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:

124 in 16891

Number of voters:

at least 98 in 1698


28 Feb. 1690Sir Bourchier Wrey,  Bt. 
 Emanuel Pyper 
26 Oct. 1695Sir Bourchier Wrey, Bt. 
 William Bridges 
12 Nov. 1696Henry Darell vice Wrey, deceased 
2 Aug. 1698Henry Darell67
 William Bridges54
 John Buller56
 [? Hon. Philip] Bertie192
11 Jan. 1701William Bridges 
 Henry Darell 
4 Dec. 1701William Bridges 
 Thomas Dodson 
27 July 1702William Bridges 
 Thomas Dodson 
22 May 1705William Bridges 
 Thomas Dodson 
21 Nov. 1707John Dolben  vice Dodson, deceased 
17 May 1708William Bridges 
 John Dolben 
6 Mar. 1710William Bridges re-elected after appointment to office 
19 Oct. 1710William Bridges 
 Philip Rashleigh 
7 Sept. 1713William Bridges 
 Philip Rashleigh 

Main Article

Liskeard was a

considerable town, well-built, has people of fashion in it, and a very great market and is one of the five towns called stannary towns where the blocks of tin are brought to the coinage, an article very much to the advantage of the towns where it is settled, though the money paid goes another way.

In 1690 there were two rival corporations in existence, each consisting of a mayor and eight other aldermen, one holding office under the Elizabethan charter of 1586 and the other under James ii’s charter of 1685. At the general election of that year two Tories were returned: Sir Bourchier Wrey, 4th Bt., whose estates lay nearby, and Emanuel Pyper, who had been chiefly instrumental in surrendering the Elizabethan charter in 1684, had been purged as alderman under the 1685 charter in the last year of King James’s reign and now upheld the Elizabethan charter. In 1695 William Bridges, a Tory placeman and ‘a perfect stranger to the town and country, an acquaintance of Mr [Edward] Dennis who pretends to be governor thereof’, replaced Pyper. Upon Wrey’s death in 1696 Henry Darell, a local landowner whose sister had married Rev. Edward Trelawny (second cousin of Bishop Trelawny), was returned.3

At the general election of 1698 Sir Jonathan Trelawny, 3rd Bt., bishop of Exeter and recorder under the 1685 charter, recommended Darell and Bridges, who were opposed by John Buller II of Morval whose family had founded the local charity school and by a Mr Bertie, probably Hon. Philip*, the auditor of the duchy of Cornwall. The bishop’s two brothers, Major-General Charles Trelawny* and Brigadier Henry Trelawny*, campaigned vigorously and Buller’s party alleged that free liquor was offered in the local inns to all freemen who drank the health of Darell and Bridges, while freemen who supported Buller were threatened with having soldiers quartered on them by Brigadier Trelawny. Buller’s supporters put out that Bridges ‘was for a standing army’, although the Trelawnys disputed this. The mayoralty being in dispute between Dennis and Pyper, the existing mayor under the 1685 charter, Richard Roberts, held the poll ‘to do a job’. At the request of Brigadier Trelawny, Roberts adjourned the poll and after conferring with ‘the Parliament men’ present, the two Trelawnys and John Hoblyn*, he rejected some of Buller’s voters as paupers and returned Bridges and Darell. Buller took counsel from Nicholas Hooper* and John Pratt* about the next step. Hooper’s advice was:

I think if a petition be preferred to the committee of elections no proceedings can be had at law until the event of such petition be known and if it be determined against Mr Buller the House will never permit it to be afterwards tried at law, therefore unless your case be very clear, it will not be best to petition at all, but to begin at law and take the case there.

Pratt concurred, since ‘it is thought the sitting Members and their interest may be too strong, for as might often being too hard for right and a determination there may influence much’. Both men were for a legal appeal for damages under the recent Act to prevent false and double returns on the grounds that the mayor had wilfully sent in a false return. Therefore, Richard Roberts, ‘the pretended mayor’, was sued for £500 damages. Pyper, mayor under the Elizabethan charter, who was still embroiled in a dispute over the charters, saw this as a dangerous approach, writing to Buller on 24 Dec. 1698:

if you do not petition within eight days that the Parliament sit, you will absolutely be excluded the House and from the benefit of that Act for your damages, for it will be concluded that your election was not good and legal because you refrain to prosecute your claim in the proper place . . . and Mr Bridges will remonstrate that he was fairly and duly elected and returned by the proper officer and admitted a sitting Member without any one’s opposition.

