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

Background Information

No names known for 1510-12


1523(not known)
1536(not known)
1539(not known)
1542(not known)
1553 (Mar.)JOHN CAPLYN

Main Article

Bodmin, a stannary town whose Saturday market was described by Leland as ‘like a fair for the confluence of people’, but which was included in the Act of 1540 for the re-edification of towns westward (32 Hen. VIII, c.19), had returned Members to the Parliament of 1295. Until the dissolution of Bodmin priory in September 1538 the prior was lord of the borough; successive medieval charters were granted to the prior, convent and ‘their’ burgesses, but the mayor and townsmen often quarrelled with the priors about their rights. One of these disputes, in 1523, concerned the choice and payment of Members. The ‘testimonial’ drawn up on 14 April, the day before the opening of Parliament, stated that burgesses of Bodmin be the King’s free burgesses, and no man else’s; for at all times that it shall please the King’s highness to call his court of Parliament that then the mayor and the burgesses, in the town hall, shall choose two burgesses for the King’s Parliament of the burgesses of the town, at the mayor and burgesses’ charge and cost, and thereof no penny at the prior’s charge; this we ... do know, this hath been used out of time that no mind is. The term ‘burgesses’ as used here is ambiguous. The preamble to the charter of incorporation granted in 1563 states that municipal government had been ‘within time of memory’ by a mayor and 36 burgesses. Whether the division into a Twelve and Twenty-Four laid down in the charter was in force before 1563 is not known, nor is it certain whether the ‘burgesses’ said to have elected to Parliament were merely the governing body or all the freemen. The municipal records for the period which were scrutinized by John Maclean in the 19th century are no longer extant.5

Elections were held on the arrival of a precept from the sheriff of Cornwall. Five indentures survive for the period, all in Latin and in a uniform style with the sheriff as the first party and the mayor (named) and the community of burgesses as the second. Several are headed ‘made at Bodmin’. The Members, although not all townsmen, are often described as ‘worthy and discreet burgesses of the borough’. In September 1553 the second name, that of Thomas Mildmay, has been inserted in a different hand, as have the names of both John Courtenay and Ralph Michell a year later. On the indenture for 1555, nearly half of which has been torn or eaten away, the names of both Members have been added, probably in the original hand but in different ink. No argument for external patronage can be built on this, since the mayor’s name has been inserted in the same way.6

Although the names of the Members returned to six Parliaments between 1510 and 1558 are lost, those of 16 are known for the remaining ten. Of these Henry Chiverton, John and Gilbert Flamank, Ralph Michell and Thomas Trott were all either townsmen or property-owners there, while Courtenay lived in the locality. Neither of the Treffrys possessed any residential qualification but they had influential kinsmen in the town in the Luccombe family. Of those with no known links with the town, John Caplyn and Mildmay presumably owed their return to their official positions in the duchy. Humphrey Cavell and Ralph Cholmley were connected with Chiverton, Courtenay or Sir John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford, and Sir Walter Hungerford and John Norris with James Bassett of Umberleigh in Devon, whose mother had been a Grenville; Cavell was a Cornishman domiciled some seven miles from the town and Hungerford had several manors in the county. John Sulyard presumably owed his replacement of Thomas Prideaux, who of the three boroughs for which he was returned early in 1554 chose to sit for Newport iuxta Launceston, to his brother-in-law the Privy Councillor Sir Henry Bedingfield, probably acting through the agency of the Earl of Bedford. Bodmin may have been one of the towns which retained the legal services of John Williams but his return in 1555 was almost certainly the work of the Edgecombe family, perhaps exercising the patronage of Francis Russell, 2nd Earl of Bedford, during his absence abroad. The 1st Earl could have played a part in the return of Chiverton and the younger Thomas Treffry in 1545 as the long postponed election was not held until after his visit to the town, but the influence which passed to his son the 2nd Earl was limited, as was that of the duchy. The prior of Bodmin seems to have had no influence. For the outsiders returned a seat for the town was usually no more than a step in their parliamentary careers; apart from Hungerford and Sulyard they sat at other times for Cornish constituencies.

The money given towards the expenses of John Flamank and Trott in 1515 is the last known trace of wages being paid by the town.

Author: J. J. Goring


  • 1. J. Maclean, Trigg Minor, i. 243 citing the lost town records.
  • 2. Maclean gives his name as Thomas Nott.
  • 3. Hatfield 207.
  • 4. Ibid.
  • 5. Leland, Itin. ed. Smith, i. 180; LP Hen. VIII, xiii(2), 396; J. Polsue, Paroch. Hist. Cornw. i. 106 seq; Bodmin Reg. ed. Wallis, 10, 300.
  • 6. C219/18C/16, 20/29, 21/27, 23/22, 24/34.