The Ancestors of Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch: the Origins and Social Status of the Couch Family


The name Quiller-Couch became well-known nationally in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as a result of Q's growing success as a writer, and his knighthood conferred additional honour on the name of Couch. He achieved prominence in local affairs through his various political, educational, charitable and sporting activities and his children grew up amongst the leading families of the county. A.L. Rowse, in his Portrait of 'Q' writes that:

...on both sides he came from good upper middle-class stock, with a public school background . . . Q was born a gentleman.

His father was Dr Thomas Quiller Couch of Bodmin; his grandfather, Dr Jonathan Couch of Polperro; and uncle, Dr Richard Quiller Couch of Penzance. Although only country doctors and therefore of little account socially as far as the county gentry were concerned, these three achieved respect and a wider acclaim as naturalist, scientist and antiquarian respectively. That the Couch family were proud of their origins is evident from the Private Memoir of Q's grandfather, Dr Jonathan Couch. The object of this study, which is an expansion of Andrew Symon's study on the Couch family of Talland and the Couch diaspora, is to examine the beliefs of the family as to their origins and gentility in the context of the evidence from historical records and archives. 

The Name 'Couch': meaning and distribution

It was the opinion of Q's grandfather, Jonathan Couch, that the name Couch 'is, I believe, confined to the county of Cornwall, or to such families elsewhere who have unquestionably migrated from it'.  A footnote by editor S.C. Roberts in Q's Memories and Opinions states ' "Couch" is pure Cornish, coch signifying "red" and is properly pronounced as "Cooch", never "Cowch"'. Andrew Symons points out that the original pronunciation was probably as in Scottish 'loch'. 

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain states that the name in Devon and Cornwall is pronounced 'Cooch'. The etymology of the name may differ in different areas of Britain, however, as the same dictionary gives examples such as an English nickname for a hunchback; a name derived fron Old French Couche or Culche, for bed, couch or tablecloth; or someone who does couch-work (embroidery). Dr Jonathan Couch wrote:

The word Couch finds its derivation in the Ancient Cornish and Welsh languages; not in the French as at first sight might be thought. Quitch is the mode of spelling it, at present used in Wales, and signifies a weed, as I find in W.L. Dillwyn's contribution towards a History of Swansea p.62. In Cornwall, the word is spelled Couch, and is applied to a particular and troublesome kind of grass.

In the old stained glass windows of the Hall at Charlecote in Warwick Shire is a series of arms, showing the various alliances of the Lucy family – with bunches of "knot-grass" (Wheeler).

In the Autumn of 1889, just returned from his honeymoon, Jonathan Couch's grandson, Arthur Quiller- Couch visited Charlecote as part of his tour with Alfred Parsons, the artist, researching for The Warwickshire Avon and no doubt contemplated this same window.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary  gives the origin of the word 'quitch' as not Welsh, however, but Old English from cwice 'perhaps related to quick' – no doubt with reference to the speed with which it spreads (Allen, 1990).  

However, for the name Couch, the red-haired explanation for Devon and Cornwall is no doubt the correct one – from Welsh 'Coch'. Another similar name 'Koch' came from Germany which was spelt Coch in earlier records, leading to confusion, but sometimes qualified as cocus and which later became standardized as 'Cook'.

Q in Memories and Opinions refers to himself as 'an ugly little red-haired urchin' and his sister Mabel as having her 'lanky red hair "frizzed" ' for a trip to the pantomime in Plymouth. He also describes his mother as having 'a wonderful wealth of red-auburn hair', so Q inherited the recessive red-hair gene from both his Cornish father, as evinced by the name 'Couch', and his Devonian mother. 

Early records held in the National Library of Wales archives, show 'Coch' written after Christian names, as in 1597 in a grant of probate concerning David ap Ievan Coch at Bangor Teifi in St David's Parish. The word often appears in place names, as in Castell-coch: 'Redcastle'. A very early entry in the Calendar of the Charter Rolls for the reign of Henry III mentions Lewelin Goch (in the index as a variation of Coch), Constable of Kemeys (1290) and a charter of 1295 concerning David ap Llewellyn (of the Welsh princes) refers to David Coch. As a surname in Wales, however, it is uncommon, most Welsh surnames being patronymics. A few examples of Couches appear in Pembroke and Glamorgan but mostly towards the end of the nineteenth century. 

The name also appears in Brittany, which has always had close ties to Cornwall in both language and commerce. Entries in the Calendar of the Close Rolls of Edward III, on September 12 1330 and April 8 1331, record letters from the King to the Bishop of St Malo, regarding a complaint of William Arnaldi of Bayonne that his ship La Seintberthelmeu loaded with goods at Lisbon, destination Flanders, was attacked and robbed by Stephen Le Coche, master of La Seinte Jame, and Peter le Congre, master of La Jonette, and their crews, both of St Malo, after the peace made with the King of France, and the loss to William of 400 marks in profit. The King demands that the Bishop investigate the matter. 

However, contrary to what might be expected, the earliest spelling of the name 'Coch' as 'Couch' does not appear in the western counties but elsewhere: 

  • In 1302 (in a record held by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust) a Walter Couch is witness to a grant made by 'John called Pydele of Stratford'
  • On 18 August 1347 a John de Couche was a witness at 'Bukyngham' (held by Derbyshire Record Office)
  • In a case in Chancery, under 'Certificates of Statute Merchant and Statute Staple of 13 October 1368, the debtors included John Couch of Whittlesford, Cambridge
  • In another case in Chancery 1404-1426, William Couche was the co-defendant with Thomas Islam, concerning messuages in Shitlington, Bedfordshire 
  • In 1455 in Coventry, Richard Couche is amongst a number of weavers assigned an interest in cottages. 

The name was probably much more widespread than Jonathan Couch believed and not confined to those with western British origins. A will proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury in 1628 was that of John Couch who was in fact head cook of Wadham College, Oxford. Is this an example of a Couch who should have been a 'Cook', or just a coincidence?

The Earliest Cornish Records

Early documents with a connection to Cornwall or the West Country with the spelling of the name as Couche or Couch include a case in chancery 'Trenkreke v. Marke' of 1486-93 or 1504-1515, which mentions John Couche as one of the executors of Thomas Audeley, concerning the Manor of Lamorek in Cornwall (at one time a possession of the Bodrugans). 

In the Court of Common Pleas, under Certificates of Statute Merchant and Statute Staple, Geoffrey Couche was the plaintiff against his debtor Richard de Thornbury of Gloucester for the large sum of £28 from 26 May 1359 to 13 July 1360. Geoffrey Couche, probably the same one, appears as a witness to a property transaction concerning Sutton Prior in Devon in 1367. This latter case appears amongst the papers of the Edgcumbes of Cotchele (Cotehele). Later Couches have a connection to both the Edgcumbes and the Eliots (later Earls of St Germans) in this area. In 1382- 1383 the Geoffrey Couche mentioned above, or perhaps his son, was amongst various persons who granted land in Plymouth to the Friars Minor there. Jonathan Couch's Private Memoir mentions a connection to the Talland Couches in this area, saying that a great-uncle of his was the last of his family at St Germans, implying a long connection with the area. Three other great-uncles moved to Plymouth.

In the earliest Cornish records the name is still spelt 'Coch' or 'Coche'. In the 'Feet of Fines' for Cornwall Vol II, Richard II-Henry VI, there is a dispute between John Coche, Chaplain, and John Knoll against Richard Penpons and Amicia his wife regarding '4 messuages, 2 tofts, 120 acres of land, 100 acres of pasture, 40 acres of furze and heath and 4 acres of moor, rent 10s, in Geer Pencoos, Anter Spergorveer, Spergorvian, Trevowan and Trumburgh' (1459).  The same John Coche, Clerk, is a claimant in a quitclaim against John Beket and others regarding 1 toft and 40 acres of land at Mochellarrek in the parish of Plenynt (Muchlarnick in Pelynt). The final concord by conveyances dates between 1 September 1460 and 4 Mar 1461. Pelynt is an adjacent parish to Talland so it is quite conceivable that this John Coche was an ancestor of the later Couches of Polperro. 

The Military Survey of 1522 and the Tinners Muster Roll

The Military Survey of 1522 gives a good idea of the distribution of the Couch family at this time although the name still appears as Coche or Coyche. This survey was directed by Cardinal Wolsey to raise funds for the war in France. It required people to make declarations of their wealth, including property, debts, loans, merchandise, household implements etc. The object was to establish who owned what, where, and how much it was worth. Nothing escaped scrutiny. All males aged 16 and over were required to muster by the commissioners appointed for the hundred, with what armour and weapons they possessed. 

In Cornwall the survey only includes the names of those over 16 assessed at two pounds or more (below that sum they were considered paupers) but it did include some men marked as 'able', who could fight if necessary but who were assessed as 'nil' or 'pauper'. Anyone worth over £40 was considered to be wealthy. No Couches come into this category but three are included under the heading 'landowners', all in the Hundred of East:

  • Southill parish: John Coche 13s (annual rental value)
  • Seynt Dominick: William Coche 10s
  • Stoke Clymesland (Climsland): Richard Coche 10s value of lands, certificate of goods £3.

