MAURICE (MORRIS), Sir William (1542-1622), of Clenennau, Penmorfa, Caern.

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



Family and Education

b. Apr. 1542, 1st s. of Morris ap Ellis of Clenennau and Elin, da. of Sir John Puleston† of Hafod y Wern, Wrexham, Denb., constable of Caernarvon Castle, Caern. 1523-51. m. (1) 28 Sept. 1556, Margaret (d. 17 Feb. 1572), da. and h. of John Wyn Lacon of Llanddyn, Llangollen, Denb. and Brogyntyn, Salop 6s. d.v.p. 3da. (1 d.v.p.); (2) 22 Aug. 1575, Elin, da. and coh. of Hugh ap Llewelyn ap Meredith of Brynddu, Llanfechell, Anglesey, wid. of John Lewis of Chwaen Wen, Llantrisant, Anglesey, s.p.; (3) 1605, Jane, da. and h. of Rowland Puleston of Caernarvon, wid. of Sir Thomas Jones† of Abermarlais, Carm., s.p.1 suc. fa. 1575; kntd. 23 July 1603.2 d. 10 Aug. 1622.3 sig. Will[ia]m Maurice

Offices Held

J.p. Caern. 1575-d. (dep. custos rot. by 1591, custos rot. 1594-5), Anglesey 1584-95, Merion. 1584-d.;4 sheriff, Caern. 1581-2, 1595-6, Merion. 1590-1, Feb.-Nov. 1606;5 dep. lt., Caern. 1587-d;6 dep. v.-adm., N. Wales by 1590-?1604;7 commr. subsidy, Caern. 1600, 1608, 1621-2, aid 1609, 1612, mise 1611-18;8 bailiff, Harlech, Merion. 1609-10.9


Maurice was descended from the twelfth-century Welsh prince Owen Gwynedd. His ancestors settled at Clenennau, on the southern flank of Snowdon, after a formal partition of the family property in 1462, and rapidly expanded their estates over the following century. They wielded significant local influence as magistrates, while Maurice was one of the two deputy lieutenants put in charge of the county militia in 1587. Six years later he became the first MP in the family.10

Electoral politics in Elizabethan Caernarvonshire revolved around the rivalry between the Wynns of Gwydir, clients of the earl of Leicester (Robert Dudley†), and a group of gentry from the Llŷn peninsula at the opposite end of the shire, who opposed Leicester’s vigorous assertion of his rights over Snowdon Forest. At the 1588 general election, six weeks after the earl’s death, the Llŷn men took the county seat, while Maurice, who had links to both factions, was perhaps returned in 1593 through the influence of the sheriff, his uncle Rowland Puleston. Four years later the Llŷn faction won a contest with Ellis Wynn†, who returned to the fray in 1601, losing on this occasion to William Jones I* of Castellmarch. At the same election Maurice was returned unopposed at Beaumaris, where Jones was recorder.11 Maurice probably agreed to share the Caernarvonshire seat with Jones, as the two men swapped seats at the 1604 election. Ellis Wynn, prompted by his brother Sir John Wynn†, mounted a fresh challenge, but was brushed aside easily in an election presided over by the sheriff, John Griffith of Llŷn: Maurice’s return represented a roll-call of the gentry families of the western half of the shire.12

Maurice was one of the scores of knights dubbed immediately before the Coronation in July 1603. Upon meeting his new sovereign, he hailed James as ‘king of Great Britain’ and told him of an ancient Welsh prophecy he believed to have been fulfilled at the accession:

A king of British blood in cradle crowned

With lion’s mark shall join all British ground

Restore the cross and make this isle renowned

James, suitably flattered, returned the compliment by referring to Maurice as his ‘godfather’, a courtesy which went to Sir William’s head: bards hymned his (imagined) eminence at Court, and hailed him as penn plaid brytaniaid [chief of the British tribe].13 He became one of the few wholehearted supporters of the Union in the Commons, a zeal which makes his parliamentary career particularly difficult to assess, as many contemporaries were inclined to dismiss his arguments merely because they disagreed with his views. This was particularly true of the diarist Robert Bowyer*, who described Maurice’s speeches in the most scathing terms: ‘a long, unnecessary, weak speech ... a long discourse to little effect ... an idle speech’.14 Yet while Maurice often rambled, and lacked political finesse, picking the wrong moment to make the right speech, his advocacy of the Union was founded upon more than an evangelical belief in James’s destiny, and it was his particular misfortune that the Commons did not wish to give his arguments a fair hearing.

