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A Prime Minister's Carmarthenshire Postbag

By Roland Thorne, M.A.

Among those who wrote from Carmarthenshire to Prime Minister William Pitt the younger it might be expected that the lord lieutenant would play the part of correspondent-in-chief. Pitt was prime minister from 1783 until his death in 1806, save for an interval from 1801 to 1804 and Carmarthenshire had as lord lieutenant, from 1780 until his death, John Vaughan (1757-1804)1 of Golden Grove, but not one letter from him to Pitt appears to survive. We know from other sources that Vaughan went his own way; he had given up his parliamentary seat for the county in 1784, when the tide was running in Pitt's favour, and subsequent evidence suggests that Vaughan had no wish to hitch his waggon to this rising star. But if no letter from Vaughan survives, others, usually seeking favours, are not lacking.

Vaughan's successor as county member, Sir William Mansel (1739-1804),2 9th Baronet of Iscoed, was as zealous a supporter of Pitt as Vaughan was indifferent, and he expected Pitt to notice it. On 22 October 1787 he wrote to him asking for the promotion of his eldest son in the army. On 17 December he wrote again complaining of the delay in implementing the promotion. Intending to offer himself for re-election, he found no encouragement in ministerial circles. His pleas for their support went unheard, and at the general election of 1790 he made way for the Honourable George Talbot Rice (1765-1852),3 the young heir to the barony of Dynevor. Having yielded the county seat, Mansel contemplated challenging John George Philipps (1761-1816)4 of Cwmgwili, member for Carmarthen Borough, but gave up that intention too. On 5 April 1796 he wrote to Pitt from Swansea, asking this time for promotion for his younger son, Richard, in the Navy, in which he had served 'the greatest part of the war' (Britain had been at war with revolutionary France since 1793).

Mansel died in 1804 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Williams who, on 1st July the same year took up his pen and reminded Pitt that his late father and his late uncle, George Philipps of Coedgain, had been his supporters in Parliament:

'On their steadiness to your administration, as not having the honour myself of being personally known to you, I presume to request the favour of your application to the King to ask His Majesty's permission for the revival of the barony of Mansel in my favour. I will explain to you my idea of pretention, but first wish to assure you that my view is neither to place nor pension. I want nothing of pecuniary favour, having a very ample independence of my own, which with my brothers and my cousins commands a great interest in the counties of Carmarthen, Brecon and Glamorganshire. Indeed my father's exertions at the last county election turned the scale in favour of Mr. Hamlyn Williams at a very severe, expensive and critical contest, and as long as Lord Dynevor and ourselves keep together we must bring in our own Member, but I hope never again with a nabob6 adversary, nor would it be wise in Lord Cawdor to attempt such an opposition. The Borough likewise, tho' Mr. Paxton has succeeded Mr. J.G. Philipps by stratagem and little difficulty, on account of the sneaking manner in which he retired; however, I trust the next election will with the same trifling difficulty turn him out, but in a more open manner than the one adopted to bring him in'.

After stating in brief his father's claim to the barony, Mansel went on:

'My father was often pressed to make the application I am now doing, but he declared never to ask a favour from you for himself or family, tho many for others which you granted. Uninterested was his support for you, and his pleasure when attending on his Parliamentary duty was in exertion to bring his friends over to his opinion and interest for yourself - Lord Milford in particular. My intention is to stand for the County myself at the next election should my friend Hamlyn Williams retire, and I do not succeed in this application to you; I am sure your respect to my father will induce you to do with propriety what you can, more I do not ask but certainly my pretensions are solid. My services in the army have been 22 years, tho' now only 37 years of age. I served in the 22nd Regiment - the Life Guards - and Foot Guards, leaving the latter by exchange into the 19th Regiment stationed in the East Indies. I came home extremely ill, but by the medical assistance of Docr. Reynolds, I have recovered. I am going to reside in my own County to render every service there in my power. I shall consider your delay, to this letter, of reply, to the multiplicity of business you are engaged in, and whenever most convenient will trouble you to answer it directed to me Iscoed Carmarthenshire. I leave Town next Wednesday evening, and should you wish to see me I will do myself the honour of attending your time of appointment by addressing to me at Mr. Williams's Bedford Row".