East: As well as those mentioned above:

  • St Stephens juxta Saltaysche (Saltash): William Coche, £5, goods and harness                                                                                John Coche, nil, able 
  • South Pythewyn (Petherwin) (lands belonging to the Prior and Convent of St Germans and part of Lawhitton Manor to the Bishop of Exeter): 
  • John Coche £10 goods and harness,  loan £10
  • Pydar: none
  • Powder: (certain parish returns are missing): St Sampson: William Coyche £10 loan
  • Lesnewth, Stratton, Kerrier and Penwith: no Couches listed.


  • Seynt Martin of Leskerd (Lands belonging to the Prior of Launceston; the Vicar of St Martins was John Corke, who was also Provost of Glasney College and very wealthy, worth harness for 4 men £66 13 0):
  • James Coyche: £6, full harness; loan £6
  • Boconnok (Boconnoc): (Henry, Earl of Devon was lord of the manor; steward Nicholas Opy):
  • James Coyche: £3, bill, sallet, pair of splints.
  • Richard Coche £? bow and 12 arrows, sallet, pair of splints
  • William Coche jnr £3, bow and 12 arrows, cote
  • Talland: St Martyn juxta Loe (St Martin at Looe): John Coyche and John Hoskynge £6, full harness, loan £6
  • Duloe: Richard Coych £4, bow plus 12 arrows, sallet, pair splints, no loan
  • Plenynt (Pleynt): William Coyche, tenant of Henry Fynche, Earl of Wiltshire,  £6 13 4,  full harness; loan Henry Fynche, £6 13 4 [This entry is slightly confusing as Henry   Stafford was Earl of Wiltshire but his grand-daughter later married a Fynch. William   Coyche no doubt held the land as the tenant of Henry Fynche, who held it of the Earl of Wiltshire.]
  • Lanraythowe (Lanreath): John Coyche £2, bow and 12 arrows.
  • Lansallos: Lanteglos/Polruan: no Couches


  • Villa of Bodmyn: William Coche jun £3 6 8                                                                                                      William Coche sen £20, loan £20
  • Bodmyn parish: Robert Coche, £2
  • St Bruard (St Breward): William Coche £2 

Under the Tinners Muster Roll and the Duchy Manors are listed: 

Penwith: St Uny by Redruth: John Coyche and Thomas his son, bill; Richard Coyche, bill.

East: Stoke Clymslond, King's tenants and tinners: John Coyche, bill, sallet; Richard Coyche, bill.

West: Leskerd Manor: James Coyche, coat, sallet splints.

Blackmore Tannary Tinners: Luxulyan: Henry Couch bow and six arrows.

The Muster Roll of 1569

By the time of the Muster Roll in Cornwall of 1569, the spelling of the name has largely become Cooch, Couch, Couche or Cowche. Men were expected to provide armour according to their means. For example,  value of property owned from £10-£20: 1 bow, 1 sheaf of arrows (24), 1 steel cap, 1 bill; £20-£40: 1 almain rivet, 2 bows, 2 sheaves of arrows, 2 steel caps, 1 bill. 

(Almain rivets were breast and back plates; pairs of splints were plates or strips to protect the forearms; a Jack was a thick, sometimes quilted leather or canvas jacket; a sallet was a short-brimmed helmet and a scull or steel cap, a close-fitting brimless version; a bow was a longbow, normally made of yew and a full sheaf of arrows held 24; a hacbut or harquebus was a firearm, like a pistol with a hooked handle and a long barrel; a bill was a farm implement – a billhook used by reapers. ) 

Couches listed on the Muster Roll are:

  • Trewardrethe (Tywardreath): Thomas Couche: Jack, bill
  • Boconocke (Boconnoc): John Cooche: Bow, 12 arrows
  • Lanretho (Lanreath): Richard Cowche: bill
  • St Clear (St Cleer): Robert Cowche: bill
  • South Petherwin: Christofer Couche: bill
  • St Germans: James Couche: jack, pair splints, bill, sallet, bow, sheaf of arrows                               John Couche: bow, 12 arrows
  • St Ive: John Couch: bow, sheaf of arrows, sallet
  • Northill: Walter Couch: Pair almain rivets, bow, sheaf arrows
  • Bodmin boro: John Couche: bow; William Couche, cardmaker: bill
  • Endelyon (St Endellion): John Couche: almain rivet, bow, sheaf arrows, steel cap, bill.
  • Liskerde (Liskeard): William Coche: bill;   James Cowche: bow & 12 arrows
  • Porthpean alias West Lowe (Looe): John Cooche, bill
  • Penryn boro: John Cooche: hacbut
  • Davidstowe: John Couche: - (presumably listed because able-bodied)
  • St Enoder: John Cowche: bill
  • Withiel: Walter Couch: bill
  • Pilaton: Walter Couch: bill.

Cornish Society Before the Tudors

When Jonathan Couch was writing his Private Memoir in the early nineteenth century Cornwall was still comparatively sparsely populated and remote; however, the Cornish language had already disappeared as the means of everyday communication. A.L. Rowse in Tudor Cornwall quotes Carew writing in his survey of Cornwall of 1602 that even in his time 'most of the inhabitants can no word of Cornish'. Michael Wood describes Cornwall at the time of the Norman Conquest:

The English had conquered Devon 700, but its Celtic character took much longer to change, although many Saxon settlers took their chance to "go west" and open up new farms in the wooded uplands. By Alfred's day the West Saxon ruling family owned royal estates in Cornwall itself . . . The process of colonisation was emphasised by Athelstan around 930, when he deported British speakers across the Tamar, which was fixed as the border of the Cornish: they were left under their own dynasty to regulate themselves with west Welsh tribal laws and customs (Wood, 1987).

Max Adams in The First Kingdom: Britain in the Age of Arthur (2021), writes: 

The constituent territories of what would become the kingdom of the West Saxons are still obscure . . . To their west, native dynasties in Dumnonia (Devon and Cornwall) are underplayed by an overtly hostile West Saxon historical record – a damnatio memoriae – but they retained their independence and the ability to undertake military campaigns well into the eighth century (Adams, 2021).

Wood estimates the population of Cornwall in the eleventh century, even in the most densely populated area on the border with Devon, as being only 5-10 people per square mile. In most of the county the population was less than five, and in the far west and north less than 2.5 people per square mile.

This was the land which William, Duke of Normandy found. About half the Cornish manors he allotted to his half-brother, Robert, Count of Mortain. These lands later formed the Duchy of Cornwall, although some of them were left in the hands of the original owners, as tenants of the tenant-in-chief. The other great tenants-in-chief were the clergy, whose holdings rivalled those of the Earls, later Dukes, of Cornwall. 

The strength of the clergy in the matters of property had been greatly increased by changes to type of land ownership during the preceding three centuries, which gave them greater powers independent of the crown. Adams explains: 

The unique brilliance of this new social contract was to convert landed assets otherwise held for a mere life-interest – the so called folcland held by thegns and gesiths from the king which returned to the Royal portfolio on their death into the freehold bocland of abbots and abbesses. Bocland or bookland – what we would call freehold – was fundamental to a relationship meant to last for eternity on Earth and in heaven. It allowed the church to invest physical labour and material wealth in permanent settlements free from the obligations of military service and taxation; to capitalize agriculture and technology. It laid the foundations for a literate, institutional clerical caste and formalized concepts of the obligations owed by kings to their people (Adams, 2021).

By the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, this power had also contributed to the fostering of corruption and abuse amongst the clergy, and often poor relations with the mayors and burgesses of the towns who were jealous of their own privileges. 

Analysing British society in 1086, as shown by the findings of the Domesday survey, Wood estimates that of a total rural population of 290,000, there were 1100 tenants in chief of the Crown with 6,000 sub-tenants. Freemen and sokemen (who paid money but were free to buy and sell land)  amounted to about 27,000 but 80 per cent of these were concentrated in Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Suffolk. The rest of the rural population – which would describe the whole of Cornwall, which lacked towns of any significant size – were bonded in some way: as villeins (who paid labour service to the lord but had a share of common fields); bordars and cottars (unfree smallholders); burs or coliberti (described by Wood as relics of an older servile class in the south); or as outright servi (slaves who were chattels of their lord, mainly in the south and south-west). As a proportion of the population Cornwall had a very high number of slaves: more than 25 per cent of the population in some areas. Serfdom was gradually phased out during the twelfth century.

Virtually no mention is made of Couch family members in surviving records before the sixteenth century and the lack of evidence from the Calendars of Charters, Fine Rolls, Pipe Rolls, etc. probably means that the family could not be counted as among the leading families of the county, although they may have had some local status.

