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 mayor and burgesses

Number of voters:

at least 54 in 1625


24 Dec. 1620(SIR) GEORGE CHUDLEIGH , (bt.)
16 Jan. 1621SIR HENRY VANE
13 Feb. 16211EDWARD SALTER vice Vane, chose to sit for Carlisle
27 Apr. 1625(SIR) GEORGE CHUDLEIGH , (bt.)
  Four returns.
29 Mar. 1628SIR THOMAS BAGEHOTT vice Kerr, chose to sit for Preston

Main Article

Lostwithiel was probably founded around the late twelfth century by the Cardinham family, lords of the nearby castle of Restormel, who provided the settlement with its earliest charter. Located on a then navigable stretch of the Fowey river, and near to the tin-producing region, or stannary, of Blackmoor, the town enjoyed early prosperity as a prime distribution-point for the tin trade. The same natural advantages persuaded Edmund, earl of Cornwall to make Lostwithiel his administrative centre in around 1290, thereby giving the town a pre-eminence within the county which was confirmed by its enfranchisement in the early fourteenth century. When the royal duchy of Cornwall was established in 1337, Lostwithiel immediately became its capital, with the great hall and exchequer constructed by Earl Edmund providing a ready-made base for the duke’s officials.2

In the early seventeenth century the town still retained many elements of its former prestige. The old duchy ‘palace’ provided a venue for both the county court and the duchy’s stannary court; Cornwall’s knights of the shire were elected there, and the stannary convocations or parliaments, to which Lostwithiel sent six representatives, took place there. The town was also entrusted with the county’s official weights and measures.3 However, at the turn of the century Richard Carew observed that all these privileges could still ‘hardly raise it to a tolerable condition of wealth and inhabitance’. A few years earlier Camden had found it ‘a little town, and not at all populous’, compared with nearby Liskeard and Bodmin. The bulk of Cornish tin was now being produced in the west of the county, and Lostwithiel’s dominance of this market had emphatically passed to the rival centres of Truro and Helston. Moreover, generations of tin-mining on Blackmoor had caused serious silting of the Fowey river, and even barges could no longer reach the town.4

This economic weakness was mirrored by Lostwithiel’s government. Although earl Edmund’s father had granted the town the status of a free borough, subsequent royal charters did little but confirm existing trading privileges. The chief burgesses began to call themselves mayors during the sixteenth century, but use of this title was ratified only in September 1608, when James I’s charter of incorporation finally set up a small common council consisting of a mayor and six capital burgesses. Several considerations prompted the request for this charter. Prior to incorporation, lands bequeathed to the borough had to be vested in trustees. Over time, this role had been virtually monopolized by the Kendall family, minor gentry living both in the neighbouring parish of Lanlivery and in Lostwithiel itself. The Kendalls had come to regard the town lands as an extension of their own property, and it appears that at least some of the income which should have been used for the benefit of the borough was being misappropriated. Indeed, by the early seventeenth century the same family had achieved a financial stranglehold over the town, since they were also receiving the profits from its fairs and markets. The trigger for change may well have been a feud in 1608 between the Kendalls and the then mayor, William Goble, in the course of which ‘a very filthy and venomous toad’ was dismembered on Goble’s pew in the parish church. The mayor apparently applied for the charter without the Kendalls’ knowledge, and under its provisions not only was the new corporation confirmed in possession of the disputed lands, but the day for holding the weekly market was changed. Taken by surprise by Goble’s tactics, the Kendalls tried to intimidate the corporation and disrupt the new market. However, the borough’s officers counter-attacked through the courts, and in 1611 secured a decisive victory in Chancery.5 Nevertheless, the charter offered only limited independence to Lostwithiel’s inhabitants, since it presented them with a new and more powerful gentry patron in the form of Sir Reginald Mohun*, who was named as the borough’s recorder. Moreover, the duchy of Cornwall used the grant to confirm its entitlement to a large share of the corporation’s profits. Indeed, the duchy made its presence felt at intervals throughout this period. Extensive repairs were carried out to its administrative buildings in 1606, while the prison attached to the Stannary Court was reconstructed in 1620-2. An inquiry into duchy tenancies was conducted there in 1616, and in the following year efforts were made to recover parts of the ‘palace’ site which had fallen into private hands. Not surprisingly, both Mohun and the duchy played significant roles in early Stuart parliamentary elections.6

The precise size and composition of Lostwithiel’s electorate at this time is unclear. The 1608 charter makes no mention of the franchise, and the surviving parliamentary indentures normally refer simply to the mayor and burgesses. Although the returns in 1621 and 1624 were apparently signed only by members of the common council, a large number of townsmen participated in the disputed contest of 1625. Signatories other than the capital burgesses also appear on subsequent indentures.7

