RASHLEIGH, John (1554-1624), of Fowey and Menabilly, Cornw.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer




Family and Education

b. ?1554, o.s. of John Rashleigh, merchant of Fowey by Alice, da. of William Lanyon. educ. ?Hart Hall, Oxf. 1576, aged 19.1 m. 10 Feb. 1576, Alice (d.1606), da. of Richard Bonithon of Carclew, 2s. 4da. suc. fa. 1582.

Offices Held

Dep. lt. Cornw. 1598, sheriff 1608-9; portreeve, Fowey by 1584.2


Rashleigh’s grandfather had been the first of the family to settle in Fowey, and it was to his and his son’s enterprise that Fowey owed its revival as a port during Elizabeth’s reign. By 1582 the Rashleighs were established as one of the three leading families in the town, as important as the Treffrys and the Mohuns. Their wealth depended upon their ships—an effigy of one embellished their house at Fowey. Perhaps this was the Frances (or Francis, the spelling varies), reputed to have earned a fortune as a privateer, an occupation the family had long found profitable. The Frances sailed with Frobisher in 1578 on his third voyage to the north-west passage, and with Drake to the West Indies in 1585, and it may have been the same ship of that name that took part in the Armada engagement, captained by Rashleigh himself, and sailing in Drake’s squadron from Plymouth. She was a vessel of 140 tons with a complement of 60 men and, together with a pinnace, had cost £600 to equip. The money was to be raised by the towns of Looe and Fowey, but was advanced by Rashleigh himself. Three months after she had been commissioned he was still owed £500, and the Privy Council was forced to order the deputy lieutenants to levy the money from the two towns and their adjoining hundreds. Rashleigh’s trading ventures were not always within the letter of the law. In 1588 he was arrested at the request of the Eastland Company, presumably for trading as an interloper in the Baltic. The arrest of one of his ships by the governor of Le Havre in 1598 evoked letters to secretary Villeroy asking for redress for her owner, ‘un honneste marchant de notre nation’. Rashleigh appears also to have had an interest in the Plymouth pilchard fishery, and in 1596 he and William Treffry were accused of inciting the inhabitants of Fowey to refuse payment of the impost on pilchards, levied for the fortification of Plymouth. Two years later Rashleigh was engaged in transporting troops to Ireland, one of the Irish captains telling Sir Robert Cecil that his ‘care was wholly employed therein, giving great and most kind entertainment unto the captains, where we lay during the time of our abode in the town at his own cost. I desire you in our behalf to be thankful unto him for it.’ His shipping interests remained throughout his life, and in 1611, when he no longer lived in Fowey, he was still engaged in the Guinea trade.3

In 1586 Rashleigh was instrumental in obtaining the return to Parliament for Fowey of his brother-in-law John Bonithon, and Rashleigh himself sat in 1589 and 1597. There is no record of his having taken any active part in the proceedings of the Commons. Both Rashleigh’s grandfather and father had bought some land, mostly monastic in origin, while continuing to live in Fowey, but Rashleigh built himself a country seat, Menabilly, some two miles away where he was able to combine the life of a merchant with that of country gentleman. Richard Carew put the matter thus:

I may not pass in silence the commendable deserts of Master Rashleigh the elder, for his industrious judgment and adventuring in trade and merchandise first opened a light and way to the townsmen’s new thriving, and left his son large wealth and possessions, who (together with a daily bettering his estate) converteth the same to hospitality and other actions fitting a gentleman well affected to his God, Prince and Country.

He died 12 May 1624, leaving bequests of money to two daughters, their husbands and their children. All his lands and other property were left to his second son Jonathan, the sole executor. The elder son was presumably insane, Rashleigh directing that Jonathan should ‘keep and maintain his brother John, allowing him a chamber, meat, drink, apparel and all other necessities and a servant continually to attend him.’ The responsibility did not lie long upon Jonathan, as his brother died within a month of their father.4

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: Irene Cassidy


  • 1. Al. Ox. iii. 1233 gives matric. Hart Hall, Dec. 1576, aged 19 (i.e. b.c.1557), but date given for baptism (Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 391) is 27 Nov. 1554.
  • 2. J. Keast, Fowey, 44-50, 52, 56; Vis. Cornw. (Harl. Soc. ix), 183-4; Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 391; Reg. Univ. Oxon. ed. Clark, ii(2), p. 71; APC, xxix. 413.
  • 3. A. L. Rowse, Tudor Cornw. 70, 76, 110, 205, 398; Hakluyt, Principal Navigations, (1903-5), ed. MacLehose, vii. 236 seq.; Anon. Paroch. Hist. Cornw. ii. 21-31; W. Hals, Compleat Hist. Cornw. ii. 136-7; VCH Cornw. i. 493; E. W. Rashleigh, Short Hist. Fowey, 7-9; APC, xvi. 159, 268; xxvi. 349; xxviii. 523; xxix. 413; CSP Dom. 1581-90, p. 502; HMC Hatfield, viii. 449.
  • 4. Rowse, 205, 210; Carew’s Surv. Cornw. ed. Halliday, 22, 210-11; Paroch. Hist. Cornw. iv. 279-81; Keast, 56; PCC 52 Byrd.