Rowse describes the last years of the fifteenth century as Cornwall 'waking from the long sleep of the Middle Ages' and 'a new, stirring movement' coming over the land. He charts the sixteenth century as being one of growing prosperity and one when, as well as the old established families, new men came to the fore as prominent local figures.  

The tide of economic progress moved against the tenantry in the later sixteenth century. It is this that underlies the new disposition of classes, the great strengthening of the position of the gentry . . . with the dissolution itself an important aid in the process. . .It was this rising tide of prosperity which enabled all the houses to be built by the Cornish gentry . . . when there were so few at the beginning of the century (Rowse, 1957).

The local gentry were the rulers of the county in their capacities as lords of the manors and Justices of the Peace. Rowse writes that the burden of local government was borne: a core of long continuing families with larger possessions. . . In the Tudor period they were, as they had been for some time, Grenvilles and Arundells, Bassets, St Aubyns, Carews, Treffrys, Trelawnys, Edgcumbes and Godolphins, Killigrews, Tremaynes. . . some few, like the Eliots, came in or arose, like the Robarteses, towards the end of the century. Others again were snuffed out, like the Reskymers, the Carmynows, the Carnsews; or came to a bad end like the Bodrugans, or a miserable end like the Tregians. The sparseness of the population and remoteness of the county, however, meant, as Carew said, that 'All Cornish gentlemen are cousins' (Rowse, 1957).

Correspondence between Dr Jonathan Couch and his cousin, Benjamin Couch of Plymouth, (a descendant of Jonathan's great-uncle, Richard Couch) during the 1830s touches on this question of intermarriage and the consequences which could sometimes result. Benjamin Couch's wife, Lydia (née Allen) came from Pembroke where Benjamin Couch formerly worked at the dockyard. He remarked in his letter of the problem of consanguinity in small rural communities, speaking of his acquaintance Mr Thomas Coulson of Penzance 'who informed me that the same mental disease is common in Cornwall, and from the same cause, namely intermarriages' (Morrab Library Archive). 

Most surviving records of the Couch family date from the sixteenth century onwards and illustrate both their connection to the fortunes of the leading gentry families in Cornwall and their own connectedness. We could equally well say that all Cornish Couches were cousins and it is evident that they also shared in the growth in prosperity to a certain extent. 

The Couch Family as Armigerous

In his Private Memoir, Jonathan Couch records the family tradition that the family was of 'gentle' if not noble origin and entitled to bear arms. is singular that among the memorials of my own and my mother's family, in books, or elsewhere, I have never found mention of a coat of arms. Nothing of the kind is hinted at in Gilbert's History or Lyson's Survey, but this is an error (Wheeler, 1983). 

Jonathan Couch had some correspondence on the subject with Benjamin Couch who wrote:

My Dear Sir, I have questioned Captain James Couch [a grandson of Jonathan Couch's great-uncle Philip Couch of East Stonehouse and cousin to Benjamin Couch and Dr Jonathan Couch] respecting our Uncle's coat of arms, he cannot tell what became of the seal. I have a perfect recollection that the arms was a lion couchant, and to the best of my recollection, one guinea was paid at the Herald's office for the information, and Uncle was given to understand that it was the old bearing (Wheeler, 1983). 

Benjamin Couch, youngest son of Samuel Couch and Joan Libby of Talland [Jonathan Couch's great-grandparents], who lived in the parish of St George, Hanover Square, London, and who was probably the person who made enquiries about the arms of the Couch family, left a gold watch and gold seal in his will (proved in 1794) to his great-niece, Elizabeth Rogers, daughter of his niece Grace Rogers and her husband Lieutenant James Rogers RN, which may have been the seal remembered by Benjamin Couch, Jonathan Couch's correspondent. 

Jonathan Couch commented in his Memoir regarding the arms:

The colours he did not know and perhaps Heralds are willing enough to pay for them: but in the present instance the bearing seems to be too noble to be the modern creation of Heraldic imposition. Mr Benjamin Couch also informs me that it has always been the tradition that the family is of Norman origin, and came over with the first William; which is a mistake – as also are the arms (Wheeler, 1983).

In 1869, Jonathan Couch mentions a card with a coloured engraved plate of a coat of arms for Couch bearing a muzzled bear given to him by Richard Lane, whose wife Elizabeth was Jane Quiller's twin sister. This was no doubt an early example of the kind of generic coat of arms produced by enterprises specialising in heraldic objects of dubious provenance. 

Certainly, the Herald's Visitations of 1530, 1573 and 1620 do not support the family belief. The Visitations were established by Henry VIII as a duty of the College of Arms to police the unlawful use of arms. He issued a royal warrant granting the provincial Kings of Arms the right to enter houses and churches and destroy any unauthorised arms.  The Herald's Visitations in Cornwall of 1530, 1573 and 1620 were transcribed by Lieutenant-Colonel J.L. Vivian in 1887 with the addition of family trees. The Couch family were not included on their own merit but were linked by marriage to other families entitled to bear arms and this may have been the origin of the family tradition:

  • Bennet of Lawhitton: Robert Bennet of Lawhitton (d. 1607) married Elizabeth, daughter of Robert Couch of Lawhitton.
  • Crossman of Crosse: John Crossman of Crosse, son and heir of John Crossman, gent. (John Crossman senior died 4 October 1567 when his son was aged 20 years 6 months.) John Crossman junior married Blanche, daughter and coheiress of Edward Couch of St Stephens.
  • Gerveis: Thomasin Gerveis (daughter of William Gerveis and Emlin – daughter of Michael Pettit and Thomasine Bevill) married Rafe Couch of Glasney (in c1534).
  • Mannington of Mannington: Peter Mannington (son of Edward and Katherine) married Frances, one of the daughters and heiress of Edward Couch of Houghton (whose will was proved at Canterbury on 10 February 1630).
  • Thoms or Thomas alias Carnsew: John Carnsew of Lostwithiel (baptised June 1715 at St Mary Magdalene, Taunton; son of Thomas Carnsew, Supervisor of Excise, baptised 20 October 1663 and buried August 1717 at Taunton, and Margery, nee Hooper) married Elizabeth, daughter of Couch 13 February 1737 at Lostwithiel.
  • Trenance of Lanhidrock: John Trenance of Lastilion married Elinor, youngest daughter of Edward  and sister and heir of Thomas Littleton of Lanhidrake (Lanhydrock). Their child, Elizabeth married 1st Richard Rowe, and 2nd ? Couch.
  • Reskimer: John Reskimer of Marthen Esq. (Reskymer of Merthen) buried 16 February 1602 at Constantine. His daughter, Jane, married 1st John Couch of Penryn and 2nd Ralph Hawes at Gluvias.
  • Tresahar of Trevethan:  Alice, daughter of Thomas Petit married 1st James Tresahar of Trevethan in Budock and 2nd Edward Couche. 
  • Jago: William Jago born 1646 St Just in Roseland mayor of St Mawes married Ursula daughter of Nicholas Tracy at St Just c1674; Robert Jago (1655/6-1755) also Mayor of St Mawes (brother of William?) married Mary, daughter of John Couch (himself Mayor of St Mawes) at St Just c 1674/5.
  • Jones alias Valence of Penrose. Lydia Penneck Pearce who married Richard Quiller Couch, eldest son of Jonathan Couch and uncle of Q, was descended from this family. The entry in the visitations begins with George Valence alias Jones who married a sister of Sir John Danvers, Kt. 


 Evidence of the family crest used by the Plymouth branch of the family came to light when, amongst the relics of the ill-fated Franklin expedition to find the North-West Passage of 1845, a watch belonging to Lieutenant Edward Couchwas found, engraved with the Couch family crest: it was found by the McClintock expedition financed by Lady Franklin and others. There were no survivors of the expedition. 

The Local Influence of the Couch Family and Links to Leading Cornish Families

The Couches of Penryn; Roseland Peninsula; Boconnoc: Killigrew, Arundell, Tremayne, Courtenay and Mohun.


The Couch family may not have been amongst the leaders of the county but that several of them played an important part in local affairs is evident from various documents. One of the most influential was Ralph Couche of Glasney. In his memoir Jonathan Couch writes that Glasney College:

...was occupied by Black Canons of the order of St Augustine. It was richly endowed – and when dissolved in the reign of Henry 8th I find among the monks the name of Ralph Couch who was allowed a pension of £2 (Wheeler, 1983).

In his History of Glasney College, Dr James Whetter writes that 'the fourteenth century saw increasing numbers of sons of the lesser gentry, yeomen and tradespeople entering the church and using the promotion ladder this way'. He mentions, in the sixteenth century, Rauf Coche as a non-resident canon and also Philip Couche, clerk, who was inducted in 1547, not long before the Dissolution, and also Henry Couche, aged 14, a chorister, one of only four choristers left at the time of the Dissolution. There were, in fact, no monks at Glasney as Jonathan Couch believed, which was rather a college of a provost and twelve secular canons, each with his own vicar, founded in 1265 by Bishop Bronescombe. It was certainly richly endowed, holding the patronage of sixteen parishes, receiving tithes from Budock, Colan, Feock, Kea, St Allen, Manaccan, Mevagissey, Mylor, St Enoder, St Gluvias, St Just in Penwith, Sithney and Zennor. 