Maurice could hardly contain his enthusiasm for Union at the opening of the 1604 session: when the bill for confirmation of James’s title to the throne of England arrived in the Commons on 29 Mar., MPs seized the opportunity to parade their loyalty, dispensing with the usual committee stage and passing the bill in a single hour. Maurice trumped them all, quoting the prophecy he had shared with the king, and moving for a proviso granting James the title ‘emperor of Great Britain’. Francis Tate intervened with a more equivocal translation of the same proverb, and it was resolved that the motion should be ‘advised on, or rather put off’. Maurice, undaunted, renewed his motion two days later, but was again ignored while the Commons considered the Buckinghamshire election dispute. The issue returned to the agenda on 14 Apr., when the Commons was asked to endorse James’s proposed change of title to ‘king of Great Britain’. Maurice insisted that the king should assume an imperial title instead, and quickly found himself sidelined in a House preoccupied with the question of whether the laws of England would be invalid if enforced in the name of a king of Great Britain. The Commons was subjected to further pressure from the king and Lords on 20-21 Apr., which provoked an overwhelmingly hostile response from all but Maurice. He made another plea for the adoption of the imperial title on 23 Apr., only to be refuted by Sir Edwin Sandys, who insisted that ‘no particular kingdom can make their king an emperor’.15

The proposal for a change of name expired on 30 Apr., when the judges ruled that such a move would render the laws of England invalid, a decision which persuaded even Maurice to turn his attention to other matters. On 15 June Maurice and Sir John Savile objected to a proposal to exempt husbands from payment of their wives’ recusancy fines, insisting instead ‘that the women should not be endowed’. The meaning of this intervention is not entirely clear, but it may be that both men were suggesting that recusant wives should lose their jointure rights. Six days later, Maurice advised the House against picking a quarrel with Bishop Bancroft of London after the latter delivered an inhibition from Convocation which barred the bishops from conferring with the Commons, a riposte to the Commons’ earlier refusal to speak directly to Convocation about ecclesiastical reform.16 The final speech made by Maurice in the 1604 session concerned the annexations’ bill to confirm an inalienable demesne estate to the Crown, which he probably endorsed in a debate of 6 July.

Early in the next session, on 21 Jan. 1606, Maurice attempted to place the Union on the political agenda, with what the clerk of the Commons termed ‘a repetition sermon’ in favour of the change of name, before going on to advocate a coherent programme for Crown finances: generous supply coupled with a voluntary benevolence sufficient to pay off all the Crown’s accumulated debt, and the annexations’ bill to preserve the demesne. Unfortunately this speech, perhaps the most coherent Maurice ever made, was several weeks premature in a session in which the obvious priority was the Catholic threat. Sir Robert Wroth I caught the mood of the House better by tabling a motion requiring soldiers recruited by foreign powers to take the Oath of Supremacy before leaving the country.17 Maurice’s attempt to steal the limelight may have irritated the Crown’s spokesmen, as on 31 Jan. Sir Robert Wingfield, a cousin of secretary Salisbury [Robert Cecil†], ‘moved the House to know what opinion they would hold of a Member that since the last session had been at mass’. Maurice rose and explained that he had been walking in a gallery at Somerset House during the constable of Castile’s visit (in August 1604), when a priest had arrived to say mass: ‘so as like, quoth he, mass came to me, I went not to mass, and therefore the gentleman that last spake needed not hereupon to have accused me of flim-flam’. This attempt to make light of the incident failed miserably, and on the following day he was briefly suspended from the House. However, once the only witness confessed that he had merely seen Maurice emerging from the room in which mass had been said, Sir William was exonerated.18

