GODOLPHIN, Sir William (c.1568-1613), of Godolphin, Breage, 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



21 Oct. 1605

Family and Education

b. c.1568,1 1st s. of Sir Francis Godolphin† of Godolphin and his 1st w. Margaret, da. of John Killigrew of Arwennack, Cornw.; bro. of Sir Francis*.2 educ. Emmanuel, Camb. 1585; L. Inn 1586;3 travelled abroad (Italy, Germany) 1591-4; Padua Univ. 1593.4 m. by 1605, Thomasine (bur. 24 Apr. 1612), da. and h. of Thomas Sidney of Wighton, Norf., 3s. 1da.5 kntd. 13 July 1599.6 suc. fa. 1608. d. 5 Sept. 1613.7 sig. W[illia]m Godolphin.

Offices Held

Lt.-gov. Scilly from 1597, gov. 1608-d.;8 capt. horse [I] c.1599-at least 1604.9

PC [I] 1603-at least 1611.10

Recvr. Devon and Cornw. 1608-d.,11 commr. Admty. causes, Cornw. 1608;12 recorder and chief steward, Liskeard, Cornw. c.1608-?d.;13 commr. aid, Cornw. 1609, 1612,14 j.p. c.1609-d.,15 commr. ?salvage, Scilly 1611,16 collector, Privy Seal loan, Cornw. 1611-12,17 commr. piracy 1613.18

Member, Virg. Co. 1609.19

Gent. of Privy Chamber by d.20


The Godolphins traced their descent from John Knava or Rinsey, who in the late fourteenth century acquired by marriage the estate in west Cornwall from which they subsequently took their name. The Godolphin tin mines were the richest in the county, and a combination of wealth and solid support for the Reformation ensured the family’s rise to local prominence under the Tudors. Godolphin’s great-uncle twice represented Cornwall in Parliament, and in 1558 acquired a Crown lease of the Scillies which made him effectively military commander of the islands.21 Godolphin’s father Sir Francis, an acknowledged mining expert, consolidated the family’s position. His renewal of the Scillies lease made him a key figure in national defence during the war with Spain, and he served as a Cornish knight of the shire in 1589. From 1593 he was both receiver-general of the duchy of Cornwall and Crown receiver for that county and Devon. Through his brothers-in-law, Sir Henry† and Sir William Killigrew*, he also enjoyed contacts at Court and indirect kinship with the Cecils.22

Godolphin was groomed to build on his father’s achievements. He affirmed his religious orthodoxy by attending the staunchly Protestant Emmanuel College, Cambridge and, according to Richard Carew†, ‘enriched himself with sufficiency for matters of policy’ during a prolonged continental tour, the licence for which was procured by a Killigrew uncle. It is just conceivable that while still a minor he sat for Helston in 1586, though the Member of this name is generally presumed to be his uncle. In 1597 the Privy Council noted Godolphin’s ‘forward disposition’ in appointing him as Sir Francis’ deputy in the Scillies, at his father’s request. When his duties permitted he also spent time in London, and seems by 1598 to have attached himself to the 2nd earl of Essex.23 With preparations underway for Essex’s Irish expedition, Godolphin requested the earl to command his attendance, reasoning that to volunteer would jeopardize his existing commission. Essex knighted him at Dublin in July 1599, but nothing certain is known of his service in Ireland prior to October 1600, when he led a troop of horse into battle at the Moyry pass.24 Godolphin’s sound judgment and courage were much in evidence at the decisive siege and battle of Kinsale in late 1601, and he carried the terms of surrender to the vanquished Spanish commander. His conduct in these negotiations drew praise from the lord president of Munster, Sir George Carew I*, for his ‘discreet carriage’ and ‘many extraordinary good parts’.25 Although a year of garrison life followed, Godolphin was now firmly in favour with lord deputy Mountjoy (Charles Blount†), who in March 1603 entrusted him with the task of escorting the rebel leader Tyrone when the latter came secretly to make his submission. A month later Godolphin was nominated to the Irish Privy Council. He retained his captaincy for at least another year, but by June 1603 he was back in England, and seems not to have resumed his command thereafter.26

News of Godolphin’s exploits had gone before him, and he now claimed his rewards. In Ireland itself he probably received only a lease of some Ulster fishing rights, which was granted around 1600 and redeemed by the Crown ten years later.27 During 1603, however, he obtained a small Crown property in Cornwall and an extension of the Scillies lease, while in August 1604 he secured a pension of 10s. a day, backdated by one year.28 Godolphin maintained his close association with Mountjoy, now earl of Devonshire, becoming a trustee of some of his lands and in 1605-6 acting as his nominee in a reversionary grant of a wine customs farm.29 More significantly, by November 1603 he had also found employment with Lord Cecil (Robert Cecil†), his earlier ties to Essex apparently now forgotten. This doubtless helped him ease his way into Court circles. He discussed falconry with James I in mid-1604, and the next year he attended the king on his summer progress.30

