Cornwall in 1472 was a thriving, rural hamlet of England where local politics were determined by military might and class rank. On the western coast, Tintagel, from the legend of King Arthur, was just a castle rather than the tourist destination it is today. Edward IV, one of England’s last Plantagenet rulers, occupied the throne. His reign from 1461 to 1483 was troubled by civil war (the War of the Roses from 1455 to 1485). In an ideological response to the rampant devastation, corruption, and greed prevalent during the War of the Roses, the latter half of the 1400s saw a boom in Catholic fervor in Cornwall and the establishment of dozens of religious sites and chapels. It is on the way to one such chapel, the no longer existent St. James Chapel of Tregoose that Cornish coroner and parliamentarian Thomas Trethewy’s egregious behavior is first recorded in the 1472 Petitions to the King.
According to the UK National Archives, Thomas Trethewy was a landowning gentleman and local politician who lived from 1425 to 1485. He married Elizabeth Arundel, of the Arundels of Lanherne, a great Cornish family with name-bearing descendents still alive today. When he married Elizabeth, Thomas gained political power from her family’s rank and standing in English aristocracy. Trethewy’s ill-use of this power is reflected several times in the Petitions to the King filed against him, as well as in his own petitions filed against his enemies. In the petitions against Trethewy, Elizabeth’s is as a co-conspirator of almost equal, if not equal, culpability. In the petition filed by Trethewy that refers to Elizabeth, she instead serves as a buffer between his actions and the lawful consequences of the petition filed against him.
In the Petitions to the King records, Trethewy’s reign of terror is localized in and around the Looe, Morval, Penarth, and the St. Germans parish area--a radius of about 5 to 8 miles, with St. Germans being the farthest afield. On the 2nd of August, 1472, at the age of 47, Thomas Trethewy and his wife, Elizabeth (age unknown due to ambiguous birth and death dates) order their servants to ambush and murder their neighbor, John Vivian and his family on their way to the St. James Chapel in Tregoose (current location unknown at this time). This is the first mention of Thomas Trethewy in the UK National Archives Petitions to the King and this petition kicks off a series of back-and-forth petitions that sketch out a violent feud between Trethewy and Vivian, and later, between Trethewy, his men, and another neighbor--John Glynne, and Glynne’s men. Though wounded, the Vivians -- John and Annore and their son -- escape alive. Their nephew, John Morthure, however, is killed in the fray. It is not recorded how he died.
Between this episode and the date of the first petition, which John Vivian files in October of 1472, Trethewy’s servants continue to terrorize the Vivians. In the petition, Vivian says that Trethewy’s posse has “attacked and robbed his manor, Trelowarren, so that he dare(s) not live at home.” Vivian also complains that Trethewy’s reign of terror is causing his tenants to flee, which is a severe financial blow, as the maintenance of his fortune and estate depends on farming and tenancy. According to the petition, local law enforcement appears to be under the control of Thomas and Elizabeth Trethewy, due in no small part to Elizabeth’s powerful Arundel relations. As such, over a month later, Vivian’s only recourse is to petition Edward IV. The recompense Vivian seeks is, essentially, a restraining order. The petition asks the King to hold Trethewy et al. in custody until the springtime trial. The Trethewys fail to appear for their court hearing, and the record has the trial being “prorogued” or postponed until 1475; however, this date could potentially be unreliable as Trethewy files a counter-petition in 1473.
This is the end of any mention of the feud between Vivian and Trethewy in the Petitions to the King archive; however, four more years of Trethewy’s reign of terror against his neighbors are recorded in further Petitions to the King. Where members of Trethewy’s posse are not named in the Vivian feud petitions, they are not only named but become central villains in the feud between the Trethewys and John Glynne. Unlike John Vivian, Glynne and his men fight back. A year after the Vivian feud, in February of 1474, the first petition is recorded between Trethewy and John Glynne of Morval. The petition itself is damaged, and according to archiving details, contained at least one further complaint. According to the remains of Glynne’s petition, on February 4th, 1474, Trethewy and a band of about 20 armed men march to Glynne’s estate in Tregarland, trespass and steal wheat, oats, and barley “to the value of 10 marks” (around $15,000 today). Thomas and his men return to Trethewy’s own estate in “Nether Keveral”--a location we are currently unable to find, but suspect is near Looe, Cornwall.
