EDGCUMBE, Sir Richard (c.1564-1639), of Mount Edgcumbe, Maker, Cornw.

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




Family and Education

b. c.1564,1 1st s. of Peter or Piers Edgcumbe† of Mount Edgcumbe and Margaret, da. of Sir Andrew Lutterell of Dunster Castle, Som.2 educ. M. Temple 1585.3 m. (1) settlement 21 June 1602 (with £2,000), Anne, da. of Sir George Carey† of Cockington, Devon, s.p.; (2) 1609, Mary (d. 13 July 1620), da. of Sir Thomas Coteel of London, merchant, 3s. (1 d.v.p.).4 kntd. 23 July 1603;5 suc. fa. 1607.6 d. 22 or 23 Mar. 1639.7 sig. Ry[chard] Edgcumbe.

Offices Held

Commr. sewers, Cornw. 1605, Devon 1634,8 under-sheriff, Cornw. 1610-11,9 commr. piracy, Devon 1615, 1624, 1630, Cornw. 1624,10 j.p. 1617-at least 1637, Devon 1617-26, 1629-at least 1637,11 commr. encroachments, Plymouth, Devon 1617,12 subsidy, Cornw. 1622, 1624, 1626,13 dep. lt. c.1623-at least 1637,14 commr. billeting, Devon and Cornw. 1625,15 Privy Seal loan, Cornw. 1625-6,16 Forced Loan 1626-7,17 martial law, Devon and Cornw. 1627,18 swans, W. Country 1629.19

Member, Mines Royal Co. 1607-18, 1628-d.,20 New Eng. Co. 1620.21


The Edgcumbes originated in Devon, but acquired the Cornish seat of Cotehele, Calstock in the fourteenth century. Henry VII rewarded their loyal service with substantial estates confiscated from the Bodrugan family in Cornwall, together with the honour of Totnes, Devon. In the next generation they acquired by marriage additional property west of Plymouth where they built Mount Edgcumbe. Financial difficulties forced the sale of the Totnes lands in the mid-sixteenth century, but the family continued to qualify for local office in Devon as well as in Cornwall on the strength of Mount Edgcumbe’s location just inside the Devon border.22 Edgcumbe’s father Peter served as sheriff, j.p. and knight of the shire in both counties, and as a Cornish deputy lieutenant.23 Edgcumbe himself sat in three Elizabethan parliaments, representing Liskeard, where his father was borough steward; Totnes, where the right to a burgess-ship had been retained; and Grampound, which lay close to one of the old Bodrugan manors.24

Peter’s attempts to establish himself as a mining speculator, including investment in the Mines Royal Company, worsened the family’s financial position, and by 1602 they were more than £4,400 in debt. To resolve this crisis, Edgcumbe married Anne Carey, no beauty but ‘a very good housewife, and very wary in her expenses’, according to her sister-in-law. Anne brought with her a £2,000 dowry, subsequently increased by £500 in lieu of a legacy. At the same time Peter’s estates were put into trust for six years with the object of clearing the remaining debts, though Edgcumbe was provided with the use of Cotehele.25 Knighted at James I’s coronation, he entered local office in 1605, and came into his patrimony two years later. The early death of the economical Anne opened the way for a second marriage in 1609, this time into a London merchant family, but the financial situation remained a cause for concern. Legal battles with creditors continued into the next decade, and although he must have been resident in Cornwall while serving as under-sheriff to Prince Henry in 1610-11, Edgcumbe also spent long periods staying with relatives in the London area, apparently to save money. In 1613 he even contemplated leasing out many of his estates and settling permanently in the capital, where his father-in-law held out hopes of securing him an annuity. However, nothing came of this scheme, and it is clear from subsequent events that any hope of a career outside the West Country was soon afterwards abandoned.26

In 1614 Edgcumbe was again returned to Parliament, after an absence of 21 years. His motive for standing has not been determined, but he may have been seeking to boost his profile in Cornwall. His means of obtaining a seat at Bodmin is likewise uncertain, though his brother-in-law Edmund Prideaux’s ownership of the rectory may have influenced the electors.27 Edgcumbe does not feature by name in the Commons’ records. Among the bill committees which he was entitled to attend as a Cornish burgess, the one appointed on 21 May to address the impact of weirs on fish-stocks may have interested him, given that he enjoyed fishing rights in the Tamar, close by his principal homes.28

