Welsh County

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Number of voters:

over 700 in 16341


aft. 4 May 1605SIR THOMAS MANSELL vice Herbert, called to the Upper House
6 Feb. 1626Sir John Stradling , bt.

Main Article

The medieval lordship of Glamorgan was formed after the Norman invasion of the Welsh kingdom of Morgannwg in the last years of the eleventh century. The lordship extended from the River Rhymni in the east to the upper reaches of the Tawe in the west, and was bounded to the north and south by the lordship of Brecon and the Bristol Channel respectively.2 The Union legislation of the mid-sixteenth century enlarged the lordship to form the new county of Glamorgan by uniting it with the western lordships of Gower and Kilvey. This western territory had a greater affinity with the area which became Carmarthenshire, but was amalgamated with Glamorgan as a concession to Henry Somerset, 2nd earl of Worcester, who held Gower but also administered Glamorgan for the Crown.3 There remained a fundamental division after the union, however, which was reflected in the organization of the county bench into Western and Eastern justices.4

The new county was also disparate in its physical geography, something which affected the patterns of Normanisation, language, settlement and agriculture. The essential division was between the uplands or blaenau of the north and the smaller area of bro or Vale lowlands in the southern coastal plain, although a zone of transition or border Vale cut east-west through the county.5 The uplands were given over to the grazing of cattle, which John Speed described as ‘the best means unto wealth which this shire doth afford’, and also sheep, though oats and other grains were also grown as well, especially in the blaenau’s southern reaches. In the Vale area the cultivation of corn and other crops was much more prevalent, leading one local squire to describe it as ‘the garden of Wales’, although this region also relied heavily on dairy cattle.6 The sheep of the northern pastures provided wool for the clothiers of the west of England, but also supported an indigenous cloth-making industry. The dairy herds of the Vale, meanwhile, produced great quantities of butter and cheese, which supplied the large market of Bristol and other towns in western England.7 The county also possessed rich deposits of coal, which had been mined since the medieval period. The most accessible outcrops were in the south west of the county near Neath, Swansea and Llansamlet, exports of which dominated trade from the Glamorgan’s western ports. The production of iron in some of the eastern valleys was stimulated by an influx of Sussex ironmasters in the sixteenth century. The county’s produce was traded to Bristol, Somerset and Devon, while France provided the major overseas destination for butter and coal.8

On the death of the 2nd earl of Worcester in 1549, many of his offices and much of his influence in Glamorgan passed to William Herbert†, later 1st earl of Pembroke. Herbert was rewarded for his role in suppressing the western rebellion of 1549 with enormous grants of land, which left him as lord of most of Glamorgan; his family consequently became one of the most powerful political influences in the shire down to the Civil Wars, despite their residence at Wilton, in Wiltshire. Herbert influence did not go unchallenged, however, and the sixteenth century saw a good deal of feuding between various gentry groups in the shire, although this had largely dissipated by Elizabeth’s death.9 The election of Sir Philip Herbert, brother of William, 3rd earl of Pembroke, as knight of the shire in 1604 demonstrates the continuing potency of the family’s electoral influence. The return, which was witnessed by representatives of most of the county’s leading families, marked the end of the conflicts of previous decades.10

After the king ennobled Herbert as earl of Montgomery in May 1605, Sir Thomas Mansell of Margam, sheriff the previous year, and head of the most powerful gentry interest in Glamorgan, was returned at the ensuing by-election; he also took the county seat again in 1614. Mansell was related through his mother to the earls of Worcester, and served as their steward in the lordship of Gower, but there is no evidence to suggest that his return demonstrates electoral rivalry between Worcester and Pembroke.

Mansell’s advancing age probably dissuaded him from seeking re-election in 1621, at which time his brother, Sir Robert*, was absent leading an expedition against Algerian pirates. This left the county seat open for William Price of Britton Ferry. Price enjoyed the support not only of Sir Thomas Mansell, whose son and stepson witnessed his return, but also the representatives of the county’s most prominent families.11 He may also have been backed by Pembroke: he had previously been elected at Old Sarum through the earl’s influence, and had served as Member for Cardiff, where Pembroke had a dominant interest, in the three subsequent parliaments.

Having returned from the Mediterranean, Sir Robert Mansell secured election for Glamorgan in 1624, and again in 1625 and 1628. On each occasion his elder brother, Sir Thomas, lent his support, as did his nephews Arthur and Sir Lewis Mansell.12 Most of the other leading families also witnessed Sir Robert’s returns, but from the look of the documents the 1624 and 1628 indentures were prepared beforehand. Mansell’s name appears to have been included when the text was drawn up, and spaces were left for the names of the contracting parties to be inserted.13 Rarely present in his native shire, Mansell is unlikely to have attended the hustings in person, so the prepared nature of the indentures suggests that agreements were reached prior to the election.

