Caernarvon Boroughs

Linked borough

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 freemen of Caernarvon, Conway, Criccieth, Nevin and Pwllheli

Number of Qualified Electors:

probably under 300 in 1685

Number of voters:

1,597 in 1722


10 Aug. 1698SIR JOHN WYNN, Bt.
17 Jan. 1701SIR JOHN WYNN, Bt.
4 Dec. 1701SIR JOHN WYNN, Bt.
31 July 1702SIR JOHN WYNN,
18 Sept. 1713THOMAS WYNN
 William Owen

Main Article

The borough seat at Caernarvonshire, like that for the county, was under the undisputed control of the leading Tory interests for most of this period. Sir Robert Owen, the outgoing Member in 1690, was safely re-elected twice, dying shortly before the dissolution of the 1695 Parliament. His successor, Sir John Wynn, 5th Bt., was similarly untroubled by a contest, and graduated to the county representation in 1705, whereupon he was replaced by one of the Bulkeleys of Baron Hill, Anglesey, emerging now as the dominant force on the Tory side. In 1708 the young William Griffith, a cousin of the 4th Viscount Bulkeley (Richard*), and himself the scion of a redoubtable parliamentary family, took over as borough Member as part of the agreement he and Lord Bulkeley had made with Sir John Wynn and Sir Roger Mostyn, 3rd Bt.*, over the county election. The new Whig interest, headed by Thomas Wynn of Glynnllivon, which in due course was to upset the Tory apple-cart, does not appear to have made any impact yet in the Boroughs, even though two of the out-boroughs lay under the influence of Wynn and his allies: Nevin, where Wynn himself held sway, and Pwllheli, where his kinsmen the Vaughans of Cors-y-Gedol, Merioneth, were predominant. Of the other out-boroughs, Criccieth was under the control of the Tory Owens of Brogyntyn, while Conway’s freemen seem not to have looked to the patronage of any proprietorial interest. It is conceivable that an increase in 1707 in the number of freemen admitted in Conway does indicate some kind of preliminary agitation there, but the borough did not have an especially significant role to play in subsequent elections. The most important of the Boroughs was of course Caernarvon itself, and here the Bulkeleys could exert a strong influence. They were not, however, unchallenged, and it was in Caernarvon that the first stirrings of opposition were felt. The power to admit freemen of Caernarvon was vested in the two bailiffs of the town, and in 1709 one of Lord Bulkeley’s bitterest enemies, Lloyd Bodvel, a pillar of the Whig faction on Anglesey and in Caernarvonshire, ‘procured himself to be elected one of the bailiffs’ and exploited his position to ‘make several burgesses’ in order ‘to oppose his lordship’s interest in the Boroughs’. Bodvel’s delay in qualifying himself according to the requirements of the Corporation Act offered Bulkeley an opportunity to counter-attack, which he took by initiating a legal process against Bodvel under the terms of the Act. The 1710 election came too soon for this case to affect the voting rights of Bodvel’s new freemen, and it would seem that Bulkeley most probably followed the advice of his counsel to ‘make burgesses’ of his own, so as ‘to make a number for a majority, and if the adversary think themselves [sic] aggrieved and petition, let the Parliament (which I believe will be a good one) determine the validity of ’em’. One plan (which may have been carried out) was for Bodvel’s colleague to ‘admit some burgesses . . . to balance’ on the last court day before the next election for bailiffs, due on 29 Sept. 1710, using the pretext of the current action against Bodvel to exclude him from these proceedings. Two pro-Bulkeley bailiffs would then be chosen, which would restore control of the borough to the Tories.1

The successful re-election of William Griffith in 1710 did not, however, represent a lasting victory for the Bulkeley interest. Nor did the eventual acquisition by Lord Bulkeley in September 1713 of the constableship of Caernarvon Castle, a place whose incumbent was ex officio mayor of the town, and which had hitherto been held since the Revolution by the Whiggish Earl of Radnor (Charles Bodvile Robartes†), a distant relative of Thomas Wynn. Indeed, this grant helped precipitate the reversal of alliances in 1713 that overturned the Bulkeley hegemony. Griffith, among other things disappointed in his own hopes of the constableship, turned against Lord Bulkeley and joined forces with Wynn. In the 1713 election Griffith put up for the county and Wynn for the Boroughs, where he was opposed by William Owen of Brogyntyn. Wynn exploited to the full Whig dominance over Nevin and Pwllheli: between 1707 and 1713 689 new freemen were created in the former borough, his own, and 174 in the latter, where previously the combined electorate had numbered only 60. The challenge to the Bulkeley interest also continued at Caernarvon. In September and October 1712 Bulkeley’s agents had created over 140 Caernarvon freemen in order to bolster Bulkeley’s interest for the forthcoming election of the borough’s bailiffs. Wynn later claimed that at this election the ‘old burgesses’ proceeded to choose two bailiffs opposed to the Bulkeley interest, but that through the support of the ‘new pretended burgesses’ Bulkeley’s candidates were declared elected and sworn bailiffs. This led to a case in Queen’s bench where an information was granted against Bulkeley’s bailiffs, and the consequence was that at the 1713 parliamentary election both sides had its own pair of bailiffs, leading to confusion at the poll before Wynn was eventually declared elected. The ‘mayor’, ‘bailiffs’ and 29 other freemen petitioned the Commons against the return of Wynn, alleging that after the mayor and bailiffs had made appropriate preparations for the poll Wynn’s counsel had requested to see the precept, but then refused to return it, a denial which occasioned ‘a tumult’. The mayor and bailiffs consequently withdrew from the court of election and, the petition claimed, two ‘pretended bailiffs’ proceeded to elect and return Wynn. Wynn’s manuscript answer to this case placed a different interpretation upon events, denying the legality of the bailiffs elected in the Bulkeley interest in October 1712. Consequently, Wynn stated, his counsel had merely handed the precept to the legal bailiffs, and his election had been conducted by the properly elected returning officers. He also claimed that it had been Lord Bulkeley and his supporters who, having lost the precept, had ‘raised a clamour’ with the aim of justifying an adjournment of the court of election on the grounds of riot. A motion to hear the petition at the bar was defeated, and it was instead referred to the elections committee, from where it was never reported. Bulkeley lost the constableship of Caernarvon Castle on the Hanoverian succession. With the defeat of an Owen candidate in 1722 and the appointment of Thomas Wynn as constable two years later, Glynnllivon control of the seat was assured.2

Author: D. W. Hayton


Unless otherwise stated, this article is based on the account of Caernarvonshire elections by P. D. G. Thomas in Trans. Caern. Hist. Soc. xix. 42–46.

  • 1. UCNW, Baron Hill mss 1809; 5587, Richard Hartcourt to Bulkeley, 9 Sept. 1710; 5590, case of Lloyd Bodvel, n.d.; 5591, ‘Ld. Bulkeley’s case’, 21 Mar. 1708–9; 5592, [–] to [–], n.d.; 5593, notes concerning Bulkeley v. Bodvel, [c.Aug.-Sept. 1710]; 5594, ‘Ld. Bulkeley’s case’, n.d.; 5595A, memo., n.d.; 5596, Hugh Griffith to Bulkeley, 8 Mar. 1710[–11].
  • 2. CSP Dom. 1689–90, p. 465; Baron Hill mss 6772, [–] to Bulkeley, 23 Oct. 1712; NLW, Llanfair and Brynodol mss B96; B100, petition of mayor, bailiffs and burgesses, [1714]; B104, Wynn’s answer, [1714]; B106, ‘an abstract of the case’, n.d.; B115, Bulkeley to Hugh [Griffith], 6 Mar. 1713[–14]