WILLIAMS, David (d.1613), of Gwernyfed, Aberllyfni, Brec.; Serjeants' Inn, London and Kingston House, Kingston Bagpuze, Berks.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Family and Education

Yr. s. of Gwilym ap John Vaughan of Blaen newydd, Ystradfellte, Brec. educ. M. Temple 1568, called 1576. m. (1) bef. 1579, Margery, da. of John Games of Aberbrân, Brec., 9s. inc. Henry 2da.; (2) 1597, Dorothy, da. and coh. of Oliver Wellesborne of East Hanney, Berks., wid. of John Latton of Kingston Bagpuze, 1s. 1da. Kntd. 23 July 1603.1

Offices Held

J.p. Brec. from c.1577, Carm. from c.1584, Rad. from c. bencher, M. Temple 1590, Lent reader 1591,1594; attorney-gen. for S. Wales in ct. of great sessions 1581-95; recorder, Brecon 1581-1604; serjeant-at-law 1593; puisne justice of King’s bench 1604.2


Williams came of an obscure brach of an ancient border family. His father was a ‘substantial yeoman’ and cousin to Sir John Price of The Priory. His first wife was sister to Thomas Games, who represented the shire in 1572 and the two succeeding Parliaments, and to Walter Games, who had preceded Williams in the representation of the boroughs; her family was also related to that of Vaughan of Porthaml. But it was to the law that he owed his fortune and standing. Until 1593 his practice was confined to South Wales, but his attainment in that year of the rank of serjeant-at-law (‘the youngest of all the serjeants’, it was said), enabled him to plead at Westminster and occasionally in Star Chamber and Chancery. He was believed to have owed his preferment to Lord Burghley, who ‘much respected him for his honesty, learning and modesty’.

Even before this, about a year after he became a bencher of his inn, the Earl of Pembroke as president had put forward his name in a list of lawyers ‘not unworthy appointment’ to the council in the marches of Wales, and his name appears again among Cecil’s memoranda a decade later on a draft list of councillors, most of whom (but not Williams) were appointed soon afterwards. In 1598 Burghley suggested that Williams should be made a baron of the Exchequer, despite the difficulty of his ‘small living’ occasioned by his growing family; and in the following year the younger Cecil wished him to succeed Thomas Owen as puisne judge in the court of common pleas. But Williams had only just been appointed by the dean and chapter of Westminster as their legal adviser (also in succession to Owen), and Dean Gabriel Goodman pleaded that he should be ‘spared for the present’ from these distracting duties, urging especially his ‘charge of children’. In the next reign he was appointed a puisne judge and he never got his seat on the council in the marches of Wales.3

Meanwhile he had been steadily increasing his fortune not only by legal fees but by extensive grants and purchases of land, some of them used merely for the profits of re-sale. In his own shire he made early purchases in his ancestral parish, and in 1591 (in association with two of his sons) he leased from the Crown the rectory of Devynock. Queen Elizabeth also granted him the manor of Glasbury, and in 1612 he purchased the great tithes of Gwenddwr — a former monastic property now vested in the Crown and worth about £20 a year. His acquisitions extended also into the parishes of Llandyssul in Cardiganshire, Llandinam in Montgomeryshire, Laugharne in Carmarthenshire, and Upton in Pembrokeshire, and included some of the former possessions of Sir John Perrot.4

He brought a Star Chamber action in 1581 against some of his neighbours alleging perjury at the Brecon sessions and in the council in the marches of Wales concerning lands in Glasbury; and another in the same court two years later, against a Glamorganshire man for theft and subornation of the jury. But in 1585 he himself was accused of having ‘instigated’ John Games (his father-in-law), Robert Knollys and others to dispute in a disorderly manner the possession of the demesne lands of Dinas, Breconshire, by Blanche Parry, the Queen’s ‘chief gentlewoman’; and in 1601 of having, as lessee of the lands of Mary Price, a royal ward (and probably a kinswoman of his), encroached on property in Aylton, Herefordshire.5

In 1600 he bought from John Gunter the mansion of Gwernyfed, intending it no doubt as a Breconshire seat for his progeny, who indeed remained prominent in county politics and society until the line died out about a century later. He himself was resident mainly in England, either at Serjeants’ Inn or at the Berkshire seat he acquired as a result of his second marriage, which also enabled him to build up substantial estates in Berkshire and Oxfordshire.6

