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 burgesses

Number of voters:

maximum 25


26 Feb. 1621SIR JOHN CATCHER vice Gooch, chose to sit for Cambridge University
16 Jan. 1626HENRY ROLLE

Main Article

Truro sprang up in the early twelfth century at the juncture of two major roads and a navigable tributary of Falmouth Haven, and began sending burgesses to Parliament in 1295. A key factor in the borough’s development was its close proximity to the tin-producing region, or stannary, of Tywarnhaile. From around 1300 Truro was west Cornwall’s principal location for ‘coinage’, the obligatory pre-sale testing of the metal’s purity, and when tin production in this part of the county dramatically increased in the sixteenth century the town’s prosperity rose commensurately. As a venue for the Cornish stannary ‘parliament’ and quarter sessions, Truro had also become a significant administrative centre, and the borough’s incorporation in 1589 confirmed its local standing. In the following decade Richard Carew† rated it as the county’s wealthiest community.2 During the early seventeenth century Truro’s merchants supplemented the profits from tin by trading in the standard commodities of the region, such as fish and wine, as well as luxury goods shipped in from London. In 1619 Richard Daniel’s* brother Jenkin was selling a full range of cloths from canvas and fustian to ‘cobweb’ lawn and black silk lace.3 Few Truro merchants owned ships, a fact cited by the corporation as evidence of poverty when confronted by demands for Ship Money in 1620. Indeed, a 1626 survey of Cornish shipping recorded only one vessel belonging to the town. However, although Truro remained comparatively small, with a population of around 900, there are no clear indications of economic decline before the wars of the later 1620s, which disrupted the tin trade.4

Under the terms of the 1589 charter, Truro’s corporation consisted of a mayor and 24 burgesses, of whom four were aldermen, along with a recorder and numerous minor officers. The corporation owned several properties in and around the borough, thus enjoying a measure of financial clout, and it was not slow to defend the town’s interests, protesting to the Privy Council in 1620 about Ship Money demands, going to law to protect its lands in 1623, and defying the local deputy lieutenants over control of the Truro militia in 1626.5 The parliamentary franchise was vested in the corporation, and the mayor, the sole signatory to election indentures, acted as returning officer. Compared with most Cornish boroughs during this period, Truro experienced relatively little pressure from rival interests seeking control of electoral patronage. By the seventeenth century the local manors were fragmented, and most of their gentry owners, such as the Edgcumbes, Arundells, St. Aubyns and Trevanions, lived too far away to exert real influence. Only two gentry families counted for much in the town – the Robarteses, immensely wealthy former merchants who owned Truro’s largest dwelling and entered the peerage in 1625, and the Boscawens, who held the recordership by 1620 and resided some four miles from the borough at Tregothnan. However, neither family apparently made nominations to the borough until the mid-1620s.6

Of the men elected to Parliament in 1604 and 1614 at least three, Henry Cossen and the two Burgeses, belonged to Truro’s corporation, while the fourth, Thomas Russell, was probably a town resident. Events in 1621 were more confused, as, probably for the only time during this period, the election indentures were dated several days apart, suggesting that there had been a contest or that external pressure had been exerted. The second man returned, John Trefusis, was a gentleman living six miles from the town who enjoyed ties with the Boscawens. Barnaby Gooch, the other Member, was chancellor of the diocese of Exeter, but his connection with Truro has not been established. When Gooch opted to sit elsewhere he was replaced by Sir John Catcher, whose brother was an alderman. In 1624 Thomas Burges II was again chosen, along with a former mayor, Richard Daniel, but thereafter the corporation was represented directly only once more, when Daniel resumed his Commons seat in 1628.7 Between 1625 and 1628 inclusive, the recorder, Hugh Boscawen, apparently nominated Henry Rolle, a kinsman by marriage. William and Francis Rous, a nephew and uncle returned in 1625 and 1626, doubtless relied on the influence of Sir Richard Robartes, as William was his son-in-law. This emerging gentry dominance of the borough’s parliamentary seats probably indicated not so much a decline in the corporation’s strength as an increase in pressure from external candidates, prompting action by patrons who would otherwise have been content to allow the town freedom of choice.8

Author: Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. OR.
  • 2. V. Acton, Hist. Truro, i. 15-16, 20, 26, 28, 58, 62, 65; G.R. Lewis, Stannaries, 126-7, 149; A. Duffin, Faction and Faith, 109; F.E. Halliday, Richard Carew of Antony, 217.
  • 3. Acton, 62; E190/1021/6; 190/1022/21; 190/1025/13; 190/1028/2, 10; 190/1030/30; Cornw. RO, D183/1a.
  • 4. APC, 1619-21, p. 241; Early-Stuart Mariners and Shipping ed. T. Gray (Devon and Cornw. Rec. Soc. n.s. xxxiii), 74; J. Palmer, Truro in Seventeenth Cent. 3; CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 46; Harg. 321, f. 321v.
  • 5. C66/1334; Palmer, 14; APC, 1619-21, p. 241; 1626, p. 332; C2/Jas.I/T7/64.
  • 6. C66/1334; C219/38/44; Palmer, 12-14; Vis. Cornw. (Harl. Soc. ix), 285.
  • 7. C2/Jas.I/C8/63; 2/Chas.I/C72/19; Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 464-5; Vis. Cornw. (Harl. Soc.), 285.
  • 8. Vivian, 47, 397, 413; Vivian, Vis. Devon, 654.