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|1386||John Breton II|
|1388 (Feb.)||Stephen Bant|
|1388 (Sept.)||John Breton I|
|1390 (Jan.)||John Breton I|
|1391||John Breton I|
|1393||John Breton I|
|1397 (Jan.)||Stephen Trenewith|
|1397 (Sept.)||John Trelawny I|
|John Breton I|
|1399||John Burgh I|
|1413 (May)||John But|
|1414 (Nov.)||John But|
|1415 or 1416 (Mar.)||Nicholas Jop|
|Otto Tregonan 1|
|1421 (May)||Otto Tregonan|
|1421 (Dec.)||William Chentleyn|
The town of Bodmin owed its existence to the priory built in the tenth century on the site where St. Petrock was buried. At the time of the Domesday survey, when the priory possessed 68 houses and a market there, Bodmin was the largest settlement in Cornwall. But although it retained its pre-eminence over the other Cornish towns with regard to size, its position under the lordship of the priory made it an unsuitable place for use as a centre for royal administration. Even so, there was clearly some anxiety in Launceston that Bodmin might usurp the place of county town. At the caption of seisin of the duchy of Cornwall made in 1337 the burgesses of Launceston claimed that the ‘vill of Bodmin was within the liberty of Launceston, that all kinds of pleas arising in Bodmin ought to be entertained in the borough court at Launceston, and that although in the previous century county courts had occasionally been held at Bodmin their proper venue was Launceston’. The verdict of the caption to the first claim was non-commital: ‘therefore henceforth they [lawsuits] ought to be pleaded in the due and customary place’; and there is no evidence that the burgesses of Bodmin ever complied with Launceston’s demands in this respect.2 It is clear, however, that by the late 14th century Bodmin had ceased to be a rival to either Launceston or Lostwithiel as an administrative centre.
During the 12th century Bodmin had started to grow into an important focus for Cornish trade. In 1179 the townsmen were fined £5 for setting up a guild without royal licence; but not many years afterwards they obtained a charter from Richard, earl of Cornwall, allowing them to have a guild merchant ‘freely as they are wont to have’, and granting them exemption from all customs and exactions throughout the shire. Tin was the most lucrative commodity with which the merchants of Bodmin dealt, but the privilege of marketing it was frequently a bone of contention between the towns of Cornwall. The tinners’ charter of 1305 called for Bodmin, Helston, Lostwithiel, Liskeard and Truro to be made coinage towns, and in that year the quantity of tin coined at Bodmin and Lostwithiel, the two eastern markets, amounted to 616 thousand weight, a third of the total yield for the shire. Rivalry between the two became intense: in 1314 the men of Lostwithiel complained in a petition to Parliament that those of Bodmin were diverting tin to their market to the impoverishment of Lostwithiel. They said that Edmund, earl of Cornwall (d.1300), had ordained that ‘le Achat de l’Esteym’ should be held at Lostwithiel alone, and they now wished to have the sole Staple restored to them on the ground that Bodmin and the other towns had obtained their own tin markets only for the purpose of evading the coinage duty. Furthermore, the petition stated, if Bodmin were to remain a staple town this would be to the disadvantage of foreign merchants, for the tin which was coined and sold at Bodmin must needs be carried to Lostwithiel for shipment overseas. Nevertheless, in 1335 a charter granted by Edward III stated that the burgesses of Bodmin might freely buy and sell tin, and that the sheriff of Cornwall should cause tin to be coined at Bodmin ‘as has been done hitherto’. But this was not the end of the matter: a few years later the ministers of the Black Prince, with an eye to increasing his revenues from the duchy of Cornwall, of which Lostwithiel was the principal borough, prevented the merchants of Bodmin from buying and coining tin by imposing harsh penalties of forfeiture and imprisonment. In 1347 the burgesses sent an appeal to the King, reminding him of their charter, only to be told that ‘il est en la fraunche volunte du Prince de faire vendre l’Esteym ou il plera’. Five years later, the prince ordered his officers to survey the tin markets and make a forecast of what profits could be expected if the market were restricted to Lostwithiel; and it would appear that although the attempt to give Lostwithiel a monopoly proved impracticable at the time (for in 1353 the tin markets were ordered to be held ‘in all parts as before’), Bodmin became less important as a trading centre, while its rival expanded.3
