CHAMPERNOWNE, Arthur (1580-c.1650), of Dartington, nr. Totnes, Devon

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




Family and Education

b. 25 May 1580,1 1st s. of Gawen Champernowne of Dartington and Roberta, da. of Gabriel de l’Orge, comte de Montgomery; stepbro. to Sir John* and Thomas Horner*.2 educ. M. Temple 1598.3 m. 17 June 1598, Bridget, da. of Sir Thomas Fulford of Fulford, Devon, 6s. 7da.4 suc. fa. 1592.5 admon. 1650.6 sig. Ar[thur] Champernowne.

Offices Held

J.p. Devon 1618-at least 1643,7 commr. piracy 1624, 1630, 1637-9,8 billeting, Devon and Cornw. 1625,9 martial law 1625, 1627,10 Forced Loan, Devon 1627,11 sewers 1634,12 incorporation of maltsters 1636,13 assessment 1641-2,14 array 1642.15


Champernowne belonged to one of Devon’s oldest gentry families, which had settled in the county during the twelfth century, and produced a knight of the shire in 1298. His grandfather, Sir Arthur†, a younger son, acquired Dartington Hall in 1559, and sat for the nearby borough of Totnes in the second Elizabethan Parliament. Sir Arthur was a staunch Protestant who helped to suppress the 1549 Prayer Book rising and participated in Wyatt’s rebellion. During the French wars of religion he espoused the Huguenot cause, and married his heir Gawen to the daughter of one of its leaders. This union proved stormy, however, nearly ending in divorce in 1582. Gawen continued his father’s struggle against international Catholicism, fighting alongside his father-in-law in France, and providing one of the ships that sailed against the Spanish Armada, though his prominent role in Devon’s defence prevented him from joining the fleet.16

Champernowne was aged only 11 when his father Gawen died in 1592. His wardship was acquired by his mother, who subsequently married a Somerset gentleman, Thomas Horner†. By his own estimate, Champernowne inherited personal goods, leases and ships worth around £4,000, with an annual income of perhaps £400. However, this estate was comparatively small by Devon gentry standards, a fact which probably explains his rather late appointment as a local magistrate.17 Keen to boost his income, Champernowne engaged in moneylending, exploiting mortgage arrangements to his own advantage. By 1622 he was also participating in the New England fisheries, under licence from his kinsman Sir Ferdinando Gorges†.18

Champernowne’s long-running dispute with the lessees of Totnes’ town mills seems not to have damaged his relations with the corporation, and indeed he sat for the borough in the 1624 Parliament. However, he left no trace on the Commons’ proceedings. He presumably backed the election of his cousin Sir Edward Seymour* at Totnes in the following year.19 Champernowne recovered his seat in 1626, but again failed to contribute to debate. His only committee nomination, on 14 Mar., concerned the bill to confirm the tenancy customs of Henry, Lord Morley’s manor of Hornby. He and his colleague Philip Holditch wrote to Totnes corporation, but whether they were reporting Parliament’s proceedings or discussing other business is unclear.20

Shortly after his return to Devon, Champernowne and other local billeting commissioners were entertained by the corporation ‘at two sundry times about removing soldiers’ housed in the town in the aftermath of the failed Cadiz expedition of 1625. These meetings bore fruit in August 1626, when the commissioners persuaded the Privy Council to relocate the troops.21 In the same month the Crown briefly revived its strategy of raising money by Privy Seal loans. Champernowne, Devon’s only designated recipient, was asked for £100, but he may not have paid before this unpopular scheme was abandoned a month later. These privy seals have been interpreted as a weapon for use against the duke of Buckingham’s leading opponents, but Champernowne cannot be shown to have acted against the royal favourite.22

The renewed war with Catholic Europe apparently stirred Champernowne to emulate the military exploits of his father and grandfather. He was recorded as the owner or part owner of eight merchant ships licensed as privateers between 1626 and 1630, though their operations may not have been financially lucrative. In 1634 he secured from the king the reversionary title to Plympton priory, Devon after claiming that ‘during the late war with Spain he ... suffered much’.23 Once peace was restored, Champernowne resumed his normal commercial activities, trading out of Dartmouth with both France and Spain. He also renewed his interest in the American colonies, once again in conjunction with Gorges, negotiating a mortgage of £1,118 in 1635 to fund a New England settlement under his younger son Francis.24 However, his finances were now under considerable strain. By 1633 he already owed £2,590 to the Totnes merchant Richard Rodd*, and around this time he was also sucked into the debt crisis of his cousin, Sir Richard Champernowne.25 During the Civil War, Champernowne’s eldest sons fought for the king, but he himself apparently remained on the sidelines, in 1645 merely donating one old horse towards a local royalist levy.26 He died intestate, administration of his estate being granted in 1650. Champernowne’s great-grandson Arthur sat for Totnes in the 1715 Parliament, but the family’s local political influence ended ignominiously when Arthur’s son was rejected three times by the borough.27

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: George Yerby / Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. C142/232/69.
  • 2. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 163; Misc. Gen. et Her. n.s. iv. 162.
  • 3. M. Temple Admiss.
  • 4. Vivian, 163-4.
  • 5. C142/232/69.
  • 6. Devonshire Wills ed. E.A. Fry, 37.
  • 7. C231/4, f. 67v; Devon RO, QS28/1.
  • 8. C181/3, f. 130; 181/4, f. 52v; 181/5, ff. 84v, 133.
  • 9. APC, 1625-6, pp. 55, 267.
  • 10. SP16/2/84; T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 1, p. 180; APC, 1627-8, p. 79.
  • 11. C193/12/2, f. 10v.
  • 12. C181/4, f. 163v.
  • 13. PC2/46, p. 374.
  • 14. SR, v. 61, 83, 150.
  • 15. Northants. RO, FH133.
  • 16. D. and S. Lysons, Devonshire, p. cxxxix; OR; A. Emery, Dartington Hall, 73-4, 78-9; CSP Dom. 1581-90, p. 63; E. Windeatt, ‘Dartmouth Mayors’, Reps. and Trans. Devon Assoc. xliii. 146; HMC 15th Rep. vii. 4.
  • 17. C142/232/69; WARD 9/158, f. 76; Misc. Gen. et Her. n.s. iv. 162; C2/Jas.I/S35/43.
  • 18. C78/290/1; 78/383/1; P. Russell and G. Yorke, ‘Kingswear and Neighbourhood’, Reps. and Trans. Devon Assoc. lxxxv. 68.
  • 19. C2/Jas.I/C28/75; Vivian, 163.
  • 20. Procs. 1626, ii. 278; Devon RO, 1579A-O/7/1/20.
  • 21. Devon RO, 1579A-O/7/1/20; 1579A-O/17/20; APC, 1626, pp. 216-19.
  • 22. CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 403; E401/2586, f. 459v; R. Cust, Forced Loan, 38; M. Wolffe, Gentry Leaders in Peace and War, 77.
  • 23. CSP Dom. 1628-9, pp. 286, 290, 292, 303; 1629-31, pp. 153, 155, 468, 470; HMC 4th Rep. 233.
  • 24. CSP Dom. 1634-5, pp. 505-6; Russell and Yorke, 68; P. Russell, Dartmouth, 87-8.
  • 25. PROB 11/165, f. 225; Emery, 80.
  • 26. Russell, 88; HMC 15th Rep. vii. 81, 85.
  • 27. Vivian, 163-4; HP Commons, 1715-54, i. 541.