RICE, Sir Walter (by 1562-at least 1635), of Newton, Llandefaisant, Carm.
Available from Cambridge University Press
Family and Education
b. by 1562,1 1st s. of Griffith Rice of Auckland, co. Dur., later of Newton, Llandefaisant, Carm. and Elinor, da. of Sir Thomas Jones† of Abermarlais, Carm.2 m. settlement 1 May 1578,3 Elizabeth (d. aft. 1621),4 da. of Sir Edward Mansell† of Margam, Glam., 4s. 7da.5 suc. fa. 1592;6 kntd. 23 July 1603.7 d. aft. Nov. 1635.8 sig. Wa[l]ter Rice.
J.p. Carm. c.1583-1607,9 sheriff 1585-6,10 dep. lt. 1598-1608,11 commr. mises 1606,12 duchy of Lancaster woods 1608;13 dep. steward, Kidwelly, Carm. by 1608-at least 1623;14 commr. piracy, Carm., Pemb. and Card. 1617, 1623.15
The family of Rice (or Rhys) traced its ancestry back to Urien, a mythical king of northern Britain, but solid evidence for Rice’s forebears can be found around the new royal borough of Dynevor in the early fourteenth century.18 In 1485 the head of the family, Sir Rhys ap Thomas, fought for Henry Tudor at Bosworth. Thereafter he dominated South Wales, building himself a house at Newton, near Dynevor castle.19 The estates were dispersed, however, by a series of attainders in the sixteenth century, which reduced Sir Walter’s inheritance drastically. The quest to regain these lands and restore the family’s position in Carmarthenshire society came to dominate the lives of Sir Walter and his heir, Henry.
Rice married the daughter of Sir Edward Mansell, the leading squire in Glamorganshire, who in 1584 lobbied John Puckering†, a judge on the Carmarthen circuit, to appoint Rice as a magistrate in Carmarthenshire. Mansell testified to Rice’s ‘soundness in religion’ (Walter’s father had been suspected of Catholic sympathies) and requested that Puckering help ‘affurther him as far forth as our skills shall serve to direct him’.20 It was probably not coincidental that Rice was returned as Member for Carmarthenshire in 1584, when Puckering was chosen for the borough seat, and it may have been the latter who presented Rice at Court.21
Shortly after his father’s death in 1592, Rice secured restitution of part of the family’s forfeited estates, including the manor of Newton, in consideration of his ‘service’. This may have included duties performed at Court, but no details are given.22 The lands were charged with many leases, and in 1597 Rice unsuccessfully petitioned for a grant of the lordship of Narberth, Pembrokeshire.23 Like his father, Rice presented petitions to Elizabeth requesting the restitution of his ancestral estates. Subsequent protests about his ‘great debt and necessity, wanting convenient living and maintenance’ were no more successful.24 After the 1601 Essex rebellion, Rice, as ‘an esquire of fair living in Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire’, helped to investigate the background of the affair in south-west Wales.25 His Court connections, and his family’s history of antipathy towards the Devereux clan, made him a safe choice as MP for Carmarthen Boroughs in 1601.
Following James’s accession Rice was knighted. He also retained his position as an esquire of the body, which encouraged him to renew his suit for the return of his patrimony, part of which, he claimed, had been forfeited by his great-grandfather under a charge of conspiring with James V of Scotland against Henry VIII. Rice’s profligacy was leading him into serious financial difficulties, and he claimed that his inability to recover these lands was leading to ‘the utter ruin and overthrow of your ... subject, his house and posterity’.26 The king referred a further petition to the Privy Council with a recommendation that it be granted, but it was later noted that Rice ‘being far spent in his estate ... was forced to retire himself’.27 In the midst of these manoeuvres, Rice, now resident at Newton rather than at Court, stood for election at Carmarthen Boroughs in 1604, conceivably in hope of securing protection from his creditors.28 The mayor responsible for his return was his own nephew, Sir John Vaughan*.29 During the first session, Rice was added to a committee considering amendments to the Tunnage and Poundage bill (13 June 1604), which doubtless interested his constituents, who claimed exemption from some of the duties on wine imports.30 Rice’s only other mention in the records of this Parliament was on 18 July 1610, when it was noted that he was to be fined double for ignoring a messenger with a summons to attend the House.31
It was during the course of the Parliament that Rice’s financial problems caught up with him. Outlawed for debt, he was omitted from the Carmarthenshire commission of the peace in September 1607. His financial difficulties may also explain his absence from Westminster in July 1610. On 13 Mar. 1612 Rice passed his Pembrokeshire estates to his eldest son, Henry, who agreed to pay off his debts, which by now amounted to more than £2,500.32 The list of his creditors included prominent local gentlemen such as Sir Henry Jones of Abermarlais (£400) and his own son-in-law, Thomas Button (£100), as well as several London merchants. It even included the warden of the Fleet (£60), suggesting that Rice had recently been incarcerated for debt. Attempts to remortgage the Pembrokeshire estates seem to have failed, but in 1617 Henry Rice secured a lease of the Crown’s extent, which forced the creditors to an agreement in the following year. Chief among these was Button, who assigned his naval pension to Henry Rice, and agreed to take another of Sir Walter’s sons to sea with him.33
In the early 1620s Henry Rice negotiated to marry Mary, a daughter of Sir Thomas Myddleton I*, hoping this alliance would provide £10,000 to help cover his father’s debts.34 In June 1622 Button and a naval colleague, Sir Walter’s brother-in-law, Sir Robert Mansell*, vouched for the Dynevor estates in an effort to assure Myddelton of the family’s probity, but Henry privately admitted that most men acknowledged that his father had ‘nothing in your house of your own, and that you drink not but in a borrowed cup’.35 Button and Mansell testified that Rice intended to settle upon Henry his whole Carmarthenshire estate, worth between £725 and £800 p.a., and to pay off his debts ‘without ... abating or diminishing the state ... or charging or entangling his wife’s portion or estate’.36 Not surprisingly, the deal fell through.
