MOHUN, Sir Reginald (c.1565-1639), of Boconnoc, 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




Family and Education

b. c.1565,1 1st s. of Sir William Mohun† of Boconnoc and his 1st w. Elizabeth, da. of Sir John Horsey† of Clifton Maybank, Dorset. m. (1) lic. 7 Sept. 1589, Mary, da. of Sir Henry Killigrew† of Lothbury, London, 1s. (d.v.p.); (2) by 1592, Philippa, da. of Sir John Hele† of Wembury, Devon, 1s. 1da.; (3) by 1603, Dorothy, da. of John Chudleigh† of Ashton, Devon, 3s. (?2 d.v.p.) 4da. (1 d.v.p.).2 suc. fa. 1588;3 kntd. 25 Mar. 1599;4 cr. bt. 25 Nov. 1611.5 d. 26 Dec. 1639.6 sig. Reynold Mohun.

Offices Held

J.p. Cornw. 1591-at least 1637,7 sheriff 1592-3,8 commr. subsidy 1594, 1608, 1610-11, 1621-2, 1624, 1626, 1628;9 ?portreeve, Fowey, Cornw. 1595;10 commr. oyer and terminer, Western circ. 1598-d.;11 dep. lt. Cornw. 1600-d.,12 commr. piracy 1604, 1607, 1613, 1624-6, 1627,13 sewers 1605,14 Admlty. causes 1608,15 aid 1609,16 ship inventory 1613,17 duchy of Cornw. assessions 1617, 1624, 1626,18 collector, purveyors’ rate 1620,19 commr. billeting, Devon and Cornw. 1625,20 Forced Loan, Cornw. 1626-7,21 martial law, Devon and Cornw. 1627-8,22 swans, W. Country 1629,23 knighthood fines, Cornw. 1631.24

Recorder, Lostwithiel, Cornw. 1608-d.,25 East Looe by 1620.26


The Mohun family traced their ancestry back to the Norman Conquest, via the medieval barons of Dunster, Somerset. Around the fourteenth century they settled in Cornwall, where they established a seat at Hall, overlooking Fowey harbour. By 1588 they had accumulated more than 20 manors in the county, particularly in the district between Fowey and Lostwithiel. In addition, Mohun’s grandfather was a joint heir to the former estates of the Courtenay earls of Devon, while his father Sir William, who purchased Boconnoc manor in 1579, acquired by marriage a share in the Horsey family’s Dorset lands.27 Sir William was an active figure in Cornish government, serving as a j.p., sheriff and deputy lieutenant, and becoming recorder of East Looe in 1587, a year before his death.28 Mohun himself succeeded his father as recorder of East Looe, and later became recorder of Lostwithiel, but seems not to have received any legal training; in 1615 he claimed that he was ‘not skilled in the law’. Nevertheless, the scale of his inheritance ensured him a prominent place in Cornish affairs, this status being confirmed by his knighthood in 1599. At about this time Richard Carew† described him as ‘one that by his courteous, just, and liberal course of life, maintaineth the reputation, and increaseth the love always borne his ancestors’. However, Mohun also possessed a high-handed and arrogant streak. In 1598, probably as part of a feud with some neighbours, he allegedly caused his servants to assault the offending parties at Bodmin during the quarter-sessions, despite the protests of his fellow magistrates. A few years later, he was challenged to a duel as a result of the manner in which he broke off negotiations to marry John Arundell* of Trerice’s sister. Declining this invitation, he informed Arundell: ‘Had your liberality been answerable to the worthiness of your sister, and your demands from me suitable unto reason and my estate, the match had proceeded to a good and true intent’.29

Mohun first entered Parliament as a Fowey burgess during the 1580s, but competition from within the borough had largely eliminated his electoral influence there by 1604, when he seems to have used his standing at East Looe to present one of its places to his second cousin Sir Robert Phelips. At this juncture he may also have exercised some leverage at St. Mawes, for his half-brother William owned a manor nearby, and in 1602 Mohun himself had become a trustee to the major local landowner, Charles Trevanion*, who was then a minor. This combination of factors explains why one of the borough’s seats went to the Mohuns’ brother-in-law Sir John Specott.30

