MOHUN, John (c.1592-1641), of Penwarne, Mevagissey, Cornw.; later of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Westminster and Boconnoc, Cornw.
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Family and Education
b. c.1592,1 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Sir Reginald Mohun* of Boconnoc and his 2nd w. Philippa, da. of Sir John Hele† of Wembury, Devon; half-bro. of Reginald*.2 educ. Exeter Coll. Oxf. 1605 aged 13, BA 1608; M. Temple 1611.3 m. settlement 2 July 1613,4 Cordelia (bur. 2 Oct. 1629), da. of Sir John Stanhope of Shelford, Notts. and wid. of Sir Roger Aston* (d.1612) of Cranford, Mdx., 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 4da.5 cr. Bar. Mohun of Okehampton 15 Apr. 1628;6 suc. fa. 1639. d. 28 Mar. 1641.7 sig. John Mohun.
Commr. piracy, Cornw. 1624-6,8 subsidy 1624, 1628,9 j.p. 1625-d., Westminster from 1636;10 dep. lt. Cornw. 1626-at least 1629,11 commr. ?Benevolence 1626,12 Forced Loan 1626-7,13 inquiry into v.-admlty., Devon 1626-7;14 v.-warden of stannaries, Cornw. 1626-9;15 commr. martial law, Devon and Cornw. 1627-8,16 duchy of Cornw. assessions, Cornw. 1628,17 oyer and terminer, Western circ. 1629-40, swans, W. Country 1629,18 knighthood fines, Cornw. 1630,19 fraudulent customs duties, Bristol 1637-8.20
Mohun’s mother died while he was still a child, and relations with his stepmother were strained. He attended Oxford with his elder half-brother William, and in 1611 progressed to the Middle Temple, where he was bound with Francis Courtney* and Jonathan Rashleigh*. Mohun enjoyed close ties with his mother’s family, the Heles, and was named as a trustee of their estates in an abortive private bill in the 1614 Parliament.21 His uncle Sir Warwick Hele* played a significant role in the negotiations leading to Mohun’s marriage settlement with Lady Cordelia Aston in July 1613, and was himself appointed a trustee for its due performance. The marriage itself was somewhat opportunistic. Cordelia had been widowed a year earlier, and her life interest in her late husband’s property, allegedly valued at £7-8,000, made her a considerable catch. Mohun, through the death of his brother William, had recently become his father Sir Reginald’s heir apparent, and by the terms of his parents’ own marriage settlement was guaranteed the inheritance of substantial estates in Cornwall, Devon and Dorset. However, Mohun’s bargaining position would be enhanced if he could obtain some of this property during Sir Reginald’s lifetime, and he persuaded his reluctant father to let him have the immediate use of the Devon and Dorset lands, along with maintenance of £200 a year. In return, he agreed to take responsibility for his younger siblings should they be orphaned while minors. Once the deal had been concluded, though, Sir Reginald became convinced that he had conceded too much control over his assets, making it difficult for him to clear his debts and provide for his infant children himself. More especially, having recently purchased a baronetcy, he was concerned that the settlement failed to guarantee the descent of the estates in question through his family’s male line in tandem with this title. Mohun flatly refused to amend the deal, apparently suspecting his father of seeking to divert some of his inheritance towards the younger children. Sir Reginald therefore attempted to undermine the settlement by means of supplementary conveyances and fraudulent, ante-dated deeds designed to benefit his infant offspring, doubtless confirming Mohun’s fears. A protracted legal battle ensued.22
Of the two men, Mohun seems to have been the more aggressive litigant, initiating a string of suits against not just his father, but also Sir Reginald’s relatives and associates. One of the latter, Sir Thomas Monck*, complained in a 1619 case concerned with an unredeemed bond, that Mohun had extorted repayments from him on account of his friendship with Sir Reginald, even though Monck had provided collateral security only, and was not the principal debtor.23 Mohun also imitated his father’s spoiling tactics, making several dubious conveyances of disputed properties himself. For example, in 1618 he transferred an important estate at Plympton, Devon to one of his Hele kinsmen. A compromise between Mohun and his father was worked out in Chancery in 1616, but it failed to hold, and relations between the two