1677, Sir John Godolphin, Vice-Admiral of North Cornwall, asks for reassurance that his costs for protecting the ship The Arms of Waterford will be met

Transcription from ‘Petitions in the State Papers: 1670s’, in Petitions in the State Papers, 1600-1699, ed. Brodie Waddell, British History Online, Sir John Godolphin knight, vice-admiral of north Cornwall. SP 29/390 f. 195 (1677).

To the Kings most excellent majestie etc

The humble peticion of Sir John Godolphin knight vice=admirall of the north parte of Cornwall

Sheweth that the shipp the Armes of Waterford and her ladinge hath for these nyne moneths last past at the vast expence and charge of the peticioner and his officers benn kept and preserved according to your majesties order dated the 22th of Aprill last directed to your peticioner for keepinge and preservinge the same entire untill the property thereof should be determined according to due course of law which property is not like to be soe determined for a longe time yet to come, the English claimers not having in all this time exhibited any allegations in your majesties High Court of Admiralty whereby to deduce their title to such shipp or ladinge nor examined any wittnesses upon such allegations albe itt the safe keepinge and preservinge the said shipp and ladinge doth dayly occation an augmentation of greate expence and charges to your peticioner

May it therefore please your most excellent majestie that you would be gratiously pleased; not to suffer any order to be made or executed for the carrying away or disposinge of the said shipp or ladinge, untill your peticioner shall be first satisfied his just charges and expences ocationed by the safe keepinge and preservinge the same as aforesaid

And your peticioner shall ever pray etc

Report by Frank Edwards

In his petition, Sir John Godolphin recounted how he had, in his role as Vice-Admiral of North Cornwall ‘kept and preserved’ the ship, The Arms of Waterford. He had done so at the King’s direction, for some nine months and at vast expense. He was obliged to continue safeguarding the ship until a dispute over its ownership was resolved. As there was no prospect the matter would be decided soon his costs would further increase.

Sir John asked for an assurance that no order for the disposal of the ship and its cargo would be made until his ‘just charges and expenses’ had been met.

Sir John, other Godolphins and Vice-Admirals of the Coast

The Godolphin family came to prominence in the late 14th century. Based in the parish of Breage near Helston, and drawing their wealth from the extraction and smelting of tin, they exerted increasing dominance over west Cornwall and some influence on national affairs. Godolphin House, first built in about 1475, stands today.[1]

Cornish Worthies, a 19th-century study of ‘eminent Cornish men and families’, devotes a chapter to ‘The Godolphins of Godolphin: Statesmen, Jurists and Divines’.[2] The family’s fortunes from the beginning of the seventeenth-century are traced through the descendants of two brothers: Sir William, who died in 1612 and Capt. John, who died seven years later. The first line was the ‘more celebrated’. The Sir John of our petition is descended from the second, less-celebrated line.

Biographical information about Sir John is sketchy. He was born in 1636 or 1638, in St Kew, Cornwall, to Capt. John’s son, Sir William Godolphin and his wife Ruth Lambe.[3] In 1661, when plain John Godolphin, he obtained a Cornet’s commission (the third and lowest grade of commissioned officer, below Captain and Lieutenant) in the Duke of York’s Life Guard, raised from exiled Royalists by Charles II at the time of his restoration.[4] In 1663, giving a London residency, he married Frances Byne and the couple had one child, Elizabeth, born in 1665.[5]  In 1666 he was sufficiently well-off to be to be liable to pay tax on the six hearths in his Whitechapel, London, home.[6]

John was appointed Vice-Admiral of North Cornwall in August 1670, by which time he was Sir John. A Vice-Admiral of the Coast, the deputy and representative of the Lord High Admiral, was responsible for local naval administration. They were appointed to single counties, groups of counties or, as in the case of Cornwall between 1601 and 1715, to a part of a county. Their duties included keeping records of ships and sailors available to the monarch, determining disputes involving merchants and mariners, guarding the coast and detaining ships. The appointment came with the power to take and receive the fees and profits due and belonging to the office. Sir John’s father Sir William had been Vice-Admiral of South Cornwall from 1660 to his death in 1663 and was succeeded by Sir John’s brother, Francis. Sir John’s appointment was renewed in September 1674 and he remained in post until his death in 1679.[7]

In 1672 Sir John was named as one of many local Commissioners (including other members of the Godolphin family) responsible for collecting Cornwall’s contribution to the King’s outlays, as authorised by Parliament.[8] His army career also progressed. In the same year he obtained a Lieutenant and Lieutenant-Colonel’s commission in what was now the Duke of York’s Horse Guards. In 1673 he made Captain.[9]

These achievements by Sir John are modest when compared with some of his more celebrated relatives. A second brother, another Sir William, born in 1635, merits one of the eight entries in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography about the Godolphins, as does another John Godolphin, brother of Sir John’s father.[10]  Reflecting Sir John’s less exceptional life, there is no mention of him in either of these entries, nor is he referred to in Cornish Worthies. Nevertheless, he was Vice-Admiral of North Cornwall and it was in this capacity that he petitioned the King.

