Available from Boydell and Brewer
|John Cokeworthy I
|Ralph Trenewith II
|Thomas Forster I
|Simon [Lowys] 1
|William Bodrugan II
|John Trewoofe 2
|John Trelawny III
Liskeard, unlike Launceston (Dunheved), Lostwithiel and Truro, was not a ‘new’ town, planted in the early Middle Ages by a local lord. First mentioned in about 1000, it was of similar antiquity to Helston, having grown up gradually near Bodmin moor upon which the tin workings of the stannary district of Foweymore were later located. The courts of the stannary were often held at Liskeard, but the town never became a centre of the tin trade on the same scale as Lostwithiel or Truro. It was of importance rather as the focal point of the manor of Liskeard, which belonged to the duchy of Cornwall, as did the borough itself. Liskeard had the second largest deer park in the duchy and also a castle or fortified manor-house. The manor was a large one with over 2,000 acres of thickly wooded land, providing timber, which was a valuable asset. The later 14th and early 15th centuries (after a recovery from the local effects of the Black Death), saw a rise in revenues from the manor coupled with an increase in demand for land in this part of Cornwall. This undoubtedly had some effect on the prosperity of the burgesses.3 According to the poll tax returns of 1377 there were at that time 461 adults living in the town itself and 211 more on the manor, suggesting an overall population of no more than 1,000. This would make Liskeard a larger community than Dunheved but not so big as Bodmin, and, of course, most Cornish boroughs were small by national standards.4
The men of Liskeard owed their earliest charters to the earls of Cornwall. In 1240 Earl Richard granted that they should be free burgesses and enjoy all the liberties which he allowed their counterparts in Dunheved and Helston; and in 1266 he authorized them to hold two annual fairs. Then, in 1272, his son, Earl Edmund, conceded that the burgesses might hold the borough along with certain mills on the river Looe for an annual fee farm of £18 and 18d. But in some ways the freedom of the burgesses proved to be limited: orders issued by the Black Prince in the 1350s show that they were having difficulty in exercising their jurisdictional franchises and mercantile privileges (in particular their exclusion from tolls, especially beyond the Tamar). Similarly, in 1411 it proved necessary for the then prince of Wales to send a writ exempting the burgesses of Liskeard from all payments and exactions in Cornwall (apart from the dues to which he himself was entitled as duke). Six years later the townsmen were faced with the refusal of tenants from nearby villages to do suit at the borough mills. However, Liskeard’s charters were confirmed by Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V.5 Little is known about the internal government of the town, although there is some evidence that the chief officer had been called ‘mayor’ since the late 13th century. The procedure for electing the mayor and lesser officials seems to have been similar to that practised at Lostwithiel: at a court held in the autumn a jury would present individuals to the various posts and these would be duly sworn in. The official year apparently began and ended at Michaelmas. In 1439 there were riots at Liskeard in connexion with the election of a mayor, but the precise reasons for the disturbance are not recorded.6
There is little evidence to suggest that the officers of the duchy of Cornwall exercised much control over the affairs of the borough or took undue interest in its parliamentary representation. In 1380 Richard Kendale†, a former receiver of the duchy who was currently employed as its feodary, was returned to Parliament for Liskeard. John Calwe and John Goly both held minor posts in the local duchy administration before their single returns, and John Treffridowe evidently had some connexion with the duchy at the time of his election. (Certainly later he discharged the duties of joint havener of the western ports of the duchy.) More important figures in the duchy hierarchy than the last three were John But, who was serving as deputy havener (under Thomas Chaucer*) when he was returned for Liskeard in 1417, and John Clink, who had been in the service of Henry of Monmouth for eight years or more before his return in 1410, and owed his appointment as water bailiff of Dartmouth and parker of Liskeard (both of which offices he was then holding) to the prince. No doubt Clink’s position, affording him personal access to Prince Henry, carried considerable weight when the burgesses were given opportunity to choose him for Parliament. But the large majority of the Members had nothing to do with the duchy. Certain of them, indeed, sought different patrons: John Goly, for example, later served another local landowner, the prior of Launceston; and John Bodilly spent about ten years (a period in which he represented this and two other Cornish boroughs in eight Parliaments) in the service of Sir Robert Tresilian†, c.j.KB, as his clerk and the receiver of his estates, and after Tresilian’s execution he offered his services to John Holand, earl of Huntingdon.
