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)
 (aft. 1530/31 not known)
 (aft. Oct. 1535 not known)
1536(not known)
1539(not known)
1542(not known)
1554 (Nov.)JOHN FITZ

Main Article

Tavistock was a stannary town situated near the largest single European source of tin, on the southwest edge of Dartmoor. It was also a centre for the woollen trade, being noted for its production of cloths known as Tavistocks, but by the early 16th century its prosperity was being impaired by the slump in the Devon cloth industry. Nothing came of two Acts (5 Hen. VIII, c.19 and 6 Hen. VIII, c.8) regulating the manufacture and sale of ‘white cloth’ and designed to revive the industry, and in 1540 the town was listed in the Act (32 Hen. VIII, c.19) for the re-edification of towns westward as having many decayed houses. A special proviso was added to the Act for regulating and sealing cloth (5 and 6 Edw. VI, c.6) allowing its inhabitants to make or sell Tavistocks with the customary seals, but with what effect is not known.5

Until the Dissolution the lord of the manor and borough was the abbot of Tavistock. In July 1539 the lordship was granted, with the greater part of the abbey estates, to Sir John Russell, Baron Russell, who converted part of the abbey building into a residence. Over the next 16 years Russell was frequently there in his various capacities as landlord, warden of the stanneries, president of the council in the west (which met several times at Tavistock before it lapsed) and lieutenant in the west.6

The lord’s steward presided over the manorial court and the Michaelmas shammel moot (the borough court) at which the mayor was chosen. The title mayor seems to have superseded that of port-reeve before 1500 without any change of function, this being to supervise the collection of the lord’s burghal dues. There was also a bailiff of the liberty and a clerk of the markets, these offices being not infrequently held by the same man, in the case of John Amadas for nearly 20 years. Matters outside the scope of the manorial court or the shammel moot were dealt with by the churchwardens of the parish, who to judge from the deeds preserved among their papers had been doing so long before the Dissolution. Although incomplete for the period, these papers include the copy of the election indenture of 1515 kept by the borough. Three other indentures survive, for the Parliaments of October 1553, November 1554 and 1555, all of them, like the first one, in Latin. The first contracting party is the sheriff, the second appears in various forms: in 1515 as the mayor and bailiff(s), in September 1553 as the bailiff and burgesses, in October 1554 as the burgesses, in 1555 as the mayor and burgesses. The franchise belonged to freeholders of inheritance living within the borough, who were known as the ‘abbot’s burgesses’.7

The abbot is not known to have controlled the earlier elections of the period but he may be assumed to have done so. After 1539 the Russells, father and son, were virtual dictators in this respect. Of the 18 Members sitting in ten Parliaments, five were townsmen and seven others Devonians; of the remainder, John Dynham came from Buckinghamshire, Anthony Lyte and Sir Edward Rogers from Somerset, Edward Underhill, Thomas Smith (if correctly identified) and Richard Wilbraham from London. The two leading families in Tavistock were the Fitzes and Lybbes; both provided churchwardens, mayors and Members, among the last William Honychurch, whose mother was a Fitz. None of the townsmen elected was a clothier, but Richard Mayo was a tin merchant. The group of household officers (Sir Peter Carew, Lyte, Rogers, Underhill and Wilbraham) returned between 1545 and 1555 presumably owed their Membership to the elder Russell, although Amadas, a King’s serjeant-at-arms, could have taken a hand. John Gale was Russell’s secretary. Richard Fortescue, whose name is written over an erasure on both the county return and the sheriff’s schedule for 1545, may have owed his nomination to Carew. In the mid 1550s the Southcote family of Bovey Tracey secured a hold on the borough: Thomas Southcote and his brother George sat in 1555 and 1558, their brother-in-law John Evelegh in 1554 and a member of their circle, Thomas Browne alias Bevill, with George Southcote in 1558. John Dynham seems to have been a Lincoln’s Inn lawyer, as was his partner Honychurch, but as a brother-in-law of Giles Heron he could have been elected in 1529 on More’s nomination. After Honychurch’s death Cromwell nominated John Rastell the younger to replace him, but there is no trace of a by-election. Several of the strangers had sat before or were to sit again, while of the townsmen John Fitz was also returned to the Parliament of April 1554 for Bossiney but opted for Tavistock.8

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. Devon RO, Tavistock PF87.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. C219/28 202/2; Hatfield 207.
  • 4. Ibid.
  • 5. Trans. Dev. Assoc. lxxxi. 155-71.
  • 6. H. P. R. Finberg, Tavistock Abbey, 200, 205, 266-7, 269; J. Youings, Devon Monastic Lands (Devon and Cornw. Rec. Soc. n.s. i), 4-7; Trans. R. Hist. Soc. (ser. 4), iv. 63-65.
  • 7. Finberg, W. Country Hist. Studies, 113-16, 122; Trans. Dev. Assoc. xxi. 304; xlvi. 162-5; R. N. Worth, Cal. Tavistock Par. Recs. 16, 20, 65; Devon RO, Tavistock PF 87; C219/21/46, 23/44, 24/46.
  • 8. LP Hen. VIII, vii. 56 citing SP1/82, f. 59v.