Cardiff 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 Cardiff, Aberavon, Cowbridge, Kenfig, Llantrisant, Loughor, Neath and Swansea

Number of Qualified Electors:

under 500

Number of voters:



1 Feb. 1706SIR JOHN AUBREY, Bt. vice Mansel, deceased
13 May 1708SIR JOHN AUBREY, Bt.

Main Article

The existence of so many out-boroughs in Glamorgan did not necessarily produce a large or unmanageable electorate: only Cardiff, Swansea and Neath were in any way thriving urban centres, the remainder being little more than villages. Moreover, in each case the lord of the manor could exercise, through his appointee as constable or steward, a degree of control over the government of the corporation and the admission of freemen; and where the authority of the manorial proprietor was less than absolute, borough politics tended to be oligarchic rather than popular. It is possible that the electorate became enlarged, as an indirect consequence of the factional conflicts of c.1705–8, with the various principals creating new votes in their respective boroughs: an appeal for reconciliation in 1708, which may have exaggerated the peril of public disorder at the polls, talked of ‘the great numbers concerned in the election for Cardiff’. Even so, elections remained in essence struggles between magnates, and within a few years oligarchic tendencies had reasserted themselves in at least one borough, Loughor, in a decision by the patron to restrict admissions of freemen.1

The recession of the Pembroke interest following the death in 1683 of Philip Herbert, the 7th Earl, had left the Boroughs constituency, like the county, under the sway of the combined power of the Mansels of Margam and Briton Ferry. Although the Margam branch held the lordship in only one borough, Kenfig, as against the Pembroke estate, which had at one time controlled five (Cardiff itself, Aberavon, Cowbridge, Llantrisant and Neath), they enjoyed a considerable influence in the county town, the most populous as well as the most open electorate. The Mansels of Briton Ferry had a strong foothold in their neighbouring boroughs of Aberavon and Neath, and in the decade after the Revolution the family encountered no serious opposition. The Somersets, dukes of Beaufort, who were lords in Swansea and Loughor, did not participate in Glamorgan politics until Anne’s reign. Thus in 1695, for example, the same county meeting which ratified the selection of Bussy Mansel* of Briton Ferry as knight of the shire, also settled Thomas Mansel I of Margam as the Boroughs Member. Thomas was succeeded in 1698 by his brother-in-law Sir Edward Stradling, 5th Bt., as he temporarily abandoned Parliament for foreign travel. Stradling held the seat in January 1701 but in a new atmosphere of conflict, after the Mansels had faced and defeated a sustained challenge to their ascendancy in Cardiff corporation from Sir Charles Kemys, 3rd Bt.*, a landowner in both Glamorgan and Monmouthshire who had previously been returned for the latter county but now found himself obliged to look elsewhere for his election. Kemys had acquired by 1700 the office of constable of Cardiff Castle, which he used to build up a following of his own in the town. (He does not appear to have made similar efforts in Cowbridge and Llantrisant, where the Cardiff constable also acted as mayor.) The ensuing political warfare terminated before the general election, but it cannot properly be understood except in this wider political context. At stake was control of the town, and thus of more than a third of the parliamentary electorate of the Boroughs (Cardiff boasted as many as 240 freemen in 1706), besides the nomination of the bailiffs, the returning officers. Ostensibly the occasion was a dispute over the allocation of a charge of £600 levied on the county for the repair of the town bridge. Kemys put himself at the head of local resistance, which had manifested itself in the withholding of payments by members of the corporation. The election of bailiffs in October 1700, with its obvious repercussions in the forthcoming parliamentary election, was a critical point. Kemys wrote to his wife some days before the event:

I think it very unreasonable that it should be thought the election of a bailiff shall be as tumultuous as a Parliament-man, and for three justices of the county to concern themselves in the election of bailiffs seems particularly odd to me, for by the same sort of reason, all the rest of the justices of the county that are out-burgesses may do the same; and there will be a fine hurly-burly, and must produce a great deal of good!

