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 1,260 in 1692

Number of voters:

391 in 1692; 906 in 1698


29 Nov. 1692JOHN JEFFREYS vice Williams, deceased271
 Edward Lewis120
29 Oct. 1695JOHN JEFFREYS 
2 Aug. 1698THOMAS HARLEY573
 John Jeffreys3331
14 Jan. 1701THOMAS HARLEY 
28 July 1702THOMAS HARLEY 
10 Oct. 1710THOMAS HARLEY 
8 Sept. 1713THOMAS HARLEY 

Main Article

Sir Rowland Gwynne* of Llanelwedd had in 1689 re-established the dominant interest his family had long enjoyed in Radnorshire, and which had only been interrupted by his flight at the time of the Rye House Plot. He and his ally Richard Williams of Cabalfa had taken both the county and the Boroughs seats in the Convention, Gwynne being returned unopposed as knight of the shire. Nor was there any opposition at first in 1690. The Harleys of Brampton Bryan in Herefordshire, potentially the strongest of the rival interests, were busy in their own county and in constituencies in other parts of the country. Caution, however, prevailed upon Gwynne to switch seats with Williams: he himself would contest the Boroughs, where his recent appointment as steward of the crown manors gave him a distinct advantage; Williams, a ‘cousin’ of the Harleys, and a man with numerous connexions among the Radnorshire gentry, would be a safer bet for the shire. As there was comparatively little partisan friction, all the leading participants styling themselves at this stage as Whigs, Gwynne and Williams were happy to use the device of a county meeting, ostensibly to consult opinion but in reality to promote Williams’ candidacy. Once his name had been agreed on by ‘the gentlemen’, Williams was safe from last-minute attack. When the Harleys launched their campaign, belatedly but not unexpectedly, it was in the Boroughs and not the county. Williams was returned unopposed.

It was in fact in the Boroughs constituency that Gwynne’s defences were breached. He was unseated by Robert Harley on petition in November 1690, and a year later lost his crown stewardship, again to Harley. There ensued a bitter struggle for supremacy in Radnorshire, at first centring on New Radnor corporation but spreading quickly across the politics and institutions of the county. In May 1692 Robert Harley’s sister, Abigail, reported that the sheriff, Thomas Vaughan, ‘talks very liberally about Mr Harley’s undermining Sir R. Gwynne, and shows a petition that he says was delivered by Mr H[arley] to the King’. Harley was also accused of a malign interference in the appointment of justices of the peace. A remodelling of the Radnorshire commission (among other Welsh counties), on which his advice appeared to have been decisive, had resulted in a number of gentlemen losing their places on the bench. While Harley excused the purge as ‘what hath been practised throughout all Wales’, the removal of ‘honorary’ justices of the peace without the least intention to ‘prejudice’ them, the resentful victims ascribed their fate to the malice of faction. The Lewis brothers of Harpton, Thomas and Nourse, were so furious they resorted to physical violence, waylaying Harley in New Radnor and attempting (or so it was alleged) to murder him. Others, like Sir John Morgan, 2nd Bt.*, limited the expression of their anger to more conventional political gestures. Morgan, a Tory who had opposed the Harleys in Herefordshire, temporarily threw in his lot in Radnorshire with Gwynne. Unfortunately for Harley, the storm blew up just at the time that Williams died, and Gwynne (who had also been chosen in 1690 for Breconshire and retained that seat) quickly moved the writ for a new election. Harley was advised by one agent to think twice about returning his opponents’ ‘shot’ directly by putting up a candidate, and instead to consider diverting their fire by ‘complying’ on this occasion, in order thereby to ‘throw them into a sleep of security against another election’. Should he, however,

design stiffly to oppose them, I know not who is that man you can set up, that can expend so much money, and if they get the conquest, their triumph will be the greater, and by which means they will know both their own strength and yours also against another time; and so consequently put you to fresh and great expenses upon all occasions, and many of your part may grow cold, if not quite go off . . . The sheriff [Thomas Vaughan] you know is your professed adversary, who does what he can to gain proselytes. Now, Mr Williams being dead, I look upon Capt. Price and Andrew Davies to be the persons with whom he digests all his matters. If their counsels could be broke, their strength would quickly fall. Wherefore I would propose Capt. Price if it be not too great a condescension because then happily they may be divided; however he will do neither much good nor much harm in the House, and he would be gratified in his humour a great deal, that we might expect the storms to be over in a great measure by it. If you should propose old Harry Probert*, it will be chargeable, which he cannot bear, though I believe thereby it would secure his interest to you. If you should propose Mr Fowler, for ought I know, he might take with the adverse party, unless it be they will have no one that you propose. But Mr John Jeffreys, who is in Breconshire at present, is the likeliest man to expend money I suppose. But always to be at cuffs with them gives you always fresh troubles and fresh and great expense, which I humbly advise to be avoided if possible . . . the adverse party are united under a strange bond of confederacy and privacy. My whole aim in proposing Capt. Price is to break their confederacy and to alter their measures thereby, and so to sweeten their stomachs in reference to you, if it can be done gently.

