RASHLEIGH, Jonathan (1591-1675), of Menabilly, nr. Fowey, 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



1640 (Apr.)
1640 (Nov.) - 22 Jan. 1644
1644 (Oxf. Parl.)
1661 - 1 May 1675

Family and Education

bap. 4 July 1591, 2nd s. and h. of John Rashleigh† of Menabilly and Alice, da. of Richard Bonython of Carclew, Cornw.1 educ. Exeter Coll. Oxf. 1607;2 M. Temple 1610.3 m. (1) settlement 17 Dec. 1614,4 Anne (d.1631), da. of Sir Robert Bassett† of Umberleigh, Devon, 2s. (1 d.v.p.) 3da. (1 d.v.p.);5 (2) by 1646,6 Mary (d.1674), da. of John Harris I* of Lanrest, Cornw., s.p. suc. fa. 1624. d. 1 May 1675.7 sig. Jonathan Rashleighe.

Offices Held

Commr. piracy, Cornw. 1626-41,8 sheriff, 1627-8,9 stannator, Blackmore, Cornw. 1636, 1673,10 commr. assessment, Cornw. 1641-2, 1660-1, 1663-6, 1672,11 array 1642,12 j.p. from 1642, 1660-d.,13 dep. lt. by 1670-?d.14


The Rashleighs arrived in Fowey in the early sixteenth century. Philip Rashleigh, a merchant’s son from Barnstaple, Devon, purchased the former monastic manor of Trenant, near Fowey, where his eldest son established the minor gentry line to which Robert Rashleigh* belonged.15 Philip’s younger son, who remained a Fowey merchant, became a leading player in the town’s commercial revival. He and his son John contributed to many of the great moments of Elizabethan seafaring, including the American voyages of Frobisher and Drake, and the Armada campaign.16 They also ploughed their trading profits into property, not least in Fowey itself, and by the 1570s controlled nearly half of the town’s burgess votes from their house overlooking the market-place.17 John Rashleigh, who sat for Fowey in the Parliaments of 1589 and 1597, began building a large country house at Menabilly, south-west of Fowey, and participated in county governance as a deputy lieutenant and sheriff. His marriage to Alice Bonython was socially advantageous, as it brought him kinship ties with several leading Cornish families, such as the Carews, Arundells and Godolphins.18

Following spells at university and the Middle Temple, Rashleigh rounded off his education by serving in the 1614 Parliament as Member for Fowey. Although he does not appear by name in the records of this Parliament, he was entitled, as the representative of a Cornish port town, to attend six bill committees, whose subjects included the export of iron ordnance (11 May), the preservation of fish fry (21 May) and extortions by customs officials (25 May).19 He was again returned by Fowey to the 1621 Parliament, when he featured indirectly in its proceedings. On 18 Apr. the committee investigating Sir John Bennet* learned that Rashleigh had bribed Bennet in connection with a suit in High Commission. This evidence was reported back to the Commons two days later, and included in the articles against Bennet on 23 Apr., but Rashleigh himself escaped censure.20 As in 1614, he failed to attract any personal committee nominations, but as a Cornish burgess he could have attended 10 bill committees, which dealt with such issues as the management of lighthouses (27 Feb.), duchy of Cornwall leases (28 Feb.), the extortions made by customers (7 May) and the manufacture of serges and perpetuanos (12 May).21 While in London Rashleigh also attended to private business, including the purchase of a new town clock for Fowey and luxury foodstuffs for his father.22 At the 1624 general election, the family’s interest in Fowey was temporarily eclipsed by the intervention of Prince Charles’s Council, though Rashleigh’s nephew John Sawle was found a seat at Mitchell.23

Rashleigh had been granted the legal reversion of his father’s estates as early as 1609, on account of his elder brother’s mental incapacity. In the event, in May 1624 Rashleigh’s father predeceased his first-born son by barely a week, and Rashleigh entered into a substantial inheritance which included four manors, property in 24 Cornish parishes and the Devon town of Plymouth, and nearly £3,500 in bullion.24 This wealth was reflected during the later 1620s in his subsidy assessment of £20 in lands, the highest rating in Fowey.25 Rashleigh did not abandon mercantile activity completely, and during the Civil War his cellars in Fowey were despoiled of large quantities of iron, lead and salt.26 However, it is apparent from his own financial reckoning in 1626 that his resources were currently limited, and that he relied primarily on rents and the profits of his demesne farms to cover his routine expenditure. That same year he took steps to avoid appointment as sheriff of Cornwall on the grounds of hardship, using one of his Bonython cousins to appeal on his behalf to Secretary Sir Edward Conway I*. Nevertheless, his difficulties were doubtless temporary, and had largely arisen through his recent purchase of another manor, the construction of almshouses in Fowey, and the completion of Menabilly, a 60-room house with contents later valued at up to £2,000.27

