MOUNSTEPHEN (MOUNSTEVEN), John (1644-1706), of Westminster, and Lancarfe, Cornw.

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



1685 - 1687
1695 - Nov. 1701
1705 - 19 Dec. 1706

Family and Education

bap. 28 Apr. 1644, 2nd s. of John Mounsteven of St. Mabyn, Cornw. by Elizabeth Tamlyn.  educ. Bodmin sch.; Christ Church, Oxf. 1666, BA 1671. unmsuc. bro. Hender Mounsteven 1696.1

Offices Held

Under-sec. of state, Feb. 1679–Feb. 1681, Jan. 1683–Oct. 1688; provost marshal, Jamaica Nov. 1684–9; sub-commr. prizes, Plymouth June–Sept. 1702; commr. tin revenue, duchy of Cornwall 1703–d.2

Freeman, Bodmin 1685.3


Mounstephen owed his political career to his patron, the 2nd Earl of Sunderland, whom he served as under-secretary. He lost office at the Revolution, but with Sunderland’s return to favour in the years following, it was thought likely that he would be employed in his old post should Sunderland return to the secretaryship, as was rumoured in August 1693. Mounstephen regained a seat in the Commons in 1695 under the auspices of Bishop Trelawny of Exeter, to whom he had been introduced by a member of his Oxford college. During his career in the Commons Mounstephen was appointed to a few inquiry committees in each session, and occasionally to committees to draft bills, although he managed none through the House. He was forecast in January 1696 as likely to oppose the government over the proposed council of trade and signed the Association. In the following session he voted on 25 Nov. against the attainder of Sir John Fenwick†. On a comparative analysis of the old and new Parliament about September 1698 he was classed as a member of the Country party, and was forecast as likely to oppose a standing army. In September 1698 he was involved in the attempt to protect some of the inhabitants of Looe from accusations of smuggling, but to no avail. In a list of the Commons from the first half of 1700, he was not assigned to any particular ‘interest’. Early in the first Parliament of 1701 he was classed as likely to support the Court over the ‘Great Mortgage’, and was subsequently ‘blacklisted’ as an opponent of preparations for war. It was perhaps on this account that he was dropped by Bishop Trelawny at the next election.4

Following the accession of Queen Anne, Mounstephen served for four months as a sub-commissioner of prizes, but relinquished this office on being appointed a commissioner of the tin ‘by which ways and means’, wrote a Cornish contemporary, ‘he got himself considerable wealth and reputation’. In February 1704 he and Robert Corker† were called in to advise the Treasury on the best means of shipping the tin from the West country to London. At the 1705 election he was once again returned for West Looe and there was a report that he might succeed John Ellis* as under-secretary to Sir Charles Hedges*, but nothing came of it. He was classed as a ‘Churchman’ and voted for the Court candidate as Speaker on 25 Oct. 1705. Upon his return to the Commons he appears to have been less active than before, securing only one important committee appointment (on a private bill). On 19 Dec. 1706 he was at Brown’s Coffee House in King Street, Westminster, in company with several other MPs when ‘he took a sharp razor out of his pocket and cut his throat from ear to ear at the bottom of the stairs’. His suicide was attributed by some to the fact that he had ‘made addresses of marriage to a gentlewoman above his degree, who rejected his amours, upon account of some concubine or bed-fellow he kept at Truro’, while others

with more probability gave out that he was detected by the Earl of Sunderland [Charles, Lord Spencer*] (who raised him) for 18 years’ space to have been a French pensioner, and to have received a great sum of money annually for communicating the secrets of the Queen and Parliament to the secretary of the French King, which as soon as he understood, by a letter shown him under his own hand, he instantly . . . burnt all his papers and committed the felo-de-se aforesaid.

A jury brought in a verdict of lunacy, which enabled his brother William to inherit Lancarfe.5

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Stuart Handley


  • 1. IGI, Cornwall; Maclean, Trigg Minor, i. 300; Polsue, Complete Paroch. Hist. Cornw. i. 79; PCC 35 Bond.
  • 2. CSP Dom. 1684–5, p. 219; 1685, p. 79; Cal. Treas. Bks. xvii. 260, 356; xviii. 91.
  • 3. Maclean, 216.
  • 4. DNB; Polsue, 79; Northants. RO, Isham mss IC 1487, John to Sir Justinian Isham, 4th Bt.*, 29 Aug. 1693; Add. 40772, ff. 118, 135.
  • 5. Cal. Treas. Bks. xix. 2; Folger Shakespeare Lib. Newdigate newsletter 2 June 1705; Polsue, 79.