This effort to smear Maurice’s reputation may have represented a semi-official attempt to discredit him for drawing attention to the lack of progress on the Union. On 2 Feb. 1606 he was excluded from the remainder of the session by being pricked as sheriff of Merioneth, although he remained in the House for another six weeks, during which time he was notably more independent-minded than hitherto. When the subject of supply was broached on 10 Feb., he criticized the decline in tax yields, which he blamed on the export of coin by Catholics, London’s reduced burden of fifteenths and depopulation of arable land. Four weeks later the Commons debated whether to offer extra supply in return for approval of John Hare’s* bill to abolish the financial benefits of purveyance. Hare argued that such composition was superfluous, as the Crown had no legal right to fix prices for the Household, but suggested a voluntary ‘donation’ to compensate for the fall in revenue; Maurice recommended a more specific figure of two subsidies and two fifteenths. The government explored the possibility of a deal with Hare, and on 14 Mar. Maurice increased his offer to two subsidies and four fifteenths, plus an additional subsidy to pay for drainage of the fens, a considerably larger contribution than the one subsidy and two fifteenths which were ultimately voted.19

The next parliamentary session was dominated by the Union, with Maurice, as ever, the odd man out in a House full of sceptics. On 22 Nov. 1606 he renewed his plea for the recognition of James as emperor of Great Britain, a speech which was tolerated largely because it saved Members from having to debate the Instrument of Union, which then lay upon the clerks’ table. The Instrument was read on 24 Nov., and Maurice filled the long silence which followed by tabling a draft of his bill, which was conspicuously ignored. In early December, with painful sloth, the House fell to consideration of feudal tenures. Maurice observed that escuage had been no impediment to the union with Wales, and argued that, like hidage, it had evolved from its feudal origins into a customary payment in cash; it had therefore outgrown its origins as an anti-Scottish measure, and did not require abolition as part of the Union project. As the debate dragged on, he summarized the available options: ‘either we must come to their law, or they must come to our law; or else either law must stand as it doth’. His patience ran out on 9 Dec., when he likened ‘the matter of the Union to a bowling alley; a little rub putteth the bowl aside’. He concluded with a further motion to read his bill for the imperial title, which only provoked Richard James into an anti-Scots tirade.20

When the Commons reassembled after Christmas, Speaker Phelips attempted to prod MPs into action over the Union, but the only man who responded was Maurice, who vainly urged ‘that this long wooing might come to a conclusion, and that the king might be wedded to the old widow Britain’. The House preferred to debate the arrest of Richard James, which constituted a breach of parliamentary privilege, whereupon Maurice went some way towards redeeming his reputation in the House by striving hard to secure James’s release.21 After a further digression over Sir Christopher Piggot’s slander against the Scots, MPs began to debate naturalization. On 7 Mar. they hit upon an ideal formula to frustrate the king’s hopes: the Scots, living as they did in a palatine jurisdiction without the compass of the Common Law, could not be permitted to enjoy the same rights as Englishmen until the two legal systems reached ‘perfect Union’, an interminable task. Maurice almost certainly realized the significance of this argument, as he ‘offered to speak idly, and to discourse of the name of Britain and to make apology of some speeches formerly by himself used in that matter, and as he said misliked by some’, but before he could make his point he was silenced by the Speaker. Thereafter, Maurice gave up the unequal struggle, speaking only once more on 29 June 1607, when the House made heavy going over the fine print of the bill to repeal the hostile laws. He complained that his colleagues in the House had behaved ‘in the beginning as snails, now as crabs [i.e. sideways]’.22

Maurice began in 1610 where he had left off three years earlier, with a two-hour speech on the Union, a topic no longer of interest to anyone else, even the king. One observer claimed Maurice lost the thread of his argument in the middle of his own speech, while another stated that he was subjected to ‘interruption and whistling’; he was eventually stopped by the Speaker. Despite this hostile reception, on 15 Feb. he still insisted on tabling a bill to confirm the Proclamation of 20 Oct. 1604, whereby James had assumed the title ‘king of Great Britain’. This Proclamation, which overturned the judges’ ruling of 30 April 1604, had also ordered the abolition of escuage and the reciprocal naturalization of English and Scots subjects, proposals the Commons had baulked at in 1606-7; the bill was thus provocative on several fronts, and failed to secure a single reading.23 While his plans to revive the Union were frustrated, over the next few weeks, as the outlines of the Great Contract were laid before the House, Maurice made a handful of procedural motions to help move business on. His next significant speech came during the subsidy debate of 13 June, when he argued

we must either now show our affections in giving or our humours in denying, and that one subsidy would argue coldness of affection, two was a Parliament gift, he could wish a third subsidy. But he would have it freely and without division of the House or not at all.