The career of Ralph Couche has been well-documented as he was Member of Parliament for Penryn in 1555 with John Courtenay. His biography by J.J. Goring states that he was born c.1503, and died c.1577/8. He married c.1534 Thomasin, daughter of William Gerveys of Bonallack in Constantine, as mentioned in the Visitations above. Later, in 1576, Ralph Couche was the defendant together with his wife Thomasine and a Jenny Florens, in a case in Chancery brought by Thomas Gerveys concerning property in Glasney.

Ralph Couche was a prebendary of Glasney until the dissolution, and joint bailiff with John Caplyn of the lands of Glasney College. He was also Mayor of Penryn 1552-3 and 1557-8.

Ralph Couche is described in this biography as a tin merchant but may have had fingers in several pies as a contemporary record of the Exchequer (King's Remembrancer) of 1569-1570 describes him as a vintner. He did extremely well from the Dissolution: his pension was £8 rather than £2 and he also enjoyed the yield of several properties formerly belonging to the college.  He brought actions in the Court of Augmentations against an 'ex parte' defendant, during the period of the Dissolution, the subjects being 'Prebend in Glaseney, Cornwall' and 'College in Glasney-next-Penryn, Cornwall', no doubt negotiating his pension. 

By 1549 he held a 60 year lease on lands in Budock and had purchased the site of the college and various appurtenances. He and Caplyn also obtained a lease for the terms of their lives of the tithing of corn at Mevagissey. This last was the subject of a case in Chancery in which the plaintiff was Thomas Mathewe of Buckfastleigh, Devon, a joiner; the defendants being Ralph Couche, gentleman and Harry Tremayne.

J.J. Goring also writes that 'By the end of Edward VI's reign Couche had also taken leases from the Bishop of Exeter of four corn mills, and other property in the manor of Penryn Foreign and of the anchorage, keelage and bushellage of Falmouth Haven, and from Thomas Arundell of Talverne a lease of land in Penryn Borough on which he built a wharf and warehouses.' Unfortunately for him he fell foul of the Killigrews of Arwenack and in a feud which lasted into the reign of Elizabeth he was deprived of much of this property. 

The Killigrews

That things turned nasty is illustrated by an action brought by Ralph Couche in the Star Chamber during the reign of Edward VI, the defendants being John Kyllegrewe, Nicholas Rommowe, John Kyllmyny and others, accused of the 'forcible ouster from Mills at Penryn and false imprisonment of plaintiff's servants'.

John Killigrew was the first governor of Pendennis Castle, built by Henry VIII on Killigrew  land together with the castle at St Mawes on the opposite headland to defend the haven at Falmouth. The Killigrews opposed the Catholic Mary I and came to prominence under Elizabeth I. They were notoriously corrupt and Sir John Killigrew, heir of the first John and second Governor of Pendennis, engaged in acts of piracy.

As a result of his enmity with the Killigrews Ralph Couche was forced to live abroad during part of the 1560s. Advised by family friend, Henry Chiverton, Couche had already made provision for his wife by conveying the Glasney lands to feoffees for her use and the property eventually passed to their elder son, also called Ralph. The descendants of Ralphe Couche the Elder avoided conflict with the Kiiligrews. In a Bargain and Sale of 20 July 1611, John Couche of Penryn, gentleman is recorded as having sold to Sir William Killigrew of Hamworth, Middlesex, knight:

A messuage or tenement near and adjacent to the Gate wall of late dissolved College of Glasney, parcel of said dissolved college, now in occupation of Simon Herwell blacksmith, with said gate and one decayed chamber or lodging over said gate and . . . cellar adjacent college wall and said tenement.

After 1535, conveyances of land by Bargain and Sale had to be enrolled either centrally, or locally at the quarter sessions:

Many purchasers of land chose to try to register their title to the land with the courts of law . . . They could do this by using a fictitious legal dispute, or simply by paying a fee to have it enrolled (National Archives: 'Understanding Title').

Arundell and Tremayne

Ralph Couche the Younger (born c.1535) was returned to parliament for Penryn in 1558 and Grampound in 1559. Irene Cassidy in her short biography for the online History of Parliament suggests that he was returned for Grampound through the influence of the Arundells of Lanherne, to whom he was related through his wife, Jane, daughter and coheiress of Richard Tregrove alias Nance of Nance, and also in the case of the other member for Grampound, Sir John Radcliffe, whose mother was an Arundell. The Nances were related by marriage to both the Arundells and the Courtenays. Ralph Couche the Younger left the site of Glasney College to his mother with reversion to the son of his brother John, and after him to a cousin, Ralph Couche of Bodmin.

A John Couch, whose daughter Mary married c.1674 Robert Jago, is described in the Jago family tree as being at one time Mayor of St Mawes. The Portreeve or Mayor of St Mawes was appointed at the Court Leet of the Manor of Tolverne, in the possession of a branch of the Arundells until they were forced to sell. The manor was acquired by the Tredenhams. Sir William Tredenham also acquired the Castle of St Mawes from the Vyvyans in 1678 and installed his cousin George as permanent portreeve of the borough. Later still Tolverne ended up in the hands of the Boscawens. The manor was in the parish of Philleigh where two hamlets or farms bear the names of Couches and Higher Couches. No doubt a legacy of the enterprise of Ralph Couche the elder of Penryn. A Richard Couch appears in the return of Hearth Tax of 1660-1664 living at Philleigh and the Cornwall County Archive holds wills of Richard Couch, dated 1725, and Alexander Couch, yeoman, dated 1732, both of Philleigh. A deed of 1692 records the sale of the 'moeity of lands in Tregiskis' by Sir John Tremayne to John Couch, of Mevagissey, carpenter and in 1712 another lease for 'Tregiskey' was granted to John Couch snr, of Mevagissey, millwright. The 1841 census shows one or two Couches still living at Mevagissey and St Just in Roseland. A lease of 99 years was granted by Hugh Boscawen of Fetcham, Surrey, esq. to Robert Jago of St Mawes, gent., in 1791 of Calean alisas Calighan, 'late in occupation of John Couch, then Robert Jago, then John Jago, all deceased.'

Courtenay and Mohun

Q in Memories and Opinions tells an anecdote regarding his grandmother's cook who, annoyed by her mistress one day, said of her 'She's too high in the instep for the likes of we . . . being by haveage a Courtenay of Devon.' Q's youngest brother, Cyril, was given the middle name Courtenay.  The Couches of Cornwall were also linked to the Courtenays of Devon. John Courtenay was member for Penryn at the same time as Ralph Couche the elder and also, according to his biographer Goring: 'a kinsman, being married to Elizabeth, another daughter of Richard Trengrove alias Nance of Nance, who married Thomas Arundell after John Courtenay's death'.

John Courtenay was the third son of Richard Courtenay of Lostwithiel and his second wife Jane, daughter of John Boscawen of Tregothnan. Sir Edward Courtenay had become first Earl of Devon (third creation) after Bosworth, when he was granted the title by Henry VII. He was the eldest son of Sir Hugh Courtenay of Boconnoc. At the time of the Military Survey of 1522, Henry Courtenay, Earl of Devon was Lord of the Manor of Boconnoc where John Courtenay was born c.1521. 

The close link between Cornish gentry families is illustrated by the entry for Boconnoc in Gilbert's Parochial History of Cornwall. He writes:

Edward Courtenay of Haccomb, or Boconnoc, aforesaid 16th Earl of Devon, had four sisters as is set down in his will, dated 1509, in the first year of the reign of Henry VIII, which were thus disposed of in marriage, – Elizabeth was married to John Trethyrfe of Trethyrfe [Trethurffe], from whom Courtenay of that place and Vyvyan of Trelowarren is descended; Maud to John Arundell of Tolverne . . . Isabel. . . to William Moune, from whom the Lord Mohun [later owner of Boconnoc] is descended; Florence, the fourth sister was married to John Trelawney from whom the Trelawneys of Trelawne are descended.

The 'Courtenay Faggot', a mysterious piece of wood, was supposed to have foretold this division of the Courtenay estate: 

whose age and painting approveth the credited tradition that it was carefully preserved by those noble men. . .This faggot is wrapped about the middle part with a bond and parted at the end into four sticks. . . And in semblable maner the last Erle's inherited accrued unto 4 Cornicsh gent: Mohun, Trelawny, Arundell of Talverne and Trethurffe. (Carew).

