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Monmouth Sessions July 11th 1577
Newport Sessions held in 1576

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Crime & Punishment in Monmouthshire

Researched for MonGenes by Josephine Doe

There are probably not many Family Trees which, if the records were available, would not contain details for an ancestor or two who had experienced an encounter with the law - whether it was serving on the Jury at the Petty & Quarter Sessions or standing in the dock before the Magistrates.

Pre 17th Century records are scarce but those which have survived show that a wide variety of crimes were committed by all classes of society. It is calculated that up to 80% of all crimes were never brought to trial. Many victims were reluctant to be the cause of inflicting severe penalties, even death, on the offender if brought before the magistrates and found guilty. Many cases regarding minor crimes, and arguments between neighbours, were often settled through the mediation of local gentry and the priest.

The following extracts help to explain and illustrate the Judicial System and conditions in our County's Lock-Ups and main Gaols during the 16th to 20th Centuries, and the range of crimes committed with details of punishments handed out. Included are a few names of prisoners, some of whom were sentenced to be transported, and others found guilty of murder and sentenced to death by hanging.

Details were sourced from House of Common Papers, Prison Inspectors Reports, Quarter Sessions Books, Gaol Records, and many other Documents and Books. (See Bibliography at the end of these Crime & Punishment Pages)

Justice during the 16th Century
Tudor Law recognised just two categories of criminal offence:

1. FELONY: Capital offences which usually received the death sentence:
Murder -
killing with malice aforethought
Manslaughter - killing without premeditation
Grand Larceny -
the theft of goods worth more than one shilling

2. MISDEMEANOUR: punished by whipping, the stocks or pillory, imprisonment. fines, mutilation or any combination of these:
Riot -
the committing of an unlawful act by three or more persons assembled for the purpose
Illegal assembly
Forcible entry
Petty Larceny -
the theft of goods worth less than one shilling

The prisoner's offence(s) would be put to the Court as a 'Presentment' and then a 'Bill' was written out. If the Judge decided that there was sufficient evidence for the case to be heard - it would be declared a 'True Bill' ('billa vera'), and and it became an Indictment; but if there was not enough evidence to prosecute - then the Bill would be declared 'ignoramus' meaning 'we do not know.' The Jury were made up of yeomen, husbandmen, tradesmen and craftsmen and their services were required when a prisoner had pleaded not guilty and desired to be tried by 'God and the Country.' When they considered their verdict, they had three choices: guilty, not guilty or find the prisoner guilty of a reduced charge (a partial verdict). The Crown tried to make sure that jurors were appointed from the more prosperous class (more able to resist bribery), but the local Sheriffs were said to prefer to admit to the jury "the poorer and simple sort", least able to understand the cases presented before them.

There were three pleas which could be submitted by the prisoner: Guilty; Not Guilty or "God and the Country" (to be tried by a Jury); or a plea of "Cleric" which meant that the case might be dismissed or sentence reduced on the grounds of the prisoner being a "learned" person (could read and write).

The General Sessions in Tudor Times:
These were presided over by the local Justices of the Peace (JP) sworn in as magistrates at the Assizes; there they had to take the prescribed oaths of allegiance and impartiality and to subscribe to the Elizabethan Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity. Although Elizabeth's reign insisted on the Protestant Religion being observed - this was ignored because magistrates were still sworn in from the known Roman Catholic families of the Somersets of Raglan, and Morgans of Llantarnam.

Some family names who were in successive commissions as magistrates in the 16th century:
Morgan of Tredegar, Machen, Pencoyd, Llantarnam etc,
Somerset of Raglan
ap Rogers (later Progers) of Wernddu
of Caerwent
Lewis of St Pierre
Jones of Treowen & Dingestow
Powells of Perth-hir & Lanpill (Trelleck)
Jones of Troy
ap Roberts (later Proberts) of Pant-glas
Kemeys of Kemeys and Cefn Mably
Cecils of Allt yr Ynys
Welsh of Llanwern
of Coldbrook, St Julians etc.