Liskeard sent representatives to Parliament regularly from 1295 onwards. Returns have not survived for ten of the 32 Parliaments convened between 1386 and 1421, although Prynne supplies the names to fill one of the gaps. Accordingly, 37 men are known to have represented Liskeard in 23 of the Parliaments of this period. Of the 37 as many as 33 sat for this borough just once (so far as is known). One of the remaining four sat twice, another three times, the third (Stephen Bant) six times and the last, Simon Lowys, on no fewer than 13 occasions between 1383 and 1414. But it would be incorrect to deduce from such figures that the majority of Liskeard’s MPs were not particularly interested in parliamentary affairs and were reluctant to attend more than one Parliament. In fact half of the 37—certainly 18 and possibly 19—at other times put themselves forward for election by other boroughs or even by the shire. Indeed, some of Liskeard’s Members built up considerable experience of the workings of the Commons: John Tregoose and John But represented a Cornish or Devonshire borough in six Parliaments each, John Bodilly, Stephen Bant and Robert Treage sat in eight apiece, Nicholas Aysshton in ten between 1421 and 1439, Simon Lowys in 14 between 1383 and 1414, and John Cokeworthy I in 19 between 1377 and 1399. Cokeworthy even represented two boroughs—Liskeard and Launceston—in the same Parliaments of 1383 (Oct.) and 1390 (Jan.). William Bodrugan II and Nicholas Aysshton were both elected as knights of the shire for Cornwall (the former little more than a year after his return for Liskeard). When this additional parliamentary experience is taken into account, it becomes apparent that no fewer than nine of the 37 MPs were elected by the burgesses of Liskeard only after they had first sat in the Commons for some other borough, and it may have been simply for this reason that they were chosen. Certainly, previous experience of the Commons seems to have been a factor taken into account when elections were held: in 15 of the 23 Parliaments for which we know the names of Members one or both of Liskeard’s representatives were qualified in this way; and on six occasions both Members were undoubtedly of this sort. Re-election is known to have occurred in 1386, 1388 (Sept.) 1390 (Jan.) and 1411, in the last three cases the Member concerned being Simon Lowys. Even so, in possibly as many as eight Parliaments both men elected were novices (although the gaps in the returns make this unlikely in all such instances). It may be remarked that certain of the ‘novices’ could have learnt something about the workings of the Commons from their kinsmen who had sat in the Lower House before: thus Ralph Cokeworthy went to his only Parliament in 1395 in the company of his kinsman John Cokeworthy (then attending his 17th), and in 1413 Walter Lowys accompanied his relative Simon Lowys (then a veteran of 12 Parliaments). Robert and John Syreston* were brothers; John Trelawny III was the son of John I*, brother of a former shire knight (John II*, and of Richard*, and the husband of John Helligan’s grand daughter; William Bodrugan II was the grandson of Otto Bodrugan† and the son of Ralph Trenewith I*; and Nicholas Aysshton and John Cork both married daughters of Thomas Paderda*.
Only five of the 37 Members are known to have lived in Liskeard itself (although certain of the nine men whose homes have not been discovered may also have dwelt there). The resident burgesses (Robert Brewys, Walter and Simon Lowys, John Gryk and John Goly) all, with the exception of Simon Lowys, sat in only one Parliament each. But Lowys’s record of ten Parliaments as a representative of his home town in this period means that, in fact, a local man was returned by the borough to no fewer than 12 of the 23 Parliaments for which returns are extant, and that in 1391 and 1413 (May) both parliamentary burgesses were men from Liskeard. The fact that in all five of the Parliaments summoned between 1417 and the end of Henry V’s reign neither of Liskeard’s representatives was a burgess proper (although four of the ten men returned on those occasions did hold some property in the neighbourhood), is indicative of a trend in the representation of the borough which grew more apparent as the century progressed, so that it eventually became quite normal for outsiders to sit for Liskeard. Before 1422, however, individuals well known to the burgesses were preferred. As well as the five local men there was a group of six (Nicholas Aysshton, John Helligan, John Trelawny III, John Cork, Robert Combe and John Fursdon) who even though they lived elsewhere did have landed interests either in or very near to Liskeard; and although the electors were seemingly unconcerned about the statutory requirements regarding residence which applied to parliamentary burgesses after 1413, there can be no doubt that their preference was always (in this period) for Cornishmen. At least five of the nine MPs who have not been satisfactorily identified in this respect are known to have lived somewhere in Cornwall, and all but one of the rest (27 out of 28) were Cornish and furthermore held property in the shire. The one exception was John Clink, who was not a Cornishman by birth. However, it should be noted that Robert Trenerth, although a Cornishman with landed holdings in the county, was probably living in London at the time of his election for Liskeard in 1421, having married a London pewterer’s widow and established himself in the City as a mercer. But Clink’s duties as parker of Liskeard probably required him to spend some time in Cornwall, and Trenerth’s interest in the tin trade must often have taken him to his native county, so it seems unlikely that either man was a complete stranger to the burgesses of Liskeard.
