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


23 Jan. 1559HUGH HARRIS
 Alban Stepneth
27 Sept. 1597JAMES PERROT 2
20 Oct. 1601JOHN CANON

Main Article

Haverfordwest, described by a royal official in 1577 as ‘the best built, the most civilised and quickest occupied town in South Wales’ had the distinction, unique in Elizabethan Wales, of being a county in itself, with its own sheriff and escheator.3 A royal possession, it had already enjoyed a long history as a borough. The governing body consisted of a mayor, two bailiffs and, probably, a common council.4 The Act of Parliament of 1543 which recognized the town as a separate county also authorized it to elect a Member of Parliament whose charges were to be met ‘by the mayor, burgesses and inhabitants of the said town and none other’.5 Local records reveal that contributions towards the Members’ wages were paid regularly.6 The elections, presided over by the sheriff, took place in the county court, meeting in the shire or guildhall. Only qualified burgesses or freemen were allowed to vote. In 1571 and 1572 nearly one hundred electors took part, but the average attendance seems to have been much less and in 1597 barely two dozen appeared.7

Haverfordwest was dominated by the local gentry, many of whom had houses in the town. Sir John Perrot, a key figure in Tudor Wales, had his estate of Haroldston on the outskirts, and was several times mayor. Though many townsmen and some of the local gentlemen looked upon him as a friend and patron, a strong anti-Perrot faction, including the Philipps family of Picton and the Barlows of Slebech, both living near Haverfordwest, had also emerged by 1558. Perrot’s influence in the borough was usually overwhelming, but the Queen’s service took him away from home for long periods after 1570, and in his absence his opponents asserted control. Towards the end of the reign, following Perrot’s disgrace and death in 1592, another local family of long standing, the Devereux, reemerged into prominence, this time in the person of the young 2nd Earl of Essex. The Earl, whose sister married Perrot’s son Thomas, had spent some of his youth in Pembrokeshire with his uncle George Devereux at Lamphey. He himself acquired some of Perrot’s patronage in Haverfordwest and later became a burgess of the town, receiving a number of gifts from the authorities.8

So far as is known, faction was absent from the first two Elizabethan elections. Hugh Harris (1559) was a former mayor of the town and belonged to a leading merchant family. In the later faction strife, one of his sons figured prominently on the anti-Perrot side. The 1563 MP, Rice Morgan, was at one time a town councilman and was apparently expelled.9 By 1571 he belonged to the anti-Perrot party, but he was probably acceptable to Sir John in 1563, when the latter was returned for the county.

The 1571 election was the occasion for an open clash between the two factions. A month before it took place Perrot had sailed to Ireland to take up the position of president of Munster, thus providing his opponents with an opportunity to return one of their number to Parliament. A majority of the voters who attended a stormy meeting in the town hall were ready to support their candidate Alban Stepneth, a Hertfordshire man whose two marriages to Pembrokeshire heiresses, one a daughter of William Philipps, brought him extensive estates and a great interest in the affairs of the county. His election was thwarted, however, by the sheriff, Edmund Harris, who had been appointed before Perrot’s departure and was a strong adherent to his cause. Harris sent in a false return, recording the election of John Garnons, a lawyer recently settled in Haverfordwest who looked to Perrot for patronage. In a subsequent Star Chamber case, as a result of which Harris was fined and imprisoned, it was alleged that he had credited Garnons with votes from non-burgesses, had transferred some of Stepneth’s votes to Garnons, and had even created new burgesses on the condition that they voted for the right candidate. Stepneth journeyed to Westminster but failed to unseat his rival.

In 1572, with Perrot still absent and the town officials now chosen from the anti-Perrot faction, Stepneth succeeded in capturing the seat. The new sheriff recorded that he had the support of a majority of the 90 or so voters who appeared.10 It is not known whether the election was eventful, but William Morgan, who had campaigned vigorously for Garnons the year before, was accused of seizing the election writ to prevent its reaching the sheriff.11 A similar situation, with Perrot in Ireland as lord deputy, led to Stepneth’s re-election in 1584 and 1586. But he could not manage a fourth success in 1588-9 for Perrot, back in Wales, needed the seat as the county seat had been pre-empted by Essex’s nominee. Perrot even collected his wages from the borough.12

In 1593 Essex placed two of his close relatives and military followers, Sir Conyers and Sir Nicholas Clifford, at the boroughs of Pembroke and Haverfordwest respectively. The 1597 Member was James Perrot, who, as the only surviving, but illegitimate, son of Sir John, had succeeded to Haroldston and his father’s influence at Haverfordwest. A puritan, linked with the Earl of Essex, his election cannot have caused any clash of patronage. John Canon, the MP in 1601, was a Pembrokeshire man with Perrot connexions, who later became town clerk of Haverfordwest.

Author: M.R.P.


  • 1. Add. 38823.
  • 2. Browne Willis.
  • 3. Arch. Camb. (ser. 6), iii. 46.
  • 4. NLW Jnl. ix. 157 seq.
  • 5. Statutes, iii. 935-7.
  • 6. NLW Jnl. ix. 170.
  • 7. EHR, lxi. 23-24; C219/26/169; 28/202; 31/257; 33/288; 34/202.
  • 8. Arch. Camb. (ser. 5), xiii. 193-211; (ser. 6), iv. 265-6; NLW Jnl. ix. 171.
  • 9. EHR, lxi. 25.
  • 10. C219/28/202.
  • 11. APC, viii. 77.
  • 12. NLW Jnl. ix. 170.