Cardiff Boroughs


Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the burgesses of Cardiff, Swansea, Cowbridge, Kenfig, Neath, Loughour, Llantrisant and Aberavon.

Number of voters:

at least 322 in 1604.1


c. Feb. 1628LEWIS MORGAN

Main Article

Situated in south-eastern Glamorganshire, near the mouth of the River Taff, Cardiff flourished during the medieval period as the commercial centre of the lordship of Glamorgan,2 but was sacked during Glynd?r rebellion and had not recovered its prosperity by the sixteenth century.3 Nevertheless, with a population of around 1,300 it remained an important administrative and commercial centre, described as ‘very well compacted, beautified with many fair houses and large streets’.4 Under Henry IV Cardiff became the head port for most of South Wales, shipping produce such as butter, livestock and coal from the surrounding countryside.5

From 1340 Cardiff was governed by the constable of the castle, the ex officio mayor, who chose two portreeves (later bailiffs) annually from among the burgesses. This municipal government was augmented by a council of 12 aldermen in 1421,6 and in 1608 William Herbert, 3rd earl of Pembroke, procured a fresh charter which appointed a common council of 12 capital burgesses and a steward as legal adviser. In addition, the corporation was granted a large measure of autonomy from the county administration.7 The borough nevertheless remained closely tied to its manorial lords. Under the early Stuarts these were, respectively, Mary, dowager countess of Pembroke, and after her death in 1621, her son, William, the 3rd earl,8 whose nominees, the constables, chose the bailiffs and approved elections to the aldermanic bench.9

The Union legislation of 1536-42 constituted Cardiff as the shire town of Glamorgan and gave it the right to return a burgess to Parliament, in association with seven ‘ancient boroughs’, which were required to contribute to the payment of the Member’s wages. Unlike many other Welsh borough constituencies, which saw the link between payment and contributory voting wane as the sixteenth century progressed, Cardiff kept up the practice of demanding these contributory payments. The deputy sheriff of Glamorgan certainly approached Swansea for proportional payments for the expenses of the Members elected in 1586 and 1593.10 Moreover, all but one of the boroughs voted in the election of 1604, as did at least two in 1621 (Cowbridge and Llantrisant) and 1624 (Neath and Aberavon), and one in 1626 (Neath).11 This is known from lists of voters attached to the indentures, where those named can often be identified as residents of the respective boroughs from other sources.12 The full involvement of the out-boroughs was evidently the norm rather than the exception in this period; some of the surviving 1604 voting lists also acknowledged the out-boroughs as being ‘contributory to the pay’ of parliamentary wages.13

All of the elections for which indentures survive in this period took place at Bridgend, which was not a contributory town. This arrangement may have served to discourage partisan activity at the time of the election, but Bridgend, being more centrally located, was also better situated for electors from the county’s western boroughs (Loughor, Swansea, Neath and Aberavon) than Cardiff. Despite the active role played by the contributory boroughs, the single most powerful electoral influence in the constituency during the early Stuart period was the 3rd earl of Pembroke, manorial lord of Cardiff and of five of the seven contributory boroughs: Aberavon, Cowbridge, Kenfig, Llantrisant and Neath.14 The earls of Worcester held the remaining boroughs of Swansea and Loughor, but there is no evidence that they claimed any electoral influence, or attempted to cross the Herbert interest: the 1604 voting lists actually show a greater number of Swansea burgesses endorsing the Member than those of Cardiff itself.15

The Member in 1604 and 1614 was a London attorney, Matthew Davys, a native of the county who had family in the Swansea area. He also maintained close contacts with the county gentry over matters such as the 1604 Privy Seal loan and the 1614 Benevolence. Moreover, it was probably the fact that he was counsel for Pembroke’s kinsmen, the Herberts of Cogan Pill, Glamorgan, that allowed him to gain the borough seat. He defended the interests of his constituents in debates over the bill for the repair of Minehead harbour (23 Feb. and 1 and 28 Mar. 1610), but there is little evidence that he prosecuted any business in the House which was concerned solely with Cardiff’s interests.

Another Herbert kinsman, William Herbert of Grey Friars, took the seat in 1621, probably in the hope that he could defend his family’s role in the patent for the exportation of Welsh butter. A letter to his cousin of Cogan Pill reveals the operation of Pembroke influence within the constituency: he recounted how the dowager countess of Pembroke had written to ‘her bailiff [sic] and townsmen of Cardiff that they should make choice of me for their burgess the next Parliament’.16 However, other interests in the shire opposed the Welsh butter patent, including William Price of Britton Ferry, who transferred from the county seat to Cardiff Boroughs in 1624.17 Price managed the Pembroke estate of Caergurwen in west Glamorgan, while his return at Old Sarum in 1614 further demonstrates his reliance on the earl’s electoral patronage.18 Price’s death in 1627 left a vacancy for the borough place at the 1628 election, which was filled by Lewis Morgan, the heir of Pembroke’s steward, Sir Thomas Morgan*.

Authors: Lloyd Bowen / Simon Healy


  • 1. C219/35/2/195-201.
  • 2. D.G. Walker, ‘Cardiff’, in Bors. of Medieval Wales ed. R.A. Griffiths, 125-6.
  • 3. W. Rees, Cardiff, 1-15; I. Soulsby, Towns of Medieval Wales, 98.
  • 4. R. Merrick, Morganiae Archaiographia ed. B.L. James (S. Wales Rec. Soc. i), 87.
  • 5. M.E. Thomas, ‘Glam. 1540-1640: Aspects of Social and Economic Hist.’ (Univ. of Wales M.A. thesis, 1973), pp. 239-71; Port Bks. for Cardiff and its Members 1606-10 ed. W. Rees (S. Wales and Mon. Rec. Soc. iii), 70-1.
  • 6. Rees, 54-7.
  • 7. Ibid. 63-4; Cardiff Recs. ed. J.H. Matthews, i. 61-72.
  • 8. STAC 8/183/35-6; HMC Hatfield, xii. 279, 576-7.
  • 9. STAC 8/183/35, f. 6; STAC 5/L8/3, f. 1; 5/M27/40; Merrick, 88-9; R. Lewis, A Breviat of Glam. 1596-1600 ed. W. Rees (S. Wales and Mon. Rec. Soc. iii), 99.
  • 10. W. Glam. AS, B/S Corp. J1, pp. 27, 29, 45.
  • 11. C219/35/2/195-201; 219/37/353-4; 219/38/329-30; 219/39/263. Another indenture for 1624 survives, but is illegible: 219/38/331.
  • 12. E.g. comparisons of the Cowbridge voters of 1604 with the bailiff’s accts. for 1600 and 1609, the Llantrisant voters of 1621 with a survey of 1631, as well as subsidy lists of 1604 and 1628 for all boroughs: NLW, Bute M9/28-9, M21/15; E179/221/274; 179/221/286.
  • 13. C219/35/2/198, 201 (?Neath, Loughor).
  • 14. Breviat of Glam. 96; HP Commons, 1558-1603, i. 318-19.
  • 15. C219/35/2/195, 200.
  • 16. NLW, Bute L3/84.
  • 17. Cent. Kent. Stud. U269/1/OE126.
  • 18. L. Stone, ‘Electoral Influence of the 2nd Earl of Salisbury,’ EHR, lxxi. 395.