'Tuning' the Welsh Bench, 1680
A H Dodd, National Library of Wales Journal, Summer 1950, Vol VI/ 3
Extracted onto the pages of GENUKI with the kind permission of the National Library of Wales
This is a complete extract of this article [Gareth Hicks July 2002].
The end of 1678 saw also the end of Charles II's first and longest parliament, which had opened in a fury against Presbyterians and Cromwellians and ended in a fury against Catholics and courtiers. Shaftesbury's electioneering skill had ensured the dominance of the Country Party at the elections that followed in the new year, and in the resultant parliament, not content with reviving the attacks on Danby and blowing anew on the embers of the Popish Plot, he provoked a speedy dissolution by trying to exclude the Catholic Duke of York from succession to the throne and cultivating the bastard but Protestant Duke of Monmouth. A second general election in July revealed no substantial change in public feeling, and by seven successive prorogations the King postponed meeting the new House till the October of 1680. The temper of the country revealed itself even in Cavalier Wales by the phenomenal number of contested elections, some at least the result of political cleavages that cut across the old clan rivalries; in Brecknockshire and Radnorshire, in Glamorgan and Cardiff, and very nearly in Brecon, sturdy loyalists of 1660 gave place to members of very dubious political antecedents. Meanwhile the Privy Council set about drawing the teeth of local opposition by removing its potential leaders from county benches and militias. The work was completed by the middle of 1680, but so widespread a purge among 'gentlemen of good condition' raised an inevitable storm when parliament met in October; within three weeks the Lords set up a fact-finding committee, and from its minutes can be extracted a list of the changes made. The object of this paper is to examine the Welsh lists as some sort of index to the extent and character of opposition in the Welsh counties.
The proscriptions must have been based on information from the lords lieutenant. For Wales this meant the Marquess of Worcester, President of Wales and a Privy Councillor since 1672, whose services as an opponent of Exclusion were to be rewarded in 1682 with the dukedom of Beaufort and the eulogies of Dryden in Absolom and Achitophel, where he appears in the character of Bexaliel: (the extract from the above in the book has not been extracted)
His family had held a leading position in south-east Wales since the Act of Union; and although their continued loyalty to Rome had brought them under grave suspicion in the days of the Bishops' Wars and the Irish Rebellion, and correspondingly enhanced the prestige of their Protestant vis a vis the Earls of Pembroke, yet when Civil War broke out it was to the loyal house of Raglan that the country rallied rather than to its erratic, opportunist and absentee rivals. Worcester's grandfather the fifth earl (and its Marquess) had largely financed the mobilisation of the royal army and held Raglan for the King after every other fortress in the land had yielded; his father the titular Earl of Glamorgan had tried to raise for Charles a Catholic army in Ireland, for which he was promised the dukedom of Somerset and the hand of the King's daughter. They had paid for their devotion by losing slices of their estate to the victors and seeing Raglan in ruins. Henceforth their chief seat was at Badminton in Gloucestershire, where the first Duke of Beaufort built a regal mansion and lived in regal state, but without relaxing his grip on Wales, where he was allowed to garrison the castle at Chepstow (though he complained of the poor provision made for the only military centre of his presidency, set in the midst of 'a county as ill affected as any in England'), as well as having seats at Troy in Monmouthshire and Crickhowel in Brecknockshire and the right to hold manorial courts in three counties; and if he had shown more complaisance towards Cromwell than he cared to recall, and had renounced the faith of his fathers before succeeding to their title, he neither forgot their injuries nor departed from the position they had always maintained in secular politics. On the Privy Council he could be relied on for a staunch support of the crown which did not preclude opposition to arbitrary measures like the dissolution of 1679, nor resistance to royal dictation in his Welsh electoral arrangements; in Wales he was a truly viceregal figure, but ultra-Protestants never forgot his family background, of which they were forcibly reminded in days of anti-popish fervour by the staunch Catholicism of his sister and her husband at Powis castle.
