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 corporation

Number of voters:



22 Jan. 1624(SIR) GEORGE CHUDLEIGH , (bt.)
25 Apr. 1625(SIR) ROWLAND ST. JOHN
c. Jan. 1626JOHN DRAKE
6 Mar. 1626RICHARD OLIVER vice Drake, chose to sit for Devon
20 Feb. 1628PETER BALL

Main Article

Throughout the medieval period Tiverton was an insignificant settlement, which lay in the shadow of a castle held by the earls of Devon, and possessed only minimal privileges. It was not until the Courtenay family lost most of their power and lands in the mid-sixteenth century that the town escaped this seigneurial stranglehold, and began to achieve economic growth and political independence.1 During the Elizabethan period Tiverton became Devon’s major centre for the manufacture of cloth, particularly kersies. It has been estimated that the population rose by more than one-third in response to this boom, reaching about 4,000 by the first decade of the seventeenth century, at which point the local cloth industry which was believed to be providing work for at least 8,000 people.2 The cloth was mainly exported to Spain and France, and such was the self-confidence within the trade that Tiverton was one of five towns to refuse outright the government’s suggestion of a London-based French Company in 1609.3 This era of prosperity lasted into the mid-1620s, by which time the population had apparently risen sharply again to about 6,000, making Tiverton probably Devon’s next most important municipality in size and importance after Exeter. Indeed, the assizes were held there in 1626, when a plague outbreak forced their removal from the county town.4 Nevertheless, by that stage, kersies were losing their market dominance to new cloths such as serges, and trade also suffered in the final years of the decade through the wars with Spain and France, and the accompanying burdens of billeted troops and higher taxation.5

This continuing economic success was all the more remarkable for the fact that Tiverton experienced devastating fires in 1598 and 1612, which virtually destroyed its residential infrastructure.6 The desire to guard against such catastrophes in the future, by providing the town with the protection of municipal authority and law, was the prime motivation behind Tiverton’s incorporation in 1615. The charter created an oligarchy consisting of a mayor, 12 capital burgesses, and 12 assistant burgesses, and also provided for the borough’s enfranchisement. Although it has been claimed that Tiverton elected two representatives in 1604 on a ‘potwalloper’ franchise, there is no surviving proof of this episode, and no return was made to Westminster that year. Under the terms of the 1615 charter, the power to elect the borough’s two Members was vested exclusively in the corporation.7 The surviving election returns from this period were all written in Latin, and bore the borough’s seal but no signatures. In 1626 the indenture relating to Richard Oliver’s election was endorsed: ‘deliver this to Mr. Phillips, clerk of the Crown, over the New Exchange in the Strand, with 2s. for the fee’.8

Tiverton during this period had no dominant electoral patron. The corporation itself never returned men from its own ranks, but none of the local gentry managed to exert more than a temporary influence either. The principal landowners in the district were probably the Mohun family of Cornwall, who held ‘the most entire or largest part’ of the much divided manor of Tiverton. However, their only discernible successes came in 1620 and 1624, when they secured the return of their kinsmen John Davie and Sir George Chudleigh.9 Davie was partnered by John Bampfield, who lived 12 miles from the borough, and most likely relied on the backing of his cousins, the Giffords of Tiverton Castle, the town’s most imposing residence. They may also have assisted the elections in 1626 and 1628 of their distant relative Peter Ball.10 Sir George Southcote of Calverleigh, three miles from Tiverton, exercised patronage in 1626, possibly nominating his acquaintance John Drake, who subsequently opted to represent Devon instead, and certainly arranging the election of his replacement, Richard Oliver, the duke of Buckingham’s receiver-general. Southcote perhaps also lent his support in 1624 to his friend Humphrey Were, the borough’s former recorder, who owned a minor property four miles from Tiverton.11 John Fraunceis and John Bluett, who sat in 1625 and 1628 respectively, were both minor local landowners with strong ties to the borough.12 Sir Rowland St. John, the other 1625 Member, has not been linked to any local patron, but was possibly nominated by his associate Sir Francis Russell*, lord lieutenant of Devon.13

Scarcely any of Tiverton’s Members demonstrably attempted to represent the borough’s interests in Parliament. Davie and Chudleigh both undoubtedly entered the Commons with a legislative agenda, but the measures concerned were the two bills in 1621 and 1624 to settle the estates of the Mohun family, which they supported in debate.14 Only Peter Ball is known to have spoken up for his constituents. In 1626 he reminded the House of the money still owed to the inhabitants of Devon and other counties in connection with the soldiers billeted there. Two years later, he again addressed the abuses arising from billeting, supporting moves to petition the king for relief.15

Authors: George Yerby / Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. J. Youings, ‘King James’s Charter to Tiverton’ (Reps. and Trans. Devon Assoc. xcix), 147-56; W.H. Hoskins, Devon, 495; M. Dunsford, Hist. Mems. of Tiverton, 99-100.
  • 2. Hoskins, 495; Dunsford, 34, 408, 464; Youings, 156.
  • 3. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 516; A. Friis, Alderman Cockayne and Cloth Trade, 165.
  • 4. Dunsford, 46, 462-4.
  • 5. W. Harding, Tiverton, 50-52.
  • 6. Youings, 156.
  • 7. Dunsford, 415; Harding, 49.
  • 8. C219/37/10; 219/38/73; 219/39/80; 219/40/62; 219/41B/109, 113.
  • 9. Dunsford, 100; Vivian, Vis. Devon, 190, 719.
  • 10. Vivian, 39-40, 227, 399-400.
  • 11. CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 312; PROB 11/145, f. 389v; HMC Hatfield, xxiii. 199.
  • 12. Dunsford, 183; D. and S. Lysons, Devonshire, 252, 276.
  • 13. PROB 11/212, ff. 225v-6v.
  • 14. CJ, i. 623b, 687a; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, ii. 86.
  • 15. Procs. 1626, ii. 128; CD 1628, ii. 369.