Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of voters:

about 2,500


9 Apr. 1793JAMES HAMLYN vice Rice, called to the Upper House 
13 June 1796(SIR) JAMES HAMLYN, Bt.90
 Magens Dorrien Magens89
 William Paxton1222
 (Sir) William Paxton 

Main Article

For the last half-century Carmarthenshire politics had been dominated by the rival houses of Rice of Dynevor (alias Newton) and Vaughan of Golden Grove.1 John Vaughan had taken the county seat when George Rice died leaving a young son in 1779, and retired, without heir male, in 1784, leaving a vacuum which was filled pro tem. by Sir William Mansel, 9th Bt., of Iscoed, a country gentleman of ancient family but diminishing resources. Mansel made it clear in February 1789 that he would not again offer for the county and transferred his attention to the borough (which he also gave up): his private reasons were ‘the chancellor’s inattention to my several applications for Church livings in this county, also refusing me to put a few gentlemen in the commission of the peace ... by which means, I have lost a great number of friends’. He could not, in any case, have afforded a contest against George Rice of Dynevor who, being of age, now came forward. Thomas Stepney, brother of Sir John of Llanelli, solicited support and Rice expected some sort of opposition, but he made himself invulnerable by conciliating John Vaughan, leader of the ‘Red’ party and his family’s traditional rival, as well as by renewing the long-standing alliance between Dynevor and the Philipps family of Cwmgwili, leaders of the Blue party in Carmarthen borough. He himself sported the colours of the ‘Gray Coats Independent’. By April 1789 Stepney was reported to have declined, and as Mansel could not be prevailed upon to change his mind Rice came in unopposed. He acknowledged publicly the services of the deputy recorder of Carmarthen, Herbert Lloyd, a Red partisan, and this partiality met with criticism as a symptom of the change of direction in the politics of Dynevor: the Carmarthen Blues regarded Herbert Lloyd as their worst enemy.2

When in 1793 Rice became Lord Dynevor, he was replaced by James Hamlyn, who had recently succeeded iure uxoris to the estate of the Williams family of Edwinsford, prominent in county politics in the first half of the century: they had then opposed Dynevor, but Lord Dynevor had no heir as yet and John Vaughan favoured Hamlyn, so Dynevor’s friends rallied to him. Opposition was expected from John Campbell I* for the Blues, but not pursued. Hamlyn, a stranger to the county, enjoyed a good reputation as a ‘plain downright country gentleman’ and in 1796 when Dynevor, not content with putting up his brother-in-law Magens Dorrien Magens* for the borough, offered him simultaneously for the county, Hamlyn soon obliged the London banker to concede victory, finding that the gentry in general and John Vaughan in particular sided with him against what was conceived as a bid for domination. A critic of Dynevor wrote after the election:

I find that my Lord Done Over is become from a very popular gentleman, a very private nobleman. He has not a property in Carmarthenshire to entitle him to command that county, and nothing but brilliant talents, or a great estate, can induce Welsh spirit to submit to a dictator.3

In December 1801 a canvass for the county was begun by Richard Mansel Philipps*, son of the former Member Sir William Mansel and heir to the Coedgain estate. A month later Sir James Hamlyn, whose health would not admit of his facing a contest, decided to retire in favour of his son James Hamlyn Williams. In a significant change of alignments, the latter was backed by the Reds under the leadership of Dynevor and Lord Robert Seymour of Taliaris and was accordingly labelled a turncoat by the Blues. There was speculation about other candidates: Thomas Stepney again wished to be thought in the running, though this was regarded as ‘a great piece of affectation’; his brother Sir John was wooed by Dynevor, but felt unable to support his man. There was talk of an unnamed ‘subtle politician’, who had offered for Pembrokeshire 30 years before, coming forward ‘to aim at an interest with both parties’ and ‘steal the bone from both’.4 The attitude of Vaughan of Golden Grove, the lord lieutenant, was crucial, and when it seemed likely that he would support the pretensions of Mansel Philipps, there was great indignation in the Red camp. Morgan Pryse Lloyd of Glansevin wrote to Dynevor, 24 Jan. 1802, of a plan of Vaughan’s ‘to have a new commission for the county immediately—to put in his friends and keep as many of yours out as possible—also the clergy who support his interest’. Lloyd went on to advise Dynevor

to rid us of this lord lieutenant who studies by his measures to keep the county of Carmarthen in a blaze—his principles cannot be pleasant to the ministerial party—as he keeps in one Member anti-ministerial [J.G. Philipps for the borough] and wishes to put in the other a rank democrat.