As with any system there was corruption and abuse of power. When a kinsman of Sir William Herbert's was indicted at a gaol delivery - Sir William prevailed upon the other justices to make the indictment "null and void".

The Quarter Sessions:
The Judges for the Quarter Sessions were from the Courts at Westminster. The Oxford Circuit (of which Monmouthshire was a part) comprised of 8 counties and it took the Judges 28 days "To Ride".

Tudor Records for Monmouthshire
Only a few 16th Century Court records still exist for the period - one is a Monmouthshire Court Roll dated 18-19 Elizabeth (1576-1577) and it was found amongst the Tredegar Papers and Documents deposited with the National Library of Wales (Ref. Tredegar 148)

The following details are taken from the above Court Roll:
1576/1577 Dates for the Monmouthshire General Sessions:
Caerleon Court - Tuesday after Michaelmas (2-3 October 1576)
Newport Court - Tuesday after Epiphany (8 January 1577)
Abergavenny Court - Tuesday after Easter (9 April 1577)
Usk Court
- Tuesday after Corpus Christi (11 June 1577)
2 Gaol Deliveries to the Monmouth Court were preceded by a General Sessions held on 25 February (1) and 11 July 1577 (2).

Special Sessions:
Towards the end of the 16th century the numbers of prisoners being brought before the courts had increased, and to accommodate this extra work, Special Sessions were called. Examples of these are recorded in the 1576 Court Roll:
Usk Court - 27 October 1576 (two separate benches sat)
Crick Court - 13 February 1577
Raglan Court
- 14 March 1577


1576 Monmouthshire Court Roll - a selection of entries:

1577 9 April, ABERGAVENNY General Sessions:
Thomas Taylor
, of Monmouth, tailor, and John ap Jenkin of Glaskoyed, labourer, required to answer regarding divers felonies. (A new order of their appearance at the next Trinity Session)

William Rawlings, yeoman, and Anna Williams, his wife, of Penhowe, bound over to keep the peace towards John Mulgray and Wenllian his wife. (are released from their recognisances)

John Harries alias Smith of Tynterne, smith, bound over in the sum of ten pounds to keep the peace towards Blanche Calys, and to appear at this Session, has failed to appear. His ten pounds and another ten pounds for which Thomas Williams, gentleman, of Trylleg, stood surety, declared forfeit to the Crown.

1576 2-3 October, CARLYON General Sessions:
Owen Sayre
, yeoman, Rees Owen Sayre, corvisor, and James Owen Sayre, labourer, all of Monmouth, unlawfully and riotously assembled and entered a close belonging to Thomas Herbert, Knight, in the occupation of William Catchmay, and stole therefrom 14 cows, black, red and "pyed" of the goods and chattels of the said William Catchmay. (no sentence noted)

Henry Phillips alias Williams, of Matherne, yeoman and Thomas Pritchard of Llanmarten, gentlemen, on 17 October of the preceding year assaulted Andrew Voyne, clerk, at Chepstowe with a certain staff called a "bastinado", and with a dagger. (no sentence noted)

1577 13 February, CRICK Special Sessions:
Arnold Welshe
of Llanwerne, gentleman, Richard Thomas of Llanwerne alias Dick Swaysshe, Robert Miller of Carlyon otherwise known as a miller, Roger James of Llanwerne, Watkin Taylor of Llanvehangell in Netherwent, tailor; John Howell of Chrystchurche, Morgan Thomas of Tredunock; David ap Jenkin of Llanwerne, William Lawrence of Llanwerne, Howell Nicholas of Denham, Thomas Nicholas of Denham, David Olway of Llanwerne, John Parker of Denham, all labourers except where otherwise stated, and others unknown, to the number of twenty persons, did on the 25th of January of the present year, take and detain in a house at Denham, a certain Katherine Pritchard, widow of William Pritchard. …. And that the same men assaulted Walter Vaughan, one of the chief constables of the Hundred of Caldycott, who acting on information received went to Denham to arrest 'the aforesaid rioters and malefactors' and to bring them before the Justices. Arnold Welshe urging on the assailants with the words "Kyll hym, kyll hym, thruste hym throwe" meanynge the said Walter (Vaughan) (no sentence noted)

