WILLIAMS, Sir Henry (c.1579/80-1636), of Gwernyfed, Aberllynfi, Brec.

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. c.1579/80,1 1st s. of David Williams† of Gwernyfed and Kingston Bagpuize, Berks. and Margery, da. of John Games of Aberbr├ón, Brec.2 educ. ?Shrewsbury sch. Salop 1589; St. John’s, Oxf. 1594, aged 15; M. Temple 1594.3 m. Eleanor (d. aft. 1662), da. of Eustace Whitney of Whitney, Herefs., 7s. inc. Henry*, 4da.4 kntd. 23 July 1603.5 suc. fa. 1613. d. 20 Oct. 1636.6 sig. Henry Williams.7

Offices Held

J.p. Brec. 1603-d. (custos rot. 1617-d.);8 steward, recvr. and kpr., lordship of Builth, Brec. 1603,9 steward, lordships of Crickhowell and Tretower, Brec. 1607-31 (sole), 1631-d. (jt.);10 commr. sewers, Mon. 1609,11 aid, Brec. 1609;12 dep. lt. Brec. by 1611-?d.;13 commr. prince’s mise, Brec. and Rad. 1611-13;14 bailiff and rent-collector, foreign rents late of Edward Stafford, duke of Buckingham 1613;15 sheriff, Brec. 1614-15, 1627-8;16 member, Council in the Marches 1617-d.;17 commr. subsidy, Brec. 1621, 1624,18 erection of shire hall, Brecon, Brec.,19 oyer and terminer, Wales 1623-6,20 repair of Brecon Castle 1624,21 Forced Loan, Brec. and Rad. 1626-7 (collector Brec.);22 commr. and collector, knighthood fines Brec. and Rad. 1630-1;23 commr. repair of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Brec. 1634.24

Member, Africa Co. 1618.25


The Williamses of Gwernyfed traced their ancestry back to the ancient kings of Britain, the lords of Brecknock and Einion Sais, but also claimed that the blood of William the Conqueror and Strongbow flowed in their veins.26 More prosaically, in the sixteenth century they were minor gentry of Ystradfellte, Breconshire, whose fortunes were transformed by the successful legal career of this Member’s father, Sir David Williams, attorney-general for south Wales and puisne justice of King’s Bench. His friend James Whitelocke*, observed that by the time of his death Sir David had acquired ‘great living and personal wealth’, which allowed him to purchase large tracts of land in Breconshire, while his marriage to the widow of John Latton of Kingston Bagpuize brought him estates in Berkshire and Oxford.27 In 1600 he acquired the mansion house of Gwernyfed (near Hay-on-Wye), which became the family seat in Breconshire. The Member was thus born into one of the most prominent and powerful dynasties in the county.

After attending university Henry Williams entered the Middle Temple, where his fine was remitted because his father was a master of the Bench. He evidently remained at the Middle Temple down to 1604, when records show that he was in expectation of a chamber. However, by this time he had been knighted (on the same day as his father), appointed to the Breconshire bench, and returned to Parliament for the second time for Brecon Boroughs, where his father was recorder.28 From October 1604 he was consistently fined for absence from Middle Temple readings, having evidently retired to Breconshire to look after the family’s Welsh interests.29 Williams made no impression on the records of the first Jacobean Parliament.

By 1607 Williams was an estate steward for the 4th earl of Worcester on some of the latter’s Breconshire lordships, Worcester having been a patron of his father. Between 1611 and 1613 Williams busied himself with levying the Prince’s mise in Breconshire and Radnorshire, and was singled out for praise as having been ‘exceeding careful to further the prince’s service ... and [having] produced ancient records for the clearing of doubts conceived by some touching the mises (so that his good affection to the service was a counterpoise to some others not so well disposed)’.30 The commissioners met at Gwernyfed, and because of Williams’ efforts Breconshire was the most forward of the Welsh counties in meeting the charge.31