Rashleigh reasserted his political dominance over Fowey at the 1625 election, taking one seat for himself and handing the other to his brother-in-law, Arthur Bassett. No record survives of Rashleigh’s activities during this Parliament, and he did not seek election again until 1640. During the early years of Charles’s reign, it is likely that he was critical of government policy. His cousin Sir Francis Godolphin* approached him hesitantly when requesting his contribution to the 1625 Privy Seal loan,28 and over the next few years he probably became a peripheral member of the Cornish gentry faction headed by William Coryton* and (Sir) John Eliot*. In 1626 Rashleigh again conferred one of Fowey’s parliamentary seats on Arthur Bassett, but the other went to Coryton’s nominee, William Murray.29 Although Rashleigh appears not to have opposed the Forced Loan, his political preferences soon emerged more clearly. When it became known that Coryton and Eliot would stand for election as Cornwall’s knights of the shire in 1628, their political opponents, including John Mohun* and Sir Bernard Grenville†, sought to win over Rashleigh, who was then serving as sheriff of Cornwall and would thus preside over the proceedings. Rashleigh may have given the impression that he was willing to co-operate with them, as on 7 Mar. Fowey returned Grenville’s son Sir Richard alongside Robert Rashleigh. However, a week earlier Rashleigh’s brother-in-law and under-sheriff, John Sparke, obtained a seat at Mitchell, probably through the mediation of John Arundell*, who was one of Coryton’s firmest allies. At the shire election on 10 Mar., Arundell and other prominent supporters of Coryton and Eliot resorted to open intimidation to secure their preferred outcome, but the sheriff raised no objections.30

Rashleigh initially refused to compound for knighthood, and paid £70 only after the Privy Council proceeded against him in 1633.31 He was returned for Fowey to both of the Parliaments which met in 1640, but again maintained a low profile. A stalwart royalist during the Civil War, he was entrusted with the collection of plate in Cornwall, and was disabled from sitting at Westminster in January 1644 after his attendance at the Oxford Parliament became known. Later that year parliamentarian troops under the earl of Essex looted Menabilly and his house in Fowey, inflicting losses estimated at nearly £7,000.32 In 1646 Rashleigh was ordered to leave Cornwall by the County Committee, and spent two years in London before he was allowed to compound for £1,085 14s., a sum which was increased slightly upon review in 1650.33 At the election held in Fowey in 1648 to fill his place in Parliament he was still able to influence the outcome, but he had difficulty satisfying the demands of the Committee for the Advance of Money, and was imprisoned by the County Committee in 1650-1 over a private debt dispute. Not surprisingly, in 1651 he was implicated in an abortive royalist plot in Cornwall.34 Restored to the Cornish bench in 1660, Rashleigh was again returned for Fowey in 1661, but seems to have played little further part in public life. He added to his Fowey almshouses in 1663 as a thanksgiving for his family’s preservation during the Civil War.35 Rashleigh’s last will has not been preserved, though earlier versions exist.36 He died in May 1675, and was succeeded in his estates and his parliamentary seat by his grandson Jonathan.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Paul Hunneyball


Cornw. RO, DD.R.(S)1/987.

  • 1. Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 391-2.
  • 2. Al. Ox.
  • 3. M. Temple Admiss.
  • 4. C142/405/150.
  • 5. Vivian, 392.
  • 6. M. Coate, Cornw. in Gt. Civil War, 234.
  • 7. Vivian, 391-2.
  • 8. C181/3, f. 196; 181/5, f. 83v.
  • 9. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 23.
  • 10. Add. 6713, ff. 167v, 175.
  • 11. SR, v. 82, 149, 210, 329, 456, 529, 572, 619, 756.
  • 12. Northants. RO, FH133.
  • 13. C231/5, f. 529; C220/9/4.
  • 14. SP44/35A, f. 5v.
  • 15. C. Gill, Gt. Cornish Families, 67; Vivian, 391-2.
  • 16. R. Carew, Survey of Cornw. ed. F.E. Halliday, 210; J. Keast, Story of Fowey, 45- 6.
  • 17. E.W. Rashleigh, Short Hist. of Fowey, 7, 28-9.
  • 18. Keast, 56; List of Sheriffs, 23; Cornw. RO, DD.R.(S.)1/2, 648, 864, 987.
  • 19. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 202, 309, 339.
  • 20. CD 1621, iii. 15; iv. 245; v. 335; CJ, i. 583b.
  • 21. CJ, i. 529b, 531b, 611b, 619a.
  • 22. Cornw. RO, DD.R.(S.)1/902.
  • 23. P.M. Hunneyball, ‘Prince Charles’s Council as Electoral Agent, 1620-24’, PH, xxiii. 329; Vivian, 391-2, 418.
  • 24. PROB 11/143, f. 421v; Vivian, 391-2; C142/405/150; Cornw. RO, DD.R.3613, 5425; DD.R.(S.)1/550.
  • 25. E179/89/306, 316.
  • 26. E190/1032/1; Cornw. RO, DD.R.(S.)1/680.
  • 27. SP16/38/39; Cornw. RO, DD.R.(S.)1/550, 680.
  • 28. Cornw. RO, DD.R.(S.)1/987.
  • 29. N and Q (ser. 4), x. 325.
  • 30. HEHL, HM 1554, p. 10; SP16/96/36.
  • 31. E178/7161; CSP Dom. 1633-4, p. 139; E401/1920.
  • 32. Cornw. RO, DD.R.(S.)1/680; B.35/40; Coate, 108; CJ, iii. 374a; Historical Collections ed. J. Rushworth, v. 573; Keast, 59.
  • 33. Coate, 234; CCC, 1327.
  • 34. Coate, 236, 245-6; CCAM, 431-2; HMC Portland, i. 584.
  • 35. Cornw. RO, DD.CF.3406; Rashleigh, 11.
  • 36. Cornw. RO, DD.R.5590/2.