With this view in mind Pyper had drawn up draft petitions for presentation to the Commons, one from Buller and the other from the inhabitants of Liskeard. Neither was presented. Pyper proposed to solve the power struggle in the borough by petitioning the crown for a new charter on the grounds that the surrender of the Elizabethan charter to Charles ii was not enrolled before his death and that therefore the charter granted by James ii was invalid. To gain political support Pyper thought it necessary to offer the recordership to the Earl of Radnor (Charles Bodvile Robartes†). Unfortunately, Radnor tipped off Bishop Trelawny, and Pyper’s other suggestion of an approach to Hugh Boscawen I* was equally unsuccessful. As the legal dispute against Roberts proceeded, rumours surfaced that Bridges would indeed seek a parliamentary ruling to protect him against the suit. Much lobbying ensued, with Pyper trying to engage the notable west-country Whigs, Sir Walter Moyle†, Sir Francis Drake, 3rd Bt.*, and Sir Walter Yonge, 3rd Bt.* Eventually, it was brought to the attention of the Commons on 13 Mar. 1699 that Buller had brought an action for £500 damages against the mayor of Liskeard for making a false return, ‘although the said Mr Buller never petitioned against, or questioned, the said return in this House’. The debate was adjourned to the 15th when, after a long debate, no decision was taken. The outcome of the suit against Roberts is unknown, but since the validity of both charters was tested subsequently at the Launceston assizes, where the verdict was in favour of the 1685 charter, one may assume that it also failed. The verdicts naturally strengthened the Trelawny interest in the borough, and the proceedings subsequently echoed in the Ashby v. White case (see Aylesbury, Bucks.).4

The borough settled down after the determination of the charter dispute, with Bridges and Darell being returned in January 1701, again on the Trelawny interest. In December 1701 Bridges was joined by Thomas Dodson, a Tory army officer who had married Buller’s sister, and this partnership was unopposed in 1702 and 1705, perhaps lending credence to Defoe’s observation in the latter election that Liskeard was one of those Cornish boroughs ‘wholly guided by the gentlemen’. On Dodson’s death in 1707, Bishop Trelawny recommended John Dolben, ‘a great stickler’ for Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†) in the Commons and an outsider who endeared himself to the town by presenting it with a clock worth £200. Not to be outdone, Bridges presented the borough with two silver maces, and both men were returned unopposed at the 1708 election. On 21 Dec. 1709 a correspondent of Robert Harley* reported that Bishop Trelawny ‘storms’ at Dolben for his zeal in prosecuting Dr Sacheverell, adding ‘his lordship swears he shall not come into the House again by his means. But his lordship swore so once before’, presumably a reference to 1708. In fact Dolben died before the election and was replaced by Philip Rashleigh, a Tory whose family was usually represented at Fowey. Interestingly, Rashleigh’s election may represent a weakening of Trelawny power in the borough, for a month before the election it was reported that ‘the colonel [John Trelawny II*] owns that Liskeard designs to revolt from him, but he hopes however they may have a struggle for it’. This may account for John Trevanion’s* belief in 1712 that ‘both [seats were] disputable’ at Liskeard. However, in 1713 Bridges and Rashleigh were returned unopposed. A feature of the election was the borough’s receipt of a circular letter urging the return of Members who would ‘assert the right of your lawful King James iii’. In November 1714, Thomas Carte indicated that at the next election Rashleigh would stand with Alexander Pendarves*, with the backing of Sir William Carew, 5th Bt.*, but in the event Rashleigh was joined by John Trelawny II.5

Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Stuart Handley


  • 1. J. Allen, Liskeard, 128.
  • 2. Cornw. RO, Buller mss BO/23/72/3.
  • 3. Defoe, Tour ed. Cole, 233; Polsue, Complete Paroch. Hist. Cornw. iii. 147–8; Allen, 295, 326–31; Carew mss BO/23/72/4.
  • 4. Buller mss BO/23/72/2–69, pprs. on Liskeard election of 1698; Cocks Diary, 24; Polsue, 148.
  • 5. Devon RO, Exeter dioc. archs. Bp. Trelawny to Adn. John Cook, 11 Jan. [1701]; HMC Portland, iv. 270, 531; vii. 13; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 258; Courtney, Parl. Hist. Cornw. 257–8; Allen, 150, 207; Add. 70314–15, Trevanion’s list; BL, Verney mss mic. 636/55, Capt. Busby to Ld. Fermanagh (John Verney*), 4 Aug. 1713; Bodl. Ballard 18, ff. 71–72.