Another request to dissuade Harley from embarking on a contest came from a would-be Member, Samuel Powell, who claimed that while he himself, with backing from Brampton Bryan, would be sure of a ‘unanimous’ election, an alternative candidate, in particular Harley’s father, Sir Edward*, whose prospects were being canvassed, would be guaranteed to meet resistance: ‘the gentlemen are resolved to agree all their interest for such a person that will contend the matter and freely spend his money in opposing Sir Edward’. Determined for his own part to stand his ground and make the election a ‘trial of skill’, Harley chose the wealthiest candidate he could find, John Jeffreys. Although of a Breconshire family, and thus by no means destitute of local connexions, Jeffreys had made his fortune as a London merchant. He was perceived as an outsider, and this was added to the list of local grievances against Harley, Gwynne’s supporters alleging that Harley had said ‘no person in the county was fit to be Parliament-man’. They represented themselves as ‘the gentlemen of the country’, seeking only representation by ‘an inhabitant’. To begin with, neither Gwynne nor Morgan was prominent in the anti-Harley camp. Gwynne had given a ‘promise’, perhaps to stay neutral, and Morgan had told Harley he was now ‘satisfied’ on the question of the commission of the peace, and ‘would not meddle in the election’. However, both remained active behind the scenes. Harley counter-attacked. He obtained the writ, in the face of opposition from Gwynne and Morgan, and then secured his own nominee as the new sheriff, which ‘enraged’ the two men to such a degree that Gwynne contemplated petitioning the Privy Council against the choice. After Thomas Lewis had failed to make much impression in canvassing, Harley’s opponents fixed on Edward Lewis of Mynachdy as their candidate. At the election Jeffreys was able to bring in some 900 freeholders; Lewis only about 360. Neither Harley nor Gwynne appeared in person, though Harley’s chief agents were assisting Jeffreys and Gwynne’s cousin George Gwynne brought in 200 voters for Lewis. The first day’s polling, which ended with Jeffreys ahead by about 150 to 50, was almost enough for the hapless Lewis. He was reported to be ‘very uneasy with the business and desirous to leave off that night’, but was persuaded by ‘his three friends’ and principal advisers to wait another day until the freeholders from Painscastle hundred were polled, supposedly a Gwynne stronghold. In the meantime an offer was made to Jeffreys that Lewis would resign if ‘Mr Jeffreys should contribute somewhat towards his charge’. In the Jeffreys camp this produced indignation: ‘Mr Charles Lloyd said that since they had made such noise and disturbance in the country let them try their interest, for he would never consent to give them any such terms . . . if they did not yield it fairly lost, it should be polled to the last.’ The next day’s polling left an even greater majority for Jeffreys, upon which Lewis ‘declared he was deceived by his friends and resolved to contend no longer’. Among the defeated there was some rancour, one man telling Jeffreys’ supporters ‘they were fools to be for a Presbyterian interest’, an issue Lewis’ side had raised only sporadically before the election, ‘and for a stranger against their own countryman’. Among the Harleys there was corresponding jubilation. Sir Edward Harley, who viewed the factional conflicts in Radnorshire as a struggle between ‘the just’ and ‘the wicked’, exulted in ‘the most gracious Providence of our God in the Radnorshire election’. A cousin, Thomas Harley of Kinsham, wrote as if the struggle had been decided; ‘it is plain’, he told Robert, ‘you are now the sole patron of Radnorshire, for all sorts of persons in that country account they have right to apply themselves to you’.2

