New Radnor Boroughs


Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen of New Radnor, Rhayader, Knighton, Knucklas and Cefnllys

Number of voters:

over 300


 Sir Allen Brodrick
 Richard Derham
14 Oct. 1679GRIFFITH JONES, sen.
15 Nov. 1680GRIFFITH JONES, jun. vice Jones, deceased
  Double return.
14 Mar. 1681SIR JOHN MORGAN, Bt.
 Thomas Harley
30 Mar. 1685OWEN WYNNE
 William Probert

Main Article

None of the six Members who actually sat in this period resided in any of the Radnorshire boroughs; three were Englishmen and one a North Walian. For the first 20 years of the period the Harley interest was dominant, though acquired, as their opponents pointed out, ‘in the worst of times’. Edward Harley had been one of the corporation of New Radnor (the ‘Twenty-Five’) since about 1647, and at the Restoration his brothers were respectively recorder of New Radnor and steward of the crown manors, thus controlling between them the burgess rolls of four of the contributory boroughs. But in August 1660 Robert Harley I was replaced as steward by Lord Carbery, the lord president of Wales, who at the following general election nominated a stranger, apparently the courtier Sir Allen Brodrick. Thomas Harley, the recorder, wrote to his brother Edward on the morrow of the election:

There was a great appearance for you from the outboroughs. Those that appeared most openly and earnestly against you and for Sir A. Br. (though when they saw I was come to town with such a number they would have urged Nicholas Tailor or some other of the corporation to have stood) were Mr George Gwynne, Griffith Jones, Herbert Weston and his son. They endeavoured what they could to put off the election to baffle the bailiff (who carried himself honestly and well), pretending [first, that] the poll was denied (which is not so) and then that the out-boroughs had no voices, with other like cavils; but there were not at last above twelve that declared for Sir A. and you had two more of the burgesses of Radnor for you than he had. ... Evan Davies, the high sheriff, hath been very civil in this business. I understand there was some difference between him and [the] Earl of Carbery, and that Sir A. being a stranger was not very grateful to some of the corporation.

Jones talked of getting up a double return and then of removing Thomas Harley from office but it all came to nothing.1

Harley retained his seat in the first election of 1679, though in a somewhat doubtful manner. His opponent Richard Derham was remembrancer of London: younger son of a Norfolk baronet, he had married the daughter of Robert Danvers and presumably acquired her property at Knighton and elsewhere in Radnorshire as Jones’s tenant. In his petition Derham claimed to have been elected for the boroughs of ‘Radnor, Knighton, Huntley, Painscastle, Rhayader, Kevenlys, etc.’ and complained that Harley had been chosen ‘by a surprise very early in the morning with 16 of the capital burgesses of Radnor in a clandestine manner, excluding all the rest of the burgesses, above 300 in number’. Thomas Harley, on the other hand, asserted that the out-boroughs had been represented at the election at New Radnor: ‘This was done in the court-house there openly, freely, without contest or opposition or demanding the poll on any person’s behalf, only one person (Alban Massey) said he was for his landlord’. Derham submitted no less than three petitions to the first Exclusion Parliament, but though the Harleys agreed in their confidential correspondence that the pretensions of New Radnor were unjust, the decision of the House in the Montgomery Boroughs case permitted the exclusion of the out-boroughs. The committee of elections never reported on Derham’s petitions, but his good intentions were rewarded by the Government with a knighthood.2

In the summer of 1679 Harley became aware that ‘the Radnor burgesses are likely to express themselves unkindly towards one that hath deserved better from them’, and at the next election he was replaced by Jones. By this time Harley’s Herefordshire rival, Sir Herbert Croft, held a mortgage on Jones’s entire estate, and he was probably responsible for the candidature. On Jones’s death, his son contested the seat with an unscrupulous Breconshire lawyer called Marmaduke Gwynne (apparently no kin to the county Member, Sir Rowland Gwynne). Jones’s return was signed by the bailiff of New Radnor and 52 burgesses, while Gwynne plainly enjoyed the support of the out-boroughs. The sheriff, it was noted, had sent a summons to Painscastle but not to Knucklas; nevertheless the bailiffs of both boroughs signed Gwynne’s return. Again no decision was reached by the House.3

In 1681, a new court candidate, Sir John Morgan, who had married a Radnorshire heiress, was returned, despite a premature announcement in a London Whig news-sheet that Thomas Harley had been elected. His indenture was signed by Jones and Sir Rowland Gwynne, who was probably more interested in crushing the Harley interest than in forwarding the Whig cause. At the next general election Morgan, like Sir Edward Harley before him, moved over to Herefordshire as knight of the shire, but he was doubtless responsible for a loyal address from the inhabitants of New Radnor in November. The stewardship of the crown manors was now in the safe hands of Charles Somerset, and in James II’s Parliament the New Radnor boroughs were represented by Owen Wynne, a court lawyer from North Wales.4

The election of 1689, fought between two country gentlemen who were anything but prominent partisans, again illustrated the mutual jealousy of New Radnor and the out-boroughs. The Rhayader burgesses decided not to attend out of loyalty to the Harleys, but William Probert, hearing ‘by accident’ of the election, brought about 100 burgesses from two of the other boroughs to vote for Richard Williams. No other candidate appeared, and the bailiff of New Radnor declared Williams elected to the acclamations of the crowd, estimated at about 200. Probert demanded that he should be allowed to sign the indenture, but the bailiff, perhaps genuinely misunderstanding the instructions in the Prince’s letter, said there was no indenture to be signed; the return was to be by certificate under the common seal of the corporation. Probert then demanded a poll, which the bailiff refused, saying (it was alleged) that the outburgesses had no right to vote when one of the Twenty-Five was a candidate. Thereupon Probert’s supporters held an indignation meeting and collected 70 signatures for him; but the bailiff remained inflexible. Everyone else seems to have assumed the return would be declared void. Robert Harley II was encouraged by his father to stand, but he recognized that 21 of the corporation were for James Morgan (Sir John’s brother) who was expected to lose his seat at Weobley on petition. Sir Rowland Gwynne’s brother talked of looking for voices for himself. Williams was incensed against Sir Edward Harley, who, he wrote, was helping Probert and attacking the New Radnor charter by insisting on the rights of the out-boroughs. But all this activity was fruitless, for the committee of elections reported in Williams’s favour and the House concurred. More important was the grant to Sir Rowland Gwynne of the stewardship of the crown manors, for this prefigured the concerted attack by Gwynne and Thomas Coningsby on the Harley interest on both sides of the border, which was to distinguish the next general election.5

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. CSP Dom. 1660-1, pp. 67, 140, 210, 398; BL Loan 29/79, Thomas to Edward Harley, 30 Apr., 7, 14 May 1661.
  • 2. HMC Lords, ii. 311-12; C6/19/75; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Pw2Hy 190; BL Loan 29/79, Thomas to Sir Edward Harley, 21 Mar., 1, 4 Apr. 1679; HMC Portland, viii. 15.
  • 3. BL Loan 29/140, Sir Edward to Robert Harley, 30 July [1679]; C5/508/15; W. R. Williams, Gt. Sessions in Wales, 112.
  • 4. Prot. Dom. Intell. 15 Mar. 1681; Luttrell, i. 145; Cal. Treas. Bks. vii. 578; London Gazette, 26 Nov. 1681.
  • 5. BL Loan 29/79, Thomas to Sir Edward Harley, 13 Feb. [1689]; HMC Portland, iii. 421, 426, 429; v. 645; Add. 40621, f. 18; CJ, x. 87-88; CSP Dom. 1689-90, p. 89.