1577 8 January, NEWPORT General Sessions:
John Edmunds
of Llangeby, yeoman indictment for "Trespass" on 28 December of the preceding year, broke hedges belonging to John Llewelen of Llangeby and took away the wood. (no sentence noted)

William John David ap John and William John Phillips, both yeomen of Grussemont, assaulted John Thomas Stephens at Grussemont on 31 May of the preceding year. (no sentence noted)

Richard Jeyn Morris of Llangeby on 14 October of the preceding year at Llangeby assaulted Philip Harry, Jenkin Phillips, Reginald David, Philip Thomas Gwilym and Jenkin Thomas David. (no sentence noted)

1577 25 February, MONMOUTH General Sessions (1):
John Lewis
of Bergevenny, labourer, and George Baker of the same place, labourer, committed for the theft on 13 November preceding, of three pounds in "numbered money" contained in a purse, the property of Richard Turbill. Both put themselves (on the Country - i.e. to be tried before a jury), found guilty, no chattels, let them be hanged by the neck.

Jevan Rees of Llanbaddock, labourer, committed for the theft on 11 November preceding, at Cwmeyoy, of two heifers, one "pyed", the other red, each valued at 20s, the property of Thomas Harry Lewis. Put himself (on the Country), found guilty, no chattels, let him be hanged by the neck.

Roger Williams, alias Tinker, of Langston, tinker, arrested at Langston on suspicion of felony and committed by William Morgan of Llanternam, Esquire, in the matter of a mare (owner not mentioned). Put himself (on the Country), found guilty, no chattels, let him be hanged by the neck.

1576 27 October, Usk Special Sessions:
Walter Morgan
, gentleman, Howell John Philips, yeoman, Andrew Edwards, corvisor, John Edwards, yeoman (all of Uske), and George Reynolds, yeoman of Llanbadock, were indicted for the assault on William Saunders at Uske on 18th October, the market-day (no sentence noted)

David Williams of Carlyon, yeoman, indicted for the assault on Christopher Welshe, Sheriff of the County, and Philip Edwards his servant, at Carlyon on 4th October of the same year, putting them in great fear and danger of their lives. (no sentence noted)

14th March 1577, RAGLAN Special Sessions
William Atkins
of Chepstowe on several occasions trespassed on the land of Lewis Herbert, gentleman, allowing pigs of his to tread down and consume growing barley (no sentence noted)

1577 11 June, USK General Sessions (2):
Presentments for the "Sale of ale without the licence of the Justices": Richard Powell Jenkins and William Grono, tailor, both of Skenffryth; Richard Taylor and Philpott John, both of Grussemont; David Philip Jenkins and Howell ap Rees Gough, both of Skenffryth; Rosser Thomas of Llangom; Hugh Reynolds of Rochefyld, tailor; George James of Caldycott; Elizabeth Webb, spinster and Anna Warner, spinster, both of Caldycott; William Gwilym of Llangattock Vybon Avell; John Philip Weyth of Llanveyre, and Milo ap Harry of Buckeholte, all yeomen, except where otherwise stated, were presented that on divers occasions sold "victualia" without the licence of the Justices (no sentence noted)

Charge upon the Landowners and Inhabitants of Saynt Wollo for non-appearance to show reason why they have not repaired the highway within their parish leading from Newport to Bassaleg. (fined 3s.4d.)
Sentences also noted the 1576 Court Roll were: Whipping, Hanging, Branding, Imprisonment, Fines and the Stocks.


The Law in 1609
A Law was passed in this year forcing all counties in England (which included Monmouthshire) to have their own "Houses of Correction", which were to be controlled by local Justices of the Peace, who in turn reported to the County Quarter Sessions. These prisons were also known as "Bridewell's" so named after Henry VIII's Bridewell Palace, on the banks of the Fleet river in the City of London, between Fleet Street and the river Thames (an area known as Bridewell Court today), In 1553, Edward VI gave the palace over to the City of London for the housing of homeless children and for the punishment of "disorderly women". The City took full possession in 1556 and turned the site into a Prison, Hospital, and Workrooms.


