MOLESWORTH, Sir John, 2nd Bt. (1635-1716), of Pencarrow, Egloshayle, Cornw.

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



Feb. - Nov. 1701
Dec. 1701 - 1702
Dec. 1701 - 1702
1702 - 1705

Family and Education

bap. 27 May 1635, 1st s. of Hender Molesworth of Pencarrow by Mary, da. of John Sparke of the Friary, Plymouth, Devon.  educ. Balliol, Oxf. 1654; I. Temple 1657.  m. (1) 7 Oct. 1663, Margery (d. 1671), da. of Thomas Wise of Sydenham, Devon, 3s. 1da. d.v.p.; (2) Margaret (d. 1682), da. of Sir Nicholas Slanning† of Maristow, Tamerton Foliot, Devon ?and wid. of John Legard of Anlaby, Yorks., s.psuc. fa. 1647, yr. bro. as 2nd Bt. 27 July 1689; kntd. 18 June 1675.1

Offices Held

V.-adm. north Cornw. by 1685–d., sheriff 1690–1; freeman, Bodmin 1685–Oct. 1688, Tintagel 1685.2


Descended from an old-established family of Northamptonshire gentry who had migrated to Cornwall two generations previously, Molesworth had been for most of his life a comfortably-off, unambitious country squire. Expenditure went on consolidating his Cornish estates and on building at Pencarrow, not on the onerous distinction of major office in his county or on elections to Parliament, even after he had been knighted in 1675. Eventually appointed vice-admiral for the northern coast of Cornwall by Charles II, he figured as a nominated member of two local borough corporations remodelled in 1685. However, in answering King James’s ‘three questions’ he tempered loyalty with circumspection, reserving judgment on the advisability of a repeal of the Penal Laws and Test Act ‘till it be debated in Parliament how the religion established by law may be otherwise secured’ and pledging to support the return to Parliament of men who were loyal to the Church as well as the crown. At the Revolution he moved quickly to sign the Cornish Association, and seems to have accepted the Williamite regime even though his name was included in the alleged list of Jacobite sympathizers found in the possession of the agent William Crosby in 1694 and subsequently published by the government’s counter-spy Richard Kingston. Indeed he had himself benefited, albeit indirectly, from King William’s favour, inheriting his younger brother Hender’s newly granted baronetcy under a special remainder in July 1689, after Hender, a West Indian planter, had died suddenly while preparing to depart as governor to Jamaica.3

As sheriff of Cornwall in 1690–1 Molesworth appeared at the head of a petition from the county for recognition of the right of Cornishmen to trade freely in the East Indies under the terms of a grant of 1668, and he adhered to this responsibility even though the petition did not come before the Commons until 8 Jan. 1692, two months after he had given way to his successor. Aside from the presentation of the petition, however, there is no evidence that he pursued the cause personally, and after referral on 26 Jan. to a committee no more was heard of it. Having been instrumental in returning at the 1695 general election his distant cousin, the Country Whig Robert Molesworth*, in one of the Cornish boroughs in which he exercised proprietorial influence, he neglected to maintain his interest and thus cost Robert the chance of re-election three years later. Finally, in January 1701 he was himself chosen at Lostwithiel, after a contest against a nominee of the Robartes family. This result was accounted by Lord Spencer (Charles*), as a loss for the Whigs, and indeed Molesworth was soon reported to be voting with the Tories in Parliament, though he was otherwise largely inactive. He was listed with the Tories in Robert Harley’s* analysis of the second Parliament of 1701. This time he had been elected in two constituencies: Lostwithiel, where he had defeated a local candidate, and Bossiney, another borough in which he had inherited an interest, sufficient on this occasion to afford him an unopposed return, and which he had presumably used as insurance. Keeping to the Tory party line, he was listed as having favoured the motion of 26 Feb. 1702 vindicating the Commons’ conduct in the previous year’s impeachments. In the next general election he divided the representation of Lostwithiel with Hon. Russell Robartes*, untroubled by opposition. Although forecast on 30 Oct. 1704 as a probable supporter of the Tack, he responded to lobbying by fellow Cornishman Hugh Boscawen II* and did not vote for it on 28 Nov., an instance of ‘moderation’ perhaps influenced by his local accord with the Robarteses and confirmed the following year when he stood down in favour of his cousin Robert, no less a Whig than before but now himself aligned with the ministry. Molesworth was buried at Egloshayle on 18 Oct. 1716.4

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 328; Mar. Lic. Fac. Off. (Harl. Soc. xxiv), 104; Polsue, Complete Parochial Hist. Cornw. i. 370; Wood, Life and Times, iii. 306.
  • 2. Maclean, Trigg Minor, i. 216; iii. 207.
  • 3. Maclean, i. 45, 464; Polsue, 374; Duckett, Penal Laws and Test Act (1882), 378; Morrice ent’ring bk. 2, p. 344; R. K[ingston], True Hist. of Several Designs and Conspiracies . . . (1698), 85.
  • 4. Luttrell Diary, 118; CSP Dom. 1694–5, pp. 182–3; Yorks. Arch. Soc. Copley mss, Robert Molesworth to Sir Godfrey Copley, 2nd Bt.*, 25 Aug. 1698, 29 Mar. 1701; Bull. IHR, xxxiv. 96.