Monmouth

Borough

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

A single Member constituency

Right of Election:

in the freemen of Monmouth, Newport and Usk

Number of Qualified Electors:

2,166 in 17151

Number of voters:

1,972 in 17152

Elections

DateCandidate
24 Feb. 1690SIR CHARLES KEMYS,  Bt.
4 Nov. 1695JOHN ARNOLD
1 Aug. 1698HENRY PROBERT
14 Jan. 1701JOHN MORGAN
1 Dec. 1701JOHN MORGAN
3 Aug. 1702JOHN MORGAN
14 May 1705SIR THOMAS POWELL, Bt.
10 May 1708CLAYTON MILBORNE
10 Oct. 1710CLAYTON MILBORNE
31 Aug. 1713CLAYTON MILBORNE

Main Article

The franchise in Monmouth had been determined by a decision of the House in 1680, which admitted two out-boroughs, Newport and Usk, but excluded two others, Abergavenny and Chepstow. This was confirmed by the practice in the elections of 1689 and 1690. On the other hand the restriction of voting rights to resident freemen, which had been a subsidiary element in the Commons’ judgment, was almost certainly ignored throughout this period. Mass admissions of non-resident freemen grew to be a particular problem in Monmouth, whose corporation at one point considered applying for a new charter to avoid what it regarded as this ‘profound calamity’, and probably also occurred in Usk: by 1715 both boroughs could muster a roll of around 1,500 freemen. In terms of the rivalry of interests, the inclusion of the two ‘foreign’ boroughs at first constituted a threat to the Somersets of Raglan Castle, who controlled the county town itself, for although the 1st Duke of Beaufort (Henry Somerset†) was lord of the borough of Newport and lord of the manor of Usk, and could thus exercise some influence over admissions of freemen, there were competing proprietors in each locality, the Herberts of Coldbrook and Williamses of Llangibby respectively. Sir Trevor Williams, 1st Bt.†, had been one of the spearheads of Whig opposition to Beaufort in Monmouthshire in the 1670s and 1680s, and his son, later Sir John, 2nd Bt.*, was the outgoing Member in 1690, having been returned at a by-election in place of another Whig, John Arnold. Financial pressures were, however, closing in on the Llangibby estate, and in 1690 John Williams did not put up for re-election; neither did Arnold, and the seat went instead to the Tory, Sir Charles Kemys, 3rd Bt., probably with Beaufort’s blessing. It was at the next general election that the weakness of the Somersets’ position became apparent. Kemys, gradually being drawn into the Court Whig orbit of his brothers-in-law the Whartons, had forfeited Beaufort’s favour. Yet while the Duke was ‘angered’ by Kemys’ parliamentary behaviour, he did not feel able to declare for anyone else. Williams and his brothers, freed from their late father’s tutelage, were canvassing with ‘Jacobite’ support in both the county and the borough, but from a visit to Beaufort secured no more than a promise of neutrality. The Monmouth contest was in fact developing into something of a free-for-all, with Arnold seeking to recapture the seat, and Sir John Herbert of Coldbrook entertaining ambitions in the same direction. Eventually the election was decided as part of the general agreement between the principals in the county (see MONMOUTHSHIRE): Arnold was returned in 1695, on the understanding that he would ‘resign next turn to Colonel [Henry] Probert’, a Whig but a kinsman of the Williamses. This he duly did; at least he claimed a mere two years later that he had kept his word, and in the face of such evidence it safe to reject as misinformation a comment at the time of the 1698 general election that ‘Jack Arnold has lost it at Monmouth’.3

According to the terms of the agreement, Arnold should have recovered the borough seat in January 1701, but by this time the power structure in the county had changed. The death of Beaufort and his heir apparent the Marquess of Worcester (Charles Somerset*) had left the dukedom in the hands of a minor, while Williams would seem to have come to an understanding with the rising force in the county, the Morgans. This alliance proved powerful enough to capture all three Monmouthshire seats, then and in the following two elections: John Morgan II* of Tredegar and Williams were chosen knights of the shire, while the honour of the borough representation went to Morgan’s uncle and namesake John Morgan I, a London merchant whose local land purchases were playing an important part in strengthening his family’s position in the county. Though Arnold had at first been determined to press his claims to the borough seat, under the terms of the 1695 agreement, he did not pursue his candidacy to a poll. Partisan differences between the Whig Morgans and the newly Tory Williamses may have produced some tensions. Just as the county did, Monmouth borough combined in its congratulatory address on Anne’s accession a Whiggish resolve ‘to reduce the exorbitant power of France’, and defend the realm against Louis XIV, ‘the common oppressor’, and his ‘two mushroom kings’, with a brand of devout Churchmanship that for its florid enthusiasm deserves to be quoted at length:

We should be the most ungrateful people on earth, if we should not publicly own and acknowledge our obligations to your Majesty, your princely zeal for the advancement of God’s glory . . . your great care for the security of the Protestant religion abroad, and the Church of England . . . at home; that Church which your Majesty was early made a member of, whose doctrine you imbibed in your infancy, and have ever since adorned by a most pious and exemplary conversation, whose sons and daughters you are become a nursing mother to, and whose faith God has raised you to be (under Him) the defender of; that very catholic and apostolic faith which your great, and good, and just grandfather (the royal martyr) defended with his pen, and at last sealed the truth of it with his blood; that faith, which we have great reason to hope, your Majesty and your great and wise council (in Parliament assembled) have secured to us, and our posterities after us, maugre all the malice of Hell, the fraud and sophistry of Rome, and the united power of France and Spain.
Your most gracious assurances (since your coronation) have likewise transported us, we are filled with rapture and ecstasy, our mouths with grateful hymns and songs, our hearts with duty and thankfulness, our eyes with tears of joy.

Further reference to the Queen’s ‘princely zeal for the advancement of God’s glory, for the reformation of manners, the suppression of vice, profaneness and immorality’, may conceivably have had some political overtones, if deriving its inspiration from the Country-inclined Morgans (one of whom, the borough Member, presented the address); it is also possible that it reflected fervent support within the corporation for ‘moral reform’, the town of Monmouth subsequently proving fertile ground for the charity school movement. Less ambiguous, and more sharply Tory, was the corporation’s address in 1704, which linked the Duke of Marlborough’s (John Churchill†) triumphs in the field with the exploits at sea of Sir George Rooke*. This time the presentation was made by the recorder.4

This heightened partisanship may well be connected with the re-emergence of the Beaufort interest under the 2nd Duke, who attained his majority in 1705 and whose irruption into Monmouthshire politics produced a further shift in the pattern of alliances. A clash with John Morgan II, for which the latter rather than Beaufort may have been responsible, led to contests for both county and borough in the 1705 general election. The identity of Beaufort’s nominees for the county is significant: Sir Hopton Williams, 3rd Bt.*, brother and heir of Sir John, and Sir Thomas Powell, 1st Bt., who had married the heiress of Coldbrook. The Duke had thus enlisted the support of the two traditional rivals of his family in the borough constituency, and it is no surprise to find that Powell (who finished bottom of the poll in the county election) should have been returned for the borough unopposed. The later decline of both houses, combined with the existence of a popular High Anglicanism within Monmouth corporation, manifested in 1709 for example in the ‘crushing’ of a nascent conventicle, left Beaufort in unassailable control. In succeeding elections he brought in his client Clayton Milborne, an outsider though admittedly a man with Monmouthshire antecedents. Morgan of Tredegar was as yet in no position to contest this ascendancy, not even in the early months of 1713, when a dispute between Beaufort and the Monmouth townsmen over a claim by the corporation of ‘a right to the waste and cinders’ from some unspecified workings might have furnished an opportunity for intervention. By June the borough was sending up an address on the peace which praised the Queen’s ‘faithful’ and ‘patriotic’ ministers and deplored the attempts by ‘a faction’ to denigrate their achievement; and in August Milborne was returned without opposition for the third time.5

Author: D. W. Hayton

Notes

  • 1. E. E. Havill, ‘Parl. Rep. Mon. and Monmouth Boroughs 1536–1832’ (Wales M.A. thesis, 1949), 88.
  • 2. P. D. G. Thomas, Pol. in 18th Cent. Wales, 38.
  • 3. Havill, 80, 87–88; Hist. Jnl. xxix. 562–7; NLW, Kemeys-Tynte mss 252, Edward Perkins to Thomas Morgan*, 1 Nov. 1695; 253, Francis Catchmay to Sir Charles Kemys, 3rd Bt., 2 Nov. 1695; 384, [John] Arnold to same, 10 Jan. 1700[–1]; NLW, Penrice and Margam mss L298, Kemys to Thomas Mansel I*, 29 Oct. 1695; Vernon-Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 146.
  • 4. Kemeys-Tynte mss 384, Arnold to Kemys, 10 Jan. 1700[–1]; Hist. Jnl. 567; Havill, 86; London Gazette, 25–28 May 1702, 19–23 Oct. 1704; SPCK Corresp. ed. Clement (Univ. of Wales Bd. of Celtic Studies, Hist. and Law ser. x), 13–14, 34, 41–42, 51, 71, 93.
  • 5. Hist. Jnl. 567–70, 573; NLW Jnl. x. 167–9, 419–20; NLW, Tredegar mss 53/96, Beaufort to William Lewis, 16 Apr. 1705; Beaufort mss at Badminton House, Beaufort to John Morgan II, 12 Sept. 1710, same to Thomas Lewis II*, 12 Sept. 1710, same to – Adams, 30 June 1711, same to mayor of Monmouth, 27 Jan. 1713, same to corp. of Monmouth, Feb. 1713; London Gazette, 30 May–2 June 1713.

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