THE GENTRY AND THE COUNTY IN NINETEENTH-CENTURY CARDIGANSHIRE THE rift between the Welsh landed gentry and the remainder of rural society which, aided by the polemics of radical politicians, was to deepen as the nineteenth century wore on, had hardly begun to develop by 1800. Rural society was relatively peaceful and despite the paranoiac obsession in some quarters with the idea that Jacobinism would follow in the wake of the French Revolution, life in Cardiganshire, as in much of west Wales, remained largely unaffected by events taking place east of Plynlymon. True, years of scarcity would often provoke corn riots, and the arrival of a pair of nervous enclosure commissioners on a piece of common land cause a little local disturbance; but, overall, life was tranquil, its rhythms being ordered by the eternal cycle of the seasons. The acknowledged leaders of this society attended to their many duties in the county, functioning as justices of the peace, militia officers, guardians of the poor, administrators of the rates and controllers of the Poor Law and public health measures, among many other activities. While the more affluent squires drank the waters at Bath and Matlock and partook of the dubious pleasures of the London season, total absenteeism was rare. The great houses of Gogerddan, Nanteos, Trawscoed and Cilgwyn maintained London residences, normally for use by whichever member of the family happened to be occupying a parliamentary seat at the time; but most squires were content to remain at home attending to their estates, hunting their foxes and maintaining their 'interest' in the county. For their society they relied upon the complex network of friends and acquaintances forged by political liaisons, patronage, marriage and long-standing family connections with others of their class within the county. In the eyes of the tenants and the poor, the early-nineteenth- century Cardiganshire squire served the function of leader of local opinion, adviser on all manner of problems, and sympathetic patron in times of distress. The latter function was particularly important when cereal harvests failed and grain shortages posed a very real threat of widespread winter starvation among a population much of which was unable to pay the inflated grain prices which inevitably followed a poor harvest. Such a situation obtained in 1794 96, when a succession of bad harvests caused