Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1386-1421, ed. J.S. Roskell, L. Clark, C. Rawcliffe., 1993
Available from Boydell and Brewer


1386Sir Ralph Carminowe
 John Beville
1388 (Feb.)Sir Henry Ilcombe
 Sir John Reskymer
1388 (Sept.)Sir William Lambourne
 Sir John Reskymer
1390 (Jan.)Sir Richard Cergeaux
 Sir William Lambourne
1390 (Nov.)Sir John Reskymer
 Michael Archdeacon
1391John Colshull I
 John Treverbyn
1393John Trevarthian
 John Treverbyn
1394John Colshull I
 John Treverbyn
1395Sir Henry Ilcombe
 John Chenduyt
1397 (Jan.)John Arundell I
 John Colshull I
1397 (Sept.)John Arundell I
 John Trevarthian
1399Sir William Lambourne
 John Colshull I
1401(Sir) John Trevarthian
 William Bodrugan I
1402Sir William Talbot
 John Whalesborough
1404 (Jan.)(Sir) John Arundell I
 John Chenduyt
1404 (Oct)(Sir) John Arundell I
 Sir Ralph Botreaux
1406(Sir) John Arundell I
 Nicholas Broomford
1407John Chenduyt
 Richard Trevanion
1410Sir Ralph Botreaux
 Sir John Herle
1411(Sir) John Arundell I
 John Urban
1413 (Feb.)
1413 (May)John Wybbury
 John Trelawny II
1414 (Apr.)(Sir) John Arundell I
 John Colshull II
1414 (Nov.)Sir William Talbot
 John Colshull II
1416 (Mar.)(Sir) John Arundell I
 William Bodrugan II
1416 (Oct.)
1417(Sir) John Arundell I
 Thomas Arundell
1419John Arundell II
 (Sir) Thomas Arundell
1420Sir William Bodrugan
 John Tretherf
1421 (May)(Sir) John Arundell I
 (Sir) John Trelawny II
1421 (Dec.)(Sir) John Trelawny II
 John Arundell II

Main Article

Twenty-nine returns for Cornwall have survived from 32 Parliaments, with only those of 1413 (Feb.), 1415 and 1416 (Oct.) remaining untraced. To 14 of these Parliaments there were elected two men who both had previous experience of the workings of the Commons, and in a further ten one of the Members had sat before. So, in perhaps no more than five Parliaments—1388 (Feb.), 1391, 1402, 1413 (May) and 1420—were both knights of the shire newcomers to the House. Although it never happened that both Members in one Parliament were chosen again for the next, re-election of one Member occurred nine times. Included in this reckoning are the three successive appearances of John Treverbyn (1391-4) and of (Sir) John Arundell I (1404-6). Individual service during the period was fairly evenly spread. No one served more often than (Sir) John Arundell I, who represented the county in 12 Parliaments, but Sir Richard Cergeaux, who was elected for Cornwall ten times, ran him close. John Urban, too, had ten Parliaments to his credit, only not always as a representative for the county; in fact, he was returned eight times for Helston and once for Truro before making, in 1411, his one and only appearance as a knight of the shire. At the other end of the scale, five Members only ever sat but once, yet taken overall the average number of Parliaments per shire knight came to roughly three. For most, this parliamentary service fell within a fairly short period of time, but Urban’s career as a burgess and shire knight covered 30 years, and Cergeaux’s lasted almost as long. (Sir) John Arundell I, Sir Ralph Botreaux and Sir William Lambourne had over 20 years’ intermittent service to their credit. Although none of these can be dubbed as finally an ‘old Parliament man’, it is of interest that Arundell sat in Parliaments of four reigns.

John Arundell II was the only Member to be chosen by another county during the period, representing Devon five years before his first return for Cornwall in 1419. William Bodrugan I and his nephew, William II, like John Urban, attained a seat for the county only after one or more appearances for Cornish boroughs. Cornwall also provides in this context a case which, up to that time, was probably unique. Sir Henry Ilcombe, a knight by rank as well as a county Member in 1388 (Feb.) and 1395, accepted election for Lostwithiel in 1402 and 1407. As escheator of the shire from 1395 to 1399, he may perhaps be accounted one of the local officials subservient to Richard II’s government in the later years of the reign, and it is possibly this which accounts for his remarkable fall in representational status. Similarly, Nicholas Broomford, knight of the shire in 1407 (though not a knight by rank), was four years later returned as a burgess for Barnstaple.

