GEWEN, Thomas (by 1585-1660), of the Inner Temple and St. Mary le Bow, London; later of Bradridge, Boyton, Cornw.

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



5 May 1660 - by 27 Nov. 1660

Family and Education

b. by 1585,2 o.s. of Christopher Gewen of Werrington, Devon and Joan, da. of William Noble of Boyton.3 educ. Exeter Coll. Oxf. by 1603, BA 1604; I. Temple 1605, called 1614.4 m. (1) c.1609 (with up to £460), Anne, da. of Hugh Vaughan of Exeter, Devon, 2s. d.v.p.;5 (2) 23 July 1622, Mary, da. of Matthias Springham of London and Richmond, Surr., merchant, wid. of Arthur Puckell (admon. 1 July 1617) of London, Leatherseller, 1s. 4da. (2 d.v.p.).6 suc. fa. 1610.7 d. by 27 Nov. 1660.8 sig. Tho[mas] Gewen.

Offices Held

Auditor (jt.), duchy of Cornw. 1622-34,9 commr. duchy of Cornw. assessions 1624, 1626;10 viander, Newport, Cornw. 1626;11 j.p. Cornw. 1628-42, by 1656-d.,12 commr. repair of St. Paul’s cathedral 1633;13 havenor, feodary and escheator, duchy of Cornw. 1633-c.1650, May 1660-d.;14 stannator, Foymore, Cornw. 1636;15 commr. assessment, Cornw. 1641-2, 1644, 1647-8, 1657, Jan. 1660,16 sequestration Devon and Cornw. 1643, levying of money, Cornw. 1643, execution of ordinances 1644, militia 1648, Mar. 1660.17

Recorder, Launceston, Cornw. 1646-51, 1653-60.18


Gewen is periodically referred to in contemporary documents as Guen, Gewine or Gowen.19 His forebears rose to prominence in the Launceston area during the sixteenth century. One of them served as the borough’s mayor in 1544, and they probably began leasing Werrington barton, a mile north across the Devon border, at about the same time.20 The union of Gewen’s father Christopher with Joan Noble should have brought the nearby manor of Boyton and barton of Bradridge into the family’s hands as well. However, the marriage settlement was contested by Joan’s step-mother, and despite a legal victory in 1598 the Gewens were unable to obtain possession. To add to this disappointment, Christopher seems to have been financially incompetent. He was debarred in 1602 from the executorship of his father’s will, and died owing £1,500 eight years later.21

Gewen probably entered Exeter College, Oxford in 1601, as he took his BA there three years later. In 1603, giving the college as his address, he contributed to a book of verses commemorating Elizabeth I. From Oxford he proceeded to the Inner Temple, following the plan laid down for him by his paternal grandfather in the 1602 will, which provided sufficient resources to educate him until he came of age. Clearly, the family’s hopes for the future rested squarely on Gewen who, in 1606, began to assume control of his inheritance even though his father was still living.22 Christopher died in late 1610, shortly after Gewen’s first marriage, which brought in a dowry of up to £460.23 By 1616 Gewen had cleared all but £300 of his father’s debts, though in the meantime any lingering hope of securing the Boyton and Bradridge lands had effectively evaporated. These properties belonged ultimately to the duchy of Cornwall, which sided with the Nobles once it emerged that Joan’s step-brother would qualify as a royal ward. In June 1616, despite numerous fresh legal challenges, Gewen and his mother were ordered by the duchy to abandon their claims.24 Faced with limited prospects in the West Country, Gewen thereafter concentrated on developing his legal career in London, and in 1619 he even disposed of the Werrington lease.25 How he came by the joint auditorship of the duchy in 1622 is unclear, though his presence at the Inner Temple, close to the duchy’s London offices in Fleet Street, may have worked in his favour. Shortly after this appointment he remarried, taking as his second wife a London-based widow with private means, and by 1623 he was living in the parish of St. Mary le Bow.26