Jonathan Couch benefited from the patronage of Sir Harry Trelawny's family, recording in his Private Memoir on the death of Miss Ann Letitia Trelawny, 'the oldest and last surviving child of Sir Harry Trelawny, Baronet', that 'this event may, so far as I can see, be said to put an end to my intimate acquaintance with the Trelawny family and house; after having been their medical attendant and friend for fifty-one years.' Elsewhere, he describes how Miss Caroline Trelawny, daughter of Sir Willliam Trelawny, had drawn the likeness of his granddaughter Mary Elizabeth Hitchens (who died in 1853) and also 'of myself, wife, Thomas, and John, all highly characteristic. Miss Caroline Trelawny, now Mrs Hobhouse, excelled in this art.' It seems as though Jonathan Couch's connection with the Trelawnys may have endured after the death in 1860 of Miss Ann Trelawny as, in 1865 and 1866, several papers by him were published in the Transactions of the Royal Institution of Cornwall based on manuscripts and letters in the Trelawny archives to which he had been given access. 

John Couch was Portreeve of St Mawes when the Vyvyans were Governors of the castle and, centuries later, Q's daughter Foy Quiller-Couch was to become a close friend of Lady Clara Vyvyan of Trelowarren and herself to live in one of the flats at Trelowarren. 

William Couch was a witness to a Grant of Pension made to Nicholas Oppy [Opy] by the Prior of Tywardreath: Nicholas Opy was steward to Henry, Earl of Devon at Boconnoc in 1522. A will of George Couch of Boconnock was proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury in 1629 and amongst the records of the Tremayne family of Heligan a feoffment for Tregidgio in the parish of Creed was granted to Reginald Couch of the parish of Boconnok, gentleman, by Jason Earnly of the borough of Truro, gentleman, and Sarah his wife, for the consideration of £320 in 1699. 

That the name Couch has a long association with Boconnoc is demonstrated by the name of the hamlet 'Couch's Mill'. The census of 1841 reveals Couches still in possession of the mill and a definite link to the Couches of Talland. Jonathan Couch's Great-Uncle John (son of Samuel Couch and Joan Libby) married Elizabeth Finny and had eight children, all born at Talland. The youngest, Samuel, born 1755, married Margaret Richards and himself had eight children who were all born at Boconnoc. His son John was miller at Couches Mill, Boconnoc in 1841 and John's eldest son, Samuel aged 25, was journeyman. 

Lord Russell, who became Earl of Bedford was granted the manor of Boconnoc as part of land grants awarded to him for his role in quashing the Prayer-Book Rebellion. Later, Boconnoc passed into the hands of the Mohuns. The owner was Baron Mohun of Oakhampton. 

Boconnoc was an important royalist stronghold in the civil war. The Magna-Britannia states that Boconnoc House was occupied for a time by the ParliamentaryArmy before 1644, after a surprise attack on the garrison there; later it became the king's headquarters.  Charles I spent three weeks there and 'Prince Charles, afterwards King Charles II, was at Boconnoc in 1646, as appears from a warrant for fishing in the river Larren, signed by him and dated "from our court at Boconnoc". ' The site of the Battle of Braddock Down in which Q's hero, Sir Bevil Grenville, fought under Hopton and which won Cornwall for the Royalists, was reputed to be in part of the parkland of Boconnoc House, to the west of Braddock Church. Q's son Bevil was named after him.

That the Couches continued to have dealings with Boconnoc is shown by 'An Agreement for Grant of Wardship' amongst the papers of Coryton of Pentillie of 20 March 1618 in which Thomas Mohun of Tavistock, gentleman, granted to Giles Inglett 'custody and marriage of Elizabeth Pyper, daughter of John Pyper deceased' which Thomas Mohun had had by royal letters patent from Richard Couch, gentleman.

There is also an early Couch connection to Tavistock: a lease for ten years at a rent of 4 marks was granted by Thomas Coche of Tavistock to Matilda, widow of Walter Swetynge in 1470. (Coode and French of St Austell; Sawle of Penrice St Austell deeds). Thomas Coche also owned property in Lostwithiel. Dr Jonathan Couch translated the Cornish entries in Domesday (which he published in Volume II of the Transactions of the Natural History and Antiquarian Society of Penzance, 1851-1855) and listed the holdings of the 'Church of 'Tavestock' in Cornwall, which included land in Rame and Antony, an area definitely linked to the Couches of Talland.  

Richard Couch is mentioned on the returns for Hearth Tax at Boconnoc and gave £1 to the 'Free and Voluntary Present' of 1661. 

The Couches of Golant, Luxulyan, Bodmin and Fowey: Buller, Rashleigh and Treffry

Magna-Britannia (1814) is the source used for some of the Couch family history found in Jonathan Couch's Private Memoir. He picks out that 'Great Torfrey, sometime a seat of the family of Couch, was purchased of them in 1804 by Mr Sleman'. Torfrey is a hamlet of Golant in St Sampson's parish, the latter being formerly known as Glant.  Also, 'the Manor of Luxulion was in the hands of the Rashleigh family as early as the reign of Charles I, having been purchased of the Couches'. Both these places are close to Lostwithiel and Boconnoc and, judging by various records the Couch family in this area, were very well-to-do. 

Davies Gilbert, in his Parochial History of Cornwall (1838) says about Golant that 'in this parish is the dwelling of Reginald Couch gent., Attorney at Law, that married Vincent of Creed; his father Hawkey of St Wenowe' [St Winnow]. The parishes of St Winnow and Boconnoc were linked at one time. A note concerning the parish registers of Boconnoc in the National Archives, states that:

...the older register is said to have been carried out of the parish, on the death of Mr. Thomas Triggs, the rector by Reginald Couch, churchwarden at the time, who was then just removed to an estate in St Kew, and to have been burnt, with his house, before Mr. Albert Le Blanc was inducted (National Archives).

Reginald Couch's name appears several times in the National Archives to do with property transactions and litigation. In 1704, Reginald Couch and his wife, Joane, were involved in a case in chancery (Couch v Earnley) regarding the estate of John Vincent of Creed; and in 1706 in Hawkey v. Couch regarding property at Morval.  In 1717, Reginald Couch (gentleman) of Boconnoc, was involved in a case in Chancery against John Coryn alias John Coker (gentleman). Amongst the papers of the Tremaynes of Heligan is a copy of a 99 year lease for three lives on Lower Tregidio granted by Reginald Couch parish of Boconnoc (gentleman) to Richard Watts of Probus (yeoman) for £265, the rent 19 shillings per annum. Property at Tregidio in the parish of Creed was the subject of another agreement made by the descendants of Reginald Couch, John and Arthur Couch in 1740. Interestingly, John Couch of St Kew is described as a gentleman but his son Arthur, as a 'joyner': records of the time tended to be quite specific as to social position. Reginald Couch's will was proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury in 1729. 

The land holdings of the Couches at Golant included the tithes of the parish of St Blazey. Amongst the papers of the Bullers of Morval House are 'Attested notes of half-yearly rent tendered on behalf of Sir Richard Buller for St Blazey rectory (to Mr Couch of Golant) at Golant and St Blazey church and a receipt from James Couch for tithes of St Blazey (1608-1611 and 1603-1636). The papers of Rashleigh of Menabilly include a lease for 21 years granted by Philip Bevill of Brenne esq. to William Couch of St Sampsons, gentleman, for the tithe of wool, lambs, wood, pilchards, herrings and other small tithes of Golant (20 November 1608). In 1655, Francis Buller assigned to James and William Couch his right to present to the living at St Blazey and in 1691 the rectory and tithes of St Blazey formed part of a pre-nuptial settlement between William Couch of Golant, gent., John Hanne of Cardinham, gent., and Edward Hoblyn of Middle Temple, gent., on the marriage of William Couch and Elizabeth Hanne, daughter of John. 

Jonathan Couch mentions the Manor of Tywardreath, which he later corrects to Luxulyan, in his Memoir.  In fact Golant village was originally in the parish of Tywardreath. Bishop Oldham of Exeter wrote in 1509 that 'The Golant people being Merchants and artificers cannot leave their boats and nets -  the village lies on the banks of the river Fowey – to go all the way to Tywardreath'. In 1519 a chapel and cemetery were consecrated, later becoming the parish church of St Sampson (Rowse, 1957) .

That the Manor of Luxulyan was linked to the Couches of Golant is shown by the existence-among the Rashleigh papers concerning the Manor of Luxulyan-of a lease for 850 years for Tretharrup [Farm] granted by James Couch of Golant, gentleman, to Johnson Pascoe son of John Pascoe of Luxulyan, yeoman. Descendants of James Couch and Martha Tom, married at St Sampson/Golant 4 September 1626, were associated in the later seventeenth and early eighteenth century with Luxulyan and St Austell. James Couch came from Bodmin but was described as 'kinsman unto Mr William Couch' . William Couch of Golant had married 20 October 1594, a widow, Joane Hosken.  

Property at Golant and St Blazey, St Winnow, and Tywardreath, also firmly links the Couches of Golant and Boconnoc with Couches at Fowey and also further afield. The papers of Carlyon of Tregrehan include leases of Altarnun, St Blazey, Duloe, Golant, Gorran, Lawhitton, Tywardreath and St Winnow. A lease for 1,000 years at a peppercorn rent was granted for a consideration of £500 payable to Elizabeth and Mary, daughters of Elizabeth Couch, widow, of Fowey, to John Wolcott of Fowey, surgeon, in trust for John Couch, gentleman. 