Events leading to Sir John’s petition

The backstory to Sir John’s petition of January 1677 begins some ten months earlier, in March 1676.

A ship lost and found

Thomas Holden, based in Falmouth was an occasional correspondent with Whitehall about local maritime matters. It is likely that he is the Thomas Holden who served as Mayor of Falmouth six times between 1664 and 1695.[11] The recipient of his letters was frequently Secretary of State, Sir John Williamson, a long-standing and by now very senior officer in Charles II’s court.[12] On 2 March 1676 Holden wrote to Williamson about ‘a piracy committed by some Englishmen off Morlaix’ (a port in north-western Brittany). The seized ship’s skipper had come to Falmouth and, having discussed with a merchant in Penryn ‘how he lost his hoy [a small, usually sloop-rigged coasting ship] the Arms of Waterford’, learned there was a hoy at St Ives with French commodities to sell. Realising this might be his hoy the skipper, plus guide, rode the 25 or so, cross-country, coast-to-coast miles to St Ives and ‘managed so well that they have secured the captain, who is reported to be called Jackson, and soon after manned two boats and secured the vessel and all the men, being 10’.[13]

The Arms of Waterford, having been taken from Jackson at St Ives, fell into the jurisdiction of Sir John, as Vice-Admiral of North Cornwall. On 22 April the King wrote to Sir John that he had been informed that the ship ‘lately taken by a French privateer and brought up to St. Ives, is now in the possession of some of your officers, and that there is a suit depending in the Admiralty concerning the propriety of her and her loadings’. However, her cargo ‘is daily embezzled and sold’. He directed Sir John, ‘immediately to send strict orders to the persons in whose custody the ship and goods are that they not only take all possible care to prevent such selling or embezzlement but preserve the same safe till the propriety thereof shall be determined’.[14]

A pirate or not a pirate

Thomas Holden had promised Williamson further news of Jackson and his men, the ‘damage they had done and the goods they have embezzled. However, in his next correspondence, on 6 March, he reported that Jackson now showed ‘a French commission or at least a copy of one’ and claimed the ship was bound for Holland, and ‘that the goods belong to Hollanders’.[15] This defence by Jackson cast uncertainty on the matter. On 11 April Henry Coventry, a Secretary of State directed Samuel Pepys at the Navy Board to inform the Lords of the Admiralty that his Majesty wished to stay the proceedings ‘against one Jackson in the Admiralty concerning piracy’ until his return to London.[16]

On 26 April Williamson made notes about ‘the case of Jackson, the alleged pirate’ in which he gave reasons why ‘his commission was not good’. He proposed ‘that the claimers be put in possession of the ship and goods upon security to Jackson, and Jackson to give security to answer the embezzlements’.[17] He received further evidence on 6 June. Christopher Wickham, a ship’s carpenter of Kinsale, certified that about two months before ‘he was taken off St. Malo in the Arms of Waterford by a French privateer, commanded by Jackson, an Englishman, who turned the informant with four more into a small boat, in which with difficulty they got into St. Malo’.[18]

Some aggrieved merchants

Other parties with an interest in the ship now became involved. On 14 July John Cooke, William Welch and further unnamed merchants of London, presenting as the ship’s owners, petitioned the King. They provided evidence they had brought proceedings against ‘Henry Jackson a pirate’ in St Malo, France. In his absence Jackson had been sentenced to be tortured and hung for his seizure of the Arms of Waterford and the carrying off of a second ship out of Morlaix.

The point of their petition, however, was to level an accusation against Sir John. They claimed that following a previous complaint against Jackson it was ordered he be apprehended and the case referred to the Judge of the Admiralty. As Jackson had refused ‘to submit to orders’ the Judge had appointed appraisers to value the ship. Sir John, they alleged, ‘would not permit the appraisement’. In support of this they attached a statement by William Worth and George Hammond that they were unable to appraise the Arms of Waterford and the goods on board ‘because the persons in possession said they were forbidden by Sir John Godolphin to open the hatches without his express permission’. Cooke and Welch asked that ‘Sir John may be called upon to show cause for his obstruction of justice, as the petitioners’ goods on board are in a perishing condition’.[19]