Williams’ father died in January 1613, leaving him his Breconshire estates, consisting of nine manors and other smaller messuages, as well as lands in Herefordshire and Radnorshire.32 A servant was given £20 to ‘honestly and faithfully’ acquaint Sir Henry with ‘the state of my business’, which was not to be ‘meddled in’ until Sir Henry had arrived at Kingston Bagpuize.33 Shortly after his father’s death, Williams purchased the manor of Brecon from a group of Crown contractors including William Whitmore*.34 This was an impressive estate portfolio, which placed Williams at the pinnacle of the modest gentry society of early Stuart Breconshire. One would have expected Williams to put himself forward for the county seat at the 1614 election, but he evidently stood for neither the shire nor the borough. He continued to amass offices and influence, however, being appointed Breconshire’s sheriff in 1614 and, more significantly, to a seat on the Council of the Marches in 1617, in which year he also became custos of the Breconshire bench. In July 1615, he was licensed by the Crown to make oil out of ‘vines’ and soap.35

Williams was returned for the county in 1621 and 1624, but only troubled the clerk in the latter assembly, when he was nominated to committees on bills for the repeal of a branch of the Acts of Union dealing with the king’s prerogative powers in Wales (6 Mar.), and for punishing the improper use of writs of supersedeas (9 March).36 He does not seem to have pursued a parliamentary place again, but procured the return of his son as county Member while undertaking his second term as sheriff in 1628.

As with his conscientious execution of the Prince’s mise, Williams was diligent in collecting the contentious financial levies of the 1620s and early 1630s, acting as collector as well as commissioner for both the Forced Loan and knighthood compositions. He headed the list of those providing a Privy Seal loan in Breconshire with £30, and compounded at £10 for his knighthood in November 1630.37 He corresponded with the Privy Council in March 1632 about the better execution of the Book of Orders, and received thanks from the councillors in December 1635 for informing them about the collection of Ship Money in the shire.38 As the sheriff was 80 years old, the Council asked in February 1636 that the reliable Williams assist in transporting the money to London.39

Williams evidently had a taste for culture and learning. When, in 1606-7, the Pembrokeshire antiquary George Owen circulated questions regarding local customs to the gentry of Breconshire, he noted that he had received a ‘very perfect resolution of the questions’ from Sir Henry.40 Williams, moreover, wrote verse, and some of his poetry was collected in the commonplace book of fellow Breconshire man, Philip Powell.41 Williams also kept his own harpist at Gwernyfed, who toured some of the gentry houses of south Wales,42 and cultivated the Welsh enthusiasm for lineage and genealogy, commissioning at least three pedigree rolls of his family’s descent by local experts.43 Because of the multiplicity of houses which could claim descent from Einion Sais and Bleddyn ap Maernarch, in May 1627 William Segar, Garter King of Arms, ‘digested’ Sir Henry’s pedigree - effectively simplifying the many differences on his coat into a composite set of arms.44 In a panegyric to his wife, the Breconshire clergyman Rowland Watkyns referred to Williams as ‘that wise knight,/ Who was our British glory, and our light’.45

Williams drew up his will on 12 Sept. 1633, at which time he was in good health but fearful of ‘the sudden oppression of some irrevocable sickness that may not give convenient time to advise with such as are learned and judicious ... in the settling of my estate’. Having already settled most of his lands upon his heir, Henry Williams* on the latter’s marriage to Ann, daughter of (Sir) Walter Pye I*, he directed that his remaining estates be used for payment of debts and legacies, then devolve on Henry, his executor. In addition, he provided for annuities and portions for his ‘many children’ - six sons and two daughters are mentioned. He directed that his son Robert be assigned his chamber in the Middle Temple and continue in the study of the law, for which purpose Robert was also given Sir Henry’s law books, ‘either in print or manuscript’, excepting those concerning the office of magistrate. Williams made Sir Walter Pye I and William Morgan* of Y Dderw his overseers.46 One thorny issue in the will was the grant to Williams’ wife Eleanor of a substantial annuity of £420 on condition that she relinquish her jointure estates, some of which were annexed to the Gwernyfed demesne. In 1647 Dame Eleanor brought a Chancery suit against Walter Pye I’s son, Walter Pye II*, claiming that he had stopped her annuity and was withholding her jointure settlement.47

