KILLIGREW, John I (d.1584), of Arwennack, Cornw.

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

1st s. of John Killigrew, and bro. of Henry and William. m. Mary, da. of Philip Wolverston of Wolverstone Hall, Suff., wid. of Henry Knyvet, 3s. inc. John II 2da. suc. fa. c.1568. Kntd. 25 Dec. 1576.

Offices Held

Collector of clerical stipends, diocese of Exeter c.1559; j.p. Cornw. c.1559; capt. Pendennis castle 1568-d.; commr. musters, Cornw. by Oct. 1572, piracy by 1577.1


The Killigrews, father and son, opposed Mary Tudor, using their ships to keep the émigrés in the Normandy ports in touch with English affairs, and attacking Spanish vessels in the Channel. They were both put in the Fleet on 28 June 1556 ‘to be kept there apart in close prison’, and were lucky to be released after only three weeks. Back in favour under Elizabeth, Killigrew was put on the commission of the peace during his father’s lifetime, and, after succeeding to his estates, he became a leading and notorious figure in the county, indulging in cattle theft, ‘evil usage in keeping of a castle’ and ‘abuses’ over arranging the quarter sessions. His speciality, however, was using his office of piracy commissioner to maintain and trade with the pirates and smugglers who frequented the coast he could so easily control from Arwennack and Pendennis castle. His estates covered a large part of the Falmouth area, and he owned the fee farm of Penryn borough, so there was likewise no difficulty in his being returned to Parliament when he wished. He is not mentioned directly or indirectly in the known proceedings of the Commons, and one can only speculate on his motives for being elected.

Killigrew’s trafficking with the pirates had been known to the authorities since 1552, and in 1565 commissioners were appointed to undertake a formal investigation. But the man was powerful enough locally to evade the allegations against him. During 1575 and 1576 the Council wrote to him repeatedly about such matters as his imprisoning a French merchant and seizing four ships from Flushing. Even the good Earl of Bedford complained that ‘the castle in Mr. Killigrew’s charge is much decayed and almost unserviceable’. Just once, in January 1569, a commendation of his behaviour appears in the records, after he and Sir Arthur Champernown had seized some Spanish silver and conveyed it to the Tower. His appointment as a piracy commissioner is anomalous even by Elizabethan standards. The first date found for his acting as such (he may have been appointed much earlier) roughly coincides with repeated disturbances of the peace in Cornwall caused by his local quarrels in the summer of 1577, and with his fighting a duel with the vice-admiral Ambrose Digby. This dispute went to arbitration by Bedford, who awarded Digby £100, still unpaid in December 1579. In January 1582 Killigrew seized a Spanish ship sheltering in Falmouth under stress of weather. Having overpowered the crew he seized the cargo of holland cloth (perhaps this was a disappointment) and had the ship sailed to Ireland. As piracy commissioner he sent up a tendentious report, and then disappeared from view. An investigation by Richard Grenville II and Edmund Tremayne disclosed that Lady Killigrew had presented several lengths of cloth to her servants and that a daughter of the family had paid a debt with 20 yards of the material. Killigrew was summoned to attend before the Privy Council, but no details have survived of any further punishment.

He died intestate 5 Mar. 1584, leaving numerous unpaid debts to his brother Henry, on whom he had been sponging for many years. He was buried at Budock. Administration was not granted until 7 June 1603.2

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 268; C. S. Gilbert, Hist. Surv. Cornw. ii. 790; CPR, 1566-9, p. 246; Lansd. 18, f. 198; 146, f. 19; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 452; 1581-90, p. 295.
  • 2. C142/207/108; CPR, 1554-5, p. 267; 1558-60, pp. 34-5; 1563-6, pp. 55, 323; APC, ii. 289; iii. 233, 282, 295, 373-4; iv. 74; v. 282, 294, 307-8; vii. 292-5; viii. 367-8; ix. 174, 196, 364-5; x. 14, 66-7, 142, 175-6, 207-15, 252, 255, 345, 379, 406; xi. 148-202; xiii. 315, 356, 415; Cam. Misc. ix(3), p. 69; A. C. Miller, Sir Henry Killigrew, 8, 233; Lansd. 18, f. 198; 97, f. 177; St. Ch. 5/T8/20; CSP Dom. 1547-80, pp. 326, 328; 1581-90, p. 47; Add. 1566-79, pp. 509-10; Gilbert, ii. 790; SP12/122/6; 153. f. 76 seq.; PCC admon. act bk. 1603, f. 156; Wards 7/21/100; HMC Hatfield, viii. 190.