Penryn (UK Parliament constituency)

Former Borough constituency
for the House of Commons
County Cornwall
Major settlements Penryn
Number of members Two
Replaced by Penryn & Falmouth

Penryn was a parliamentary borough in Cornwall, which elected two Members of Parliament (MPs) to the House of Commons of England from 1553 until 1707, to the House of Commons of Great Britain from 1707 to 1800, and finally to the House of Commons of the United Kingdom from 1801 to until 1832. Elections were held using the bloc vote system.

The Reform Act 1832 abolished the parliamentary borough of Penryn. The town of Penryn was combined with neighbouring Falmouth to form the new parliamentary borough of Penryn and Falmouth.



The borough consisted of the town of Penryn, a market town in the west of Cornwall, two miles from the Killigrew seat of Arwenack House (which in the 17th century became the nucleus of the town of Falmouth). In the 16th century the Killigrew family owned the fee farm of Penryn borough,[1] and thus had a strong influence in the borough of Penryn. The right to vote was exercised by all inhabitants paying scot and lot, which in prosperous Penryn made for a big enough electorate to ensure competitive elections; in the 18th century the number with the right to vote varied between 130 and 200, and by 1831 over 500 were qualified.

Nevertheless, Penryn recognised "patrons", important local landowners who were allowed influence in the choice of MPs. In the mid 18th century, the patrons were Lord Edgcumbe and Viscount Falmouth, both prominent "election managers" for the Whig government; but Edgcumbe's influence was much more secure than Falmouth's. Sir Lewis Namier, in his ground-breaking study of the elections of the 1750s and 1760s, took Penryn as one of his case studies. He quotes a contemporary source that Penryn prided itself "upon having had representatives of name and note", and the patrons' continued influence seems to have rested partly on their finding candidates for Penryn who fitted the voters' feeling of self-worth.

The election of 1761

In 1761, another influential local figure, Francis Basset, challenged the Edgcumbe and Falmouth domination. Edgcumbe had proposed the famous Admiral, George Rodney, while Falmouth's candidate was the less well-known Sir Edward Turner. Basset put up two candidates of his own, Edmund Maskelyne and George Clive, a London banker and cousin of the famous general "Clive of India", and there followed a vigorously contested and expensive election. Clive had paid his own expenses in the contest, but four years later still owed his cousin 2,000 guineas which had lent him for the purpose, which gives some idea of the scale of expenditure involved.

The politics of the period was complicated by the accession of King George III the previous year, which had disrupted many of the established party and factional alignments. A forged letter was apparently circulated in Penryn, seeming to show that Prime Minister Newcastle supported the Basset candidates, and this swayed a number of votes among Customs officers, who depended on government favour for their livelihood.

The Falmouth and Edgcumbe candidates won, receiving 68 votes each compared to 63 for Clive and 61 for Maskelyne, but from this point onwards the Falmouth influence was broken and in future elections it was Basset who found himself with the power of nomination in Penryn.

After the 1760s

Later in the century the patronage came to be shared between Basset and the Duke of Leeds, though in the last years before Reform Basset's son (who became Lord de Dunstanville) was allowed to exercise patronage alone on the understanding that he did not interfere in the Duke's other Cornish borough, Helston. Elections were generally contested, and the outcome was often a sharing of the representation with one Whig and one Tory returned. In this final period, elections in Penryn became notoriously corrupt, although as Namier suggests the notoriety may have arisen chiefly from the fact the bribery now involved private citizens on both sides instead of the government being complicit in it. In 1828, two years before the first attempt to pass a general Reform Act, the Whigs picked Penryn as a suitable case for an attempt at more limited reform after an election where voters were reportedly treated to a "breakfast" worth 24 guineas a head; they proposed a bill in the House of Commons to disfranchise Penryn and transfer its two seats to Manchester, but as there was at this point a Tory majority opposed to Reform the proposal was defeated.

Unlike most of the Cornish rotten boroughs before 1832, Penryn was a town of reasonable size: in 1831, the population of the borough was 3,251, and contained 654 houses, which would have been big enough for Penryn to retain one of its two MPs under the Reform Act. However, neighbouring Falmouth was a much larger town and had no borough representation; the decision was therefore taken to extend the borough's boundaries to take in Falmouth, as well as parts of Budock and St Gluvias, which raised the population to 11,881. This newly delineated borough, which elected two MPs, was renamed Penryn and Falmouth.