In early 1616 a rumour of a new Parliament reached Cornwall, and Edgcumbe wrote to Totnes on 5 Feb., requesting one of the borough’s seats for himself or his nominee, should an election be called.29 Two months later, he secured Crown confirmation of his family’s grant of the Bodrugan lands, which had presumably been brought into question. He had now committed himself to life on his country estates, and in 1617 he was appointed a j.p. in both Devon and Cornwall. Edgcumbe’s financial position was also stabilizing, and in 1620 he invested in the New England Company, probably encouraged by one of its leading members, Sir Ferdinando Gorges, who as governor of Plymouth Fort had recently worked with him on various local issues. By 1623 Edgcumbe had attained the lofty rank of Cornish deputy lieutenant, and could be accounted one of the leading men in the county.30

In the following year Edgcumbe again entered Parliament, this time resuming his former place at Grampound, but was named to only one legislative committee, concerned with a long-running dispute over control of the West Country fish-processing industry (4 May).31 Although he has been identified as a firm supporter of the Court during this session, such claims should be treated with caution, since they derive from his subsequent involvement with the duke of Buckingham’s client John Mohun, his partner at Grampound. If anything, the Edgcumbes and the Mohuns in 1624 were electoral rivals. In 1625 Edgcumbe again stood for Grampound, and on 7 May, writing as a successful candidate, pledged to cover his own parliamentary expenses. However, his name was shortly afterwards deleted from the election indenture and replaced with that of Mohun’s relative Sir Samuel Rolle. How this came about cannot be established, but Edgcumbe is unlikely to have withdrawn voluntarily.32

In 1626 Edgcumbe was removed from the Devon bench, apparently because of the smallness of his estates rather than for any other reason, but he was restored after three years.33 During the late 1620s Cornish local politics was dominated by rivalry between two gentry factions. One, led by Mohun and (Sir) James Bagg II*, was strongly pro-Buckingham, while the other had formed around William Coryton* and (Sir) John Eliot*, leading opponents of the duke. Edgcumbe is generally portrayed as a firm ally of Mohun, principally because the two men stood unsuccessfully against Coryton and Eliot in the 1628 election for Cornish knights of the shire. However, the real strength of this partnership is open to question. Edgcumbe was the odd man out within the faction, which otherwise consisted of close kinsmen, neighbours and long-term associates of the Mohun family. There is also little evidence that he shared Mohun’s political outlook, beyond his apparent willingness to implement the Forced Loan. An ambiguous statement attributed to him by one historian, that past parliaments had committed errors, may conceivably have reflected his views but it was actually made by other members of Mohun’s faction.34 His outlook may have stemmed in significant measure from personal antipathy towards Eliot, a near neighbour, who had promoted himself as a candidate for Edgcumbe’s local offices in January 1626 when the latter was seriously ill and expected to die, an episode with which Bagg at least was familiar.35 Certainly, Edgcumbe’s actions in 1628 were consistent with his being a lukewarm adherent of the Mohun camp. He seems to have taken little part in Mohun’s attempts to block Eliot and Coryton’s parliamentary campaign, and while he agreed to stand for a county seat himself, he also took the precaution of securing a burgess-ship at Bossiney on 27 Feb., almost certainly with the help of his Prideaux relatives.36 It is unclear whether Edgcumbe took up his seat as the Parliament opened, or whether he was among the group of Mohun’s associates who had to be summoned by the Commons on 21 Mar. from their duties as martial law commissioners. Bagg clearly expected Edgcumbe to hold firm to Mohun, since he recommended that both men should be included in a commission to investigate the Cornwall election. However, at the Commons’ committee inquiring into Mohun’s electioneering tactics, Edgcumbe distanced himself from the behaviour of his erstwhile confederates, insisting that he would not himself have stood for a knight’s place had he believed that this would result in a contest. The committee report on 12 May effectively accepted this claim, and no further action was taken against him. For the remainder of the Parliament he kept a low profile. By coincidence, Eliot’s evidence to the inquiry into the disputed Newport election helped Edgcumbe’s son Piers to secure a seat there.37

The factional ill-feeling of the late 1620s took several years to die down. Edgcumbe dragged Eliot through the courts over at least two petty disputes while the latter was confined to the Tower.38 However, he also fell out with leading figures in the Mohun circle over militia reform, and in 1630 he was summoned before the Privy Council to explain his conduct during a dispute with Sir Reginald Mohun about Cornish musters. While Edgcumbe’s excuses were accepted by the councillors, the underlying tensions were clear, and those present at the hearing were admonished to ‘suppress all factions and divisions’ in their county.39 Edgcumbe was subsequently active in enforcing the Book of Orders, and it is probably correct to see in this a concern for preserving the social order. At any rate, shortly before his death he prosecuted a local brewer with aspirations to gentility for daring to claim equality of status with him.40 In 1637 he purchased from Gorges over 10,000 acres in Maine, New England, but there was no subsequent attempt to develop this estate, and in general Edgcumbe by this stage was more concerned to settle his existing property.41 The somewhat troublesome family share in the Mines Royal Company, which for a time he had made over to his brother, was in 1630 entrusted to the management of a London lawyer, Christopher Earle*. In 1636 the descent of the major Edgcumbe estates was fixed by his son Piers’s marriage settlement, while his younger son Richard was provided for two years later.42 Consequently, when Edgcumbe drew up his will on 29 Sept. 1638, there was little left to be decided except bequests to servants and the local poor, and the distribution of a few personal effects. He died in the following spring, and was buried at Maker.43