Amongst the papers of Treffry of Place is a 'deed to make a tenant to the praecipe for suffering a common recovery' dated 17 January 1781 between:

  1. Henry Couch of Fowey, gent., and wife Elizabeth
  2. Thomas Rashleigh of Hatton Street, London, gent.
  3. Charles Rashleigh of St Austell, gent.

 The property involved included:

  •  The advowson of St Blazey alias Landresse, with tithes of corn and grain;
  •  Barn, mowhay and fields called South Torfrey, Golant, late in occ. Wm Rundle;
  •  Messuage and tenement called Tanhay, Golant, late occ. Jas Hill;
  • Churchtown tenement Golant, late occ. Wm Every;
  • Gover's and Loveday's Tenements and Bohenna's tenement;
  • Connor's tenement, Golant, late occ. Jas Hill;
  • Orchard called New Garden, Golant, in occ. Henry Couch;
  • Barn's Meadow, St Winnow, late occ. Thos Curteys, gent;
  • Richard's tenement, St Winnow, late occ. Chas Curteys;
  • James' tenement, St Winnow, late occ. Thos Curteys
  • Dwelling-house in Fowey in occ. Henry Couch; 
  • Lanescot, Tywardreath, late occ. Jane Elford;
  • Tywardreath tenement in occ. Eliz. Lobb;
  • Hilland, Duloe;
  • Tweenaway tenement, Lawhitton in occ. Mordecai Hodge; 
  • Moiety of tenement, Altarnun;
  • Moiety of North Carne, Fowey, in occ. Jn Coryton, esq.

The Rashleighs were merchants from Devon who traded out of Fowey. At the time of the Dissolution they acquired the Manor of Trenant, a former possession of the priory at Tywardreath. Thereafter they set about building up their land holdings in the Fowey area choosing to build their house, Menabilly (with which property Daphne du Maurier later fell in love and finally succeeded in leasing, using it as the model for Manderley in Rebecca), on the Gribbin Peninsula. 

At the beginning of the sixteenth century the trade out of Fowey equalled that of Plymouth and it continued to be an important centre of maritime trade even after the castles of Pendennis and St Mawes had been built to protect the harbours at Falmouth and Penryn, where the Killigrews held sway.

As early as 1512, William Couche was one of the trustees in an agreement concerning land at Fowey granted by Richard Haryndon of Fowey to the use of himself, his wife for seven years and then to Thomas Treffry and his heirs forever. William Couche appears as a witness, again for the Prior of Tywardreath in a grant of lease to Thomas Vyvyan, in 1517 and in a gift from the Prior of Tywardreath, Thomas Colyns, to William Trevanyon, Kt. of Tolcarne Mill and land in the parish of St Michael Carhays [Caerhayes] again in 1517. Deeds relating to Torfrey in Golant, Tywardreath,  are found amongst the papers deposited by the Graham family of Tywardreath with the solicitors Graham and Graham of St Austell. Q's cousin, Jonathan Couch, was a solicitor with this firm, later leaving to head the Newquay office. 

A.L. Rowse describes Q's correspondence with Henry Jenner 'the old bearded patriarch of Cornish scholarship. To him, along with with Morton Nance, we owe the revival of the ancient language' (Rowse, 1988). This did not interest Q. Jenner wondered if he were not descended from William Couch of St Sampson's, a popish Recusant of 1715, when the Jacobite Rebellion against the Hanoverians had some sympathisers down here.' Q's opinion is not mentioned, but their adherence to Catholicism might explain the decline in fortunes in this branch of the Couch family. Also, they had probably expended a great deal supporting the Royalist cause during the Civil War. The Office of First Fruits of the Exchequer (King's Remembrancer) mentions under Returns of Papist's Estates, non-jurors, the names of 'Elizabeth Couch, widow of St Sampson, alias Golant and William Couch, gent., of the same' and John Couch, gentleman, also of St Sampson.

In Tudor Cornwall Rowse discusses Catholicism in Cornwall. During the time of Elizabeth 'the chief mainstay of Catholicism in Cornwall was the Arundell family' (Rowse, 1957). The Couches themselves are not mentioned in this chapter although Nicholas Bawden 'of a St Mabyn family which was devoted to Catholicism and produced the distinguished Jesuit, Fr. William Bawden' is described as being arrested at Plymouth in 1578 in possession of papist books and relics. The Bawden family were allied with the Couches of Bodmin, as evinced by the name Bawden Couch which emerges in the sixteenth century. The descendants of Bawden Couch of Bodmin, who was born in 1580 and whose son was also called Bawden Couch, are associated with St Kew,  St Endellion, St Mabyn and Port Isaac. The Hannes of Cardinham, who were allied to the Couches of Golant in the seventeenth century, were also Catholic, as were the Tremaynes of Heligan. Anne Couch was dry nurse to Lewis Tremayne, a position of trust, c.1735. At the quarter sessions at Lostwithiel 14 July 1791, William Couche of Callington, yarnjobber, and Richard Couche of Liskeard, yeoman, were amongst those who took oaths as Roman Catholics, before Justice Henry Hawkins Tremayne. 

The Bibliotheca Cornubiensis of Boase and Courtney mentions two Catholic priests: John Couche of Tolfrey [Torfrey] nr. Fowey born 14 April 1744 and who died at Greenwich in 1813 and William Couch, born at Torfrey in 1732 who died at Liege. Father John Couche was associated with the Weld family of Lulworth Castle. Thomas Weld of Lulworth was the builder, in 1786,  of the first Roman Catholic place of worship to be built in England after the Protestant reformation. The Dorset History Centre holds a letter from Father John Couche to Edward Weld concerning a fire at Lulworth Castle. Also amongst the Weld papers is a letter addressed to Edward Weld at Rheims in 1759 from Peter Couch, a former schoolfellow at St Omer.

The Rev Sir Harry Trelawny gave refuge to a Catholic priest 'whom, though himself a protestant clergyman, he permitted to officiate in his private chapel'. Dr Jonathan Couch relates how he himself was taught Latin at the boarding school in Pelynt (to which he had been sent at the tender age of eight and a half and which had relocated from Lansallos) by an emigrant catholic priest, a M. Arzell, who had escaped from the horrors of the French Revolution and who also worshipped at the Trelawny's Chapel. Jonathan Couch wrote: 'Through this it came to pass that Popery got introduced into the family of the Rev. Sir Harry Trelawny (Wheeler, 1983).' After the death of his wife the Rev. Sir Harry Trelawny was ordained as a Catholic priest and lived in Italy, near Lake Maggiore. Sir Harry's daughters were devout Catholics. When she died in Plymouth in 1860, Jonathan Couch referred to Ann Letitia Trelawny not only as his friend but also as a 'zealous Roman Catholic, charitable to a fault'. He himself was a Wesleyan but appears to have been both charitable and broad-minded. 

Of the Tudor period, Rowse ends his chapter:

So these families conformed or came to an end . . . Only the Tremaynes have survived, at Heligan; and though they carried on their Catholicism a good way into the seventeenth century, in the end they conformed, and came even to own the tithes at St Austell. The Tregians are farmers where once they owned the land; the only Bawden I have known was a steeplejack . . Even the Arundells have long left the county, and Lanherne is no longer theirs (Rowse, 1957).

The Couches of Launceston

In his Private Memoir, Jonathan Couch cites Gilbert's History of Cornwall, vol. 2: 'Under the South Aisle of Launceston Church lies enterred the Genteel family of Couch, late of this town.' By the sixteenth century the Couch family were well established in the Launceston area. The Military Survey of 1522 lists Couches (then Coche or Coyche) at South Petherwin. By the seventeenth century there are several documents in the National Archives referring to Couches who were tradesmen in the town, but also Richard Couch,  gentleman. The marriage of Richard Couch, gentleman, to Mary Pellow of Werrington took place on 18 September, 1651 at St Mary Magdalene and in 1658, that of Mary, daughter of Robert Couch, gentleman to John Arnet, gentleman. A will proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury in 1653 was that of William Couch of Milton Abbot, Devon who owned land in both Werrington, Devon and Launceston. 

The Borough Accounts of 1659/60 mention that 'The King's Audit [was]  held at Mr. Richard Couches house', and in 1661 Richard Couch as Mayor of Launceston granted a lease to William Stokes of the 'new house adj. to the west end of the Guildhall and Market House of the boro.'

Richard Couch succeeded Richard Grills (Grylls) as mayor. There are links to the Couch family with the Grylls in that Tabitha Grylls Adams who lived at Laneast, was a niece of John and Grace Couch of Egloskerry. John Couch was described as a miller in a lease regarding property at Badharlick of 1795 but must have been educated, as Tabitha Grylls Adams inherited her uncle's library, and later her aunt's property at Badharlick, Egloskerry, which enabled her to pay for the education at Cambridge of her gifted sons, of whom the best known was John Couch Adams, the mathematician and astronomer. 

