Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the corporation

Number of Qualified Electors:


Number of voters:

17 in 1708


8 Aug. 1698OWEN HUGHES 
29 Nov. 1703CONINGSBY WILLIAMS vice Bulkeley, deceased 
15 May 1708HON. HENRY BERTIE16
 Sir Arthur Owen,  Bt.1
28 Oct. 1710HON. HENRY BERTIE 
11 Sept. 1713HON. HENRY BERTIE 

Main Article

‘Neat and well built’, and the only place of note to be seen in the Isle of Anglesey (according to Defoe), Beaumaris was effectively a pocket borough of the Bulkeleys, whose seat at Baron Hill overlooked the town. The 3rd and 4th Viscounts Bulkeley held the office of constable of Beaumaris Castle successively throughout this period, and so dominated the corporation that Bulkeley nominees, almost always kinsmen, were returned at every election, bar one. Indeed, the 3rd Viscount (Richard Bulkeley*) served as mayor, and thus as returning officer, in 1690, when his uncle (Hon. Thomas) was chosen.1

The only defeat suffered by the Bulkeley interest occurred in 1698 when the family was challenged by one of their former agents, Owen Hughes, a former Beaumaris attorney and probably still recorder of the town, who had ‘got together a great estate, much thereof by the family of my Lord Bulkeley’, and now saw himself as a power on the island. He had earlier stood unsuccessfully at Beaumaris in 1689. According to the Bulkeleys he had ‘taken a disgust’ against them for some personal reason, but his motives may have been tinged with party-political animus, since he had in the past entertained Presbyterian sympathies and now ran with the Whigs in local and national politics, while the Bulkeleys were High Tories, so much so that the 3rd Viscount had only been able to take the Association in 1696 after much agonizing over principles. Their Toryism possibly made the Bulkeleys appear vulnerable in 1698. Three years earlier the family’s ‘interest’ was said to be ‘very low’ in Anglesey, and while Bulkeley was returned himself as knight of the shire, his candidate at Beaumaris had been a Country Whig, Sir William Williams, 1st Bt. It is not clear whom the Bulkeleys had recommended in 1698, for the election did not go to a poll. Hughes’s strategy was to revive a spurious claim of the burgesses of nearby Newborough to a vote in Beaumaris elections. His proprietorial influence was strong there, and he currently held the mayoralty of Newborough corporation himself. His arrival at Beaumaris with some 30 of the Newborough burgesses caused consternation among the Beaumaris corporators. Rather than carry the dispute to a vote, and an inevitable petition, which might imperil their monopoly of the franchise no matter how strong their case in law, the Beaumaris men came to an agreement with Hughes by which he was elected unopposed, possibly as a quid pro quo for a promise to step down on the next occasion. He then thanked his Newborough supporters ‘for the trouble he had given them, and desired them to return home, for that the election was agreed’.2

Whatever the details of the electoral treaty of 1698, Hughes did not stand at the next election, when Coningsby Williams was chosen, a local squire and probably a client of the Bulkeleys. Williams sat for only one Parliament, replaced in the second general election of 1701 by Hon. Robert Bulkeley, younger brother of the 3rd Viscount, but was recalled in 1703 after Robert Bulkeley’s death, to serve as a stop-gap until the 4th Viscount’s brother-in-law, Hon. Henry Bertie II, came of age. In fact, Bertie was returned in the 1705 election, still a year short of his 21st birthday. By this time the 4th Viscount (Richard Bulkeley*) had succeeded his father. He too was a Tory of a high strain, but seems to have been an even more aggressive character and his impact on local politics, combined with a change in fortunes at Westminster which encouraged the Whigs generally, produced a second crisis for the Baron Hill interest.

The origins of the electoral contest at Beaumaris in 1708 lay in the wider struggle for power in Anglesey between the Bulkeleys and an increasingly powerful Whig faction headed by (Sir) Arthur Owen II* (3rd Bt.), a Pembrokeshire landowner with Anglesey estates, and two local gentlemen, Lloyd Bodvel and Owen Meyrick. Behind this group, allegedly prompting them, stood two more powerful figures, Bodvel’s uncle by marriage, Owen Hughes, who despite failing health (he died shortly before the 1708 election) still wielded significant influence, and Serjeant John Hooke, the chief justice on the North Wales circuit. The preliminary assault on Bulkeley, a complaint to the Treasury in 1707 of abuses allegedly committed by the Viscount in his capacity as constable of Beaumaris Castle, was intended to weaken his interest in the borough by securing his dismissal from office, and in 1708 he found himself attacked on two fronts, in the county and in Beaumaris, where Bertie was opposed by Owen. As in 1698 the anti-Bulkeley forces, unable to make headway in Beaumaris corporation, tried to press the claim of the Newborough burgesses to a share in the franchise. Owen had property in Newborough, Bodvel’s young son inherited Hughes’s interest there, and Meyrick currently held the mayoralty of Newborough corporation. The poll took place the day after the county election, in which Bulkeley scraped home. The result in the borough was more decisive. Bulkeley described what happened:

