Cardigan Boroughs


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


11 Jan. 1559THOMAS PHAER

Main Article

The borough of Cardigan, a royal possession, was governed by a mayor, a body of aldermen and two bailiffs. It also had a recorder, town clerk and coroner. Although the county court met alternately at Cardigan and Aberystwyth, ‘the most populous town in the whole county’, the borough elections were usually held at Cardigan and presided over by the mayor. In 1601 a claim was made in the House of Commons that ‘ever the return of the indenture hath been for Cardigan only’, but two of the surviving Elizabethan returns record that notice of the election had been sent to the ‘boroughs and liberties, contributors’ thereunto’. In 1604, the contributory boroughs were thought to be Aberystwyth, Atpar, Lampeter, Talsarn and Tregaron, but no mention of any electors from these boroughs is found on any of the Elizabethan returns. The lists of those present at borough elections appear to be confined to burgesses of Cardigan itself, and the 1597 return mentions the mayor and four Cardigan aldermen only. The confusion which reigned on this subject reached its height in 1601 when two returns were made for the seat at Cardigan Boroughs, one made out at Aberystwyth, where the county court was being held, the other made out by the burgesses of Cardigan.

The leading county family, the Prices of Gogerddan, showed little interest in Cardigan elections, which were held a long way from their home territory, but this did not leave the representation of the borough in local hands. Only three MPs could be called local men, and of these three, only one was resident in the county. Thomas Phaer (1559) lived just across the border a Cilgerran, Pembrokeshire. He was steward of Cilgerran castle, solicitor for the council in the marches of Wales and a Cardiganshire j.p. John Gwyn (1563) was the son of a former mayor and bailiff of Cardigan. He lived at Moel Ifor, north of the borough, was ragler (or constable) of the county and sheriff in 1564. The third local man was Alban Stepneth (1589) of Prendergast, Pembrokeshire. Stepneth had made a fortunate marriage which had allied him with many of the leading families in West Wales. He had been accustomed to sit for Haverfordwest, but in 1589 the seat was claimed by Sir John Perrot, home from Ireland, and Stepneth was compelled to look elsewhere. Probably his local standing would have been sufficient to win him the seat at Cardigan, but Stepneth had the additional support of his patron, the 2nd Earl of Essex, steward of all the crown manors in Cardiganshire. Essex also nominated to the two following Parliaments: Sir Ferdinando Gorges (1593), a soldier from Somerset, and Thomas Rawlins (1597), one of his servants.

Two of the MPs for Cardigan Boroughs owed their seats to their legal offices. Edward Davies (1571, 1572), of Shrewsbury, was acting attorney to the council in the marches of Wales, and Richard Delabere (1601), of Lincoln’s Inn, was attorney-general to five Welsh counties, including Cardiganshire. It is not known how Francis Cheyney (1584, 1586) of Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire, came to be returned for Cardigan Boroughs.

On Thursday, 5 Nov. 1601, a committee on returns and privileges reported its findings on the dispute between ‘Doctor Aubrey, doctor of the civil law and Mr. William Delabere, barrister of the common law of Lincoln’s Inn’ both returned as MP for Cardigan Boroughs. The background to the dispute was described as follows: Cardigan hath been by ancient precedents ever since the first year of Queen Elizabeth a burgess town, and ever the return of the indenture hath been for Cardigan only. Now this Parliament the sheriff of the shire favouring a town called Aberystwyth, after he received the parliamentary writ, sent his warrants to the bailiffs of Aberystwyth to choose a burgess, etc. who chose a burgess viz. Doctor Aubrey, and returned him burgess for Cardigan and Aberystwyth, and showed in the indenture the election to be made by both towns. And the indenture was signed with the sheriff’s hand. On the other side, the bailiffs of Cardigan, understanding the writ to be come to the sheriff, took notice thereof, and without warrant from the sheriff made an indenture and election of William Delabere and sent the same in a letter to him. Mr. Delabere sought the sheriff or his deputy in London to deliver the indenture of Cardigan, but not finding him, delivered the same to the clerk of the Crown, paid his fees, was sworn and admitted into the House till this present day. Now at this committee for privileges, Doctor Aubrey came to complain ...No sequel is known.

Cal. Charter Rolls, v. 351-2; S. Meyrick, Hist. Card. (1810), passim; Ceredigion, iii. 117-18, 317; Arch. Camb. lxxxvi. 206, 208; St. Ch. (Univ. Wales Bd. Celtic Studies, Hist. and Law ser. i), 41; Exchequer, ed. E.G. Jones (same ser. iv), 293; NLW Jnl. xii. 81 seq.; Y Cymmrodor, xxxii. 58 seq.; C219/29/206, 33/271, 34/96; CJ, xxi. 571; D’Ewes, 628; Townshend, Hist. Colls. 192-3.

Authors: M.R.P. / M.A.P.