Deeds and leases of Richard Couch, gentleman of Lawhitton nr. Launceston later appear amongst the papers of the Grylls of Helston. Elizabeth, daughter of Robert Couch of Lawhitton, married Robert Bennet of Lawhitton, and was noted in the Herald's Visitations as linked to that family. 

Amongst the wills proved in the Court of the Bishop of Exeter was that of William Couch esq. of Launceston as late as 1784. 

Jonathan Couch cites the Magna Britannia vol. 3 by Daniel and Samuel Lysons (1814) which states of South Petherwin (Launceston) that:

The bartons of Trevozah and Landlake became the property of Jonas Morgan, esq., by marriage with the heiress of Couch, in whose family they had been many years: the farm-house in the former barton has occasionally been occupied by Mr. Morgan.' Lysons, 1814)

A foot note states that 'A farm called Coombe still belongs to a younger branch of the family (Lysons, 1814)'. This entry refers to the marriage of Jonas Morgan esq. of Tavistock, in 1778, with Mary Cook Couch, daughter of Diggory Couch of South Petherwin, who had married his first cousin, Jane Couch. His father, another Diggory, had coincidentally also married his own first cousin, another Jane Couch. He in turn was the son of William Couch. 

There was pre-nuptial settlement dated 31 October 1778 between Mary Cook Couch of Landleake, Jonas Morgan of Woodovis, Tavistock esq., and the trustees – the Rev. Nicholas Vyvyan of Lamerton, Devon, gent., Edward Gostrick of North Tawton, Devon, gent., and Richard Tozer of Sydenham, gent - concerning the property at Trevosa, Landlake, Landlake Mills, Beacon Down, Pethern House and garden, Burdown and the moiety of a tenement in Blackpit, all in South Petherwin, together with Trewarlett in Lezant, which were vested in the trustees. In turn, Jonas Morgan gave to the trustees Hole in Torbryan, Devon and a tenement in Ipplepen.

Mary Cook Couch died at the age of thirty two, as a monument at the church in South Petherwin attests. Under the terms of Jonas Morgan's will her property at Trevosa was inherited by her sons, John and Charles, and that at Landlake by William, except for an annuity of £80 to Mary, their daughter. William inherited the residue of his father's estate.  

There were already Couches in Tavistock, as has been mentioned in connection with Boconnoc. Also, Mary and Jonas' son Captain John Morgan lived at Collins House at Bereferris [Bere Ferrers], Devon, where in 1811 Daniel Little Couch, great-grandson of Philip Couch, Jonathan Couch's great-uncle, was born. Daniel Little Couch's father, another Daniel Little Couch was a Commander in the Royal Navy. 

The Couches of St Germans and Talland: Edgcumbe, Eliot and Trelawny

St Germans

The largest landowner in Launceston and the surrounding area was the Priory of          St Germans. Jonathan Couch implies a long connection between the Couch family of Talland and  St Germans. The last prior of St Germans, Roger Swymmer, was also vicar of Talland from 1520-38  'to which Launceston Priory appointed him' (Rowse, 1957). 

The most influential families in the St Germans area were the Edgcumbes and the Eliots.

Rowse notes that at the beginning of the sixteenth century there were only a few very large houses in Cornwall: Bodrugan, Lanherne (Arundell), Cotehele (Edgcumbe), Stowe (Grenville) and Place at Fowey (Treffry), but by the end of it this had expanded to include Place at Padstow (Prideaux), Arwennack (Killigrew), Trerice (Arundell), Morval (Buller), Mount Edgcumbe, Godolphin, Port Eliot, Penheale (Grenville), and Lanhydrock (Robartes).  

John Eliot, like the Rashleighs, was a merchant of Devon, trading between Ashburton and Plymouth and Fowey. After the Dissolution, the monastic buildings of the Priory of St Germans were leased from Henry VIII by John Champernowne, a favoured member of his household. John Eliot acquired the property from Henry Champernowne and the house was renamed Port Eliot. Sir John Eliot was knighted by James I and was a prominent Parliamentarian during the civil war. He died in the Tower in the Restoration but the family fortunes recovered during the eighteenth century and the title Earl of St Germans was created in 1815. A lease was granted by John Eliot of Port Eliot to Charity Couch in 1635 and the 1841 census includes Elizabeth Couch, a servant at Port Eliot House. 

The Edgcumbes were an old family whose seat was Cotehele at St Dominick near Saltash. Through the marriage of Piers Edgcumbe to Joan Durford in the fifteenth century, the family acquired the land on which they built their house Mount Edgcumbe on the Rame Peninsula, later becoming the Earls of Mount Edgcumbe. 

Sir Piers Edgcumbe employed a Couch as auditor and steward to his courts, as correspondence amongst the papers of Edgcumbe of Cotehele shows. The position of steward in an influential family was one of some importance, with the potential for personal advancement. Adams notes:

...the elevation of bailiffs to de facto lords by virtue of their social seniority on an estate. The career path from Steward to Stuart is well-trodden in Scotland while, in Gaul, the Carolingian dynasty emerged from former mayors of the palace (Adams, 2021)

One such, Tregeagle, foster-brother to Earl Radnor of Lanhydrock, and his chief steward, even passed into Cornish folk-lore. Q's father, Dr Thomas Quiller Couch, related the various legends associated with Tregeagle in a paper published in Volume II (1851-1855)  of the Transactions of the Natural History and Antiquarian Society of Penzance. Tregeagle was apparently a cruel and severe man with considerable power whose exploits were exaggerated into a legend which had him selling his soul to the Devil in return for untold wealth. He paid his forfeit in the end, and screaming children were said by their mothers to 'roar like the great Tregeagle.' 

Rowse writes that:

We know that the nobles at court were not averse to accepting the chief stewardship of houses, the duties of which were neglible. . . The Marquis of Exeter, among several such offices, was chief steward of St Germans, with a fee of £2. . .  Sir John Chamond was the chief layman connected with the Cornish houses: he was chief steward of Tywardreath (66s 8d), of Launceston (53s 4d), and of Bodmin (£5) (Rowse, 1957).

The fortunes of the Prideaux family were made by Nicholas Prideaux, bailiff to Prior Vyvyan of Bodmin. Prideaux Place at Padstow was formerly a tithe barn belonging to the priory at Bodmin and Nicholas Prideaux ended up with the lucrative fish tithes there.

In the nineteenth century Henry Couch was steward at Trebartha at North Hill, which belonged to the Rodd family. The Rodds inherited Trebartha from Mrs Grylls and were related to the Tremaynes. The Couch mentioned in the Edgcumbe correspondence may have been one of the Couches of Boconnoc or Golant. 

Copies of letters of Peirs [Piers] Edgcumbe to John Tredynham [Tredenham] state that:

He had spoken with steward about demands of P.E. for lands held by John Tredynham in Ventonveth in Veryan for 3 reliefs. Crosse had shown J.T. a scroll and told P. E it was not valid as it was not signed or sealed. Crosse had shown previous accounts where reliefs for said lands had been levied, pepper rent constantly paid until Couch's purchase. Couch was P. E's auditor and steward of his courts and would not allow reeves of 'that manor' to account for rent or relief. P.E.'s father trusted Couch and thereby was abused. 

A second letter, dated 'Cornwall, Pelyn 1615' in the Edgcumbe papers is from Walter Kendall to Sir Richard Edgcumbe:

...concerning sealing of conveyance for Sir Richard's purchase of Chilbroke [Roche] and Kerniche [Luxulyan]. Mr Couch has paid £50. Asks that bill of exchange for balance be paid to Mr Thomas Lane in London. Wishes Sir Richard Joy of his purchase, but if he mislikes it, will buy it back at years end as agreed.

William Couche, gent., and Gilbert Treswaller were appointed attornies to deliver the seisin of the above on 31 October1615.

Another connection with the Edgcumbes resulted from the marriage of Frances Couch, daughter and co-heiress of Edward Couch of Houghton with Peter Manaton (which name later became Mannington) of Manaton, Southill, on 28 September 1573. Their second son was Ambrose Manyngton. In 1613 he married Anne, the daughter of Peter Edgcumbe of Mount Edgcumbe and widow of Peter Trefusis of South Petherwin. His brother-in-law, Sir Richard Edgcumbe was a near relative of Sir Nicholas Prideaux.  Helped by his connections to the Edgcumbes, Ambrose Manyngton became MP for Bossiney (1621), Tregony (1624), and Launceston (Dunheved)  in April 1640, from November 1640 to 22 January 1644, and in 1644 during the Oxford Parliament. He entertained Charles I for a night at his house Trecarrel in Lezant before the King went on to Boconnoc, and he was reputedly at Mount Edgcumbe with his nephew, Piers Edgcumbe, when the house surrendered to Thomas Fairfax in February 1646.