Clearly Kemys wished to present himself as the champion of the townsmen against external gentry interests, as personified by the Mansels and their allies, but the reality may well have been somewhat different. Antagonism between borough oligarchs and interloping country gentlemen was not a feature of politics in any of the local towns: indeed it has been argued that this period witnessed a progressive social and political integration of urban and rural elites. The character of the conflict seems to have been merely factional. Certainly, partisan loyalties were confused. Kemys was a former High Tory turned Court Whig, while the Mansels had once been Whigs, and retained some old Exclusionists among their adherents, but were in the process of becoming Tories: Sir Edward Mansel, 4th Bt.†, may still have been Whiggish in his sympathies; his son and heir Thomas I, was a Tory of a high strain. For all Kemys’s wooing of the corporation, the bailiffs’ election went against him. Undismayed, he refused to swear the pro-Mansel candidates. As ill-feeling reached a peak, Sir Edward Mansel resorted to threats of physical violence to intimidate his opponents. Finally, a writ of mandamus put an end to Kemys’s resistance and re-established Mansel’s supremacy. The constable’s place was removed from Kemys (who died not long afterwards) and given to Thomas Mansel II of Briton Ferry, Bussy Mansel’s heir, who was himself returned instead of Stradling in the election of December 1701.2

The next two general elections saw the outgoing Member re-elected without difficulty, but by 1705 several developments had occurred that boded ill for the Mansels. Most significant in the long run was the awakening of the Beaufort interest under the 2nd Duke. Prior to 1700 the Somersets had been absentee landlords, content to work their estates through established local figures who neither in religion nor in politics shared their High Church Toryism. Now the west Glamorgan property was being more closely and efficiently administered by a steward appointed from outside the county, Gabriel Powell, who quickly set about expanding Beaufort influence in Swansea’s corporation. Economic factors were also favourable: there was competition between the local, Beaufort-owned collieries and those of the Mansels at Margam and Briton Ferry; and, in a more general way, the reorientation of Swansea’s trade towards the port of Bristol may have resulted in the importation of Bristol’s popular Toryism, which seems to have travelled to its trading hinterland, a long-term trend that elsewhere was assisting the consolidation of Mansel influence in Cardiff. At the same time the Pembroke interest was undergoing a minor revival, as a consequence of the acquisition of much of the Herberts’ property and several of their lordships by Lord Windsor (Thomas*), who had married the Pembroke heiress. The extent of Pembroke influence had, however, contracted since 1683. By virtue of his ownership of Cardiff Castle, Windsor was the lord of Cardiff itself, Cowbridge and Llantrisant, where his constable could confer freedom on whomsoever he pleased. In practice, the Mansels’ claim to the office of constable and their powerful position within Cardiff corporation devalued the lord’s authority. An agent of Windsor was informed that the Cardiff freemen were ‘much inclined to the other side by reason that my lord has no lands or coal to supply them with, which conveniencies they have from the other side’. In the two other boroughs in which he was lord and which had their own constable, Aberavon and Neath, Windsor’s governance was similarly circumscribed in that the constable, in this case the redoubtable Sir Humphrey Mackworth*, exercised a preponderant influence in his own right. Windsor, therefore, was never likely to be more than a junior partner in any alliance. The arrival of Mackworth as a force to be reckoned with in Glamorgan politics constituted the third threat to the Mansel supremacy, and the one whose short-term effects were the most spectacular. Like Beaufort in Swansea, Mackworth’s interest at Neath (the most important of the two boroughs in which he acted as constable, and where at first he concentrated his energies) was supported by his ownership of the most imposing property in the town, the Gnoll, and also of a major industrial enterprise, in his case collieries and a smelting-works, both of which he was intent on expanding. There were complications in obtaining a political dividend from this financial investment, in that the economic interests of Sir Humphrey and the Neath burgesses were by no means identical. In particular, Mackworth’s schemes to make use of his coal locally, in his own manufactures, instead of exporting it and paying a toll, and his construction of a special wharf so that his ships need not use the corporation’s quay, deprived the borough of customary revenues. So that although, as he claimed, his ventures had recovered prosperity for what had previously been a declining town, he had done so at the cost of alienating the established merchant oligarchy. The corporation had already shown an independent streak before Mackworth acquired the constable’s place in 1703, resolving in 1701 that it was exempt from manorial jurisdiction, and with his assumption of the office came a full-scale ‘mutiny’. The spirit of resistance was doubtless encouraged by Thomas Mansel II of Briton Ferry, whose estate lay adjacent and who owned two manors in the borough and possibly controlled a third. Mackworth’s battles with the Neath burgesses were one aspect of his politico-economic struggle against the Mansel family, and they were not won until 1706–7 when, after the corporation had refused freedom to a number of Sir Humphrey’s nominees, a quo warranto brought them to heel. The pro-Mackworth faction took control and satisfactory agreements were concluded between the burgesses and Mackworth’s Mines Adventurers’ Company over such matters as the loading and unloading of company goods. At the time that Mackworth made a preliminary attempt on the Boroughs constituency in the 1705 general election he could not even be sure of carrying the Neath freemen, and did not proceed to a poll.3