Gewen was therefore effectively an outsider when he was elected to Parliament at Bossiney in 1624. The borough came under pressure that year to accept duchy nominees, and Gewen’s election indenture described him as ‘auditor to Prince Charles’.27 In the Commons, Gewen allied himself with the advocates of war with Spain, joining attacks on government ministers who favoured peace, such as lord keeper Williams. On 7 May the Commons debated Lady Darcy’s complaint that Williams had imposed his own candidate on a benefice in preference to hers and then blocked her appeal in Chancery. In what was probably his maiden speech, Gewen accused Williams of breaching Magna Carta and of ignoring the king’s instructions, and called for the matter to be transmitted to the Lords. On the same day he was named to the committee which scrutinized the bill to confirm Lady Darcy’s control of the disputed advowson, and on 12 May he reported the measure. Gewen showed equally little respect for the disgraced lord treasurer, the earl of Middlesex (Sir Lionel Cranfield*), who had also opposed war. During the third reading of the bill aimed at making him pay the fine imposed on him after his impeachment, Gewen conceded that the legislation might be unprecedented, but argued that it was proportionable to Middlesex’s misdeeds, and that it could not be considered unjust to enforce a punishment to which the Commons had consented (28 May). When the bill was returned to its scrutinizing committee, Gewen was added to its number. By obliquely backing the drive for war with Spain, Gewen was arguably following the lead provided by his master, Prince Charles. However, as Williams enjoyed the prince’s support during the parliamentary campaign against him, Gewen may simply have been demonstrating his personal views. He probably already leaned towards puritanism, given that he later emerged as a prominent Presbyterian. Certainly, he was nominated on 15 May to the committee for preparing charges against the anti-Calvinist bishop of Norwich, ahead of a conference with the Lords.28

One of Gewen’s responsibilities as duchy auditor was the preparation of particulars for the award of leases, and in 1625 he apparently exploited his position to obtain for his mother a grant of Bradridge barton, one of the long-disputed properties. In the following year he had the lease transferred to himself, and then in 1628 renewed it on more favourable terms.29 With the acquisition of this estate came a revival of Gewen’s local influence in Cornwall. This was first manifested in the 1626 parliamentary elections, when he was returned at Newport, the tiny borough adjacent to Launceston. Gewen left nothing to chance. At Newport, the indentures were made out by two special officers, the vianders, and it is clear from comparison of the signatures on the 1626 indentures with those on Gewen’s official duchy papers, that he first obtained one of these posts, and then returned himself.30 The legality of his election was subsequently challenged, but as Gewen’s rival then withdrew his candidature, the Commons decided on 17 Mar. to accept the initial result. However, Gewen apparently chose to maintain a low profile during the remainder of this Parliament, and left no further impression on its records.31

Gewen’s auditorship was renewed in both 1627 and 1630, while his elevated status in Cornwall was reflected in 1628 by his appointment as a j.p. However, the holding of office did not prevent him from emerging as a critic of arbitrary government, a stance which perhaps reflected the influence of his radical brother-in-law, Benjamin Valentine*. In 1629 he apparently obstructed militia reforms in Cornwall, and shortly afterwards he refused to compound for knighthood.32 Gewen resigned his auditorship in 1632, but seems to have been reinstated almost immediately, and he continued to fulfil his duties for another two years. A subsequent investigation into his conduct highlighted official concern that he was neglecting his duties in London, though the fault seems to have lain more with his fellow auditor, Charles Harbord. Certainly, Gewen was now spending more of his time in the West Country, and in 1633 he obtained three local duchy posts, which compensated him for the eventual loss of his auditorship. In 1637, in his capacity as havenor, he provoked a confrontation between the duchy council and the Admiralty commissioners concerning jurisdiction over Cornish shipwrecks.33

Gewen declined to contribute to the king’s northern expedition in 1639, and when the Civil War broke out he sided enthusiastically with Parliament, becoming one of its principal organizers in the West Country.34 In 1646-7 he replaced the Royalist Ambrose Manaton* as Launceston’s recorder and MP. However, his conspicuous involvement in the attempted Presbyterian coup in 1647 made him a prime target for the army during Pride’s Purge, and he was imprisoned for over two months afterwards due to his intransigence.35 By inclination a constitutional monarchist, Gewen viewed the Commonwealth regime with distaste bordering on contempt, though he readily purchased Bradridge barton during the sale of Crown lands. He also regularly represented Cornish constituencies at Westminster during the 1650s, albeit suffering exclusion from the 1656-7 session of Parliament. One of Cornwall’s leading Presbyterians, he persecuted the Quaker George Fox when he visited the county in 1656, and two years later urged Parliament to revive the old Assembly of Divines. Though prepared to contemplate Cromwell as king, Gewen embraced the Restoration and resumed his old duchy offices.36 Once more his title to Bradridge was in doubt, a major cause for concern not least because it was central to the provision made for his wife in his 1659 will. Exploiting his membership of the Convention, he won parliamentary backing in September 1660 for his claim to both that property and Boyton manor, but he died before the Crown reached a decision on his case. Gewen’s death was reported on 27 Nov., and he was buried at St. Margaret’s, Westminster on the following day. His son was granted a fresh lease of Bradridge in the following year. No subsequent member of the family entered Parliament.37

