PROVIS, Thomas (-d.1609), of Penryn, Cornw.
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Family and Education
Mercer by 1597-d.3
Provis, whose origins are obscure, has not been traced prior to 1593, when he first appears in Penryn’s surviving port records. He may have been a recent arrival, since his family did not feature in the borough’s 1585 subsidy assessment. By 1597, however, his sister had twice married local men. Described in a lawsuit of that year as a mercer, Provis’ wares during the mid-1590s extended beyond clothing items to wine, writing paper and plaster of Paris. He also participated in the core elements of Penryn trade, in 1594-5 shipping Newfoundland pilchard oil to London, whence he brought pitch, canvas and other shipping supplies.4
Provis consistently appeared near the bottom of Penryn’s subsidy assessment lists during this decade, and in the absence of borough records it is not clear why he in particular was chosen to represent local merchant interests in the 1604 Parliament.5 The borough’s focus of attention was doubtless a bill put before the Commons on 16 June, which proposed reforms to the herring and pilchard trade in Devon and Cornwall. The author of this measure, which eventually cleared the Commons but failed in the Lords, is unknown, but Provis participated in the committee stage, and on 21 June called for the report to be heard in the House. As a Penryn burgess Provis was entitled to sit on a number of other bill committees, which considered such subjects as decayed coastal towns (12 Apr.), abuses by customs officials (5 May), and the hops trade (18 May).6
The failure of the pilchard bill seems to have ended the borough’s immediate interest in proceedings at Westminster, and Provis does not feature by name in the records of the second and third Parliamentary sessions. On 21 Oct. 1605 he wrote to the 1st earl of Salisbury (Robert Cecil†) complaining that he had been elected against his will and to the detriment of his business, which now required his full attention; he therefore wished to be excused further attendance, and invited the earl to appoint a replacement. It was not in Salisbury’s power to grant this request, however, but having probably nominated Provis’ fellow Penryn burgess, the courtier Sir Richard Warburton, he may have inadvertently helped to create false expectations in the borough.7 This episode presumably explains Provis’ inaccurate comment in the Commons on 9 Nov. 1605 ‘that divers in Cornwall have resigned their places, and new [Members have been] elected’.8
Provis’ trading ventures were apparently not entirely disrupted by his parliamentary commitments, as in March 1606 he imported a cargo of French wine. Little can be established about his final years, but he was still active in May 1609, transporting malt from Penryn to St. Ives.9 Provis died around early December that year, apparently intestate. The administration of his estate was granted to his widow on 8 May 1610.10
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Author: Paul Hunneyball
- 1. PROB 6/7, f. 198; IGI, Cornw.
- 2. Cornw. RO, FP72/1/1.
- 3. C2/Eliz./M5/40.
- 4. E306/8/15; E179/88/236; C2/Eliz./M5/40; E190/1018/10; 190/1019/9.
- 5. E179/88/250, 259, 262.
- 6. CJ, i. 169a, 199a, 213b, 243a, 993a, 996a, 999a; LJ, ii. 341b.
- 7. HMC Hatfield, xvii. 461.
- 8. CJ, i. 257a.
- 9. E306/8/20; E190/1023/9.
- 10. PROB 6/7, f. 198.