Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen

Number of voters:

about 100


12 Apr. 1660ANTHONY ROUS 
  Double return. ROUS and PENHELLICK seated, 5 May 1660. 
  Election declared void, 27 June 1660 
  Double return. ROBINSON and GODOLPHIN seated, 8 Aug. 1660 
30 Oct. 1665SIR WILLIAM GODOLPHIN, Bt. vice Robinson, deceased 
15 Oct. 1668SIDNEY GODOLPHIN I vice Killigrew, deceased 
9 Sept. 1679SIR VYELL VYVYAN, Bt.98
14 Jan. 1689SIR JOHN ST. AUBYN, Bt. 

Main Article

The corporation of Helston nominated the stannators of Penwith and Kerrier. Returns were made by the mayor in the name of the ‘commonalty’, consisting of four aldermen and an unlimited number of freemen chosen by the corporation. Signatures on undisputed returns vary from 57 to 98. The dominant interest was held by the Godolphin family, whose principal residence was five miles away and who owned property in the town. Separate representation had been suspended from 1653 to 1659, and it was not until 1689 that a single return was made in proper form. At the general election of 1660 three returns were submitted. On 11 Apr. Sir Peter Killigrew, who had been appointed governor of Pendennis by George Monck, obtained about a hundred signatures to an indenture returning himself and Sir John Northcote, who had supported Parliament in the Civil War but now favoured the Restoration. But on the following day the mayor and 52 freemen signed separate indentures for Anthony Rous, the leader of the Cornish republicans, who had bought the duchy manor at the sale of crown lands, and an obscure local merchant, Alexander Penhellick. They were allowed to sit on the merits of the return, but the election was declared void on 27 June for want of due notice. The by-election that followed produced three returns, though Northcote was serving as knight of the shire for Devon, and Rous and Penhellick did not stand. Killigrew again had the best of it in terms of signatures; but this time it was the two Royalists, Thomas Robinson of Treveneage, who enjoyed a strong corporation interest, and Francis Godolphin of Godolphin, whose separate indentures were signed by the mayor, and who were in consequence allowed to take their seats. After the recess Monck’s brother-in-law (Sir) Thomas Clarges reported from the elections committee that:

the question was, whether the election of Members to serve in Parliament for the said borough ought to be made by the freemen alone, or by all the inhabitants; and that, upon examination of the matter, it appeared to the committee, that all the inhabitants of Helston have right to elect for the said borough; and that Mr Francis Godolphin and Sir Peter Killigrew, being chosen by the inhabitants in general, are duly chosen. And thereupon offered their opinion that the said Mr Godolphin and Sir Peter Killigrew ought to sit in this House, and that the indenture by which Mr Thomas Robinson (who was chosen by the freemen alone) is returned to serve for the said borough, be vacated and taken off the file.

The Commons were not satisfied with this recommendation, and ordered the case to be recommitted. A further report in Killigrew’s favour was made by (Sir) Edward Turnor on 10 Dec., but rejected by the House by 92 votes to 60. No further attempt was made to assert the wider franchise in this period.1

There is no evidence of a contest in 1661 when Killigrew and Robinson were returned on separate indentures. On Robinson’s death in 1665 Godolphin’s eldest son William, who had been given a baronetcy, was returned ‘by unanimous assent and consent’ and with about 74 signatures. The candidates on Killigrew’s death in 1668 were both courtiers: his son Peter and Sidney Godolphin I. The Killigrew interest was managed by Richard Erisey, who had married into the family, while Godolphin depended on his brother, the sitting Member. His own influence at Court was less decisive than might have been expected, since he had to leave town with the writ still pending, though it was presumably among those authorized by the House on 11 Aug. He was promised by (Sir) Thomas Clifford and William Bridgeman that it would be sent to his brother; but it was stopped for ten days ‘upon a scruple of my lord keeper at the form of the Speaker’s order’, and eventually found its way into Killigrew’s hands ‘by his acquaintance with my lord keeper’s secretary’. Sidney Godolphin produced an election address in the form of a letter to the corporation, desiring his brother to ‘mend what you don’t like in it, which you may do safely and get one of my sisters to transcribe it, for I suppose nobody there knows their hands any more than mine’. The paper does not survive, but he apparently undertook to supply a weekly newsletter. Neither candidate attended the election, Sidney Godolphin writing to his brother: ‘I should be very sorry if his [Killigrew’s] absence could do more than your presence’, and his confidence was justified by his return ‘with unanimous assent and consent’.2

No details are known of the exclusion elections, and as the mayors continued to return separate indentures, even the seniority of the Members is conjectural. In February 1679 Sidney Godolphin transferred to St. Mawes, probably in pursuance of an electoral bargain with Sir Vyell Vyvyan, an opponent of exclusion, who held property in the borough and took his place. Sir William Godolphin retired after the first Exclusion Parliament, and his brother, now a lord of the Treasury, was elected with Vyvyan in the autumn. In 1681 ‘Privy Councillor Godolphin’ was returned with his youngest brother, Charles, though the two indentures are dated nearly a week apart. Loyal addresses were presented approving the dissolution, abhorring the ‘Association’ and the Rye House Plot, and congratulating James II on his accession.3

Sidney Godolphin was raised to the peerage in 1684, and for James II’s Parliament he was replaced by his cousin and namesake. The royal electoral agents reported in 1688 that Helston was ‘entirely at the devotion’ of the Godolphins. Nevertheless in 1689 Sidney Godolphin II gave way to Sir John St. Aubyn, also a Tory, but whose connexions lay rather with the Earl of Bath.4

Author: Eveline Cruickshanks


  • 1. VCH Cornw. i. 535; Gilbert, Paroch. Hist. Cornw. ii. 169-70; CJ, viii. 12, 76, 110, 115, 117, 203.
  • 2. Add. 28052, ff. 37-42, 63-73; Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 155.
  • 3. Gilbert, ii. 182; Add. 28052, f. 90; London Gazette, 27 June 1681, 22 May 1682, 27 Sept. 1683, 12 Mar. 1685.
  • 4. Duckett, Penal Laws (1882), 380.