The Persecution of Papist & Jesuit Priests
in Monmouthshire during the C17th

1679: The Execution of David Lewis at Usk Prison
Charles Baker
, alias DAVID LEWIS, was born in Abergavenny, Monmouthshire in 1617, and brought up in the Protestant religion till about sixteen years of age; when he was sent by his uncle to the English college at Rome and he was ordained as a Catholic Priest. Three years later he became a Jesuit. He officiated in South Wales for thirty one years. He was arrested on 17 Nov 1676 in the parish of St. Michael, Llantarnam and carried that day to Abergavenny, and the next committed to Monmouth gaol, where he was kept close confined in a room by himself, (for which he was obliged to pay 14s. a week), locked up at night, and barred by day. On the 12th Jan 1678-9 he was removed from Monmouth to Usk. He was taken up to London to be examined by Titus Oates and then brought to trial at the Lenten Assizes at Monmouth on 16 March 1679, He was charged with High Treason - for having become a Catholic Priest and then remaining to practice his faith in England. He pleaded not guilty to the charge of being an accessory to the Popish Plot, He was found guilty and sentenced to death by Sir Robert Atkins, for being a Catholic priest and saying the Catholic Mass. David Lewis was hanged at Usk on the 27th August 1679. (In 1970 David Lewis was canonised by Pope Paul VI as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, and is venerated as a Saint in the Catholic Church).

John Arnold of Llanvihangel Crucorney
John Arnold
, widely known as John Arnold of Monmouthshire (circa 1635–1702) was a Welsh Protestant politician and Whig MP. He was one of the most prominent people in Monmouthshire in the late 17th century. A stark anti-Papist, he was a notable figure during the Popish Plot and the suppression of Catholicism in the country. Arnold represented the constituencies around Monmouth (known as the Monmouth Boroughs) and Southwark in Parliament in the 1680s and 1690s. His strong anti-Papist beliefs and insurgences against Catholic priests made him an unpopular and controversial figure amongst his peers and in his native Monmouthshire. Amongst his associates were Titus Oates and Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury.

Arnold was born in Southwark, around 1635, the first son of Nicholas Arnold of Llanvihangel Crucorney and the maternal grandson of Sir Edward Moore of Drogheda, County Louth. The Arnold family had their seat in Llanthony Priory by the end of the 16th century but had to lease it to the Hoptons owing to financial difficulties. Llanvihangel Court became the family seat and John succeeded his father in 1665. Educated in Southwark, he became Sheriff of Monmouthshire in 1669.

Arnold was made a deputy lieutenant, captain of the county troops, and justice of the peace in 1677 by Henry Somerset, 3rd Marquess of Worcester. However, Worcester formed a strong dislike for Arnold, and a lifelong feud began between them when Worcester had him "turned out of the commission of the peace for opposing his candidate at a by-election and generally 'affronting' him."

Popish Plot
Arnold's popularity declined further in March 1678 when he raided the Cwm Jesuit College in Llanrothal, Herefordshire with Border Protestants such as Herbert Croft and Charles Price during the Popish Plot. Arnold reportedly gave some of his harshest criticism to its steward, Henry Milbourne, describing him as an "undoubted Papist" who only "held lands worth £100 per annum in one county, but is made justice of the peace in four". He denounced Milbourne in the House of Commons but with little success; several MPs believed Arnold's report was poorly constructed and some believed that the lord-lieutenant was a Catholic activist in South Wales. On 17 November 1678, Arnold also captured Father David Lewis, also known as Charles Baker, at St Michael's Church in Llantarnam. Father Lewis spent the night "in an upper room under John Arnold's roof" at Llanvihangel Court. He was then taken to Monmouth Gaol and was executed on 27 August 1679 after a trial at Usk. (See above - 1679 Execution of David Lewis at Usk Prison)

In the second general election of 1679, Arnold stood for Monmouth but lost to Lord Herbert and was admitted to the Green Ribbon Club in November of that year. The election result was overturned on petition in 1680, and Arnold was seated for Monmouth instead of Lord Herbert. He continued to fight the Catholics and complained in Parliament about the Monmouthshire Justices failing to enforce the Penal Laws. Arnold fell into disrepute with the Catholic Herberts of Coldbrook around this time. Arnold was also responsible for prosecuting and executing Philip Evans on the testimony of three witnesses he found.