The sheriffs of Cornwall habitually noted when they returned the parliamentary writs that there were no cities in the county. Indeed Bodmin, the largest town, fell far short of attaining that status. The lay subsidy assessments of 1334 fixed Bodmin’s tax quota at £20, which, although by far the highest quota among the Cornish boroughs, was much smaller than that imposed on Exeter and Plymouth in the neighbouring shire. The town, situated on an unhealthy site closed in by hills, suffered badly from the Black Death: William of Worcestre read a report in a register kept by the Friars Minor of Bodmin that as many as 1,500 persons had perished there in the plague; and while this figure was no doubt an exaggeration, there is other evidence showing that, at the priory, the prior and all save two of the canons died. No figures survive for Bodmin from the poll tax of 1377, but other sources suggest that the population made a good recovery, and in the late 14th and early 15th centuries the townspeople seem to have prospered. In 1398 the men of Bodmin were able to make a loan of 20 marks to Richard II, a sum equalled only by Lostwithiel among the other Cornish towns; and in the years between 1469 and 1472, when funds were needed for the rebuilding of Bodmin church, they were able to raise nearly £270, for the most part from contributions from the members of upwards of 40 local guilds and fraternities.4
Throughout the medieval period the borough belonged to Bodmin priory, and it was only through their lords that the burgesses obtained royal grants of privileges. In the 13th century they paid an annual rent of 40s. and 40d. to the earls of Cornwall for the privilege of having a guild merchant, but subsequently the priors of Bodmin arranged with the earls for this sum to be made payable to them. Such liberties as were granted to the burgesses by Earl Richard (d.1272) were confirmed by Edward I, Edward III and their successors, but remained unaltered throughout our period.5 Disputes between the priory and the burgesses seem to have been endemic. There was, for example, a prolonged quarrel over the right of estover in Dunmeer woods. In 1345 the prior complained that he had been prevented from holding a view of frankpledge and other courts in the town, that the monastery had been attacked, and that his servants were afraid to venture into the town even to obtain food. Six years later the sheriff was ordered to intervene and do right to both parties, ‘provided always that he favour the prior so far as he reasonably can’. While the attacks against the priory mill and other property at the time of the Peasants’ Revolt do not appear to have been connected with any bid for independence on the part of the townspeople, it was not long after our period that more extreme steps were being taken to that end. In 1453, so the prior alleged, the townsmen began a systematic invasion of his rights and property: they fished in his fishery every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday for a year, broke the weir at his mill along a length of 200 feet, and carried away goods. A few years later the burgesses refused to pay the customary fees of 40s. and 40d.6 To what extent the ministers of the priory were able to intervene in the everyday administration of the town in normal times is unclear. Very little, in fact, is known about the local government of Bodmin, but the burgesses had clearly been accustomed to elect their own officers from early times. In the 14th century the chief officer became known by the title of mayor (at least by 1336), and his duties probably included presiding over the local courts which, by Henry VI’s reign, were held in the guildhall.7 No evidence has been traced of personal connexions between the priors of Bodmin and the parliamentary burgesses of this period, and there are no signs that the burgesses’ free choice of representatives was interfered with or impeded.
