Available from Cambridge University Press
Number of voters:
c.1,000 in 1621.1
|c. Mar. 1604||JAMES PRICE I|
|c. Mar. 1614||JAMES PRICE I|
|12 Dec. 1620||JAMES PRICE I|
|c. Jan. 1624||JAMES PRICE II|
|26 Apr. 16252||JAMES PRICE II|
|c. Jan. 1626||JAMES PRICE II|
|26 Feb. 1628||RICHARD JONES|
Radnorshire was created from an agglomeration of several marcher lordships by the Act of Union of 1536. As practically all of these territories had been held by the monarch, the Crown enjoyed an enduring presence in the post-Union shire, but there is no evidence that this landholding was ever translated into electoral influence. Under the second union statute of 1543 the venue of the county court was meant to alternate between Presteigne and New Radnor. However, most of the early Stuart election returns are damaged or lost, making it impossible to assess whether this practice was observed at times of election. In 1620, however, it was claimed in a Star Chamber suit that it had not been.
Radnorshire was a small county, dominated by large tracts of upland, interspersed with steep river valleys; its towns and villages congregated on the shire’s eastern fringes. Pastoral farming, often on unenclosed commons, dominated the local economy, with the trade in cattle and wool being of central importance. The county had few gentry, and those who were resident were proverbially poor, as described in one mid-seventeenth-century rhyme:
Radnorshire, poor Radnorshire
Never a park and never a deer,
Never a squire of five hundred a year.3
Partly because of this lack of social competition, two families, the Prices of Mynachdy and the Lewises of Harpton Court, dominated the shire’s parliamentary representation throughout the Elizabethan period. However, their influence faced challenges from the Vaughan family of Clyro Court, followers of the earls of Essex. Nonetheless, James Price I of Mynachdy managed to orchestrate a remarkable period of parliamentary ascendancy from 1593 through a network of dependent families and kinsmen whose members pulled most of the administrative strings in the county. These families included the Prices of Pilleth, the Joneses of Trewern, the Bradshaws of Presteigne and the Phillipses of Llanddewi. Price’s ascendancy was undermined by financial troubles, reportedly caused by his own extravagance. The Vaughans, meanwhile, expanded their influence within the county elite, which led Roger Vaughan† to challenge to Price at the 1597 election – in his Star Chamber lawsuit following the election, Vaughan made considerable play of the fact that his income equalled that of any magistrate in the county.4 George Owen’s 1602 list of Radnorshire landholders placed the Vaughans above the Prices, and it was only a matter of time before Mynachdy faced another challenge.5
The next contest, in 1620, took place between Price and William Vaughan, grandson of the 1597 contender.6 A member of the Llowes branch of his family, Vaughan took over the family interests in Radnorshire after the head of the Clyro branch married an English heiress.7 His bid failed, but the Star Chamber bill he filed against Price reveals many details of the contest. Vaughan claimed that Price had entered into an ‘unlawful plot, practice and combination’ with the sheriff, Thomas Rea, and the under-sheriff (and Price’s brother-in-law), Richard Phillips of Llanddewi, to make a fraudulent return. The bill describes conventional ‘sheriff’s tricks’, including concealment of the writ until the last possible moment, and delaying the election. Price and his associates were also alleged to have offered threats and bribes, and to have bestowed bogus freeholds upon his supporters, whose ranks had been further swelled by clergymen who ‘unlawfully exhorted and persuaded their ... parishioners’ to vote for Price. Finally, the bill paints an interesting portrait of Radnorshire’s electoral topography: Price’s main support came from Radnor hundred, site of the election venue at Presteigne, whereas Vaughan’s backers came from Painscastle hundred – the area in which the Clyro and Llowes estate lay. On election day Price was allegedly elected by around 40 freeholders; Vaughan claimed that 800 had given a ‘great shout’ for him, only to be ignored by the sheriff. The return was witnessed by a Price clique numbering 11 electors, including James Price II* and Richard Jones*.8
Vaughan’s appeal to Star Chamber during a parliamentary session was decidedly irregular, as the Commons had claimed to be the sole arbiter in cases of disputed elections since 1604. On 18 May 1621 his bill was brought to the Commons’ attention, whereupon the Member for Haverfordwest, Sir James Perrot, described Vaughan’s bill as ‘a wrong to our privileges … [and] a wrong to this House’. Vaughan was summoned to answer for his contempt, but nothing further was heard of the matter.9
It has been claimed that the Price family’s monopoly of county representation continued down to the Long Parliament.10 This is strictly correct, but overlooks the fact that it was a different branch of the family, the Prices of Pilleth, who took over the county seat in 1624. James Price II was a kinsman of the Mynachdy family, but his mother Catherine was daughter of Roger Vaughan, the man who had challenged the Prices in 1572 and 1597.11 William Vaughan’s ambitions seem to have been fulfilled by his appointment as custos rotulorum of Radnorshire in 1622, while the debt problems of James Price I led to his removal from the county bench shortly thereafter.12 The thesis that the respective factions became reconciled is strengthened by the fact that Hugh Lloyd of Caerfagu, a Vaughan supporter in 1621, witnessed the county election indentures for 1624 and 1625 alongside Price stalwarts such as Richard Phillips.13 James Price II may have derived further strength from his position as a deputy steward to the 3rd earl of Pembroke in several Radnorshire lordships, but there is insufficient evidence to be certain of the extent to which he operated as a client of the earl in or out of Parliament.14 The Member elected in 1628, Richard Jones of Trewern, was the brother-in-law of James Price II and an executor of the will of his brother, Charles Price*.15
Radnorshire pursued no legislative programme in the early Stuart era, but several representatives of the county and borough seats appear to have been involved in discussions about the Welsh wool trade, a key component of the local economy.
Author: Lloyd Bowen
- 1. STAC 8/288/9.
- 2. C219/39/280. The day date is now illegible and has been taken from OR.
- 3. R.A. Suggett, Houses and Hist. in March of Wales, 3-10; Cal. Reg. Council in the Marches, 1569-91 ed. R. Flenley (Cymmrodorion Rec. Ser. viii), 105-7.
- 4. STAC 5/V7/39.
- 5. G. Owen, Description of Penbrokshire ed. H. Owen (Cymmrodorion Rec. Ser. i), ii. 336-7.
- 6. G.T. Clark, Limbus Patrum Morganiae et Glamorganiae, 238; Dwnn, Vis. Wales ed. S.R. Meyrick, i. 255, 258.
- 7. Exch. Procs. in Temp. Jas. I ed. T.I. Jones (Bd. Celtic Studs. Hist. and Law ser. xv), 326.
- 8. STAC 8/288/9; C219/37/368.
- 9. CD 1621, ii. 380; iii. 285-6; v. 172-3; CJ, i. 624b; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, ii. 90.
- 10. J.K. Gruenfelder, ‘Radnorshire’s Parlty. Elections, 1604-40’, Trans. Rad. Soc. lxvii. 25-31.
- 11. J. Williams, Hist. Rad. 313.
- 12. JPs in Wales and Monm. ed. Phillips, 328.
- 13. C219/30/2/280; 219/38/339. Hugh Lloyd was no friend of the Prices, and was highly critical of Charles Price* of Pilleth’s conduct in raising composition monies for the grant of the lordship of Maelienydd in 1633: HMC Var. viii. 34-5.
- 14. E112/278/3.
- 15. PROB 11/196, f. 375v.