As the House remained at loggerheads, the motion attracted no support, but it was revived four weeks later, when Maurice was again a lone voice advocating a grant of three subsidies.24

Maurice missed most of the autumn session of 1610, arriving on 16 Nov., as the Great Contract lay on the brink of failure. Fearless as ever, he leapt into the awkward silence at the beginning of the day to confess his ignorance:

he remembered at the beginning of the sessions the great matter of Union of both kingdoms was spoken of, which he wished had been brought to pass, that one with the other might have received like benefit and borne like charge. And at the last sessions a greater tract was moved concerning tenures and purveyance with all their dependencies, which we left at our last rising in good hope to obtain, but how it stood now he could not tell, but thought by some or other he should have heard it. But he for his part would as ever he had done speak in this place pro rege, lege et grege ...

This broke the ice, and allowed a reluctant Commons to conclude that no deal was possible upon the terms of the Contract.25

Maurice’s preoccupation with the Union left him with relatively little opportunity to further the interests of his constituents in the Commons. However, during the free trade debate of 6 June 1604, he raised a complaint about the Shrewsbury Drapers’ monopoly of the inland trade in Welsh cloth, observing that the 1566 Act which had confirmed this privilege was still being enforced on the authority of the Privy Council even though it had been struck from the statute book in 1572.26 The local project which occupied much of Maurice’s attention during the first years of James’s reign was the improvement of the borough of Harlech, Merioneth, which lay only a few miles from Clenennau. Shortly before he departed for Westminster in March 1604 the corporation there approached Maurice with a lengthy agenda including renewal of their charter, alteration of the date of their autumn cattle fair, the grant of a parliamentary seat and, most of all, a statute confirming the borough as the permanent seat of the county assizes and quarter sessions, for which services he was promised £100. Despite this incentive, Maurice achieved nothing, either then or in November 1606, when the corporation made another approach. However, in February 1609, shortly after the death of Richard Lee†, constable of Harlech Castle, Maurice organized a fresh initiative about the assizes, securing petitions from the corporation and ten Merioneth magistrates to lord president [Ralph] Eure†. Eure, having succeeded Lee as constable, was offered £80 to procure a grant of the assizes, which was duly awarded in June under a signet letter, despite stiff competition from the rival town of Dolgellau. The corporation expressed their gratitude by electing Maurice as one of their bailiffs in the following autumn.27

Although an active septuagenarian, Maurice chose not to stand at the 1614 general election, doubtless because of his dismay at the failure of the Union project. Richard Wynn of Gwydir was returned unopposed for Caernarvonshire in an improbable consensus which could not be sustained at the following election in December 1620, when Wynn and John Griffith III* of Llŷn engaged in a bitter contest. Wynn contacted Maurice first and thereby secured his endorsement, but Griffith responded with a carefully worded appeal ‘to grant me your favour in leaving your friends to their liberty’ on the casuistical grounds that Sir William had only promised Wynn his personal support. Maurice was eventually persuaded to release his tenants from any obligation to Wynn by a letter from his favourite granddaughter, Dame Elin Eure:

my earnest desire is that you will be pleased to afford your election and best furtherance to my cousin John Griffith of Llŷn the younger, with the like labour and endeavour for other voices in his behalf as you would do for me, if I were a man and fit for the place.

Thus Wynn, who had counted on Maurice to deliver the voices of three-quarters of the freeholders of Eifionydd, found himself unexpectedly trounced at the hustings.28

Maurice died on 10 Aug. 1622, and was buried in his parish church at Penmorfa. In a brief will drafted two days earlier he made various minor bequests to his family and neighbours, but these excluded his main estates, which had long since been entailed upon Lady Eure and her eldest son John Owen, a prominent royalist commander during the Civil War. The latter’s grandson, Sir Robert Owen, was the next MP in the family, representing Merioneth in 1681 and Caernarvon Boroughs after the Glorious Revolution.29

