CHUDLEIGH, Sir John (c.1584-?1634), of Stretchleigh/Strashleigh, Ermington, Devon.

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



Family and Education

b. c.1584, 2nd s. of John Chudleigh† (d.1589) and Elizabeth, da. of Sir George Speake† of White Lackington, Som.; bro. of George*. m. (1) aft. 15 Jan. 1626, Margaret, da. of Sir William Courtenay† of Powderham, Devon, wid. of Sir Warwick Hele*,? s.p.; (2) 1st or 5th Jan. 1634, Dorothy, da. of Richard Norris, wid. of Christopher Blackhall and one Brooking, ? s.p.1 kntd. 28 Sept. 1625.2 d. aft. 1 Jan. 1634. sig. Jo[hn] Chudleigh.

Offices Held

Capt. privateer, 1617-18,3 RN 1620-1, 1623-8, v.-adm. 1628;4 member, Council of War 1628.5

Member, Guiana Co. by 1618,6 New Eng. Co. by 1622.7

Commr. to arrest Esperance of Newhaven and make an inventory of its goods, 1624.8


Chudleigh’s father, whose surname is often spelt ‘Chidley’, gained a taste for privateering at the age of 19 when he sailed on Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s last voyage. His activities brought him into contact with Sir Walter Ralegh†, to whom he was related through an aunt, both men serving together in 1586 as knights of the shire for Devon. In 1589, inspired by the success of Thomas Cavendish† in raiding Chile and Peru, the elder Chudleigh sold up his estates, equipped a squadron of five ships and, with Ralegh’s support at Court, embarked upon a disastrous voyage, which culminated in his death from disease.9

Nothing is known of Chudleigh until February 1617, when, aged about 33, he paid £350 for a half share of the Flying Joan of London, a ship of 120 tons and 14 guns which he renamed the Flying Chudleigh. The following month, despite his father’s fate, he accepted a captain’s commission in Ralegh’s intended expedition to the Orinoco in pursuit of a treasure mine rumoured to exist in Guiana (part of modern-day Venezuela). He took no part in the subsequent seizure of the Spanish settlement of St. Thomas later that year, but was instead one of those captains who remained with Ralegh at the mouth of the Orinoco to guard against a possible attack by Spanish ships. The strength of Spanish resistance subsequently led to the abandonment of the expedition, but Chudleigh appears to have retrieved something from the voyage, returning to England in about March 1618 with a cargo of tobacco and other goods. However, the complaints of the Spanish ambassador led to the impounding of his ship, and it was not until September 1618, after he had petitioned the king and provided evidence to the royal commissioners appointed to investigate the expedition, that he obtained a warrant for her release. Further difficulties arose in the following year when, after selling the ship, he proved unable to reach agreement over his accounts with Hildebrand Pruson, the sailmaker of the Navy, who owned the other half of the ship and from whom he had bought his half share. In June 1619 Pruson, who regularly cheated his naval employees, accused Chudleigh of endeavouring to swindle him. The outcome of this case is unfortunately unknown.10

Whereas Ralegh went to the scaffold for heading the abortive Guiana expedition, Chudleigh, like his fellow captain, John Pennington, was given command of an armed merchantman in the fleet sent to the Mediterranean to suppress the Algerine pirates in 1620. In June 1621 he and Sir Thomas Wilsford* sank one of the corsairs’ best men-of-war and helped put their galleys to flight, and on his return to England he received a £30 reward for taking some prizes.11 However, he subsequently became disillusioned, as he experienced difficulty in obtaining payment of his wages,12 and was offered no further naval employment until June 1623, when he commanded a pinnace in the Channel. He evidently contemplated service with the Dutch,13 but, following a recommendation from the head of the Navy commission, John Coke*, his services were retained.14 Over the course of the next year he experienced the frustrations of command. The Navy’s pinnaces proved too slow to engage the Flemish freebooters which infested the Channel, and on one occasion he was forced to victual his ship himself.15

In August 1624 Chudleigh was appointed to command the Speedwell and given instructions to scour the Channel. In October he transported Count Mansfeld to Flushing, but on the return journey to England the count’s drunken pilot wrecked the ship.16 No disgrace appears to have attached itself to Chudleigh as a result of this mishap, and in the following May he was appointed captain of the Rainbow, which formed part of the 3rd earl of Essex’s squadron during the ill-starred expedition to Cadiz later that year. Knighted before the fleet sailed, he subsequently seconded Essex in the latter’s unauthorized assault on the Spanish galleys moored off the town on 22 October.17 As captain of the Bonaventure in 1626, Chudleigh also served under Lord Willoughby (Sir Montagu Bertie*), whose planned expedition to Spain was abandoned in the Bay of Biscay. In the following spring he was reappointed captain of the Bonaventure, but though he asked to serve as Buckingham’s messenger in the impending expedition to the Ile de Ré,18 his ship was not included in the fleet which sailed for France. Perhaps disillusioned at being restricted to convoying munitions to Ré, by September it was reported that Chudleigh ‘liveth in debauchery’.19 However, he was subsequently granted the rank of vice-admiral in the relief expedition commanded by the earl of Holland (Henry Rich*), and instructed to convoy a number of supply ships from the Thames to Plymouth. Delayed by difficulties in manning his ship, Chudleigh was unfairly rebuked by the king for wasting time.20 Mortified, he beseeched the Admiralty secretary, Edward Nicholas*, to help him regain Charles’s favour, as well as an advance on his pay, for ‘I profess I was fain to borrow to furnish myself for this voyage’.21 He was subsequently commended by Holland for the speed with which he reached Plymouth.22

