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 portreeve and burgesses

Number of voters:

8 in 1610


1 Feb. 1610SIR WILLIAM MAYNARD vice Warburton, deceased
20 Feb. 1610SIR EDWARD CONWAY I vice Provis, deceased
c. Dec. 1620ROBERT JERMYN 1
26 Jan. 1624Sir Robert Killigrew

Main Article

A settlement existed in the Penryn area before the Conquest, but the town itself allegedly owed its origins to the bishops of Exeter, lords of the local manor, who obtained a borough charter in 1236.2 Located at the head of a sheltered creek off the great natural harbour of Falmouth Haven, Penryn in the early seventeenth century traded with markets around the globe. Although most of its merchants exported pilchards to France and Spain in return for salt and wine, the port also handled timber and other shipping supplies from as far off as Norway, preserved fruit from Madeira, hides from Brazil, and in 1620 one unspecified cargo from the East Indies. In wartime these goods were supplemented by privateering spoils, some won by Penryn ship-owners.3 However, at the end of the sixteenth century Richard Carew described the place as ‘rather passable than notable for wealth, buildings and inhabitants’, and argued that it lacked the trade distribution network of its rival Truro, the other port within Falmouth haven. From about 1613 fresh competition emerged in the shape of a new hamlet at Smithick (modern-day Falmouth), just along the bay from Pendennis, which was founded to provide a more convenient source of shelter and supplies for visiting sailors. Vociferous protests from Penryn’s residents failed to persuade the Privy Council to halt Smithick’s development, which was advancing apace by the late 1620s.4

Just as Falmouth attracted commercial traffic, so the strategically important Haven ensured both the presence of English fleets (in 1625 and 1627) and the attention of hostile shipping, such as a failed Spanish armada in 1596. During the later 1620s there were repeated alarms of impending attack by Spanish or ‘Turkish’ fleets, while a few years earlier there were clashes inside the Haven between French royal vessels and rebel privateers from La Rochelle. During one incident in November 1625 a Rocheller was even pursued upstream to the Penryn quay.5 At such moments the inhabitants were largely reliant on the protection afforded by Pendennis Castle, a fortress situated three miles away whose purpose was to guard the Haven mouth and preserve order among visiting ships and mariners. It made sense for the town to cultivate Pendennis’ commander, not least because the castle’s strategic importance afforded him a voice in London. In 1605, when Thomas Provis sought to be excused from his parliamentary duties, he relied on the then captain, Sir John Parker*, to back his request.6

After the Reformation the bishops of Exeter largely ceased to play an active role in Penryn’s affairs, though they may have secured the borough’s enfranchisement in 1547, and must have agreed to its incorporation in 1621. Little is known about the town’s government before this date, except that the principal officer, the portreeve, presided over the local court leet and acted as returning officer at parliamentary elections. The structure established in 1621 a mayor, 11 other aldermen and 12 assistants probably reflected earlier arrangements, since a group of leading residents leased Penryn borough manor from Bishop Cotton in 1606 in trust for the town.7 Early seventeenth century parliamentary indentures refer to the portreeve and burgesses, a terminology which continued unchanged after 1621, when the mayor took over his predecessor’s executive functions. A broad scot and lot franchise applied by the late seventeenth century and presumably earlier, but the largest number of voters recorded on an indenture during the early Stuart period was eight in 1610; during the 1620s returns were signed by the portreeve alone, or merely sealed.8

Throughout the later sixteenth century, political patronage over the borough lay with the most powerful local gentry family, the Killigrews, whose seat at Arwennack was almost adjacent to Pendennis Castle, which they had captained for over 50 years. As Elizabeth’s reign progressed, however, the balance of power shifted within the family from the elder line, which remained in Cornwall but gradually succumbed to debt and criminal charges, to a junior branch headed by Sir William Killigrew I and his brother Sir Henry†, who made their fortunes at Court, and amassed local political prestige by promoting Cornish issues with the government.9 At the start of the seventeenth century Sir William, though an infrequent visitor to Penryn, owned a house at Trerose, about four miles south of the borough. By 1638, when they sold up, his heirs had accumulated property in four local parishes and held numerous leases in Penryn itself. While Sir John Killigrew, who inherited Arwennack in 1605, sank ever deeper into debt and antagonized the borough by promoting the development of Smithick, Sir William’s son Sir Robert, another courtier, reinforced his father’s authority by recovering in 1617 the captaincy of Pendennis which his cousins had forfeited almost 20 years earlier. He was subsequently active in restoring the castle’s defences and armaments. Sir Robert’s own local dominance was confirmed in 1621 when, despite being essentially a Middlesex resident, he was appointed Penryn’s first recorder.10