Nearly one third of the parliamentary burgesses for Liskeard were lawyers, and a member of this profession is known to have represented the borough in 15 out of the 23 Parliaments for which names of MPs are known. Both of the representatives in the Parliaments of 1386, 1388 (Feb.), 1390 (Jan.) and 1397 (Jan.) were lawyers currently building up practices in the central courts at Westminster. From the burgesses’ point of view it made good sense to send to Parliament a lawyer who had already planned a journey to Westminster on his clients’ behalf; while such men as Simon Lowys and Stephen Bant (who together represented Liskeard in 19 Parliaments between 1377 and 1414) were probably willing to act for the borough for a nominal fee, in the knowledge that the profits to be made in the lawcourts would make their journeys worthwhile, and a seat in the Commons might enhance their reputations. It is of interest to note that one of the Members of 1386, John Bodilly, was then keeper of the rolls in the King’s bench and would have needed to remain in Westminster during the law terms. (In the same context it may be remarked that certain quite obscure individuals—such as John Calwe and William Hamond—were elected to Parliament for Liskeard just when they were due to appear in the King’s bench to start litigation or to stand trial.) The lawyers returned for Liskeard were nearly all, like Stephen Bant and John Cork, men whose later careers show them to have been able in their profession, but clearly the most outstanding was Nicholas Aysshton, who rose to be a j.c.p. Aysshton, however, sat for Liskeard only once and that was right at the very beginning of his career, when his brilliant future could not have been predicted. By contrast with the number of lawyers, only a few of the MPs for Liskeard are known to have been merchants. John Goly (who had been bailiff of the stannary of Foweymore) and John Gryk were possibly engaged in the tin trade; Robert Syreston (a lawyer) had an interest in tin mining; Walter Bloyowe, a Bodmin merchant, exported tin from Truro; and perhaps the most important of this small group was Robert Trenerth, who before his elections for Truro and Liskeard had become a member of the Mercer’s Company of London. Clearly, however, merchants carried little weight in the overall representation of the borough, probably because Liskeard was not a trading centre of much importance. More significant is the number of landed gentlemen the borough returned to Parliament in this period: about one third of the Members were landowners of some substance, men who were well acquainted with the gentry of the shire and active in regional government. Persons of this sort represented Liskeard in no fewer than 11 of the 23 Parliaments for which returns have survived. They included eight ‘esquires’ (among them the heir to the Bodrugan estates), military men like Philip Motty and John Fursdon, and administrators of large estates like John Cork.
The loss of most of the borough records may account for the fact that only one of the 37 MPs is known to have occupied a strictly local office. (He, Robert Brewys, served as portreeve of Liskeard just a year before his single return to Parliament in 1391.) No such lack of information can explain the fact that only five of the 37 had had experience of an office in the Crown’s appointment when elected to the Commons for the first time. They were John Bodilly, who had served as a clerk and then keeper of the rolls in the King’s bench for seven years before his election in 1386; John Tregoose, who had acted as under sheriff of Cornwall before his return in 1397 and was currently engaged as steward of the hundred of Penwith; John Clink, who had been in royal employment for over 15 years before his election in 1410; Robert Treage, who had previously been customer of Plymouth and Fowey and was re-appointed to the same post during the session of the Parliament of 1417 in which he represented Liskeard; and John But, who had seen service as feodary of the duchy of Lancaster in Devon, deputy butler of the ports of Cornwall, and under sheriff before his election in 1417. Thus, Bodilly, Clink and Tregoose were currently in the Crown’s employment at the time of their single returns to Parliament for this constituency. Other Members secured appointment to royal offices after their parliamentary service had ended: Tregoose served a term as coroner, John Cork as escheator of Cornwall and Devon, Stephen Bant as a justice of assize, and Nicholas Aysshton as a judge. Twelve of the 37 (one third) served on royal commissions at some time in their careers, but only seven had any experience of such duties before their elections for Liskeard. Three were appointed as j.p.s in Cornwall: William Bodrugan II had sat for a short while on the bench before his only return to Parliament for this borough in 1414; John Cork was a commissioner of the peace when returned by Liskeard for the second time, in 1422, and went on to serve in the same capacity for over 20 years; and Nicholas Aysshton, who was to be appointed to about 100 commissions altogether served on the local bench for nearly 35 years (although he was not named on his first commission until long after his election for Liskeard in 1421).
Author: L. S. Woodger
- 1. The surname has been torn off the return.
- 2. W. Prynne, Brevia Parliamentaria Rediviva, iv. 1040.
- 3. J. Allen, Hist. Liskeard, 13; J. Hatcher, Rural Economy Duchy of Cornw. 5, 19-21, 151-2, 159, 179; Hist. King’s Works ed. Brown, Colvin and Taylor, ii. 980.
- 4. E179/87/30; R. Inst. Cornw. Tnl. iv. 27-41.
- 5. Allen, 16-18, 50-51; Reg. Black Prince, ii. 68, 82-83; CPR, 1381-5, p. 240; 1399-1401, p. 322; 1413-16, p. 195; 1416-22, p. 84; CIMisc. vii. 533.
- 6. Allen, 203, 256-7, 268; CPR, 1436-41, p. 371.