THOMAS, William I (1551-86), of Caernarvon.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b. 1551, 1st s. of Rhys Thomas of Aberglasney, Llangathen, Carm., and later of Llanfair Isgaer, Caern. by Jane, da. of Sir John Puleston† of Caernarvon, wid. of Edward Griffith of Penrhyn, Caern. m. Ellen, da. of William Griffith of Plas Mawr, Caern., 5s. 4da. suc. fa. 1577.2
J.p. Caern. from c.1575, Anglesey from c.1578, Merion. from c.1579; sheriff, Anglesey 1578-9, Caern. 1580-1.
The family which consolidated its patronymics into the surname Thomas in the time of this MP’s soldier grandfather Sir William Thomas, and eventually took its place among the leading Caernarvonshire gentry as Thomas of Aber and Coed Alun (or Helen), originated at an early date in Carmarthenshire, where Sir William was the second sheriff to be appointed under the Act of Union. His second son Rhys (the MP’s father) made a fortunate marriage and migrated to his wife’s lands in Anglesey and Caernarvonshire, where he extended his estates by leases from the Crown, his Puleston relatives, the Earl of Leicester and others. He remained there when his elder brother’s death made him heir to Aberglasney, but it was not till after 1594 that the Carmarthenshire lands were disposed of to Bishop Rudd of St. David’s, who founded there a new and long influential county family.3
Rhys Thomas lived just outside Caernarvon, in the parish of Llanfair Isgaer, and was actively engaged in the county affairs of both Anglesey and Caernarvon, consolidating his position in 1553 by the purchase of the manors of Cemmaes, Anglesey, and Aber, a former Caernarvonshire seat of the princes of Gwynedd. His son William—the subject of this biography—was placed in the household of the Duchess of Somerset, the Protector’s widow, where he is said to have learnt Latin, Italian and French. Returning to Wales, he inherited or acquired a house in Caernarvon itself, which his son was to replace by the more ambitious Coed Alun and to supplement by another mansion at Aber—both still standing.4
By 1578 he was involved in charges of seizure of land and stock in Llanwnda, Dinas Dinlle and elsewhere and of other extortions. Commissioners appointed to investigate the complaints were discharged through some influence at court (probably Leicester’s), and attempts to bring the matter before the council of Wales also broke down; but in 1580 the charges were carried to Star Chamber, with unknown results. This did not prevent him during these years from acting with his father-in-law and the bishop of Bangor as one of the quorum of magistrates to whom the Privy Council addressed its missives on Caernarvonshire and Anglesey affairs—notably one in 1580 summoning before it Rowland Kenrick of Beaumaris, who had fallen foul of Leicester.5
Before this he had been returned to Parliament at a by-election, serving on one recorded committee, on the poor law, 11 Feb. 1576. Re-elected in 1584, there is no sign of any activity in Parliament, although as knight of the shire he was entitled to attend the subsidy committee on 24 Feb. 1585. In fact, like his grandfather, he was primarily a soldier, campaigning in Ireland, and in 1585 taking 200 men from North Wales to serve under Leicester in Flanders, where he fell at Zutphen in 1586. He had already made his will ‘by reason I am employed in her Majesty’s service in Flanders’. In this he made provision out of his lands in the three shires for five sons and three daughters, all under age, and a child as yet unborn. The younger sons were provided for by annuities out of the Carmarthenshire lands after the death of their mother (to whom these were bequeathed for life) until they had incomes of their own, and she was to pay the daughters’ dowries out of the profits of the manor of Aber, which was also hers for life. All other lands went to the heir, another William Thomas, on coming of age; he was joint executor with his mother, and his grandfather, William Griffith, was an overseer, while to protect the legal interests of widow and infant heir, Thomas engaged (for another annuity) the services of the rising lawyer Hugh Hughes of Plas Coch and Lincoln’s Inn, later attorney-general for North Wales. The will was proved 10 Jan. 1587.6
Ref Volumes: 1558-1603
- 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
- 2. DWB, 935-6; Griffiths, Peds. 202.
- 3. DWB; Augmentations, ed. Lewis and Davies (Univ. Wales Bd. of Celtic Studies, Hist. and Law ser. xiii), 63, 276, 278, 302; Add. Chart 39988; W. L. Bevan, St. David’s, 173.
- 4. CPR, 1554-5, p. 349; 1555-7, pp. 136-7; 1553 and App. Edw. VI, pp. 121, 363, 375, 386, 419; Cal. Q. S. Rec. Caern. ed. Williams, passim; Wynn, Gwydir Fam. 66-7; RCAM Caern. i. 3-4; ii. 158.
- 5. Lansd. 111, f. 6; St. Ch. 5/J12/23; APC, xi. 418-19.
- 6. Lansd. 43, f. 171; CSP For. 1585-6; 1586-7 passim; Wynn, Gwydir Fam. 66-7; R. C. Strong and J. A. Van Dorsten, Leicester’s Triumph, 131; PCC 2 Spencer; C142/243/83.