Monmouthshire

County

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

Background Information

No names known for 1542

Elections

DateCandidate
1545WALTER HERBERT I
 CHARLES HERBERT
1547SIR THOMAS MORGAN
 WILLIAM HERBERT III
1553 (Mar.)(not known)
1553 (Oct.)(SIR) CHARLES HERBERT
 THOMAS SOMERSET
1554 (Apr.)THOMAS HERBERT
 JAMES GUNTER
1554 (Nov.)THOMAS SOMERSET
 DAVID LEWIS
1555WILLIAM HERBERT IV
 WILLIAM MORGAN
1558FRANCIS SOMERSET
 WILLIAM MORGAN

Main Article

During the early 16th century Monmouthshire, divided between the mountains in the north, the uplands of the central districts and the low lying coastal plains, was predominantly a farming county; the wool of the sheep around Abergavenny was particularly suitable for the flannel industry on which that town’s prosperity rested. There was much dairy farming and several towns had flourishing tanneries. Monmouth was already specializing in the manufacture of woollen caps, while until 1542, when new trade regulations were made, Chepstow had more waterborne traffic than any port in south Wales, exporting timber for the royal dockyards as well as grain to Bristol and various commodities to Ireland. Newport, a flourishing centre for local trade, was described in 1521 as a ‘proper town, and with a goodly haven’. Grosmont, Trelleck and Usk were market towns which had grown up around the marcher castles, but in other parts of the shire the bad roads kept local communities isolated. At the Dissolution much of the monastic property in the county went to the 2nd Earl of Worcester, but other grants or later sales brought former church estates to the Morgans at Llantarnam and the Nevilles of Abergavenny.1

By 1509 the crown owned, in addition to the extensive duchy of Lancaster lands in Monmouthshire, the third part of the duchy of York’s estates there brought to Henry VII by his Queen. In 1511 Henry VIII bought the remaining two thirds, and early in 1544 he granted to Catherine Parr as dower lands the Monmouthshire lordships, manors and boroughs of Caerleon, Trelleck and Usk; on Catherine’s death they reverted to the crown. Henry VII had left the area largely under the control of Sir Rhys ap Thomas of Dinevor, who as chamberlain of South Wales often ignored the council in the marches. Henry VIII maintained this arrangement until Rhys’s death in 1525, when he established Princess Mary in her own household at Ludlow. By 1536 the marcher lordships were in need of stronger control, and the first Act of Union (27 Hen. VIII, c.26) was passed, by which Gwent was joined with the district of Gwynllwg beyond the Usk to form the new county of Monmouth. Unlike the other new shires it was included in the English assize system and was under the jurisdiction of the Chancery and Exchequer at Westminster. It was probably for this reason, and also perhaps because Monmouthshire was wealthier than its counterparts, that the county was given two knights of the shire instead of their one each, although only one seat was allotted to Monmouth and its contributory boroughs.2

Monmouthshire did not return Members to the Parliament of 1536, as the relevant section of the Act of Union passed in the early part of that year was suspended before that Parliament was summoned. The parliamentary pawns for 1539 do not include Wales, and when in 1542 Welsh Members were summoned the names of the Monmouthshire knights are missing. By the time of the next Parliament a second Act for Wales had been passed (34 and 35 Hen. VIII, c.26), finally abolishing the jurisdiction of the lords marcher and giving statutory powers to the council in the marches; by another (35 Hen. VIII, c.11), sheriffs in Wales and Monmouthshire were made liable to a fine of £20 for failure to levy and pay the 4s. a day due to knights of the shire within two months of the presentation of the writ de expensis.3

Elections were held at either Monmouth or Newport, the two towns between which the statute of 1536 required the county court to alternate; a bill for the court to be held at Usk failed after its first reading in the Commons in November 1553. Indentures survive for all the Parliaments between 1545 and 1558 except those of March 1553 and April 1554. Several are in English. All give the contracting parties as the sheriff and about 12 to 30 electors, most of whom were Herberts or their kinsmen: in 1547 the list of electors is headed by William Somerset, Lord Herbert. In 1555 and 1558 the sheriff compiled a separate schedule of the names of electors (now missing for the latter year) in addition to those on the indenture itself. In 1558 William Herbert of St. Julian’s alleged that at the county court held at Monmouth on the previous 30 Dec. he and William Morgan had been reelected but that the sheriff had returned Francis Somerset and Morgan. The dispute was remitted to the assizes, where a year later a jury upheld the election of Somerset.4

The three most important families in the shire were those of Somerset, earls of Worcester; of Herbert and of Morgan. Apart from the election of December 1557 they seem to have shared the representation without open dissension: only David Lewis, a master in Chancery born at Abergavenny, is not known to have been connected with any of them, and he may have been commended by James Gunter to the 3rd Earl of Worcester.5

Author: N. M. Fuidge

Notes

  • 1. Evans, Mon. 5, 32, 35; Clark, Mon. i. 136-43, 146-50; Williams, Mon. 255.
  • 2. Clark, i. 129, 133; P. S. Edwards, ‘Parlty. rep. of Wales and Mon. 1542-58’ (Camb. Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1970), 67-74; E. Havill, ‘Parlty, rep. of Mon. and the Monmouth Boroughs, 1536-1832’ (Univ. Wales M.A. thesis, 1949), passim.
  • 3. C218/1-3; Clark, i. 133; Williams, 253-4.
  • 4.