Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the inhabitants paying scot and lot

Number of Qualified Electors:


Number of voters:

at least 113 in 1734


1 Mar. 1690Samuel Rolle
 Alexander Pendarves
30 Apr. 1690Sidney Godolphin vice Rolle, chose to sit for Devon
30 Oct. 1695James Vernon I
 Alexander Pendarves
1 Aug. 1698James Vernon I
 Samuel Trefusis
16 Jan. 1699Alexander Pendarves vice Vernon, chose to sit for  Westminster
 James Vernon II
14 Jan. 1701Samuel Trefusis
 Alexander Pendarves
3 Dec. 1701Samuel Trefusis
 Alexander Pendarves
28 July 1702Samuel Trefusis
 Alexander Pendarves
19 May 1705Samuel Trefusis
 James Vernon I
14 May 1708James Vernon I
 Samuel Trefusis
21 Oct. 1710Samuel Trefusis
 Alexander Pendarves
 Francis Godolphin, Visct. Rialton
7 Sept. 1713Hugh Boscawen
 Alexander Pendarves
15 Mar. 1714Samuel Trefusis  vice Pendarves, appointed to office
 Alexander Pendarves

Main Article

Earlier in the 17th century, the lord of the manor, the bishop of Exeter, held an important interest in Penryn, but with the corporation now holding the manor, even a man of Bishop Trelawny’s calibre could not exert any influence in elections for the borough. The corporation consisted of a portreeve (mayor), 11 aldermen, 12 common councilmen and a recorder, and even though the charter of 1684 vested the franchise in the corporation alone, only in 1685 is there evidence that it was so limited. Two local families, Pendarves and Trefusis, had the strongest interests, although on occasion the customs officers were ascribed some power, no doubt owing to the growth of nearby Falmouth.1

In 1690 two Tories, Pendarves and Samuel Rolle I, were returned, the latter probably sitting on the Trefusis interest then headed by his sister, Bridget, the widow of Francis Trefusis, because her eldest son, also Francis (d. 1692), was a minor. Rolle’s election for Devon precipitated a by-election which saw the return of Sidney Godolphin, deputy governor of the Scillies. The Trefusis interest was responsible for his return, although on 17 Apr. Bridget Trefusis had confided to Under-Secretary James Vernon I that ‘I doubt the number for Mr Godolphin’. Vernon, who had been an unsuccessful candidate twice in 1679–81, was chosen on the Trefusis interest in 1695 along with Pendarves. At the general election of 1698, Vernon, now secretary of state, was approached by the corporation to stand again, and eventually did so, although he would have preferred to put forward his son, or Samuel Trefusis, who had now come of age. In the end Vernon stood again, having been advised by his supporters that ‘they could best secure it for him [James Vernon II] against Pendarves upon the single election’. In the event Vernon was partnered by Trefusis. The threat to Vernon jnr. did indeed come from Pendarves, who informed Vernon of his intention to contest the by-election caused by Vernon’s decision to sit elsewhere. Vernon replied on 17 Sept.:

I hope you do not misinterpret my opposing you and making use of the interest and extraordinary friendship I have found there as well towards my son as myself which I have experienced in so obliging a manner that I ought to stick to it . . . but if you are more inclined to maintain the advantage you believe you have at present at Penryn we must leave things to their chance. If you have the best estate in the town it is a very good opportunity put into your hands to oblige your tenants and neighbours but it is not always what the electors are influenced by, who know themselves to be at liberty to make their own choice upon such considerations as sway most with them. It is a great kindness shown to your family if they have chosen one out of it to serve them in Parliament (as you say) for many ages but that will not give a prescription nor entail an election upon the borough. I am not the first stranger that that corporation have been pleased to oblige, what they have done to me I must own as a pure grace, not having any pretensions to it, but whenever it lies in my power, I shall always endeavour to let them know the grateful sense I have of their favours which I so far presume upon as not to fear the putting it to another trial.

