OWEN, John Lewis (d.1606), of Llwyn, Dolgelly, Merion.
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Family and Education
Escheator, Merion. 1562-3, 1568-9, j.p. from 1563, sheriff 1565-6, 1572-3, 1589-90, dep. lt. by 1597; custodian of armour and commr. musters, Merion. 1569; commr. of victualling for Ireland and for tanneries 1574, for discovery and arrest of felons, Merion. and Mont. 1575; commr. subsidy Penillyn 1585 and Tal y bont 1600.2
Owen succeeded his younger brother Hugh as county Member. He was granted leave of absence on 11 June 1572 ‘for his great sickness’. His inherited fortune was not impressive: during the Privy Council investigations of 1598 it was reported that he owed his wealth partly to exploitation of public office (in which there appears to be some truth), partly to his wife, mistakenly alleged (through confusion with his mother) to be a Puleston. His assessment for subsidy rose from £2 at the beginning of the reign (well below the average for his commote) to £6 at the end, a sum equalled only by the Nanneys of Nannau. At the musters of 1570 he was assessed at the normal rating of ‘one light horseman furnished’. Still, his ancient descent and the repute of his father were enough to assure his position in the county.3
His residence at Llwyn placed him in proximity to the rising family of Nanney. At first the two families were on excellent terms. But the election for Merioneth in 1593 of Griffith Nanney, who was not even head of a household, when the seat was coveted by the older and more experienced John Lewis Owen, started a feud between the families in which Owen and his three sons, many of his remoter connexions and neighbours, and even a junior branch of Nanney itself, fought an unremitting war for the rest of his life against a family now threatening to dominate the shire and the shire town of Dolgelly. In the year after this election, trouble arose over alleged common land outside Dolgelly which Hugh Nanney was enclosing: according to depositions in Star Chamber, John Lewis Owen led an armed band, including his three sons and a nephew, which tore down Nanney’s six-foot walls and threatened all who resisted. The issue is unknown, but the same lands were in dispute again before the council of Wales eight years later.4
The Salesburys of Rûg were also rivals. In 1571 John Salesbury attempted to seize the reversion of a grant of the township of Dolgelly held by Owen. In the same year Salesbury unsuccessfully challenged John’s brother, Hugh, for one of the Merioneth parliamentary seats. In the contested election of 1597 Salesbury and Owen backed opposing candidates, and this time Owen’s faction was defeated. The following year, Pyers Lloyd of Dol Edeyrn, Corwen, a close neighbour and probably an ally of the Salesburys, brought a Star Chamber action against Owen and his co-deputy lieutenant and relation, Cadwaladr Price of Rhiwlas, accusing them of embezzlement, false imprisonment, bribery, extortion and intimidation and fraudulent promotion of their candidate at the last election. The Privy Council instituted inquiries, and, on a petition from Pyers Lloyd, instructed the council in the marches to stay vexatious suits which Owen was said to be promoting there as impediments to the Star Chamber action. The upshot was that at the Council’s instance the 2nd Earl of Pembroke, who as lord president of the council in the marches of Wales had been responsible for the appointment of the two deputy lieutenants, had them removed in 1600 from both the commission of lieutenancy and the commission of the peace.5
The quarrel with the Nanneys flared up again at the first Christmas of the next reign, when (according to allegations made in Star Chamber by one of John Lewis Owen’s sons) a Nanney gang assembled outside Llwyn to hurl abuse at the Owens, and wreaked their wrath on the Owen pew in Dolgelly church. For a short time relations became easier; but in 1606, the last year of his life, John Lewis Owen made a final bid for mastery in Dolgeily Dolgelly (a source of rivalry with both Nanneys and Salesburys), alleging in the Exchequer that divers townsmen were violating his crown grant of the farm of the town and its waste lands during markets and fairs (with the right to levy dues on the merchants’ standings) by building cottages, enclosing patches of waste, and encroaching on Dolgelly’s narrow streets. This was his last fling; but the feud with the Nanney family was maintained by his children for another nine years.
Owen’s elegy was sung by a Merioneth bard of repute, parson of a neighbouring parish. At least five other enlogies from bards of other shires have survived, including one which competed at the Caerwys eisteddfod of 1567 and one apparently inspired by his election to Parliament.6
Ref Volumes: 1558-1603
- 1. Griffith, Peds. 362; Mont. Colls. xxiv. 283.
- 2. CPR , 1563-6, p. 31; APC , xxviii. 448; Flenley, Cal. Reg. Council, Marches of Wales, 60, 69, 109, 127, 135, 146, 212; Harl. E. 15; E179/222/326.
- 3. CJ, i. 102; P. H. Williams, Council in the Marches of Wales, 125-6; E179/222/323, 325-4; Flenley, 73-4.
- 4. UCNW, Nannau 85-6, 220; B. R. Parry, ‘Hist. Nannau Fam.’ (UCNW thesis), 237-85; Star Chamber, ed. Edwards (Univ. Wales Bd. of Celtic Studies, Hist. and Law ser. i), 91.
- 5. HMC Bath, v. 188-9; E179/222/326; Star Chamber, 90; APC, xxviii. 448, 457, 463, 551; xxx. 180.
- 6. Parry, 237, 266-8; Star Chamber, 186; Exchequer, ed. T. I. J. Jones (Univ. Wales Bd. of Celtic Studies, Hist. and Law ser. xv), 224-5; UCNW, Nannau 233, 238; HMC Welsh, i. 154; ii. 184, 987.