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


 George Kemeys
 William Morgan II
15 Sept. 1597HENRY HERBERT 2

Main Article

The electoral pattern of Monmouthshire was straightforward during this period and the two contested elections for which there is evidence (1559, 1572) fit neatly into it. There were three outstanding families: the Somersets, who possessed the earldom of Worcester and were lords of Raglan; the Herberts, related to the Earl of Pembroke, a clan with several branches; and the widespread Morgan family. When only two of these families aspired to a county seat, there could be harmony. When—as happened in 1572—all three wanted a seat, then the priority of a Somerset claim was apparently undisputed, and the wrangle was between the other two families, of whom the Herberts esteemed themselves superior to the Morgans, even though their lineage was marred by the bar sinister. Fortunately, the Somersets showed little interest in Elizabethan Parliaments.

There was a contested election in 1559. The candidates were George Kemeys of Troy; William Morgan I of Tredegar; and Thomas Herbert of Wonastow, near Monmouth, a younger son of the Herberts of Troy and himself founder of a new, though short-lived, branch of that remarkable family. Herbert had sat for the county as senior knight in April 1554. In January 1559 the sheriff was Sir Thomas Morgan of Pencoed, whose support was obviously pledged to his relative, William Morgan I, and to Herbert. It may be assumed that the senior seat went without serious challenge to William Morgan I and that the real contest was between Kemeys and Herbert for the second seat. According to the attorney-general, who started proceedings against the sheriff in the Exchequer for making a false return, Kemeys and Morgan were elected by the greater number of voters, but the sheriff substituted Herbert’s name for Kemeys. The return, in fact, gives the names of William Morgan and Thomas Herbert, in this order of priority, which reinforces the assumption that the contest was over the junior seat. Unfortunately, the Exchequer record contains no details of the election, and the result of the prosecution—if it continued—is unknown; but it looks as if the sheriff, Sir Thomas Morgan, had secured the return of his own candidates by a blatant trick. Perhaps Thomas Herbert remembered the precedent when he was sheriff in 1572, and acted accordingly.3

The next two elections appear to have been peaceful. In 1563 the power of the Herberts was recognized in the election of two sons from different branches of that family, Mathew Herbert I, of Coldbrook, and George Herbert of Newport. In 1571, for the first time since Mary Tudor’s last Parliament, the Somersets reappeared in the person of Charles, a younger brother of the 3rd Earl of Worcester. His partner was William Morgan II of Llantarnam, cousin of the 1559 sheriff and the wealthiest member of that clan, who, between 1554 and 1561, had been busy acquiring the whole of the valuable property of the abbey of Llantarnam. He had been junior knight of the shire in 1555 and 1558 and sheriff in 1567-8.

The election of 1572 brought a breach between the Herberts and the Morgans. In the first place, Charles Somerset decided to stand for the county again, reducing the number of available seats to one. Then, William Morgan II decided to stand for re-election. Perhaps this in itself alarmed the Herberts. To be excluded from a county seat for two consecutive elections could appear as demotion in the county hierarchy for a family that counted itself second only to the Somersets. The sheriff at the time of the election was Thomas Herbert of Wonastow, the 1559 county MP. As sheriff he was precluded from standing for election himself; but he could and did use—or rather, abuse—his official position to get his son and heir, Henry Herbert, into the junior seat, by a method simple in its impudence. By long custom the county court had been held in the common hall of Monmouth castle, and there on 1 May 1572, a large company, said to number more than 900, mainly Morgan’s supporters, gathered to await the sheriff. The sheriff’s officers were busy preparing the hall with furniture and cushions, so that Morgan and his friends could not have anticipated the trick to be played on them. Meanwhile, the sheriff met his own supporters on the outskirts of the town, and then halted at what Morgan described as ‘a simple alehouse’ held by Hopkin Richard in Overmonnow—as distant a place from the castle as was possible within the town’s limits. Ostensibly, the sheriff was preparing to come to the county court, and he kept the leaders of the other side lulled by sending deputations—including the chief candidate, Charles Somerset—to negotiate with Morgan. Then he got his under-sheriff to conduct the formal opening items of the county court within the alehouse, while he himself stayed outside to prevent any suspicion of what was happening. The court having thus been duly opened, the sheriff, still outside the house, raced through a pretence of an election, probably nominating the two men, Charles Somerset and Henry Herbert, himself. The answering cry of his crowd—‘A Somerset!’, ‘A Herbert !’—was the first intimation to the main body of electors, waiting at the castle, that the election was being held. With answering shouts of ‘William Morgan!’—a cry hot entirely absent in the company at the alehouse—Morgan’s supporters came running down from the castle. But, before they could reach the alehouse, the sheriff had declared Somerset and Henry Herbert elected, mounted his horse, and was off. When some of Morgan’s leading supporters overtook him and demanded that he should return and hold a poll, he contemptuously answered that he had done as much as he meant to do, and would do no more.

Morgan claimed that Herbert had less than 140 voters, while he himself had at least 800 more than that. Moreover, it appears that the election was probably begun and ended before the statutory hour of 8 o’clock; and certainly, signatures of gentlemen not at Monmouth that day were secured for the election indenture. In the subsequent Star Chamber case brought against him, the sheriff found no excuse for his behaviour.4

By the time the next county election came along in 1584, William Morgan II was dead, while the Somersets—under a cloud from the disgrace of one of the family—were no longer aspirants for a seat. Moreover, one of the Herbert clan—Sir William of St. Julian’s—had married William Morgan II’s daughter. In 1584 and 1586 this Sir William Herbert and his brother-in-law, Edward Morgan I, now head of the family at Llantarnam, shared the two Monmouth county seats. Such a combination, in the absence of a Somerset, was irresistible, and the elections were surely peaceful. In 1589 two of the Morgan clan shared the seats, Thomas Morgan II of Tredegar and a marriage relative, William John Proger of Wernddu. Sir William Herbert reappeared in 1593. In 1597 Henry Herbert of Wonastow, beneficiary of his father’s unscrupulous behaviour in 1572, sat once more. Both men died before the ends of their respective Parliaments but no evidence has been found of a by-election to replace either of them. Other families secured the two junior seats in 1593 and 1597 and, as far as is known, the Morgan family were acquiescent. Edward Kemeys of Kemeys was the son of the defeated 1559 candidate. John Arnold of Llanthony was married to a Morgan. In 1601 a new generation of Somersets, in the person of Thomas, a younger son of the 4th Earl of Worcester, claimed the senior seat. Whether a reversion to the conditions of 1572 caused another contest between the Herberts and the Morgans, we do not know. Perhaps not. Marriages were knitting them closer. At any rate, a Morgan, Henry Morgan II from Penllwyn Sarth, another branch of the family, won the junior seat in the last Parliament of the reign.


  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. K. R. mem. roll, E159/340, Hil. m. 8.
  • 4. Neale, Commons, 84-86.