HUGHES, Owen (d. 1708), of Beaumaris and Llysdulas, nr. Amlwch, Anglesey
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Family and Education
1st and o. surv. s. of Thomas Hughes of Porthllongddu, Llanbedrgoch, Anglesey by Jane, da. of Michael ap Rhys Wynn of Maesllwyn, nr. Amlwch and Bodhenlli, Anglesey. m. 1661, Margaret (d. 1697), da. of Evan Wynn of Penllech, Caern. and wid. of Goronwy Davies, headmaster of Beaumaris sch., s.p.
Recorder, Beaumaris c.1669–?d.; sheriff, Anglesey Feb.–Nov. 1683; mayor, Newborough, Anglesey 1698.1
Hughes, whose riches were to gain him the nickname ‘yr arian mawr’ (literally ‘the big silver’), was born ‘of decent and honest descent on the paternal side’ into the minor gentry of Anglesey. The pressures of a large family, however, forced his father to sell their small estate (of £14 a year) and after schooling Hughes was ‘bound . . . [as a] clerk’ to a second cousin, ‘Owen Wynne of Llandiolen, counsellor at law’ probably Owen Wynne†, King’s attorney for Wales and the marches 1671–6 and later a judge on the Brecon circuit. In this capacity he spent 16 years, ‘living a hard life’ as Wynne’s servant as well as clerk, ‘wiping his shoes and boots, riding after him, then scribbling bonds and faring on a hard diet’. Eventually, in all probability around the time of his marriage, ‘by the interest of his old master [he] set up for himself’, and before long had succeeded Wynne in the recordership of Beaumaris, being described at this point in his career as merely ‘an attorney of the great sessions, not fit to carry the shoes of his predecessors, who were learned counsellors at law’. But he enjoyed lucrative associations with several leading local families, including the Wynns of Gwydir and the Bulkeleys of Baron Hill, acting as legal adviser and agent to both. From the Bulkeleys he was able to obtain a highly favourable lease of land near Beaumaris in return for a timely advance of money. As a result of this transaction he ‘thought himself no small gentleman, and the country thought Lord Bulkeley no small fool’. In the late 1670s, through some sharp practice, he gained control of one of the more important of the Menai ferries, soon afterwards obtaining a 30-year lease from the crown to regularize his ownership. He was now ‘the rich attorney of Beaumaris’, and in 1683 was the subject of a bardic encomium. Purchasing lands in Anglesey and Caernarvonshire, he had accumulated an estate worth some £1,800 a year.2
In early life Hughes appears to have been connected with local Dissenters: certainly he was active in assisting a deprived Presbyterian clergyman in the aftermath of the Restoration. Little is known of his religious or political sympathies for the remainder of Charles II’s reign, which he seems to have spent quietly making money, apart from one taste of notoriety in 1672 when allegations of involvement with his wife’s family in a murder obliged him to bring an action for libel. He stood on good terms with the Bulkeleys, later to be his bitter enemies, until at least 1683, when he drafted a marriage settlement for a Bulkeley, though there is evidence of dissatisfaction with Hughes’s services as attorney on the part of the then Lord Bulkeley (Richard Bulkeley†, 2nd Viscount) in 1680. Appointed to the Anglesey lieutenancy by 1685, Hughes gave positive answers to all three of James II’s questions on the repeal of the Penal Laws and Test Act, as did Owen Wynne the justice. None the less (and despite Wynne’s death in 1688), Hughes quickly regained his place on the county commission of the peace after the Revolution.3
It is unclear whether political or personal motives were paramount in inducing Hughes in 1698 to lead the first serious assault for many years on the Bulkeley ascendancy in Anglesey elections. In fact he had already opposed the Bulkeley interest once, at Beaumaris in the election to the Convention, but on that occasion as the candidate of the dean of Bangor against Sir William Williams, 1st Bt.