POLWHELE, John (by 1523-72 or later), of Polwhele in St. Clement, Cornw.

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



Family and Education

b. by 1523, s. of John Polwhele of Polwhele by da. and h. of John Tresawell of Probus. m. Grace, da. of Nicholas Lower of Trelaske, 2s. 1da.1

Offices Held

Commr. gaol delivery, Cornw. 1554; reeve, Moresk 1558-9, 1564-5; j.p.q. Cornw. 1562-4.2


The Polwheles had been seated at a place of that name about two miles from Truro since the reign of Edward III. In 1526 John Polwhele’s father was described, perhaps conventionally as ‘a gentleman of great power, well kinned and allied’, but apparently he was never regarded as qualified to sit on the Cornish bench. When in 1540 either Polwhele or his father, or perhaps both, quarrelled with Thomas Trevethen, it was Sir John Russell 1st Baron Russell, and Sir Thomas Arundell who were involved in settling the dispute. Four years later, when his father was almost certainly dead, Polwhele helped John Cosworth to partition Nicholas Carminowe’s inheritance. The two were associated again in 1548, when Sir John Arundell of Trerice appointed them feoffees for his bastard son Robert: this transaction was open to different interpretations, and Sir John Arundell referred his disagreement with Polwhele over it to Chancery for arbitration.3

It was in the 1550s that Polwhele came into prominence in Cornish affairs. Accused in the Star Chamber of depriving Thomas Fuidge, vicar of Lawannack, of church property, he was praised some years later in the same court for preventing Henry Trengove alias Nance’s* son from killing a duchy of Cornwall official at Truro. In February 1553 and October 1554 his name figures among the electors for the knights of the shire, and in 1558 he was himself returned to the last Parliament of Mary’s reign. A number of considerations were in his favour: the duchy of Cornwall was doubtless prepared to look kindly on him after the incident at Truro; his partner John Arundell I came from a family with which he had business links; he was a kinsman by marriage of the powerful Thomas Treffry I; and he was a Catholic. Nothing is known about Polwhele’s part in the work of the Commons, but his Membership was probably the high point of a career which took a downward turn with the advent of Elizabeth. In 1564 the bishop of Exeter wondered why such ‘an extreme enemy’ of the Anglican settlement should be a justice, and on his recommendation Polwhele was removed from the bench. The remaining years of his life are obscure: in 1569 he obtained a grant of arms and three years later he was assessed at Polwhele towards the subsidy. The date of his death has not been discovered, but he was succeeded by his son Digory, who died in 1615.4

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: J. J. Goring


  • 1. Date of birth estimated from first reference. Vis. Cornw. ed. Vivian, 299, 376.
  • 2. Duchy Cornw. RO, 131, m. 11; 137, m. 11; CPR, 1554-5, p. 106; 1560-3, p. 435; 1563-6, p. 20.
  • 3. Vis. Cornw. 376; St.Ch.2/17/84; LP Hen. VIII, xv, add; C3/2/64, 178/1; Gent. Mag. (1829), ii. 216.
  • 4. St.Ch.4/1/48, 8/35; C219/20/21, 23/19; Cam. Misc. ix (3), 69; Grantees of Arms (Harl. Soc. lxvi), 202; E179/88/229, m. 2v; Vis. Cornw. 376.