Available from Boydell and Brewer
|1388 (Feb.)||Henry Gourlyn|
|1388 (Sept.)||John Tr...uran|
|1390 (Jan.)||John Coke|
|1393||Ralph Trenewith I|
|1397 (Jan.)||John Trereise|
|1397 (Sept.)||Nicholas Trenewith|
|William Colyn II|
|1413 (May)||John Chinals|
|1414 (Nov.)||John Trereise|
|William Trethake I|
|1416 (Mar.)||Peter Hayme|
|William Moun 2|
|1421 (May)||William Trethake II|
|1421 (Dec.)||Robert Treage|
The town of Truro achieved corporate existence in the 1150s when Richard Lucy, afterwards Henry II’s chief justiciar, separated it from his manor of Kenwyn at the head of a main tidal creek of the Fal estuary. Lucy conferred on the inhabitants certain liberties (including the right to have a court of their own, to levy tolls and rents and to manage their own commercial affairs), and obtained confirmation of his charters from Reynold, earl of Cornwall, as well as from the King. In 1166 the earl granted the burgesses freedom from the jurisdiction of his hundred and county courts and exemption from tolls levied in Cornwall. However, it was not until 1259 that Bishop Bronescombe of Exeter consecrated the chapel of St. Mary at Truro, although this soon afterwards acquired parochial status.3 There are then clear signs that the following century was a period of growth and prosperity, partly due to the town’s annual fair and weekly market, especially after 1262 when the nearby settlement at Newham surrendered its rights in the latter respect. Truro undoubtedly owed much to its usefulness as a port of shipment for tin, for three stannary districts were within easy reach and Redruth, perhaps the most important centre of mining in west Cornwall, was barely ten miles away. Accordingly, Truro became one of the staple towns for tin before 1300 and remained throughout the later Middle Ages a centre for assaying and coinage.4 In the 14th century, however, the trade on which Truro’s prosperity depended was adversely affected by the growth of a number of small ports along the shores of Falmouth harbour and of rivals on the river Fowey. Then, too, plagues decimated the town’s population, and a severe raid by the French in 1377 left Truro ‘almost uninhabited and wholly wasted’. Whereas in the 1330s Truro had been one of the largest and wealthiest of the Cornish boroughs, assessed in 1334 to pay as its contribution to a parliamentary tenth as much as £12 1s.10d. (which put it second only to Bodmin), by 1378 it was in poor shape. The serious nature of the decline is clear from the series of royal grants, renewed for periods of up to ten years at a time, permitting the burgesses to pay as parliamentary subsidy a maximum of £2 10s. (little more than a fifth of its former assessment). These royal mitigations extended from 1378 to 1420. Although in 1429 the town apparently paid the full amount (£12 1s.10d.), it is clear from the concessions made later in Henry VI’s reign (which remitted as much as £11 on each occasion of a levy) that conditions had by no means improved.5 Moreover, the coinage accounts for Lostwithiel and Truro from our period reveal that, even though Truro continued to be a coinage town, the volume of tin passing through its coinage hall was a mere fraction of that sent through Lostwithiel.
Lucy’s estates were divided after his death, and by the late 14th century at least three gentry families had acquired interests in Truro. A sixth part of the town which, along with the right of presentation to the church every third turn, was held by Richard Huish† (d.1369), came into the possession of his daughter, Emmeline, and her husbands, first Sir Robert Tresilian†, c.j.KB, and then John Colshull I* of London. The Arundells of Lanherne, too, had important holdings in Truro, but it was the Bodrugans who were the principal lords of the borough and official patrons of the church.6 The latter’s interest in the parliamentary representation of Truro may perhaps be seen in the elections in 1377 and 1393 of Ralph Trenewith I, husband of the Bodrugan heiress, and that of the Arundells in the returns of their associates, William Panter and Robert Treage, in 1420 and 1421. Given Truro’s situation close to the duchy of Cornwall manor of Moresk, and since it was also a port and a coinage town, it might be expected that the officers of the duchy would also exert some influence over the affairs of the community. In fact, very little evidence of this has been found in our period. True, Ralph Trenewith I had served as controller of the stannaries and was currently acting as receiver of the duchy estates in Devon and Cornwall when elected in January 1377, and as receiver of the duchy estates held by the Black Prince’s widow when returned to her son’s first Parliament in October following, but he had left duchy service before his final election in 1393. Similarly, Roger Juyl had held office as controller of the Devonshire stannaries and as receiver of the duchy before his only return for Truro in 1391, and Nicholas Trenewith had acted as deputy havener before he entered the Lower House in 1397. It should be noted, however, that Juyl was not elected to Parliament until ten years after his dismissal from the receivership, and Nicholas Trenewith’s service in the duchy anticipated his election by almost 20 years. Although John Lawhire and Robert Treage were both employed as haveners of the duchy ports in the 1420s, their parliamentary service for Truro did not fall within their periods of office.