By 1705 the ingredients of a powerful anti-Mansel coalition were in existence. The catalyst for their amalgamation was the by-election of February 1706, to replace the deceased Thomas Mansel II. Thomas Mansel I, to whom control of the Briton Ferry estate had descended, was now the effective head of the family (and was to succeed his father in the baronetcy later in the year). He was also a close friend of Robert Harley* and had adhered to his mentor, and to the Court, in the ministerial reconstruction of 1704. Perhaps for reasons of national politics, he overlooked the claims of local Tories to the Cardiff vacancy and recommended instead a Whig, Sir John Aubrey, 3rd Bt., the scion of an old Glamorgan family but now resident in Buckinghamshire. Specifically, he overlooked the claim of Stradling, whom the Mansels had previously dropped without ceremony in December 1701, and from whom Thomas was now estranged by a legal squabble. Stradling did not as yet give full rein to his resentment, and there was no contest: the Post Boy reported that Aubrey was chosen ‘unanimously’. But a correspondent of Beaufort (evidently a local agent) gave an indication of what might have been:

if Sir Ed[ward] Stradling had not declined standing at Cardiff your grace’s friends were very [?rife] and would have made a handsome appearance, which was a great affliction to [the] other side to find so unusual an opposition in those parts, where they used formerly to carry away the greatest number.

This letter goes on to give a glimpse of the way the Beaufort interest was being reinforced in Swansea, whose portreeve at this time was the Duke’s steward, Powell:

this alteration in a great measure proceeds from the zeal and integrity and interest of your grace’s present officers on the place, and your grace’s countenancing of them, who have fair characters in the country, will be a means to preserve your grace’s interest there. One thing I humbly beg your grace’s directions in, knowing something of the temper of these burgesses, in what manner your grace will [be] pleased to take notice of their affections: which would engage them against another time and I do believe they would be very proud to receive.