Mansel Philipps, who was criticized for want of property and non-residence, did offer himself as an independent hostile to ‘the influence of family connection’, but Vaughan dropped him; backed not even by his father and only by John Williams Hughes of Tre-gib, he withdrew before the poll.5 Vaughan transferred his support to a nabob, William Paxton of Middleton Hall, who was supported by the Blues, Philipps of Cwmgwili, Lords Cawdor, Milford and Kensington, and by Sir John Stepney.

The contest of 1802 between Hamlyn Williams and Paxton was conducted, despite their political differences, along personal lines and on local issues and was characterized by scurrility and riotous scenes at Llandeilo. After 15 days Paxton was defeated, but chaired by his supporters; his bills amounted to over £15,000. He evidently sought to halve the publicans’ bills, which covered 11,070 breakfasts, 36,901 dinners, 25,275 gallons of ale, 11,068 bottles of spirits, 8,879 bottles of porter, 460 of sherry, 509 of cider and gallons of milk punch. He used 4,521 horses and spent about £800 on ribbons. Williams was unable to show himself in the county for two years while his bills were settled. He informed his agent, 1 Jan. 1804, that he wished ‘that the whole county was in [‘hell’ crossed out] some place of punishment for none but devils could have delighted in the ruin of those that never did them harm’. In a postscript he relented: ‘in my heart I like Carmarthenshire, but I cannot get over the ill usage I have met with’. His bills amounted to over £9,340, of which he ‘allowed’ over £6,200. The election was thought to have cost ‘one guinea per minute’. The contest was long remembered as ‘Lecsiwn Fawr’ (the Great Election). During the course of it, 1,245 votes were questioned: Paxton was superior only in the Kidwelly and Cathinog hundreds. He petitioned, alleging partiality by the sheriff Thomas Owen (who was indeed a friend of Williams), bribery and treating: he brought up a ‘multitude of witnesses’ to London, but gave up the battle when it was clear that his own treating could be exposed, promising to fight again, 5 Apr. 1803. Richard Mansel Philipps petitioned opportunistically against both Williams and Paxton, stigmatizing the corruption of the election, but got nowhere: he was accused of ‘a gambling speculation to squeeze a sum of money from Mr Paxton’s pocket for withdrawing his petition’.6

By 1806 the situation had changed very much in Paxton’s favour: he had come in for Carmarthen in December 1803, Philipps of Cwmgwili retiring in his favour, but he was still anxious for the county seat. Hamlyn Williams commented, 25 Dec. 1803: ‘I wish he had taken the county instead of the borough so that I could have got my money again’. In January 1804 died John Vaughan of Golden Grove, the eminence grise of county politics, whose parting shot was to leave his estates to Lord Cawdor, thus confronting Dynevor, who now became lord lieutenant, with a potentially formidable rival. In 1806 Paxton gave up Carmarthen to Cawdor’s brother, in exchange for his backing for the county. Hamlyn Williams was unable and unwilling to afford another expensive contest, uncertain as he was of the support of Dynevor, or of his own relations the Stepneys. It was rumoured that Dynevor might put up Dorrien Magens again, but he did not: he was biding his time. Thomas Stepney was mentioned as usual, only to be set aside; though, had he stood as a third man, he was expected to upset Paxton’s prospects and the intriguing attorneys in the Red camp were thought to be anxious to persuade him to stand; they also thought of Sir Henry Prothero, a Bristol merchant, who might be ‘prevailed upon to step forward as the instrument of their party rancour’: he had inherited an estate in the county and was a relation of Waters of Treventy, one of Herbert Lloyd’s banking partners, and was quite wrongly said to have started life as ‘a pig-drover, or something of that sort’. Another possible candidate was Sir William Mansel of Iscoed, 10th Bt., who had succeeded his father in 1804, and had on that occasion written to Pitt boasting of his family’s interest in the county, claiming that his father had given crucial support to Williams in 1802 and assuring the minister that ‘as long as Lord Dynevor and ourselves keep together we must bring in our own Member, but I hope never again with a nabob adversary, nor could it be wise in Lord Cawdor to attempt such an opposition’. He concluded by requesting the revival of the barony of Mansel in his favour. Mansel canvassed in 1806, abusing Paxton as a Scot and a Papist, but did not go to the poll. The Reds tried to keep the election open by advertising that they had a candidate on 5 Nov.; but none appeared at the county meeting on 7 Nov. and Williams refused to reconsider his decision, though he went on to criticize Paxton for his pro-Catholic sympathies, a charge which Paxton rebuffed as exaggerated. Herbert Lloyd, the Red attorney, was said to be ‘frantic’: ‘he offered £5,000 and the others £5,000’ for a candidate. Thomas Stepney was sent for, but ‘after a night’s consideration’, declined. Paxton was safe.7

