Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the burgesses or commonalty

Number of voters:

18 in 1621


20 Oct. 1609GEORGE CALVERT vice Upton, deceased
c. Mar. 1614JOHN WOOD
2 Jan. 1621JOHN WOOD

Main Article

A settlement existed at Bossiney by the late eleventh century, when a small Norman castle was constructed there. The village was granted in the mid-thirteenth century to Richard, earl of Cornwall, who provided the borough with its first charter. Like many of the earl’s former estates, Bossiney was absorbed into the duchy of Cornwall in 1337. At that time the borough was flourishing, but decline set in during the next century, and around 1540 Leland observed a substantial number of ruinous buildings. This situation had presumably not improved 60 years later, since Richard Carew† considered the village too small to warrant a description in his Survey of Cornwall.2

Bossiney was not incorporated until 1685, and consequently local government in the early seventeenth century was limited to a leet court presided over by a self-styled mayor. The borough had been enfranchised in 1547, though its geographical insignificance was such that for some years afterwards it was unclear whether its Members were officially representing Bossiney itself or the neighbouring village of Trevena. By 1604 this confusion had been resolved in Bossiney’s favour, but as late as 1621 John Wood’s election indenture displayed an old formula combining the names of both places. The electorate consisted of the burgesses, all of whom were apparently Bossiney property owners, and residents of the borough or the local parish of Tintagel. The alternative term ‘commonalty’ was used on Jonathan Prideaux’s indenture in 1625, a variation which may simply indicate the imprecise nature of the electorate. The number of signatories to the election indentures varied during this period between six and 18. Many of these voters, including several of the mayors, were unable to write their own names.3

Unsurprisingly, external patrons decided the course of Bossiney’s parliamentary elections throughout this period. The key figure initially was John Hender† of Botreaux Castle, the greatest landowner in the immediate neighbourhood, and the head of a family which was prominent within Bossiney itself. Hender had controlled all nominations since 1586, but he routinely deferred to the wishes of his friend (Sir) William Peryam†, chief baron of the Exchequer. Accordingly, in 1604 the borough returned two of Peryam’s kinsmen, Sir Jerome Horsey, who had already represented Bossiney in 1601, and George Upton.4 Peryam died in October 1604, and when Upton’s own demise in 1609 created a vacancy, Hender found himself under pressure from other quarters. First the borough was approached by Sir John Harington, either the man returned for Coventry shortly afterwards, or a Somerset kinsman of that name whose family owned a manor near Bossiney. Hender saw off this challenge to his monopoly, but he bowed to the inevitable when lord treasurer Salisbury (Robert Cecil†) himself requested the nomination from the mayor and burgesses. Writing to Salisbury on 21 Oct., the day after the by-election, Hender outlined his position:

I have … had for these 20 years past and more the nomination of the burgesses … yet is it … at your good lordship’s dispose, whereof [sic] I beseech your good lordship to accept at your servant’s hands … the indenture subscribed and sealed together with our seal itself to alter and dispose the same with our allowance and consent at your lordship’s pleasure.

Hender’s co-operation was not wholly unconditional, however, and he concluded with an ostensibly unconnected plea that he should not be chosen as Cornwall’s next sheriff. The proffered deal was apparently accepted: Hender got his wish, while Salisbury completed the blank indenture with the name of his secretary, George Calvert.5