A delayed reaction against Mansel’s high-handedness and injustice to Stradling manifested itself in the following September, when ‘the gentlemen of the country’ pressed Mansel to accept his brother-in-law as Boroughs Member at the next general election. ‘He refusing, Captain Jenkins has declared he will oppose him for the county, and Sir Edward Stradling will stand for the borough.’ Behind this gentry revolt stood the figures of Beaufort, Windsor and Mackworth. ‘I fear in my heart’, wrote one sympathizer, ‘Mansel will be hard put to it.’ Even so, Mansel did not lack resources. At Kenfig, his own borough, he organized the granting of freedom to batches of his friends’ tenants. At Cardiff he faced an attempt on the part of Lord Windsor to regain control of the constable’s office by assuming the post himself and nominating Stradling as his deputy. Mansel’s supporters in the corporation refused to accept bailiffs sworn by Stradling and brought in new freemen to swell their numbers, while at the same time the principle that the lord could not act as his own constable was established in the law courts. At Aberavon voters were offered ‘gifts of coal and other necessities’, and pressure was brought to bear on the portreeve. Neath, too, saw Mansel’s interest uppermost at first, especially among the ‘out-burgesses’, and although by 1707 Mackworth had secured a degree of control and purged some 23 of his opponents there was still optimism in the Margam camp that their cause would receive a favourable reception among some of the Neath burgesses. Nevertheless, Mansel was not so perfectly sanguine about his prospects as to be averse to a compromise of any sort, and, possibly for reasons connected with the rapprochement of moderate and High Tories at Westminster, he and Beaufort agreed in April 1708 to recommend ‘a reconciliation of all our friends’ in Glamorgan, and an agreement in both the county and the Boroughs by which the anti-Mansel candidates should withdraw. Stradling complied but then at last insisted on opposing Aubrey’s re-election, only to be ‘forsaken by his party’, because, as one observer wrote, ‘he would not cast lots’. Despite this outburst of petulance, Stradling was lastingly ‘reconciled’ to Mansel before the 1710 election, when the Tory magnates were acting in complete unison and Stradling was returned unopposed, a state of affairs which prevailed again three years later. At least, Mansel and Beaufort had achieved an understanding, backed by Windsor. Whether or not Mackworth played any part is unknown. It is unlikely, however, that even with his subsequent purchases of property from Windsor, he would have been able on his own to break the dominant consensus.4

Author: D. W. Hayton


Unless otherwise stated, this article is based on the accounts by P. D. G. Thomas in Morgannwg, vi. 53–61 and Glam. Co. Hist. iv. 396–404.

  • 1. L. B. John, ‘Parl. Rep. Glam. 1536–1832’ (Wales Univ. M.A. thesis, 1934), 7, 19–20, 22–29, 51; Welsh Hist. Rev. xii. 182, 190; Morgannwg, vii. 79; Bodl. Willis 10, ff. 44, 46; Hist. Jnl. xxviii. 105–7; Beaufort mss at Badminton House, Beaufort and Sir Thomas Mansel to the gent. of Glam. [Apr. 1708]; D. R. Phillips, Vale of Neath, 351.
  • 2. Welsh Hist. Rev. 183–5, 191; Univ. Coll. Swansea, Mackworth mss, list of Cardiff burgesses in 1706.
  • 3. John, 32, 74–76, 99; P. Jenkins, Making of a Ruling Class, 57–60; Hist. Jnl. 104–6, 111, 114–17; Welsh Hist. Rev. 193–5; Morgannwg, vii. 93–97; Mackworth mss, [–] to Stradling, 7 Oct. 1706; Phillips, 57–58, 234–7, 701, 704; G.G. Francis, Smelting of Copper in Swansea District (1881), 92–94; Evans thesis, 22–35, 37–43; Cat. Penrice and Margam Mss, iv(1), 317; W. de G. Birch, Neath Abbey, 282.
  • 4. Post Boy, 5–7 Feb. 1706; Add. 38175, ff. 188, 194; Portreeves and Mayors of Swansea, 9; Jenkins, 147–9; Cardiff Recs. ed. Matthews, ii. 458–62; NLW, Penrice and Margam mss L570, Stradling to Mackworth, 17 Mar. 1706–7; L1443, Richard Carne to Sir Thomas Mansel, 15 Apr. [1708]; L678, Stradling to same, 17 May 1710; Mackworth mss, lists of freeholders and burgesses of Neath, Oct. 1706; The Case of Sir Humphrey Mackworth . . . (1707), 3–5; HMC Portland, iv. 489–90; Phillips, 31–35.