Welsh County

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of Qualified Electors:

about 470 in 1705

Number of voters:

319 in 1708


13 Mar. 1690RICHARD BULKELEY, 3rd Visct. Bulkeley [I] 
14 Nov. 1695RICHARD BULKELEY, 3rd Visct. Bulkeley [I] 
18 Aug. 1698RICHARD BULKELEY, 3rd Visct. Bulkeley [I] 
30 Jan. 1701RICHARD BULKELEY, 3rd Visct. Bulkeley [I] 
4 Dec. 1701RICHARD BULKELEY, 3rd Visct. Bulkeley [I] 
13 Aug. 1702RICHARD BULKELEY,  3rd Visct. Bulkeley [I] 
30 Nov. 1704RICHARD BULKELEY, 4th Visct. Bulkeley [I] vice Bulkeley, deceased 
29 May 1705RICHARD BULKELEY, 4th Visct. Bulkeley [I] 
13 May 1708RICHARD BULKELEY, 4th Visct. Bulkeley [I]167
 Owen Meyrick152
26 Oct. 1710RICHARD BULKELEY, 4th Visct. Bulkeley [I] 
24 Sept. 1713RICHARD BULKELEY, 4th Visct. Bulkeley [I] 

Main Article

At the beginning of this period the Bulkeleys of Baron Hill were by far the largest landowners in a county in which, even by Welsh standards, armigerous families were scarce.1 The 3rd Viscount Bulkeley’s rent-roll of £4,000 p.a. dwarfed all other estates with the exception of the Bagenals of Plas Newydd, who in any case had interests elsewhere and were generally inactive in Anglesey politics. Thus for all his High Tory sympathies, and his equivocal attitude under James II towards the proposal to repeal the Penal Laws and Test Act, Bulkeley was restored in 1689 to the offices of custos of Anglesey and chancellor and chamberlain of Anglesey, Caernarvonshire and Merioneth. Moreover, he retained these offices until his death in 1704 despite qualms over subscribing the Association in 1696, when he was also able to protect no less than seven non-subscribing justices from being purged from the commission of the peace. His political pre-eminence in the county thus remained intact despite a dip in his fortunes under the Whig Junto administration. He was obliged to forfeit the nomination to the borough seat at Beaumaris in 1698 when a local attorney and former agent of the Bulkeleys, Owen Hughes*, mounted a surprise attack, but was re-elected unopposed himself as knight of the shire and in subsequent elections regained control over both seats. The ultra-loyal address sent up by county and borough together at Anne’s accession, with its echoing of the reference made in her speech from the throne to her ‘entirely English’ heart, demonstrates that Bulkeley’s influence remained predominant.2

Within a year of the 3rd Viscount’s death, however, and the succession of his son (another High Tory and, if anything an even more headstrong and passionate partisan), there had been the first stirrings of what was to prove a serious threat to the Bulkeley ascendancy. In February 1705 an opposing candidate for the county was reported to be busy canvassing, and making some headway at that, for a surviving list of freeholders in the Baron Hill archive estimates support for Bulkeley at 240, with 190 for the other candidate and a further 40 still ‘neuter’. That there should have been an attempt against the Bulkeleys at this time, when the direction of the family’s affairs had fallen to a new and inexperienced hand is not surprising, especially since events at Westminster in 1704–5 would have encouraged Whigs everywhere to try their luck. But the unexpected strength of this attack probably points to a growing restiveness among the Anglesey gentry under Baron Hill hegemony, possibly aggravated by the 4th Viscount’s overbearing nature, which may already have made him enemies. The appearance of a concerted opposition after so long is also indicative of a shift in the balance of forces in Anglesey. A coalition of Whig interests was emerging that eventually, after the Hanoverian succession, would be assisted into power, as Bulkeley lost possession of the local offices (custos, chamberlain and constable of Beaumaris Castle) that were the badges and the instruments of his authority. The figurehead of this faction, and Bulkeley’s opponent in 1705, was Owen Meyrick of Bodorgan, a landowner whose own position in the county was becoming stronger. But behind Meyrick stood the self-made and very rich local attorney Owen Hughes*, brief conqueror of the Bulkeley interest at Beaumaris in 1698 and a man with the contacts and financial resources to mount a vigorous electoral campaign. Hughes was regarded by the Bulkeleys as the éminence grise of this and subsequent Whig schemes. The first attempt seems to have failed, in part because of Meyrick’s rashness in canvassing in the name of the absent squire of Plas Newydd, Nicholas Bagenal†, without having first asked Bagenal’s permission. Possibly Bagenal might have sympathized with resistance to dictation from Baron Hill, but the proprieties had to be observed. At any rate, Meyrick did not press his candidature to a poll.3

