Available from Cambridge University Press
Number of voters:
at least 400
|c. Mar. 1604||ALBAN STEPNETH|
|c. Mar. 1614||JOHN WOGAN|
|12 Dec. 1620||JOHN WOGAN|
|3 Feb. 1624||SIR JAMES PERROT|
|26 Apr. 1625||JOHN WOGAN|
|Sir James Perrot|
|c. Jan. 1626||JOHN WOGAN|
|26 Feb. 1628||JOHN WOGAN|
Pembrokeshire was among the smallest of the Welsh counties, having been reduced in size by statute in 1543. In 1626 its magistrates claimed, with only slight exaggeration, that it was nowhere more than 18 miles wide.1 However, the county’s smallness was not always appreciated. One of its chief inhabitants, George Owen, lord of Cemais, complained that the mapmaker Christopher Saxton, in devoting as much space in his 1575 book of maps to Pembrokeshire as to Cardiganshire, Carmarthenshire, Breconshire and Radnorshire combined, had misled the Crown as to the county’s true size and caused Pembrokeshire to be over-burdened with taxes.2 Owen was on safer ground when he observed that Pembrokeshire was a poor county, all of whose boroughs, apart from Haverfordwest, were in economic decline. That said, the shire was hardly devoid of significant economic activity. ‘Corn’, meaning oats, wheat, barley, peas, beans and rye, was one of its main commodities, and was grown not only for local consumption but also for export to Ireland, France and Spain.3 The cornfields around Milford Haven were so fertile that in 1595 the county’s magistrates feared that these alone would suffice to feed an invading Spanish army.4 Pembrokeshire’s farmers also earned a good living from the woollen industry. By the end of Elizabeth’s reign the shire abounded in sheep, the keeping of which, according to Owen, ‘yieldeth great profit with little charge’. Bristol and several other English ports along the Severn depended heavily for their prosperity on wool grown in southern Pembrokeshire.5
Pembrokeshire society was sharply divided between Welsh speakers, who lived mainly in the north, and English speakers, who were chiefly located in the south and west. Despite the passage of five centuries, the members of both nations barely intermingled, ‘differing in manner, diet, buildings and tilling of the land’. Where intercourse between the two did occur the language barrier created an insuperable obstacle, as was apparent whenever juries formed from both English and Welsh speakers were empanelled. Sprinkled among the English speakers were large numbers of Irish-born inhabitants, many of whom were refugees from the Elizabethan war in Ireland.6 In 1592 a government surveyor reported that all the residents of the western coastal parish of Nolton were Irish-born ‘except two or three’.7 Dearth in Ireland in the later 1620s created a fresh influx of refugees from across the Irish Sea, who were smuggled in at night on small boats, to the despair of Pembrokeshire’s magistrates.8
At the beginning of the seventeenth century Owen remarked that there were ‘scarce 400 freeholders’ capable of jury service.9 His observation provides a clue as to the size of the county’s electorate, but whether attendance at the hustings ever approached this figure is impossible to say, since the surviving election indentures almost certainly do not contain the signatures of all those who voted. Elections were normally held at Haverfordwest rather than the shire town, Pembroke, which was decayed. The customary venue appears to have been the castle (1601, 1625), but in 1620 the election took place at the Guildhall. In 1624 voting occurred just outside Haverfordwest at Prendergast, the seat of the then sheriff, Sir John Stepneth, while in 1628 the sheriff made his return from Llawhaden, a minor borough seven miles east of Haverfordwest.10
The pattern of electoral politics in Pembrokeshire under the early Stuarts is clear. Towards the end of Elizabeth’s reign the leaders of the Perrot and Essex factions in Pembrokeshire were removed from the scene, thereby allowing John Philipps of Picton Castle, whose uncle William Philipps had represented the shire in 1559 and 1572, to occupy the county seat in 1601. In 1604 the Philipps interest again prevailed with the return of Alban Stepneth, the squire of Prendergast and the cousin by marriage of John Philipps. In 1614, however, the Philipps family lost control of the county seat to their arch-enemies, the Wogans of Wiston. Whether this happened without a contest is unknown, for although Stepneth was now dead John Philipps was capable of standing and might have expected to enjoy the assistance of the sheriff, Stepneth’s son John.
