POWELL, Lewis (c.1576-1636), of Greenhill, Pemb.

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

Family and Education

b. c.1576, 1st s. of Morgan Powell of Greenhill, Pemb. and Maud, da. of David Wogan of Boulston, Pemb. educ. Jesus, Oxf. 1590, aged 14; Clifford’s Inn; M. Temple 1595. m. (1) by 1603, Mary, da. of John Price of Rickeston, Pemb., 8s. (?4 d.v.p.) 4da. (?1 d.v.p.); (2) Frances, da. of Roger Williams of Bonville’s Court, Pemb. 1da. suc. fa. 1622. d. by 5 May 1636.1 sig. Lewis Powell.

Offices Held

Sjt. (jt.), Haverfordwest, Pemb. 1604;2 mayor, Pembroke, Pemb. 1619, 1622;3 commr. inquiry, spoil of woods, Pemb. 1626;4 sub-commr. French prize goods, Milford Haven, Pemb. 1627;5 ?j.p. Pemb. by 1631,6 capt. ft. at d.7

Patentee, monopoly to manufacture charcoal 1620.8

Biography

Powell’s father, Morgan, lived at Greenhill, on the southern side of Milford Haven. One of the few merchants of substance at the end of Elizabeth’s reign to operate from the decayed town of Pembroke, where he leased the ferryhouse, Morgan was principally engaged in the local coastal trade, but he also imported and exported goods in partnership with his half-brother Thomas of Haverfordwest and was a member of the Bristol branch of the Elizabethan Spanish Company. Like his father before him he served as Pembroke’s mayor, in 1591 and 1602.9 Through the marriage of one of his daughters to John Meyrick, he was connected to an important south Wales family, whose leading member, Sir Gelly Meyrick†, was steward of the 2nd earl of Essex’s Welsh lands. During the course of the investigation which followed Essex’s unsuccessful rising of 1601, Morgan was mentioned but no charges were ever brought against him.10

Powell himself was born in about 1576 and was named after his paternal grandfather. His father’s prosperity enabled him to attend university, Clifford’s Inn and the Middle Temple, but he was not a devoted scholar, being fined three times for absence from readings.11 In 1618 a Lewis Powell pledged £50 to the newly formed Africa Company.12 However, this was almost certainly Powell’s half-cousin, the son of Thomas Powell of Haverfordwest,13 who captained a warship at Algiers at the time of the 1621 Parliament14 and who went on to hold a succession of naval commands. After all, the subscribers to the Africa Company included two prominent naval figures from south Wales, Sir Robert Mansell* and Sir Thomas Button, both of whom held flag rank in the Algiers expedition.

Powell’s father died in May 1622, but before that time the future MP evidently exercised some control over his father’s financial affairs. Powell’s appointment as mayor of Pembroke in 1619 points to this conclusion, as does an Exchequer suit which shows that Morgan had transferred his Crown lease of the Pembroke’s grist mills to his son by 1619.15 Moreover, it was Powell rather than his father who, in April 1620, was a member of a syndicate which was granted by the Crown the right to make charcoal for use in the manufacture of metal. His coal mines in south Wales, which he initially leased from the 3rd earl of Essex and then bought, undoubtedly formed the basis of this enterprise, which was headed by the notorious monopolist (Sir) Giles Mompesson*.16

Powell was elected to Parliament for the first time in December 1620, when he was returned for Pembroke Boroughs. In the previous Parliament the seat had been held by (Sir) Walter Devereux, lord of the manor of Lamphey, a property located a few miles south-west of Pembroke, but Devereux, who may have been serving in the Palatinate alongside his half-brother the earl of Essex, seems to have been unavailable for re-election. The obvious replacement for Devereux was not Powell but Devereux’s tenant, Richard Cuny, who had represented Pembroke Boroughs in the first Jacobean Parliament. However, as mayor of Pembroke (and thus the borough’s returning officer) Cuny was ineligible. Cuny nevertheless played a pivotal role in the election by using his position as mayor to marshal support for Powell, his brother-in-law, to whom he transferred his lease of Lamphey in October 1620.17 Indeed, he brazenly announced that ‘he would admit no election unless Mr. Lewis Powell should be named’, and informed the burgesses of Pembroke that their charter required them to vote as he did. Some of the freemen refused to be browbeaten, however, and resolved to back Henry Wogan of Wiston instead. When news of this defiance came to the attention of Cuny’s deputy, Nicholas Adams†, another of Powell’s brothers-in-law, the freemen were assembled and threatened with the loss of their burgess-ships if they did not support Powell. These strong-arm tactics evidently succeeded, as did the efforts of Cuny and Adams to deny the vote to the electors of Pembroke’s contributory boroughs. One of the most important of these out-boroughs was Wiston, where Wogan would have had many supporters.18

Wogan was outraged at being denied a fair election and, together with the excluded out-boroughs, he petitioned the Commons for redress. As a result, Powell attended the committee for privileges at the beginning of April.19 His evidence did nothing to dispel his rival’s accusations, and on 18 May it was recommended that his election be declared void. However, the House decided to reserve judgment after Sir Samuel Sandys argued that guilt lay not with Powell but with Cuny, whom it was resolved should be interrogated. Following a division it was also decided to question Powell for a second time, but by then Powell had been licensed to return home ‘for special occasions’.20 Powell was given three weeks in which to make his appearance,21 but before this time had elapsed Parliament was adjourned. When it reconvened in November the questions surrounding Powell’s election seem to have been forgotten.