Before I could get down to the town hall it was filled with the Newborough mob, who demanded a poll for Sir Arthur Owen; which being refused them, Mr Meyrick, Mr Bodvel . . . etc. sent for Tom Jones, the tailor, who, being a capital burgess, demanded his poll for Sir Arthur, which was taken; and on cutting up the book there was 16 for my brother Bertie, and only the tailor for Sir Arthur. All the talk here is of repealing Acts of Parliament and having Newborough to be the shire town. The laws they propose to make, are more to answer their ambition and malice than any consideration they have of the peace and quiet of the country, which I will ever study to preserve.

The Whigs’ first step was a petition against Bertie’s return, presented by Owen Meyrick and the other Newborough burgesses, and two members of the Beaumaris corporation (including Jones). Perhaps conscious of the weakness of their case, even before a Commons with a clear Whig majority, and afforded some latitude in their tactics by the fact that Owen had been elected in a second constituency, the petitioners seem not to have pressed matters in the first session of the 1708 Parliament, proceeding against Bulkeley by other means. Bodvel and Owen presented a memorial to Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†), alleging irregularities on Bulkeley’s part in all his various local offices (including the Beaumaris constableship), with the aim of obtaining his dismissal. In passing, they also claimed that ‘the Lord Bulkeley’s power in the corporation of Beaumaris . . . is grown so great, that he made last year one Evans, his menial servant, chief bailiff, and one Parry, a blacksmith, the other bailiff’. Moreover, the corporation included Bulkeley’s ‘own relations, friends, servants, tenants and dependants . . . consisting entirely of such persons as are in his lordship’s interest’. There is no evidence to support the contention that bailiff Evans was Bulkeley’s ‘servant’, but a list of his domestic staff in 1706 does include one Cadwallader Williams, probably his steward, admitted a capital burgess in 1710. The intention behind these allegations may have been, as Bulkeley feared at the time of the election, to pave the way for some legislation to alter the franchise. However, during the summer of 1709 Bulkeley mobilized his supporters in Anglesey, including the Beaumaris corporation, in a concerted campaign of counter-propaganda which produced addresses and memorials in his justification and successfully drew the teeth of the opposition. The election petition was in consequence reintroduced on 28 Nov. 1709. Owen found no support in the Commons, where passions ran high and words were spoken between him and Bulkeley which almost led to a duel. The evidence presented in support of the contention that the Newborough burgesses possessed a right to vote was so weak, consisting of witnesses who remembered Hughes’s supporters coming to the election in 1698 though not actually polling, that not even the elections committee could accept it. The only satisfaction Owen and his friends could draw from the episode was that the town clerk, Griffith Parry, had spent a spell in custody for refusing to obey an order of the committee and make available charters and other papers to Whig agents.3

The dismissal of Owen’s petition seems to have ended for the time being Whig hopes of undermining the Bulkeley monopoly in the constituency. Bulkeley even contemplated a counter-attack, to hamstring the Newborough officials in their own jurisdiction, but was advised against it when he took counsel’s opinion. In the general elections of 1710 and 1713 Bertie was returned unopposed, while the corporation demonstrated its ‘ancient loyalty’ by addresses in support of the peace, at least one of them drawn up under Bulkeley’s personal supervision. It was only after the accession of George I that the Whigs resumed their campaign, enjoying in the changed political situation a swift and complete success.4

Author: D. W. Hayton


Unless otherwise stated, this article is based on the account of Anglesey politics by P. D. G. Thomas in Trans. Anglesey Antiq. Soc. 1962, pp. 35–54.

  • 1. HMC Verulam, 265; Defoe, Tour ed. Cole, ii. 462; Bodl. Willis 18, f. 25.
  • 2. UCNW, Baron Hill mss 5594, Ld. Bulkeley’s case, [1709]; NLW, Chirk Castle mss E1052, W. Eyton to Sir Richard Myddelton, 3rd Bt.*, 23 [Oct. 1695]; Trans. Anglesey Antiq. Soc. 1930, pp. 60–62; 1943, pp. 23–24.
  • 3. Trans. Anglesey Antiq. Soc. 1930, p. 63; 1943, pp. 25–26; NLW, ms 1548F, f. 33, Beaumaris election case, [1708]; Baron Hill mss 5529, memorial of Bodvel and Owen, 21 Mar. 1708–9; 6745, William Owen to William Jones, 9 Feb. 1709–10; Arch. Camb. ser. 2, ii. 235, 237; Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 538.
  • 4. Baron Hill mss 5608, opinion of Thomas Lutwyche*, 10 Mar. 1709–10; London Gazette, 31 July–2 Aug. 1712, 23–27 June 1713; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 177.