Robert Harley’s position was not yet safe, however. Although Gwynne’s local interest had suffered a sharp setback, and although his finances were becoming increasingly precarious, Gwynne’s standing at court was improving from 1693 onwards with the reconstruction of the ministry to the benefit of the ‘new Whigs’ of the Junto. In Radnorshire it was rumoured in the summer of 1693 that the Harleys’ ‘party’ was ‘quite run down’, Harley himself ‘turned out of favour’ and ‘Sir R. G[wynne] in’. Stories that Harley had lost his stewardship of the crown manors proved unfounded; on the other hand, responsibility for a further round of alterations in the commission of the peace in 1693 has been ascribed by one modern historian to Gwynne’s influence rather than Harley’s. Gwynne did not challenge in 1695, even though Harley’s friends were concerned at the ‘danger’ from ‘Sir Rowland’s parts and his purse’. Jeffreys was returned again, without a contest, the only fly in the ointment being a hint of disquiet and ambition among Harley’s supporters, one of whom, Marmaduke Gwynne, pressed to be nominated himself. Harley’s brother reported to him an approach by Marmaduke Gwynne, who ‘said that he desired to be set up by your interest and that he would make it his business to serve it upon all occasions’. Harley’s response was that, while he entertained a ‘very due regard’ for Gwynne, he preferred to leave the matter to ‘the gentlemen’ to ‘meet . . . to agree amongst themselves of a representative’, another successful instance of a disingenuous appeal to the ideal of preserving harmony through preselection, which was such a feature of tactics in Radnorshire elections. The rebuff was felt keenly by Gwynne, however, who now joined forces with his namesake Sir Rowland, and indeed ‘had the management of’ the scheme which constituted Sir Rowland’s last assault on the Harley interest. In February 1696 Sir Rowland sent down a copy of the Association secretly into Radnorshire, in order that it might be circularized privately among his faction, and returned without the signatures of the Harleys or any of their friends. This would enable Gwynne’s party to ‘represent’ the Harleyites ‘as pleases them’, and as one of Harley’s allies wrote, ‘their design is to have a new commission [of the peace] . . . to leave me and my interest out, and so to rule both the lieutenancy and the commission, which if D[u]k[e] G[wynne] and others comes in will certainly overpower’. Evidently the Gwynnes’ faction already controlled the lieutenancy, and were able to give Harley’s friends ‘ill usage’. The attempt to purge the commission of the peace did not succeed; Harley organized a second Association, subscribed by the sheriff and other gentlemen at the quarter sessions, and even by members of the grand jury, in spite of the presence as foreman of Thomas Lewis of Harpton. When the commission was revised later in the year Harley’s advice was sought, and the changes made were no more than routine.3

The 1698 election represented the final test of strength between the Harleys and their enemies. The successes in 1692 and 1695, and the defeat of Sir Rowland Gwynne’s intrigues over the Association, had established Harley’s ascendancy, and had cemented his ties with smaller, though still important, interests like those of the Howorths and Proberts. On the other hand not only had Marmaduke Gwynne defected, so too had Jeffreys. At the time of the Association episode Edward Howorth had complained bitterly of being ‘neglected by your recommended friend Mr Jeffreys, who I never write to or trouble myself with, for he has turned tail and gone to t’other party’. The explanation lies in the condition on which Jeffreys obtained Harley’s recommendation in 1695. It would appear that Harley’s brother Edward* had also nurtured ambitions for the county seat, and had ‘insisted upon . . . terms’ to accompany the family’s endorsement of Jeffreys, namely that Jeffreys stand for one Parliament only and look elsewhere at the next election. In 1698 Edward was provided with a seat at Leominster, but Harley designed Radnorshire for his cousin Thomas of Kinsham. Jeffreys reneged on his pledge, as he may well have been intending to do for some time, and began to ‘make an interest’ for himself by approaching Harley’s chief supporters, William Probert and Edward Howorth, the latter via Howorth’s sister. Harley, who was already concerned at reports of various candidatures, including those of Marmaduke Gwynne, Sir Rowland Gwynne and an unnamed nominee of Lord Herbert (Henry*), and was alarmed at a last-minute alteration in the pricking of the new sheriff, was understandably furious. ‘I see how my kindness is returned’, he wrote, and ‘though I don’t repent yet, it shall make me cautious for the future.’ Jeffreys’ brother proposed as a compromise that Harley back Marmaduke Gwynne instead, but this was turned down sharply:

I suppose, when you consider of it calmly, you will not imagine I should comply with your discourse to bring Mr Gwynne into Radnorshire. I do not make it an objection that he hath not thought fit to ask my assistance, nor do I pretend to anything in that county but in concurrence with the gentlemen and freeholders of the county, but when I consider that I displeased several last election in pressing for your brother, in opposition to my own brother, and that I could not perform that neither until your brother publicly promised to stand no more; I say, when I think of these things I must be excused that I do not venture a second time to disoblige the gentlemen my friends of this country.

