Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer


1553 (Mar.)(not known)
1554 (Apr.)?RALPH SKINNER 3
 (not known)

Main Article

The borough of Penryn had been established in 1236 by the bishops of Exeter near their palace of Trelivel on the Fal estuary, in an effort to increase revenues from the manor by drawing trade away from Truro. By the 16th century the bishops had long since ceased to visit Trelivel and the palace was in ruins, but they had not parted with palace, manor or borough. In the early 1540s Bishop Veysey alias Harman leased the borough to the wealthy townsman Ralph Couche the elder and his sons in survivorship, and about the same time the Killigrews of Arwennack took a lease of the remainder of the manor of Trelivel, known as Penryn Foreign. The Couches had an earlier interest in various rights in Penryn Foreign which the Killigrews refused to recognize; the Killigrews also challenged the Couches’ title to the fee-farm of the borough. Several properties in the borough were held by the duchy of Cornwall. Little is known about its municipal administration which was headed by a mayor or portreeve, assisted by two bailiffs.4

The enfranchisement of Penryn in 1547 may have been promoted by the octogenarian Veysey as lord of the manor, but neither he nor his successors in the see, Miles Coverdale and James Turberville, seem to have exercised patronage at elections. Alternatively, it could have been proposed by the inhabitants, led by the Couches, out of a desire to see the borough keep up with the other Cornish towns so favoured. They could have counted on the support of the duchy, which was responsible for erecting the forts guarding the Fal estuary and needed help in that work, and the election in 1547 of at least one man known to the receiver-general seems to imply duchy interest in the enfranchisement.5

The four election indentures which survive for this period throw little light on the process; three are faded and dirty and the last is almost illegible. The contracting parties were the sheriff of Cornwall and either the mayor and burgesses or the portreeve, bailiffs and burgesses. The English indenture for September 1553 contains the statement, ‘I the said Ralph Couche, mayor, and the burgesses of the same town have [?ordained], constituted and deputed’ John Aylworth and Ralph Skinner as Members, and is signed by Couche; in October 1554 the wording is ‘the said portreeve by the consent and agreement of other the burgesses ... hath appointed, elected and chosen the Members’, one of whose names, Thomas Matthews, has been inserted in a different hand over an erasure. In the Latin indenture of 1555, which is in a hand similar to its counterpart for Helston, the seals are said to have been affixed in the separate copies by the sheriff and the burgesses. All that can be said about the franchise is that it probably lay, as it was later decided to do, in householders and inhabitants paying scot and lot.6

Both Members returned in 1547 could have owed their return to Sir Thomas Arundell, receiver-general of the duchy. William Smethwick was known to Arundell through service to Catherine Parr and Richard Arnold’s elder brother Nicholas Arnold had been a student at Lincoln’s Inn with Arundell; Arnold was also a kinsman of Thomas Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, still a figure of importance. The names of their successors in the Parliaments of March 1553 and April 1554 are not known, but Ralph Skinner was probably re-elected to the second of them. He had sat in the intervening one with John Aylworth, who as the augmentations receiver for the south-west was well placed to secure his own election in the region, especially as his two colleagues the Mildmay brothers also held posts in the duchy; either Aylworth or the Mildmays could also have had a hand in the election of Thomas Mathew, an auditor in augmentations. Ralph Couche the elder, as the leading figure in the town, may be thought to have procured both his own election and his kinsman John Courtenay’s in 1555; as mayor he was to return his son and namesake in 1558. James Trewynnard’s family owned property in the locality and John Gardiner, although he had no personal ties with Penryn, was related to the local magnate (Sir) William Godolphin I.

Author: J. J. Goring


  • 1. Hatfield 207.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. G. Burnet, Hist. Ref. ii. 447-8.
  • 4. M. Beresford, New Towns in the Middle Ages, 173, 257, 409; J. Polsue, Paroch. Hist. Cornw. ii. 78-79, 92; R. J. Roddis, Penryn, 18-19, 23-24; information from G. Haslam.
  • 5. Pendennis and St. Mawes Castles, Cornw. (Dept. of the Environment 1963), 1-15; information from H. M. Colvin and G. Haslam.
  • 6. C219/21/24, 23/21, 24/27, 25/26.