Bulkeley clearly regarded this abortive opposition as tantamount to a throwing down of the gauntlet, and responded the following year by fomenting an attack on Hughes’s lucrative monopoly of the Menai ferries, by a protest against the renewal of Hughes’ lease and support for an application from two rival interests. This action was the first step in what was to be a progressive widening of the conflict beyond the sphere of parliamentary elections. The anti-Bulkeley forces replied with an assault on Bulkeley’s position in Beaumaris. Depositions were despatched to the Treasury complaining that in his capacity as constable he had not only neglected the maintenance of the castle but had removed building materials for his own use. The aim was to secure Bulkeley’s dismissal from an office which conferred considerable local power and prestige. He retaliated with a complaint to the Commons against the chief justice of the North Wales circuit, Serjeant John Hooke, who since reappointment in 1706 had thrown in his lot with Hughes and the other Whigs and had been a leading light in the organization of the complaint to the Treasury over Beaumaris Castle. Hooke was now accused of illegally demanding presents from local magistrates while on circuit, more specifically of asking for coal from the corporation of Beaumaris to be delivered to his lodgings in the town, and fining the mayor for refusing to comply. The three disputes, those at the Treasury and the complaint against Hooke to the Commons, were all determined at about the same time, early in 1708, prior to the next general election. In no case was the outcome clear-cut: Hughes’s lease of the Abermenai ferry was not renewed but neither were the rival petitions satisfied; Bulkeley received a reprimand for his conduct as constable of Beaumaris but retained the post; while in the Commons he secured a judgment against the practice of circuit judges requiring presents but failed to carry a condemnation of Hooke. Along with an undoubted increase in the level of animosity in local politics, the cumulative result was some weakening in Bulkeley’s position and encouragement to his opponents, whose optimism was probably further buttressed by what one may assume to have been partisan interference in the composition of the commission of the peace, producing an unexpectedly high number of additions to the bench during 1707–8. The changed atmosphere was apparent at the sessions in April when the grand jury, having chosen Owen Meyrick as their foreman, twice defied Bulkeley, rejecting a loyal address, prepared under his auspices, because there was ‘no mention of the Protestant succession’ in it, and agreeing to make a presentation concerning ‘the demolishing of the castle’, which provoked an outburst of ill-temper on both sides. ‘When the grand jury came to court’, wrote one Whig,

they were most rudely treated by the counsel who were for the Lord B[ulkeley], particularly in a most scandalous manner as the judge [Hooke] openly in court declared, but none was more base and impudent than his lordship’s steward Mr John Owen, who affronted the foreman in an intolerable manner. The chief judge [Hooke] did, upon his discharging the jury, of which I was one, make a very handsome speech wherein he . . . justified our proceedings and declared that he was sorry to see us more scandalously used than ever he saw a grand jury in his life.4

Bulkeley seems to have been aware at least of the necessity of conciliating moderate opinion in the county before the 1708 election, for fear of a reaction against his domineering conduct and against the escalation of political unrest that his feud with Hughes and Hooke was bringing about. Naturally enough, this was interpreted by his enemies as weakness. ‘The B[ulkeley]s seem to court the other party’, observed one, ‘which they would never do but that they begin to despair. Their friends give out that the [?attempt] of the jury has broken all the measures for an accommodation.’ It was certainly out of unease for his own safety in the county and for the maintenance of his interest in Beaumaris that Bulkeley approached Nicholas Bagenal with an offer to surrender one of the seats to him. According to Owen Hughes, Bagenal’s dusty answer was that ‘he did not intend it, for that he is growing somewhat deaf and very aged, but he told his lordship that he did not approve of his taking liberty to dispose of both the Parliament-men in this country as he did’. In fact Bagenal went on to propose to Hughes ‘that if the country gentlemen will join . . . he will be willing that any gentleman of the country shall be set up to be knight of the shire and his interest shall go for them’. Encouraged by this suggestion, Hughes and Hooke mounted a campaign against the Bulkeley interest in both the county and the borough. Their candidate for knight was once again Owen Meyrick, whom they expected to be popular with Bagenal and ‘the other gentlemen’ because of his local connexions, ‘he living in this country, and having so many relations as he hath in this country’. The principal issue on which they fought was not any question of party (though party loyalties were certainly a factor in influencing votes) but the defence of the local body politic from being ‘enslaved’ by Bulkeley, ‘a gentleman that hath but very little truth or honesty in him and less sense’. Canvassing returns compiled by Baron Hill agents gave Bulkeley a majority of over 50 out of an electorate numbered at around 400, but the sheriff was ‘one of the factious party’, as Bulkeley himself put it, and managed by various means, including the admission of unqualified voters and early adjournment of the poll, to reduce the expected ‘considerable’ margin of victory to a mere 15 votes. ‘In some short time after’, alleged Bulkeley,

