HORSWELL, James (by 1496-1544/46), of Plymouth, Devon.

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



Family and Education

b. by 1496, prob. s. of John Horswell of Plymouth.3

Offices Held

Mayor, Plymouth 1528-9, 1535-6, 1542-3, town clerk by 1529-?d., coroner in 1535; judge, admiralty et. Plymouth by 1529; dep. customer, port of Plymouth by Oct. 1533.4


James Horswell’s parentage has not been established but he was probably the son of a namesake who was mayor of Plymouth in 1502-3. Although a partner of William Hawkins in several ventures, he made his mark not as a merchant but as a municipal official with posts in the admiralty court and the customs. From 1517, when he wrote the ‘preamble to divers necessary statutes’ in the Plymouth ledger book, he discharged numerous tasks there and represented the town in the south-west and further afield, although he first appears as town clerk in the late 1520s. He owed his post in the customs to Cromwell whom he kept informed on local affairs. His adherence to the minister and the Reformation helped to split the town, and a resurgence of the conservative faction late in 1536 led to his banishment for a year and a day. Following his petition to the Council, Cromwell intervened without success, Horswell’s opponents reviving earlier charges of corruption, but on his return he availed himself of the minister’s help to overcome the opposition. Thenceforth he and Hawkins were the leading figures in the town.5

Horswell’s return with Hawkins to the Parliament of 1539 was an early result of this ascendancy. If on that occasion Hawkins seems to have taken the lead in promoting the town’s interests, the task fell to Horswell when he was re-elected with the household official George Ferrers; he then introduced measures in each session to improve the town’s finances and sought its release from further payments due to the court of augmentations. He received wages for the second and third sessions of this Parliament at the statutory rate, whereas earlier he was paid less; he was also reimbursed for payments to the clerk of the Parliaments and the serjeant-at-arms and given 40s. for attending the meeting of 3 Nov. 1542 which extended the prorogation until the following year. The last payment of his fee as town clerk was made in October 1544 and he had been replaced by Nicholas Slanning by the autumn of 1546. It is possible that before his death he engineered the return of his friend and probable relative by marriage Thomas Sternhold to the Parliament of 1545.6

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: Roger Virgoe


  • 1. Plymouth receivers’ acct. bk. 1539-40.
  • 2. Ibid. 1541-2.
  • 3. Date of birth estimated from first reference.
  • 4. R. N. Worth, Plymouth, 212-13; Plymouth receivers’ acct. bk. 1535-6; C1/525/30; St.Ch.2/25/313; LP Hen. VIII, vi.
  • 5. Worth, 212; C1/525/30, 726/13, 999/35-39; St.Ch.2/25/313; Plymouth receivers’ acct. bk. 1517-18 to 1543-4 passim; LP Hen. VIII, vi, viii, x, xii, xiii, xix; J. A. Williamson, Sir John Hawkins, 19-22; M. L. Robertson, ‘Cromwell’s servants’ (Univ. California Los Angeles Ph.D. thesis, 1975), 502.
  • 6. Plymouth receivers’ acct. bk. 1539-40 to 1543-4 passim; LP Hen. VIII, add.