How far Mansell owed his return for Glamorgan to Pembroke’s influence is uncertain, but Herbert supporters such as William Price of Britton Ferry and William Herbert* of Grey Friars were certainly signatories to all three returns. Moreover, in 1626 Pembroke provided Mansell with a seat at Lostwithiel, having recruited him to assist to assist in the parliamentary attacks on the duke of Buckingham.14 In Mansell’s absence that same year, the Glamorgan seat was taken by Sir John Stradling of St. Donat’s, a Pembroke client who had previously sat for Old Sarum and had dedicated a tract to the earl in 1625.15

Glamorgan’s elections were consistently held at Bridgend, a location probably chosen for its centrality, allowing ease of access for the gentry from both the east and west of the shire. Although there were more than 700 freeholders in the early seventeenth century, it is not known how many attended the hustings at any given election. Generally the parties contracting with the sheriff were comprehended under the heading ‘all other free tenants of the shire’, but the signatories were limited usually to between 10 and 20 representatives of the county’s major families.

Glamorgan business was brought occasionally before Parliament during this period. During the debates over the subsidy bill in 1606, one unnamed Member, probably Sir Thomas Mansell, put the case for delaying the collection in Glamorgan on account of the concurrent levying of mises which were due after James’s accession.16 Flooding in South Wales in 1607 caused widespread devastation along the Glamorgan coast, and Sir Thomas Mansell, along with his brother Sir Robert (who then sat for Carmarthenshire), were nominated to a committee to consider the best course for repair and the relief of those affected (3 Mar. 1607).17 In the 1621 Parliament, debate over the export of Welsh butter, one of Glamorgan’s principal commodities, also exercised William Price. He urged that the provisions of the bill for the free export of butter should apply to Welsh ports (26 Mar.), and it was later noted that he had ‘earnestly protested’ against the patent limiting export of Welsh butter.18 The issue of Glamorgan trade also brought a contribution from Sir John Stradling in 1626, when he described how the county had been ‘ransacked by pirates’, costing it between £2,000 and £3,000 in lost revenue (16 February).19 As well as drawing attention to his constituency’s plight, Stradling’s speech provided support to his patron, Pembroke, in the latter’s attempt to impeach Buckingham, who, as lord admiral, was charged with guarding the coasts.

Author: Lloyd Bowen


  • 1. Names of all the Freeholders within Glam. in 1634 ed. H.H. Knight.
  • 2. Glam. Co. Hist. ed. T.B. Pugh, iii. 1-11.
  • 3. Ibid. 571.
  • 4. SP16/31/44; P. Jenkins, Hist. Modern Wales, 6.
  • 5. Glam. Co. Hist. ed. G. Williams, iv. 2-3; R. Meyrick, Morganiae Archaiographia ed. B.Ll. James (S. Wales Rec. Soc. i.), 125.
  • 6. Glam. iv. 2-9; D.J. Davies, Economic Hist. of S. Wales, 57.
  • 7. Glam. iv. 25, 46-8, 65; M.I. Williams, ‘A Further Contribution to the Commercial Hist. of Glam.’, NLW Jnl. xi. 334-9; E178/3445, 4143.
  • 8. Glam. iv. 48-55; Welsh Port Bks. 1550-1603 ed. E.A. Lewis (Cymmrodorion Rec. Ser. xii), 1-48; Port Bks. for Cardiff and its Members, 1606-10 ed. W. Rees (S. Wales and Mon. Rec. Soc. iii.), 71-2; C.D.J. Trott, ‘Coalmining in the Bor. of Neath in the 17th and early 18th centuries’, Morgannwg, xiii. 48-53; W. Glam. AS, D/D RE 1/236-7.
  • 9. Glam. iv. 175-91.
  • 10. C219/35/2/194.
  • 11. C219/37/351.
  • 12. C219/38/328; 219/39/261; 219/41/13; NLW, Mansel-Franklen 75 (3), pt. 1a.
  • 13. C219/38/328; 219/41/13.
  • 14. SP16/523/77.
  • 15. NLW, 5666C.
  • 16. CJ, i. 300b.
  • 17. Ibid. 346a; God’s Warning to His People of Eng. (1607).
  • 18. CJ, i. 575b; CD 1621, ii. 389, iii. 305; Cent. Kent. Stud. U269/1/OE126.
  • 19. Procs. 1626, ii. 56-7. See also SP16/18/5.