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 freemen

Number of voters:

13 in 1620


29 Feb. 1604SIR JOHN LEIGH
3 May 1606ROBERT NAUNTON vice Bogans, deceased
c. Mar. 1614Sir Robert Killigrew
20 Dec. 1620WILLIAM NOYE

Main Article

Helston grew up at a strategic crossroads some eight miles north of the Lizard in western Cornwall, receiving its first borough charter in 1201. Its importance as a trading centre derived largely from the town’s proximity to the tin-producing zone, or stannary, of Penwith and Kerrier. Privileged from 1305 as one of the county’s five ‘coinage’ centres, where tin was assayed before sale, Helston had already begun sending representatives to Parliament seven years earlier. In 1337 the local manor became a founding component of the duchy of Cornwall.1 By the early seventeenth century the bulk of Cornish tin was being produced in the west of the county, and Helston probably overtook Truro as the principal coinage town during the 1610s.2 Distribution of the metal was controlled mainly by Londoners, who shipped it out from the nearby haven of Helford. Firm evidence concerning Helston’s own merchants is scarce, but the Bogans family brought haberdashery and other goods from London, and there was widespread local participation in the Cornish fish-drying industry.3 Around 1600 Richard Carew† described the town as ‘well seated and peopled’, while in the late 1620s Bulstrode Whitelocke* found it a place ‘of much resort, and a great market’.4

Although Helston was not yet an independent parish, the borough was incorporated in 1585, the charter providing for a mayor, recorder and an unspecified number of freemen, four of whom served as aldermen. The parliamentary franchise was vested in the freemen, or ‘commonalty’. The latter term was employed in the election indentures of 1604 and 1606, but omitted from subsequent returns during this period, which refer only to the mayor and burgesses. However, this variation of form did not apparently signify any change within the electorate. Indentures were signed by the mayor alone, but the commonalty in 1620 included 12 burgesses.5

Despite its self-government and comparative prosperity, Helston was almost entirely at the mercy of external electoral patrons during the early seventeenth century, as the surviving parliamentary indentures reveal. Individual returns were made for each Member, and although the same date normally appeared on both indentures, at least one routinely included a blank space where a name was later inserted by whichever patron then held sway. As the Jacobean era dawned the dominant figures were the Killigrew family, influential local gentry with a strong presence at Court. Sir Henry Killigrew†, bailiff of Helston from the 1570s to his death in 1603, had used his position and personal standing to secure the return of several of his relatives, and probably also to back government candidates proposed by his brother-in-law Lord Burghley (Sir William Cecil†).6 This pattern continued during the first two decades of James I’s reign, when the Killigrew interest, now controlled by Sir Henry’s brother Sir William*, went virtually unchallenged. His stepson Sir John Leigh was returned in 1604, and his own son Sir Robert was successful ten years later. The other 1614 Member, Henry Bulstrode, obtained his seat on the recommendation of his brother-in-law James Whitelocke*, to whom Sir Robert had first offered the place. Robert Naunton, a client of Burghley’s son the earl of Salisbury (Robert Cecil†), presumably also relied on the Killigrews when he was returned at a by-election in 1606. The trend was interrupted only by John Bogans, who in 1604 exploited his position as mayor to return himself, a practice condemned by the Commons a few months later.7

The early 1620s saw the revival of competition for Helston’s seats. The first challenge to Killigrew control came from the duchy of Cornwall, which had a well-established relationship with the town through its ownership of the local manor and its monopoly over the tin trade. Direct involvement in the borough had probably slackened after 1607 when the tin pre-emption rights began to be farmed out to London-based merchant consortiums, but during the next decade the duchy repaired the town’s coinage hall.8 In 1620, the first elections after Prince Charles’s creation as duke, his Council nominated Heneage Finch* for a seat at Helston. The borough felt able to reject him, but did elect the Cornish lawyer William Noye, another duchy nominee, who had failed to secure a place at Fowey. The other seat was secured via a blank indenture by Sir Thomas Stafford, presumably through the mediation of his friend Sir Robert Killigrew.9

The remoulding of borough patronage continued in 1624 with the emergence of the Godolphins of Godolphin, cousins of the Killigrews, and major local tin producers, who in previous Jacobean elections had apparently supported Killigrew nominees. The Godolphin estates had been subject to wardship since 1613, and Sir William Killigrew’s role as a trustee had doubtless enhanced his local influence. However, following Killigrew’s death in 1622, Sir Francis Godolphin*, recorder of Helston, began to assert himself, and no subsequent Killigrew candidates have been identified. In February 1624 Godolphin secured one seat for his nephew Francis Carew, and probably influenced the choice for the remaining place. The Prince’s Council requested it for the Speaker-designate, (Sir) Thomas Crewe*, but surprisingly he was turned down in favour of Thomas Carey, who had just been rejected as the duchy’s nominee at Grampound. Like Godolphin and Carew, Carey belonged to Prince Charles’s Household, so his return on a blank indenture strongly suggests Godolphin intervention. In contrast, a speculative request for a burgess-ship from secretary of state Sir Edward Conway I*, who stood unsuccessfully that year at neighbouring St. Ives, was ignored by the borough.10

The duchy made no further nominations during the 1620s, and Godolphin controlled the next two elections. Carey and Carew were both returned again in 1625, and Carew served for a third time in 1626 alongside the young Francis Godolphin, whose wardship was about to expire. In the third Caroline Parliament Francis, now exercising his family’s patronage, opted to represent St. Ives and provided one seat at Helston for his brother Sidney. The other place there went to William Noye, who was returned on a blank indenture, presumably with Godolphin backing. Noye’s own local standing as the recently appointed steward of Penwith and Kerrier hundreds may also have contributed to his success.11

Authors: John. P. Ferris / Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. H.S. Toy, Hist. Helston, 36, 130, 399-401, 412; G. Haslam, ‘Duchy and Parl. Representation’, Jnl. Roy. Institution of Cornw. n.s. viii. 226.
  • 2. G.R. Lewis, Stannaries, 44; E315/354; E306/5/4.
  • 3. G. Haslam, ‘Jacobean Phoenix’, in Estates of the Eng. Crown ed. R.W. Hoyle, 287-8; E190/1022/1; 190/1024/7; 190/1028/5; 190/1030/1.
  • 4. F.E. Halliday, Richard Carew of Antony, 227; Add. 53726, f. 37.
  • 5. Toy, 332; C66/1270; C219/35/1/146, 157; 219/37/49; Vis. Cornw. (Harl. Soc. ix), 282.
  • 6. SC6/Eliz.I/392; E315/309, f. 147; HP Commons, 1558-1603, i. 129.
  • 7. Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 268, 270; Liber Famelicus of Sir J. Whitelocke ed. J. Bruce (Cam. Soc. lxx), 41; HMC Hatfield, xix. 395; C219/35/1/157; CJ, i. 245-6.
  • 8. E306/4/6; 306/12, box 1, no. 6; Haslam, ‘Jacobean Phoenix’, 287.
  • 9. DCO, ‘Letters and Patents 1620-1’, f. 39v; PROB 11/164, f. 91; C219/37/49-50.
  • 10. Vis. Cornw. (Harl. Soc.), 282; Vivian, 68, 184, 268; WARD 9/162, f. 178; DCO, ‘Prince Charles in Spain’, f. 33v; C219/38/60-1; CSP Dom. 1623-5, p. 145. Gruenfelder mistakenly assumes that Conway’s letter represented backing for the duchy’s nominee: J.K. Gruenfelder, Influence in Early Stuart Elections, 89.
  • 11. Vivian, 184; C219/41B/146b; E315/311, f. 9v.