Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freeholders

Number of voters:

at least 16 in 1624


27 Jan. 1624JOHN PYM
17 Jan. 1626JOHN PYM

Main Article

A village existed at Tavistock by the tenth century. An important Benedictine abbey was founded there in late Saxon times, and the monks encouraged the settlement’s development, obtaining grants of markets and fairs. Borough status was probably achieved during Henry II’s reign. Located on the western edge of Devon’s tin-mining zone, Tavistock was a stannary town from 1305. In the early Stuart period it was still the county’s busiest centre for coinage, the official processing of tin for sale, even though production in Devon had now significantly declined. At this juncture, the town also boasted thriving markets for corn and cloth, production of the latter commodity having replaced tin as the mainstay of the local economy.1 However, in marked contrast to this relative prosperity, administrative structures remained primitive. Tavistock was not incorporated until 1682, and the borough was still governed in the early seventeenth century on essentially manorial lines, though a rudimentary council, the ‘Eight’, had begun to exert some influence in the town’s affairs.2

Tavistock first sent representatives to Westminster in 1295, and had a regular voice in the Commons from the mid-fourteenth century. The parliamentary franchise was vested in the freeholders. The election indentures of 1604 and 1620 were made out in the name of the borough’s burgesses only, but subsequent returns invariably also mentioned the bailiff. In both 1620 and 1624 the indentures were signed by at least some of the voters, but ordinarily they simply carried the borough’s seal. The normal practice was for both Members to be returned on a single indenture, but in 1626 separate returns were made, of which only one survives. The borough consistently accepted nominations from external patrons, and, unsurprisingly, its particular concerns were never voiced in the Commons by its representatives.3

Tavistock’s principal patrons in the early Stuart period were the Russell family, who had become lords of the manor after the dissolution of the monasteries. They controlled at least one seat in every election. Their only competitor was Francis Glanville*, a local gentleman resident at Kilworthy, a mile from the town, who also owned a significant amount of property in the borough.4 In 1604 Edward Russell, 3rd earl of Bedford, took both places, instructing his local agent on 8 Feb. to ‘deal earnestly with the Eight of Tavistock for Sir George Fleetwood and Ned [Edward] Duncombe, whom I have specially recommended for burgesses of that place’. Fleetwood was Bedford’s kinsman and neighbour, while Duncombe was one of his servants. Ten years later, the first seat was taken by Glanville himself, while Duncombe again served as the junior Member.5

In 1617 the earl made over the bulk of his estates to his heir-presumptive, Sir Francis Russell*, who henceforth exercised his family’s patronage at Tavistock. Glanville again took the senior seat in 1621, when he was partnered by Sir Baptist Hicks, who probably owed his place to the mediation of Lady Russell’s cousin, the 5th Lord Chandos (Grey Brydges†).6 The principal beneficiary of Russell patronage for the remainder of the decade was Sir Francis’ up-and-coming client, John Pym. In 1624 Pym was also returned at Chippenham, but having finally opted on 10 Mar. to sit for Tavistock, he represented the borough in the next three parliaments as well. His junior partner in 1624 was Glanville’s brother-in-law, Sampson Hele. At the next election Glanville himself took the senior burgess-ship for the third time, obliging Pym to settle for the second seat. However, Russell achieved a clean sweep in 1626, securing the return of both Pym and Lord Chandos’ longstanding friend, Sir John Radcliffe. It is unclear whether the absence of a Glanville candidate and the use of separate indentures points to a genuine electoral battle, or simply a failure by Glanville to make his accustomed nomination this year. In 1628 the normal pattern was restored. Russell, now 4th earl of Bedford, successfully recommended Pym yet again, but Glanville himself took the senior seat.7

Authors: John. P. Ferris / Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. W.G. Hoskins, Devon, 485-6; T. Greeves, ‘Four Devon Stannaries’, Tudor and Stuart Devon ed. T. Gray, M. Rowe and A. Erskine, 41, 52-3, 58, 64; T. Westcote, View of Devonshire, 371; S.K. Roberts, Recovery and Restoration in an Eng. County, pp. xvi-xvii.
  • 2. Hoskins, 486; H.P.R. Finberg, ‘Borough of Tavistock’, Reps. and Trans. Devon Assoc. lxxix. 136-7; Beds. RO, R3/9.
  • 3. OR; HP Commons, 1509-58, i. 74; C219/35/1/129; 219/37/11; 219/38/76; 219/39/81; 219/40/144; 219/41B/111.
  • 4. D. and S. Lysons, Devon, 475; J. Prince, Worthies of Devon (1810), pp. 424-5; C142/271/158.
  • 5. Beds. RO, R3/9; Lipscomb, Hist. and Antiqs. of Bucks., iii. 227; R. Clutterbuck, Hist. and Antiqs. of Herts. ii. 107; CP, ii. 75-6; vi. 185-6; CD 1621, vii. 414-15, 430-1.
  • 6. C. Russell, ‘Parl. Career of John Pym’, in Eng. Commonwealth 1547-1640 ed. P. Clark, A.G.T. Smith and N. Tyacke, 150; CP, iii. 126-7.
  • 7. Russell, 150; CJ, i. 732b; Vivian, Vis. Devon, 411; HMC Downshire, ii. 400; HMC De L’Isle and Dudley, iv. 219.