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|John Breton I|
|1388 (Feb.)||Thomas Curteys|
|1388 (Sept.)||Thomas Moyle|
|1390 (Jan.)||Richard Respryn|
|John Brown I|
|1397 (Jan.)||Thomas Curteys|
|1397 (Sept.)||Thomas Curteys|
|1402||Sir Henry Ilcombe|
|1406||John Curteys II|
|1407||Sir Henry Ilcombe|
|1410||Robert Kayl 1|
|1411||John Curteys II|
|1413 (May)||John Curteys II|
|1414 (Nov.)||Robert Kayl|
|1416 (Mar.)||Robert Kayl|
|1421 (May)||John Colyn|
|1421 (Dec.)||Tristram Curteys|
Lostwithiel was founded some time in the 12th century at the lowest bridging point across the river Fowey, by a member of the powerful family of Cardinan, owners of the manor of Bodardle, which then included the greater part of the parish of Lanlivery. The borough was established before 1194, when Robert Cardinan paid the King ten marks for the privilege of holding a market there, but his grand daughter was induced to sell not only her castle of Restormel (built in about 1200) and its park, but also this township to Henry III’s brother, Richard, earl of Cornwall. By the latter’s charter, granted in 1268, Lostwithiel and the neighbouring village known as Penkneth were amalgamated to form one borough. From 1272 to 1299 Richard’s son and successor in the title, Edmund, made Restormel (which is less than two miles from Lostwithiel) his main place of residence and, having determined to have the chief town of his county under still more immediate control, built at Lostwithiel in about 1290 the fine range of buildings subsequently (after the creation of the duchy of Cornwall in 1337) known as the ‘duchy palace’, there to accommodate the administration of his estates. Here was the great ‘shire hall’ (a magnificent building erected to house the county court), the exchequer of the earldom, the coinage hall and the gaol of the stannary of Cornwall. In effect, the duchy palace imitated on a smaller scale the great palace of Westminster. Restormel was often used by the earls and dukes of Cornwall, notably the Black Prince, on their visits to the south-west, and in the later Middle Ages it was almost the only duchy castle in the county to be kept in reasonable repair.2
The two vills of Lostwithiel and Penkneth combined occupied no more than 100 acres, yet with the exception of Launceston, they together formed the largest of the ‘new’ medieval towns of Cornwall (remaining smaller, however, than the older boroughs of Bodmin and Truro). In the course of the 14th century the town grew steadily: in 1300 there were 305 burgages there, a number which had increased to 369 by 1331 and to 391 by 1337. At the last date there were 197 burgesses, producing a rent-roll of £9 13s.5½d. a year. Lostwithiel did not escape the Black Death, and because of the losses suffered the community was exonerated from paying ten marks of the annual fee farm from 1350 to 1353.3 But recovery seems to have been rapid, and in the later years of the century there are no signs of hardship; indeed the improvement in tin production in that period probably made Lostwithiel a fairly prosperous community.
