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

Background Information

No names for 1510-23


1536(not known)
1539(not known)
1542(not known)

Main Article

One of the oldest towns in Cornwall, Liskeard had grown up near Bodmin moor and profited from the tinworks established there. The stannary courts were often held in the town, but it never became as central to the tin trade as Lostwithiel or Truro. According to Leland it was ‘the best market town ... in Cornwall saving Bodmin’, but by the mid 16th century it was no longer prospering, and it was included in the Act of 1540 for the re-edification of towns westward (32 Hen. VIII, c.19). The borough and the extensive manor of the same name belonged to the duchy of Cornwall, both paying a fee-farm of £18 to the duchy in 1539.3

Liskeard received its first known charter from Richard, Earl of Cornwall in 1240, and before the end of the century the town had two annual fairs and a weekly market, while the inhabitants were responsible for paying their own fee-farm to the lord. Successive royal charters, including two in 1515 and 1550, confirmed their privileges. Few details of the borough’s government before 1558 survive, but it is likely that the charter granted by Elizabeth in 1587 incorporating the borough did little more than ratify a system of government long in existence. The Elizabethan charter provided for a mayor and nine capital burgesses, with a court of record meeting at the hallhouse. The offices of recorder and high steward mentioned in the charter were almost certainly more recent innovations. Several of the mayors’ accounts survive for the period.4

Liskeard had sent Members to Parliament since 1295. Election indentures survive for only six of the 16 Parliaments between 1510 and 1558, and there is little uniformity among them. The majority are in English. Those for 1545, February and October 1553, and 1555 are between the sheriff of Cornwall and the mayor or mayor and burgesses, but the second states that ‘the said mayor and burgesses hath ordained, constituted and deputed’ John Trelawny and John Gayer as Members, while the third has ‘I the said mayor and burgesses have ordained, constituted and deputed’. In October 1554 there is a straightforward statement without reference to parties to an indenture: Witnesseth that we, John Hooper, mayor and the burgesses, inhabitants of the borough ... have assigned, constituted and nominated John Connock, gentleman, and John Pethebridge, merchant, our burgesses ... In witness of all which things I the aforesaid mayor have affixed my seal. In 1558 the borough produced yet another variation. This indenture begins as between the sheriff and the mayor, William Coryton, who was also elected as first Member. There was perhaps some doubt whether Coryton was entitled to return himself, for it goes on: Witnesseth that the [?whole] town and borough ... have ordained, constituted and deputed our trusty and well beloved William Coryton ... In witness whereof we have affi[rmed] these indentures with our seals. Unlike the indentures for many Cornish boroughs Liskeard’s show almost no trace of outside interference. It is possible that in October 1553 the name of William Morice was added in a different hand, but if so this is the only example of the practice. From the scanty, and somewhat confusing, evidence for the period it is not easy to determine the nature of the franchise, but it probably rested with the freemen.5

Of the 17 Members known for the period, Connock, Coryton, John Cruwys and Pethebridge were townsmen, and the first two had served as mayor before election to Parliament. Both Robert Becket and Trelawny were local figures: Becket’s return was presumably helped by his brother-in-law Coryton, while the ownership of several houses in the town gave Trelawny residential status. The families of Gayer and Roscarrock likewise had property there, and William Lower, who came from near Lostwithiel, was a kinsman by marriage of John Gayer. The election of Henry Pyne was almost certainly the work of his former guardian, the locally influential William Kendall, perhaps supported by Kendall’s master, the Marquess of Exeter, as high steward of the duchy. A connexion with the receiver-general of the duchy in 1529, Sir John Arundell of Lanherne, suggests that James Trewynnard was a duchy nominee; his family was seated in the southwest of the county. Of the Cornishmen elected only the obscure Richard Halfacre is not known to have had personal links with either the locality or the duchy. It was probably his link with the duchy through Lincoln’s Inn which eased John Roscarrock’s election in 1545 and which brought in his fellow-lawyer Ambrose Gilberd, a Suffolk man, in 1547; Gilberd was to sit for other duchy boroughs under the sponsorship of Exeter’s successor as steward, Sir John Russell, Baron Russell. James Kempe from Middlesex was also known to the Russells, but he had the further advantage of being related to the Privy Councillor Sir Henry Bedingfield. William Morice’s return perhaps resulted from a similar approach to Russell from Archbishop Cranmer, whose secretary was Morice’s brother.

Author: J. J. Goring


  • 1. Hatfield 207.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. J. Hatcher, Rural Econ. and Soc. in the Duchy of Cornw. 1300-1500, pp. 5, 19-21, 246; B. P. Wolffe, The R. Demesne in Eng. Hist. 240; Leland, Itin. ed. Smith, i. 208-9; J. Polsue, Paroch. Hist. Cornw. iii. 147; Duchy Cornw. RO, B96, receiver-gen.’s accts. 220.
  • 4. J. Allen, Liskeard, 57-58, 291.
  • 5. C219/18C/20, 20/25, 21/19, 23/24, 24/29, 25/23.