KILLIGREW, John II (c.1547-1605), 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

b. c.1547, 1st s. of John Killigrew I by Mary, da. of Philip Wolverston, wid. of Henry Knyvet. m. Dorothy, prob. da. of Thomas Monck of Potheridge, Devon, by his 2nd w. an heiress of the Patswell fam., 9s. 5da. suc. fa. 1584.

Offices Held

Capt. Pendennis castle 1584-98; v.-adm. Cornw. by 1587-9.1


One his opponents in a lawsuit neatly epitomized Killigrew:

He kept not within the compass of the law, as his father now and then, from fear of punishment, did.

As a young man he spent some time at court with his uncles Henry, the distinguished diplomat, and William, a groom of the privy chamber, but, unlike them, he was never given a government appointment, though he did receive several lucrative duchy of Cornwall leases, and the proceeds of the tithes of Penryn. But the debt he inherited from his father and his own extravagance ensured his ruin, despite his uncles’ support, and even, on occasion, that of the Earl of Essex. There must have been something attractive about a man who could, almost to the end, rely on friends, at least outside Cornwall, to sign bonds for him and otherwise intervene on his behalf, sometimes with the Queen herself.

When his father died Killigrew returned to Cornwall, where he continued his father’s representation of Penryn. Like his father he made no known contribution to the business of any of his Parliaments: unlike his father he never achieved the commission of the peace. His first serious clash with authority came in 1587, when he imprisoned and robbed a Danish merchant who had taken refuge in Falmouth harbour to escape a French corsair. He was ordered to pay compensation, did not, and the Privy Council ordered his arrest. For over a year this and other charges against him remained unsettled, while he ‘fleeteth from place to place’, as the Privy Council told the solicitor-general, asking whether a writ of rebellion could be issued against him. As he had an armed retinue with him, successive sheriffs looked for him in vain, while the Privy Council refused to believe their excuses. In the end his uncle Henry, the diplomat, who was astonishingly generous to him, paid £445 to the defrauded merchant, ‘to pacify her Majesty’s anger and to save the castle from forfeiture and himself from prison’. Another early charge against him was that through his ‘great friends’ at court he ‘stopped the course of justice against his mother for a most infamous murder and robbery Falmouth’. His notorious dealings with the local pirates lost him his vice-admiralty in 1589, and he was either unwilling or unable to fortify Pendennis castle, so that when, in July 1595 the Spaniards attacked and burnt Newlyn, Mousehole and Penzance, Killigrew could offer no resistance. It was said that he had sold or mortgaged the castle to the pirates in league with the enemy, and that it was no coincidence that there were ‘not two barrels of gunpowder left ... when the Spaniards came’. He was turned out in 1598. By this time he was hopelessly in debt, owing the Queen £1,700 and other creditors such as the money lenders John Hele I and Hugh Hare nearly £10,000. His tenants were complaining of oppression, and friends who had unwisely stood surety for him, such as Henry Lok (arrested on his account in 1602) feared imprisonment.

An account of the later years of his life would be a sad catalogue of repeated imprisonments for debt, followed by conditional release and retirement to Cornwall to attempt to raise money to satisfy his creditors. For some time his wife’s money saved him from complete ruin, but by 1598, when he spent a year in the Gatehouse, he had run through this. The poor lady could send him only £10: ‘I have passed all that ever I have or can make shift for’. Then he was stupid, or desperate enough to claim that he had repaid all that he and his father had borrowed from his uncle Henry, forgetting that careful man’s attitude to money. Henry was able to show a detailed account of the debt due to him, then standing at £1,879 3s. 6d. ‘without any interest or forfeiture’. Killigrew died intestate on 12 Aug. 1605.2

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 268-9; C. S. Gilbert, Hist. Surv. Cornw. ii. 790; HMC Hatfield, viii. 190; x. 484-5; Wards 7/21/100; PRO Index 16774, 26 Eliz. f. 22; APC, xvii. 137; xxviii. 267.
  • 2. A. C. Miller, Sir Henry Killigrew, passim; A. L. Rowse, Tudor Cornw. 412-13; VCH Cornw. i. 487, 494; Add. 2476, ff. 115, 130; 12493, f. 126; HMC Hatfield, v. 519, 520; viii. 155, 190; x. 116, 484-5; xii. 548; SP12/235/97; Lansd. 18, f. 198; 53, f. 132; 59, ff. 32-3; 86, ff. 198-9, 139, ff. 303-4, APC, xvi. 13, 264, 369; xvii. 115, 137, 350, 452; xviii. 192, 267, 426; xxi. 109; xxv. 154; 306; xxviii. 192, 267, 126, 533, 535-6; xxx. 519-20; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, pp. 39-40.