STEPNETH, Alban (d.1611), of Prendergast, Pemb.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
3rd s. of Thomas Stepneth of St. Albans, Herts. by Dorothy, da. of John Winde of Ramsay, Lincs. educ. Christ’s, Camb. 1552; Clement’s Inn. m. (1) 1565, Margaret (or Ann), da. and coh. of Thomas Cathern of Prendergast, s.p.; (2) Mary, da. and coh. of William Philipps of Picton, 3s. 2da.1
Receiver and registrar, St. David’s diocese 1561; sheriff; Pemb. 1572-3, 1589-90, 1604-5, Carm. 1596-7; j.p. Haverfordwest; j.p. Pemb. from c.1575, ?Carm. 1585; commr. tanneries Pemb. 1574, goods of Sir John Perrot 1592, goods of the Earl of Essex 1602; dep. lt. Pemb. 1602.2
The family of Stepneth or Stepney (the first form being in more general use till the seventeenth century) rose to local eminence in Hertfordshire in the fifteenth century and profited by the dissolution of St. Albans abbey in the sixteenth. Alban Stepneth moved to Carmarthenshire in 1561, when his relative by marriage, Richard Davies, was translated from the see of St. Asaph to that of St. David’s and took up residence at the episcopal palace of Abergwili.3
Four years after his arrival in the county Stepneth married one of the four coheirs of Thomas Cathern of Prendergast, who owned extensive estates in Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire. Not long after the marriage, his wife died and after arbitration Stepneth received Prendergast in 1573, with much of its surrounding territory and further lands in Abergwili. Stepneth’s kinsman, Thomas Woodford, also married into the Cathern family, acquiring thereby the estate of Castell Pigyn near Abergwili, part of which Stepneth purchased from him in 1579 in order to round off his own estate. Stepneth’s second marriage, into the Philipps family of Picton, further increased the number of his West Wales connexions: an undated list of kin drawn up by him, and preserved among the papers of one of them (George Owen of Henllys), runs to several pages and includes nearly every family of note in Pembrokeshire and several from adjoining shires. In these circumstances it is not surprising that he should have been chosen for the shrievalty and for Parliament within a dozen years of his arrival.4
It was also inevitable that he should have been drawn into the family feuds which went with these connexions. Both families into which Stepneth had married had longstanding feuds with Sir John Perrot. In 1571 a dispute arose over the disappearance of victuals despatched by Stepneth for Perrot’s forces in Ireland, but Stepneth was exonerated by the Privy Council when the case came before them in 1573.5
Meanwhile Perrot’s absence in Ireland emboldened his enemies to put up Stepneth as candidate in the 1571 elections at Haverfordwest, a borough usually under Perrot’s control. Stepneth stood against Perrot’s protégé, John Garnons. The borough officials, however, had been appointed during Perrot’s mayoralty the preceding year, and the sheriff barefacedly returned Garnons on a minority vote—an offence for which he was fined and imprisoned by the Star Chamber. At the 1572 election, with officials appointed in Perrot’s continued absence, Stepneth was returned for Haverfordwest and his father-in-law Philipps for the shire. He kept the seat in the elections of 1584 and 1586, when Perrot was again in Ireland, but for the 1589 Parliament, after the great man’s return and resumption of borough control, Stepneth had to look for another seat.
By By this time he had come under the patronage of the 2nd Earl of Essex, whose father had been patron to Stepneth’s relative, Bishop Davies. It was Essex who recommended Stepneth in 1583 as a j.p. for Carmarthenshire, and to the same patronage may be attributed his election for Cardigan Boroughs (where the return of Ferdinando Gorges and Thomas Rawlins at the next two elections can also be traced to the Earl’s influence). Stepneth subscribed £50 towards the Cadiz expedition in 1596. After the execution of Essex, Stepneth was appointed as one of the commissioners for the dead man’s goods and chattels. He made little mark in Parliament. He was put on a committee concerning vicars and curates, 13 Mar. 1576, and on 11 Feb. 1585 was responsible for having one Anthony Kirk committed to the serjeant’s custody for serving a subpoena on him as he was coming to the House. He obtained £3 6s.8d. compensation for Kirk, who was released on 16 Feb.6
Stepneth steadily accumulated property in the three shires of West Wales. In Haverfordwest itself he early acquired enough burgages to qualify as a burgess, and he farmed the tithe of the borough’s most ancient church. He also built there a new water mill, the subject of long-drawn-out Exchequer suits with William Morgan, a prosperous tailor and a champion of the Perrot faction in the borough, who claimed that it interfered with the town mills which had come into his possession. Similar charges were preferred by Stepneth himself in the same court against another fellow-burgess in respect of a mill in the crown lordship of Rhosmarket, south of the borough (part of the spoils of the dissolved preceptory of Slebech), the manorial rights of which he had acquired with the rectorial tithe; he further added charges of unlawful enclosure and conversion of arable to pasture.7
