Cardigan Boroughs


Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen of Cardigan, Aberystwyth, Tregaron, Talsarn, Lampeter, Trerhedyn (Adpar) and Llanddewibrefi


c. Mar. 1604WILLIAM BRADSHAW , alderman
  Double return. Bradshaw seated, 13 Apr. 1604
26 Jan. 1624ROWLAND PUGH
18 Feb. 1628JOHN VAUGHAN

Main Article

Cardigan was founded as a Norman military centre, occupying a strategic position on the banks of the Teifi where the river flows into the Irish Sea. In the 1240s and 1250s, following a turbulent period when the borough became a battleground between Welsh and English interests, it acquired a wall and an impressive castle. In 1279 Edward I made Cardigan the political and administrative capital of Ceredigion, and gave it a charter of incorporation in 1284 modelled on that of Carmarthen.1 Thereafter, until 1527, the borough received several charters of confirmation. Municipal government was vested in the hands of a mayor and two bailiffs, who were chosen from a common council of burgesses.2

Cardigan did not flourish in the later medieval period, however, as Aberystwyth increasingly usurped its trading and administrative functions. Although the Acts of Union had constituted Cardigan the county town, a private act of 1553 allowed for the county court to be shared in rotation with Aberystwyth.3 This complicating factor at elections was compounded by the fact that, as in many of the Welsh borough constituencies, a number of small contributory boroughs could claim an interest.4 All of these towns, including Cardigan itself, were small and many were decaying, allowing neighbouring gentry a considerable influence over a fragile corporate system.5 In 1547 both Cardigan and Aberystwyth had tried to return their own candidates without reference to any other contributory boroughs.6 Difficulties surfaced again in 1601, when there was a double return. At Aberystwyth one ‘Dr. Awbrey’ was elected, apparently at the instigation of a partial sheriff, whose voters acted independently of the other boroughs. This prompted Cardigan to elect Richard Delabere* without any warrant from the sheriff.7

This rivalry between the two principal boroughs, coupled with the behaviour of another partisan sheriff, was at the heart of fresh confusion in 1604, when the two rival boroughs returned Members for the single constituency. The sheriff, the county’s leading magnate and regular shire Member, Sir Richard Price of Gogerddan, issued his precept to the mayor of Cardigan, Richard Mortimer, a man supposedly ‘devoted’ to Price.8 The town elected one of their aldermen, William Bradshaw, whose residence at St. Dogmaels, Pembrokeshire, just across the Teifi from Cardigan, allowed him scope for influence in the borough’s affairs. However, as later reported in the Commons, Price, ‘minding to make choice of a friend of his’, then held a second election at Aberystwyth using electors ‘unduly procured’ by him, as a result of which Richard Delabere, attorney-general of south-west Wales and Cardigan’s choice in 1601, was awarded the seat. The Commons debated both returns on 13 Apr. 1604, and decided to admit Bradshaw and order Price’s arrest for partiality.9 What happened to Price after he was thus censured, or what he said in his own defence, is unknown.

Aside from being determined to elect a ‘friend’, Price, in holding a rival election at Aberystwyth, may have been trying to extend his influence over the disparate constituency. Aberystwyth, where he held at least 35 acres, was close to his home of Gogerddan, and much more amenable to his influence than Cardigan which lay at the opposite end of the shire.10 A Star Chamber case of 1599 seems to support this hypothesis, as Price was then accused of using his local influence to remove the apparatus of county administration from Cardigan to Llanbadarn Fawr, a small settlement in the precincts of Aberystwyth, by building a new shire hall and transferring the county armoury.11