Lostwithiel was the nearest point on navigable water to Bodmin, the early centre of the tin mining industry, and accordingly it became the principal port of shipment of Cornwall’s most profitable resource. Furthermore, Earl Edmund had decreed that Lostwithiel should be the sole Staple for tin in the shire, thus making it for a time the leading tin market in Europe. All the tin refined in Cornwall thereafter had by law to be carried there for assaying, coining and weighing in preparation for the bi-annual sales. After Edmund’s death in 1300 Bodmin, Truro and Helston were also appointed as Staples, but in 1314 the burgesses of Lostwithiel successfully petitioned in Parliament to have their monopoly restored. In addition, throughout the 14th and 15th centuries Lostwithiel and Truro were the only two places regularly used for the coinage of tin. Moreover, for long periods the former operated alone; and even when both towns were so employed Lostwithiel was invariably responsible for the coinage of far more tin than its rival. It was there that the administrative machinery for the stannaries was located: between the ‘grant meson pur herbeger l’estym’ and the river there was a quay where the metal could be unloaded, while nearby were sited the ‘blowinghouse’ and ‘weighinghouse’ where it was smelted and weighed.4 Lostwithiel did not always retain the official Staple for tin: indeed, in 1390 it was moved to Dartmouth, and despite protests from the merchants of Cornwall, two years later it was removed even further away, to Calais. But Lostwithiel remained an important trading and commercial centre: in the later Middle Ages it was the only town in Cornwall to have a statute merchant, the next nearest being Exeter and Bristol. There are but slight signs that all was not entirely well. Until about 1350 Lostwithiel had been Cornwall’s busiest port, but the gradual silting-up of the higher reaches of the river Fowey, because of tin mining, eventually prevented the larger sea-going ships from reaching the town, thus stimulating the growth of a rival port down-river at Fowey. Then, too, the important fishery in the river, extending from Polruan to the bridge of Respryn near Lanhydrock, declined in value between 1365, when it was leased to the burgesses of Lostwithiel for £4 p.a., and the mid 15th century, when it raised no more than 6s.8d.5
Although the borough formed part of the duchy of Cornwall, for all but a few months of the period under review its fee farm was made payable to other parties, by grant of Richard II and Prince Henry of Monmouth. Thus it was paid successively to the Black Prince’s widow, Sir John Kentwood* and William Tamworth*, and then to Elizabeth, countess of Huntingdon, and her husbands, Richard II’s half-brother, John Holand, and Sir John Cornwall.6 Nevertheless, Lostwithiel remained the headquarters of the duchy, and it is clear that the ministers of the duchy were influential figures locally. To what extent, if any, the dukes of Cornwall themselves took an interest in the borough’s parliamentary representation, it is now impossible to say; but it may be of significance that certain of Lostwithiel’s Members were holding duchy offices at the time of their elections to Parliament, and that in the case of at least two they had no other connexion with the borough. Thus, Roger Umfrey, who had many personal contacts with high-ranking duchy officials, was probably serving as clerk to the receiver of the Cornish estates of the duchy at the time of his first two Parliaments (1381 and 1384). And after the duchy came into the possession of Henry of Monmouth, there are more indications that tenure of a duchy office influenced the choice of parliamentary burgesses. Thomas Jayet had been in the prince’s service as controller of the stannaries in Cornwall for some 11 years before his election to Parliament for Lostwithiel in 1411; that he, apparently a native of East Anglia, and having no connexions with Lostwithiel other than those arising from his office, should have been elected to represent the borough in the Commons, hints at the involvement, if not the active interference, of the duchy. Similarly, John Trebarthe had acted as bailiff of the stannary of Blackmore and was serving as bailiff-itinerant of the duchy estates when returned to Parliament in 1414 (Nov.), although, while not resident at Lostwithiel, he was at least a Cornishman. Richard Hervy, too, was clerk of the statute merchant at Lostwithiel, a duchy appointment, when elected to Parliament in 1419 and 1427, but as he was a local man tenure of a duchy office may in his case not be quite as significant. Not so with John Clink, who was returned by Lostwithiel to the Parliament of May 1413, the first to be summoned by Henry V. Clink, who had been in Henry’s service since 1402, was at the time of his election holding the offices of parker of Liskeard, water bailiff of Dartmouth, and havener of all the ports of Cornwall (including Lostwithiel) by his appointment. He sat for two other duchy boroughs, Liskeard (in 1410) and Helston (in 1414 (Nov.)), even though like Jayet he was not a Cornishman. A less direct connexion with the duchy, but nevertheless an important one, was that which involved the Kendales. John and Stephen Kendale, who were both returned to Parliament by Lostwithiel in this period, were son and grandson, respectively, of the Black Prince’s receiver in Cornwall and constable of Restormel castle, and kinsmen of his successor in the receivership.