Through his first marriage Mohun possessed a tenuous claim to kinship with lord treasurer Salisbury (Robert Cecil†), who may have pressured him into purchasing Cornwall’s first baronetcy in November 1611. Whatever the circumstances, his new title re-affirmed his social ambitions, though the requirement to pay £1,095 in connection with this honour may have contributed to his financial difficulties.31 Mohun’s mounting debts were now beginning to concern him, as was the financial provision required for his numerous children by his third wife Dorothy. He was therefore angered and distressed by the marriage bargain struck in July 1613 by his heir John*, his son by his second marriage. The bride, a wealthy widow, brought no dowry with her, but the trust arrangements which accompanied the settlement were very generous to John, handing him the immediate use of the family’s Devon and Dorset lands, together with the inheritance of the ancestral Cornish estates. Mohun initially vetoed the deal, which he claimed had been brokered without his knowledge, but he finally accepted a revised version, John simultaneously undertaking to maintain any of his siblings who were orphaned while still minors. Within a few months, Mohun had become convinced that the settlement was still unacceptable: he had been left too little control over his lands to clear his debts and look after his other children; and although he had insisted that the estates must be entailed in the male line to tie them permanently to his baronetcy, the wording was loose enough to allow inheritance by John’s daughters if he failed to produce a son. John refused to renegotiate the settlement, so Mohun explored alternative methods of securing his objectives. In September 1613 he attempted to set up his own trust for the disputed Cornish lands which restored the principle of male entail. Around the same time, he also forged a quantity of deeds which purported to show that key properties were either settled on his younger sons or employed to provide them with annuities before the July deal. Upon calmer reflection, however, these documents were later destroyed. In response to these manoeuvres, John commenced the first of numerous lawsuits against his father.32

In the 1614 parliamentary elections, Mohun took one of the East Looe seats himself, and presented the other to his then wife’s brother George Chudleigh. His niece’s husband Sir Nicholas Smith found a place at St. Mawes.33 Mohun participated in a debate on 2 May about ‘undertaking’, but his speech was not recorded. Three days later, the House was informed that Mohun knew a merchant who could confirm that undertaking had occurred. Perhaps embarrassed by his kinship with Sir Henry Neville*, a former brother-in-law and now a pivotal figure in these rumours, Mohun denied the report, only to have the allegation immediately repeated. However, the matter went no further.34

During 1614 the wrangling between Mohun and his heir intensified, John alleging that further fraudulent deeds had been drawn up. An attempt at arbitration during Chancery proceedings in 1616 proved abortive, and by 1620 Mohun had resolved to seek a parliamentary solution.35 Doubtless aiming for the optimal platform from which to introduce a private bill, he took soundings about standing as a Cornish knight of the shire in the forthcoming election. Outmanoeuvred in this attempt by his erstwhile foe John Arundell, he withdrew his candidacy, promising however to support Arundell should John Mohun also enter the race.36 His family’s interest at St. Mawes had now ended, owing to the sale of the relevant manor and Charles Trevanion achieving his majority, but Mohun provided a place for George Chudleigh at Lostwithiel, where he was now recorder, and presumably also arranged the election at East Looe of a more distant kinsman, Sir Jerome Horsey.37 Mohun himself failed to secure a seat in the 1621 Parliament, and so it is not clear who introduced his bill ‘for establishing of some manors ... upon John Mohun, son ... of Sir Reginald Mohun ... according to the true intent and meaning of former agreements between them’. Conceivably the task fell to Chudleigh, who was to perform this service for the family in 1624. The bill’s strategy was clear-cut. The 1613 settlement was declared to be defective, the male entail on all the estates was confirmed, and any land transactions concluded since the settlement and now deemed contrary to its intentions were voided. This last element may have been intended primarily to undo Mohun’s own tangled stratagems; since the bill included a clause protecting the inheritance rights of his Hele relatives in part of the Devon lands, he was presumably unaware that John had already conveyed these properties to one of the Heles.38 At the bill’s second reading on 17 May, a furious debate developed. While several speakers, such as Chudleigh and his father-in-law Sir William Strode, asserted that the proposals were intended to make peace between the Mohuns, Sir John Davies made it clear that John actually opposed the bill as a threat to his inheritance rights, and raised the awkward matter of the ante-dated, forged deeds, for which John’s stepmother Dorothy was alleged to be ultimately responsible. The bill was committed, with a recommendation that a compromise should be found if possible, but it failed to reach the report stage.39

During 1622 a batch of Mohun suits were heard in Chancery, and a deal was finally reached, though a revised parliamentary bill was thought necessary to confirm the agreement.40 In the 1624 elections, Sir John Specott’s son Paul was found a seat at East Looe. Mohun himself appears not to have sought a place for himself, but John entered the Commons for the first time as a Grampound burgess, probably with the local assistance of one of Mohun’s brothers.41 The new bill, which was chaired in committee by Dorothy’s brother (Sir) George Chudleigh, was significantly different from the 1621 version. Although it stressed that peace had now been made between father and son, Mohun had evidently made significant concessions to achieve this. The male entail on the old Cornish lands was preserved, but John gained complete control of almost all the Devon and Dorset properties, which could henceforth descend to any of his heirs. Restrictions were also placed on Mohun’s management of the Boconnoc estate. A clause annulling virtually all grants made of the disputed estates since the start of the current reign was apparently added or amplified in committee to address the problem of ante-dated deeds. However, when Chudleigh reported the bill on 5 Apr., William Noye expressed concern about the practical consequences of this solution, and secured a recommittal. Chudleigh’s report of further amendments on 14 Apr. met with the Commons’ approval, and the bill thereafter passed smoothly through the Lords and into law.42