In politics and religion Williams naturally stood by the established order. He was careful to dissociate himself from, and ready to denounce, the suspicious activities of some of his border neighbours, notably Roger Vaughan of Clyro, at the time of the Essex revolt; and the only occasion when the firmness of his religious loyalty was called in question was in 1609, when Eure (then president of the council in the marches of Wales) complained of his laxity at Herefordshire assizes in allowing the local recusants (who had shown their strength a few months before the Gunpowder Plot) to take the new oath of abjuration in a modified form. Yet it was he and his colleague Yelverton who in 1606 had condemned Edward Morgan of Llantarnam to the forfeiture of a big slice of his estates for recusancy.

Williams was active in his first Parliament, sitting on committees concerning common recoveries in Wales (19 Dec. 1584), perfecting of assurances (22 Mar. 1585) and apprentices (23 Mar.). He was also appointed to a conference with the Lords over the fraudulent conveyances dispute on 15 Feb. 1585. No activity has been found in his name for his next two Parliaments. In 1597, however, he was again active, being named to a committee concerning bridges at Newport and Caerleon on 29 Nov., which he reported to the House on 3 Dec., D’Ewes here confusing him with Yelverton. Williams was also appointed to committees concerning armour and weapons (14 Nov.), a bridge over the river Wye (12 Dec.), defence (16 Jan. 1598), three private bills (18, 20, Jan.) and the manor of Paris Garden (19 Jan.). His son Henry, on coming of age, succeeded him in the borough representation.

Williams died 22 Jan. 1613 at Kingston Bagpuze, where his entrails are buried, his body being taken for burial to Brecon priory, where an elaborate effigy marks the spot. In his will, dated 15 Feb. 1612, proved 27 Jan. 1613, he left plate to the lord chancellor and the vicars choral of Hereford, and he assigned the tithes of Gwenddwr to Breconshire charities including roads and bridges, feast-day sermons in the churches of Glasbury, Ystradfellte and Aberllyfni, and bread for the poor in these parishes and in the vicinity of Gwernyfed. A passage from his will reads:

Whereas it hath been heretofore agreed between my good and kind brother [Peter] Warburton and myself that the survivor of us twain should have the other’s best scarlet robes, now I do will that my said good brother Warburton shall have the choice of either of my scarlet robes and he to take that shall best like him, praying him that as he hath been a good and kind brother unto me, so he will be a good and kind friend to my children.

Williams’s Welsh estates were inherited by his son Henry.7

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: A.H.D.


  • 1. DNB; DWB.
  • 2. M.T. Bench Bk. 86; APC, xii. 350 (the Brecon and Beaumaris names have been transposed); Flenley, Cal. Reg. Council, Marches of Wales, 213, 237.
  • 3. DNB; T. Jones, Brec. iii. 81-3; DWB, 786-7; HMC Hatfield, ix. 45; xi. 567; xiii. 457.
  • 4. Exchequer, ed. E. G. Jones (Univ. Wales Bd. of Celtic Studies, Hist. and Law ser. iv), 97-8; Exchequer Jas. I, ed. T. I. J. Jones (same ser. xv), 89, 91, 97, 123, 138, 276-7, 293, 306; CSP Dom. 1591-4, p. 18; Arch. Camb. (ser. 4), i. 306; Rep. on Charities, 1815-39, xlii. 364.
  • 5. Star Chamber, ed. Edwards (Univ. Wales Bd. of Celtic Studies, Hist. and Law ser. i), 27, 28; Exchequer, ed. E. G. Jones, 31; HMC Hatfield, xi. 575.
  • 6. DWB; DNB.
  • 7. HMC Hatfield, xi. 133; xii. 642; R. Mathias, Whitsun Riot; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 378; Exchequer Jas. I, ed. T. I. J. Jones, 257; D’Ewes, 343, 349, 371, 372, 556, 565, 571, 581, 582, 583, 584, 591; N. and Q. (ser. 4), ii. 9, 24; DNB; T. Jones. Brec. loc. cit.