West Looe


Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer


1553 (Mar.)JOHN ASTLEY
 (declared ineligible to sit)

Main Article

East and West Looe, on opposite banks of the river Looe, were joined in the 16th century by a ‘great bridge of ... 12 arches’. Leland thought East Looe a ‘pretty market town’, but rated West Looe, otherwise Portpighan, a ‘small fisher village hard on the sea shore’. Both boroughs had belonged to the Courtenay family until the execution of the Marquess of Exeter in 1539, whereupon they were annexed to the duchy of Cornwall. The enfranchisement of West Looe in 1547 was presumably the outcome of a petition from Sir John Russell, Baron Russell, high steward of the duchy. Until East Looe began to return Members in 1571, the parliamentary borough of West Looe was usually known as Looe or Looe borough. This abbreviation might be taken to imply that the election was shared by both townships, but the use of the names West Looe and Portpighan in the indentures for 1555 and 1558 shows that this was the only one represented. In 1243 Richard, Earl of Cornwall, had ratified a grant of a free borough to Portpighan made by its lord Sir Odo de Treverbyn, and a royal inspeximus of 1324 confirmed the earl’s charter. Further liberties were granted by the Courtenay family during their ownership of the borough. In the absence of borough records for the early 16th century little is known about its administration, which was headed by a reeve who in the course of the period adopted the title of mayor.2

Five election indentures survive for the mid 16th century, two of them, for September 1553 and October 1554, being in English. The first contracting party was the sheriff of Cornwall and the second variously the mayor and community (or commonalty) of the borough, the mayor and burgesses or (in 1555) the reeve and burgesses. The indenture of September 1553 is in the first person: ‘I the said mayor and burgesses have ordained, constituted and deputed’ Alexander Nowell and Ralph Clive as Members. The term ‘burgesses’ is, as so often in the case of small boroughs, ambiguous; it probably connoted the freemen, who were to be considered the voters a century later, although all tax-paying male inhabitants were perhaps included.3

The first two Members were presumably official nominees; Nicholas Adams alias Bodrugan was a Middle Templar best known for his tract in defence of the Protector Somerset’s invasion of Scotland, and Thomas Wotton, the son of a Privy Councillor, perhaps commended himself to Russell through their common membership of Lincoln’s Inn. Until Russell’s death in 1555 the borough became almost a preserve of that inn, with William Bendlowes, Ambrose Gilberd, Clement Heigham and Robert Monson all finding seats there; the connexion was to be maintained by William St. Aubyn and John Carnsew, although St. Aubyn enjoyed the more direct advantage of kinship with Sir John Arundell, the sheriff who returned him. Russell was almost certainly instrumental in the election of John Astley, a Protestant formerly in the service of Princess Elizabeth, of Ralph Clive, a kinsman of the Corbets of Shropshire, and of William Morice, whose brother was Cranmer’s secretary, and Alexander Nowell, master of Westminster school. The Middle Templar Oliver Becket came of a family which owned property in the borough, and John Saintclere, a gentleman of Devon with an interest in tin mining, seems to have owed his return to the duchy.

A challenge to the validity of Alexander Nowell’s return in the autumn of 1553 was referred to a committee, which promptly reported that as a prebendary of Westminster with a place in convocation he could not sit; his name is struck through on the list of Members. On 13 Oct. 1553 a writ was ordered for ‘another burgess in that place’, but with what result is not known.4

Author: J. J. Goring


  • 1. Hatfield 207.
  • 2. Leland, Itin. ed. Smith, i. 208, 324; M. Beresford, New Towns in the Middle Ages, 406; J. Polsue, Paroch. Hist. Cornw. iii. 160; T. Bond, E. and W. Looe, 57, 60, 63; information from G. Haslam; H. A. Merewether, Rep. Case of the Bor. of W. Looe, 11, 26-27, 224; CPR, 1324-7, p. 28; C219/24/30, 25/18.
  • 3. C219/20/34, 21/26, 23/20, 24/30, 25/18.
  • 4. CJ, i. 27.