GODOLPHIN, William I (by 1518-70), of Godolphin, Cornw.

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



Mar. 1553

Family and Education

b. by 1518 1st s. of Sir William Godolphin of Godolphin by 1st w. Margaret, da. and coh. of John Glyn of Morval; bro. of William Godolphin II. educ. ?L. Inn, adm. 25 Nov. 1537. m. Blanche, da. of Robert Langdon of Keverell in St. Martin, Cornw. 2da. Kntd. Feb./Mar. 1546. suc. fa. c.1547.2

Offices Held

Servant of Cromwell by 1538; bailiff, Boulogne Sept. 1544-51, member of council June 1547-51; comptroller of tin coinage, Cornw. 1546-d.; keeper, Launceston gaol 1546-d.; commr. chantries Cornw. Devon, Exeter 1548, relief Cornw. 1550, church goods 1552, goods of churches and fraternities 1553, assessionable manors 1563; sheriff 1549-50, 1568-9; capt. Scilly Isles in 1549; v.-adm. Cornw. 1551; j.p. 1554-d.; custos rot. 1562-d.; dep. lt. 1569.3


The Godolphins had been seated at the hamlet of that name since Norman times, and by the 16th century they were the leading family in west Cornwall. Much of their wealth was derived from tin, and Leland observed that there were ‘no greater tin works in all Cornwall than be on Sir William Godolphin’s ground’. As vice-warden of the stannaries, Sir William Godolphin served successive wardens and kept successive ministers informed of Cornish affairs. Cromwell showed a high regard for his opinions and took into service three of his sons including William, who in 1538 was listed among the ‘young gentlemen’ who were not ‘daily waiters’ upon the minister but attended him as required; if it was he, and not his younger brother, who had been admitted in the previous year to his grandfather’s old inn, the clue to this arrangement may be that he was then a student of the law. Cromwell’s appreciation of his protégé was shown by his nomination of Godolphin on 15 Mar. 1539 as one of the knights for Cornwall in the forthcoming Parliament; Godolphin’s father was then sheriff and doubtless welcomed the directive. John Arundell, Sir John Chamond and Sir Peter Edgecombe also sought election for Cornwall to this Parliament, but a letter sent in 1540 to Godolphin about the subsidy granted in its second session shows that he and Chamond had sat in it, the Subsidy Act (32 Hen. VIII, c.50) having empowered the knights of the shire to appoint collectors and the letter being concerned with these appointments.4

Godolphin was too well connected for his career to suffer through Cromwell’s fall. In 1542 he shared with his father a grant to prospect for new mines in Cornwall, and two years later he went with the army to France. He served there as master of the mines, at first under the command of Sir John Russell, Baron Russell, at the unsuccessful siege of Montreuil, and later under the King at the more happily concluded siege of Boulogne, where in August 1544 he was wounded, ‘no less to the beautifying of his fame, than the disfiguring of his face’. In reward he received first the bailiwick of the captured town and later a knighthood, and he figured prominently in the affairs of Boulogne until it was returned to the French. His duties there left Godolphin with little time for Cornish business, but after the death of his father he made more frequent visits there. It was either he or his father who was at Helston in 1548 when a riot forced the justices to disperse, and who later sat on the special commission to try the rioters. Godolphin’s whereabouts at the outbreak of the western rebellion have not been traced, but on 22 July 1549 he was recommended to Russell as the man to enforce the proclamation confiscating the rebels’ property; ‘a better personage to execute it cannot be devised than Sir William Godolphin, who hath been a frontier man’. He was active in restoring order and bringing offenders to justice, and his evidence helped to send his rival of 1539, Sir John Arundell of Lanherne, to the Tower. The Council welcomed his diligence and appointed him sheriff for the year following the rebellion.5

For the remaining years of Edward VI’s reign Godolphin’s authority in Cornwall was unrivalled, and his return for the shire to the Parliament of March 1553 was presumably a foregone conclusion. Before the Cornish elections were held he was summoned before the Council; the reason is not known, but it may have been connected with the Duke of Northumberland’s arrangements for the Parliament. The accession of Queen Mary saw the restoration of the Arundells to favour and the eclipse of Godolphin, who did not recover until the advent of Elizabeth. In 1555 his comptrollership of the coinage, which he had enjoyed since his uncle’s resignation, was mistakenly granted on his uncle’s death to William Isham, whose attempts to exercise the office led to rioting and a case in the Star Chamber which Godolphin evidently won as he continued to receive his fee as comptroller until his death.6

Elizabeth recognized Godolphin’s service to the crown under her father and brother by leasing him the Scilly Isles, where he had retained his captaincy throughout Mary’s reign. His title to some property at Lelant was disputed by Reginald Mohun, and in 1565 a quarrel between him and the Killigrews caused the Council to fear that ‘broils and partakings might thereby grow in ... Cornwall’. The enquiry into the allegations made by the Killigrews largely absolved Godolphin of blame, and not long afterwards he was made sheriff and a deputy lieutenant. In 1569 he missed taking the oath of supremacy through a visit to the Scilly Isles, but on his return he signed a certificate of obedience which was forwarded to the Council. Godolphin died several months later and on 30 July 1570 his body was buried at Breage. After his death the greater part of his property seems to have passed to his nephew Francis Godolphin.7

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: J. J. Goring


  • 1. E159/319, brev. ret. Mich. r. [1-2].
  • 2. Presumed to be of age at election. F. G. Marsh, The Godolphins, 4, corrigenda; LP Hen. VIII, xxi; Harl. 6380, f. 7v.
  • 3. M. L. Robertson, ‘Cromwell’s servants’ (Univ. California Los Angeles Ph.D. thesis, 1975), 492-3; LP Hen. VIII, xii, xiii, xix-xxi; CPR, 1547-8, p. 82; 1548-9, p. 135; 1553, pp. 351, 413; 1553-4, p. 17; 1560-3, p. 435; CSP Dom. Add. 1566-79, p. 130; APC, ii. 502; Edw. Inventories Cornw. ed. Snell, 35-36; Truro mus. HCA 25/1.
  • 4. Marsh, 4; information from G. Haslam; Leland, Itin. ed. Smith, i. 188; E101/274/1, mm. 20, 21v, 24; 159/319, brev. ret. Mich. r. [1-2]; 371/309, r. 61(i); Duchy Cornw. RO, 226, m. 6; 230, mm. 5-6; 234, m. 7v; Elton, Policy and Police, 216; LP Hen. VIII, xii-xiv.
  • 5. LP Hen. VIII, xvii, xix-xxi; F. E. Halliday, Richard Carew, 133-4; APC, ii. 366, 502; iii. 260, 306, 504; iv. 118; Harl 288; F. Rose-Troup, Western Rebellion, 81-82, 84n, 352; A. L. Rowse, Tudor Cornw, 265; Troubles conn. with the Prayer Bk. (Cam. Soc. n.s. xxxvii), 33.
  • 6. APC, iv. 210; v. 18, 338, 362; CPR, 1554-5, p. 273; C1/1352/37-38; Req.2/18/54; St.Ch.4/1/48; Duchy Cornw. RO, 228, m. 4; 235, m. 5.
  • 7. APC, vi. 350, 390; vii. 33, 146, 152, 225, 230, 292, 320; CPR, 1560-3, p. 378; Lansd. 8(18), ff. 77-82; St.Ch.5/G1/25, G6/37; CSP Dom. 1547-80, pp. 353, 369; CSP Dom. Add. 1566-79, p. 130; Rowse, 382; SP12/60, f. 81; Marsh, 4 et passim.