Between Gorran Haven and Mevagissey, not far from the jutting finger of Chapel Point, there is a deep cleft in the jagged line of the coast. This rocky fissure has been known as Bodrugan’s Leap for more than 500 years, ever since Henry Bodrugan jumped for his life from the cliff top. It is a story passed down through the generations that at first sounds like a made up, mythical tale but this is a legend that can be backed up by fact.
The Bodrugans were one of the ancient families of Cornwall and one of the wealthiest landowners in the region from about the 11th century onwards. They served as MPs and sheriffs, they fought for their monarch in conflicts at home and abroad and went on pilgrimages to the Holy Land.
The family held extensive lands in the area around Gorran Haven, an estimated 596 acres with an annual income of around £10,000, a vast amount in the medieval period. Their castle, now completely vanished into history, was once said to be one of the finest in the south west of England. In the 17th century William Borlase described the ruined remains he saw of Bodrugan Castle as “very extensive” and wrote that nothing in Cornwall could equal it in magnificence.
“He [Borlase] describes a chapel as being converted into a barn, the large hall and an ancient kitchen with a timber roof and supposes the architecture to have been about the time of Edward I.”Lake’s Parochial History of the County of Cornwall, 1868
While in the 1970s J. Whetter wrote that the castle must have been “reminiscent of Cotehele” (pictured below). Whatever the case very little of it now remains. The present day Bodrugan Farm stands on the site of the castle, high on a hill above Bodrugan’s Leap and the only remains of its medieval past are a coat of arms attached to the front of the house, some tracery windows and the remains of a barn, potentially the site of the converted chapel mentioned by Borlase.
Now that the scene is set, it was in this place that the last of the Bodrugan family line was born.
Sir Henry Bodrugan
Henry Bodrugan was born in June 1426, his parents were Philippa Arundell, daughter of Sir John Arundell, and Sir William Bodrugan, Sheriff of Cornwall. It seems that Henry’s father died when he was still fairly young and this loss and the resulting lack of guidance has been blamed by some for his wayward ways in later life.
It is difficult to get a true picture of what kind of man Bodrugan was. Accounts of him are fairly conflicting.
There were allegations of criminality, accusations of piracy and stories that he led a gang of ‘freeloaders’ who robbed his wealthy neighbours and assaulted his rivals. All while other accounts depict him as a kind and generous man.
“For so great was the love that they bore this Sir Henry, for his great hospitality and generous way of living, that his memory is still held in veneration especially among the elder sort of people.”Richard Polwhele, The History of Cornwall, 1816
The answer to this conundrum it seems is simple. How he treated you depended on whether you were on Bodrugan’s side or not. To his friends he was kindness itself, to his enemies, wicked. In this way he seems your typical Cornish anti-hero.
The historian A. L Rowse wrote that he was in constant financial difficulties due to his “over-spending” and “ostentatious way of living”. He was a man who liked the good things in life – good food, fine wine and fancy clothes. There are stories of him and his family running up huge debts with his tailor.
“Bodrugan had a root of instability and lawlessness in him, generous to his friends, extravagant, rash, hot-tempered, a familiar type of buccaneer, he was popular with those whom he had not injured.”A. L. Rowse, Tudor Cornwall, 1941
Bodrugan is also known to have carried on an affair with a married woman, Joan Beaumont, and the pair even had a child together while her husband was still alive. The son was christened John Beaumont, her married name, but it was an open secret that Henry was his father and the boy even went to live with him at the castle near Gorran. When Joan’s husband died the couple did marry but had no further children.
It was not unusual for wealthy, landed families in Cornwall to take part in a little piracy, just look at the Killigrews in Falmouth, but Henry Bodrugan caused consternation by sometimes targeting local people, rather than foreign shipping.
In 1473 Bodrugan was accused of attacking Polwhele House near Truro and threatening to burn it to the ground. The same year he forcibly entered James Trefusis‘ house near Flushing, robbed it and took Trefusis’ ship, the Bride of Feock, using it to carry away the “goods and chattels”. Bodrugan’s own ships, the Mary Bodrugan and the Barbara of Fowey, were also suspected of pirate activity, of chasing and raiding foreign vessels.
Supporter of King Richard III
The Wars of the Roses lasted from 1455 to 1487, with the nation was split between the House of Lancaster and the House of York – the Bodrugans were passionate Yorkists. And it is said that it was King Richard III that gave Bodrugan his knighthood.
It doesn’t appear that Bodrugan was always completely faithful to the House of York, however, as you might expect Henry did what suited Henry best. Chris Skidmore in his book Bosworth, The Birth of the Tudors mentions Bodrugan’s clever double dealings in relation to the siege of St Michael’s Mount.