Two years before the Privy Council completed its purge, Worcester had anticipated it in the part of Wales where his influence was strongest. The most prominent victim was the Protestant firebrand John Arnold of Llanvihangel Crucorney, chief fomenter of the Popish Plot scare in South Wales, where he procured the deaths of the last Catholic martyrs and the dispersal of the Jesuit headquarters, and later at Westminster, where in 1680 he snatched the representation of Monmouth (on petition) from Worcester's heir --- 'whose forward fame', declared Dryden, 'should every muse engage' --- and was hand in glove with the Exclusionists, losing no chance of blackening Worcester in the House and even carrying (with Sir Rowland Gwynne, the member for Radnorshire) a resolution that the King be moved to exclude him from council and court. Not till the Tory reaction of 1683 was the newly-created Duke able effectively to silence his noisy Welsh antagonist by a crippling fine in King's Bench. A second displaced magistrate was Roger Oates, a Raglan tenant whose house at Cefn Tilla (or Tylau) had been Fairfax's headquarters when the castle was besieged and the scene of its formal surrender. A third was Richard Seys of Swansea, who though he hated the puritans so much that he disinterred his father's bones rather than let them rest uneasily by those of the intruded Puritan vicar, was brought into discredit, as we shall see, by others of his family; and there were half a dozen obscurer victims. The Marquess's action did not pass unchallenged; Sir Edward Mansell of Margam wrote about it to the King, who set on foot official enquiries resulting (it seems) in the reinstatement of some at least of the victimised J.Ps.
This was the local background to the more extensive purge of 1680, when 25 Welsh magistrates were ejected. In arriving at this total, allowance has been made for the few cases where the same magistrate sat on more than one county bench, and also for the inclusion in the 'black list' for every county in the land of the name of the once powerful second duke of Buckingham now under eclipse. The greatest concentration of dismissals, despite the earlier winnowing, was still in Worcester's own privy domain; five in Glamorgan, four each in Monmouthshire and Brecknockshire; but the heaviest quota in any single county was Montgomeryshire's six. Elsewhere the number never rose above three, and the counties of Cardigan, Carmarthen, Radnor, Merioneth and Anglesey each had a clean sheet.
The following are the details (but the exact dates within 1680 are not extracted):
|County||Left Out||Came In|
|Brecknock||Sir Thos. Williams
John Morgan, Wenallt
Rev. Will .Powell
|Cardigan||---||Sir Thos. Price
Jno. Herbert of 'Corgathan'
|Denbigh||William Williams||Richard Middleton
John Middleton of Gwaenynog
|Glamorgan||Sir Robt. Thomas
Evan Seys, serjeant at law
Thos. Mansell of Britton Ferry
Sir Edw. Mansell
Owen Wynne of Glynne
Robt. Wynne of Maes y neuadd
|Monmouth||Sir Trevor Williams
Sir John Erle
|Montgomery||Henry, Lord herbert
Francis Buller, jun.
Richard Griffith of Sutton
Matthew Rice of Parke
Henry Blayney of Gregynog
John Williams of Ystumcolwyn
|Radnor||---||Sir Richard Deerham|
Unfortunately the Lord's committee did not as a rule examine the reasons for exclusion; we can only look for clues in the past records of the postscripts, where these are available.
Sir Thomas Williams, though of Brecknockshire origins, had acquired by marriage estates in Herefordshire. In the hotly-contested by-election of 1675 he was returned to the Herefordshire borough of Weobley, from which he was unseated on petition three years later; of his two sons the elder became member for Herefordshire and the younger for Brecknockshire. Unless he had somehow offended in Herefordshire, it must have been his membership of Brecknockshire county committees right through the Interregnum that was remembered against him. Richard Williams of Caebalfa (Radnorshire) also had estates in Breckonshire, and represented both counties in the course of his brief parliamentary career. Brecknockshire was his constituency in 1679, when he was a leading promoter of the Bill to check the importation of Irish cattle (an objective of Welsh politicians for the past half-century), but is not known to have been mixed up in any of the major controversies. Perhaps we must look further back for the grounds of his offending. His father, who came from a branch of the eminently loyal Williamses of Gwernyfed, and married a daughter of David Jenkins of Hensol, the intrepid royalist judge, had sat in two of Cromwell's parliaments, while the son, along with John Morgan (representing another well-established local family) had co-operated with the Protectorate to the extent of serving on county committees. Marmaduke Gwynne of Garth, a barrister of some dozen years standing and a future Welsh judge, had also family estates in Brecknockshire, which he expanded by means of the fortune acquired through marriage with the heiress of a prosperous London merchant coming from Radnorshire. Too young to have been in public life under the Interregnum, he did not offer himself for parliament until November, 1680, when his return for New Radnor at a by-election was the subject of an unresolved dispute; so it seems likely that he offended through either his city or his family connections, the latter including Rowland Gwynne of Llanelwedd and Humphrey Wyndham of Dunraven, both of whom we shall meet later among Worcester's bugbears.