A continuing dispute 

Notwithstanding the decision of the French court, Jackson was unwilling to give up without a fight. In July he petitioned the Committee of Trade, claiming he had ‘by virtue of a French commission seized a ship of Rotterdam, which now pretends to be of Waterford’. The vessel was ‘forced by stress of weather into St. Ives’ and ‘put into the charge of Vice-Admiral Sir John Godolphin’ He asked that no order for appraisement be granted ‘in favour of the pretended owners’ till he was heard.[20]

Jackson secured some unlikely support for his counter-assertions. First, on 14 July Sir John, in responding to the accusation that he had been obstructive, spoke up for the accused. ‘Capt. Henry Jackson’, he asserted, ‘is a Frenchman, and seized the vessel under a French commission’. He is not condemned as a pirate in France, he claimed, ‘but on the contrary the ship and goods are there condemned as lawful prize’. Sir John stated he had given no orders ‘beyond what were required by order of Council of   22 April, which he could not disobey’. He would not, he assured, ‘obstruct the petitioners in recovering any goods that may belong to them’. His response was noted as read on 28 July.[21] Secondly, on 17 August, M. Courtin, the French Ambassador extraordinary, wrote to the King. He claimed that Jackson was ‘retained prisoner by the tricks of his enemies’ and that his commission to act was in proper form. He asked for Jackson to be freed on bail. The King was unimpressed. The Ambassador’s submission was noted on 6 September as ‘read and not approved’.[22]

The merchant John Cooke was similarly unimpressed with Sir John’s claims on behalf of Jackson. On 2 August he wrote to say he could show that Jackson was an Englishman who had not operated under a French commission. He reiterated that Sir John had ‘acted improperly’ in refusing to obey the orders of the Admiralty and advocating for Jackson. Cooke proposed that ‘either Jackson or they take the ship and goods, giving security to the other party to answer claims thereto’ or that the ship be sent back to the French port from where it had come and for Jackson’s claims to be tested there. On 24 August he pressed the merchants’ case with the Committee of Trade. Complaining that an earlier submission had lain unread he pleaded for ‘relief at once’ as ‘the goods on board are perishing’.  On 31 August the Committee instructed Williamson to secure a direction from the King to Sir John that he should allow appraisal of the ship’s cargo.[23]

On 6 September the King obliged. He wrote again to Sir John to remind him of his obligations. He reiterated his instruction of 22 April and stated his ‘dislike’ that Sir John was using this letter to obstruct the appraisement of the ship and goods. It was his ‘express will and pleasure’ that Sir John ‘forthwith order his officers to obey the said order of the said Court’.[24]

What happened thereafter about Jackson, the disputed ownership of the Arms of Waterford and the appraisal of its cargo is not known. For his part Sir John, in his January 1677 petition, asserted that the claimants (i.e. the merchants) had made no attempt to pursue their case in court.

However, if the trail goes cold, there is some older history which, had it been known to Sir John, may have made him less likely to speak up for the alleged pirate. In October 1671 the King directed the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to pardon a Henry Jackson and a John Gallagher, who had been condemned for piracy at Cork, on the grounds that he had ‘made some discoveries’ to the Lord President of Munster.[25] A year later the Lord Lieutenant admitted he had not proceeded with the pardon ‘as the crimes they committed were very enormous’ and he understood that there was some concern that the original sentence of death had not been carried out. He undertook to act now as the King wished but added a note of caution: ‘There is only this hardship, that they should lie above a year reprieved, and then be executed, which seems to me like exercising the rigour of the law in cold blood’.[26] The Lord Lieutenant’s caution may have saved the condemned men. In January, 1675 a Capt. Henry Jackson was sufficiently alive and well to petition Secretary of State Coventry that he and his ship had been wrongly detained in Dover.[27]

Are this Henry then Capt. Jackson one and the same and in turn the Capt. Henry Jackson who ended up with the Arms of Waterford? There can be no certainty, but if they are then Jackson’s possession of the ship would seem to be the act of piracy (possibly his last) that his detractors alleged.

Sir John’s petition

Whatever the fate of Jackson, the merchants, the ship and its cargo, it is known that the Arms of Waterford remained at St Ives, at least until the following January, as it was its prolonged stay that prompted Sir John’s petition to the King. Sir John cited, but did not elaborate on, ‘the vast expense and charge’ with which he was burdened. The bulk of his costs probably arose from the need to set a 24-hour guard on the ship. The merchants’ complaint against Sir John referred to those denying access to the ship in the plural, indicating that at least two watchmen were kept in place. As well as the costs of this protection, Sir John may have lost income through the occupation of a mooring berth that might have been let to other users. Sir John’s appointment as Vice-Admiral allowed him to receive the fees and profits due and belonging to his office. However, as long as the ownership of the Arms of Waterford and its cargo was in dispute, Sir John had no ready source from which to seek recompense. It is understandable, therefore, that he looked to the King to protect his interests.