sides worsened. When Mohun moved back to Cornwall from London in 1619, leasing the small seat of Penwarne, his father apparently suspected him of seeking a new platform from which to attack him. Sir Reginald was now hoping to force through his wishes on male entail by means of a private bill in the next Parliament. In 1620 he therefore tried to have himself nominated as one of Cornwall’s knights of the shire. When he was thwarted in this bid, he vowed to oppose any attempt by his son to obtain the same prestigious role.24 In the event, Mohun’s actual presence in the Commons in 1621 was not required. Shortly before his father’s bill received its second reading on 17 May, the House heard a petition from Mohun stating his opposition to the measure. When debate commenced, Sir John Davies launched a fierce assault on the bill, alleging that Sir Reginald, urged on by his wife, aimed to deprive his heir of his full inheritance rights in order to advance his younger offspring. Davies rehearsed the matter of the ante-dated deeds at some length, while Sir Warwick Hele asserted that Sir Reginald had gone mad, as the forgeries contained such blatantly false information. The bill was committed, but did not return to the House.25
In 1622 a number of the Mohun lawsuits came to court, and an accommodation between the parties was finally reached. Accordingly a fresh bill was prepared for the next Parliament, to be presented with a public show of reconciliation. Probably as one element of this, Mohun himself was returned to the Commons for the first time in 1624, as a Member for Grampound. The borough lay just a few miles from Penwarne, but significantly one of the biggest landowners in the district was Sir Reginald’s brother William, who had been party to the baronet’s obstructive conveyances.26 The revised bill now introduced in the House represented a major shift in Mohun’s favour, giving him complete control over his Devon and Dorset estates, since it ended the male entail on them and restricted his father’s right to make leases; moreover, any obligation to provide for his younger siblings was scrapped. Despite this, the measure was steered through the Commons by his stepmother’s brother, (Sir) George Chudleigh. Tensions remained below the surface, however. Surprisingly for a novice Member, Mohun had been appointed to the committee of privileges. On 12 Mar., probably drawing on evidence presented to that committee, he asserted in a debate on the Chippenham election dispute that it would be dangerous to allow the well-established narrow franchise there to be extended. Chudleigh promptly intervened to point out factual errors in his argument. Mohun’s only other committee nomination related to a bill to confirm the foundation of the Charterhouse hospital in London (13 March). The Mohuns’ own bill received the royal assent at the end of May.27
In 1625 Mohun was again returned for Grampound, where he strengthened his position as patron. The borough initially offered the second place to another Cornish gentleman, Sir Richard Edgcumbe, who had sat there in 1624, but ultimately dropped him in favour of Sir Samuel Rolle, Mohun’s cousin through the Hele line. At West Looe, Mohun provided a seat for his associate Edward Thomas, probably with the assistance of his brother-in-law John Trelawny, the borough’s steward. East Looe, where Sir Reginald was recorder, returned (Sir) James Bagg II, who was almost certainly already on close terms with Mohun but may have had independent means of obtaining a place there. No record now survives of Mohun’s contribution to the Parliament’s proceedings.28
The resolution of the family feud was accompanied by Mohun’s entry into Cornish administration. He became a j.p. in May 1625, and was acting as a deputy lieutenant by July of the following year. This was a critical moment for the county’s political structures. The duchy of Cornwall’s local administration was controlled by the lord warden of the stannaries, the 3rd earl of Pembroke. In the aftermath of the 1626 Parliament, in which Mohun provided a Grampound seat for Edward Thomas, Pembroke was obliged to relinquish much of his influence in the county to his political rival, the duke of Buckingham, leaving prominent Cornish clients such as his vice-warden William Coryton* and (Sir) John Eliot* at the duke’s mercy. In July 1626 both men were removed from the bench, and