The inclusion of Griffith Bodwrda's name suggests that the lists were first drafted before the middle of 1679, when he died in Ireland. He had been active in public life under the Protectorate, and was among the foremost debaters in Cromwell's parliaments, and these facts were evidently remembered against him even after he had bought his way back to favour and a lucrative job in Ireland by supporting Monck and informing on regicides. It was far otherwise with Thomas Mostyn, the future second baronet and the assiduous patron and collector of Welsh literature. In a plaintive letter to Worcester in June, 1680, acknowledging his dismissal from the commission of lieutenancy, he claimed (with reason) that 'the family of which I am has given such prooffs of its Loyallty ...that...there is nothing wherein I can soe criminally and notoriously degenerate from it, as by being guilty of the Contrary', and he boasted himself 'free from disloyal thought , much more word or action'. Indeed, excepting Worcester's grandfather none of the Welsh gentry had spent himself more freely in the service of Charles I than Mostyn's father Sir Roger, nephew though he was to Bulstrode Whitelock --- head of the deputation that offered Cromwell the crown --- who had tried in 1652-3 to arrange for Sir Roger a deal over the manor of Gogarth (part of the confiscated lands of the see of Bangor) with its purchaser John Jones the regicide. Thomas himself first entered parliament (for Beaumaris) in February, 1679, and was re-elected in August; marriage to a recusant had got him into some difficulties at home, but did not prevent him in the House from joining in the search for Protestant safeguards, though he stopped short of Exclusion. Twelve months after his dismissal he contributed to the debate on Arnold's motion against Worcester on account of his own vain remonstrances with the Marquess on the power exercised by his sister Lady Powis --- later governess to the Old Pretender --- in 'disposing of military employments' in Montgomeryshire. In the light of this revelation it is not difficult to guess how he first fell foul of Worcester; but the breach had been healed by the time of the landing of William of Orange in 1688, when Mostyn offered the President to raise forces in North Wales to oppose him.
William Williams, the future speaker and baronet, presents no difficulty. Son though he was to an Anglican clergyman, his marriage to the daughter of Watkin Kyffin (brother-in-law of Jones the Regicide and Sir Thomas Middleton's steward at Chirk) had brought him into close touch with the Dissenting interest, and as member since 1675 for Chester (where he was recorder) he had been a champion of the Exclusionist faction and of the attacks on Danby and the popish lords --- among them Lord Powis, whose brother-in-law Worcester stood surety for him: his later career as a courtier owed far more to professional jealousy of Jeffreys (who was bent on his ruin) than any change of heart, and staunch Anglicans never ceased to distrust him; indeed James II's choice of him as Solicitor General in 1687 may well have been meant as another bait for Dissenters, and Jeffrey's death made it easy for him to resume his old political role in 1689.
