Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the corporation

Number of voters:

11 in 1628


20 Jan. 1624WILLIAM WREY
23 Jan. 1626JOSEPH JANE

Main Article

There was a settlement at Liskeard by around AD 1000. The town received its first charter from Richard, earl of Cornwall in 1240, and like many of the earl’s possessions it was absorbed into the duchy of Cornwall in 1337, along with Liskeard manor, castle and park. The borough was important enough to be enfranchised in 1295, and ten years later it was designated as one of Cornwall’s five coinage towns, where tin could be assayed. Liskeard’s location on a major thoroughfare encouraged its development as a centre for the cloth trade, and in the early sixteenth century Leland considered it to be the county’s best market town apart from Bodmin. The privilege of coinage, which had lapsed several centuries earlier, was restored in 1568, though by this time the focus of tin production had shifted to western Cornwall.1 In 1603 Liskeard processed just 146 pieces of the metal, compared with the 1,251 coined at Truro, and by 1622 the local coinage house was ‘much decayed and ruinous’. Indeed Liskeard itself had experienced serious economic contraction. Writing in about 1600, Richard Carew† observed: ‘coinages, fairs, and markets, (as vital spirits in a decayed body) keep the inner parts of the town alive, while the ruined skirts accuse the injury of time and the neglect of industry’.2

Liskeard was incorporated in 1587. The governing body consisted of nine senior or capital burgesses, one of whom served as mayor, and around 15 lesser burgesses. Provision was made for both a chief steward and a recorder, though the latter post was not filled until 1604.3 The corporation owned a moderate amount of property, and was wealthy enough to retain the services of high-profile lawyers such as Sir John Hele†, John Glanville* and Henry Rolle*.4 At least one mayor during this period, John Hunkyn, himself practised in the London courts. However, the corporation was relatively small by Cornish standards, and was weakened at the start of the seventeenth century by factional conflicts. Moreover, most of the burgesses were nonentities; John Harris I* allegedly dismissed them in 1610 as ‘base fellows, … knaves, tinkers and cobblers’. In consequence Liskeard’s governors were vulnerable to pressure from the local gentry. As the parliamentary franchise was vested in the corporation, this external interference was reflected in elections.5

From the late 1580s the borough’s dominant patron was its chief steward, Sir Jonathan Trelawny*, who doubtless controlled the nominations in 1604. The senior Member returned in that year was his wife’s uncle, Sir William Killigrew I. Reginald Nicholas’ connection with Trelawny has not been absolutely established, but he seems to have been related through his mother-in-law to the Moncks of Devon, one of whom married Killigrew’s nephew. Trelawny died in June 1604, leaving a minor as his heir, and his family’s influence in Liskeard was abruptly terminated.6 Subsequent chief stewards were chosen from within the corporation, and Trelawny’s ostensible replacement as patron of the borough was the newly appointed recorder, Sir Francis Godolphin†. However, the elderly Godolphin lived around 40 miles away, and seems to have taken little interest in Liskeard’s affairs. This created a power vacuum, which was exploited by John Harris I, owner of the nearby seat of Lanrest. For much of the next decade Harris sought to manipulate the corporation in his own interests, until he was finally outmanoeuvred in 1612 by John Hunkyn, with the assistance of the duchy of Cornwall’s solicitor-general, Richard Connock*.7 A native of Liskeard, whose family held a local manor and the advowson of Liskeard parish, Connock had just acquired Liskeard Park and so was well placed to act as the borough’s unofficial patron. Moreover, Connock had an old score to settle with Harris, since in 1589 his fiancĂ©e had jilted him and married Harris instead. During 1612, at Hunkyn’s request, Connock launched a duchy inquiry into abuse of Liskeard’s charter, and with Harris’ allies drawn away to London to defend themselves, Hunkyn secured both the mayoralty and a firm grip over the corporation. His brother-in-law, Edward Chapman, succeeded him as mayor, and presided over the 1614 parliamentary elections, when the burgess-ships went to Connock and the borough’s fee’d counsel, John Glanville.8

Relations between Harris and the borough were still strained at the start of the next decade, and this probably affected the 1620 election. Connock was now dead, but as the duchy remained a potentially useful counterbalance to Harris’ ambitions the corporation willingly accepted a nomination from Prince Charles’s Council. At first the council nominated Sir Henry Vane*, but it subsequently replaced him with Sir Edward Coke, one of its high-priority candidates who had failed to secure a seat at Bossiney.9 The other Commons’ seat that year went to Nicholas Hele, whose brother Sir Warwick* had acquired Liskeard Park in 1619. By the time of the next election, in 1624, John Harris was dead, but even his departure from the scene may have had electoral repercussions.10 The Prince’s council again sought to place a nominee, (Sir) William Croft*, but this time the borough had lost its sense of obligation, and declined to accept any duchy candidate. Instead, it opted for William Wrey, the son of Liskeard’s then recorder, while the second burgess-ship was again taken by Nicholas Hele.11 Gentry influence also predominated in the following year, when Hele was returned once more, along with William Coryton, who owned the local manor of Lamellyn. The pattern of patronage shifted once again in 1626. Sir Warwick Hele died shortly before the elections, and although his heirs retained control of Liskeard Park, they exerted no subsequent influence over the borough.