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. Aged 74 in 1639: MI, Maker. An alternative estimate of c.1570, based on C142/303/132, was adopted by HP Commons, 1558-1603, ii. 75.
  • 2. Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 142.
  • 3. M. Temple Admiss.
  • 4. Cornw. RO, ME 839, 3064; Vivian, 142.
  • 5. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 121.
  • 6. C142/303/132.
  • 7. MI, Maker; C142/579/52.
  • 8. C181/1, f. 122v; 181/4, f. 163v.
  • 9. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 23 (listed as Sir Robert).
  • 10. C181/2, f. 242; 181/3, ff. 113, 130; 181/4, f. 52v.
  • 11. C231/4, ff. 34, 43, 265; E163/18/12, f. 17; C66/2761.
  • 12. DCO, ‘Letters and Warrants 1615-19’, f. 66.
  • 13. C212/22/21, 23; E179/89/308.
  • 14. Cornw. RO, CY/7260; Buller Pprs. ed. R.N. Worth, 17.
  • 15. APC, 1625-6, p. 55.
  • 16. E401/2586, p. 81.
  • 17. C193/12/2.
  • 18. APC, 1627-8, p. 79.
  • 19. C181/4, f. 2v.
  • 20. Cornw. RO, ME 2500, 2502.
  • 21. A. Brown, Genesis of US ii. 883.
  • 22. D. and S. Lysons, Magna Britannia, iii: Cornw. pp. lxxiii-iv; E. Windeatt, ‘Totnes’, Trans. Devon Assoc. 163.
  • 23. List of Sheriffs, 22, 36; Harl. 474, ff. 6v, 8v; F.E. Halliday, Richard Carew of Antony, 154.
  • 24. HP Commons, 1558-1603, ii. 74; Windeatt, 163; C142/662/109.
  • 25. Cornw. RO, ME 839-40, 2500; HMC Hatfield, v. 198-9; W.H. Edgcumbe, Edgcumbe Fam. Recs. i. 130; C2/Jas.I/E2/10.
  • 26. C2/Jas.I/E3/26; 2/Jas.I/E4/12; 2/Jas.I/E6/78; Edgcumbe, 135, 138; Cornw. RO, ME 2992.
  • 27. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 621; J. Maclean, Deanery of Trigg Minor, iii. 13. The Prideaux family secured one Bodmin seat in the Short Parl.: Maclean, i. 244.
  • 28. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 309; Cornw. RO, ME 841.
  • 29. HMC 3rd Rep. 347.
  • 30. C66/2095/7; Brown, ii. 902-3; DCO, ‘Letters and Warrants 1615-19’, f. 66; HMC 9th Rep. i. 265-6.
  • 31. CJ, i. 783a; Kyle thesis, 148-51.
  • 32. R. Ruigh, Parl. of 1624, p. 60; Cornw. RO, J/2074; C219/39/45; Vivian, Vis. Devon, 464, 466.
  • 33. M. Wolffe, Gentry Leaders in Peace and War, 20, 268.
  • 34. R. Cust, Forced Loan, 203; CD 1628, vi. 142; M. Coate, Cornw. in the Gt. Civil War, 22.
  • 35. CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 223; N and Q (ser. 4), x. 326.
  • 36. OR; Maclean, ii. 90; iii. 13, 129-30.
  • 37. CD 1628, ii. 31, 33, 41, 447; iii. 3-4, 376; vi. 139.
  • 38. C2/Chas.I/E20/36; R. Granville, Hist. of Granville Fam. 179.
  • 39. APC, 1629-30, pp. 379-80; SP16/147/14; 16/150/74; 16/166/55; 16/181/57.
  • 40. A. Duffin, Faction and Faith, 116; Cornw. RO, ME 950-2.
  • 41. C54/3132/14; Trelawny Pprs. ed. J.P. Baxter (Maine Hist. Soc. Colls. ser. 2. iii), 327-8.
  • 42. Cornw. RO, ME 2500, 2502, 2499; C142/579/52; Edgcumbe, i. 139.
  • 43. PROB 11/180, f. 367r-v; Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 142. Edgcumbe d. before the Privy Council invited him to contribute to the northern expedition in Apr. 1639, hence his failure to reply: PC2/51, p. 79.