Monmouth Boroughs


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


1553 (Mar.)(not known)

Main Article

Situated at the junction of the rivers Wye and Monnow, the manor, town and borough of Monmouth belonged to the duchy of Lancaster. In 1536, when Monmouthshire was created by the Act of Union, the parts of the town on the English side of the two rivers were included within it. Monmouth became the shire town, although the county court was held alternately there and at Newport. Like many border towns Monmouth had suffered from the lawlessness which prevailed before the Union, and in 1544 it was included in the Act (35 Hen. VIII, c.4) for the re-edification of certain towns. It was governed by a mayor and bailiffs, who with the commonalty were incorporated in 1549 by a charter which recited how the burgesses of the borough and town of Monmouth in the marches of Wales, within the duchy of Lancaster, are injured because the privileges granted by the King’s progenitors were by statutes in Henry VIII’s time almost extinguished and the town, which is ancient borough of the duchy, is as it were dissolved and discorporated. This charter was confirmed by Mary in 1558.4

As in the Welsh shires, borough elections in Monmouthshire involved several contributory boroughs. In the early 1540s these were Abergavenny, Caerleon, Chepstow, Newport and Usk, to which were to be added, although almost certainly not until after 1558, Trelleck and possibly Grosmont. These ‘outboroughs’ varied in status and allegiance. Abergavenny, which was under the control of the Nevilles, had a bailiff whose privileges and duties were those of a mayor elsewhere; it was relatively prosperous, mainly through weaving, cap-making and tanning. Caerleon, Newport and Usk, the first less important than the other two, which were each governed by a bailiff, were granted by Edward VI to William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke. Chepstow, which had descended to the earls of Worcester, prospered as a port and market; in 1524 the 1st Earl had granted it the right to government by a steward or portreeve and two bailiffs instead of by his officers at the castle.5

The Act of Union left some confusion over the position of the contributory boroughs, in that while it specified that their inhabitants should help to pay Members’ wages it did not formally empower them to vote at elections. This omission perhaps explains Thomas Kynnyllyn’s suit against the contributory boroughs for withholding their contributions towards his wages for the Parliament of 1542. Monmouth itself seems to have paid him, unless he had earlier remitted its share. In the absence of the indenture there is no means of knowing whether electors from elsewhere than Monmouth voted on this occasion. An Act of 1544 (35 Hen. VIII, c.11) clarified the matter: while reaffirming the obligation and arranging for the levy, it provided for the proclamation at each of the boroughs of the date and place of elections and gave them ‘like voice and authority’ in the elections with the shire towns.

The indenture for 1545 gives the contracting parties as the sheriff and the mayor and two bailiffs, with 13 other burgesses of Monmouth, including Charles and Thomas Herbert, probably the Members o