St. Mawes


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:

20 in 1624


 Francis VYVYAN
 NATHANIEL TOMKINS chose to sit for Christchurch, 11 July 1625
5 Mar. 16281THOMAS CAREY

Main Article

Situated on a creek to the east of Falmouth Harbour, St. Mawes was a small fishing village notable only for its ancient chapel dedicated to St. Maudutus, and the royal castle built in the 1540s to protect the bay from French raiders. Although one indenture in 1625 referred to ‘St. Maudes’, the chapel was derelict by 1621, when Parliament was petitioned unsuccessfully for its restoration. Local government was limited to a manorial court leet, held before a portreeve chosen annually by the manor’s tenants. The borough, which returned two Members from 1563, covered approximately two-thirds of the village, with the franchise exercised by the portreeve or ‘mayor’ and a handful of freeholders. St. Mawes followed the Cornish custom of returning individual indentures for each Member. Three of the mayors recorded in election indentures of the 1620s were unable to sign their own name.2

Although the borough returned some local candidates to Parliament under Elizabeth, the majority of its representatives then appear to have been government nominees. In the early seventeenth century, however, two Cornish families emerged as the borough’s principal patrons. The Vyvyans, whose seat at Trelowarren lay about nine miles south-west of St. Mawes, had provided one MP there in 1597, and were effectively hereditary commanders of St. Mawes Castle.3 The Trevanions were major landowners who lived nine miles to the east at Caerhayes. Their kinsmen included the Careys and Trevors, who were prominent at Court and within the Duchy of Cornwall’s administration. Both the Vyvyans and the Trevanions were numbered among Cornwall’s wealthiest gentry, and the rivalry between them was highlighted in 1632 when Hugh Trevanion secured (Sir) Francis Vyvyan’s* dismissal from the captaincy of St. Mawes Castle.4

At the outset of this period Charles Trevanion* of Caerhayes was a minor, and his family’s patronage devolved in the first two Jacobean elections on the trustees of his estates. Sir Reginald Mohun*, the senior trustee, was particularly well-placed to impose his own preferences, for his half-brother William owned the manor of Bogullas alias St. Mawes. In 1604 the borough elected Sir Reginald’s brother-in-law John Speccott, and ten years later returned his niece’s husband Sir Nicholas Smith. Dudley Carleton, the other 1604 Member, seems to have relied on his government contacts, perhaps securing his nomination through another of Trevanion’s trustees, Sir John Trevor I*.5 In 1614 Francis Vyvyan obtained the second seat for himself, and four years later strengthened his leverage over the borough by purchasing Bogullas manor. He almost certainly arranged the election in 1620 and 1624 of his distant relative William Hockmore, the Duchy of Cornwall’s auditor.6 Gruenfelder has suggested that Hockmore was nominated by Prince Charles’s Council, but in fact the Duchy possessed no direct influence over St. Mawes. By contrast, Edward Wrightington, a client of lord chancellor (Sir Francis) Bacon*, probably did rely on government patronage for his nomination in 1620, though it is unclear how this was mediated at local level. His indenture is dated seven days later than Hockmore’s, and was prepared separately, probably outside St. Mawes, by someone ignorant of the customary formula for describing the borough’s electorate; the burgesses are called the ‘commonalty’, and ‘mayor’ was later inserted in place of some other title.7

Charles Trevanion came of age in about 1615. By the mid-1620s he belonged to the Cornish gentry faction which looked for leadership to the lord warden of the stannaries, the 3rd earl of Pembroke, and his vice-warden, William Coryton*. From 1624 until 1628 Trevanion seems to have placed at least one St. Mawes burgess-ship at their disposal. The first beneficiary was another of Coryton’s allies, John Arundell, whose election in 1624 probably helped to clear the way for Coryton himself to take a Cornish county seat. In 1625, with Trevanion and Arundell standing together for the county, St. Mawes returned Coryton’s kinsman Sir James Fullerton, for whom Pembroke found a seat at Portsmouth in the following year.8 The name of Fullerton’s intended partner was erased from the election indenture to make room for Nathaniel Tomkins, a royal servant who, ironically, chose to sit elsewhere and was not replaced. Tomkins was a future opponent of the Forced Loan, and a close associate of Sir Robert Phelips*, then emerging as a critic of the government.9 In 1626 St. Mawes returned Trevanion’s cousin Sir Henry Carey, who supplied the Parliament with information discrediting Buckingham. William Carr has not been certainly identified, but he was probably a groom of the bedchamber who owed his nomination to Pembroke, the lord chamberlain, rather than to Buckingham, as Gruenfelder has speculated. Trevanion doubtless provided a place in 1628 for Carey’s brother Thomas, and presumably also supported the election of Sir Francis Vyvyan’s brother Hannibal, who helped lead the parliamentary attack that year on John Mohun*, the leader of Cornwall’s pro-Buckingham faction.10

Author: Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. OR. No indenture has been found for John Speccott or for William Hockmore in 1624.
  • 2. J. Polsue, Complete Paroch. Hist. of Cornw. ii. 303-4, 308; C. Henderson et al., Cornish Church Guide, 115; C219/37/25; 219/38/62; 219/39/50; 219/40/252; W.P. Courtney, Parl. Rep. of Cornw. 81.
  • 3. HP Commons, 1558-1603, i. 136; I.D. Spreadbury, Castles in Cornw. 42-3.
  • 4. Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 502; A. Duffin, Faction and Faith, 24; CSP Dom. 1631-3, p. 439.
  • 5. PROB 11/115, ff. 113, 114v; C142/218/43; Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 325; Dorset Vis. Addenda ed. Colby and Rylands, 3. Gruenfelder misidentifies Smith as a customs official: J.K. Gruenfelder, Influence in Early Stuart Elections, 86.
  • 6. C54/2372/48; Vivian, Vis. Devon, 472, 789; Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 93.
  • 7. Gruenfelder, 88; C219/37/24-5.
  • 8. Duffin, 73-4, 77; Vivian, Vis. Devon, 174; Gruenfelder, 128.
  • 9. C219/39/66; Som. RO, DD/PH 219/64, 67.
  • 10. Procs. 1626, iii. 123; LC2/6, f. 37v; Gruenfelder, 147; CD 1628, ii. 404.