None of this need suggest that the burgesses of Lostwithiel were subservient to the duchy. From the local point of view men like Jayet and Clink, who could gain access to Henry of Monmouth both as prince and King, were well placed to represent the town’s interests. Over the years the burgesses had acquired a large measure of independence from their lords: in about 1190 Robert Cardinan had formally granted them all such liberties as his ancestors had bestowed on the day when the town was founded, notably that every townsman might hold his burgage at a yearly rent of 6d. and be able to sell or devise it. The lord and his bailiffs were still to preside over the local court, but no burgess was to be cited to any court outside the borough, and if the lord should desire the appointment of a port-reeve he promised that the burgesses should elect him from among their own people. Their trading privileges were protected by a stipulation that strangers were forbidden to set up taverns or shops in the town (though they might do so on board ship) without the permission of the port-reeve and the whole community. In 1268 Earl Richard granted the burgesses a guild merchant, jurisdictional privileges, freedom of toll throughout the county, a weekly market and an annual fair; while an inspeximus charter issued in 1325 by Edward II added a second market. All the charters were in due course confirmed by Richard II and his successors.7 The burgesses could, therefore, regulate their own commercial affairs, and in other respects, too, they were largely independent of their lords. Although the lord’s steward continued to preside over borough courts (as, for example, the earl of Huntingdon’s steward did in 1398 and 1399), the burgesses could elect their own mayor who was in charge of the business of the statute merchant. Local elections were held annually, in the borough court soon after Michaelmas, the procedure being for 12 jurors to elect the ‘portreeve’ (who, having been sworn in, himself chose his two subordinate bailiffs) and also the lesser officials. It is not absolutely certain whether the ‘portreeve’ (so called in the only surviving records of elections, those of 1389 and 1398) was the same as the mayor. However, the portreeve elected in 1389 was Thomas Moyle, whereas the mayor recorded in transactions made under the seal of the statute merchant in October 1389 and May 1390 was John Curteys II, which would seem to indicate that the two offices were then distinct and separate.8
Lostwithiel had regularly made returns to Parliament since 1305. During the period under review, elections were most probably held in the town, but there is no evidence to indicate whether the franchise extended to all the burgesses or, as in the elections of local officials, was restricted to a jury of 12. In the later Middle Ages there was some disagreement between the boroughs of Cornwall as to where the county courts and, therefore, the shire elections should be held. Earl Edmund had insisted that they meet at Lostwithiel, but Bodmin claimed the right in 1314, and in 1337 the burgesses of Launceston made great play with a clause in their charter which allowed them to be host to eight county courts a year. However, as far as can be ascertained, shire courts were normally held at Lostwithiel, in the great hall designed for that purpose, although when it came to parliamentary elections there were some exceptions. Thus in 1407 elections were conducted as Grampound, and in 1411, 1419, 1422, 1432 and on some later occasions at Launceston. Even so, by 1460 Lostwithiel was known generally as ‘le Shiretoun’.9
Returns for Lostwithiel have survived for no more than 23 of the 32 Parliaments which met between 1386 and 1421, providing the names of 31 Members. So far as the evidence shows, as many as 17 out of the 31 sat for this borough in only one Parliament and six more in only two. But four were returned no fewer than three times and two four times, while John Trewint represented Lostwithiel in five Parliaments and Thomas Curteys in as many as six. Of course, these figures do not tell the full story, for parliamentary service for other Cornish boroughs and even the shire itself must needs also be taken into account. Not less than II of Lostwithiel’s representatives, a third of the total known, sat at one time or another for different Cornish constituencies: Pascoe Polruddon and Richard Respryn for Truro, Robert Combe for Liskeard, Thomas Cokayn for Bodmin, John Clink for Liskeard and Helston, John Trewint (mentioned above) for Truro and Liskeard, and John Syreston for Truro, Bodmin and Launceston. Moreover, between 1413 and 1425, Robert Treage sat twice for each of the boroughs of Lostwithiel, Bodmin, Helston and Truro, and once for Liskeard (never representing the same place in consecutive Parliaments); John Breton I sat in ten Parliaments all told, eight times for Bodmin; and Simon Lowys sat in 14 Parliaments, always, with one exception, for his native town of Liskeard. Most extraordinary is the case of Sir Henry Ilcombe, who, after sitting twice as a knight of the shire for Cornwall, was returned to two more Parliaments by Lostwithiel. He is the first knight ever known to have represented a borough. The majority of the Members for Lostwithiel were, therefore, men who had some experience of the workings of the Commons. Despite the many gaps in the returns, it is clear that the burgesses of Lostwithiel always preferred to elect at