William Godolphin, High Sheriff of Cornwall, Keeper of St. Michael's Mo (1486 - 1547) MP

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Birthplace: Helstan, Cornwall, England
Death: Died in Breage, Cornwall, England
Managed by: Phillip John Christie
Last Updated:

About William Godolphin, High Sheriff of Cornwall, Keeper of St. Michael's Mo

St Anthony

On a wild and stormy night, the St Anthony, bound for Lisbon, was blown off course and foundered near Gunwalloe; yet another victim of the treacherous Cornish coast. This was no ordinary ship this carrack was the flag ship of King John of Portugal 's fleet carrying a particularly valuable cargo. On passage from Antwerp , it struck rocks beneath the cliffs at Porth Lingey, now known as Halzephron Cove. Of the crew of 86 more than 40 died.

The story of what became of much of its cargo is a mystery which developed into a political intrigue involving Henry VIII and the King of Portugal. Contemporary Star Chamber Papers catalogue the goods known to have been recovered from the wreck and there is good evidence that the cargo, worth an estimated 4,000 times a man's annual wage, included the dowry of Princess Katherine, sister of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor who had recently married King John.

The salvage from the wreck by opportunist local landowners nearly led to war between England and Portugal over the return of King John's property. There are differing accounts of what followed in the days after the disaster as the cargo disappeared, but three prominent local landowners became defendants in a law suit as King John sought the return of his property. 'William Godolphin, a J.P.', John Milliton of Pengersick Castle, Captain of St.Michael's Mount and Thomas St Aubyn of Clowance, all local stalwarts of law enforcement were summoned to the scene.

Reports suggested that the wreck was plundered in the early hours of Sunday morning as the storm abated and the tide fell, leaving the vessel in a fathom (6 feet or 1.8 metres) of water. Local Cornish people began taking goods from the ship and the remaining crew members complained to the three magistrates who appeared only at midday, however, when much had gone missing. According to the Portuguese accounts, the magistrates or their men raided the Portuguese's lodgings, forcing them at sword point to give up what they had salvaged. Next day, they obliged the Portuguese to sell the remainder of the cargo at a derisory sum.

When the surviving Portuguese returned home, King John began the process of recovering his goods, aggravating the relationship between England and Portugal, already in decline. King Henry VIII was seeking a divorce from King John's aunt, Catherine of Aragon and his ships were beginning to usurp King John's monopoly of the spice routes.

Despite several court cases, the affair dragged on for at least a year. Later documents suggest that to avoid worsening relations, King Henry ordered the return of what cargo remained, but much was missing - either taken by sea or smuggled away to Cornish homes and some perhaps to Pengersick Castle. A full account of the wreck and the ensuing wrangle can be found in the Journal of the Royal Institute of Cornwall, Volume V part 4.

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Sir William Godolphin's Timeline

1486
1486
Helstan, Cornwall, England
1510
1510
Age 24
Bicton or Godolphin, Cornwall, England
1510
Age 24
of Helstan,Cornwall,England
1514
1514
Age 28
of Helstan,Cornwall,England
1516
1516
Age 30
Godolphin, Cornwall, England
1519
1519
Age 33
Cornwall, England
1520
1520
Age 34
Of, Godolphin, Cornwall, England
1530
1530
Age 44
Of, Godolphin, Cornwall, England
1547
1547
Age 61
Breage, Cornwall, England
1547
Age 61
Cornwall , England