In 1625 Mohun and Sir George Chudleigh were returned for Lostwithiel, but so too were two other men, and it is uncertain whether the Commons ever resolved which of the four was entitled to sit. Mohun patronage may have helped (Sir) James Bagg II obtain his seat at East Looe but, despite Bagg’s subsequent close relationship with the family, hard evidence is lacking. In 1626 Bagg again secured a place at the same borough, while Mohun, who successfully nominated his younger son Reginald at Lostwithiel, deputed his patronage over the remaining East Looe seat to Sir George Chudleigh, who presented it to his own son John, after first offering it to (Sir) John Coke*.43

From 1625, the large-scale billeting of soldiers in the districts of Cornwall closest to Plymouth kept Mohun at the forefront of local affairs. He was apparently one of the county’s more vigorous deputy lieutenants, and he displayed similar confidence as a commissioner for billeting, complaining to the Privy Council within weeks of his appointment about the soldiers’ level of allowance.44 It is harder to establish how much he contributed to the emergence of his son John’s gentry faction, which by 1628 represented the duke of Buckingham’s interest in Cornwall, as opposed to the local populism of the rival alliance led by William Coryton* and (Sir) John Eliot*. Mohun’s significance may have lain primarily in his close ties to other leading members of John’s circle: John Trelawny was his son-in-law; Sir Bernard Grenville† and Sir William Wrey had acted with him on local commissions for 20 years or more; and Richard Trevanion†, a second cousin, had provided him with legal advice since at least 1613.45

During the 1628 parliamentary elections Mohun’s patronage followed its customary pattern. His brother-in-law Sir John Chudleigh owed his place at Lostwithiel to him, and Paul Specott was again returned at East Looe. However, Mohun also played a central role in the scandal surrounding his son’s efforts to manage the Cornish shire election. On 8 Feb. Coryton chose a meeting with him, Grenville and Wrey to announce his intention to stand. Mohun’s signature featured prominently on the letters sent out during the next three weeks, which warned Coryton and Eliot to withdraw, and sought to rally support against them. He was apparently present at the gathering which nominated John Mohun and Sir Richard Edgcumbe* as alternative candidates for knights of the shire, though he thought better of attending the election itself, where Coryton and Eliot were overwhelmingly chosen.46 In consequence of these actions, Mohun was summoned with his co-signatories on 21 Mar. to attend the Commons. Like them, he delayed his departure from Cornwall, and also signed the joint petition which reached the House a month later, offering the group’s excuses. Nevertheless, in the inquiry which followed this alleged contempt, it emerged that he was responsible for drafting neither the initial letters nor the petition. Even before this, the Commons heard a motion on 22 Apr. requesting that Mohun be spared the effort of coming to London, on account of his age and infirmity. Although this move failed, a personal appeal to the committee of inquiry, in which Mohun argued that he had been ‘rather passive than active’, had the desired effect, and on 25 Apr. the House decided to pursue him no further.47

By November 1629 the uneasy truce between Mohun and his heir over their estates had collapsed, and John sued his father for allegedly wasting the Boconnoc estates, in breach of the 1624 Act. Denying the charge, Mohun appealed to lord keeper (Sir Thomas) Coventry* against his son’s behaviour, but the outcome of these events is not known.48 Meanwhile, he was still an active deputy lieutenant, in August 1629 even interfering in a disciplinary dispute involving Sir Richard Edgcumbe’s militia regiment. Two years later Mohun was added to the existing Cornish commission for knighthood compositions after the initial commissioners, including his son John, proved ineffectual. He remained one of the cornerstones of county government as late as the spring of 1639, when he seems to have helped gather troops for the forthcoming Scottish campaign, although he drew the line at also contributing financially to this expedition.49 Mohun prepared his will on 30 Jan. 1639, desiring to set his house in order ‘so that peace and quietness may continue therein’ after his death. The religious preamble was brief. He was no puritan, though neither can it be proved that he favoured anti-Calvinist opinions, a notion which rests on little more than the donation of two communion tables to local churches. His bequests consisted primarily of token gifts to his children: John’s inheritance was enshrined in statute, his other son Reginald had been provided for in his 1634 marriage settlement, and his daughters were all married. Unsurprisingly, he named as executor his wife Dorothy rather than John. Mohun died on 26 Dec. 1639, and was presumably buried at Boconnoc, as he had requested. A portrait of Mohun, formerly attributed to Cornelius Johnson, is reproduced in Duffin’s Faction and Faith.50