Thomas Ravenscroft of Bretton was an elderly lawyer of aggressively Protestant views which he had aired at Westminster as far back as 1621. He had held a commission for the King in the Civil War, but was strongly suspected of having betrayed Hawarden Castle to the Roundheads in 1643, and had certainly served on the parliamentary county committee in 1648. Roger Whitley of Hawarden was another old royalist officer, but with a soldierly reputation recognised in the House (where he had sat for Flint since 1660) by the continued use of his military rank and the respect paid to his views on military questions; he was one of the commissioners appointed by the Commons in 1679 to disband the army mobilised two years earlier for a hypothetical war with France, but credited by the Country Party with a more sinister role. Up to that year he had been reckoned a firm supporter of the court, from which he admittedly drew £300 a year in secret service money, and was also credited by the opposition with a 'vast estate' from his farm at the Post Office; but then he was drawn into the Monmouth faction through his connection (by marriage) with the newly-created Earl of Macclesfield, whose outstanding services to the King's father did not save him from sharing Monmouth's disgrace in 1681, and whom ended the reign in exile, to return with the Prince of Orange and to supplant Beaufort as the last of the Presidents at Ludlow. When in 1682 Monmouth made his triumphal progress through Cheshire, Whitley and his two sons were among the chief 'disaffected persons of note' to rally to him.
The record of Sir Robert Thomas, second and last baronet of Bettws and Llanvihangel, would seem to rule out any Roundhead sympathies, since he had taken part in the Glamorgan rising of June, 1647, was excluded from composition in the Act of 1649 and imprisoned under the Protectorate, and married another of Judge Jenkins's daughters; yet for all this he served on several Commonwealth committees, including the local committee for ejecting 'scandalous' ministers in 1654, and each of his two elections as member for Cardiff (1661 and 1679) was won after a stiff fight with an uncompromising royalist. During his first spell of membership he supported the measure to disqualify papists from sitting in the House, during his second the Puritan onslaught on swearing and sabbath-breaking; so he may well have been judged too far towards the Country Party for a trustworthy magistrate; at any rate none of the lists drawn up by either Danby or Williamson or the opposition ranks him (with a vast majority of Welsh members) among the 'courtiers'. He laid himself further open to suspicion by witnessing in 1673 the will of Philip Jones, ex-Comptroller of the Protector's household, who had raised himself from lowly beginnings to a dominant position in South Wales by supporting the triumphant Saints, founded a new county family by racketeering in confiscated royalist estates --- especially those of Raglan --- and then made his peace with Charles II in time to secure the spoils (to which Worcester, as heir to the estate, had legally renounced his claims when he abjured the Pope and accepted the Protectorate) against the family's attempt to recover them at the Restoration; so it was unlikely that any friend of Philip Jones would find favour with the President of Wales in his day of power. Evan Seys of Boverton was of the same family as Richard Seys dismissed in 1678, but he had been much more accommodating towards the Cromwellian regime, having accepted the legal office in South Wales and judicial office in North Wales under Oliver (at whose funeral he was an official mourner) and represented Glamorgan in Richard's parliament while his disinherited elder brother was an itinerant preacher and approver under the Propagation Act. In the Restoration parliaments he sat for Gloucester (where he was Recorder) and was on several legal committees of an innocuous nature; but although he had secured himself by a royal pardon in 1662 and was allowed to keep the rank of serjeant at law conferred on him by the Rump, his local influence was still distrusted.
The case of Thomas Mansell of Britton Ferry is more straightforward. His father, Bussy Mansell, had fought against Charles I, sat as one of the six Welsh delegates in Barebones' Parliament, and clung to the Protectorate even after Richard's abdication, organising the defences of South Wales against a royalist coup as late as September 1659. He reappeared at Westminster twenty years later as member for Glamorgan, sitting on several of the Country Party's anti-popish committees. His son, returned for Brecon at a by-election in February, 1678, contested the seat with a zealous royalist at the ensuing general election; both were returned, but the House adjudged the seat to Mansell's opponent. Very different was the record of Sir Edward Mansell of Margam, head of the senior branch of the family and member for Glamorgan from 1670 to 1679. Too young fight for Charles I, and puritanical enough to sit on a sumptuary committee of Cromwell's in 1657, he rendered the restored monarchy a loyalty which won the approbation of Judge Jeffreys himself and ranked him in both Danby's and Williamson's estimation as a safe supporter of the court. Worcester's animus against him can best be accounted for by his opposition to the 'purge' of 1678. But although rumours (hotly denied) that he was under 'some suspicion and in danger of being secured' reached his son-in-law in Paris in 1683, he was back in favour next year, when the President (now duke of Beaufort) relied on him as deputy lieutenant to keep his county steady after James II's flight --- though unlike Beaufort he soon rallied to the prince of Orange. Humphrey Wyndham of Dunraven castle had offended by serving on county committees under Cromwell and marrying his daughter to the heir of Sir Trevor Williams.