Arnold was again at the centre of controversy in April 1680 when he was apparently victim of an attack by a Catholic, John Giles, who (Arnold alleged) to tried to stab him to death in Bell Yard, London, avenging the execution of the priests in Monmouthshire. Although Giles was found guilty and fined £500, some believed that Herbert of Coldbrook was the culprit and many believed (as do many historians) that Arnold invented the affair as an attempt to revive the Popish Plot. He became known to his enemies thereafter as "cut-throat Arnold". Later that year, in October 1680, Arnold gave evidence in the House of Lords against the former Portuguese Jewish ambassador to London, Francesco de Feria, who was alleged to have been involved in a plot to kill the Earl of Shaftesbury, Titus Oates, William Bedloe and Arnold. In November, Arnold and John Dutton Colt were described by Thomas Bruce as "the most noisy, impudent and ignorant" Members of the Parliament.

In January 1681, Arnold supported the case for removing the Earl of Halifax and Laurence Hyde from the King's counsels. At this time he was given a large armed guard to protect him during his travels to Oxford against Papist attacks. In September 1681, Feria claimed that Arnold had offered him £300 to testify that he had seen the Marquess of Worcester at mass at the Portuguese Embassy and alleged that Arnold had called the king a Papist. His sanity was increasingly questioned, and it was said he would attack complete strangers in the street, accusing them of being Papists.

In 1682, he reportedly said "the Marquess of Worcester is a Papist and as deeply concerned in the Popish Plot and as guilty of endeavouring to introduce Popery and the subversion of the Protestant religion as any of the Jesuits that justly suffered for it, and I doubt not but to make the said Marquess and his crooked-back son to suffer for it in time." For this, he was brought to trial in the King's Bench, along with Sir Trevor Williams, for Scandalum Magnatum by the Marquess of Worcester, newly created Duke of Beaufort, whom he had also accused of harbouring Papists in Chepstow.

Trial of John Arnold - 1682 May 30

John Arnold of Llanvihangel Monmouthshire accused of favouring the Papists. (Various depositions)

The information on oath of William Jones, late of Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, Yeoman:

About two years since or upwards when the prosecution was very hot against the Papists, he was recommended by a letter by Samuel Jones of Bryn Llowarth, Glamorganshire, a common preacher at conventicle, to the favour of John Arnold, of Llanvihangel, Monmouthshire as very fit to be employed by him in his prosecution against the Papists. After delivering the letter, William Jones was approved by Arnold and made to take an oath that he should be true to the Presbyterian Government without King or House of Lords, and that he should not disclose anything to the prejudice thereof. Upon delivering a letter from Arnold to Samuel Jones - Jones also made him swear the same oath and the next morning sent by him to Arnold £300. in a locked portmantle, which he delivered to Arnold at his house. The deponent believes that this money was a contribution from many ill-affected persons to promote their designs against the present Government and was deposited with Arnold for that purpose. The deponent received at several times several sums from Jones for his services.

Continuation of Trial - 1682 July

Instances of Mr Arnold's favouring Dissenters.

At the General Sessions at Monmouth about two years ago he discouraged the prosecution of a Fanatic preacher taken at a conventicle and reflected on John Franklyn, the prosecutor. At a funeral about last Christmas he boasted of the favours he had done them, inveighing against their prosecutors and speaking affectionately of them. He highly favoured Seedles, a Dissenter, accused at a General Sessions at Monmouth of treasonable words. He promotes with all industry the induction of Tyler into the Usher's place of the Free School of Monmouth, who publicly discoursed against the Liturgy of the Church of England, and exclaimed against His Majesty for not consenting to repeal the penal laws against Recusants and not passing the Exclusion Act.