As Rice grew older, Henry petitioned Charles I for restitution of the family’s estates; he also composed a history of his family in an effort to exonerate his disgraced ancestors and ease the path to restitution.37 However, the property had long since been granted elsewhere, and Henry was reduced to requesting a pension and the place in the privy chamber.38 Rice’s final years saw further wrangling over his debts, with his brother-in-law, Sir Francis Mansell of Muddlescwm, whom he owed more than £2,000 by 1623.39 Large parts of the estate were administered by Mansell, who, it was later claimed, intended the ‘subversion’ of the Rice family.40 While the dispute continued into the 1630s, the debt was never satisfied.41 This protracted lawsuit increased tensions between Rice and Henry, who wrote a series of caustic letters criticizing his father’s fecklessness. He also lambasted Sir Walter for pursuing an expensive lifestyle at Newton, and claimed that they had been brought low ‘though a wilful headiness of your own that never would of your self, nor by the solicitation and advice of your friends, be drawn in any wise or discreet course.’42
Rice probably died shortly after December 1635, the date of the final letter from his son, but he apparently left no will or administration, probably because his lands had already been passed to his son Henry. His descendants recovered their fortunes and regained the county seat in Carmarthenshire as Whigs in the eighteenth century; they eventually married into the aristocracy, becoming barons of Dynevor.43
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Authors: Lloyd Bowen / Simon Healy
- 1. C142/234/2.
- 2. Ibid.; NLW, Dynevor A. 11.
- 3. NLW, Dynevor B. 316.
- 4. Carm. RO, Dynevor 154/1.
- 5. Dwnn, Vis. Wales ed. S.R. Meyrick, i. 210-11.
- 6. NLW, Dynevor A. 11.
- 7. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 117.
- 8. Carm. RO, Dynevor 279/4.
- 9. Harl. 6993, f. 64; JPs in Wales and Monm. ed. Phillips, 159-62.
- 10. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 245.
- 11. C231/1, f. 49v; SP14/33, f. 4.
- 12. NLW, Dynevor A. 73.
- 13. DL44/753, f. 2.
- 14. C115/62/5423; 115/62/5494.
- 15. C181/2, f. 276; 181/3, f. 97v.
- 16. HMC Hatfield, ix. 93; LC2/4/4, f. 47.
- 17. Dwnn, i. 211. He does not appear on any of the surviving lists of Jacobean gent. pen.
- 18. Ibid. 210; Carm. RO, Dynevor Add. 73; R.A. Griffiths, Sir Rhys ap Thomas, 8-10, 159. Sir Walter Rice used the appellation ‘Fitz Urien’ during his lifetime: Al. Ox. (Henry Rice).
- 19. Griffiths, 27-86.
- 20. Harl. 6993, f. 64.
- 21. LC2/4/4, f. 47; HMC Hatfield, xi. 93.
- 22. NLW, Dynevor A. 11, 14-15, 66, 95(a-d); Griffiths, 121-5; C142/234/2; CSP Dom. 1591-4, p. 527; C66/1420, mm. 20-2.
- 23. NLW, Dynevor A. 96(a), 99(b).
- 24. NLW, Dynevor A. 96(b-d).
- 25. HMC Hatfield, ix. 93.
- 26. NLW, Dynevor A. 96(e); Griffiths, 126-8.
- 27. NLW, Dynevor A. 97(b, g).
- 28. E115/326/108.
- 29. C219/35/2/189.
- 30. CJ, i. 238a; Exch. Procs. in Wales, temp. Jas. I ed. T.I. Jeffreys Jones (Univ. Wales, Bd. of Celtic. Studs. Hist. and Law ser. xv), 133.
- 31. CJ, i. 451b; Procs. 1610 ed. E.R. Foster, ii. 384.
- 32. NLW, Dynevor B. 879.
- 33. C66/2149/16; Carm. RO, Cawdor (Lort) 1/2, 18/707, 13/619-20, 6/258; NLW, Dynevor 279/4, Dynevor B. 346.
- 34. Carm. RO, Dynevor 279/4; C2/Chas.I/R28/23, f. 1.
- 35. Carm. RO, Dynevor 279/4.
- 36. NLW, Dynevor 97(a), 99(w).
- 37. NLW, Dynevor A. 97(b); Add. 23113, f. 3r-v; Griffiths, passim.
- 38. Dynevor A. 97(c).
- 39. NLW, Dynevor A. 58(i); B. 799; C2/Chas.I/M44/59, f. 3.
- 40. Carm. RO, Dynevor 279/4; NLW, Dynevor A. 101/77.
- 41. C2/Chas.I/M25/29; 2/Chas.I/M26/12; 2/Chas.I/M44/59; 2/Chas.I/R21/32; 2/Chas.I/R28/23; Carm. RO, Dynevor 279/4, Dynevor B. 357.
- 42. Carm. RO, Dynevor 279/4.
- 43. DWB (Rice of Newton).