In May 1807, Sir William Mansel appeared in the field as a Protestant challenger, having summoned a county meeting for a loyal address. Hamlyn Williams lacked funds, but was also expected to stand if he could obtain Dynevor’s support: his failure to do so was attributed to his too independent behaviour while in Parliament. The fact was, however, that Dynevor had succeeded in his aim of persuading Lord Robert Seymour of Taliaris, his principal friend and a sound ministerialist, to offer, and it was he who confronted Paxton. Had Seymour refused, Adm. Thomas Foley of Abermarlais was willing to come forward on the same interest. Everything turned on the attitude of Sir John Stepney, and although Lord Milford imagined he had secured him for Paxton, Stepney turned the balance in Seymour’s favour by supporting him. Paxton gave up the poll on the second day, claiming that he had been betrayed by an agent and subjected to an anti-Catholic smear campaign. In revenge, his Blue friends frustrated a loyal address at a county meeting in June.8

Sir William Mansel had been reluctant to see Seymour preferred to him and subsequently attempted to attract Dynevor’s favourable attention by a campaign against the Blues who espoused (Sir) Francis Burdett* cause at Carmarthen borough in 1810. His opportunity seemed to have arrived, for he had reason to believe that Lord Robert would not stand again: in October 1811 Seymour announced that he would contest Totnes at the next election, as on the death of Sir John Stepney he did not expect the support of his heirs. He was subsequently reassured on this point and announced his wish to retain his seat, 13 Aug. 1812. Mansel had advertised, but lacked funds and did not seek to dispute the point, announcing merely that he would stand if Seymour did not.9 Seymour was not challenged by the Blues in 1812 or 1818; he married his evangelical daughters to them. Hamlyn Williams thought in 1812 of coming forward at the next opening, but did not do so. He regretted it in 1820, when Lord Robert Seymour retired in favour of Dynevor’s heir without warning him, as if he were ‘hors de jeu or hors de combat’.10 Even then the Blues were not disposed to challenge: the fact was that their effective leader since 1804, Lord Cawdor, was concerned chiefly to maintain his interest in Carmarthen borough, which he now safeguarded by securing the withdrawal of John Jones’s candidature there in exchange for his support of young Rice for the county.

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. G. Roberts, Hist. Carm. ed. Lloyd, ii. 1-87; R. D. Rees, ‘Parl. Rep. S. Wales 1790-1830’ (Reading Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1962), i. 162.
  • 2. Add. 38458, f. 161; Carm. RO, Cwmgwili mss 276, 277, 281, 285, 312A; NLW mss 12169, ff. 1, 14.
  • 3. Cwmgwili mss 360, 364, 439.
  • 4. NLW mss 12169, f. 7; The Times, 4 Dec. 1801, 25 Jan.; Carm. RO, Dynevor mss 161/2, Worcester to Dynevor, 17, 26 Jan., 4 Feb. 1802; Cwmgwili mss 509.
  • 5. Dynevor mss 154/9; The Times, 29 Mar. 1802; Old Wales, iii. 38; NLW mss 12169, f. 15.
  • 6. The Times, 16, 20 July, 4, 6, 10 Aug. 1802; Rep. R. Land Comm. Wales (1896), 161; NLW, Edwinsford mss 2981, 2987, 2996; Carm. RO, 1 Cawdor 42, election bills and poll bks.; 2 Cawdor 114, Lewis to Messrs Shadwell and Bishop, 14 Apr. 1803; CJ, lviii. 327; Cwmgwili mss 524; NLW mss 12169, f. 20.
  • 7. Edwinsford mss 2986; 1 Cawdor 131, Rev. Beynon to Cawdor, 30 Oct., 1, 2, 7, 8 Nov.; PCC 793 Marriott; PRO 30/8/155, f. 246; Cambrian, 22, 29 Mar., 8, 22 Nov.; NLW mss 12169, f. 21.
  • 8. Cambrian, 2, 23 May 1807; R. Fenton, Tour, 24; NLW mss 12169, ff. 10, 12, 13, 22, 24, 26, 28; 1 Cawdor 131, Rev. Beynon to Cawdor, 7, 14 May; 130, Foley to same, Thurs., 21 May 1807; Cwmgwili mss 587; J. Wilson, Biog. Index (1808), 127; Bristol Jnl. 20 June 1807.
  • 9. Cambrian, 6 Jan., 21, 28 Apr. 1810, 19 Oct. 1811, 22 Aug.; Add. 45042, f. 140; 1 Cawdor 133, Hughes of Tre-gib to Cawdor, 18 July 1812.
  • 10. 1 Cawdor 133, Williams to Cawdor, 1 Mar. 1818; Dynevor mss 161/5, Hamlyn Williams to Dynevor, 17 Feb. 1820.