East Looe


Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the corporation and freemen

Number of Qualified Electors:


Number of voters:

about 80


21 Feb. 1690Charles Trelawny
 Henry Trelawny
24 Oct. 1695Charles Trelawny
 Henry Trelawny
1 Aug. 1698Charles Trelawny
 Henry Trelawny
17 Jan. 1699Sir Henry Seymour, Bt. vice Charles Trelawny, chose to sit for Plymouth
11 Jan. 1701Hon. Francis Godolphin
 Sir Henry Seymour, Bt.
1 Dec. 1701Hon. Francis Godolphin
 Sir Henry Seymour, Bt.
4 Feb. 1702George Courtenay vice Godolphin, chose to sit for Helston
27 July 1702Sir Henry Seymour, Bt.
 Sir John Pole, Bt.
22 May 1705Sir Henry Seymour, Bt.
 George Clarke
15 May 1708Sir Henry Seymour, Bt.
 Harry Trelawny
19 Oct. 1710Sir Henry Seymour, Bt.
 Thomas Smith
7 Sept. 1713Sir Charles Hedges
 Edward Jennings

Main Article

East and West Looe sat astride the River Looe, connected by a bridge. Politically, they were linked through the control of the Trelawny family. Defoe thought that

put together, they would make a very handsome seaport town. They have a great fishing trade here, as well for supply of the country as for merchandise, and the towns are not despicable, but as to sending four Members to the British Parliament, which is as many as the city of London chooses, that I confess seems a little scandalous.

Also, the town had a reputation as a haven for smugglers, not even the MPs’ intervention preventing the mayor and local justices being hauled up before the Privy Council for ‘gross countenancing of the smuggling trade’. For most of the period Sir Jonathan Trelawny, 3rd Bt., successively bishop of Exeter and Winchester, possessed a strong influence over both corporations. His seat at Trelawne, a mere two miles from West Looe, offered a secure foundation from which to exert his power. As an inhabitant of Looe complained in 1722, Bishop Trelawny ‘kept us in captivity 40 years and kept magistrates over us for taskmasters, who are officers, which are contrary to law and charter’. As the corporation at East Looe consisted of a mayor and eight aldermen it was easily influenced. Indeed, there were no contests in the period. Even the grant of the duchy manor to Lord Somers (Sir John*) by William iii made no difference politically.1

In 1690 Charles and Henry Trelawny, brothers of Bishop Trelawny, were returned for East Looe. At the next general election Sir William Trumbull*, who had represented East Looe under James ii, applied for a seat through Thomas Sprat, bishop of Rochester, to whom Bishop Trelawny wrote:

I am very sorry I can’t serve him, both places to which I have any pretensions being filled with such of my relations as I cannot without great affront or injury lay aside, and did I design any such thing, I am sure I would find an opposition which might endanger the interest I have now, the pretences against admitting strangers being very specious, and their averseness to them very great, because they can’t apply to them on all occasions for favour as they do to me and my family, which is a trouble you can’t easily guess, and is so intolerable that were it not for the consequences I would not bear. This is the same return I have been forced to make, and with regret too, to the Earl of Rochester [Laurence Hyde†] (whom I ought on all occasions to serve) and to our friend the late Speaker [Sir John Trevor*].

These ‘relations’ were his brothers, who were returned again in 1698. On this occasion, Charles Trelawny chose to sit for Plymouth, where he was governor, and Sir Henry Seymour, 1st Bt., a cousin of Bishop Trelawny, was elected to succeed him. Next year, Seymour and Henry Trelawny were ‘at the sole charge’ for repairing the corporation chapel at East Looe. At the election to the first Parliament of 1701 the bishop reported ‘this day at my recommendation the Lord Godolphin’s [Sidney†] son and Sir Henry Seymour were chosen at East Looe’. In November 1701 the bishop and his brothers would have preferred to put up Hon. Francis Godolphin as knight of the shire but he would not stand, so that he was returned for East Looe once again. Godolphin then opted for Helston, allowing the return in a by-election of George Courtenay, a kinsman of the Trelawnys.2

At the 1702 general election Seymour was partnered by Sir John Pole, 3rd Bt. In 1705 Bishop Trelawny was ‘well pleased’ to return George Clarke, secretary to the Admiralty, along with Seymour. In 1708 Harry Trelawny joined Seymour. At the election after the fall of Godolphin in 1710, a contemporary wrote of Seymour:

I hear he will be certainly in for some borough in the west by the interest of the bishop of Winchester, who being bound by a very considerable debt to him must serve him, though against his inclinations, as his endeavours at present in that country sufficiently testify.

Seymour was returned as usual for East Looe, together with Thomas Smith I, son of John Smith I*, one of Godolphin’s oldest Whig allies. In June 1712 John Trevanion’s* assessment of East and West Looe was simple: ‘Trelawnys carry both because never challenged’. Indeed, before the 1713 election John Friend wrote to Lord Oxford (Robert Harley*) explaining the reasons for this situation:

I understand that your Lordship is desirous the bishop of Winchester should meet with no opposition at East Looe. I had indeed formed one against him which would have given me a majority of 23 at least to 17 for two burgesses, but upon hearing your Lordship’s intentions, I will in obedience to them desist, though I wish the Members he will recommend may be to your Lordship’s as those I intended, better they could not have been.

Bishop Trelawny was too useful to the ministry to be challenged, and ‘in obedience to your [Oxford’s] commands’ returned Edward Jennings, a Tory lawyer, with Sir Charles Hedges, who had switched from West Looe, presumably to accommodate Sir Charles Wager*.3

Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Stuart Handley


  • 1. Info. from James Derriman; Defoe, Tour ed. Cole, 236; Add. 40772, ff. 118, 135, 137; Pitt mss from Boconnoc, Edward Fox to Robert Pitt*, 25 Mar. 1722; Willis, Not. Parl. ii. 541.
  • 2. HMC Downshire, i. 455–6; Bodl. Willis 48, f. 139v; Devon RO, Exeter dioc. archs. Bp. Trelawny to Adn. Cook, 11 Jan. [1701]; Add. 28052, f. 100.
  • 3. Egerton 2618, f. 191; Verney Letters 18th Cent. i. 304; London Gazette, 30 Sept.–4 Oct., 4–7 Oct. 1712; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Harley) mss Pw2 Hy 932, Freind to Oxford, 27 Aug. 1713; HMC Portland, v. 329; Add. 70314–15, Trevanion’s list.