Holland’s fleet sailed too late to assist Buckingham, and on the return to Plymouth the Bonaventure was forced ashore at Cattewater by violent storms and badly damaged. Temporarily bereft of his command, Chudleigh was added to the Council of War in February 1628. On 23 Feb. his fellow councillors appointed him and two other captains to wait upon Buckingham to offer advice on the number of ships needed to provide a constant guard of the Narrow Seas. A short while later, on 3 Mar., Chudleigh submitted a number of proposals to the Council, among which was a suggestion that he had made as early as June 1625. This was that temporary hospitals should be erected ‘in convenient places for the relief of sick and maimed soldiers and mariners’.23

The day after Chudleigh presented his propositions to the Council of War he was elected Member for Lostwithiel. He undoubtedly owed his seat to his brother-in-law Sir Reginald Mohun*, then recorder of the borough. There is no evidence that he ever took his seat. That summer he was appointed captain of the Garland in the fleet commanded by Willoughby, now earl of Lindsey. He played a dominant role aboard the flagship, it being reported by one captain that, in the councils of war convened by Lindsey, ‘nothing was concluded nor anything put to votes but what Weddell and Chudleigh for sea, Willoughby and Scott for land, thought fit to be done’.24

The scaling down of naval operations following the fall of La Rochelle left Chudleigh without naval employment. The Admiralty commissioners who succeeded Buckingham nominated him to serve as admiral of the Narrow Seas in May 1629, but were overruled by Charles, who, perhaps recalling Chudleigh’s tardiness in October 1627, appointed Pennington instead.25 As consolation, Chudleigh was granted a small French prize ship, the St. Mary, in consideration of his services.26 In the following year the Navy’s principal officers refused to allow him back-pay as captain of the Bonaventure in 1627-8 for the period after his ship was driven ashore at Plymouth,27 but their objections were brushed aside by the Admiralty.28

Chudleigh bought the wardship of William Lacy of Somerset in 1631 for £200,29 and married a second time in January 1634 at Totnes, in Devon. Later that same year Edward Nicholas drew up a list of those captains who had seen naval service and were considered suitable for command in the first Ship Money fleet,30 but Chudleigh’s name was not included. The omission may suggest that Chudleigh was then either too ill to serve or dead. No will, administration or inquisition post mortem has been found.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Andrew Thrush


This was his abode in 1617: Ralegh’s Last Voyage ed. V.T. Harlow, 117.

  • 1. Vis. Devon (Harl. Soc. vi), 59. J.L. Vivian says he was the 3rd son, but does not name the 2nd: Vivian, Vis. Devon, 190.
  • 2. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 190.
  • 3. Ralegh’s Last Voyage, 117-121; Bodl. Tanner 290, f. 4v.
  • 4. Add. 36444, f. 167; HMC Cowper, i. 142; CSP Dom. 1623-5, pp. 77, 146, 328; Add. 37816, f. 30; SP16/28, f. 12; Add. 9297, f. 53v.
  • 5. CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 563.
  • 6. T. Rabb, Enterprise and Empire, 265.
  • 7. ‘Recs. of the Council for New Eng.’, Procs. Amer. Antiq. Soc. 1867, pp. 75, 77.
  • 8. HCA 30/858, no. 113.
  • 9. Eng. Privateering Voyages to the W. Indies 1588-95 ed. K.R. Andrews (Hakluyt Soc. ser. 2. cxi), 59-64.
  • 10. C2/Chas.I/P73/9 (mis-filed); Ralegh’s Last Voyage, 152, 232, 239; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon ed. J. Spedding, vi. 419-20.
  • 11. Harl. 1581, f. 72v; E351/2260, unfol.
  • 12. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 328.
  • 13. HMC Cowper, i. 142, 148.
  • 14. CSP Dom. 1623-5, p. 61.
  • 15. HMC Cowper, i. 165.
  • 16. CSP Dom. 1623-5, p. 328; Fortescue Pprs. ed. S.R. Gardiner (Cam. Soc. n. s. i), 199-200; HMC Cowper, i. 175.
  • 17. J. Glanville, Voyage to Cadiz ed. A.B. Grosart (Cam. Soc. n.s. xxxii), 39, 126.
  • 18. CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 199.
  • 19. SP16/77/10.
  • 20. CSP Dom. 1627-8, pp. 386, 392, 395.
  • 21. SP16/82/21.
  • 22. CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 403.
  • 23. SP16/28, ff. 66, 68v-9; HMC Cowper, i. 204.
  • 24. SP16/120/72.
  • 25. CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 556.
  • 26. Ibid. 1629-31, p. 559; Cal. of Docquets of Ld. Kpr. Coventry, 1625-40 ed. J. Broadway, R. Cust and S. Roberts (L. and I. Soc. spec. ser. xxiv), 217.
  • 27. Add. 9297, f. 53v; CSP Dom. 1629-31, p. 350.
  • 28. SP16/156, f. 60.
  • 29. WARD 9/163, f. 27v.
  • 30. SP16/284/84.