Truro first made electoral returns to Parliament in 1295 and continued to do so quite regularly throughout the 14th century. Returns for only 20 of the 32 Parliaments convened between 1386 and 1421 have survived, although Prynne supplies the names of Members for one of those missing. As many as 37 men are known to have represented the borough in this period, and a large number of them (28) apparently sat for this constituency only once. Of the remaining nine, five sat in two Parliaments, three in three, and one (the younger William Trethake) in six. Were it not for the fact that ten MPs had sat for other Cornish boroughs before being elected for Truro, the statistics relating to parliamentary experience would make poor reading. As it is, when the experience of those ten is taken into account, it transpires that in no fewer than 11 of the 21 Parliaments concerned one of the Members had sat in the Commons previously, and in three more both were qualified in this way. Even so, in possibly as many as seven Parliaments (those of 1388 (Sept.), 1406, 1411, 1413 (May), 1416 (Mar.), 1419 and 1420) neither burgess had ever (so far as is known) been returned before, not for Truro itself or for any other town. Re-election appears only to have occurred twice: in 1386, when John Tregoose was chosen again, and in 1421, when William Richard was returned to both Parliaments convened. If we ignore the gaps in the evidence for Truro and other Cornish boroughs, it looks as if as many as 21 men sat for Truro just once and were never returned by another constituency. However, not all of those who are known to have represented Truro were relucant to attend Parliaments: no fewer than 14 of the 37 also sat at some other time for other places and can only have become well acquainted with the workings of the Commons. John Tregoose sat in six Parliaments (three times for Truro and once each for Bodmin, Helston and Liskeard), John Trewint in seven (five times for Lostwithiel and once each for Truro and Liskeard), Robert Treage in nine (twice for Truro, Helston, Bodmin and Lostwithiel and once for Liskeard), John Urban in ten (eight times for Helston, once for Truro and once, moreover, as a knight of the shire), and William Chamberlain in 11 (once for Truro and ten times for Southampton). The last mentioned, Chamberlain, was out of the ordinary in being one of the very few MPs of our period to represent boroughs in different counties.
Although family relationship was far from unusual among the parliamentary burgesses of Cornwall, it may be significant that only rarely did members of the same family sit for Truro. (In fact, the only instance found in our period was that of the two William Trethakes, father and son, who sat in 1414 and 1421, respectively). The apparent absence of an established burgess group from which parliamentary representatives might have been drawn may be explained by the impoverishment of Truro and, as expressed in petitions to the Crown, the reluctance of people to settle there for fear of a renewal of demands for parliamentary taxation at the old level. Indeed, few of the MPs are known to have lived in Truro, or even to have held property there. It is, of course, quite likely that some or all of the ten Members whose place of residence has not been discovered were local men, but of the remaining 27 only five are definitely known to have owned property in Truro itself. Fourteen parliamentary burgesses, all told, held land in west Cornwall, and so within quite easy reach of the borough, but the rest (13) lived further away, to the east. There is no reason to believe that any of the 37 were not Cornishmen, but three of them were apparently living outside the county at the time of their election to Parliament: William Chamberlain was probably already residing in Southampton when returned for Truro in 1413; Robert Trenerth had set up in business in London long before he sat for Truro in 1420 and 1422; and John Megre, who purchased property in London while his first Parliament for Truro (1397 (Jan.)) was in progress, was evidently living there when elected again 20 years later. It should be noted, however, that Chamberlain’s family long retained its holdings in Truro and Grampound, and that both Trenerth and Megre always kept landed interests in Cornwall and their involvement in the tin trade ensured that they never lost contact with local merchants.