Jeffreys, who had obtained the backing of Sir Rowland Gwynne, now began to canvass openly. Another candidate to appear was a local gentleman, David Morgan, but he had withdrawn by 28 July, some five days before the poll. Jeffreys maintained his candidature to the end, but was well beaten at the poll, his and Gwynne’s combined interest concentrated in two of the hundreds proving no match for the Harleys, which dominated the other four.4

The 1698 election was the last in Radnorshire in which Sir Rowland Gwynne took any part and the last before 1715 in which the Harleys faced any serious opposition. Prior to the first general election of 1701 there were rumours that David Morgan, was ‘endeavouring mischief’, and the spectre of a rival candidacy was once again raised when Henry Cornewall* began canvassing in Radnorshire, supported by Lord Coningsby (Thomas*), and possibly as a reprisal for what he saw as Harleian interference in Herefordshire. Cornewall was joined by Edward Howorth, hitherto a staunch supporter of the Harley interest, but a man who had always held a high opinion of his own influence in the county and who seems to have had ambitions to be knight himself. The other major families – the various Gwynnes, the Morgans and the Lewises of Harpton, who certainly by 1700 and probably as early as 1698 had made their peace and become loyal Harleyites – were now either won over or neutralized, and this minor encroachment was easily withstood. Jeffreys apparently considered standing in the following December, but had second thoughts and, like Gwynne before him, abandoned the county to the Harleys. Thereafter the only challenge came from Richard Fowler†, a Shropshire squire with a Radnorshire estate at Abbeycwmhir. He canvassed twice, in 1705 and 1708, on the latter occasion with the active assistance of Sir Thomas Morgan, 3rd Bt.*, but did not carry through to a poll. It was only after the Hanoverian succession, and the disgrace of Robert Harley (now Earl of Oxford), that the Harley hegemony was ended, Fowler being the local beneficiary of a major high-political reverse.5

Author: D. W. Hayton


Unless otherwise stated, this article is based on D. R. L. Adams, ‘Parl. Rep. Rad. 1536–1832’ (Univ. Wales M.A. thesis, 1969), 10–12, 159–210.

  • 1. Harley mss at Brampton Bryan, pollbk.
  • 2. Add. 70116, Abigail to Sir Edward Harley, 5 May 1692; 70016, ff. 173, 192–3, 196, 198, 203, 205, 215, 217; 70120, Samuel Powell to Nehemiah Ketelby, 12 Oct. 1692; 70144, Sir Edward to Abigail Harley, 14 Oct. 1692; 70234, same to Robert Harley, 27 Oct., 1 Nov. 1692; 70235, same to same, 28 July 1693, 2 Dec. 1692; 70240, Thomas Harley to same, 1 July 1693; L. K. J. Glassey, Appt. JPs, 110; Trans. Rad. Soc. xxvi. 50–53; NLW Jnl. xx. 40–45; HMC Portland, iii. 502, 504; Luttrell Diary, 214; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Harley) mss Pw2 Hy 410, John Walsham to [Robert Harley], 15 Oct. 1692; Pw2 Hy 411, [–] to [–], [Nov. 1692].
  • 3. Add. 70275, William Probert to Robert Harley, 16 June 1693, 17, 24 Mar. 1696, David Powell to same, 20 Mar. 1696, Thomas Harley to same, 23 Mar. 1696; 70018, f. 83; 70236, Edward to Robert Harley, 24 Oct. 1695; 70254, Robert Harley to William Probert, 24 Sept. 1695; 70243, Edward Howorth to Robert Harley, 15 Mar. 1696; Glassey, 114–15, 125; HMC Portland, iii. 574.
  • 4. Add. 70243, Edward Howorth to Robert Harley, 15 Mar. 1696; 70275, Robert Harley to John Jeffreys, 28 July 1698, same to Jeffrey Jeffreys*, 8 July 1698; 70053, Susanna to Edward Howorth, 28 July 1698; 70117, Abigail to Sir Edward Harley, 10 July 1698; Harley mss, Charles Jones to Thomas Harley, 20 July 1698, Henry Probert to John Greenlie, 28 July 1698, Robert to Thomas Harley, 28, 30 July 1698, Rad. pollbk. 1698.
  • 5. Add. 70263, Robert Harley to Sir John Williams*, 24 Sept. 1700; 70056, [–] to [Robert Harley], 10 Nov. 1700; 70240, Thomas to Robert Harley, 28 Sept. 1700; 70064, Robert Harley to Coningsby, 26 Dec. 1700; 70019, f. 259; 70222, Andrew Davies to same, 10 Mar. 1708; 70396, William Thomas to [Edward Harley* (Ld. Harley)], 20 Apr. 1708; Harley mss, Charles Jones to Thomas Harley, 31 July 1698, John Griffiths to [same], 10 Mar. 1707[–8]; Bath mss at Longleat House, Thynne pprs. 26, ff. 285–6.