The later careers of father and son have sometimes been conflated, but Sir Henry died on 20 Oct. 1636 at Gwernyfed and was not the man who sat in 1628 and acquired a baronetcy for assisting the royalists during the Civil War. Nor was he interred near his father in St John’s Chapel, Brecon (now the cathedral), but rather in the chapel at Aberllynfi near Gwernyfed. There a classical monument was erected to his memory in which he was depicted armoured, kneeling in prayer with his wife. The chapel fell into decay in the mid-eighteenth century, however, and the monument was lost.48 Sir Henry’s will was proved by his heir on 11 Feb. 1637.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Lloyd Bowen


  • 1. C142/346/180.
  • 2. PROB 11/121, ff. 18-20; Glam. RO, CL/Ped. 45; Bodl. Add. A281, f. 237. The ped. in G.T. Clark, Limbus Patrum Morganiae et Glamorganiae, 202 is erroneous.
  • 3. Al. Ox.; MTR, 336.
  • 4. Liber Famelicus of Sir J. Whitelocke ed. J. Bruce (Cam. Soc. lxx), 30; PROB 11/173, ff. 194v-6v; R. Watkyns, Flamma Sine Fumo (1661), pp. 21-2; Arch. Camb. (ser. 4), x. 152-3.
  • 5. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 118.
  • 6. Arch. Camb. (ser. 4), x. 153.
  • 7. SP16/61/27
  • 8. JPs in Wales and Monm. ed. Phillips, 261-8; C231/4, p. 95.
  • 9. CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 14, 22.
  • 10. NLW, Badminton (manorial) I/57-70, 107-17.
  • 11. C181/2, f. 92v.
  • 12. E179/283; SP14/43/107.
  • 13. SP14/33, f. 4; Add. 10609, f. 37; NLW, Lleweni 668.
  • 14. SP46/69, f. 214; 46/70, f. 72.
  • 15. E315/310, f. 72d.
  • 16. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 239.
  • 17. Eg. 2882, ff. 82v, 162v.
  • 18. C212/22/21, 23.
  • 19. NLW, Castell Gorford B10.
  • 20. C181/3, ff. 26v, 129v, 154v, 192.
  • 21. NLW, Duchy of Cornw. SC3.
  • 22. C193/12/2, ff. 66, 76v; SP16/44/9.
  • 23. SO1/2, f. 65; E198/4/32, f. 5; LR9/106.
  • 24. GL, ms 25475/1, f. 27.
  • 25. Select Charters of Trading Cos. ed. C.T. Carr (Selden Soc. xxviii), 99.
  • 26. Glam. RO, CL/Ped. 45; Bodl. Add. A281, f. 237.
  • 27. Liber Famelicus, 30.
  • 28. NLW, Tredegar Park 120/61.
  • 29. MTR, 390, 410, 444, 446, 449, 451, 454, 458, 461.
  • 30. SP46/69, f. 214.
  • 31. SP46/70, ff. 72, 93.
  • 32. C142/346/180.
  • 33. PROB 11/121, ff. 18-20.
  • 34. C54/2176/32. Cf. NLW, Plymouth 467.
  • 35. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 291.
  • 36. CJ, i. 730a, 680a.
  • 37. E401/2586, pp. 383-4; E401/1917, unfol.
  • 38. CSP Dom. 1631-3, p. 291; 1635, pp. 524, 529.
  • 39. Ibid. 1635-6, p. 246.
  • 40. B.G. Charles, George Owen of Henllys, 134.
  • 41. Cardiff Central Lib., ms 3.42.
  • 42. Household Accts. of Sir Thomas Aubrey of Llantrithyd ed. L. Bowen (S. Wales Rec. Soc. xix), 14, 30, 46, 82, 84.
  • 43. M.P. Siddons, Welsh Ped. Rolls, 37, 47.
  • 44. Harl. 1301, pp. 22-3.
  • 45. Watkyns, 22.
  • 46. PROB 11/173, ff. 194v-6v; NLW, Gwernyfed 31.
  • 47. C2/Chas.I/W29/11.
  • 48. Arch. Camb. (ser. 4), x. 152-3; NLW, BR1648/91.