Although there is a lull in petitions between 1473 and 1476 referring to the Trethewy/Glynne feud, Trethewy does not rest. His name is found in two more petitions, both filed against him. One is from October 5th, 1474 that alleges he unlawfully imprisoned a man named William Moore in the Cuddenbreak Castle, eight miles from Looe in the modern-day St. Germans Parish.
According to the record, Moore has “bills of complaint” against Trethewy, and as such, the latter falsely imprisons him. It is at this point that Moore files the Petition to the King. In contrast to earlier behavior, Trethewy releases Moore in response to the petition. The original bills of complaint against Trethewy have been lost to time or are not recorded in the Petitions archive.
The next petition in the Trethewy/Glynne feud is filed in 1476 by Thomas and Elizabeth Trethewy, and asserts that on October 6th, 1476, Glynne and his men broke into a house belonging to Thomas Pencors, William Pluck, and Nicholas Hick, servants of Trethewy, in an attempt to steal back wool that Glynne believes Trethewy’s servants, Pencors, Pluck, and Hick stole from his estate. Like the previous petition, no response or effect is recorded. The tide seems to have turned in the last two Petitions to the King in the Trethewy v. Glynne feud. The next petition is filed by Trethewy in 1477 for action to be taken against Glynne and his servants. According to the record, on the 6th of September, 1477, twenty-four of Glynne’s men, armed for battle, break into the houses of Trethewy’s servants William Pluck and Edward Gleggae at Penarthtown near Morval at midnight, beat up Pluck’s pregnant wife (her child is stillborn two weeks later and she almost dies). Glynne’s men also assault Gleggae’s mother-in-law, Jenet, imprison Pluck, and steal the belongings of both men. The petition states that Trethewy is inconvenienced by the loss of his servants. Since neither man appears in subsequent petitions to the king, we surmise that either Pluck and Gleggae left the employ of Thomas Trethewy, having had enough collateral damage, or they died. It is likely the former, as the petition does not refer to their murder. In a second Petition to the King, which refers to the same incident, Trethewy states that thirty-four more of Glynne’s armed men marched through Looe with the intention of going to Trethewy’s house, murdering him, and burning down his house. As they pass through town, another of Trethewy’s men, Robert Salisbury, is beaten. Trethewy and his wife survive, thanks to their neighbors, who rescue them via boats from the river. The river is unnamed, but presumably the River Looe. This is the last mention of the feud between Glynne and Trethewy in the Petitions to the King archive, but there is one more mention of Trethewy. In a petition that occurs between 1474 and 1477, Trethewy is once more accused of using his political influence to wrongfully arrest and imprison another person, an unnamed “saddler of Liskeard.” The petition does not say whether this incident is related to the feud.