On 4 July Mansel, who had heard nothing from Pitt, took advantage of a change of plan to remind Pitt of his claims: this time he was to be reached at his brother's, Sketty Hall, Glamorgan. (This was Richard, previously mentioned, who had taken the additional name of Philipps on coming into the Coedgain estate.) Pitt was famous for ignoring letters, and no doubt he ignored Mansel's, or wrote a brief and polite negative. Mansel continued to aspire to a role in Carmarthenshire politics for several years after Pitt's death, but little notice was taken of his efforts to draw attention to himself.

Philipps of Cwmgwili, whom Sir William Mansel senior had hoped to replace as Borough Member, and who had so annoyed Sir William by his 'sneaking manner' of resigning his seat, had no truck with Pitt, being a zealous supporter of Fox and the Opposition in Parliament. As for the Hon. George Talbot Rice, his correspondence with the prime minister did not commence, it seems, until he had vacated the County seat in 1793, on inheriting his mother's title. He wrote to Pitt from Dynevor Castle on 10 January (no year given), asking for his protege Vaughan Horton of Llethrllestry to be appointed comptroller of the port of Milford in succession to the deceased Daniel Lloyd. On 2 March 1795 he wrote from Carmarthen to convey alarming impressions of disaffection in South Wales. Having been on militia duty in Aberystwyth, he reported that 'there appeared a secret ferment through the whole country'. There had been bread riots at Aberystwyth, Cardigan, Narberth, Haverfordwest, Bridgend and Neath, due to the shortage of barley, the staple food of 'our common people'. He suspected, without proof, the presence of republican societies in the towns. No specific mention, however, is made of Carmarthenshire. In one surviving letter, dated 2 April 1805, to Pitt, written in his capacity as lord lieutenant, an office he held for 48 years, he asked to have the nomination of the field officers in the Carmarthen Militia.

No letter to the premier from the Hamlyn Williamses,7 father and son, Dynevor's immediate successors in the County seat, has survived; nor did William Paxton, their 'nabob adversary', whose politics were contrary, trouble Pitt. A year after Pitt's death, Paxton was ousted from the County seat by Lord Robert Seymour (1748-1831)8 of Taliaris, an estate which he had purchased some twenty years before. Seymour, who had long been MP for Orford, wrote to Pitt from Taliaris, 3 January 1805, in response to a circular for his attendance at Westminster, to excuse himself on account of his bereavement; his wife's recent death had so distressed his two daughters and himself that he expected to remain for some time 'out of public'. It was presumably Seymour's bargain purchase of Taliaris which was referred to by an anonymous correspondent of Pitt's, who, dating his letter merely 2 Sept., complained that landed property in Wales was in a parlous state when Taliaris could be sold in Chancery for only fourteen times its annual value.

Carmarthenshire had also its spiritual grandees in the persons of the bishops of St. Davids, when they chose to reside at Abergwili. Bishop Samuel Horsley (1733-1806),9 who held the see from 1788 until 1793, made no secret of his hostility to nonconformity: he tried to have Philipps of Cwmgwili turned out of his seat in Parliament for his support of the Dissenters' campaign for relief. On 9 April 1791 he wrote to Pitt to protest against the continuation of that campaign in Parliament and referred to the petitions of his clergy to the same effect. On 28 May 1791 he wrote in a different vein: he needed more income. As one of the eight children of a modest clergyman, he had never had enough of it, even though he had retained the rectory of Newington on becoming a bishop.

His successor at Abergwili, Lord William Stuart (1755-1822),10 wrote on 30 October 1793 to Pitt on his return from Wales to view his new diocese. He was disappointed that Pitt seemed to exonerate his predecessor's insistence on his domestic chaplain at Abergwili not being replaced by the new bishop's nominee. Stuart, who was looking for a niche for a clerical protege named Holcombe, complained that Horsley had already 'disposed of the best preferment in the diocese' and, 'by a strange indulgence', was being allowed to retain possession of the see of St. Davids till the middle of next December, 'or, in other words, to enjoy the full income and patronage of two bishoprics during four months'. On 28 March 1800 Bishop Stuart again approached Pitt, from Curzon Street, Mayfair, as 'the poorest bishop on the bench'. Having a young family to support, he wished to be 'more at ease', as his brother Lord Bute had doubtless informed Pitt. His absence from the House of Lords was due to 'absolute want', and not to disaffection. As bishop and also canon of Windsor he did not have 1,200 a year, and long journeys and a ruinous palace added to his expense. He could not afford to live in London or, indeed, anywhere else. He once more protested at the conduct of his predecessor in retaining the Welsh diocese for five months after his translation to Rochester, during which he 'stripped the bishopric of its richest emoluments'. Relief was at hand: before the year was out Stuart became archbishop of Armagh and primate of Ireland. His successor at Abergwili, Lord George Murray (1761-1803),11 a brother of the 4th Duke of Atholl, wrote to Pitt on 7 November 1800, thanking him for recommending him as Stuart's successor and seeking the office of prebendary at Westminster as well, as the bishopric was so poor. St. Davids was his for only three years before his death. He had really wished to be bishop of Oxford.

