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 portreeve and commonalty or burgesses

Number of voters:

24 in 1626


15 Jan. 1624JOHN HOLLES
3 Mar. 1624DENZIL HOLLES vice Holles, chose to sit for East Retford
25 Apr. 1625HENRY SANDYS
28 Feb. 1628JOHN SPARKE
  Double return of Buller and Cosworth. COSWORTH declared elected, 21 May 1628.2

Main Article

The town of Mitchell dates from at least the early thirteenth century, when a weekly market was first held. Its location on the main road from Launceston to St. Ives failed to guarantee prosperity, and the town had declined to little more than a village by the time it was enfranchised in 1547, probably at the request of the lord of the manor, Sir John Arundell† of Lanherne.3 In the early seventeenth century, when it was generally called Michell or Meddishole, the borough remained an economic backwater. There was no corporation, and government lay in the hands of the Portreeve, whose appointment was controlled by the lord of the manor. In accordance with standard Cornish practice, each MP during this period was returned on an individual indenture. The Mitchell franchise varied in scope. Election indentures generally refer to the Portreeve and commonalty, but the term ‘burgesses’ was used in 1621, 1624 and 1628, apparently indicating a select panel of leading freeholders.4 Both formulas were employed in 1624 and 1628, but in separate indentures. However, this inconsistency alone is insufficient to explain the fluctuating numbers of signatures and marks on the indentures, with 11 for Richard Carew in 1621, 18 for John Cosworth in 1628, and 24 for Francis Crossing in 1626. Other evidence in the indentures points to conflicting interests in the selection process. It was unusual for both indentures in any one election to be prepared by the same hand, while in 1604 at least, the Portreeve signed one document only. The blank indenture by which Francis Crossing was returned was probably drawn up outside the borough, as a space was left for the Portreeve’s name to be filled in.

Electoral patronage at Mitchell was mainly controlled by two local gentry families. The Arundells of Trerice, whose seat lay roughly three miles away, had dominated Mitchell’s elections during the last two decades of Elizabeth’s reign, taking over from their Lanherne cousins who were disabled by recusancy. John Arundell* of Trerice, who himself sat for the borough in 1597, served as sheriff of Cornwall in 1607-8, and played a leading role in Cornish affairs throughout the early Stuart period.5 The Cosworth family lived a similar distance from the town, and most of their land was situated in the Mitchell district, which afforded them significant local standing. Edward Cosworth (d. c.1639), a Mitchell burgess in 1588 and a Cornish j.p. and subsidy commissioner,6 was said by one of his relatives in 1605 to be able to provide the government with a Cornish burgess-ship, by which a seat at Mitchell was probably meant. Arundell and Cosworth were brothers-in-law, and probably co-operated in the selection of candidates, as in other matters. For example, in July 1628 Cosworth was accused of exempting Arundell from subsidy payments.7 The role of the Cosworth family is readily discernible, as they were frequently the principal signatories of Mitchell’s election indentures. Arundell involvement can generally be deduced from kinship ties.8

John Arundell was easily the dominant patron at Mitchell throughout this period. In 1604, he can be credited with nominating of his kinsman William Cary, and probably also William Hakewill, whom he seems also to have supplied with a seat at Tregony at the next two elections. Hakewill played a significant role in easing the passage of Arundell’s estate bill through the Commons in 1610, the only occasion during this period when a Mitchell burgess was recorded as promoting a local concern. Neither Member received Cosworth backing.9 In 1614 Arundell was probably pre-occupied with securing Cornwall’s shire seats for his relatives Richard Carew and John St. Aubyn, but he most likely provided a place for Christopher Hodson, an associate of his second cousin Sir Oliver Cromwell*.10 Mitchell’s other seat in this Parliament was taken by Edward Cosworth’s cousin Walter Hickman.11 In 1620 Arundell was at the height of his influence in the county, and the selection of Carew and St. Aubyn at Mitchell was probably part of a deal whereby Arundell himself became a knight of the shire.12