Early Stuart elections saw the borough yield almost entirely to the Killigrews’ wishes. The only display of independence came in 1604, when the burgesses elected one of their own number, Thomas Provis, in connection with a forthcoming bill on the West Country fishing trade.11 Sir William Killigrew placed himself at Penryn in 1614, and provided a burgess-ship for his grandson Robert Jermyn in the following Parliament. In 1624, the first election after Sir William’s death, Sir Robert took his turn, and in 1628 he reserved a seat for his own son, Sir William II, who was also contesting Newport. Otherwise, Penryn was placed at the disposal of the family’s allies, among whom were their distant kinsmen, the Cecils. The elections of 1604 and 1610 saw the return of three of Robert Cecil’s† clients, Sir Richard Warburton, Sir William Maynard and Sir Edward Conway I.12 Sir Robert Killigrew was himself a client of successive royal favourites, Somerset and Buckingham. A connection with the earl of Somerset probably accounts for Francis Crane’s election in 1614, if not his re-election seven years later.13 In 1625 the duke of Buckingham doubtless suggested his client Sir Edwin Sandys, as he was unable to secure him the knighthood of the shire for Kent. Thomas Scott* reported that Sir Edwin ‘had never seen Penryn, nor knew the name of it … nor was a freeman there; nor chosen there, but by Sir Robert Killigrew at London, who for that purpose, or to put in some other if Sir Edwin had sped elsewhere, brought up a blank in his pocket’. Sandys’s indenture confirms this statement.14 Edward Roberts, another Middlesex resident, who was returned with Sir Robert in 1624 and with Sandys at the next two elections, may also have benefited from his nephew Sir John Franklin’s* connections with Buckingham, though presumably direct ties with Killigrew himself were also important. The choice of Sir Thomas Edmondes in 1628 is harder to explain. As treasurer of the Household, Edmondes possessed a wide range of Court connections, and it is therefore difficult to identify who might have recommended him to Killigrew after his failure to win election in Essex.15

Author: Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. Harg. 311, f. 219v.
  • 2. J. Polsue, Complete Paroch. Hist. of Cornw. ii. 78; R.J. Roddis, Penryn, 13-15.
  • 3. E190/1022/12; 190/1026/4; 190/1028/16; 190/1029/14; 190/1030/23; 190/1031/19; CSP Dom. 1628-9, pp. 290, 301.
  • 4. F.E. Halliday, Richard Carew of Antony, 226; APC, 1613-14, pp. 33, 261; 1619-21, p. 130-1; 1629-30, p. 41.
  • 5. CSP Dom. 1625-6, pp. 116, 120, 297, 334, 370, 395; 1627-8, p. 359; SP16/12/47iii; Roddis, 55.
  • 6. I.D. Spreadbury, Castles in Cornw. 46; HMC Hatfield, xvii. 461.
  • 7. HP Commons, 1509-58, i. 57; Roddis, 24-5, 32-3, 98; C66/2227/2.
  • 8. C219/35/1/147; 219/39/41, 44; Roddis, 33; Polsue, ii. 91.
  • 9. HP Commons, 1558-1603, i. 134; Polsue, i. 150; A.C. Miller, Sir Henry Killigrew, 221, 233-6.
  • 10. Polsue, iii. 300; C54/3175/2; Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 269; APC, 1597-8, p. 281; 1618-19, p. 165; 1619-21, pp. 130-1; 1627, pp. 64-5; 1627-8, pp. 3, 155; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 516; C66/2227/2.
  • 11. HMC Hatfield, xvii. 461.
  • 12. Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 268, 270; Vis. Suff. ed. Metcalfe, 200; Vis. Essex (Harl. Soc. xiii), 39-40; HMC Hatfield, xvi. 207; xx. 28; Winwood’s Memorials ed. E. Sawyer, iii. 130.
  • 13. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 358; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon ed. J. Spedding, vii. 69; HMC Downshire, iv. 266.
  • 14. J.K. Gruenfelder, Influence in Early Stuart Elections, 144; Canterbury Cathedral Archives, U66, f. 19; C219/39/44.
  • 15. The Gen. v. 302-3; Mdx. Peds. (Harl. Soc. lxv), 3; CP, iii. 400.