Pendarves, however, would not desist and he defeated young Vernon by two votes. Vernon petitioned on 10 Feb. 1699, claiming that the mayor had conducted the poll unfairly and that many ‘who declared their intentions to vote for the petitioner were by indirect practices prevailed on to vote for Mr Pendarvis’, but no decision was ever made.2

Trefusis and Pendarves were returned unopposed in the next three Parliaments, although John Methuen’s* comment in January 1701 that he had ‘hoped that when it was for yourself you would find it very easy at Penryn’, suggests that Vernon could not now challenge either of the successful Members. However, Vernon, who was recorder by April 1702, was chosen with Trefusis in 1705 and 1708, Pendarves avoiding a contest on both occasions. In 1710 Trefusis and Pendarves were returned after a contest. The defeated candidate, Viscount Rialton (Francis Godolphin*), the eldest son of Lord Godolphin (Sidney†), petitioned on 5 Dec., claiming that the sheriff had sent the writ not to the legal portreeve but to a rival returning officer who refused good votes for him and admitted bad votes for Trefusis. Anne Evelyn appeared to confirm this when she reported that ‘the practices at Penryn were so foul that Sir Richard Vyvyan [3rd Bt.*] himself got off the bench in dislike of the people Mr Trefusis polled’. With the Tory House not likely to favour Godolphin, another tack was tried through the law courts. This led to a complaint being made to the Commons on 22 Feb. 1711 that ‘several actions at law’ were being taken under the act for preventing false and double returns (7 and 8 Gul. iii, c.7) before the House had determined the matter (see Aylesbury, Bucks.). This complaint was also referred to the committee of elections, but no report was ever made. In 1712, John Trevanion’s* assessment of interests at Penryn concluded ‘Worth and Herle [?Hele] one, Trefusis the other’, but given the events of 1713 this seems to have been incorrect. The Worths were a prominent Penryn family, one of whom had backed Vernon in 1698 and another of whom had married the sister of Samuel Trefusis. Somewhat surprisingly, given that the 1713 election saw the Whigs in Cornwall reduced to just four seats, one of those returned at Penryn was Hugh Boscawen II, warden of the Stannaries and leader of the Cornish Whigs. As he was returned unopposed with Pendarves, it can be conjectured that the financial troubles besetting Trefusis allowed Boscawen to strike a deal to ensure his own return. That Trefusis maintained his interest can be seen when Pendarves had to seek re-election following his appointment to office. Pendarves reported to Lord Oxford (Robert Harley*) on 18 Feb. 1714 that he was faced by unexpected opposition, ‘created chiefly by the Queen’s own officers’. He continued that it would be ‘impossible for me to miscarry this time at the borough, but by the votes and strength of the customs house against me, who are all bound up in their devotions to the last ministry’. So strong was this opposition that Trefusis defeated him. Pendarves petitioned on 22 Apr. claiming that

the right of election is in those of the ancient borough paying scot and lot, and that the portreeve is returning officer: that the justices taking upon them to allow the rates for church and poor; and have allowed such as ought not, and omitted others who ought to have been allowed: that by this and other illegal practices of the said Mr Trefusis and his agents the said Mr Trefusis hath procured himself to be returned, in the wrong of the petitioner, who had a majority.

Although Trefusis’ Toryism was now suspect, no action was taken before the end of the Parliament and he kept his seat.3

Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Stuart Handley


  • 1. Willis, Not. Parl. ii. 106–8; W. Courtney, Parl. Rep. Cornw. 19.
  • 2. CSP Dom. 1689–90, p. 556; Add. 40771, f. 249; 40772, ff. 112, 113; 40773, f.15; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 147.
  • 3. CSP Dom. 1700–2, p. 194; London Gazette, 13–16 Apr. 1702; BL, Evelyn mss, Anne to John Evelyn II*, 28 Oct. 1710; Add. 70314–15, Trevanion’s list; 70204, Pendarves to Oxford, 7 Sept. 1713, 18 Feb. 1713[–14].