Even before Powell was granted permission to return home, he had long been absent from the House.22 He made no recorded speeches and was nominated to no committees, although as a member for a Welsh constituency he did attend, no 6 Mar., one of the two meetings concerning the bill for free trade in Welsh cloth.23 It seems unlikely that his request for leave of absence was connected to the parliamentary investigation into the activities of his disgraced fellow patentee Sir Giles Mompesson, which was mainly concerned with Mompesson’s silver thread and alehouse monopolies rather than the charcoal patent.

Powell served as mayor of Pembroke for a second time in 1622, during which time he was also prosecuted in Chancery by Sir Thomas Canon* of Haverfordwest, whom he described as ‘a very troublesome, litigious and contentious person’.24 In 1624 he was re-elected to Parliament, this time for Haverfordwest rather than Pembroke Boroughs, where Sir Walter Devereux had reasserted his claim to the seat. In four of the previous five parliaments Haverfordwest had been represented by Sir James Perrot, but in 1624 the seat there became available after Perrot decided to stand for the county. The circumstances surrounding Powell’s return were once again controversial, and gave rise to a petition, now lost, from Canon, who claimed that he was the rightful victor of the election. Canon’s claims are impossible to substantiate, but if there was any sharp practice it seems likely that Canon’s avowed enemy, Perrot, was behind it. No direct connection between Perrot and Powell has been discovered, but Powell’s father had once enjoyed a lease of a close near Pembroke common from Perrot’s father at a preferential rate.25 The committee for privileges concluded that it was unable to resolve the dispute without first establishing the validity of a legal instrument produced by Canon, and therefore two of the senior local gentry were instructed to investigate. However, before any reply was received the king announced that Parliament was to be adjourned. The House accordingly resolved to let the matter rest until it reconvened, but the expected second session never transpired.26

Powell left no trace on the records of the 1624 Parliament beyond that already mentioned, nor does he appear in accounts of the 1625 assembly, when he was again elected to serve for Pembroke Boroughs. Then, as in 1621, he owed his opportunity to represent Pembroke to the absence of Sir Walter Devereux, who was serving in his brother’s regiment in the United Provinces, and perhaps also to Richard Cuny, whose final term as mayor of Pembroke coincided with the parliamentary elections. It is not known whether Powell again attempted to step into Devereux’s parliamentary shoes at Pembroke Boroughs in 1626 and 1628, when Devereux was returned for Tamworth, but if he did he was forced out of the running by Hugh Owen of Orielton who, years later, served as executor to Powell’s erstwhile opponent Sir Thomas Canon.

Powell and his brother-in-law John Meyrick bought the wardship of Nicholas Adams’ son in 1629 for £133. 6s. 8d.27 This was an item of expenditure which Powell was ill able to afford, for in April 1630 he was outlawed for debt, an action which resulted four years later in the seizure of part of his property by Pembrokeshire’s sheriff.28 Two months later he was reported for failing to appear before the commissioners for distraint of knighthood. Unable to evade payment and was forced to compound in the following year.29

Powell’s financial problems undoubtedly stemmed from the size of his family - he had about eight surviving children - and the smaller than expected profits arising from his coal mines. In his will of 7 Mar. 1636, he ordered his lease of Lamphey manor to be sold ‘with all convenient speed’ so as to raise £2,000 for his daughter Lucy, his only child by his second marriage. In order to provide an income for his younger children he also instructed that the profits from his coal mines be set aside for 21 years after his decease. However, this decision led him into a serious disagreement with his eldest surviving son, Thomas, who naturally stood to lose by this arrangement. Relations between Powell and Thomas were so strained that the latter was warned that if he failed to hand over the remaining part of his wife’s dowry, amounting to £300, plus bonds for an additional £400, he would be denied possession of Greenhill, which had been assigned to his wife as her jointure.30

The precise date of Powell’s death has not been established, although his will was proved on 5 May 1636, nor is it known where he was buried. One of his surviving younger sons, Rice Powell, achieved prominence as a colonel in the parliamentary army during the First Civil War and as a leading royalist during the second.31 None of Powell’s descendants sat in Parliament.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Andrew Thrush

Notes

  • 1. Dwnn, Vis. Wales ed. S.R. Meyrick, i. 126; G. Owen, Description of Penbrokshire ed. H. Owen (Cymmrodorian Rec. Soc. i), iii. 355, 358; Al. Ox.; M. Temple Admiss.; W. Wales Historical Recs. ii. 74, n. 2; PROB 11/171, ff. 136v-7.
  • 2. Pemb. RO, Haverfordwest Corporation ms 129/2.
  • 3. Pemb. County Hist. III: Early Modern Pemb. 1536-1815 ed. B. Howells, 167.
  • 4. E178/5863.
  • 5. APC, 1627, p. 87.
  • 6. Ibid. 1630-1, p. 209. However, he is not listed in JPs in Wales and Monm. ed. Phillips, 216.
  • 7. HEHL, EL7443.
  • 8. CD 1621, iii. 285.