the process of dismissing Eliot from the vice-admiralty of Devon commenced.29 Bagg, who had recently emerged as Buckingham’s principal agent in the region, recognized an opportunity to advance his own friends. Collection of the 1626 Benevolence had run into trouble in Cornwall, and on 22 Sept. Bagg wrote to the duke praising Mohun’s loyalty in the face of obstruction by his fellow gentry, and suggesting him as a replacement for Coryton as vice-warden. Mohun’s chances for promotion were boosted a few weeks later when he volunteered to serve on the commission to inquire into Eliot’s conduct as vice-admiral. By 16 Oct. Buckingham had recommended him to Pembroke for the vice-wardenship, a request which amounted to an instruction. Bagg was quick to affirm the advantages of this step for the duke: ‘[Mohun] studies nothing more than to honour you, and to advantage His Majesty’s commands; and as his will is resolved without changing to do both, so is his power not short to perform it’. However, this promotion only fuelled Mohun’s personal ambitions, and even before the post was in his grasp he began importuning Buckingham for a peerage, which would place him on a social par with Lord Robartes, then Cornwall’s only holder of an English title.30
In their attitudes towards local government, Mohun and Bagg seem to have been in broad agreement. In July 1628 Mohun reportedly said that ‘the state could never be well ordered while there were parliaments, because in Parliament every man will have his own fancies and so nothing can be brought into any certainty or settlement by that course’; the Crown should rather commit the direction of local business to ‘select men in every county...[who] by their moving the affairs of the county might thereby better order and dispose them’.31 It is unclear whether this statement reflected Mohun’s long-held opinion of Parliament, or whether it was shaped by the Commons’ hostile treatment of him in 1628. However, his views on administration were entirely in keeping with Bagg’s reaction to the first reports in 1626 that the government was to raise a Forced Loan, namely that only people well-affected to the government should be appointed commissioners. Mohun’s robust performance as a commissioner for the execution of martial law from 1627 also indicates sympathy with Bagg’s argument that in emergencies such as war, the normal courses of law might be suspended. Such opinions were then in vogue at Court, and their expression at local level was doubtless in part calculated to preserve Bagg and his friends in the Crown’s favour.32 Nevertheless, surviving accounts of Mohun’s conduct as vice-warden strongly suggest that he also interpreted rule by this type of select grouping as an occasion for crude self-aggrandizement. The evidence is problematic, because it was assembled by Coryton and Eliot specifically with the intention of bringing charges against him in the 1628 Parliament, but much of it seems to bear scrutiny. The office of vice-warden included judicial powers which extended over Cornwall’s tin-producing zones, or stannaries. The stannary courts’ jurisdiction was in theory restricted to lesser offences involving participants in the tin industry, but in practice the limits were unclear, and conflict with rival courts was fairly common.33 Mohun in this situation actively sought to extend the reach of his own tribunals, broadening the qualifications for tinner status, and blocking writs issued elsewhere. Moreover, he exploited his own powers as an appeal judge to impose arbitrary verdicts, and in certain instances to pursue personal vendettas. In an extreme case, learning that a friend had been arrested at one of the Looe boroughs, Mohun demanded his release, and when the mayor proved unco-operative he resurrected an old suit of debt against him and had him imprisoned. The mayor managed to agree terms with his creditor, but when his gaoler, Hannibal Vyvyan*, released him without first obtaining Mohun’s permission, he in turn was confined as a punishment. On another occasion a priest associated with Eliot and Coryton was ordered to abandon a case in Exeter consistory court, with a warning from Mohun: ‘To this conform yourself, or you shall provoke me’.34