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. Secluded at Pride’s Purge, 6 Dec. 1648; readmitted 21 Feb. 1660.
  • 2. Aged 21 by Nov. 1606, when he took on admon. of grandfa.’s estate: PROB 11/108, f. 252v.
  • 3. C2/Jas.I/G11/2.
  • 4. G.C. Boase and W.P. Courtney, Bibliotheca Cornubiensis, i. 170; Al. Ox.; I. Temple database of admiss.; HP Commons, 1660-90, ii. 393 confuses Gewen with Thomas Gueane, who was admitted to Queen’s, Oxf. in 1603.
  • 5. C2/Chas.I/H51/8; GL, ms 6538; Al. Ox. (Christopher Gewen).
  • 6. Richmond Par. Reg. (Surr. Par. Reg. Soc. i), 144; PROB 11/130, ff. 101v-2; 11/136, f. 242; 11/303, f. 34; GL, ms 4996, ff. 86-8; Cornw. RO, FP16/1/1, pp. 31, 33. The near-contemporary suggestion that Gewen married a Cosworth is unproven: Autobiog. of Sir John Bramston ed. P. Braybrooke (Cam. Soc. xxxii), 13.
  • 7. Christopher Gewen d. soon after 16 Nov. 1610 (admon. 9 Jan. 1611): Cornw. RO, WW640; PROB 6/8, f. 2v.
  • 8. CSP Dom. 1660-1, p. 365.
  • 9. DCO, ‘Duchy Servants’, 105; C66/2409/18; 66/2538/30; 66/2673/1.
  • 10. DCO, ‘Duchy Servants’, 105.
  • 11. C219/40/280.
  • 12. C231/4, f. 241; 231/5, p. 529; C193/13/6, f. 11v; C220/9/4, f. 13.
  • 13. GL, ms 25475/1, f. 13.
  • 14. Western Antiquary, vii. 138; Parl. Survey of Duchy of Cornw. ed. N.J.G. Pounds (Devon and Cornw. Rec. Soc. n.s. xxv), 73; CSP Dom. 1660-1, p. 365.
  • 15. Bodl. Add. C.85, p. 19.
  • 16. SR, v. 82, 149; A. and O. i. 545, 962, 1079; ii. 1064, 1365.
  • 17. A. and O. i. 111, 129, 228, 461, 1235; ii. 1428.
  • 18. R. and O.B. Peter, Launceston and Dunheved, 406.
  • 19. Cornw. RO, WW640; GL, ms 4996, f. 88; CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 7.
  • 20. Western Antiquary, ix. 166-7; E179/99/289.
  • 21. C2/Jas.I/G5/55; 2/Jas.I/G11/2; PROB 11/108, f. 252r-v.
  • 22. PROB 11/108, f. 252r-v; PROB 6/8, f. 2v; Boase and Courtney, i. 170.
  • 23. C2/Chas.I/H51/8.
  • 24. C2/Jas.I/G11/2; DCO, ‘Letters and Warrants 1615-19’, p. 33.
  • 25. C2/Jas.I/Y1/17; Cornw. RO, WW640.
  • 26. PROB 11/130, ff. 101v-2; 11/136, f. 242; GL, ms 4996, f. 86.
  • 27. C219/38/29.
  • 28. CJ, i. 700b, 703a, 705a, 714a, 785b; ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 237v; A.F. Robbins, Launceston P and P, 205.
  • 29. E306/12, box 2, bdle. 22, item 2; E367/240, 2789.
  • 30. C219/40/245, 280; E306/12, box 2, bdle. 24, no. 23.
  • 31. Procs. 1626, ii. 300, 305.
  • 32. Familiae Minorum Gentium (Harl. Soc. xl), 1307; SP16/150/74; E178/7161.
  • 33. E214/182; SC6/Chas.I/192; E134/12 Chas.I/Mich. 2; CSP Dom. 1637, pp. 248, 534.
  • 34. PC2/51, p. 79; HMC Portland, i. 101; M. Coate, Cornw. in Gt. Civil War, 32, 224-5; Add. 5494, f. 88.
  • 35. Robbins, 206; CJ, v. 265a, 266a-b; D. Underdown, Pride’s Purge, 152, 195; Bodl. Clarendon 34, f. 17.
  • 36. Diary of Thomas Burton ed. J.T. Rutt, ii. 333, 424; iii. 181; iv. 22-3; Robbins, 206; T51/6, p. 150; CJ, vii. 425b; HMC Portland, i. 584; Coate, 346-7.
  • 37. PROB 11/303, f. 34; CJ, viii. 152a-b; T51/6, p.150; CSP Dom. 1660-1, p. 365; Memorials of St. Margaret’s, Westminster ed. A.M. Burke, 662; CTB, i. 301.