Members of Parliament

MPs 1553–1629

First Parliament of 1553[2] John Johnson Humphrey Corbet
Second Parliament of 1553 John Ayleworth Ralph Skinner
Parliament of 1554 William Bendelows Not known
Parliament of 1554-1555 James Trewynnard Thomas Matthew
Parliament of 1555 John Courtenay Ralph Cooke
Parliament of 1558 John Gardiner John Couche, junior
Parliament of 1559 John Cosworth John Bowyer
Parliament of 1563-1567
Parliament of 1571 John Killigrew (d.1584), of Arwenack (1571, 1572) William Dodington
Parliament of 1572-1581 John Killigrew (d.1584), of Arwenack (1571, 1572) Robert Peter
Parliament of 1584-1585 John Killigrew (c.1557-1605) of Arwenack (1584, 1586, 1597)[3] William Killigrew
Parliament of 1586-1587 John Killigrew (c.1557-1605) of Arwenack (1584, 1586, 1597)[3] William Onslow
Parliament of 1588-1589 Nicholas Saunders Anthony Dillon
Parliament of 1593 John Osborne Edward Phelips
Parliament of 1597-1598 John Killigrew(c.1557-1605) of Arwenack (1584, 1586, 1597)[3] Edward Jones
Parliament of 1601 Edward Seymour Richard Messenger
Parliament of 1604-1611 Sir Richard Warburton died
Sir William Maynard (1609-1611)
Thomas Prowse died
Sir Edward Conway (1610-1611)
Addled Parliament (1614) Sir William Killigrew (Sir) Francis Crane
Parliament of 1621-1622 Robert Jermyn
Happy Parliament (1624-1625) Edward Roberts Sir Robert Killigrew
Useless Parliament (1625) Sir Edwin Sandys
Parliament of 1625-1626
Parliament of 1628-1629 William Killigrew Sir Thomas Edmunds
No Parliament summoned 1629-1640

MPs 1640–1832

YearFirst memberFirst partySecond memberSecond party
April 1640 Sir Richard Vyvyan Joseph Hall
November 1640 Sir Nicholas Slanning[4]Royalist John Bampfylde Parliamentarian
August 1642 Slanning disabled from sitting - seat vacant [5]
December 1648 Bampfylde excluded in Pride's Purge - seat vacant
1653 Penryn was unrepresented in the Barebones Parliament
1654 John Fox Penryn had only one seat in the First and
Second Parliaments of the Protectorate
January 1659 Thomas Silly
May 1659 Not represented in the restored Rump
April 1660 Samuel Enys James Robyns
1661 William Pendarves John Birch
1673 Sir Robert Southwell
February 1679 Francis Trefusis
September 1679 Sir Nicholas Slanning Charles Smythe
1685 Henry Fanshawe
1689 Anthony Rowe Alexander Pendarves Tory
March 1690 Samuel Rolle
April 1690 Sidney Godolphin
1695 James Vernon Whig
1698 Samuel Trefusis
1699 Alexander Pendarves Tory
1705 James Vernon Whig
1710 Alexander Pendarves Tory
1713 Hugh Boscawen Whig
1714 Samuel Trefusis
1720 Viscount Rialton Whig
1722 Sidney Meadows Edward Vernon
1727 Sir Cecil Bishopp
1734 Sir Richard Mill John Clavering
1741 John Evelyn Edward Vernon
1743 by-election George Boscawen
1747 Henry Seymour Conway Whig
1754 Richard Edgcumbe
1758 John Plumptre
1761 Sir Edward Turner Whig George Brydges Rodney
1766 by-election Francis Basset
1768 Hugh Pigot Whig
1770 by-election William Lemon
1774 Sir George Osborn William Chaytor
1780 Sir Francis Basset John Rogers
1782 by-election Reginald Pole-Carew
1784 Sir John St Aubyn
1790 Richard Glover
1796 Thomas Wallace Tory William Meeke
1802 Sir Stephen Lushington, Bt Tory Sir John Nicholl Tory
1806 Henry Swann Tory Sir Christopher Hawkins Tory
February 1807 John Bettesworth-Trevanion Tory
May 1807 Charles Lemon Whig
1812 Philip Gell Tory
1818 Sir Christopher Hawkins Tory
1819 vacant [6]
1820 Henry Swann Tory Pascoe Grenfell Whig
1824 by-election Robert Stanton Tory
1826 David Barclay Whig William Manning Tory
1830 Sir Charles Lemon Whig James William Freshfield Tory
1831 Charles Stewart Tory
1832 Constituency renamed Penryn and Falmouth


  1. Fuidge, N.M., biography of Killigrew, John I (d.1584), of Arwennack, Cornw., published in History of Parliament: House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
  2. Although Philbin among other authorities states that Penryn was first represented in the 1554 Parliament, Browne Willis lists members for Penryn in both the Parliaments of 1553. It is possible that he has mistaken their constituency.
  3. 1 2 3 History of Parliament biography
  4. Mary Wolffe, ‘Slanning, Sir Nicholas (1606–1643)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 accessed 2 Jan 2011
  5. A writ for a by-election to fill the vacancy was issued in May 1647, but there is no record of a new election ever having taken place
  6. Henry Swann was re-elected in 1818, but his election was voided on petition. No new writ was issued, and the seat remained vacant until the 1820 general election


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