On balance, the evidence assembled by Eliot indicates that stannary justice under Mohun was both more expensive and less reliable than hitherto, and that unrest in Cornwall was mounting by late 1627. Nevertheless, Pembroke remained neutral, at the end of the year effectively surrendering to his vice-warden the authority to summon a stannary convocation, or regulatory assembly, whose membership Mohun promptly attempted to prescribe. Meanwhile, pressure had been maintained on Eliot through the vice-admiralty inquiry, and Bagg could boast to Buckingham that the relatively successful collection of the Forced Loan in the county owed much to the efforts of his own allies. Both Eliot and Coryton had suffered imprisonment for opposing the Loan, and remained in official disgrace.35 However, their opportunity for revenge arrived with the summoning of the 1628 Parliament. On 8 Feb. Coryton announced his intention to stand as a knight of the shire, forcing Mohun and his associates to take drastic measures. Within days he and Sir Richard Edgcumbe had been nominated as rival candidates, and a vigorous propaganda war broke out, Mohun claiming the backing of the county’s deputy lieutenants and magistrates, Coryton and Eliot making a popular appeal to ordinary voters on the basis of their recent harsh treatment. Mohun’s position, as laid out in letters which he helped to draft during February, and as contained in a petition drafted in June by four of his collaborators, was that it was in Cornwall’s best interests to elect men of moderation who would be acceptable to the king. Royal concessions might then be forthcoming, whereas support for Coryton and Eliot was liable to provoke Charles’s displeasure.36 This subservient attitude was entirely in keeping with Bagg’s opinion that Parliament should be essentially a passive instrument of the royal prerogative. Taken alongside Mohun’s tactics, which included an attempt to mobilize the local militia for a show of force at the county poll, these views offer some credence to the notion that the vice-warden was engaged in illicit ‘undertaking’, an attempt to block the election of candidates distasteful to the Crown.37 Nevertheless, it was also clearly in Mohun’s own interests for his rivals to be defeated. The events surrounding this contest, which Eliot and Coryton won emphatically on 10 Mar., cruelly exposed the narrowness and fragility of his power-base. Although he and Edgcumbe appear to have followed the customary procedure for sounding out their fellow magistrates, contrary to allegations levelled subsequently in Parliament, he could rely for his electoral campaign only on a small personal following. This consisted of his father, his brother-in-law John Trelawny, three of Sir Reginald’s long-time associates, Sir Bernard Grenville†, Sir William Wrey* and Richard Trevanion†, Trelawny’s cousin Edward, Walter Langdon, and Edgcumbe himself, probably a recent recruit to the circle. With the exception of Edgcumbe, they were all resident within ten miles of the Mohun seat of Boconnoc, mostly within the small hundred of West, and the fact that they were all deputy lieutenants or j.p.s offered only partial compensation for this geographical concentration.38
Mohun, despite his own defeat, was able to nominate Edward Thomas to West Looe once more, and placed at Buckingham’s disposal seats at East and West Looe and Grampound which were filled by William Murray, John Packer and Sir Robert Pye. In his capacity as vice-warden, he may also have found a place at Lostwithiel for the courtier Sir Robert Kerr, replacing him with Sir Thomas Bagehott after Kerr opted to sit elsewhere. However, Bagg was seriously alarmed by Eliot and Coryton’s victory, and on 17 Mar. proposed that the duke should authorize an inquiry into the county election, to be managed by Mohun and his friends. He also revived the idea of granting a peerage to the vice-warden, urging Buckingham on 19 Mar. to ‘take care of’ him.39 In the Commons on the following day, Coryton produced letters which he had received from Mohun’s circle, threatening action against him if he did not withdraw from the shire contest, and on 21 Mar. the House ordered that all those involved should be sent for. At this juncture Mohun was fully occupied as a martial law commissioner, helping to contain a mutiny at Plymouth, but he was in any case in no hurry to respond to this summons. By 6 Apr. Bagg for one knew that Buckingham had finally procured a peerage for the vice-warden, and on 15 Apr. the patent was issued