Thomas Trethewy stands out in Cornish history not only for the appalling violence he visited upon his neighbors, but also for bringing up questions about gender, rural Cornish politics, and class influence in the latter half of the 1400s, during the War of the Roses. Although a coroner by trade, a parliamentarian in local government, and a gentleman by class and marriage, Trethewy seems to be attempting feudalism in his conflicts with Glynne and Vivian, specifically when he attempts to take Glynne’s estate and murder Vivian. While his feudalist endeavors fail due to Vivian and Glynne’s ability to petition to the king for recompense, the sociopolitical ambiguity that allows Trethewy to enact these vendettas outlines Cornish dissatisfaction. This dissatisfaction resembles that of the later Cornish unrest which leads to the Cornish Rebellion in 1497 in response to Henry VII’s attempt to tax Cornwall in order to pay for war against the Scots. Another point of interest is the almost-equal culpability of Elizabeth in the crimes of her husband juxtaposed against her state of motherhood as a means of evading lawful consequence. A large portion of Thomas’ power is also attributed to his wife’s family. According to the Petitions to the King, both Thomas and Elizabeth have previously been married (references are made to Thomas’ children from a previous marriage and to Elizabeth’s dead husband, Reskymer, and can be found in the footnotes of some of the petitions), and it is worth mentioning that Thomas’ name does not occur in Petitions to the King until after his marriage to Elizabeth. While we do not suggest that Elizabeth is the driving force behind Thomas’ vendettas, his marriage to Elizabeth does increase his power to pursue his neighbors’ property without much reprisal. Finally, according to genealogical research, Elizabeth’s Arundel relations occupied a considerably higher social standing than Thomas Trethewy’s family. While the Arundels branched off into three distinct families that helped shape Cornish history in the subsequent centuries, the Trethewys did not rise in rank over time. Rather, they remained in Cornwall as minor gentry or disbursed to Australia and America in the following centuries.
Rampage, Murder, Mayhem
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Trethewy v. Vivian
Another Year, Another Feud
An Escape into the Night
A Villain in History
Petition SC 8/345/E1341
William Moore files a Petition against Trethewy for wrongly imprisoning him several times in Cuddenbreak Manor, St. Germans, Cornwall.
The Petition was successful.
The next week, on Thursday, Trethewy’s men, John Baseley, Nicholas Hick, et al have an altercation with Glynne’s servant, Robert Pall, and kill him. Glynne asserts that Trethewy, with his power as the local coroner, is attempting to cover up the murder by indicting the physician who dresses Pall’s wounds for the murder rather than Trethewy’s own servants who Glynne alleges are responsible. Glynne further accuses Trethewy of terrorism throughout the previous year. According to Glynne’s petition, Trethewy marched on Glynne’s Morval estate on May 10th, 1473, and almost succeeded in separating Glynne from his inherited estate and family by force. Presumably, this means Glynne’s estate was severely damaged and/or he himself almost lost his life. However, the petition is incomplete, so we do not know for certain. At this time, Trethewy also stole some of Glynne’s livestock and later sold them. In September of the same year, Trethewy’s men and Glynne’s servant, Matthew, met in Looe, where Trethewy’s men beat Matthew and stole his knife. Later that night, Trethewy’s men trespass on Glynne’s estate and kidnap his servant, John Whyddow. Whyddow’s fate is unknown. It might have been recorded on the damaged portion of the petition, in which case, this detail is lost to history. Fortunately, in the undamaged portion of the petition, Glynne’s request is still visible. He asks that Trethewy be summoned before the court and made to answer for his crimes. The effect of this petition, however, is not in the Petitions to the King archive.
In the February 8th, 1473 petition, Trethewy says he and Elizabeth refused to appear because Elizabeth “was and is pregnant, and could not appear without danger to her life.” According to Trethewy, he and Elizabeth are uncertain at this point if they would be imprisoned indefinitely upon appearance in court. In Vivian’s petition, his charge against the Trethewys is worded in a way that allows for the Trethewys to be imprisoned while awaiting a trial that could be and is postponed for years. In light of the terms of Vivian’s initial petition, the Trethewys ask the king to let them live as before and keep their money and estate. Thomas and Elizabeth are mentioned in a second petition from the 8th of February, 1473, which appears to be a verdict in response to Thomas’ petition. Since the Trethewys have refused to appear at court, their lands, houses, and chattels are forfeit to the Prince of Wales. This petition is dated February 8th 1473, so it can be presumed that the trial for the Vivian petition, the trial skipped by the Trethewys, was set to take pace between January 20th (when the Octave of Hilary traditionally begins) and February 8th, when this petition is presented.