The outcome of Sir John’s petition is unclear. There is a signed warrant in March 1677 which states, simply ‘Mr. Godolphin, one docquet’.[28] If this is a docquet to Sir John its purpose may have been to set out the terms of some undertakings designed to satisfy his concerns. However, while the timing of this fits, it would be surprising if Sir John were referred to in the record as plain Mr Godolphin. Beyond this, there is no other evidence.

Nevertheless, it is clear Sir John’s relations with the King returned to a sound footing. In 1677 and 1679 Sir John was again named as a local Commissioner responsible for collecting Cornwall’s contribution to the King’s outlays, as authorised by Parliament (in one instance, for the building of 30 ships of war at the astonishingly precise cost of £584,978. 2s. 2½d).[29] In March 1679, shortly before he died and now a Major in the Horse Guards, Sir John was given leave to travel to France for the recovery of his health.[30] In 1677 a yearly pension of £200 was awarded to his daughter, Elizabeth, who at the age of 11 served as a Maid of Honour to Catherine, Queen Consort to Charles II. Elizabeth only lived until 1683 but before her death her pension was supplemented by at least three further payments of £50.[31]

From this we might conclude that, notwithstanding the King’s dislike of Sir John’s actions and Sir John’s grievance in return, the events surrounding the Arms of Waterford caused no lasting damage to their relationship.


[1] ‘Godolphin’, The National Trust, https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/godolphin.

[2] Walter H. Tregallas, Cornish Worthies Vol. 1 (1884), pp. 337-396, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/46529/46529-h/46529-h.htm#THE_GODOLPHINS_OF_GODOLPHIN.

[3] ‘John Godolphin’, Geni, https://www.geni.com/people/John-Godolphin/6000000040711412729;

‘John Godolphin’, Find my past, https://www.findmypast.co.uk/search/results?sourcecategory=life%20events%20(bmds)&firstname=john&firstname_variants=true&lastname=godolphin&yearofbirth=1638&yearofbirth_offset=2&sourcecountry=great%20britain&sid=999.

[4] Charles Dalton (ed.), English Army Lists and Commission Registers 1661-1714, Vol. 1 1661-1685 (1892), p.2, https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=KAULAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA1&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=3#v=onepage&q&f=false; ‘Life Guards (United Kingdom) Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_Guards_(United_Kingdom).

[5] ‘John Godolphin’, Find my past, https://www.findmypast.co.uk/transcript?id=GBPRS%2FCOA%2FMARRLICENCE%2F00031106%2F1;

‘Elizabeth Godolphin, 1665’, Find my past, https://www.findmypast.co.uk/search/results?firstname=elizabeth%20&firstname_variants=true&lastname=godolphin&yearofbirth=1666&yearofbirth_offset=2&sourcecountry=great%20britain&sid=7.

[6] ‘Captn. Godolphin 6 (paid 6), Whitechapel, Middx’, Hearth Tax Digital, University of Roehampton, https://gams.uni-graz.at/query:htx.search-structured?params=%241%7C%3Ftext%20bds%3Asearch%20%22godolphin%22%20%3B%20bds%3AmatchAllTerms%20true%20.%3B%242%7C%20keywords%3Dgodolphin

[7] ‘List of Vice-Admirals of the Coast’, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_vice-admirals_of_the_coast;

Sherston Baker, The Office of Vice-Admiral of the Coast (1884), pp. 13-17, 51, https://archive.org/details/officeviceadmir00bakegoog/page/n29/mode/2up.

[8] ‘Charles II, 1672: An Act for raising the Summe of Twelve hundred thirty eight thousand seaven hundred, and fifty Pounds for supply of his Majesties extraordinary occasions.’, in John Raithby (ed.), Statutes of the Realm: Volume 5, 1628-80 (s.l,1819), pp. 752-782, British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/statutes-realm/vol5/pp752-782.

[9] ‘Charles II: October 1672’, in F H Blackburne Daniell and Francis Bickley (eds.), Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles II, Addenda 1660-1685 (1939), pp. 356-357, British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/chas2/addenda/1660-85/pp356-357; ‘Charles II: May 1673’, in F H Blackburne (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles II, 1673 (1902), pp. 197-327, British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/chas2/1673/pp197-327.