Sir Trevor Williams of Llangibby was a clear case for proscription. Made a commissioner of array and a baronet at the outset of the Civil War and captured by the Roundheads in 1643, he gravitated towards his captors when they freed him and was arrested by the King in 1645 as a prime 'hinderer' of his recruiting campaign in South Wales. Against the advice of the old Marquess of Worcester (but at the instance of one of Worcester's sons, a fellow campaigner) he was released on bail, whereupon he helped to seize and to hold against the royal forces the castle of Monmouth, where the Marquess and his successors for many generations after him held undisputed sway as lords of the manor. This belated but fateful reaction against the influence of Raglan 'under pretences of dislike of Popery' is attributed by Sir Edward Walker to the fact that Williams and his fellow-Adullamites were 'creatures of the House of Pembroke'. The 'stratagem' whereby in the second Civil War Sir Trevor brought about the recovery for the King of Chepstow castle (also in Worcester's domain) only incensed Cromwell against this 'blustering blade' without redeeming his reputation with the other side; although excluded from composition under the 1649 Act, he contrived to save his estates and curried favour with the triumphant Protectorate by renouncing his baronetcy, though the title was soon resumed. In 1667 he entered parliament for Monmouthshire after a strongly contested election in which his backers included two fellow-proscripts of 1680; Roger Oates and his son-in-law Roger Williams of Cefnheyley. He moved to the borough seat in the next House, where he promoted the anti-Catholic and constitutional policy of Shaftesbury, tried to discredit Worcester by accusing him of manning Chepstow castle with papists, and early in 1681 avenged his removal from the bench by joining Arnold in framing the Commons' resolution against him --- to become a fellow-victim of ducal vengeance three years later. It is true that Secretary Williamson, a friend of his, claimed him as a 'courtier' in 1675, but his name is conspicuously absent from all later lists. Roger Williams --- as Worcester was unlikely to forget --- had been one of Fairfax's agents in inventorying the contents of Raglan after its fall, and had hastened to take out leases of sequestered Raglan lands; and although he had been excluded with his father-in-law from the benefits of the Composition Act of 1649 he afterwards served on several Commonwealth committees, including that of 1654 against scandalous ministers. Both he and Edward Perkins of Pilston were, like Sir Trevor, dependents of the House of Pembroke, which doubtless affected the politics of all three. Oates must have been reinstated after 1678, presumably through Mansell's intervention, but there was no such appeal from the Privy Council.
Apart from William Williams, who has already been dealt with, the only name here that readily explains itself is that of Henry, fourth Lord Herbert of Cherbury, who in 1678 returned from campaigning with Monmouth to remain his warm supporter. When next year he was authorised by the Privy Council to search Powis castle for suspected stores of concealed arms, and Worcester as Lord President (and incidentally Lady Powis's brother) sent the deputy lieutenants to go with him, Herbert cause deep offence by brusquely spurning his interference. Matthew Rice (or Price) of Park, son of an old Montgomeryshire Roundhead who continued to back the Puritan regime in his county till Monck's seizure of power brought the Restoration within sight, was one of the seven Welsh members whose returns were challenged after the election of February, 1679, but his record in the House (where his election for the borough was confirmed) throws no light on his own politics. Francis Buller was a Cornishman whose father had been a prominent supporter of parliament in his own county and to a smaller extent in Montgomeryshire (where he also had interests) up to, but not after, the King's execution; the son had taken no part in public affairs till the eve of the Restoration, and then it was in Cornwall. Richard Griffith of Sutton was another whose early zeal for parliament did not survive the second Civil War, and no reason can be found for the black-listing of a member of so loyal a family as the Blayneys of Gregynog.
