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 freemen

Number of voters:

94 in 1571 (of whom 12 were allegedly ineligible)1


6 Mar. 1604SIR JAMES PERROT , ?alderman
1614SIR JAMES PERROT , alderman
19 Dec. 1620SIR JAMES PERROT , alderman
10 Feb. 1624LEWIS POWELL
 Sir Thomas Canon , alderman
1625SIR THOMAS CANON , alderman
31 Jan. 1626SIR THOMAS CANON , alderman
 Sir James Perrot , alderman
1628SIR JAMES PERROT , alderman

Main Article

Situated near the centre of Pembrokeshire, at the head of the Cleddau estuary and with roadways emanating from it in every direction, Haverfordwest was easily the most prosperous and populous town in the county. Its thriving Saturday market was reputed to be the best in all Wales for fish, and the town carried on a flourishing coastal trade with several English ports along the Severn, chief among which was Bristol, whose clothiers relied heavily on woollen shipments from the Milford Haven area. In addition, skins, sack and salt were exported to Ireland in return for coal and corn, while wines and salt were imported from France.2 No long term economic damage appears to have been caused by neglect of the town’s quay, which for 30 years prior to 1615 was in such a ruinous condition ‘that no barque could ride safe there’.3 Haverfordwest’s prosperity helps to explain why the borough continued to pay parliamentary wages until at least 1606,4 and contrasts with the declining fortunes of neighbouring Pembroke, which was economically decayed and heavily depopulated. By the early sixteenth century Haverfordwest had effectively displaced Pembroke as the county’s administrative centre, although formally at least Pembroke remained the shire town.5

Unique among Welsh boroughs, Haverfordwest enjoyed the distinction of being a separate county. This privilege was obtained at its incorporation in 1479, and was confirmed by the 1543 Act of Union, which also awarded the borough the franchise. By the terms of the 1479 charter, borough administration was placed in the hands of a common council comprising 24 burgesses, which each year elected from its own ranks a mayor and a sheriff. In 1610, after several years of lobbying and at a cost of more than £83, the town was granted a new charter whereby, inter alia, the borough’s ordinary burgesses were accorded a say in which council members should occupy these two key offices.6 The ordinary burgesses already participated in the town’s parliamentary elections, which were presided over by the borough’s sheriff and held at the guildhall.

During the first three Jacobean parliaments, and in 1597 too, Haverfordwest was represented by Sir James Perrot, whose father had sat for the borough in 1589. As the squire of nearby Haroldston, Perrot was one of only two members of the local gentry living outside the borough who were entitled to become a freeman. His godly enthusiasm was undoubtedly attractive to many of the borough’s residents who, during the 1620s were willing to employ the puritan Stephen Goffe as their lecturer.7 By 1605 at the latest Perrot was a member of the town council. He was not re-elected for the borough in 1624 but chose instead to sit for the county. Apart from the greater prestige attached to the county seat, Perrot presumably decided not to stand at Haverfordwest because, being then mayor he was the borough’s returning officer. His departure from the scene created an opening for the fiercely litigious crypto-Catholic Sir Thomas Canon, who lived in the borough and had served as its mayor on four occasions. However, Canon was defeated by Lewis Powell, who in the previous Parliament had represented Pembroke Boroughs. An outsider, Powell lived on the southern shore of Milford Haven, some distance from Haverfordwest, and presumably owed his election to someone powerful inside the borough. That someone was almost certainly Sir James Perrot. Both men hated Canon – in 1622 the latter had prosecuted Powell in Chancery – and they probably knew each other well, having both been educated at Jesus College, Oxford and the Middle Temple (though not at the same time). Moreover, Powell’s father had once leased property at a preferential rate from Perrot’s father. Whatever the truth behind Powell’s election, Canon complained to the Commons that he had been cheated of victory. The committee for privileges carried out an investigation, but on finding that it could not proceed to judgment without first establishing the validity of a legal instrument produced by Canon it appointed two senior members of the Pembrokeshire gentry to examine the matter. Before their report could be submitted, however, the Parliament was adjourned, never to reconvene.8

Canon’s failure did not discourage him from standing in 1625, and this time he took the seat, apparently unopposed: Perrot had stood once more for the knighthood of the shire, only to be beaten by John Wogan of Wiston, while Powell had reverted to his former constituency of Pembroke Boroughs. In the following year, however, Canon was again confronted with opposition, this time from Perrot, whose earlier defeat at the hands of Wogan, who had decided to stand again for the shire, undoubtedly persuaded him that he stood a better chance of achieving victory at Haverfordwest than he did at the county election. However, Canon was determined that Perrot should not prevail, and in mid-January Perrot reported his rival for having secretly obtained possession of the election writ, and for concealing it from the sheriff ‘at the late county day’.9 Despite these protests, it was Canon’s name and not Perrot’s that was entered on the borough’s election return. Perrot subsequently travelled to London with the aim of overturning the result,10 but he failed and was forced to find another seat. It is not known whether Haverfordwest witnessed a further contest between Canon and Perrot in 1628, when Perrot recovered the seat and Canon was elected for Haslemere.

Author: Andrew Thrush


  • 1. STAC 8/S79/34, ff. 12, 14.
  • 2. Cal. of Recs. of Bor. of Haverfordwest, 1539-1660 ed. B.G. Charles (Univ. of Wales, Bd. of Celtic Studies, Hist. and Law Ser. xxiv), 2, 9; Merchants and Merchandise in Seventeenth-Cent. Bristol ed. P. McGrath (Bristol Rec. Soc. xix), 140-3.
  • 3. Pemb. Life: 1572-1843 ed. B.E. and K.A. Howells (Pemb. Rec. Soc. Ser. i.), 11-12.
  • 4. B.G. Charles, ‘Haverfordwest Accts. 1563-1620, NLW Jnl. ix. 170.
  • 5. PEMBROKE BOROUGHS. See also G. Owen, The Taylor’s Cussion ed. C.M. Prichard, pt. 2, f. 48.
  • 6. Recs. of Haverfordwest, 2-3; Charles, ‘Haverfordwest Accts.’ 172. Charles puts the cost at £40, but the items of expenditure listed appear to give the higher figure.
  • 7. J. Phillips, Hist. Pemb. 481.
  • 8. J. Glanville, Reps. of Certain Cases (London, 1775), pp. 112-14; ‘Earle 1624’, f. 196.
  • 9. SP16/18/63.
  • 10. CSP Ire. 1625-32, p. 91.