Bodmin made returns to Parliament regularly from 1295 onwards. The electoral procedure followed by the boroughs of Cornwall in the period under review is obscure. But in the late 14th century it was customary for the sheriff of Cornwall, when making a return, to dispatch a schedule to Chancery on which would be listed the name of the knights of the shire and the parliamentary burgesses elected, along with the names (sometimes fictitious) of their mainpernors. Following the introduction of indentures to verify the shire elections (in accordance with the statute of 1406), returns for the boroughs continued to be merely noted on schedules or on the dorse of the writ of summons. The parties to the shire indenture of 1411 included the priors of Launceston and Bodmin and the mayors of Bodmin, Launceston, Liskeard, Truro and Lostwithiel. But this was unusual; and generally the indentures were witnessed only by members of the shire gentry. The sheriff’s statement on the return for the second Parliament of 1414, that he had required the mayors and bailiffs of the boroughs to send him the names of their elected representatives, establishes that on that occasion, at least, the elections were held locally and the outcome merely reported to the sheriff at the county court. Yet this may not always have been the case. The terms of the indenture drawn up for the first Parliament of 1421 suggest that those party to it had elected not only the knights of the shire but also the burgesses, and after 1429 the elections of both knights and burgesses came to be regularly recorded together in the same indenture, with the implication that all the representatives had been chosen in the shire court.8
Returns for Bodmin are now extant for only 22 of the 32 Parliaments convened between 1386 and 1421, while the only evidence for the names of the representatives of 1415 (or March 1416) is derived from William Prynne’s transcripts. Thirty men are known to have sat for Bodmin in this period. That as large a proportion as two-thirds apparently sat in only one Parliament for this constituency would seem to suggest that parliamentary experience did not carry much weight with the electors. But other factors point to the contrary. Certain individuals were returned quite often: Stephen Bant, Henry Baudyn and Thomas Bere were all elected three times, Otto Tregonan on seven occasions, and John Breton I on ten. As many as six parliamentary burgesses gained experience of the Commons by representing other boroughs before being first elected for Bodmin. Indeed, no fewer than 12 of the 30 at some time sat for one or more other Cornish boroughs, a fact which throws a different light on their records of parliamentary service. Thus David Urban sat in four Parliaments all told (although only once representing Bodmin); John Tregoose and John But each attended six Parliaments, John Syreston seven, Stephen Bant eight, Robert Treage nine, and John Breton I eleven. John But was out of the ordinary in sitting for a borough outside his own county, having been returned for Barnstaple several years before his first election for Bodmin. Nor was it unusual for two or three of the boroughs of Cornwall to elect the same people, presumably in order to reduce the expense by sharing it: thus Bant and Breton sat in the Parliaments of 1382 (Oct.) and 1384 (Apr.), respectively, for both Lostwithiel and Bodmin; and in 1385 Bant was not only again returned by those two towns, but by Liskeard as well. It is clear that in no fewer than 17 of the 23 Parliaments for which returns have survived for Bodmin, at least one of the men elected had previous parliamentary experience; and in at least seven both MPs were of that sort. Re-election occurred possibly seven times: John Breton I and Henry Baudyn were together re-elected in January 1390, Breton again in 1393, Thomas Bere in January 1397, Otto Tregonan in 1411 and possibly also in 1415, and John Trewoofe in 1419. Robert Treage sat in six Parliaments running between 1417 and 1422, but was never returned to two consecutive Parliaments by the same borough. Although it is possible that in as many as six Parliaments both of Bodmin’s MPs were novices, the gaps in the adjacent returns make it unlikely that this was in fact the case in all instances. Perhaps a more definite policy of electing untried men may be discerned in Henry IV’s reign, however, when in as many as five Parliaments both of Bodmin’s representatives may well have been newcomers to the Commons.
Residence in Bodmin itself was evidently not a factor taken much into account when the borough’s representatives came to be chosen. Nearly two-thirds of the Members, 19 out of 30, did not live in the town, being for the most part landowners of substance, with holdings scattered throughout Cornwall. However, all except one were probably Cornishmen by birth, and that one, John Wyse, who lived at Sydenham in Devon, came from a family with estates in Cornwall and indeed acquired lands there himself. Only six of Bodmin’s parliamentary representatives are known to have held property in the town itself, and three of those six also had notable landed interests elsewhere in the shire. The place of residence of five MPs (who all sat for Bodmin only once) has not been ascertained, a fact which itself suggests that they were obscure local men. There was a noticeable change in the pattern of the parliamentary representation in the course of our period: whereas, during the reign of Richard II, it was customary for at least one local man to be returned to every Parliament (and in 1391 and 1393 both Members are known to have been resident burgesses), after the turn of the century it became unusual for a local man to be elected: this only happened in 1402 and 1410 for certain. The requirement made statutory in 1413 that parliamentary burgesses should be resident in the boroughs which returned them was largely ignored at Bodmin.