Clergymen were among the writers of letters to Pitt by less exalted people, whose ambitions were proportionately humbler. The Rev. David Richards12 of Llandyfriog, Cards., writing from Llanybyther on 9 September 1796, started by informing the premier that his wife was the sister of Captain Sir Erasmus Gower, now at sea, and therefore unable to back his application. This was for the living of Manordeifi in Pembrokeshire, near his wife's home, vacant by the death of the Rev. William Holcombe. It was in the gift of the Lord Chancellor and Pitt's intercession on the writer's behalf was requested. An identical request, 1st January 1797, came from the Rev. John Edwards (1765-1847)13 of Frood, prefaced with the information that he had been bereft of his wife soon after their marriage. He added that he had always voted for Pitt in the Cambridge University elections, being an ex-fellow of Queens. On 18 February 1797 he wrote again. Hearing that Manordeifi had been bestowed on the Rev. Turner, he asked for the living of Rudbaxton, vacated by Turner. On 16 August 1797, he wrote to ask for the living of Kidwelly, reminding Pitt that he was 'one who has ever been your firm supporter at Cambridge'.

Little more than a begging letter from a lady in distress reached Pitt from Elizabeth Williams, writing from Begelly, Pembs. on 29 April 1794. She thought fit to inform the premier that she was the sister of Johnson Butler of Carmarthen. Another lady, Elizabeth Bowen, wrote from King Street, Carmarthen on 11 July 1794, asking Pitt to make her nephew James Morgan, collector of the excise at Tenby, where he was already supervisor. George Herbert Adams (d.1809)14 wrote to Pitt, 5 December 1792, asking him to settle his salary claims as lieutenant-governor of Goree, which were in dispute. David Scurlock, a member of the Carmarthen family of that name, now resident at Lovehill House, Langley, Bucks., wrote on 15 February 1790 to his county MP, James Grenville - who passed it on to Pitt - lamenting how much the government, of which he was a firm supporter, lost by the evasion of duties charged on small carts. John Jones of Llandovery wrote on 14 December 1797 to suggest that travelling salesmen at country fairs should be obliged to take out licences to peddle their wares.

To complete the ragbag, Howell Price addressed three letters to Pitt. On 24 February 1791 he wrote from Carmarthen to tell Pitt how much he admired him, and to submit various proposals for raising taxes. While we do not know how much of Pitt's incoming correspondence has not survived, we can be sure that such proposals interested him, as hundreds of them have been preserved. On 6 July 1793 Howell Price wrote to him again, from Ferryside, to make further proposals for tax raising. His third letter, dated 26 April 1796, was written from 3 Leicester Square, London, and had to do with improving the public lottery. This Howell Price evidently thought highly of himself, and I am indebted to my friend Major Francis Jones for the suggestion that he was the man of that name who married Catherine, Lady Aylmer, widow of the 4th Baron, and sister of Charles, Earl Whitworth.

The letters detailed above are all in the Chatham papers deposited in the Public Record Office (PRO 30/8). The particular volumes are 155 (Mansel), 131 (Dynevor), 177 (Seymour), 194 (anonymous), 146 (Bishop Horsley), 181 (Bishop Stuart), 162 (Bishop Murray), 171 (Rev. D. Richards), 132 (Rev. John Edwards), 190 (Elizabeth Williams), 114 (Elizabeth Bowen), 107 (G.H. Adams), 176 (Scurlock), 148 (John Jones), and 169 (Howell Price).

London 1983.
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