge to Pembroke’s position, for none of his usual supporters is found among the voters listed on the return.11

Author: M.R.P.


  • 1. Browne Willis.
  • 2. Cardiff Recs. i. 300, 390, 402-17, 445-7, 457-72; CPR, 1550-53, pp. 31-32; Morgannwg, iv. 40-41, 46.
  • 3. Cardiff Recs. i. 10-49; ii. 113-14; iv. 131; R. Lewis, Breviat of Glamorgan, S. Wales and Mon. Rec. Soc. iii. 90; Rice Merrick’s Bk. of Glam. Antiqs. ed. Corbett, 92-100; H. M. Thompson, Cardiff, 128.
  • 4. Cardiff Recs. i. 29-30, 42, 43; ii. 302; iii. 23; L. H. James, Old Cowbridge, 27, 46, 65; J. Richards, Cowbridge Story, 13-14.
  • 5. Arch. Camb. (ser. 4), ii. 172-4, 175; T. Gray, Buried City of Kenfig, ch. 5 and pp. 27-28, 169-71, 253.
  • 6. Arch. Jnl. xxix. 351-59; Lewis, 109.
  • 7. Arch. Camb. (ser. 3), xiii. 1-44; Trans. Aberavon Hist. Soc. i. unpaginated; vi. 50 seq.
  • 8. G. G. Francis, Orig. Charters Neath, passim; W. de Gray Birch, Neath Abbey, 260-5; Cardiff Recs. i. 29-30, 42, 43; iii. 291-4; Lewis, 106.
  • 9. Lewis, 112.
  • 10. C219/26/160, 30/140, 31/249, 33/279, 34/194; W. S. K. Thomas, Municipal Govt. in Swansea 1485-1640 (Glam. Historian, ed. S. Williams, vol. i), 29; L. B. John, ‘Parliamentary Rep. of Glamorgan, 1536-1832’ (Univ. of Wales M.A. thesis, 1934), intro.
  • 11. C219/33/279; W. Rees, Hist. Cardiff (1962), 46-47; S. Wales and Mon. Rec. Soc. i. 98-113.