Thereafter, the patronage pattern became significantly more complex. Hender died in 1611, having divided his lands among his four daughters, and his heirs failed to maintain his stranglehold over the borough. The Botreaux Castle interest was presumably responsible for Horsey’s re-election in 1614, but it was not certainly successful again until Hender’s son-in-law, Richard, Lord Robartes, secured a place in 1626 and 1628 for his own son-in-law, Charles, Lord Lambart.6 Initially, competition came from John Wood, a gentleman whose house lay just outside Bossiney. Wood was returned in 1614 and 1621, but his family’s electoral influence died with him in December 1623, only days before the next Parliament was summoned.7 By the mid-1620s the lack of a dominant patron was apparently common knowledge. In January 1626 Sir Richard Carnsew, who lived around six miles from Bossiney and possessed no obvious status within the borough, was asked to obtain a seat there for his kinsman Richard Hampden*.8 Nothing came of this, but in fact the borough’s vulnerability was already being exploited for the benefit of a rival kinship network, which secured burgess-ships there in all but one election during this decade. Although it is difficult to prove, patronage in this case was probably exercised by the Prideaux family of Padstow. (Sir) Nicholas Prideaux† was the pre-eminent gentleman in this part of Cornwall, one of the elite group who represented the county on commissions of oyer and terminer, and his administrative responsibilities periodically embraced the district around Bossiney.9 Although he lived some ten miles from the borough, and owned no property there, he and his sons possessed significant estates to the south-west of the town, and this cumulative prestige may well have been sufficient in the prevailing conditions.10 Certainly a Prideaux connection makes sense of the electoral pattern. Sir Nicholas’ brother Edmund, a Devon resident, married a sister of Sir Richard Edgcumbe, who sat for Bossiney in 1628. The borough also returned Edgcumbe’s brother-in-law Ambrose Manaton in 1621, and his nephew Paul Speccott in 1626. The fourth member of this group, who sat in 1625, was Jonathan Prideaux, a distant cousin of Sir Nicholas.11 None of these four men had any other discernible link with Bossiney or its neighbourhood. Furthermore, Edgcumbe, Speccott and possibly Prideaux were returned by means of blank election indentures, a practice normally associated with external patrons.12

Because Bossiney belonged to the duchy of Cornwall, the borough also received electoral nominations from Prince Charles’s council in 1620 and 1624. On the first occasion the duchy was firmly rebuffed, and its candidate, Sir Edward Coke, had to find a seat elsewhere. This resistance was probably inspired by John Wood, who used his Commons platform in 1621 to criticize the duchy’s management of its estates. In 1624 the council’s nomination of Sir Richard Weston came shortly after Wood’s death, and in marked contrast to its earlier behaviour, the borough elected not only Weston but also Thomas Gewen, presumably a secondary duchy nominee since his indenture described him as Prince Charles’s auditor. This about-turn probably reflected the influence of yet another minor local landowner, Richard Billing, who, as escheator and feodary to Prince Charles, was jointly responsible for the distribution of the duchy’s nomination letters.13 In 1625 Bossiney again returned a government candidate, Sir Francis Cottington, formerly Prince Charles’s secretary. As the duchy made no formal nominations that year, and Billing had died in July 1624, the means by which Cottington obtained his seat are unclear. However, he may well have received the backing of Lord Robartes, who was certainly active as a patron in the following year. In May 1625 Robartes was still in the throes of paying for his recently granted peerage, and his cooperation with the Crown’s wishes was therefore to be expected.14

Author: Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. OR; Harg. 311, f. 219v.
  • 2. C. Henderson et al., Cornish Church Guide, 203-5; J. Hatcher, Rural Economy and Soc. in the Duchy of Cornw. 22, 161; Early Tours in Devon and Cornw. ed. R. Pearse Chope, 13.
  • 3. J. Maclean, Hist. of Trigg Minor, iii. 205-6, 209; HP Commons, 1509-58, i. 48; C219/35/1/167; 219/37/40; 219/38/28; 219/39/24.
  • 4. HP Commons, 1558-1603, i. 124; E179/88/265; Maclean, iii. 217; C142/519/94; Vivian, Vis. Devon, 603.
  • 5. Maclean, iii. 245; J. Collinson, Hist. and Antiqs. of Som. i. 128; SP14/48/116; C219/35/1/153; Ath. Ox. ii. 522.
  • 6. C142/519/94; Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 217, 397.
  • 7. C142/403/65; Maclean, iii. 247.
  • 8. SP46/73, f. 150. Bossiney is referred to in this letter as Tintagel.
  • 9. F.E. Halliday, Richard Carew of Antony, 219; C181/3, ff. 136v-7; E179/88/265; SP14/138/116.
  • 10. Maclean, ii. 90; C142/366/188.
  • 11. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 618-21, 707; Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 142.
  • 12. C219/39/24; 219/40/265; 219/41B/138. Manaton’s indenture is lost.
  • 13. DCO, ‘Letters and Patents, 1620-1’, f. 39v; ‘Prince Chas. in Spain’, f. 33r-v; CJ, i. 531a; C219/38/29; Maclean, iii. 203.
  • 14. Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 32; CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 2; Procs. 1626, i. 469; SP16/23/118.