The majority of the MPs for Truro were landowners and seem to have made a living primarily from farming and rents. Four of them were of armigerous rank, and men like Thomas Paderda (who enjoyed an annual income from land of about £40) and Ralph Kayl were clearly substantial members of the gentry. The Truro charters make no mention of a guild merchant, but the fraternity of St. Nicholas, an association of merchants, seems to have controlled the government of the town. It is, therefore, surprising that only seven MPs have been found to have been merchants, though it is likely that many more than this had interests in trade which have not come to light. Three of the seven were evidently prosperous and well established by the time of their elections to Parliament: John Megre, a wealthy tin merchant, pewterer and citizen of London, Robert Trenerth, a member of the Mercer’s Company, and John Urban, who traded in exceptionally large quantities of tin and was made lieutenant of the Staple of Calais. Together, however, these three represented Truro in Parliament only four times in our period. A comparatively large group of MPs, as many as 12, have been identified as lawyers, and there is no doubt that they played a greater representational role than the merchants. Members of that profession were returned to no fewer than 12 of the 21 Parliaments for which returns have survived and, indeed, filled both seats in the Parliaments of 1395, 1413 (May) and 1421 (May). Men with legal knowledge would doubtless be more useful to the borough when it came to presenting petitions concerning payment of parliamentary subsidies (as in 1402 and 1410), but a still more important factor influencing the burgesses’ choice of candidate was a financial one. Representation in Parliament was a costly business: in the spring of 1390, for example, Truro was expected to pay as much as £12 for the expenses of its two MPs,7 and it may well be that so many of the borough’s Members were prosperous merchants, shire gentry, or lawyers, simply because they were prepared to meet at least part of their own expenses and so relieve the town. After all, the lawyers and the tin merchants often needed to travel to London on private business.
Few of the names of the portreeves or mayors8 of Truro are now traceable, and so it is impossible to say whether election to Parliament was connected in any way with participation in the borough administration. Certainly, as regards local service for the Crown, only a very few of the parliamentary burgesses had any experience before election: Roger Juyl had held office for two annual terms as escheator of Devon and Cornwall before his only return in 1391; Thomas Paderda had served as under sheriff of Cornwall a year previous to his only Parliament in 1411; and Robert Treage had been employed as customer in Plymouth and Fowey before his first election for Truro in 1421. More, however, were appointed to royal offices in Cornwall after their first appearance in the Commons: John Lawhire, Pascoe Polruddon and John Tregoose were to be made under sheriffs; Tregoose and John Trewint, coroners; Polruddon, clerk of the peace; and Ralph Trenewith I and Richard Respryn, justices of assize. More important, John Urban went on to serve as lieutenant to the admiral of England and as one of Henry IV’s envoys to the duke of Burgundy in Flanders. Similarly, although 13 of the 37 MPs of the period were appointed to royal commissions, only six had served before their first recorded election for Truro. Six Members became j.p.s (in Cornwall, Ralph Trenewith I, John Tremayne, John Lawhire, Richard Respryn and John Urban, and in Hampshire William Chamberlain) but only Trenewith and Tremayne had sat on the bench before being elected to Parliament, and Tremayne alone was a commissioner of the peace at the time of his election, which took place early in 1388.
Author: L. S. Woodger
- 1. It is possible that John Pengersick* and John Bodannan (?John Chenduyt* of Bodannan) sat for Truro in this Parliament (see the survey for Launceston, n. 1).
- 2. W. Prynne, Brevia Parliamentaria Rediviva, iv. 1141.
- 3. C. Henderson, Essays, 1-18; M.W. Beresford, New Towns, 413; CChR, ii. 304-5.
- 4. J. Hatcher, Rural Economy Duchy of Cornw. 24, 26; R. Pearse, Ports and Harbours of Cornw. 61-63; Devon and Cornw. N. and Q. xxiii. 69