Whatever Price’s motives may have been, Bradshaw’s election apparently left a legacy of ill-feeling: in 1607 he brought an Exchequer suit against the shire town and contributory boroughs, including Aberystwyth, claiming that his ‘fees and wages’ as Member were being withheld. Cardigan was said to owe him £14; Aberystwyth, £10; Tregaron, £3; Lampeter: £3 10s.; Talsarn, 30s.; and Trerhedyn, 20s.12 It is possible that Price, sore at having been thwarted in 1604, was behind this stratagem. Bradshaw’s bill was frustrated, as the boroughs successfully claimed that the matter was determinable at Common Law rather than in a court of equity.13 Bradshaw naturally appealed against this verdict, and the case was still being heard as late as 1611. Interestingly, counsel for the contributory boroughs was one ‘Mr. Delabere’, undoubtedly Richard Delabere, the defeated candidate in 1604.14 The case was eventually adjourned, and it seems unlikely Bradshaw was ever paid.

Perhaps because of the problems encountered in 1604, the contributory boroughs were explicitly invited to participate in later elections. At the election of December 1620 the mayor of Cardigan claimed that he had ‘sent sufficient notice to all boroughs within the said county to be at Cardigan’.15 The 1625 return states that ‘open notice and public proclamation’ had been given in respect of the forthcoming election ‘upon a market day’, while the indenture for the 1628 election mentions ‘all others claiming voice and interest therein’.16 It is difficult to know, however, how many burgesses from the contributory boroughs actually met at the county court in Cardigan or Aberystwyth to give their voices. The contracting parties for the most part were Cardigan burgesses, and it would seem that few, if any, burgesses from the smaller boroughs exercised their right to vote; certainly none indicated that they were such on the election indentures.

Despite this preponderance of Cardigan electors in the 1620s, the constituency chose Members who reflected the political interests of the greater gentry rather than local townsmen. Richard Delabere, the Price candidate in 1604, certainly fitted this profile. The 1614 Member, Robert Wolverston, was a minor courtier, while Walter Overbury, elected in 1621 and 1626, probably obtained his seat through his father, (Sir) Nicholas*, chief justice of south Wales and, like Sir Richard Price, a member of the Council in the Marches. Rowland Pugh of Montgomeryshire, who sat in 1624 and 1625, was a landed gentleman who enjoyed good relations with the heirs to the Gogerddan mantle, the Lewises of Abernantbychan. His return on a blank indenture in 1625 strengthens the argument that elections were orchestrated by a gentry oligarchy rather than by the boroughs themselves. John Vaughan of Trawsgoed, who obtained the place in 1628, possessed the advantages of a local landed estate and a family which was on good terms with the Abernantbychan interest. There is no evidence that any of the Members pursued local business within Parliament.

Author: Lloyd Bowen


  • 1. R.A. Griffiths, ‘The Making of Medieval Cardigan’, Ceredigion, xi. 97-124.
  • 2. S.R. Meyrick, Hist. and Antiqs. of Co. of Cardigan, 162-7.
  • 3. HLRO, O.A. 1 Mary St 2, c. 23; L. Bowen, ‘Wales at Westminster … 1542-1601’, PH, xxii. 111-12.
  • 4. P.S. Edwards, ‘The Parlty. Representation of the Welsh Bors. in the mid-Sixteenth Cent.’, Bull. Bd. Celtic Studs. xxvii. 428-9.
  • 5. N.M. Powell, ‘Do Numbers Count?’, Urban Hist. xxxii. 50.
  • 6. P.S. Edwards, ‘The Mysterious Parlty. Election at Cardigan Bors. in 1547’, WHR, viii. 172-87.
  • 7. Procs. in Parls. of Eliz. I ed. T.E. Hartley, iii. 323.
  • 8. STAC 5/L2/10.
  • 9. CJ, i. 170a-b.
  • 10. E112/145/42.
  • 11. STAC 5/L2/10; 5/L9/26.
  • 12. E112/151/29. The mayor of Cardigan claimed that his town had levied the money, and it was the out-boroughs which were in default.
  • 13. E124/5, f. 45.
  • 14. E124/13, f. 8.
  • 15. C219/37/346.
  • 16. C219/39/274; C219/41B/9.