He was well placed, by his diocesan offices and the complaisance of his relative the bishop, for profitable traffic in tithes, notably of Slebech and of the former college of Abergwili, where Thomas Woodford had been receiver general since 1568. Here complaint was made against Stepneth in 1594 to the Exchequer court by the 22 prebendaries (now attached to Henry VIII’s substitute foundation of Christ’s College, Brecon) of unlawful detention of tithe. Bishop Davies died in 1581, and there followed the unhappy episcopate of Marmaduke Middleton, who would not have Stepneth as his registrar and receiver. Stepneth took a prominent part in the proceedings against Middleton which began in 1587, and ended in the bishop’s suspension in 1590 and deposition in 1592. In 1590 Stepneth was arraigned by the attorney-general before the Exchequer on a charge of tampering with the temporalities of the see during the suspension.8
Both his private and public conduct were frequently under fire. In 1589 he was outlawed for non-appearance in court to answer for a small debt. His appointment as j.p. was cavilled at, during the episcopate of Richard Davies, on the ground that he was in the bishop’s ‘livery’; and in 1598 he was summoned before the Exchequer by two Carmarthenshire litigants who claimed that during his year as sheriff he had impeded the settlement of a private debt by unlawful seizure of the chattels concerned. As deputy woodward he was prosecuted, at the very end of the reign, for spoil of timber in Canyston wood, part of the royal forest of Narbeth. On the other hand, he was assiduous in measures for the safety of the Pembrokeshire coast, and in particular the defence of Milford Haven, against Spanish attack, and later as sheriff in alerting the countryside against the danger of invasion during the panic following the Gunpowder Plot.9
The malice of old enemies pursued him into James I’s reign. After William Morgan’s death his daughter’s guardian, William Warren of Trewern (Nevern), brought against Stepneth five Star Chamber suits and one in the Exchequer, reviving the old quarrel about Haverfordwest mills and the settlement of Sir John Perrot’s estate, and impugning Stepneth’s conduct as sheriff in 1604-5. Stepneth riposted by prosecuting one of Warren’s backers for perjury. He was also able to gloat over Warren’s discomfiture when at the beginning of the second session of Parliament the latter was reprimanded at the bar of the House for serving a process on Stepneth after his election. Warren’s plea that he supposed Stepneth’s duties as sheriff would keep him from the House, as they had done in the preceding session, is belied by the fact that in the course of that session he had sat on the committee for the bill on scandalous ministers—a subject on which he spoke again in May 1606.10
He did not long survive the dissolution of Parliament. In his will, dated 30. Apr. 1611, proved 19 Nov. the same year, apart from provision for his sons and daughters, he left £5 for charitable uses in each of the parishes of St. Albans, Hertford, Carmarthen and Haverfordwest; £1 for the repair of St. David’s cathedral; and £2 to the parish church of Prendergast. The Stepneys (as they came to call themselves) remained a force in the politics of Pembrokeshire until in the eighteenth century they disposed of their estates there, and afterwards in the politics of Carmarthenshire and Monmouthshire until the male line died out in 1825.11
Ref Volumes: 1558-1603
- 1. West Wales Hist. Recs. vii. 118-20; Dwnn, Vis. Wales, i. 135, 180; DWB, 924. The matriculation date is taken from Biog. Reg. Christ’s Coll. ed. Peile, i. 51.
- 2. West Wales Hist. Recs. loc. cit.; Add. Chart 39994; Lansd. 53, f. 182; 156, f. 366; Exchequer, ed. E. G. Jones (Univ. Wales Bd. of Celtic Studies, Hist. and Law ser. iv), 90; Flenley, Cal. Reg. Council, Marches of Wales, 126, 140, 236; Harl. 6993, f. 116; Arch. Camb. (ser. 3), xi. 123, 130; xii. 324, 481-4; APC, xxxii. 282.
- 3. Trans. Carm. Antiq. Soc. x. 58, 84.
- 4. West Wales Hist. Recs. vii. 118-20; PCC 87 Wood; Arch. Camb. (ser. 2) v. 35-8.
- 5. APC, viii. 51-2, 190-1; Flenley, 63-4.
- 6. EHR, lxi. 18-27; Neale, Commons, 255-60; HMC Bath, v. 263; Arch. Camb. (ser. 5), xiii. 193-211; CJ, i. 115; D’Ewes, 348, 350.
- 7. G. Williams, Bywyd ac amserau ’r Esgob Richard Davies, 67; Neale, 256, 257; Add. Chart 32973; Exchequer, ed. T. I. J. Jones (Univ. Wales Bd. of Celtic Studies, Hist. and Law ser. xv), 291; Exchequer, ed. E. G. Jones (same ser. iv), 297-8, 300-1; West Wales Hist. Recs. vii. 122-4.
- 8. Harl. Chart 83 H16; West Wales Hist. Recs. vii. 122-4; G. Williams, 66; Exchequer, ed. E. G. Jones, 38, 305; HMC Hatfield, iv. 279-84.
- 9. Add. Chart 1861; Lansd. 53, f. 182; Exchequer, ed. E. G. Jones, 122, 309-10; Arch. Camb. (ser. 2), v. 33-41; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, pp. 267-8, 309; HMC Hatfield, xvii. 485.
- 10. Star Chamber, ed. Edwards (Univ. Wales Bd. of Celtic Studies, Hist. and Law ser. i), 210-12; Exchequer, ed. T. I. J. Jones, 291, 294; CJ, i. 237; 313; R. Bowyer, Diary, ed. Wilson, 37, 45-6.
- 11. PCC 87 Wood; DWB, 924.