John Wogan secured the knighthood of the shire again in 1620, but his hold on the county seat was temporarily broken in 1624, when he was defeated by Sir James Perrot of Haroldston, whose late father, Sir John Perrot, had once counted the Wogans among his allies. Sir James had represented Haverfordwest in four of the five previous parliaments, but in 1624 he was incapable of standing for re-election there because he held office as the borough’s mayor. Details of the contest between Perrot and Wogan are wanting, but as the election was held at Prendergast rather than Haverfordwest it seems likely that the sheriff, Sir John Stepneth, colluded with Perrot to defeat Wogan, who subsequently complained to the committee for privileges. On the other hand, the report made to the Commons by the committee on 28 May indicates that it was Wogan rather than Perrot who was suspected of certain ‘misdemeanours’. In the event, the question of which candidate had abused the electoral process proved irrelevant to the committee, which decided to uphold the election on the grounds that Wogan’s petition had been submitted after the deadline for receiving such complaints had passed.11
Wogan ruthlessly exacted his revenge at the 1625 election, which was well-attended by members of his immediate family. A defeated Perrot subsequently complained that he was the victim of a concerted campaign involving serious electoral malpractice. A rumour of his death had been spread before the election, and many of his followers had been threatened with impressment; several others had been beaten or prevented from reaching the hustings. Those who attended had allegedly found themselves ‘interrupted and refused’. However, Perrot failed to persuade the Commons to eject Wogan. He omitted to lay before the privileges committee the evidence needed to substantiate his claims, and although he told the House on 7 July that he had ‘very sufficient’ witnesses to corroborate his story, he admitted that it would take some time to produce them. In desperation, he argued that Wogan’s election should immediately be declared void, as the authority of the sheriff who had overseen the election had been ended by the death of James I. This was a specious argument, because immediately after James’s death a Proclamation had been issued confirming all officeholders in their posts. Nevertheless, it caused momentary disquiet as Members realized that their own elections were invalid if Perrot was correct. The Commons refused to make a hasty ruling, however, and referred the matter back to the privileges’ committee.12 By the time the Parliament was dissolved the issue had still not been settled.
Defeat at the hands of Wogan in 1625 left Perrot without a parliamentary seat for the first time since 1601. It was clearly not an experience that he wished to repeat, and therefore he left the knighthood of the shire to Wogan in both 1626 and 1628, when he concentrated instead on winning the seat at Haverfordwest. It is not known whether the decision of the sheriff, Charles Bowen, to hold the 1628 county election at Llawhaden rather than Haverfordwest was intended to help or hinder Wogan.
Author: Andrew Thrush
- 1. SP16/33/57.
- 2. G. Owen, Description of Penbrokshire ed. H. Owen (Cymmrodorion Rec. Ser. i), i. 2-4.
- 3. Ibid. 55-6; Agrarian Hist. of Eng. and Wales ed. J. Thirsk, iv. 135-6.
- 4. Arch. Camb. (ser. 3), viii. 15.
- 5. Owen, 56-7; B.E. Howells, ‘Pemb. Farming c.1580-1620’, NLW Jnl. ix. 241-2; Merchants and Merchandise in Seventeenth-Cent. Bristol ed. P. McGrath (Bristol Rec. Soc. xix), 142.
- 6. Owen, 39-40.
- 7. LR2/260, f. 67.
- 8. CSP Dom. 1628-9, pp. 258, 358, 519, 573; APC, 1629-30, pp. 389-90.
- 9. G. Owen, Taylor’s Cussion ed. E.M. Pritchard, ii. f. 50v.
- 10. C219/35/2/188; 219/37/67; 219/38/337; 219/39/265; 219/41B/23. The returns for 1604 and 1614 are wanting; that for 1626 is illegible.
- 11. CJ, i. 714b, 798a.
- 12. Procs. 1625, pp. 335-6, 340-1.