several of the factious crew declared they were sorry that they had not got the . . . sheriff to return my Lord Bulkeley’s opponent . . . though my Lord Bulkeley was duly elected . . . This new thought of theirs was (as is supposed) suggested by Mr Serjeant Hooke, who used to intimate that my Lord Bulkeley was not well looked upon by the government or in Parliament.

Although a petition was presented against the return of Bulkeley’s nominee for Beaumaris, nothing was done to challenge the return for the county. Instead the Whigs went back to the technique they had adopted after the 1705 election of seeking Bulkeley’s removal from local office, which, it was assumed, would deal a severe blow to his interest. Credit for devising this strategy would seem to have belonged to Hooke, who ‘encouraged the ringleaders of the . . . factious party still to prosecute my Lord Bulkeley . . . and the product of Mr Serjeant Hooke’s malice was a memorial dated 21 March 1708–9 . . . to my Lord Treasurer [Sidney Godolphin†]’, charging Bulkeley with various ‘misdemeanours’ in his separate offices. Since Hooke, as a circuit judge, could not appear publicly in this affair, the lead was taken by (Sir) Arthur Owen II* (3rd Bt.), the defeated candidate at Beaumaris, and Hughes’s nephew by marriage Lloyd Bodvel, a hot-headed squire who quickly became the most outspoken of Bulkeley’s critics and the mouthpiece of the Whig opposition in Anglesey. Bodvel’s son had inherited Hughes’s estate, and Bodvel, who had effective control over the property, clearly saw himself as Hughes’s political heir. With the estate, his son had also inherited a claim to control over the Menai ferries, still in dispute, with Bulkeley backing the rival interests. Bodvel was to prove every bit as tenacious of this claim as Hughes had been, and his pursuit of the quarrel added a further twist to his hatred of Bulkeley. He and Owen were the only signatories to the memorial, though they claimed to have been ‘earnestly pressed’ to bring it forward by ‘a considerable number of the gentlemen of the county’. Despite the favourable complexion of ministry and Parliament, these complaints against Bulkeley once more made little progress. Bulkeley was able to show the strength of his interest among the Anglesey gentry, and among the clergy too in spite of the antipathy of the bishop of Bangor, John Evans, by mobilizing opinion in his own favour. First, at a meeting of land tax commissioners, attended by about 30 gentlemen, he procured an almost unanimous disavowal of the memorial. So vehement was the reaction of those present that Owen, who found himself in a minority of one, was intimidated into disclaiming his own responsibility. He told Bulkeley that he had intended no more than to jog the memory of the lord treasurer concerning charges already preferred and not yet dealt with. Bulkeley construed this as an apology and accepted it; and indeed Owen does seem at this stage to have been anxious to make peace. The other effect of this exercise was to flush out which of the ‘gentlemen of the country’ had supported the original memorial: 26 of them, including the sheriff, signed a further letter to the Treasury endorsing the charges. But Bulkeley was able to reply with a set of resolutions signed by over 60 of his followers, gentlemen and clergy, at a specially convened county meeting in June 1709. When his enemies tried to respond to this, they could gather only 20 or so names. The dispute raged on, with reiterated accusations and counter-accusations, until 1711, becoming ever more violent in its tenor and in its implications. Bodvel, according to one witness, threatened to kill Bulkeley; in turn, Bulkeley himself was charged with having beaten to death a local ferryman, and evidence was collected that would have justified a prosecution for murder, though this was never instigated. In all contests of county opinion Bulkeley seems to have come out on top, by hook or by crook. But with the stakes so high, and all scruples having long since been abandoned, he could not afford to take chances. At the 1710 election it was forecast that Bulkeley had a lead of 100 over his opponent, Owen Meyrick, out of some 360 voters, but he still feared that the Whigs would ‘play foully by making of voices right or wrong’, and therefore took legal advice as to which dubious practices were not permissible or at least which practices he could certainly not hope to get away with. He was counselled against paying money to the ‘poorer’ freeholders, after the issue of the election writ, but to his second question, concerning the creation of faggot votes, he did receive one encouraging opinion. However, there was in the end no need to resort to such stratagems, for Meyrick ‘thought not fit to appear in the field to demand a poll’. Dyer’s newsletter triumphantly recorded Bulkeley’s unopposed return, ‘his lordship being attended by almost the whole body of freeholders of the county’.5

