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:


Number of voters:

1,519 in 1695, 841 in 1705


30 Oct. 1695EDWARD JONES804
 Sir Rowland Gwynne7151
17 Feb. 1697SIR EDWARD WILLIAMS vice Jones, deceased 
 Marmaduke Gwynne 
29 July 1702JOHN JEFFREYS 
 Sir Rowland Gwynne 
 Sackville Gwynne4042

Main Article

In the later 17th century three families dominated Breconshire politics: Jeffreys of Brecon Priory, Jones of Buckland, and Morgan of Tredegar. The first two were Tory in sympathy; the last, Whig. Of these the Morgans had their principal base in Monmouthshire, while the Jeffreys showed more concern for the borough of Brecon than the county. Edward Jones was therefore returned unopposed in 1689. However, his voting record in the Convention, and especially his appearance on the black-list of those who had opposed the transfer of the crown, both provoked and encouraged a Whig challenger in 1690, Sir Rowland Gwynne, whose Ty-mawr property gave him a foothold in Breconshire. Having secured the support of Thomas Morgan* of Tredegar, and probably also the approbation of the new custos, the 1st Earl of Macclesfield, Gwynne was able to deter Jones from putting up. By 1695 the Tories had recovered. Assisted by Jeffrey Jeffreys* of the Priory, and by the Breconshire agent of the far-flung Beaufort estate, Jones mounted a vigorous counter-offensive and recaptured the seat from Gwynne after six days of polling. Gwynne’s petition, alleging intimidation and bribery (with the sums ranging from 4s. to £2 a man), and concentrating on the supposed partiality of the sheriff, was referred to the elections committee, but was rejected without a division when reported to the House. It throws one interesting sidelight on electoral practice. Apparently the two candidates, or their representatives, had met beforehand and agreed on voting qualifications; more particularly, that leaseholders for the term of their lives and ‘Quakers that could make out their estates’ should be allowed to poll.3

The by-election following Jones’s death in December 1696 witnessed the emergence of two more Tory interests, both founded on acquisitions of land through marriage. The Member returned was the Tory Sir Edward Williams, who defeated Marmaduke Gwynne, a namesake and, though no relation, an adherent of Sir Rowland. The margin of the victory was very wide. Tory reports claimed that Gwynne, having himself insisted on going to a poll, had been forced to give up the battle within a few hours. Williams, a younger son of a Kentish baronet, had married the heiress to the Gwernyfed estate, one of the largest in the county. His supporters included another rising local magnate, Lord Ashburnham (John†), whose wife had inherited the lands of Vaughan of Porthamel. Ashburnham was a Tory in his politics, but in Breconshire elections he also proved himself to be self-interested and self-opinionated. His prime concern in 1697 was the future prospects of his eldest son, Hon. William*, whom he hoped to see one day as knight of the shire. He obtained Sir Edward Williams’ promise to make way whenever the young Ashburnham should offer himself as a candidate, and with this in mind gave Williams his backing both at the by-election and at the general election in 1698, where Williams either withdrew or was beaten at the poll by Sir Rowland Gwynne. Following this outcome the Tory faction fell into disarray, Gwynne retaining his seat without opposition in both elections in 1701. In the first of these Williams remained ‘silent’ and Ashburnham, assuming correctly that no Tory would be standing, ‘engaged’ himself for Gwynne, whom he described as ‘a very good and useful Parliament-man’. As late as April 1702 the Tories were still on the retreat, the county address of condolence on the death of King William and congratulation on the accession of Anne being distinctly Whiggish in its emphasis.4

The 1702 general election witnessed a further regrouping of Tory forces, this time decisive. After futile attempts to persuade the 2nd Duke of Beaufort’s uncle, Lord Arthur Somerset, to put up, Tories united behind John Jeffreys, brother of Jeffrey (now Sir), the owner of Brecon Priory, and like him a rich London merchant. Ashburnham, recently appointed custos, gave his interest to Jeffreys, ‘a gentleman of very good principles’, and against Gwynne, who lost the election by 77 votes. Gwynne, now residing at Hanover, contemplated a candidature in 1705 but gave way to yet another Whig namesake (and again no relation) Sackville Gwynne of Glanbran, Carmarthenshire, who was easily defeated by the representative of the Tory alliance. This was Sir Edward Williams, and his renewed involvement in county politics brought him unopposed re-election to the four succeeding Parliaments. So strong was his position that when Lord Arthur Somerset belatedly revealed parliamentary ambitions prior to the 1708 election the Beaufort agent warned him off: Williams’ ‘friends’, he predicted, would account for fully three-quarters of the freeholder vote. The Breconshire address of thanks on the communication of the peace terms in 1712 gives a hint of the prevailing climate of opinion in the county. Gushingly loyal, it expressed the hope that the ‘blessings’ of peace would ‘soon put to silence the gainsayings of a foolish, factious and malicious people’.5

Author: D. W. Hayton


Unless otherwise stated, this article is based on the account of Breconshire elections by P. D. G. Thomas in Brycheiniog, vi. 99–103.

  • 1. NLW, Penpont mss 2394, pollbk.
  • 2. Ibid. 2395, pollbk.
  • 3. NLW, Penrice and Margam mss L1385, Sir Rowland Gwynne to [Thomas] Morgan [1690]; CSP Dom. 1689–90, p. 271.
  • 4. Brycheiniog, xiv. 80–81; Add. 70243, Edward Howorth to Robert Harley*, 15 Mar. 1695–6; Post Boy, 23–25 Feb. 1697; Folger Shakespeare Lib. Newdigate newsletter 23 Feb. 1696–7; E. Suss. RO, Ashburnham mss 841, p. 534, Ashburnham to Charles Dalton, 26 July 1698; 843, p.145, same to Sir Edward Williams, 7 Dec. 1700; London Gazette, 27–30 Apr. 1702.
  • 5. Add. 70254, Robert Price* to Harley, 30 Mar. 1702; L. K. J. Glassey, Appt. JPs, 154; E. Suss. RO, Ashburnham mss 844, p. 32, Ashburnham to William Vaughan, 8 July 1702; 845, pp. 142–3, same to same, 15 Apr. 1705; 847, same to Sir Edward Williams, 26 Apr. 1706, same to Henry Williams, 24 Apr. 1707; Penpont mss 2395, pollbk. 1702; T. Jones, Hist. Brec. (1909–30), i. 774; Brycheiniog, 92–93; Carmarthen Antiquary, iii. 32–33; Beaufort mss at Badminton House, Coventry pprs. 509.10.1, Godfrey Harcourt to Beaufort, 30 May 1707; London Gazette, 29–31 July 1712.