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Simon Healy


  • 1. J.E. Griffith, Peds. Anglesey and Caern. Fams. 16, 32, 147, 218, 275; Misc. Gen. et Her. n.s. ii. 290-1; E.N. Williams, ‘Sir William Maurice’, Trans. Caern. Hist. Soc. xxiv. 79-80.
  • 2. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 121.
  • 3. DWB.
  • 4. JPs in Wales and Monm. ed. Phillips, 3, 19-27, 39-44.
  • 5. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 248, 260.
  • 6. NLW, Powis D24/2-3.
  • 7. Cal. Clenennau Pprs. ed. T. Jones Pierce, 148-52; NLW, Bodewryd docs. 98.
  • 8. E179/220/150; SP14/31/1, 14/43/107; NLW, Brogyntyn 2334, 3329; C212/22/22.
  • 9. Cal. Clenennau Pprs. 74.
  • 10. Griffith, 218; J. Wynn, Hist. Gwydir Fam. ed. J. Gwynfor Jones, 54; C.A. Gresham, Eifionydd, 17-23, 34-7, 102-16.
  • 11. J. Gwynfor Jones, Wynn Fam. of Gwydir, 214-18; Griffith, 275; Cal. Wynn Pprs. nos. 195, 197; A.H. Dodd, Hist. Caern. 75-6; NLW, 9081D, pp. 122-3.
  • 12. NLW, 9052E/271; C219/35/2/191.
  • 13. CD 1604-7, p. 49; Williams, ‘Maurice’, Trans. Caern. Hist. Soc. xxiv. 93; DWB; Cal. Clenennau Pprs. 61, 154-5; J. Gwynfor Jones, Concepts of Order and Gentility in Wales, 134, 178.
  • 14. Bowyer Diary, 1-2, 62, 189.
  • 15. CD 1604-7, pp. 49, 60, 66-71, 96-8; CJ, i. 160a, 172a, 179b, 952b, 955b; R.C. Munden, ‘King, Commons and Reform’, Faction and Parl. ed. K. Sharpe, 62-5.
  • 16. CJ, i. 239b, 993a, 996a; CD 1604-7, pp. 84-5; Munden ‘Reform’, 66-7.
  • 17. CJ, i. 253b, 1002a; Bowyer Diary, 1-2; P. Croft, ‘Serving the Archduke’, BIHR, lxiv. 289-304.
  • 18. CJ, i. 262a-b; Bowyer Diary, 14-15, 17-19; S.R. Gardiner, Hist. Eng. i. 214; T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Jas. I, i. 48-9; NLW, Clenennau 453.
  • 19. List of Sheriffs, 248; CJ, i. 266b, 278b, 282b, 284b; Bowyer Diary, 62-4; HMC Hatfield, xviii. 69; P. Croft, ‘Parl., Purveyance and London’, PH, iv. 25-8.
  • 20. CJ, i. 1003b, 1007-9; Bowyer Diary, 189; CD 1604-7, p. 123; B. Galloway, Union of Eng. and Scot. 96-8; Carleton to Chamberlain ed. M. Lee, 93-4.
  • 21. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 243; CJ, i. 332-3, 1012a.
  • 22. CJ, i. 1018a, 1055a; Galloway, 109-13; Bowyer Diary, 224.
  • 23. CJ, i. 392a; Procs. 1610 ed. E.R. Foster, ii. 4-5; HMC Downshire, ii. 240; Winwood’s Memorials ed. E. Sawyer, iii. 119; Stuart Royal Procs. ed. J.F. Larkin and P.L. Hughes, i. 94-8.
  • 24. CJ, i. 399b, 403a, 408a, 411b, 438a, 448a; Procs. 1610, ii. 144-5.
  • 25. Procs. 1610, ii. 332; ‘Paulet 1610’, p. 75; Parl. Debates 1610 ed. S.R. Gardiner, 132-3.
  • 26. CJ, i. 233b, 987b; T.C. Mendenhall, Shrewsbury Drapers and the Welsh Wool Trade, 123-30.
  • 27. NLW, Clenennau 205, 224, 252, 465; Arch. Cambrensis i. 254-9; SP14/43/58-9; HMC Hatfield, xx. 295; NLW, Brogyntyn deeds 3337; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 495; SO3/4, unfol. (June 1609); MERIONETH.
  • 28. NLW, 466E/645; 9057E/916, 921; NLW, Clenennau 398-403.
  • 29. PROB 11/140, ff. 326-7; NLW, Brogyntyn 1959; DWB (Sir John Owen); Gresham, 116-18.