[10] ‘Godolphin, Sir William (bap. 1635, d. 1696), diplomat’ and ‘Godolphin, John (1617-1678), civil lawyer’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004), https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-10883?rskey=YZWlzq&result=1 and https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-10879?rskey=27eWri&result=1.

[11] Susan E. Gay, Old Falmouth (1903), p.239, https://archive.org/details/oldfalmouth00gays/page/239/mode/2up?q=holden.

[12] ‘Williamson, Joseph (1633-1701), government official’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004), https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-29571?rskey=87eivD&result=2.

For more on Sir Joseph Williamson see petitions 319 and 320.

[13] ‘Charles II: March 1676’, in F H Blackburne Daniell (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles II, 1676-7 (1909), pp. 1-55, British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/chas2/1676-7/pp1-55.

[14] ‘Charles II: April 1676’, in F H Blackburne Daniell (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles II, 1676-7 (1909), pp. 55-95. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/chas2/1676-7/pp55-95.

[15] ‘Charles II: March 1676’, in F H Blackburne Daniell (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles II, 1676-7 (1909), pp. 1-55, British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/chas2/1676-7/pp1-55.

[16] ‘Charles II: April 1676’, in F H Blackburne Daniell (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles II, 1676-7 (1909), pp. 55-95. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/chas2/1676-7/pp55-95.

[17] ibid.

[18] ‘Charles II: June 1676’, in F H Blackburne Daniell (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles II, 1676-7 (1909), pp. 140-199, British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/chas2/1676-7/pp140-199.

[19] ‘Charles II: July 1676’, in F H Blackburne Daniell (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles II, 1676-7 (1909), pp. 199-257. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/chas2/1676-7/pp199-257.

[20] ibid.

[21] ibid.

[22] ‘Charles II: August 1676’, in F H Blackburne Daniell (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles II, 1676-7 (1909), pp. 257-306, British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/chas2/1676-7/pp257-306.

[23] ibid.

[24] ‘Charles II: September 1676’, in F H Blackburne Daniell (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles II, 1676-7(1909), pp. 306-346. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/chas2/1676-7/pp306-346.

[25] ‘Charles II: October 1671’, in F H Blackburne Daniell (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles II, 1671 (1895), pp. 511-551. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/chas2/1671/pp511-551.

[26] ‘Charles II: October 1672’, in F H Blackburne Daniell (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles II, 1672-3 (1901), pp. 1-110. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/chas2/1672-3/pp1-110.

[27] ‘Charles II: January 1675’, in F H Blackburne Daniell (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles II, 1673-5 (1904), pp. 513-565. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/chas2/1673-5/pp513-565.

[28] ‘Appendix V’, in William A Shaw (ed.), Calendar of Treasury Books, Volume 5, 1676-1679 (1911), pp. 1414-1473. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-treasury-books/vol5/pp1414-1473.

[29] ‘Charles II, 1677: An Act for raising the Summe of Five hundred eighty foure thousand nine hundred seaventy eight pounds two shillings and two pence halfe-penny for the speedy building Thirty Shipps of Warr.’, in John Raithby (ed.), Statutes of the Realm: Volume 5, 1628-80 (s.l, 1819), pp. 802-836, British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/statutes-realm/vol5/pp802-836 and ‘Charles II, 1679: An Act for granting a Supply to His Majestie of Two hundred and six thousand fower hundred sixtie two pounds seaventeene shillings and three pence for paying off and disbanding the Forces raised since the Nine and twentyeth of September One thousand six hundred seaventy seaven.’, in Raithby (ed.), pp. 897-934,  http://www.british-history.ac.uk/statutes-realm/vol5/pp897-934.

[30] ‘Charles II: Miscellaneous 1679’, in F H Blackburne Daniell (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles II, 1679-80 (1915), pp. 319-363. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/chas2/1679-80/pp319-363.

[31] ‘Entry Book: December 1677, 16-31’, in William A Shaw (ed), Calendar of Treasury Books, Volume 5, 1676-1679 (1911), pp. 817-830, British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-treasury-books/vol5/pp817-830; ‘Entry Book: January 1678, 16-31’, in Shaw (ed), pp. 885-902, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-treasury-books/vol5/pp885-902; ‘Entry Book: May 1678, 16-31’, in Shaw (ed), pp. 995-1012, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-treasury-books/vol5/pp995-1012 and ‘Entry Book: July 1678, 11-20’, in Shaw (ed), pp. 1049-1062, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-treasury-books/vol5/pp1049-1062.

This report is part of a series on ‘Petitioners in the reign of Charles II, 1660-1685’, created through a U3A Shared Learning Project on ‘Investigating the Lives of Seventeenth-Century Petitioners’.