In terms of public, as distinct from parliamentary, service the majority of Cornish Members occupied one or more of the chief royal offices in the county. Thirteen, almost half of the total of 28, at one time or another held the shrievalty,1 four were escheators, and four were coroners.2 Several of the sometime sheriffs of Cornwall served more than one term, and four—(Sir) John Arundell I, (Sir) Thomas Arundell, Sir John Herle and Sir William Talbot—also at some point in their careers occupied the shrievalty of Devon. However, only three Members (John Arundell II, Sir Ralph Carminowe and Sir John Herle) had been sheriffs before being first elected to Parliament, and the four escheators all held office later. Sir John Reskymer was appointed as sheriff of Cornwall on 7 Nov. 1390, only five days before he was due to sit in the Commons as a knight of the shire, thus going against the spirit, if not the letter, of the ordinance forbidding the return of sheriffs. Sir Henry Ilcombe was escheator when elected in 1395. Some Members played little or no part in the formal administration of their county, however. For instance, no royal commissions were addressed to Michael Archdeacon; and William Bodrugan I, John Colshull II, John Treverbyn, John Arundell II and John Trelawny II all played but a minor role in county affairs. Indeed, Colshull’s single royal commission, like Arundell’s two, related only to Devon. More than half (18 out of 28) of the Members were made j.p.s in Cornwall at some stage, but only six had served in this capacity before their election to the Commons. Nevertheless, a current member of the bench was elected to 15 of the 29 Parliaments for which returns have survived. As many as 13 shire knights seem to have had no experience of working on royal commissions previous to their earliest appearance in the Lower House. It is noticeable, however, that a number of these belonged to prominent county families and, this being the case, possibly owed election more to the reputation or influence of their kinsmen than to their own achievements. In this context it may also be remarked that the shire not infrequently elected quite young men to Parliament: Sir William Bodrugan was only about 22 years old when returned for the first time, John Colshull II about 23, Thomas Arundell not more than 24, John Arundell II only 27 (he had been barely 22 when returned previously for Devon), and (Sir) John Arundell I and Sir William Talbot hardly 30. Both of the Members of the Parliaments of 1388 (Feb.), 1390 (Nov), 1393, 1397 (Sept.), 1402, 1404 (Oct.), 1419 and 1421 (Dec.) were under 40, the youngest pair as such being John II and (Sir) Thomas Arundell who, when returned in 1419, were aged respectively 27 and 26 (or less). By contrast, only in the Parliaments of 1390 (Jan.), 1399, 1401 and 1411 were both Cornish representatives over 40 years of age. Clearly, considerations of family or connexion could easily count for more at elections than experience of regional administration. This is not, of course, to deny that, at least occasionally, involvement in affairs beyond the narrow sphere of the shire community made an impression on the electors. Thus, although Sir Ralph Botreaux’s experience in the county as a royal commissioner had been very limited when he first represented it in 1404, he had already been employed on diplomatic missions overseas. John Colshull I, who had but recently arrived in Cornwall in 1391, could tell of ten years’ experience as a common councillor of London, as well as service in the port of London as deputy to the chief butler. John Urban’s activities in Cornwall by 1411 were few and far between, for he was then living in Kent; but this was after a successful career in trade, and Urban’s many diplomatic assignments under Henry IV had given him a much wider knowledge of matters of national import than any of the more prominent county figures could boast.

Only a small proportion of Members were not natives of Cornwall, and had no inherited interests there. Among the few was John Colshull I, who was drawn into the area from London through his marriage to the widow of Chief Justice Tresilian, thus coming into possession of estates which later passed to his son, John II. Broomford, Wybbury and Archdeacon each had a greater interest in Devon, though the first two certainly held lands in Cornwall, and Archdeacon belonged to a prominent Cornish family. Sir John Herle came from as far away in England as could be, namely Northumberland, but by the time of his election in 1410 had fully established himself in this county.

Outside influences, certainly as exemplified in the elections, were therefore few. Nor does the duchy of Cornwall, a potential source of ‘foreign’ influence, seem to have exerted it to any marked degree. Admittedly, three shire knights (Sir Richard Cergeaux, John Colshull I and (Sir) John Arundell I) were stewards of the duchy estates in the county. But although the outsider, Sir John Kentwood* (who had sat for Cornwall in 1378, 1380 and 1381) most probably owed election entirely to his office, it can hardly be said with any confidence that the others did so. The three were all of sufficiently high standing in the community—at least in terms of ownership of property and the importance of their local connexions—to ensure their return to Parliament in any case; and four other duchy stewards of the period never sat for Cornwall (though they did represent other shires).3 This is not, of course, to imply that the stewardship did not add considerably to its holder’s prestige and general influence, and (Sir) John Arundell’s tenure of office from 1402 to 1430 (during which period he represented Cornwall in ten Parliaments) must have made him a figure of very great importance. It should be noted, too, that the current steward of the duchy in Cornwall was returned to ten of the 29 Parliaments of our period. Only one other Member, however, can be shown to have been involved in the duchy administration: Sir John Reskymer, who, certainly before his third appearance in the House in 1390 had held office as deputy havener. Perhaps some significance should be attached to the large share of the representation of Cornwall enjoyed in the 1390s by three men who were all ‘King’s esquires’: John Treverbyn, a member of the Household and holder of the royal office of bailiff of Winchelsea; John Trevarthian, previously an outlaw but now inexplicably enjoying the King’s favour; and John Colshull I, an influential London vintner. Together they occupied eight of the 12 Cornish seats in Richard II’s last six Parliaments. None of the shire knights are known to have been attached to the households of either Henry IV or Henry V, though John Wybbury not only received an annuity from the duchy of Lancaster in 1399-1400 but also held the parkership of Freemantle (Hampshire) by Henry IV’s grant at the time of his return in May 1413. The only shire knights definitely to be connected with an outside aristocratic interest were Sir John Herle, steward of the estates of John Holand, duke of Exeter, and Nicholas Broomford, who gave Holand assistance in his rebellion against Henry IV in 1400, but neither was returned to Parliament until long after their patron’s fall.