In September 1473 John de Vere, Earl of Oxford, a staunch supporter of the House of Lancaster, decided to try and seize the garrison stationed at the Mount. Oxford was something of an outlaw and strongly opposed King Edward’s rule, this was his way of being a thorn in the monarch’s side. He and his renegade force of 397 men took the garrison by surprise and managed to take control of St Michael’s Mount, holding the castle for 22 weeks. Skidmore writes:
“It seems that Oxford was further assisted by the support of the nearby Cornish gentry, including Henry Bodrugan who, despite being tasked by Edward with recovering the garrison, pocketed the money he had been for the commission himself, and despite occasional outbreaks of fighting, including one occasion when Oxford was shot and wounded ‘in the very face’ by an arrow, was mostly content to meet the earl each day under truce, supplying him with enough victuals and supplies to last until the following summer.”
It appears that rather than Bodrugan being outright unfaithful to his king he just, well, corrupt and preferred to take the money and do nothing. He had been instructed by King Edward to blockade the Mount and starve Oxford and his men out but there are rumours that Bodrugan took bribes from the rebels and allowed food and supplies across to the little tidal island.
In the end the king realised what was going on and in December 1473 sent Sir John Fortescue to bring the siege to an end. Bodrugan doesn’t appear to have been held to account for his inaction.
On another occasion in 1483 he was sent by King Edward to arrest Richard Edgcumbe at his home, Cotehele, on the banks of the Tamar. He failed again to achieve what was asked of him.
Legend has it that Edgcumbe, who was a supporter of the House of Lancaster, got wind of the trouble heading his way and ran to the river with Bodrugan at his heels. The story goes that Edgcumbe threw his hat into the water and then hid, leaving Henry to think that he had jumped into the Tamar and drowned. When the coast was clear Edgcumbe escaped to France but he never forgot what Bodrugan had done and would one day have his revenge.
On 22nd August 1485 when King Henry VII defeated King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth there were rumours that Sir Henry Bodrugan was there with the last Plantagenet king on the battlefield. But when it became clear that all was lost, that Henry Tudor had won the day, he fled for the safety of his home in Cornwall.
Though this story is unconfirmed, and some believe it unlikely, what is fact is that on 8th February 1487 a commission was granted by King Henry VII for the arrest of Bodrugan, his son and “other rebels”.
“After the battle of Bosworth, it is supposed that Henry Bodrugan escaped from thence to his seat in Gorran and that he endeavoured to defend his property against Edgcumbe and Trevanion who, trying to take his life, did no more than he would have done had the fortune of war turned the other way . . .”Lake’s Parochial History of the County of Cornwall, 1868
Richard Edgcumbe, who had also fought at Bosworth but on King Henry’s side, must relished the chance to get his own back.
“Bodrugan’s career comes to an end in a haze of picturesque stories . . .”A. L. Rowse, Tudor Cornwall, 1941
Realising that he was in danger of arrest or worse Bodrugan made a dash for it. He slipped away from his home and rode for the coast. Then, with Edgcumbe and John Trevanion of Caerhays in hot pursuit, he is said to have jumped from the cliff at the point now known as Bodrugan’s Leap.
Some accounts say that he leapt into the water, others that he landed uninjured on the sand in the little cove. But all concur that Sir Henry Bodrugan, ever mindful of self-preservation, had had a boat waiting there to take him to safety.
As he sailed away from his family home and Cornwall forever he is said to have looked back at his enemies on the cliff and cursed them, their families and all their descendants.
In November 1487 the Bodrugan estate was confiscated and Edgcumbe, who was so trusted by King Henry VII, was gifted the lion’s share, while Trevanion’s son, William, received an advantageous position at Court. Sir Henry Bodrugan was charged with “imagining and compassing the death if the king”, an offence punishable by death and consequently he spent the rest of his life abroad, possibly with relatives in Ireland.
He is said to have died there either in c1490, possibly in Ireland, or 1502 in France. What happened to his son John is a mystery. With their exile the line of the Bodrugan family in Cornwall ended.
Dodman Point & the Napoleonic Signal Station
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2 thoughts on “The Story of Bodrugan’s Leap”
Excellent story , well done , I am a descendant of the Trevanion, Richard I think , so I guess I am cursed , but hey ho , bad loser I’d say , we are still here , might write a song about it , no hard feelings . There used to be the helmet Richard Trevanion worth at the battle of Bosworth but it was stolen in the 1950’s it’s called the Bosworth Sallet , photos exist ho cool is that !
That is very cool!!