West Looe


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 burgesses

Number of voters:

8 in 1620


21 Oct. 1605SIR WILLIAM WAAD vice Hervey, deceased
c. Mar. 1614JOHN HARRIS I
9 Feb. 1624JAMES BAGG II
13 Jan. 1626JOHN RUDHALE
4 Mar. 16281JOHN PACKER

Main Article

West Looe was known originally as Porthbyhan (‘little cove’ in Cornish), and a corrupted version of this name, Portpighan, still appeared on the borough’s election indentures in the early seventeenth century as part of its official title. A settlement existed on the west bank of the Looe by 1243, when it received its first charter. Along with the adjacent manor of Portlooe, the borough was absorbed into the duchy of Cornwall in 1540.2 Like its larger neighbour, East Looe, the town depended economically on its weekly markets and its fishermen. Around 1600, Richard Carew† observed that West Looe ‘hath of late years somewhat relieved his former poverty’, but a local gentleman, Sir Bernard Grenville†, reported a heavy burden of poor relief there in 1614. The fishing fleet suffered badly from raids by Sallee pirates in the mid-1620s, and James Bagg II’s* survey of Cornish ports in 1626 recorded a solitary 30-ton vessel belonging to the town.3

West Looe’s poverty was the official reason given for the borough’s incorporation in 1574. The charter established a common council of 12 capital burgesses, including the mayor, who were empowered to elect a steward. There was no provision for a recorder, and although the heralds’ visitation of 1620 states that John Harris I* held this position it was presumably the office of steward that was intended. The charter also confirmed that the parliamentary representatives of the borough, which had been enfranchised in 1547, were to be elected by the burgesses as a whole. It is possible, however, that a narrower franchise operated in the early seventeenth century. In 1620, the one year for which adequate records survive, the election indentures were signed only by capital burgesses. Of the eight men concerned, the mayor and four others were unable to write their own names.4

Not surprisingly, West Looe’s governors failed to display any political independence during the early seventeenth century, and the borough’s electoral patronage was controlled primarily by the local gentry. Initially the dominant figure was Sir Jonathan Trelawny*, who in 1600 had both acquired the nearby seat of Trelawne and become West Looe’s steward. A distant relative of Sir Robert Cecil†, who had assisted with the Trelawne purchase, Trelawny offered burgess-ships to his cousin in 1601, and appears to have repeated this favour in 1604.5 One seat that year was presented to Sir Henry Goodyer, another of Cecil’s kinsmen.6 The other place went to Sir George Hervey, lieutenant of the Tower, whose nephew Sir George Carew I* was one of Cecil’s leading clients.7 Trelawny died in June 1604, leaving an infant son John. However, the child’s wardship was acquired by his mother, presumably with the support of Cecil, the master of the Wards, and the Trelawny electoral interest seemingly continued to function during John’s minority. When Hervey also died in 1605, his place was filled by his successor at the Tower, Sir William Waad, whom Cecil had initially nominated for Bere Alston.8

In 1614, shortly after John Trelawny came of age, West Looe returned his cousin by marriage, Sir Edward Lewknor II.9 However, the other seat was claimed by John Harris, who was probably already the borough’s steward. Harris maintained his grip on one burgess-ship in 1620, when the corporation elected his son Christopher.10 This time the competition came not from the Trelawnys but from a third patron, the duchy of Cornwall. Initially Prince Charles’s Council nominated Sir Thomas Trevor, but he then secured a place at Saltash, leaving a vacancy at West Looe which was finally filled nearly two weeks later by an alternative duchy candidate, Heneage Finch. The overall pattern of duchy nominations suggests that the borough deliberately kept one seat available in the interim, and this co-operative behaviour may have owed something to Richard Billing, the long-standing steward of Portlooe manor, who was also one of the duchy’s principal electoral agents in Cornwall.11 In 1624 the Prince’s Council nominated Sir John Hobart for a West Looe burgess-ship. When he transferred to Lostwithiel, the borough declined to take another duchy nominee, for reasons which remain unclear. Instead, one place went to George Mynne, a client of the 3rd earl of Pembroke who, as high steward of the duchy of Cornwall, could appeal directly to the corporation despite his exclusion from the prince’s electoral machine.12 James Bagg II, who secured the other seat, appears to have relied on personal ties to Sir Bernard Grenville, who owned the major local estate of Killigarth.13