The shire elections are known to have been held at Grampound in 1407 and Launceston in 1411 and 1419, but they were normally held at Lostwithiel. The number of men who were party to the electoral indentures varied, but tended to fall as the period progressed. Sixty-six was the highest listed, in 1411;4 in December 1421 there were only 18. But then no special significance should be attached to these figures, unless large numbers of participants indicate contested elections. As in other counties, certain individuals occur more than once, including Chenduyt, Trelawny, Trevanion and Tretherf—men whose other activities hardly suggest that they were particularly prominent in Cornish affairs. There are clear indications, however, that the sheriff at least sometimes exercised a definitive role in the selection of MPs. It can hardly be coincidental that Michael Archdeacon, a landless younger son, was returned to the Parliament of 1383 (Feb.) when his elder brother, Sir Warin, happened to be sheriff; or that John Beville was only elected to Parliament (in 1386) when his father, another John, was presiding over the hustings. Later on, (Sir) John Arundell was responsible for making the returns in 1419 when his sons, John II and Thomas (both only in their twenties) were elected; Sir John Arundell of Trerice was sheriff at both elections of 1421 when (Sir) John Arundell of Lanherne and John II were returned; and (Sir) Thomas Arundell made the returns of his father and brother (John) in 1422, of his father again in 1423, of his kinsman, Sir John of Trerice, in 1427, and of his other brother, Renfrew, and his brother-in-law, Sir William Bodrugan, in 1433. Indeed, the representation of the county was to a certain extent under the control of the Arundells and their close kinsmen for some 40 years after 1397. (Sir) John Arundell of Lanherne sat in 12 of the 22 Parliaments convened between 1397 and 1423 for which returns have survived, sharing the county representation with one son, Thomas, in 1417 and another, John II, in 1422. John II and Thomas were returned together in 1419, while at other times seats were occupied by (Sir) John’s son-in-law, Sir William Bodrugan (1420, 1426, 1429, 1431 and 1433), his kinsman, Sir John of Trerice (1427 and 1432), and his third son, Renfrew (1431, 1433 and 1442). In the 16 Parliaments between 1416 and 1435 for which the names of the shire knights are recorded, this group occupied as many as 22 of the 32 Cornish seats, and otherwise demonstrated by their regular attendance at the elections a continuing interest in this aspect of Cornish affairs. The facts can be left to speak for themselves. There is, however, no direct evidence that undue pressure was being asserted on the electorate on any of these occasions.

The Cornish Members generally seem to have been comparatively small men in terms of property, with (Sir) John Arundell I an obvious exception. Carminowe, Cergeaux, Sir William Bodrugan, Botreaux, Herle and Talbot were probably the next most eminent. The majority of the rest held lands worth more than £30 but less than £100 a year, and few owned property outside Cornwall and Devon (the exceptions being John Arundell II, Cergeaux, Botreaux and Urban). Treverbyn was rather out of the ordinary in possessing very little land. Only eight of the 28 Members were knighted before their first returns to Parliament, seven attained knighthood later, and 13 remained ‘esquires’ (this last category including a vintner, John Colshull I, and a tin merchant, John Urban, who in their different ways, the one through marriage, the other through royal service, had risen in county society). Both MPs were knights by rank in only five Parliaments, three of which (1388 (Feb.), 1388 (Sept.), and 1390 (Jan.)) were consecutive. More significantly, both Members were esquires in seven Parliaments, of which five were in the 1390s. As has been already suggested, the unusual character of the representation of the county in that decade may have owed something to external political factors. Richard II’s last six Parliaments apart, the more usual combination (in 17 out of 29 Parliaments) was one knight and one esquire, a balance which seems to have been roughly representative of Cornish society.


  • 1. (Sir) John Arundell I, John Arundell II, Thomas Arundell, Beville, William Bodrugan I, Sir William Bodrugan, Carminowe, Cergeaux, John Colshull I, Herle, Reskymer, Talbot and Trevarthian.
  • 2. Broomford, Ilcombe, Talbot and Tretherf were escheators; Broomford, Ilcombe, Trevanion and Trelawny were coroners.
  • 3. Sir Philip Courtenay, Thomas Shelley, John Wynter and Richard Chelmswick.
  • 4. C219/10/6. At the county court for the election of 1411 were the priors of Launceston and Bodmin, Sir John Herle, John Colshull I, John Whalesborough, John Trelawny II and the mayors of five Cornish boroughs.