Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the mayor and capital burgesses

Number of voters:

maximum of 37


26 Feb. 1604JOHN STONE
12 Dec. 1620JAMES BAGG II
21 Jan. 1626HENRY JERMYN
4 Mar. 1628Sir Robert Killigrew

Main Article

Bodmin traced its roots back to the sixth century, when St. Petroc founded a monastery which served as Cornwall’s first Anglo-Saxon cathedral. The town achieved borough status by 1190, and secured its earliest recorded charter of privileges in the mid-thirteenth century. The prestige of its medieval priory, combined with the town’s importance as a centre for the tin trade, made Bodmin a focal point for Cornish society, and the western rebellions of 1497 and 1549 both began there.2 This prominence was scarcely diminished in the early seventeenth century. Richard Carew† believed that Bodmin, despite some urban decay, was still Cornwall’s largest town, and certainly its weekly market was unrivalled in the county. Quarter sessions and musters were regularly held there, and when large numbers of troops were billeted in the region in the later 1620s, the borough took on a significant share of this burden.3

Bodmin’s charter of incorporation, granted in 1563 and renewed with minor changes in 1594, provided for a common council comprising a mayor and 36 capital burgesses, of whom 12 possessed the higher dignity of councillor. Appropriately enough, this was Cornwall’s largest such body. The borough also possessed a town clerk, who, like the mayor and his immediate predecessor, acted as a municipal j.p. Bodmin’s parliamentary franchise, which dated back to 1295, was vested in the corporation. From 1624 the election indentures referred specifically to the mayor and the ‘major part of the common council’, though it seems unlikely that the abandonment of the looser term of ‘burgesses’ indicated any tightening of electoral practice. Since the surviving indentures from this period were, with two exceptions, signed only by the mayor, precise voting patterns cannot be determined.4

Like several other Cornish boroughs, Bodmin heeded the king’s request in 1604 to send local residents to Parliament, and returned two members of the corporation, John Stone and Nicholas Sprey. Ten years later, Sprey was serving as both town clerk and mayor, which doubtless explains how his son Christopher secured election.5 The other Member in 1614, Sir Richard Edgcumbe, was a Cornish gentleman who perhaps obtained a seat through his kinship with the Prideaux family, which owned land in Bodmin.6 The pattern of patronage in 1620 is uncertain. James Bagg, a Devon man, may have found backing within the corporation; he was apparently a distant kinsman of the Stone family through his mother, though the actual line can no longer be traced.7 Sir John Trevor had married into a major Cornish dynasty, the Trevanions, but the key factor may rather have been his Court connections with Sir Robert Killigrew, with whom he had travelled to Spain in 1605.8 If so, Trevor’s election was the first sign of what became a Killigrew stranglehold over the borough’s patronage. The basis for Sir Robert’s influence has not been established. He seems not to have possessed land in the Bodmin district, nor was he closely related to any of the local landowners except Sir Reginald Mohun*, who held a relatively insignificant manor there.9 His grip on the borough was such that he might be thought to have held a senior position there, such as the recordership. However, Bodmin’s charter at this time did not allow for a recorder or high steward, and Killigrew’s known office-holding in Cornwall was limited to the Falmouth and Launceston areas. Whatever the explanation, he enjoyed complete control over nominations during the mid-1620s. In 1624 the borough returned his friend Sir Thomas Stafford and his nephew Sir Charles Berkeley. Another of Killigrew’s nephews, Henry Jermyn, benefited from his patronage in 1625 and 1626. In the former year he was paired with Killigrew’s kinsman by marriage, Robert Caesar.10 Sir Richard Weston, Jermyn’s partner in 1626, was probably nominated as a favour to Killigrew’s Court patron, the duke of Buckingham, who had just failed to secure for Weston a seat at Hythe. Killigrew had performed this same service for Buckingham when he returned Sir Edwin Sandys at Penryn in 1625.11 Of the five indentures which survive from these three elections, four were drawn up with blank spaces left for Killigrew to indicate his choices.12 Only in 1628 did this stranglehold weaken. Although Killigrew took one seat himself, the other went to Humphrey Nicoll, a local landowner and member of Cornwall’s anti-Buckingham faction, which enjoyed widespread electoral success that year.13

Author: Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. OR. One contemporary list of MPs (Lansd. 1191) states that Richard Connock* was elected at Bodmin in 1614, but this is not supported by other, more reliable lists: Procs. 1614 (Commons), 447, 451.
  • 2. C. Henderson et al., Cornish Church Guide, 59-60; J. Maclean, Trigg Minor Deanery, i. 122, 208, 219-20; Bodmin Reg. comp. J. Walker, 150; G.R. Lewis, Stannaries, 44, 61, 106.
  • 3. F.E. Halliday, Richard Carew of Antony, 160, 195; CSP Dom. 1629-31, p. 21; A. Duffin, Faction and Faith, 130.
  • 4. Maclean, i. 211-14; W.P. Courtney, Parl. Rep. of Cornw. 227; C219/35/1/179; 219/37/52; 219/38/45.
  • 5. Maclean, i. 236, 239, 294.
  • 6. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 621; Maclean, iii. 13.
  • 7. Maclean, i. 312; Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 446; Vivian, Vis. Devon, 34.
  • 8. Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 502; NLW, Carreglwyd I/699.
  • 9. Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 268.
  • 10. PROB 11/164, f. 91; Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 270; F. Blomefield, Hist. Norf. ix. 353; Vis. Herts. (Harl. Soc. xxii), 133-4.
  • 11. Add. 37819, f. 17.
  • 12. C219/38/45; 219/39/58; 219/40/256, 281.
  • 13. C142/253/95; C2/Chas.I/N10/19.