Although Cecil apparently mobilized the Godolphins to support his nominees during the 1604 parliamentary elections, no member of the family is known to have sought a place at Westminster then. However, Godolphin’s personal prestige and government connections made him an obvious candidate in the following year to replace his kinsman and Cambridge contemporary Sir Jonathan Trelawny as a Cornish knight of the shire. As a trustee of Trelawny’s property, he probably followed carefully the passage of a bill during this second session which permitted the sale of the dead man’s lands, but he took no recorded part in scrutinizing this legislation.31 On 6 Feb. 1606, possibly as part of a Commons’ manoeuvre orchestrated by Cecil, Godolphin was named to a committee to consider the threat posed by English recusants serving in the Archduke’s army. His position as a prospective customs farmer explains his nomination to a bill committee concerned with the wine trade (7 March). Why he was added to a committee considering reform of the Court of Marshalsea (21 Mar.) is not clear. During the 1606-7 parliamentary session a revised Trelawny estates bill was introduced, and this time Godolphin was entitled, as a Cornish Member, to attend the committee stage (21 Feb. 1607). He was also named to a committee which prepared for a conference on the Union (29 Nov. 1606).32

By this time Godolphin was firmly in favour with Cecil, now earl of Salisbury, and in June 1606 he had been sent to Paris to congratulate the French king on his narrow escape from drowning in a ferry accident.33 However, his usefulness to Salisbury largely centred on his family background in mining. As early as November 1603 Godolphin had been dispatched north to advise on prospecting for precious metals in Scotland, and several times during the next five years he was summoned there again to report on the king’s gold and silver mines. On at least one occasion he arranged for his father to ship Cornish miners to assist in these works.34 Godolphin’s services brought him further rewards in Cornwall. In 1607 he secured in reversion the captaincy of Pendennis castle, the most important stronghold in the county other than the main fort in the Scillies, and although he had to undertake to trade in his royal pension, this grant was interpreted locally as the withdrawal of favour by Salisbury from the current captain.35 In the following year Godolphin was confirmed as receiver of Devon and Cornwall barely two weeks after his father’s death created the vacancy. For several months during 1609 he was seriously considered for the French ambassadorship, but this proposal came to nothing.36

Godolphin presumably backed Salisbury’s successful request for Penryn, the borough nearest to Pendennis, to return government nominees in the two parliamentary by-elections of February 1610.37 His first Commons appointment in the fourth session was to attend the conference with the Lords on 15 Feb., at which Salisbury outlined the Crown’s financial problems. Godolphin also received nomination to three bill committees, which discussed ordnance exports (17 Mar.), the Arundell estates in Cornwall (27 Apr.) and disorders on commons (19 Feb.).38

Godolphin’s administrative responsibilities in Cornwall increased significantly following his father’s death, despite his frequent absences from the county. He proved himself a vigorous collector of the 1611-12 Privy Seal loan, but the remoteness of the Scillies posed him problems as governor: while submitting an overdue report to the lord admiral in January 1612, he lamented that ‘a voyage into Spain is often made in shorter time than a passage gotten to poor Scilly’.39 His reputation as a metallurgist made him an obvious choice when Prince Henry wanted to test a new method for extracting silver from lead in 1610, and he naturally became involved in a scheme for mining copper in Cornwall in the following year.40 Salisbury’s death in 1612 deprived Godolphin of his principal patron, but he was probably already on friendly terms with two other powerful courtiers, the 3rd earl of Pembroke and the royal favourite Rochester, and around this time he became a gentleman of the Privy Chamber.41

In the summer of 1613, at the height of his powers, Godolphin contracted his fatal illness. The tenure of his landholdings rendered his seven-year-old heir Francis* liable to wardship, and while still in London he attempted to settle his estate, but his draft arrangements fell short of legal requirements. Having rashly destroyed the draft on his return to Godolphin, he struggled on his death-bed to reconstruct its contents in his will, drawn up on 2 Sept. and revised two days later. He wished his younger brother (Sir) Francis to obtain the wardship, and accordingly entrusted him with all his property during his eldest son’s minority. The numerous encumbrances left on the estate by his father remained in force, but Godolphin still designed a £1,000 legacy for his daughter. In the longer term his younger sons Sidney* and William were to receive respectively the Norfolk lands which he had acquired by marriage, and the Scillies lease. Godolphin died on 5 Sept. and was buried at Breage.42