The majority of the MPs for Bodmin, in fact, ranked among the gentry of Cornwall. John Lawhire was even described as ‘gentleman’; Robert Treage and John But achieved armigerous rank, and John Trelawny’s I son, John II*, attained a knighthood. They were nearly all well connected with the more influential landowners of the shire: Stephen Bant served Sir William Bonville I*as a feoffee; John Lawhire acted similarly for Sir William Talbot* and Sir Walter Hungerford*; Philip Motty went overseas in Sir Thomas Carew’s retinue; John Syreston was probably related to Sir Richard Cergeaux*; and John But and John Wyse both came into contact with Hugh Courtenay, earl of Devon. Then, too, some of the Members were associated with the Arundells, probably the most important family in Cornwall at that time: Robert Treage married the sister of Sir John Arundell† of Trerice; Nicholas Jop asked (Sir) John Arundell I* of Lanherne to be a feoffee of his property; Otto Tregonan acted as the latter’s executor, and David Urban served as his lieutenant when he was vice-admiral to the duke of Exeter.
No fewer than 12 of the parliamentary burgesses were lawyers, and there can be little doubt that this group dominated the representation of the borough. Only two Members, Thomas Bere and John Nicoll, are known to have been merchants, but both were prominent in their field and are recorded exporting tin. Although the list of the mayors of Bodmin is incomplete, it would appear that service as mayor was not a prerequisite for election to Parliament. Nicoll occupied the mayoralty for three terms and was probably doing so at the time he first entered the Commons in 1402, but John Breton I was not chosen as mayor until after he had served Bodmin in ten Parliaments. It was much more usual for the parliamentary burgesses to hold office by royal appointment or else in the duchy of Cornwall: in all 12 did so. Four (John Nicoll, Otto Tregonan, John Tregoose and Stephen Trenewith) served as coroners of the shire; five (Stephen Bant, John Lawhire, John Syreston, John Tregoose and John But) as under sheriffs; two (Syreston and John Trewoofe) as alnagers; and two (Syreston and John Wyse) as escheators. Robert Treage officiated as customer at Plymouth and Fowey, John But was the chief butler’s deputy in various ports of Devon and Cornwall, and these two, as well as John Lawhire, did duty for a while as haveners of the duchy ports. Appointments to such posts usually followed after parliamentary service, and only twice coincided with it: at the time of his election for Bodmin in 1413 John But was acting as deputy butler to Thomas Chaucer* in Tawmouth and Barnstaple, while the Parliament was in session his office was extended to cover the Cornish ports and Plymouth as well, and he was still holding the post when returned again by Bodmin to the Parliament of 1414 (Nov.). As many as 14 (nearly half) of Bodmin’s representatives were appointed at some time in their careers to royal commissions in Cornwall, including such important commissions as those of array. John Trewoofe served as a collector of parliamentary subsidies five times and John Nicoll as often as ten. Otto Tregonan and John Lawhire were both made j.p.s, in each case for seven years; the former was returned to three Parliaments (1416 (Mar.), 1417 and 1421 (May)) while still on the bench.
Author: L. S. Woodger
- 1. W. Prynne, Brevia Parliamentaria Rediviva, iv. 921.
- 2. J. Maclean, Trigg Minor, i. 208; Caption of Seisin (Devon and Cornw. Rec. Soc. xvii), pp. xliv, 4-5.
- 3. G.R. Lewis, The Stannaries, 44-45, 61, 106, 134; RP, i. 296; ii. 180; Reg. Black Prince, ii. 39, 53, 54.
- 4. E179/87/9; William of Worcestre, Itins. ed. Harvey, 95; Maclean i. 128-9, 198, 211; CPR, 1396-9, p. 182; Cam. Misc. vii. 4-6.
- 5. CChR, ii. 323; iv. 340; CPR, 1374-7, p. 26; 1422-9, pp. 262-3.
- 6. C. Henderson, Essays, 140; CPR, 1343-5, p. 572; 1452-61, pp. 255, 308; Reg. Black Prince, ii. 19; C1/33/29, CIMisc. iv. 102n.
- 7. Maclean, i. 235; ii. 27.
- 8. C219/10/6, 11/4, 12/5, 14/1.