The picture for the remaining four elections is more confused. In 1624 two families with marginal local standing, the Holleses and Rashleighs, came to the fore. The Holles family owned a minor estate around eight miles from Mitchell. John Holles’ real objective was a place at his family borough of East Retford, and once this was achieved he made way at Mitchell for his younger brother Denzil.13 John Sawle was the grandson of John Rashleigh† of Fowey, who also held property close to the borough. However, in this case the key factor was probably the kinship, business and political ties between the Rashleighs and Arundells.14 From the mid 1620s John Arundell was part of a Cornish gentry network which formed around William Coryton*, and it appears that members of this group used their electoral patronage to do favours for each other. The circle included Sawle’s uncle, Jonathan Rashleigh*, and also Sir Richard Buller*, whose cousin Sir John Smythe was elected at Mitchell in 1625 and 1626. Although Buller was closely related to some minor local landowners, the Vyvyans of St. Columb Major, it is more likely that his connection with John Arundell was the crucial factor.15 The other 1625 Member, Henry Sandys, was returned five days later than Smythe, and a place at Mitchell was possibly kept open for him at the request of the duke of Buckingham, who had unsuccessfully backed Sandys for a seat at Sandwich a few weeks earlier. However, it is not clear how this nomination was mediated.16 Francis Crossing may also have owed his return in 1626 to Arundell. An Exeter merchant with no direct links to Mitchell, he was perhaps recommended by his cousin William Hakewill.17

In 1628 Mitchell witnessed a disputed election. The Arundell interest was split between Jonathan Rashleigh’s brother-in-law, John Sparke, and Sir Richard Buller’s son Francis, while Edward Cosworth promoted his son John.18 Indentures for Sparke and Buller reached Westminster together, and these two were initially seated. However, the subsequent arrival of Cosworth’s indenture brought Buller’s place under the scrutiny of the committee for privileges, which reported in Cosworth’s favour on 21 May. The parliamentary records give conflicting accounts of this report. In one version, Cosworth’s election was preferred because his indenture was dated 28 Feb., whereas Buller’s dating of ‘the last of Feb.’ indicated the following day, 1628 being a leap year. However, a fuller description of events states that Buller’s name was put forward first, with Cosworth initially attracting less support. On this account, Buller left the election early, believing his place was secured, but Cosworth then won a larger number of votes before polling closed.19

Author: Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. Harg. 311, f. 220.
  • 2. CD 1628, iii. 511.
  • 3. C.G. Henderson, Essays in Cornish Hist. ed. A.L. Rowse and M.I. Henderson, 54-5; HP Commons, 1509-58, i. 55.
  • 4. C219/37/1/26; 219/40/263; Henderson, Essays, 55; (J. Polsue), Complete Paroch. Hist. of Cornw. i. 343.
  • 5. HP Commons, 1558-1603, i. 132-3; List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 23.
  • 6. C66/1682; E179/88/299; Cornw. RO, C/969/1; DD.CF/2383.
  • 7. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 244; 1628-9, p. 333.
  • 8. C219/37/26; 219/38/49; 219/39/43.
  • 9. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 157, 159; CJ, i. 430b.
  • 10. Add. ch. 39230; Vis. Hunts. ed. Ellis (Cam. Soc. xliii), 79-80; Vivian, Vis. Devon, 280.
  • 11. The Gen. iv. 117; Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 104.
  • 12. APC, 1619-21, p. 136.
  • 13. Holles Letters ed. P.R. Seddon (Thoroton Rec. Soc. xxxvi), 512.
  • 14. Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 418; Cornw. RO, DD.R/6; DD.R(S)/1/2, 648.
  • 15. Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 57; Arch. Cant. xx. 78-9.
  • 16. Add. 37819, f. 11v; J.K. Gruenfelder, Influence in Early Stuart Elections, 147.
  • 17. E190/946/6; HMC Exeter, 124.
  • 18. Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 57, 104, 391.
  • 19. CD 1628, ii. 37; iii. 511, 514-6.