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Anne Duffin / Paul Hunneyball



  • 1. C142/305/121.
  • 2. Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 184.
  • 3. Al. Cant.; LI Admiss.
  • 4. SO3/1, f. 279; Harl. 7042, f. 163v; G.L. Andrich, Univ. Patavinae, 133.
  • 5. Vivian, 184; Memorials of St. Margaret’s, Westminster ed. A.M. Burke, 72.
  • 6. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 96.
  • 7. C142/305/121; 142/346/172.
  • 8. APC, 1597, pp. 29-30; C54/1796.
  • 9. CSP Ire. 1600, p. 529; 1603-6, p. 165.
  • 10. CSP Ire. 1603-6, p. 12; 1611-14, p. 102.
  • 11. C66/1760.
  • 12. HCA 14/39, no. 217.
  • 13. Cornw. RO, B/LIS/272; STAC 8/164/10.
  • 14. E179/88/287; 179/283/12.
  • 15. C66/1822, 1898.
  • 16. HCA 14/42, no. 123.
  • 17. HMC 4th Rep. 405.
  • 18. C181/2, f. 186.
  • 19. A. Brown, Genesis of US, i. 210.
  • 20. Tixall Letters ed. A. Clifford, i. 3.
  • 21. Vivian, 183-4; F.G. Marsh, The Godolphins, 2; G. Haslam, ‘Eliz. Duchy of Cornw.’, Estates of Eng. Crown ed. R.W. Hoyle, 93; HP Commons, 1509-58, ii. 219; APC, 1558-70, p. 33.
  • 22. Haslam, 93; C66/1404; C54/1796; F.E. Halliday, Richard Carew of Antony, 228-9, 234.
  • 23. SO3/1, f. 279; Halliday, 134; HP Commons, 1558-1603, ii. 199; APC, 1597, p. 30; HMC Hatfield, vii. 160; viii. 478; xiv. 168.
  • 24. HMC Hatfield, viii. 450; Shaw, ii. 96; CSP Ire. 1600, p. 529.
  • 25. G. Carew, Pacata Hibernia, i. 299-300; ii. 1, 35, 61, 71-2; CSP Ire. 1601-3, p. 154; SP63/210/16.
  • 26. CSP Ire. 1601-3, pp. 487, 583; 1603-6, pp. 12, 21, 165; CSP Carew, 1601-3, p. 397; HMC Hatfield xi. 429; C54/1760.
  • 27. HMC Cowper, i. 29; CSP Carew, 1603-24, p. 17; Bpric. of Derry ed. T.W. Moody and J.G. Simms, i. 51.
  • 28. C54/1760, 1796; C66/1628, 1642.
  • 29. C66/1628, 2023/6; HMC Sackville, i. 285, 299.
  • 30. HMC Hatfield, xv. 303; HMC Cowper, i. 57; SP46/61, f. 88.
  • 31. H.V. Jones, ‘Jnl. of Levinus Munck’, EHR, lxvlii. 251; Vivian, 268; PROB 11/104, f. 418; HLRO, O.A. 3 Jas.I, c. 40.
  • 32. CJ, i. 264b, 279a, 288a, 326b, 339a; HLRO, O.A. 4 Jas.I, c. 24; P. Croft, ‘Serving the Archdukes’, BIHR, lxiv. 298.
  • 33. HMC Hatfield, xviii. 162, 164-5, 302; Ct. of Jas. I ed. G. Goodman, ii. 97-8.
  • 34. HMC Hatfield, xv. 284; xvii. 429; xix. 85; xx. 286; CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 51, 453, 474.
  • 35. C66/1695; C54/1877; HMC Hatfield, xix. 270.
  • 36. C66/1760; C142/305/121; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 512; HMC Downshire, ii. 190.
  • 37. SP14/52/75.
  • 38. CJ, i. 393b, 396b, 412b, 421b.
  • 39. HMC Hatfield, xxi. 10; CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 518, 566; 1611-18, p. 124; APC, 1613-14, p. 33; HCA 14/42, no.56.
  • 40. T. Birch, Henry, Prince of Wales, 205-7; CSP Dom. 1611-18, pp. 79, 111.
  • 41. Tixall Letters, i. 3; HMC Downshire, v. 510.
  • 42. PROB 11/122, ff. 429-30v; C142/346/172; Vivian, 184.