Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
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Saltash, a borough owned by the duchy of Cornwall, lay not far from Trematon castle, which by the 16th century was ruinous and in use only as a prison. Although commercially outstripped by Plymouth at the mouth of the Tamar estuary, the town with its market, port and ferry across the river was a prosperous settlement. Its inhabitants had received a charter from Reginald de Valletort (d.1246) ratifying the liberties and customs which they had enjoyed ‘in the time of Reginald’s ancestors’; these privileges were confirmed repeatedly during the later middle ages and by Henry VIII in 1510. Little more is known about municipal administration than that it was headed by a mayor. No borough records survive for the period.3

The enfranchisement of Saltash in 1547 was presumably initiated by Sir John Russell, Baron Russell, later 1st Earl of Bedford, as high steward of the duchy. The four election indentures for the period throw little light on the franchise or process. The first, of February 1553, is in Latin and has as contracting parties the sheriff of Cornwall and the mayor and community or commonalty of the borough. The next, of September 1553, is in English and in the first person: ‘I the said [mayor] and the burgesses ... have ordained, constituted and deputed’ the two Members, whose names have been inserted (Thomas Martin’s over an illegible erasure) in a hand different from the rest of the document. The Latin indenture for October 1554, between the mayor and burgesses and the sheriff, states that ‘we the aforesaid mayor and burgesses have elected’ and ends ‘I the aforesaid John Arundell [of Trerice, the sheriff] ... have set to my seal’. On the fragmentary indenture for 1555 only the words ‘burgesses and inhabit[ants]’ can now be read of the electing body.4

The first two Members seem to have enjoyed official support: the exchequer clerk Christopher Smith had himself perhaps promoted the election of Henry Gates at Bridport, where he had an interest, and the London skinner Henry Fisher was a relative of the Protector’s stalwart Sir Ralph Vane. Of the men who succeeded them early in 1553, George Kekewich lived nearby and Edward Saunders was a Middle Temple lawyer of midland origin; Saunders could have benefited by the link between the duchy and Coventry, where he was recorder, but is more likely to have been commended by his colleague at the Temple, Humphrey Cavell, who himself was to sit twice for the borough. In the last two years of the 1st Earl of Bedford’s life the borough became all but a Middle Temple preserve: besides Cavell and Saunders, Oliver Becket and Richard Weston belonged there and Peter Sainthill almost certainly did so as well. Becket also had local ties, his mother coming from St. Germans, and Sainthill was a Devonian who later obtained a minor post in the duchy. The only Member from these years who was not a Cornishman, a Middle Templar or a duchy employee was Thomas Martin: a Catholic civilian, he had recently returned from the Continent and may have been backed by Stephen Gardiner, whose service he was to enter. After Bedford’s death the pattern of Membership changes. Robert Nowell and Francis Yaxley were perhaps nominated by Cecil, exercising the 2nd Earl’s patronage while he was abroad, but Yaxley was a kinsman of the new steward of the duchy, Edward Hastings, Baron Hastings of Loughborough. The return of Thomas Williams, an Inner Templar from Devon, was probably the work of the locally important family of Edgecombe. If Nicholas St. John was the Member whose first name alone survives on the indenture for 1555, he perhaps had duchy support, having previously sat for another duchy borough.

Author: J. J. Goring


  • 1. Hatfield 207.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. J. Hatcher, Rural Econ. and Soc. in the Duchy of Cornw. 1300-1500, pp. 5, 18, 22, 34, 192-3; Leland, Itin. ed. Smith, i. 210-11, 325; B. P. Wolffe, The R. Demesne in Eng. Hist. 240; The King’s Works, ii. 846-7; M. Beresford, New Towns of the Middle Ages, 115, 244, 257, 410; J. Polsue, Paroch. Hist. Cornw. 236.
  • 4. C219/20/31, 21/21, 23/26, 24/32.