The pattern of electoral patronage at Lostwithiel is more readily discernible. Ordinarily, one seat was taken by a local gentry family or its nominees. In 1604 Sir William Lower relied on his father’s substantial property-holdings in the neighbouring parish of St. Winnow, and in the borough itself.8 During the 1620s Sir Reginald Mohun’s recordership allowed him to dispose of places freely among his relatives. His son Reginald and brothers-in-law George and Sir John Chudleigh benefited in 1626, 1621 and 1628 respectively. In 1624 a seat was provided for George Chudleigh’s kinsman by marriage, John Chichester.9 Lostwithiel’s other burgess-ship invariably went to a duchy of Cornwall nominee of some kind. In 1604 the choice fell on Sir Thomas Chaloner, who had recently become governor of the Household of Prince Henry, the newly created duke. In 1614 the lord warden of the stannaries, the 3rd earl of Pembroke, put in his secretary Edward Leech, and presumably also recommended the courtier Sir Henry Vane, who possessed no known ties with local patrons.10 In both 1621 and 1624 the borough accepted nominees recommended by Prince Charles’s Council, though on each occasion the corporation declined to accept the duchy’s initial candidate. In 1621 secretary of state (Sir) Robert Naunton* was rejected in favour of Sir Henry Vane, originally the Council’s choice for Liskeard. Ironically Vane then opted to sit for Carlisle, leaving his place to be filled by the duchy’s unsuccessful nominee for Plymouth, Edward Salter. In 1624 the borough found fault with Miles Hobart, a younger son of the prince’s chancellor Sir Henry Hobart*, and instead elected his elder brother Sir John, who had initially been proposed at West Looe.11 In 1626 Pembroke reasserted himself, and his vice-warden William Coryton* secured the duchy’s seat for Sir Robert Mansell. Two years later, the duke of Buckingham probably exerted influence over the duchy machinery to obtain a place for the courtier Sir Robert Kerr. Although documentary evidence for this is lacking, it is significant that at the time of election the vice-warden was John Mohun*, son of Sir Reginald and Buckingham’s client. Like Vane before him, Kerr opted to sit elsewhere, and his burgess-ship therefore went to another officer of the king’s Household, Sir Thomas Bagehott.12 The only known contest during this period occurred in 1625. The men elected on 27 Apr., Sir Henry Vane and the now knighted Sir George Chudleigh, represented the usual combination of duchy and Mohun interests, and were most likely the borough’s intended choices. However, on 26 Apr. returns had also been made for Nicholas Kendall of Lanlivery, son of one of the former trustees of the town lands, and for Sir Reginald Mohun himself. The probable explanation lies in the fact that Kendall was son-in-law to the then mayor and deputy recorder, Thomas Treffry. The four election indentures show that Vane and Chudleigh received the support of most of the common council except Treffry, who was the only member of the corporation to vote for Kendall and Mohun. This suggests that the mayor had promoted his kinsman, and, failing to win general backing for him, attempted to pre-empt the scheduled election. This conclusion is supported by the fact that Treffry was the sole signatory on Mohun’s indenture, as if he were trying to draw the recorder into his scheme by providing him with a seat. A lack of prior consultation on Treffry’s part might explain how Mohun and his habitual nominee Chudleigh came to be in competition with each other. An abnormally large number of voters put their names to Vane and Chudleigh’s returns, doubtless an indication of the outrage felt in the town at Treffry’s behaviour. Vane was able to extricate himself from this dispute by again opting to sit for Carlisle, but Parliament was dissolved before the Commons was able to rule on the three remaining candidates.13

Author: Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. C219/37/35.
  • 2. J. Polsue, Complete Parochial Hist. of Cornw. iii. 175-6; A. Saunders, Devon and Cornw. 40; G.R. Lewis, Stannaries, 45, 149; HP Commons, 1386-1421, i. 311-12.
  • 3. F.E. Halliday, Richard Carew of Antony, 212-13; D. and S. Lysons, Magna Britannia, iii. Cornw. 203-4; Saunders, 40; Lewis, 126.
  • 4. Halliday, 212; Polsue, 169; Lewis, 44; E315/354; E306/5/4.
  • 5. Polsue, iii. 169; HMC Var. i. 327-7; HP Commons, 1509-58, i. 54; C66/1761/1; C2/Jas.I/L18/66; STAC 8/149/21.
  • 6. C66/1761/1; E306/12, box 2, bdle. 24, item 28; DCO, ‘Bk. of Orders 1619-21’, f. 35r-v; ‘Bk. of Orders 1621-5’, ff. 37v, 75; ‘Letters and Warrants 1615-19’, ff. 39v-40, 71.
  • 7. C219/37/2, 35-6; 219/38/36-7; 219/39/54, 56, 59-60; 219/40/269, 283; 219/41B/118, 148, 169; Cornw. RO, B/LOS 120.
  • 8. WARD 7/58/198.
  • 9. Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 325; Vivian, Vis. Devon, 177, 190, 719.
  • 10. HMC Downshire iv. 193.
  • 11. DCO, ‘Letters and Patents 1620-1’, f. 39v; ‘Prince Charles in Spain’, f. 33v; J.K. Gruenfelder, Influence in Early Stuart Elections, 89.
  • 12. SP16/523/77.
  • 13. C219/39/54, 56, 59-60; Cornw. RO, B/LOS 120.