(S.P. Dom., Car.II. 419, No. 147)

Verdict of the Trial

John Arnold was fined £10,000, an exorbitant figure at that time. Unable to pay, Arnold was imprisoned until 1686.

In the general election of 1689, Arnold stood for Southwark and formed an electoral alliance with the Tory, Sir Peter Rich. From 1695–98 he was again MP for Monmouth but he continued to be very unpopular due to his extreme views. Under William III, Arnold remained a court Whig and was replaced by his son after his death in 1702 during the Monmouthshire taxation commission. Arnold's estates were sold in 1726.

Quakers in Monmouthshire Prisons at the beginning of the C18th

During these years about Eleven Hundred Quakers in England & Wales were prosecuted for refusing to pay tithes and forced contributions, for the maintenance of Protestant ministers and churches. They faced imprisonment, sequestration, together with seizure of property and goods (often many times the value of the dues they actually owed). During this time almost Three Hundred Quakers were committed to prison.


Roger Jenkins and Thomas Jenkins of Llauvrechva, in the County of Monmouth, were prosecuted in the Exchequer for Tithes, at the Suit of Samuel Hodges, Impropriator. Roger and Thomas Jenkins were prosecuted for a Demand of 5l. per Annum from each of them, altho' upon a Commission of Enquiry they proved against Thomas but 4l. 5s. for six years. The Tithes due from Roger were but for two years, of about 50s. value. The said Thomas Jenkins' was committed to Abergavenny Gaol on the 11th of the Month call'd April 1698, and the said Roger Jenkins was committed to the same Prison on the 24th of the Month call'd June 1701, where they remained till the 31st of the Month call'd March 1703, and then were removed to Monmouth Gaol; and on the 15th of the Month call'd May 1704, they were brought up by Habeas Corpus to Westminster, and by the Barons of the Exchequer committed to the Fleet Prison on the 26th of the same Month. They were both proceeded against to a Decree. The Decree against Roger was for 4l. 14s. 6d. for two Years Tithes, and 55l. for Costs of Suit, and for not paying it, he was again taken up and committed to Monmouth Gaol on the 18th of November 1707. The Decree against Thomas was for 25s. for Tithes for four Years, and 64l. 6s. 8d. for Costs of Suit (altho' his Estate was but 3l. per Annum) and for not paying, he was also committed to Monmouth Gaol on the 20th of the Month called April 1708. They had taken from them by a Sequestration in 1710, as follows, viz:

From Roger Jenkins:

Household Goods and Corn, worth: 7l.10s.6d.

A Tenement, valued by the Sequestrators at 8l. per Annum, yet let out by them at about 3l.10s. which they kept till his Death, being in November 1728, viz. Eighteen Years, the said Tenement is since let at 4l. per Annum: 72l.0s.0d.

15 Loads of Wheat: 5l.0s.0d.

For a Demand of about 50s. Total Value: 84l.10s.6d.

From Thomas Jenkins:
Corn, worth: 6l.0s.0d
Two Tenements valued by them at 2l.5s. but really worth 7l.10s. per Annum, which they kept till Michaelmas Term 1718, (after his Death) above Seven Years: 52l.10s.0d.
Besides Oats worth: 9l.0s.0d.
For about 4l.5s. demanded,
Total Taken: 67l.10s.0d.

1705: Joshua Williams of the Parish of Cwmcarvan, in Monmouthshire, was prosecuted in the Exchequer for Tithes, at the Suit of William Ketchmey, Parson of the said Parish.

1715: David Price of the Pant, in the County of Monmouth, was prosecuted in the Exchequer to a Sequestration, for Tithes, at the Suit of Roger Thomas, Priest.



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website created by DGLogotransp1 Doe graphic design

A prisoner on the rack.
A torture rack in the
A vagrant is punished in
The execution of the Duke
A prisoner in the cells
From 1759 Marshfield Church Wardens Accounts
Bridewell Hospital & Prison (a
David Lewis, 1617 - 1679,
Saint David Lewis's grave is
Llanvihangel Court, home of John
Dr Oates discovers the plot
Persecution of Papists
A special thankyou to Gwent



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