* Gradually, through further acquisitions of land, he had developed a powerful influence over the town of Newborough, for which he served as mayor in 1698, and he sought to use this to make an interest of his own in the borough constituency of Beaumaris, by reviving the ancient but flimsy claim of the burgesses of Newborough to vote there. Accordingly he arrived for the poll at Beaumaris at the head of a substantial body of would-be voters, frightening the resident burgesses into electing him without a contest in order to prevent any dispute over the franchise. Classed as a supporter of the Country party in an analysis of the new Parliament, he was also forecast as likely to oppose the standing army. He made little impact upon the records of this Parliament, though in early 1700 an analysis of the Commons listed Hughes as doubtful or, perhaps, opposition. He did not stand in any subsequent election, but was the éminence grise behind further Whig attacks on the Bulkeley hegemony. His feud with his former employers had spilled over beyond parliamentary elections. In 1703 the 3rd Lord Bulkeley (Richard*) interfered in the affairs of Newborough with a petition to the crown for a grant of the right to hold fairs there twice yearly; in 1706 his son, the 4th Viscount (also Richard*), encouraged what was to be a sustained, and ultimately successful, opposition to Hughes’s interest in the Menai ferries, backing first a petition for the regranting of a lease of two rival ferries, and secondly a claim against the renewal of Hughes’s lease made by the heir of an ‘infant’ he had allegedly ‘defrauded’. In return Hughes supported accusations in 1707 over Bulkeley’s conduct as constable of Beaumaris Castle, and, although his health was failing, played a part in Whig preparations for the 1708 election.4
Having added a codicil to his will as late as 15 Apr. 1708, Hughes died ‘shortly before’ the general election in May, dividing his lands between two nieces. There were also bequests of money amounting to around £3,500, several of them to charities to be administered by local churches. He had requested to be buried ‘in a decent manner (though not sumptuously) . . . without any sermon yet according to the usage of the Church of England as by law established (a true member of which church I steadfastly purpose to live and die)’. After his death his nephew by marriage Lloyd Bodvel, whose family’s share in the divided estate consisted of property in Caernarvonshire worth £1,500 a year, carried on the fight against the Bulkeleys, at the polls and at the Treasury Board. In both arenas he was defeated. Whig candidates failed in 1708 at the county election and at Beaumaris, where Hughes’s old claim for the rights of the Newborough voters was tested and rejected. In the same year the Treasury passed a grant for the rival ferries, and finally in 1711 the protest against the renewal to Bodvel of Hughes’s own lease was allowed, the ferry concerned being re-let instead to Lord Bulkeley.5
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: D. W. Hayton
- 1. J. E. Griffith, Peds. Anglesey and Caern. Fams. 116–17, 176–7; Trans. Caern. Hist. Soc. v. 52; DWB, 388; A. Llwyd, Hist. Mona, 143–6; Trans. Anglesey Antiq. Soc. (1930), 61–62; (1943), 23–24; W. R. Williams, Parl. Rep. Wales, 11.
- 2. Llwyd, 144–6; Trans. Anglesey Antiq. Soc. (1930), 61; (1943), 23; Cal. Letters Relating to N. Wales ed. Howells (Univ. of Wales Bd. of Celtic Studies, Hist. and Law ser. xxiii), 127–9, 131; Cal. Wynn Pprs. 415–16, 418–23; Herbert Corresp. (Univ. of Wales Bd. of Celtic Studies, Hist. and Law ser. xxi), 264; H. R. Davies, The Conway and Menai Ferries (Univ. of Wales Bd. of Celtic Studies, Hist. and Law ser. viii), 176–82; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxv. 80, 494; DWB, 388.
- 3. Cal. Letters Relating to N. Wales, 15, 19–20, 113–14; Llwyd, 143–6; Trans. Anglesey Antiq. Soc. (1943), 23; Cal. Wynne Pprs. 423; CSP Dom. 1685, p. 189; 1689–90, p. 54; Duckett, Penal Laws and Test Act (1882), 271.
- 4. Trans. Anglesey Antiq. Soc. (1943), 24–26; (1962), 36–40; CSP Dom. 1703–4, p. 359; Davies, 179–82; UCNW, Baron Hill mss 5560, Ld. Bulkeley’s case against Bodvel, 5 July 1711; Cal. Treas. Bks. vi. 392; xxv. 80, 156–7, 494; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1702–7, pp. 558–9.
- 5. PCC 144 Barrett; Trans. Anglesey Antiq. Soc. (1962), 40; Trans. Caern. Hist. Soc. v. 52–53; Davies, 182–7; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxv. 80, 82, 174, 368.