CHAMPERNOWN, Sir Arthur (c.1525-78), of Modbury and Dartington, Devon.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer




Family and Education

b. c.1525, 2nd s. of Sir Philip Champernown (d.1545) of Modbury by Catherine, da. of Sir Edmund Carew of Mohun’s Ottery. m. c.1547, Mary, da. of Henry Norris of Bray, Berks., wid. of Sir George Carew of Mohun’s Ottery, 5s. 1da. Kntd. 10 Nov. 1549.

Offices Held

J.p. Devon from 1555, sheriff 1559-60; commr. eccles. causes, Cornw. 1559; v.-adm. Devon by 1563, Monmouth 1573; commr. musters, Devon from c.1573.2


Champernown helped suppress the western rebellion against Edward VI in 1549, supported the proclamation of Queen Mary in July 1553, then jibbed at her restoration of catholicism and was implicated in Wyatt’s rebellion (January 1554). He was in all probability the ‘Mr. Chamberne’ who joined other MPs who were ‘right protestants’ at ‘Harondayles house’ to discuss parliamentary tactics in 1555, and he voted against a major government bill in the Parliament of that year. He was taken up on suspicion after the Henry Dudley conspiracy of 1556, soon released, and served with the 2nd Earl of Bedford on the St. Quentin expedition in 1557. At the accession of Elizabeth his marriage into the Norris family and his own family’s connexion with Catherine Blount (see BERKELEY, Sir Maurice I) ensured his return to local and central office. He was returned to her first two Parliaments by the Devon seaports of Plymouth, some 12 miles from Modbury, and Totnes, two miles away from the seat he had purchased at Dartington in 1559. However, the only reference found to him in the journals is to his membership of the succession committee, 31 Oct. 1566, and he did not sit again, though it is hardly conceivable that a place could not have been found for him. He was on good terms with Cecil and Walsingham (a relative by marriage), and numbered among his friends representatives from most of the leading west country families including the Carews, Chichesters, Courtenays, Pollards and Strangways. Still, he was not himself, except in status, a country gentleman. His estates were assessed at only £30 for the 1576 subsidy, and his interest was the sea. He is remembered chiefly for an exploit of 1568 when he captured the treasure intended for the Duke of Alva in the Spanish Netherlands after the Spanish fleet had been obliged to shelter off Devon, but there are many references in the Acts of the Privy Council and the State Papers to his official and privateering activities as ‘admiral of the west’, ‘vice-admiral of Devon’ or ‘vice-admiral of Dorset’. When the Privy Council wrote to Bedford in 1574 about the defence of Devon, they advised him to consult Champernown, whose name subsequently appears in a list of gentlemen whose diligence had assisted the Earl.3

The expedition led by Henry Champernown to aid the Huguenots in 1569 led to Champernown himself visiting the Norman comte de Montgommery to arrange a marriage between his son Gawen (a friend of Sir Francis Drake) and the Count’s daughter. When, after the marriage, Montgommery visited Devon, he was received by and dined with the mayor of Exeter at Champernown’s request. But Montgommery’s refusal to pay the marriage settlement, despite pressure from both the Queen of England and the King of France, soon gave rise to recriminations between the parties—the bridegroom was cruel to his wife, and she committed adultery with her grooms.4

Meanwhile it was as a relation of Montgommery, who was one of the leading Huguenot lieutenants, as well as a subordinate of the English admiral, the Earl of Lincoln, that Champernown accompanied Lincoln to Paris on the embassy to ratify the treaty of Blois. They were there from 8 to 22 June 1572 and it was on the 10th, before Lincoln had been received in audience, that Champernown and his colleague Sir Henry Middlemore had supper with Admiral Coligny, who ‘grew into the matters of Flanders’, wishing that ‘somewhat might be done there jointly by the Queen’s majesty and this King’. There is nothing to suggest that Champernown took any part in these discussions, or in any other business of the embassy beyond the formal feasts and entertainments, but that August the news of the massacre of St. Bartholomew provoked him into writing from Dartington a long letter to the Queen, suggesting that he should lead a force to relieve La Rochelle. He asked for the Queen’s commission if he could act openly, or her favour if he must act secretly. Devon, he declared, could supply 500 officers and soldiers, and he submitted suggestions for raising them.5

In the event he and Sir Peter Carew went, in the following year, to Ireland, with 20 horse and 40 foot in an attempt in Burghley’s words, ‘to suffer the precise sort to inhabit Ireland’. Another similar scheme to settle English gentry in Ireland was drawn up in 1574, and Champernown’s interest in the shipping routes to Ireland was probably behind his appointment as vice-admiral at Monmouth.6

Described by Richard Carew as a ‘perfectly accomplished gentleman’, Champernown died 1 Apr. 1578. His will was written by John Hele I, whom he appointed an overseer and trustee. An inquisition post mortem was taken at Totnes 23 Sept. that year.7

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: P. W. Hasler


  • 1. Did not serve for the duration of the Parliament.
  • 2. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 163; A. L. Rowse, Tudor Cornw. 322; Roberts thesis, 380-1; SP12/29/23; EHR, xxiii. 740; Lansd. 56, f. 168 seq.
  • 3. F. R. Troup, Western Rebellion of 1549 ; SP11/8/7, 35; Guildford Mus. Loseley 1331/2; Devon RO, Tingey 397; SP12/29/23; D. M. Loades, Two Tudor Conspiracies, 37, 106; D’Ewes, 127; M. M. Oppenheim, Maritime Hist. Devon, 45.
  • 4. Trans. Dev. Assoc. xlv. 414-15; CSP For. 1572-4, pp. 430, 505, 509, 518; 1575-7. p. 302; E. Edwards, Raleigh, i. 31; Lansd. 43, f. 31.
  • 5. N. M. Sutherland, Massacre of St. Bartholomew, 248, 265; Lansd. 15, f. 198.
  • 6. J. Hooker, Life of Sir Peter Carew, passim.
  • 7. Richard Carew, ed. Halliday, 175; PCC 16 Langley; C142/180/25.