In the later 1620s Bagg emerged as the duke of Buckingham’s principal agent in the West Country, working closely with Grenville and John Mohun*. Another prominent figure in this group was Mohun’s brother-in-law, John Trelawny, who had succeeded John Harris as steward of West Looe in 1623.14 Both Grenville and Trelawny seem to have allowed Bagg and Mohun to make nominations at West Looe during the remainder of the decade. Mohun’s associate Edward Thomas was returned there in 1625 and 1628, while John Wolstenholme, who sat for the borough in 1625 and 1626, probably relied on Bagg, who would have known the Member’s father through the latter’s work in naval administration.15 This patronage framework also created opportunities for other members of Buckingham’s circle. John Rudhale, elected in 1626, was brother-in-law to one of the duke’s leading clients, Sir Robert Pye*, and Mohun formally witnessed the signing of his indenture.16 In 1628 John Packer was the beneficiary. On 17 Mar. Bagg presented Buckingham with a burgess-ship at ‘Looe’ and a shortlist compiled by Mohun, consisting of ‘Mr. Packer’, Sir Robert Pye and a Captain Heydon. Packer’s name was duly inserted in a blank indenture ostensibly drawn up on 4 March.17

Author: Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. OR.
  • 2. T. Bond, E. and W. Looe, 50, 57; R. Pearse, Ports and Harbours of Cornw. 17.
  • 3. R. Carew, Survey of Cornw. ed. P. White, 152; CSP Dom. Addenda, 1580-1625, p. 541; 1625-6, p. 83; Early Stuart Mariners and Shipping ed. T. Gray (Devon and Cornw. Rec. Soc. n.s. xxxiii), 69.
  • 4. A.L. Browne, Corporation Chronicles of E. and W. Looe, 97-8; Vis. Cornw. (Harl. Soc. ix), 284; HP Commons, 1509-58, i. 60; C219/37/53-4.
  • 5. J. Keast, E. and W. Looe, 31; DCO, Trelawny ms no. 5 (ref. from James Derriman); Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 268, 476; Misc. Gen. et Her. (ser. 3), iv. 20; HMC Hatfield, ix. 371; xi. 405.
  • 6. Vis. Warws. (Harl. Soc. xii), 13, 67; Vis. Essex (Harl. Soc. xiii), 39.
  • 7. Vis. Suff. ed. Howard, ii. 139; Winwood’s Memorials ed. E. Sawyer, ii. 59.
  • 8. Vivian, 476; WARD 9/159, f. 161; HMC Hatfield, xvii. 445.
  • 9. Vivian, 268; Suss. Arch. Colls. iii. 102.
  • 10. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 447-8.
  • 11. DCO, ‘Letters and Patents 1620-1’, f. 39v; SC2/161/3.
  • 12. DCO, ‘Prince Charles in Spain’, f. 33v; J.K. Gruenfelder, Influence in Early Stuart Elections, 129.
  • 13. Roy. Institution of Cornw. BRA.B/328/3 (ref. supplied by James Derriman).
  • 14. A. Duffin, Faction and Faith, 82; Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 325; CD 1628, iii. 377; DCO, Trelawny ms no. 8.
  • 15. M.F. Keeler, Long Parl. 359; SP14/147/3; CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 511.
  • 16. Vis. Herefs. ed. Weaver, 92-3; C219/40/247.
  • 17. SP16/96/36; C219/41B/157. CD 1628, vi. 139 perversely cites Bagg’s letter as the explanation for William Murray’s election at E. Looe.