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. C142/218/43.
  • 2. Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 325; Al. Ox. (John and Reginald Mohun); PROB 11/182, f. 378v; J. Polsue, Complete Paroch. Hist. of Cornw. i. 72.
  • 3. C142/218/43.
  • 4. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 95.
  • 5. C66/1942/12.
  • 6. C142/594/65.
  • 7. Hatfield House, ms 278; C66/2761.
  • 8. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 23.
  • 9. E179/88/250, 284-5; 179/89/310, 314; SP14/31/1; C212/22/20-1, 23.
  • 10. J. Keast, Fowey, 49.
  • 11. C66/1482; C181/5, f. 158v.
  • 12. APC, 1599-1600, p. 544; CSP Dom. 1640, p. 373.
  • 13. C181/1, f. 82v; 181/2, ff. 56, 186; 181/3, ff. 113, 195v; 181/5, f. 83.
  • 14. C181/1, f. 122v.
  • 15. HCA 14/39, no. 217.
  • 16. SP14/43/107.
  • 17. HCA 14/41, pt. 2, f. 274.
  • 18. E306/1/3, f. 2; 306/4/4, f. 39; SC6/Jas.I/173.
  • 19. Buller Pprs. ed. R.N. Worth, 7.
  • 20. APC, 1625-6, p. 55.
  • 21. C193/12/2.
  • 22. APC, 1627-8, p. 79; CD 1628, iii. 3-4.
  • 23. C181/4, f. 2v.
  • 24. SP16/187/18.
  • 25. SP14/36/29; F.M. Hext, Mems. of Lostwithiel, 167.
  • 26. Vis. Cornw. (Harl. Soc. ix), 281.
  • 27. Vivian, 323-5; D. and S. Lysons, Magna Britannia, iii: Cornw. 28, 183; F.E. Halliday, Richard Carew of Antony, 206; C142/218/43; Hist. Okehampton ed. W.H.K. Wright, 85-6; C2/Jas.I/M19/12.
  • 28. Harl. 474, ff. 6v, 72v; List of Sheriffs, 22; T. Bond, E. and W. Looe, 236.
  • 29. STAC 8/208/27; Halliday, 136; STAC 5/K6/2; 5/M24/16; SP46/63/213a.
  • 30. Vis. Dorset Addenda ed. Colby and Rylands, 2-3; Vis. Som. (Harl. Soc. xi), 85; C142/218/43; C54/2372/48; Vivian, Vis. Devon, 707; PROB 11/115, ff. 112v-113; Devon RO, Huntsham PR1.
  • 31. Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 268; P. Croft, ‘The Catholic Gentry, the Earl of Salisbury and the Baronets of 1611’, Conformity and Orthodoxy in Eng. Church ed. P. Lake and M. Questier, 268-9.
  • 32. STAC 8/208/27; C2/Jas.I/M11/63; 2/Jas.I/M16/50; 2/Chas.I/M34/21.
  • 33. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 190, 692; Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 325.
  • 34. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 123, 160; Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 268.
  • 35. STAC 8/208/27; C2/Jas.I/M10/69; 2/Chas.I/M16/19.
  • 36. SP14/117/55.
  • 37. Vis. Dorset Addenda ed. Colby and Rylands, 2-3; Russia at Close of Sixteenth Cent. ed. E.A. Bond (Hakluyt Soc. xx), p. cxxix.
  • 38. HLRO, main pprs., 3 May 1621; C54/2352/17.
  • 39. CJ, i. 623b; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, ii. 86.
  • 40. C2/Jas.I/M10/69; 2/Jas.I/M11/63; 2/Jas.I/M16/50; 2/Chas.I/M16/19.
  • 41. Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 325; E179/89/306.
  • 42. HLRO, O.A. 21 Jas.I, c. 64; CJ, i. 687a, 755a, 766a, 775b; ‘Spring 1624’, p. 172; LJ, iii. 392a, 397b.
  • 43. HMC Cowper, i. 252-3, 257.
  • 44. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 179; APC, 1625-6, pp. 55-6, 93-4; SP16/19/105; 16/32/61; 16/33/111.
  • 45. Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 325, 501, 504; E179/88/284-5; C2/Jas.I/M11/63.
  • 46. SP16/106/14; HMC 1st Rep. 51; CD 1628, ii. 33, 41, 43.
  • 47. CD 1628, ii. 41; iii. 3, 26, 70, 82, 368, 370-1.
  • 48. C2/Chas.I/M16/19; G.C. Boase and W.P. Courtney, Bibliotheca Cornubiensis, iii. 1286.
  • 49. CSP Dom. 1629-31, p. 255; 1640, p. 373 (this doc. is mis-calendared); SP16/181/57; APC, 1630-1, p. 82; PC2/51, p. 79.
  • 50. PROB 11/182, ff. 378v-9; A. Duffin, Faction and Faith, 12, 63, 116; C142/594/65; H.C. Maxwell-Lyte, Hist. Dunster, ii. 485.