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

Number of voters:

c.1000 in 15721



Main Article

Monmouthshire was created in 1536 by joining the ancient kingdom of Gwent with the cantref of Gwynll?g. The new shire had an anomalous position, however, for although omitted from the jurisdiction of the Welsh Great Sessions courts, placed in the Oxford assize circuit and given two county Members in Parliament like other English counties, it was culturally and linguistically still very much Welsh in character, and many contemporaries continued to consider it part of Wales.2 The special provisions accorded to Monmouthshire in the Union legislation were a reflection of the county’s relative prosperity compared with the rest of Wales, and its comparative proximity to London.3 Physically it was divided into three main regions: a flat, marshy coastal plain; mountains in the north and west; and the lower hills and fertile valleys, which covered most of the remainder of the shire.4 Dairy farming in the more mountainous regions had become increasingly important since the fourteenth century, one seventeenth-century gentleman described his tenants as having ‘little or no other subsistence’ than their cattle.5 Sheep-rearing was also significant in these pastoral regions and sustained a textile industry upon which the prosperity of towns such as Abergavenny rested. The wool was also used to make Monmouth caps: 6,000 were purchased to outfit soldiers in 1627, an order which must have provided a considerable boost to the local economy.6 The lowlands of the coastal plain and the region between Monmouth, Usk and Abergavenny supported mixed farming. The Bristol Channel, meanwhile, allowed for a coasting trade in commodities such as butter, timber and grain, which were exported to south-west England and Ireland.7 There was also a tradition of metalworking, especially in the wireworks established at Tintern, where some 600 men were employed by 1603, and also at several other forges maintained by county gentlemen.8

The only resident peer, Edward Somerset, 4th earl of Worcester, owned vast estates in Monmouthshire and from the opening of the period was also the county’s lord lieutenant. Although himself a conformist, he was the main patron of the county’s substantial Catholic community, whose very visible adherence to the old faith engendered alarm in Protestant gentry like the powerful Morgans of Tredegar. These Protestant families often looked to the patronage of William Herbert, 3rd earl of Pembroke, who owned the lordships of Usk, Caerleon and Trelleck, although Pembroke resided in Wiltshire. In 1609 Ralph, Lord Eure†, then lord president of Wales, wrote that ‘few causes arise in the shire which are not made a question betwixt the Protestant and the recusant’,9 but it is difficult to reduce the county’s electoral politics in the early seventeenth century to confessional antagonism. Besides, there is no evidence of any contest for the county seats in this period, nor of any rivalry between Worcester and Pembroke that might have translated into electoral conflict, although this may merely reflect the paucity of the source material. Only the return of Sir William Morgan of Tredegar in 1624 and 1625 provides any evidence for the existence of the religious rivalries which bubbled beneath the surface of Monmouthshire society. Determined to confront the Catholic threat in the shire, Morgan used the 1624 Parliament to highlight the prevalence of recusants, and to present some of Worcester’s family and dependants as recusant officeholders, although he avoided naming Worcester in person.

Worcester undoubtedly facilitated the return of his son, Thomas Somerset, in 1604, and probably also sponsored the election of his steward, William Jones II, in 1614. Thereafter, however, his electoral influence seems to have waned. In 1616 he surrendered his position as master of the horse to King James’s new favourite, George Villiers, earl of Buckingham. At around the same time, Pembroke achieved high office, becoming lord steward. During the 1620s, many of Monmouthshire’s Members were connected with Pembroke, who evidently supplanted Worcester as an electoral patron. William Herbert II was a distant relation of the 3rd earl, while Nicholas Arnold was a former ward of Pembroke’s. Charles Williams’s family, too, had long-standing ties with the house of Herbert. How far Worcester acquiesced in his own replacement by Pembroke is unclear, but it may be telling that his steward, William Jones II, endorsed the 1628 election return alongside William Herbert II.10

None of the men returned for the county were prominent figures on the parliamentary stage. Nevertheless, Monmouthshire business did occasionally come before Parliament. On 3 Mar. 1607 a committee which included the Monmouthshire knights and burgess was appointed by the Commons to consider possible remedies in the wake of the flooding which had recently devastated south Wales and south-west England. Monmouthshire had been particularly badly hit, for in addition to many deaths, there was such widespread damage to crops and livestock in 26 southern parishes that one pamphlet noted ‘there is no probability that that part of the county will ever be so inhabited again in our age as it was before this flood’.11 In 1614 the senior Member, William Jones II, may have helped promote a bill for establishing a school and almshouses in Monmouth.12 He may also have been involved in promoting the bill to incorporate a hospital in Llangview and erect a grammar school in Usk. In 1624 the town of Chepstow, in Monmouthshire, petitioned Parliament regarding the foundation of an almshouse from the legacy of a former county Member, Sir Walter Montagu, which had been obstructed by disputes over his will.13 The 1628 Parliament saw a Monmouthshire native, Edward Morgan of Penrose, use private legislation to resolve a dispute with Thomas Somerset, now knighted, and Edward, 4th earl of Worcester. Morgan’s father, William, had married one of the earl’s daughters, but became indebted and wished to sell lands in Somerset which Worcester maintained had been reserved for his daughter’s jointure. The successful legislation allowed for these properties to be conveyed to Edward Morgan under an assurance made by his deceased father.14

Author: Lloyd Bowen


  • 1. STAC 5/M31/39, f. 3.
  • 2. A. Clark, Story of Mon. i. 133-4; Law and Disorder in Tudor Mon. ed. B. Howell, pp. xix-xxiii; G. Owen, Description of Penbrokshire ed. H. Owen (Cymmrodorion Rec. Ser. i.), iii. 39-40; E.E. Havill, ‘Parlty. Representation of Mon. and Monmouth Bors.’ (Univ. Wales, M.A. thesis, 1949), pp. 6-11.
  • 3. Memorials of Father Augustine Baker ed. D.J. McCann and D.H. Connolly (Cath. Rec. Soc. xxxiii), 11-12.
  • 4. D. Sylvester, Rural Landscape of the Welsh Borderland, 379-81.
  • 5. C3/454/60.
  • 6. APC, 1627-8, p. 125; K. Buckland, ‘Monmouth Cap’, Costume, xiii. 23-37.
  • 7. APC, 1581-2, p. 205; 1596-7, pp. 339-40; Clark, i. 137-42; M. Gray, ‘Dispersal of Crown Property in Mon. 1500-1603’ (Cardiff Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1984), pp. 6-9; Agrarian Hist. of Eng. and Wales ed. J. Thirsk, iv. 132-4; Acct. of the Official Progress of … The First Duke of Beaufort ed. T. Dinley, 368.
  • 8. G. Williams, Renewal and Reformation, 399; NLW, Milborne 4930; STAC 8/218/16; DL4/83/41, f. 2; P. Courtney, ‘Some New Light on the Gwent Iron Industry in the 17th Century’, Mon. Antiquary, vii. 65.
  • 9. SP14/48/121.
  • 10. C219/41B/97.
  • 11. CJ, i. 346a; Lamentable Newes Out of Mon. in Wales (1607), sig. C4v.
  • 12. NLW, Kyrle-Fletcher A(39); CJ, i. 486a.
  • 13. HLRO, main pprs. 14 May 1624.
  • 14. HLRO, O.A. 3 Chas.I, c. 14; SP16/124/31; C2/Chas.I/W103/54; 2/Chas.I/W117/35; 2/Chas.I/M14/10.