least one representative who had sat in the Lower House before: this certainly happened in 13 of the 23 Parliaments for which returns have survived, and in five more (1386, 1397 (Sept.), 1402, 1413 (May) and 1421 (Dec.)) both Members were experienced in this way. On the other hand, reelection is only known to have occurred in 1386, 1397 (Sept.) and 1410. An examination of the representation of Lostwithiel reveals some instances of a tradition of parliamentary service developing in particular families: this is true especially of the Quints, the Bloyowes and the Kendales. Indeed, the record of parliamentary service begun by Richard Kendale† of Treworgey in the 1360s, continued by John Kendale and his son Stephen in our period, and carried on by Thomas† and Richard Kendale† in the next generation, so starting a tradition that went on until the 18th century, is most impressive. Then there was the family of Curteys, one of whose members had sat in 1305, and which in this period included John II, Thomas and Tristram. John Colyn was the son of Thomas Colyn* and son-in-law of John Nicoll* of Bodmin; and Robert Kayl was the son of Ralph Kayl* and son-in-law of Thomas Archdeacon* (knight of the shire for Devon).
Of the 31 parliamentary burgesses five have not been satisfactorily identified as regards their places of residence, although it seems likely that at least four of them were local men. Half the rest (13) are known to have held property in Lostwithiel itself and to have normally lived in or only a short distance away from the town, even though some of them, like Stephen Kendale, owned substantial properties elsewhere in the shire. Two MPs of that category later moved away from Cornwall: Thomas Cokayn, who was most likely residing at Lostwithiel when elected to Parliament between 1420 and 1429, settled in London and acquired property in Essex and Middlesex; and Thomas West, who was possibly living there at the time of his elections in 1416 and 1417, left Cornwall to enter the King’s service, and when he was again returned by Lostwithiel, to the Parliaments of 1449 (Feb.) and 1455, he was certainly non-resident, for as ‘clerk of the market’ he had no option but to travel with the royal household. Eleven parliamentary burgesses dwelt elsewhere in Cornwall, though usually not far from Lostwithiel. Thus, Simon Lowys and Robert Combe lived near Liskeard, and John Breton I at Bodmin. Only two Members are known to have come from outside Cornwall: John Clink and Thomas Jayet. Clink’s background is obscure, but while not in Cornwall on royal service he was living at Westminster or travelling in the retinue of Henry of Monmouth (when prince of Wales); and Jayet seems to have come from East Anglia and definitely owned property in London, though his duties as controller of the Cornish stannaries must have involved him in spending at least part of every year at Lostwithiel.
In view of Lostwithiel’s importance as a market for tin, it is not surprising that over a third of its parliamentary representatives had some interest in this commodity, and are recorded bringing consignments of metal to be coined at the coinage hall or else shipping tin abroad or to London to be made into pewter. A man with such interests was returned to nearly every one of the 23 Parliaments for which returns have survived. This group, however, tended to overlap with another, almost as large, which was made up of men of armigerous rank. Indeed, an unusually high proportion of the borough’s parliamentary representatives were ‘esquires’: men like John Colyn, Robert Kayl, John Syreston and Robert Treage, all of whom held substantial estates in the county. (Kayl’s were said to be worth as much as £100 a year.) They also enjoyed close connexions with other members of the local gentry. Thomas Curteys, for example, married the daughter of a Northamptonshire knight who had kinsfolk in Cornwall, and his son, Tristram Curteys, served in France in the retinue of Edward, Lord Courtenay. Robert Treage was brother-in-law to Sir John Arundell† of Trerice. One of Lostwithiel’s Members, Henry Ilcombe, had even attained the status of knight before being ever elected for the borough, having won his spurs in the wars in France and Portugal. No more than five MPs are known to have belonged to the legal profession: Simon Lowys, Pascoe Polruddon, Richard Respryn, Thomas Cokayn and John Syreston. All of these were well regarded in the shire and, moreover, attracted clients of some importance: Cokayn, for example, acted as a trustee of the estates of Sir John Herle†, Sir William Talbot* and Sir Walter Hungerford*; Polruddon sometimes worked for (Sir) John Arundell I* of Lanherne; and Syreston was closely associated with Sir Richard Cergeaux* and the Bodrugans. Some achieved important posts reserved for men of their profession: Cokayn, a member of Lincoln’s Inn, eventually became recorder of London; Respryn served as steward of the bishop of Exeter’s estates in Cornwall as well as a justice of assize; and Polruddon was made clerk of the peace in Cornwall. But all, without exception, were only at the start of their promising careers when elected to Parliament for Lostwithiel. In any case, their category was of little importance in the overall representation of the borough, for none of these lawyers sat more than once in our period. In fact, the parliamentary representation of Lostwithiel was dominated by tin merchants, local squires and duchy officials.