creating Mohun baron of Okehampton, after one of his Devon estates which carried with it an ancestral claim to this honour.40 The timing was opportune. On 10 Apr. Hannibal Vyvyan, who had apparently escaped Mohun’s clutches in Cornwall only by winning a Commons seat and thereby obtaining parliamentary privilege, petitioned the House about the vice-warden’s alleged abuses. A sub-committee for this matter was established six days later. On 21 Apr. the Commons resolved to issue a stronger summons to Mohun and his associates, who had themselves petitioned to be allowed more time before attending. However, before the messengers could be dispatched, word of Mohun’s peerage reached the House, which was thus obliged to omit the baron himself from the warrant.41 On 13 May, Langdon, Wrey and the two Trelawnys, the only members of Mohun’s group to appear at the bar of the House, were sentenced to imprisonment during the House’s pleasure. However, as Sir Edward Giles observed, these were ‘but underlings’; the ‘special offender’ had eluded their grasp. Eliot presented the findings of the Vyvyan committee on 27-8 May, but Mohun, notified that he should expect charges to follow, consulted his fellow peers, and replied that he would defend himself in the Lords rather than appear before the Lower House. The charges were not ready until 14 June, and no action on them had been taken when Parliament was prorogued two weeks later.42 During the next few months Eliot and Coryton scoured Cornwall for additional evidence against Mohun, but a final attempt to resurrect the charges in January 1629 also proved abortive.43
The period of the 1628-9 Parliament was another climacteric in Cornish politics. Buckingham’s assassination, Eliot’s fatal imprisonment and Coryton’s submission to the king brought a substantial realignment in factional divisions. Mohun, bereft of his principal patron, lost his vice-wardenship late in 1629, though he apparently retained his other offices. Around the same time he again fell out with his father. Sir Reginald, accused of breaching the terms of the 1624 Mohun Act by wasting the Boconnoc estate, denied the charges and maintained that the arguments had stemmed all along from Mohun’s suspicions, rather than more substantial causes.44 Perhaps in a belated bid to achieve popularity, Mohun began siding with the local population against central government. In June 1629 he helped to forward complaints about the slow payment of billeting money, while in 1631 he intervened in the collection of purveyance, earning a summons before the Council. By the following year Mohun had also quarrelled with his sometime mentor Bagg, and begun to formulate allegations against him of corruption and embezzlement of public funds, chiefly in connection with the 1620s Cadiz and Ile de Ré expeditions. The baron’s own reputation at this time was scarcely unblemished; he was sued in 1633 in the Exchequer for illegally exporting cloth, but proceedings were suspended when it emerged that he had been intimidating witnesses, and may not have resumed.45 The king’s growing antipathy towards him and a series of unfavourable verdicts during his lengthy Star Chamber battle with Bagg in 1633-7 did nothing to soften his tactics; in 1635 he produced correspondence containing sarcastic remarks by Bagg about certain privy councillors, and two years later he tried to influence the gathering of evidence. Charles belatedly found a use for his talents, in November 1637 appointing him to investigate customs irregularities in Bristol, where he provoked outrage by riding roughshod over local efforts to obstruct the inquiry.46 In January 1641 Mohun secured the reinstatement of Okehampton as a parliamentary borough. He died on 28 Mar. that year. His will was proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury without its text being registered. Mohun’s portrait, by an unknown artist, is reproduced in Duffin’s Faction and Faith.47
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Author: Paul Hunneyball
- 1. Al. Ox.
- 2. Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 325.
- 3. Al. Ox.; M. Temple Admiss.
- 4. HLRO, main pprs., 3 May 1621.
- 5. Vivian, 325-6; C142/339/177.
- 6. C66/2494/5.
- 7. C142/594/65; 142/607/102.
- 8. C181/3, ff. 113, 196.
- 9. C212/22/23; E179/89/314.
- 10. C231/4, f. 188; 231/5, p. 217; C66/2859.
- 11. SP16/32/61; APC, 1629-30, p. 52.