In the wake of the election other battles were decided as Bulkeley mopped up Whig resistance. There was first of all a restructuring of the commission of the peace, with a flock of new magistrates, presumably Tories. Hooke lost his place as chief justice (and died in 1712), and through the influence of Lord Treasurer Oxford (Robert Harley*) the various legal wrangles were resolved, mostly to Bulkeley’s entire satisfaction. A new lease of the Menai ferry was granted late in 1711, to Bulkeley; and the threatened prosecution of Bulkeley for the murder of the ferryman failed to materialize. The only thing Bulkeley was not able to secure was redress against Lloyd Bodvel personally. He proceeded by seeking a prosecution for libel, which Oxford, ‘abhorring the vileness of Bodvel and his actions’, was happy to countenance. But it proved a ‘troublesome affair’ and in June 1711 the attorney-general was reduced to offering to drop the case if Bodvel would ‘make an acknowledgment in writing of the injury done’ to Bulkeley. Sensibly, Bodvel refused, and, despite the attorney-general expressing the opinion in August that Bodvel’s memorial was indeed libellous, the prosecution fell. A further ‘violent prosecution’ initiated by Bulkeley, also failed, arising from Bodvel’s ‘having lapsed [sic] the time of taking the oath when he was sheriff of Caernarvonshire’ owing to ‘a fit of sickness’. Bulkeley’s predominance and the ascendancy of Tory sentiments among the Anglesey gentry were amply demonstrated in the loyal addresses concerning the peace in 1712 and 1713 which the county sent up to the Queen, the first praising the Duke of Ormond in extravagant terms and condemning the Whig opposition as ‘the little faction . . . who for their own vile ends delight in war’, and the second proclaiming the county’s ‘ancient loyalty, which would never admit us to join with any rebellious powers against your sacred predecessors’. In the 1713 general election there was no opposition whatsoever to the dictates of Baron Hill. This was, however, the Indian summer of the Bulkeley interest, and the balance of power was to swing again after the Hanoverian succession, sharply, in the direction of the Whigs.6

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. Unless otherwise stated, this article is based on the account of Anglesey politics by P. D. G. Thomas in Trans. Anglesey Antiq. Soc. 1962, pp. 35–47.
  • 2. A. H. Dodd, Studies in Stuart Wales, 179; CSP Dom. 1689–90, p. 471; NLW, Chirk Castle mss E1052, W. Eyton to Sir Richard Myddelton, 3rd Bt.*, 23 [Oct. 1695]; L. K. J. Glassey, Appt. JPs, 121; Trans. Anglesey Antiq. Soc. 1930. pp. 61–62; 1943, pp. 23–24; London Gazette, 18–21 May 1702.
  • 3. Trans. Anglesey Antiq. Soc. 1943, p. 25.
  • 4. H. R. Davies, Conway and Menai Ferries (Univ. of Wales Bd. of Celtic Studies, Hist. and Law ser. viii), 176–82; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1702–7, pp. 558–9; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxii. 3–4, 9–10; Glassey, 180; Add. 61607, ff. 201–3.
  • 5. Add. 61607, ff. 199–203; Trans. Anglesey Antiq. Soc. 1930, p. 63; 1943, pp. 26–34; UCNW, Baron Hill mss 5594, ‘My Ld. Bulkeley’s case’; 5529, memorial of Owen and Bodvel, 21 Mar. 1708–9; 5528, ‘Memorial against the Ld. Bulkeley’; 5533, memorial to ld. treasurer, 7 June 1709; 5534–5, Owen to Bulkeley, 26, 28 May 1709; 5566, Bulkeley to Dr John Jones, 12 Sept. 1710; Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 538; DWB, 388; Trans. Caern. Hist. Soc. v. 52–53; UCNW, Presadfedd mss 494, forecast of poll, 1710; Add. 70421, Dyer’s newsletter 31 Oct. 1710.
  • 6. Glassey, 201; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxv. 80, 82, 156–7, 174, 368; Davies, 187, 304; SP 34/37, ff. 90. 98; Cheshire RO, Cholmondeley of Cholmondeley mss DCH/L/32, Ld. Cholmondeley to William Adams, 13 Mar. 1711–12; London Gazette, 31 July–2 Aug. 1712, 23–27 June 1713.