The Laugharnes and the Wogans belonged with the Owens of Orielton to a group of interrelated families with a long record of religious and political dissidence culminating in the career of Thomas Wogan the regicide. Rowland Laugharne was the son of the Roundhead general who turned to the King in the second Civil War; Moris's place in the Wogan pedigree is hard to determine. One of that name was elder brother to William Wogan of Llanstinan, who as MP for Haverfordwest in 1679 helped to prepare Danby's impeachment and was high in favour after the Revolution; but he seems to have been dead by 1679. In any case this was not a time when even distant relationship to a regicide was easily forgiven.
Little need be said about the new magistrates thrust in to replace the suspects. A few were no doubt obscure 'yes-men', but many belonged to families from which magistrates were drawn in the normal course. For example, Robert Owen's forbears had been prominent in the politics and society of Caernarvonshire and Shropshire since Elizabeth's day; his grandfather Sir John had an outstanding record among Charles I's supporters in North Wales, and he himself was warmly commended by Worcester for his devotion to crown and church, which he was to vindicate once more in 1688 by offering to raise 500 men from North Wales to oppose the march of William of Orange from Torbay. The most surprising name is that of Richard Middleton of Chirk in Denbighshire, for he was a grandson of the Roundhead general (albeit no friend to the Protectorate) Sir Thomas, and as recently as 1675 the family had taken into its service an old Roundhead major and Cromwellian MP at whose house in Wrexham a conventicle had been rounded up by the militia ten years earlier. Only a year after Middleton's elevation to the bench his neighbour Sir John Trevor, kinsman and champion of Jeffreys and solicitor to the Duke of York, defeated him in a riotous county election in which all the resources of the court party were used to wean Denbighshire from its allegiance to Chirk castle, and Trevor provoked a challenge to a duel by calling his opponent's grandfather a traitor. But in spite of snap elections the Middleton influence in Denbighshire, which even in defeat could muster nearly a thousand votes, was too strong to be supplanted by that of courtiers like Trevor and Jeffreys, with no strong territorial interests in the county of their origin; and early in the next reign Beaufort at the prompting of the King and Jeffreys induced the leading members of the two factions to 'prevent the Continuation of a difference by which only the factious would have an advantage' by accepting a compromise (such as he had declined to negotiate in his own preserve of Brecknockshire for Charles II) whereby Trevor's supporters backed Middleton for the county seat --- which his family monopolised for the next thirty years --- while Middleton's backed Trevor for the borough which he abandoned at the next election.
The general conclusion seems to be that in Wales as in England the drift of politics, from the time the country awoke to Charles II's intrigues with Catholic France and his brother's addiction to Rome, had brought to the surface influences, driven underground at the Restoration, which even in Wales had provoked against their father's court a reaction far stronger than is often recognised. These influences, in full flood when the Long Parliament met, had ebbed rapidly during the first session when the crown was attacked under cover of Strafford, gathering momentum again in the second with the Irish rebellion but dwindling almost to nothing when the forces mustered against the rebels were turned against the crown. The Irish armistice and the Glamorgan negotiations revived them, but the Rule of the Saints gave them their coup de grace till after 1670. By far the most potent among them was a dread of popery neither theological in origin nor confined to the great families founded on abbey lands, but spread wherever popery had come to be associated with the century-old threats of Irish or Spanish landings on the Welsh coast. This became abundantly clear after James II's flight in December 1688 when the Irish panic of 1641 not only repeated itself in Anglesey and Creuddyn, and affected Sir Hugh Owen in Pembrokeshire (the other old danger-spot) much as its forerunner had affected his father, but made itself felt as far inland as Dolgelley and up to the very walls of Powis castle, fatally impairing the loyalty which only six months before had brought to the President eager offers of help against the Prince of Orange from north and south alike, and as recently as October had made him believe that he could raise 10,000 men in Wales to save the throne. It was because the revival of these deep seated fears gave a new lease of life to forces which had submerged crown and church in 1649 that Worcester co-operated so effectively in the purge of 1680 --- as he was later to co-operate in (and to cancel within a few months) the more drastic purge of 1687-8.
A H Dodd