- 12. SP16/36/37.
- 13. C193/12/2.
- 14. SP16/37/6; 16/78/59.
- 15. SP16/37/91; Cornw. RO, CY 7241.
- 16. APC, 1627-8, p. 79; CSP Dom. 1628-9, pp. 35-6.
- 17. CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 7.
- 18. C181/3, f. 259; 181/4, f. 2; 181/5, f. 158v.
- 19. E178/7161.
- 20. CSP Dom. 1637, p. 576; 1637-8, p. 196.
- 21. Al. Ox.; MTR, 531; C54/2304/29; HLRO, parchments 1499-1624, ff. 51-2.
- 22. STAC 8/208/27; C142/339/177; Vivian, 325; C2/Jas.I/M11/63.
- 23. C2/Jas.I/M11/58; 2/Jas.I/M16/50; 2/Chas.I/M66/10; 2/Chas.I/M83/131.
- 24. C54/2232/14; 54/2352/17; C2/Jas.I/M10/69; C78/344/4; SP14/117/55.
- 25. HLRO, main pprs., 3 May 1621; CJ, i. 623b; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, ii. 86; CD 1621, iii. 278.
- 26. C2/Jas.I/M10/69; 2/Jas.I/M11/63; 2/Jas.I/M16/50; 2/Chas.I/M16/19; E179/89/306.
- 27. HLRO, O.A. 21 Jas.I, c. 64; CJ, i. 684b, 685b, 687a, 716a, 755a, 766a.
- 28. Cornw. RO, J/2074; Vivian, Vis. Devon, 464, 466; Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 325; M.F. Keeler, Long Parl. 359-60.
- 29. J.K. Gruenfelder, Influence in Early Stuart Elections, 129-30; R. Cust, Forced Loan, 26, 189.
- 30. SP16/36/37; 16/37/6, 91; A. Duffin, Faction and Faith, 8. The DNB statement that Mohun received Buckingham’s recommendation in 1620 is clearly a misprint.
- 31. Duffin, 95.
- 32. SP16/37/91; 16/98/26, 31; Cust, 214.
- 33. CD 1628, iv. 5-6; PC2/42, f. 194v.
- 34. J. Forster, Sir John Eliot (1872 edn.), ii. 130-4, 136, 138; CD 1628, iv. 4, 6; Duffin, 94.
- 35. Forster, ii. 139-41; CSP Dom. 1627-8, pp. 316, 357; Duffin, 149, 151.
- 36. SP16/106/14; CD 1628, ii. 33; iii. 371; HMC 1st Rep. 51, 62.
- 37. Cust, 213, 313.
- 38. CD 1628, iii. 367; Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 325, 475-6, 480, 501, 504; E179/89/314; C66/2449; SP16/32/61; 16/33/111.
- 39. SP16/96/36, 48.
- 40. CD 1628, ii. 29, 33, 41; CSP Dom. 1628-9, pp. 35-7, 65; C66/2494/5; Hist. Okehampton ed. W.H.K. Wright, 85.
- 41. CD 1628, ii. 404, 479; iii. 4, 60, 632.
- 42. Ibid. iii. 386, 393, 625-6; iv. 3-6, 14, 308-9.
- 43. SP16/118/37; CJ, i. 923b, 925a.
- 44. Duffin, 102, 104; C2/Chas.I/M16/19.
- 45. APC, 1629-30, pp. 52-3; PC2/41, f. 95v; 2/42, ff. 3v-4, 178v; E178/5199; E125/14, f. 37.
- 46. CSP Dom. 1633-4, p. 266; 1635, pp. 29-30; 1637, p. 218; Strafforde Letters (1739) ed. W. Knowler, i. 426; Bodl. Bankes 18, f. 35; 37, f. 62.
- 47. Hist. Okehampton, 92; Probate Acts in P.C.C. 1640-4 ed. J. and G.F. Matthews, 127; Duffin, 11.