COUCHE, Ralph I (c.1503-77/78), of Glasney, nr. Penryn, Cornw.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer




Family and Education

b. c.1503. m. c.1534, Thomasin, da. of William Gerveys of Bonallack in Constantine, 2s. inc. Ralph II.1

Offices Held

Prebendary, Glasney coll. Penryn to Dissolution; jt. (with John Caplyn) bailiff, lands of Glasney coll. by 1547; mayor, Penryn 1552-3, 1557-8.2


Couche was a tin merchant, licensed ‘to keep the games of bowling, cards, dice, tables and tennis’ within Penryn, but he profited most from the dissolution of Glasney college. As compensation for the loss of his prebend there he received a pension of nearly £8, this exceptionally high figure being awarded to him because he estimated the value of his living at over £10. He also enjoyed the yield of various properties which had formerly belonged to the college: by 1549 he held a 60-year lease of lands in Budock, in the same year he purchased the site of the college and certain appurtenances from John Southcote I and Henry Chiverton, and two years later he and John Caplyn obtained a lease for the term of their lives of the tithing of corn at Mevagissey.3

By the end of Edward VI’s reign Couche had also taken leases from the bishop of Exeter of four corn mills, and other property, in the manor of Penryn Foreign and of the anchorage, keelage and bushellage of Falmouth haven, and from Thomas Arundell of Talverne a lease of land in Penryn borough on which he built a wharf and warehouses. He was not to enjoy these possessions undisturbed: early in 1553 his servants were forcibly expelled from the mills by John Killigrew of Arwennack, and two years later he was deprived by Killigrew of the Falmouth anchorage and the college lands in Budock. Couche’s feud with the Killigrew family smouldered on into Elizabeth’s reign. In January 1577 several inhabitants of Penryn wrote to Henry Killigrew and his brothers that ‘our adversaries the Couches’ were the cause of much trouble in the borough, by laying claim to its fee-farm. Couche claimed that this had been leased to him and his two sons for the term of their lives by the bishop of Exeter in the 1540s but that 20 years later they had been wrongfully deprived of it. His antagonists replied that he had forfeited the lease by failing to pay his rent regularly and to keep the various courts and leets properly. The dispute was referred to the assizes at Launceston, where on 17 Sept. 1576 the verdict went against Couche, who then started an action in the court of requests, the outcome of which is not known.4

Couche’s return to Parliament in 1555 almost certainly represented a victory over the Killigrews. His fellow-Member John Courtenay was a kinsman and although Couche could have used his own position in Penryn to procure both results, his success may also have owed something to a family friend and adviser, Henry Chiverton, who was returned as a knight of the shire for Cornwall. Unlike Chiverton, neither Couche nor Courtenay joined the opposition headed by Sir Anthony Kingston to a government bill. In 1558 Couche’s second term as mayor almost certainly barred him from re-election, but presumably at his instigation his son was chosen one of the borough’s Members.5

The advent of Elizabeth presaged a decline in Couche’s authority and a resurgence of his rivals’, and for the ‘space of three years or thereabouts’ in the early 1560s he was ‘enforced through necessity or else upon some other occasion’ to live abroad. He probably died in the summer of 1578, shortly before his widow claimed her jointure. He had made provision for her as early as 1550, when by the advice of Henry Chiverton he had conveyed the Glasney lands to feoffees for her use. The property eventually passed to their elder son.6

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: J. J. Goring


  • 1. Aged ‘53 or thereabouts’ in 1556, City of London RO, Guildhall, jnl. 16, f. 387v. Vis. Cornw. ed. Vivian, 175; C. G. Henderson, Constantine, 127; Req.2/34/88.
  • 2. Chantry Certs. Cornw. ed. Snell, 37, 40; C219/21/24, 25/26; Duchy Cornw. RO, E6.1, m. 15v.
  • 3. E179/87/172, m. 2v; 306/12, m. 7; LP Hen. VIII, xxi; Chantry Certs. Cornw. 8n, 40, 55; CPR, 1549-51, p. 106; C1/1340/52, 1368/39; St.Ch.5/C27/38; Truro mus. HB1/11.
  • 4. Req.2/34/88, 190/59; C1/1340/52-55, 1341/59-65; St.Ch.3/6/55; CSP Dom. Add. 1566-79, pp. 509-10.
  • 5. C219/25/26; St.Ch.5/C70/40.
  • 6. Req. 2/34/88.