MOLESWORTH, John (1729-75), of Pencarrow, Cornw.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



15 May 1765 - 20 Oct. 1775

Family and Education

b. 12 Mar. 1729, 1st s. of Sir John Molesworth, 4th Bt.  educ. Balliol, Oxf. 1749.  m. (1) 28 Sept. 1755, Frances (d. 1758), da. and coh. of James Smyth of St. Audries, Som., 1s.; (2) 22 Sept. 1762, Barbara, da. of Sir John St. Aubyn, 3rd Bt., M.P., sis. of Sir John St. Aubyn, 4th Bt., 2s. 3da.  suc. fa. as 5th Bt. 4 Apr. 1766.

Offices Held


Molesworth was returned for Cornwall unopposed in 1765, and again in 1768. Always considered a Tory, he was marked by Rockingham in July 1765 as ‘contra’; next: ‘Lord Edgcumbe saw him and is to bring him to me’; and finally ‘pro’. An independent country gentleman, Molesworth voted against the Government on the land tax and the nullum tempus bill; but does not appear in any division list on Wilkes and the Middlesex election. On 8 Mar. 1769 he supported Burke’s motion for an inquiry into the conduct of the Government during the riots in St. George’s Fields: living himself ‘in a county very liable to these disorders’, he knew of no case where order could not be restored ‘without the interference of a military power’.1 At the Cornwall county meeting of 6 Oct. 1769 he strongly supported the petition for a dissolution of Parliament.2 He voted against the Address on 9 Jan. 1770, and against the Spanish convention, 13 Feb. 1771. On 12 Feb. 1770 he supported Dowdeswell’s motion for disfranchising revenue officers: ‘If this question is carried I shall meet more of my country men in this House and the boroughs will oftener see their Members.’3 He voted in favour of abolishing subscription to the 39 Articles in the universities, 6 Feb. 1772, which shows once more how little uniformity of principle there was among so-called Tories: all that can be said about Molesworth is that he was a thoroughly independent country gentleman. On 1 Mar. 1771 and 30 Apr. 1772 he spoke on corn bills, defending what he thought the best interests of British agriculture: but again there was diversity of views about the subject among the country gentlemen.4 In Robinson’s survey on the royal marriage bill in March 1772 he appears as ‘contra, present’ and on 8 Mar. as ‘contra, sick, present’: which probably explains his absence from the division on the bill, on the 11th. He voted with Opposition on the naval captains’ petition, 9 Feb. 1773, and on the Middlesex election, 26 Apr., and both spoke and voted in favour of making permanent Grenville’s Act on election petitions, 25 Feb. 1774, describing it as ‘the most constitutional Act that has passed’.5 At the end of the Parliament Robinson listed Molesworth as an opponent.

In 1771 Molesworth, together with Edward Eliot and Humphrey Mackworth Praed, started the Truro Bank, and when at the by-election for Cornwall in December 1772 Praed stood against William Lemon, Molesworth was subsequently accused (in a broadsheet printed before the general election of 1774) of having favoured Praed after having ‘declared himself perfectly neutral’. At the general election of 1774 he stood on a joint interest with Praed, and was returned head of the poll. In the new Parliament Molesworth voted for Wilkes’s motion on the Middlesex election, 22 Feb. 1775; and according to published division lists6 also for Lord John Cavendish’s amendment to the Address on America, 26 Oct. 1775. But this is impossible, as he died at Pencarrow, 20 Oct. 1775, and was buried at Egloshayle on the 26th.7

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. Cavendish’s Debates, i. 319.
  • 2. T. Pitt to Grenville, 7 Oct. 1769, Grenville mss (JM).
  • 3. Cavendish’s ‘Debates’, Egerton 220, pp. 59-60.
  • 4. Brickdale’s ‘Debates’.
  • 5. Cavendish’s ‘Debates’, Egerton 253, pp. 116-18.
  • 6. Almon, iii. 45; Stockdale, ii. 228.
  • 7. Maclean, Trigg Minor, i. 470.