The names of the mayors of Lostwithiel only now survive on documents drawn up under the seal of the statute merchant, and the list is incomplete. Six MPs are known to have filled the post. In four cases (John Curteys II, John Kendale, John Quint and Roger Umfrey) service as mayor preceded election to the Commons, though in the other two (Stephen Kendale and John Day) it came after. Both John and Stephen Kendale occupied the mayoralty for at least five terms, but even with them tenure of office had no direct bearing on election to Parliament; and on no known occasion was the officiating mayor returned. The same was true with regard to offices in the Crown’s (as opposed to the duchy’s) appointment. Between them, Lostwithiel’s Members held a variety of such posts: three (John Colyn, Sir Henry Ilcombe and John Trewint) served as coroners in Cornwall; two (Ilcombe and John Syreston) as escheators; two (Syreston and Pascoe Polruddon) as under sheriffs; and one, Robert Treage, as collector of customs at Plymouth and Fowey. But, unless Trewint was already a coroner when he was returned for the first time in 1420, it never happened that anyone discharging such an office was elected to Parliament. Thomas West’s employment as clerk of the market in the royal household, joint constable of Leeds castle and, possibly, joint keeper of the Tower armoury, belonged to a time long after his appearances in the Commons in this period. Thirteen parliamentary burgesses were appointed to royal commissions, nearly all of them to deal with matters only affecting Cornwall; but no more than two ever served as j.p.s (Robert Kayl for just one year, Richard Respryn for almost 30), and both appointments were dated long after the end of their parliamentary service for Lostwithiel.
Author: L. S. Woodger
- 1. The other name has been torn off the return.
- 2. C. Henderson Essays, 44-53; M.W. Beresford, New Towns, 401, 406-8; Hist. King’s Works ed. Brown, Colvin and Taylor, i. 470; ii. 804-5, 982-3.
- 3. CIPM, iii. 457; J. Hatcher, Rural Economy Duchy of Cornw. 24-25, 48; Caption of Seisin (Devon and Cornw. Rec. Soc. xvii), pp. xlvi-xlviii; Mems. Lostwithiel, 25, Reg. Black Prince, ii. 52; CIMisc. vii. 520.
- 4. RP, i. 296; Hatcher, 237-9; Devon and Cornw. N. and Q. vii. 225-32.
- 5. RP, iii. 296, 319; P.L. Hull, ‘The statute-merchant seal of Lostwithiel’, Archives, vi. 29-46; R. Pearse, Ports and Harbours of Cornw. 28-36; Hatcher, 191-2.
- 6. CPR, 1374-7, p. 375, 1385-9, pp. 314-15; 1396-9, p. 22; CFR, x. 126-7; xv. 126; xvii. 20; CCR, 1399-1401, pp. 23, 271; RP, iii. 532.
- 7. Henderson, 44-48; CChR, iii. 479; HMC Var. i. 327-9; CPR, 1377-81, p. 437; 1399-1401, p. 325; 1413-16, p. 129; 1422-9, p. 449.
- 8. CIMisc. vii. 99; SC2/161/6, 7; HMC Var. i. 336.
- 9. RP, i. 296; Caption of Seisin, p. xliv; CPR, 1452-61, p. 647.