East Looe


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 mayor and burgesses

Number of voters:

nine in 1626


23 Apr. 1625JAMES BAGG II
16 Jan. 1626(SIR) JAMES BAGG II

Main Article

The larger of the twin settlements at the mouth of the Looe, East Looe existed as a market town and port by the late thirteenth century, and was accounted sufficiently important in 1341 to send a representative, jointly with Fowey, to an assembly at Westminster.1 In the early seventeenth century the local merchants traded with France, the Low Countries and the Iberian peninsula, but they could no longer compete with their rivals at Fowey in terms of the volume of traffic. Rather, the town’s prosperity depended on its weekly markets, and on its fishing fleet, which roamed as far as Newfoundland.2 Consequently, East Looe was badly affected when the Sallee pirates began raiding the Cornish coast in 1625. In August of that year, 80 of its mariners were captured in just ten days, and the consequent shortage of manpower greatly damaged the local fishing industry. Moreover, the town experienced a series of invasion scares around this time, since the river-mouth was regarded as suitable for a Spanish landing.3

In political terms also, East Looe was vulnerable to external pressure. Although the town had been incorporated in 1587, the Common Council consisted of just nine chief burgesses, including the mayor. The reluctance of several burgesses to hold the mayoralty led to a fresh charter in 1623, which addressed this problem and slightly increased the corporation’s privileges, permitting the mayors to act as borough j.p.s. In about 1627, however, mayor William Mayowe offended the vice-warden of the Cornish stannaries, John Mohun*, by arresting one of the latter’s associates, and was himself summarily imprisoned.4 By the terms of the 1587 charter, the Common Council also exercised the borough’s parliamentary franchise, which had first been established 16 years earlier. Not surprisingly, East Looe’s Elizabethan MPs were all outsiders, and the early seventeenth century brought no change to this pattern. None of the Members during this period voiced the borough’s economic or security fears in the Commons, and Mayowe’s arrest was reported to the House only because a general inquiry was launched into Mohun’s conduct as vice-warden.5

East Looe’s principal electoral patron during these years was Mohun’s father, Sir Reginald, who, like his own father before him, held the borough’s recordership. At least one nomination in every election can be ascribed to his influence. In 1614 he took one seat himself and secured the other for his brother-in-law George Chudleigh. Sir Robert Phelips in 1604, Sir Jerome Horsey in 1621, and Paul Speccott in 1624 and 1628, were all Mohun’s distant kinsmen.6 In 1626 George Chudleigh turned down the opportunity to sit for East Looe again, handing the vacancy to his son John after first offering it to his Court patron, secretary of state (Sir) John Coke*. As a result of these delays, the seat was not finally filled until around 23 Feb., nearly a month after the official election date.7 Sir John Trevor, who secured a burgess-ship in 1625, was the uncle and former guardian of Mohun’s cousin Charles Trevanion*, and would have known Sir Reginald through the latter’s role as a trustee of the Trevanion estates.8 By 1628 John Mohun had demonstrated his capacity, as vice-warden, to interfere in the borough’s affairs, and it was probably he who, through his father or on his own account, obtained a seat for his friend William Murray in that year.9

The one clear rival interest to the Mohuns which could operate in East Looe was the duchy of Cornwall, which owned the local manor. However, duchy influence was exerted only in 1621 and 1624, when Prince Charles’s Council successfully nominated Sir John Walter.10 The remaining nominations are somewhat harder to explain. In 1604 Sir John Parker apparently relied on his own local influence as captain of Pendennis Castle, though the fact that his name was entered on his election indenture over an erasure suggests that his candidacy was controversial.11 James Bagg, who took a place in 1625 and 1626, is said to have been distantly related to the Mohuns through his uncle Thomas Stone, who had represented East Looe in 1572. By September 1626 Bagg was certainly on close terms with John Mohun, but it is not certain that this connection would have served him earlier than this. He might therefore have relied on his burgeoning relationship with the duke of Buckingham, or on his position as vice-admiral of south Cornwall. Whatever means he found to apply pressure, his election in 1625 smacks of malpractice. Although the borough charter allowed for only nine electors, Bagg collected 11 names on his indenture, and comparison with Trevor’s return suggests that some of the signatures may have been forged.12

Author: Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. T. Bond, E. and W. Looe, 1-2, 6.
  • 2. J.C.A. Whetter, ‘Cornish Trade in the Seventeenth Cent.’, Jnl. Royal Inst. Cornw. n.s. iv. 391, 395; F.E. Halliday, Richard Carew of Antony, 201.
  • 3. T. Gray, ‘Turks, Moors and the Cornish Fisherman’, Jnl. Royal Inst. Cornw. n.s. x. 461, 470; CSP Dom. 1625-6, pp. 82-3, 242, 334; Early Stuart Mariners and Shipping ed. T. Gray (Devon and Cornw. Rec. Soc. n.s. xxxiii), 67.
  • 4. Bond, 3; A.L. Browne, Corporation Chronicles of E. and W. Looe, 18-21; CD 1628, iv. 4.
  • 5. Browne, 18; HP Commons, 1558-1603, i. 130-1.
  • 6. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 190, 707; Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 325; Vis. Dorset, Addenda ed. F.T. Colby and J.P. Rylands, 2-3; Vis. Som. (Harl. Soc. xi), 85; Russia at the Close of Sixteenth Cent. ed. E.A. Bond (Hakluyt Soc. xx), p. cxxix.
  • 7. HMC Cowper, i. 252-3, 257.
  • 8. Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 324, 502; WARD 9/348; PROB 11/115, f. 113.
  • 9. SP16/118/37. In 1628 Mohun appears to have offered the duke of Buckingham a burgess-ship at W. Looe, not E. Looe, as presumed by Procs. 1628, vi. 139.
  • 10. Bond, 57; DCO, ‘Letters and Patents 1620-1’, f. 39v; ‘Prince Charles in Spain’, f. 33v.
  • 11. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 10; C219/35/1/170.
  • 12. HP Commons, 1558-1603, iii. 450; Vivian, Vis. Devon, 34; SP14/147/83; SP16/36/37; C219/39/42, 63.