Carmarthen Boroughs


Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer


1554 (Nov.)JOHN PARRY

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The status of Carmarthen, as the administrative centre for South Wales was confirmed at the Union. The Norman borough of New Carmarthen, with charters dating from the 13th century and administered by a mayor, lay beside the royal castle. The original settlement known as Old Carmarthen, with the parish church of St. Peter, belonged to the priory of St. John until the Dissolution, when efforts by the 3rd Lord Ferrers as steward of New Carmarthen to exercise the privileges of the priory in the suburb led to violence. The matter was resolved in 1546 when Henry VIII annexed Old Carmarthen to the borough, which was incorporated as the mayor, common council, recorder, town clerk and other officers, with a seal of its own. Members of the common council adopted the style of alderman. The plan of Bishop Barlow of St. David’s to move his cathedral to Carmarthen came to nothing. Of the other ‘ancient boroughs’ in the shire Kidwelly and Newtown (Dynevor) possessed charters, but Dryslwyn, Llanelly and St. Clears did not: unlike Carmarthen these places were in decline.2

The elections were held ‘in full county court’ at Carmarthen in the presence of the mayor, but not always on the same day as those for the shire. Indentures survive for the Parliament of 1542, the two in 1553 and the last three of Mary’s reign. Little remains of the indenture for 1542 and none of the others is in good condition; with the exception of that for 1555 all are written in Latin. One of the contracting parties is the sheriff of Carmarthenshire, but the description of the second party varies: in the spring and autumn of 1553 it was the burgesses; in November 1554 the mayor, aldermen and other burgesses; in 1555 the mayor, aldermen and bailiffs ‘with the rest of the burgesses and commonalty of the said town’, and in 1558 the mayor and burgesses. In 1555 William Wightman was chosen Member ‘as well for the borough and shire town of Carmarthen as for all other boroughs with[in] the said shire’, but only the seal of the borough of Carmarthen was affixed to the indenture.3

Five of the Members were residents of Carmarthen with municipal experience. Thomas Phaer was a migrant to the town and perhaps already on the council in the marches when returned. The civilian William Aubrey from Breconshire owed his election to the 1st Earl of Pembroke as constable of the castle. William Wightman was presumably also a nominee of the earl but as receiver of South Wales and a friend of Thomas Phaer he was no stranger to the town.

Carmarthen was included in the Act of 1544 (35 Hen. VIII, c.4) empowering local authorities to repair property if the owners proved unwilling to do so. A bill for a free school in the town failed after a single reading in the Lords in December 1547.4

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. Hatfield 207.
  • 2. M. Beresford, New Towns in the Middle Ages, 539-40, 574; The King’s Works, ii. 539-40; Jnl. Card. Antiq. Soc. vi. 137-48; Trans. Hist. Soc. W. Wales, viii. 4-7; Lloyd, Carm. ii. 15-16; Boroughs in Med. Wales, ed. Griffith, 131-63.
  • 3. C219/18B/120, 20/180, 21/222, 23/190, 24/233, 234, 25/149.
  • 4. LJ, i. 309; Carm. Antiquary, x. 49-62.