A case in chancery Luxton v Couch, in 1699, involved George Couch, his wife Barbara and Richard Couch and concerned property in St Germans and Lanlivery. These were probably George and Richard Couch of Boconnoc, and records dating from 1687 involve correspondence from Thomas Couch to J. Rashleigh of Stoketon, Saltash, regarding J. Rashleigh's purchase of land at Liskeard. 

Jonathan Couch mentions his family at St Germans as farming there. Amongst the papers of Peter Hoblyn of Colquite, St Mabyn an enfeoffement regarding a messuage in North Street Plymouth involved Nicholas Couch, husbandman, of St Germans, in 1644. The Calmady Manuscripts include a lease granted 1765 by Warwick Calmady esq and Shilston Calmady esq to John Couch of St Germans, yeoman, of a farm called Coomshead in Stoke Climsland, thus linking two known areas where Couches had been long established .

The Trelawny family papers (of Coldrenick, St Germans), concern land in South Coldrenick. Dated 30 November 1633, they include a 99 year lease granted on the lives of Thomas and George Couch and Roger Jory for a consideration of £4; and rent 17/- p.a. from Henry Becket Coruther esq., to Henry Jory, Coldrenick, yeoman (Trelawny papers, 30 Nov 1633). Jonathan Trelawney of Coldrenick was second cousin to the Trelawnys of Trelawne at Looe, and through their interest became MP for West Looe in 1681 and from 1690 to 1695. 

William Coche and John Coche appear in the 1522 Military Survey at St Stephens juxta Saltash and in the 1569 Cornwall Muster Roll at St Germans are James and John Couche. The name Tristram Couch is associated with both St Germans and Talland. A Tristram Couch died at St Germans in 1587.


Tristram, John, Richard and Roger Couch appear on the Hearth Tax Returns of 1660-1664 for Talland. In 1628 Tristram and Agnes Couch had a son as did John and Elizabeth Couch. A Tristram Couch was baptised at Talland in 1669, the same year that Samuel Libby, Jonathan Couch's great-grandfather was born.

Family tradition had the Couch family farming as yeomen at Talland from the time of Elizabeth I and before: evidence from the records shows that there is a John Coyche on the 1522 Military Survey at St Martyn juxta Loe under the entry for Talland; also, in 1598, a lease for 13 years was granted for fields at Essey in the Manor of Polruan, to John Couch of Polruan, Merchant, by John Rashleigh of Menabilly. However, most of the names in the Talland register date from the seventeenth century. 

Tristram Couch, described as a yeoman, had a son John for whom he was forced to pay a bond for £50 in 1656 to the Borough of West Looe Overseers, when Ann Ward of Talland accused John of being the father of her child. The mayor and burgesses were indemnified from all charges.

The will of a Tristram Couch, yeoman of Talland, who died in 1668, probably the son of the Tristram Couch mentioned above, made legacies to the poor of the parish as well as his four married daughters,  his grandson Thomas White and cousin Jane Martyn, with the residue to his wife Elizabeth. The will was witnessed by John Treffry. 

Roger Couch of Talland was also described as a yeoman, in disputes of 1673 with the Borough of East Looe, which brought two cases against him: 

  • Matthew Parsons of Bodmin v Roger Couch of Talland, yeoman for non payment of rates;
  • Henry Libby v Roger Couch disputed sale of barley, also writ to distrain from Roger Couch's goods to value of £14-10-0 (records of Borough of East Looe).

A descendant of Roger Couch, also Roger, is mentioned in a lease of 1794 as having lived in Polperro: it was a 99 yr lease granted by Sir Jonathan Phillips of St Stephens by Launceston and John Phillips carpenter of Tavistock, esq., to Edward Soady of Polperro and comprised a 'dwelling house in Polperro, part of manor of Raphiel, facing the Green . . . near the Higher Bridge, late in occ. of Roger Couch'.

Q was directly descended from Samuel Couch of Talland (his great-great-great-grandfather) who married Joan Libby in 1696. Dr Jonathan Couch's (Q's grandfather) own grandfather was also Jonathan Couch and Dr Jonathan Couch thought that Samuel Couch's father was also called Jonathan. It was probably John as no records of a Jonathan have been found (although he might have been known as Jonathan, especially if his father was also called John). The Magna Britannia helpfully quotes Carew on this : 'The Cornish...entitle one another with his own and his father's Christian name and conclude with the place of his dwelling. '

Samuel Couch had twelve sons: John (1697), Samuel (1699), Peter (1701), John (1705), Samuel (1708), Joseph (1709), Jonathan (1711, Q's great-great-grandfather), Philip (1713), Richard (c.1715) James (1716), William and Benjamin in 1719, thus lending credence to Jonathan Couch's belief that Samuel Couch's father was a Jonathan or John. Couch marriages registered in the area include those of John Couch and Margery Frances in 1655 at Talland; John Couch and Joan Richards in 1659 at Lansallos; and John Couch with Jane Hill in 1660, at Lansallos. 

Dr Jonathan Couch also thought that only his own grandfather (Jonathan) remained in Talland and that he was the youngest of the twelve, but neither of these suppositions was correct. In fact he came in the middle position. The first two of his brothers, John and Samuel, died young but the children of the second John were all born in Talland, although their descendants could be found in later records at East Looe, Fowey and Boconnoc. 

Samuel Couch's third son was called Peter. Richard Couch of Talland, who was probably Samuel's uncle, had two children by his marriage to Grace Notle, Grace and Peter. Dr Jonathan Couch's father was called Richard, probably after his own uncle Richard, another son of Samuel Couch. The names James and William are strongly associated with the Couches of Golant, perhaps suggesting a link. A James Couch, gent, of Lansallos, made a will (1683) leaving substantial property. This mentions his brothers William, Robert, and John, and sisters Elizabeth, Maria, Dorothy and Margaret, all names associated with the family of James Couch (a cousin of William Couch of Golant) and Martha Tomes of St Sampsons, Golant. Dorothy Couch (2nd wife of James) of St. Sampsons left a will in 1691, making bequests to her son Robert; the widow and children (James, John and Richard) of her son John; Susanna daughter of William Couch; her daughter Dorothy and two grand-daughters; and her daughter Margaret.

Some trees on the website mention another son of Samuel Couch, Edward (1720-1772). The name Edward is perhaps significant as the marriage of Samuel Couch and Joan Libby was registered both in Talland, and Southill (where Frances Manaton, daughter of Edward Couch, had lived) suggesting that one of the parties lived there at the time of the marriage. Banns would have been called in both parishes. Sarah Roose Couch, a daughter of Jonathan Couch by his third marriage to Sarah Lander Roose, married Jonathan Couch of St Austell, whose parents were Edward Couch and Hannah Tresise. The marriage of Edward and Hannah took place at Stepney, London. The name Edward Couch is also associated with St Clements, Truro. However, Jonathan Couch's Private Memoir is definite as to there being 'twelve brethren', all of whom are accounted for so, in the absence of further evidence, the name Edward as a son of Samuel Couch and Joan Libby should be treated with caution. 

Jonathan Couch writes that:

My father is usually understood to have been born at Trerest or Minadhu: where also his father died. But whether this was in the old house standing there, or in the more modern one adjoining (which however must have been rebuilt since that time)  I do not know (Wheeler, 1983).

Samuel Couch his great-grandfather was living at Trerest in 1733 and died c.1738.  Later on in the Memoir, Jonathan Couch writes:

The estate called Trerest or Menadhu, which I now possess, was in his possession: but no house ever belonged to it; so that he could not have lived on it but probably occupied more than his own ground (Wheeler, 1983).

These statements are slightly confusing and apparently contradictory. The Land Tax Redemption returns for Talland in 1798 confuse the issue further as they name the proprietor of Trerest as the Rev Nicholas Kendle [Kendall of Pelynt] with the land occupied at that time by Edward Aloe and Mr Bennets (two parcels); Minadue is the property of John Woolcombe Esq., and occupied by a Jose; and Richard Couch is the occupier of Portallow, the property of Sir Harry Trelawny. 

However, there is no reason to doubt Jonathan Couch's assertion that he was in possession of the estates – probably as the last life of a lease. The occupiers mentioned in the Land Tax Returns were not necessarily the leaseholders. The Private Memoir mentions that since the repeal of the Corn Laws, the price of corn had fallen but taxes were still high, leading to the demise of smaller tenant farmers. Jonathan Couch writes:

To keep a good tenant some landlords have found it prudent to submit to a deduction of 25 per cent on the former rent, myself even more than that . . . I have been compelled to agree to sink the rent of Langreek from £70 to £50, and think it well to keep a tenant at that price. There was a time when this estate was let for £110. I cannot succeed in getting a tenant for Pleaton and Will's Trerest, and therefore must feel obliged to the tenant if he will retain it with a lowering of the rent from £70 to £50 (Wheeler, 1983).

A 1905 map shows Menadue Cottage to the North East of Trerest-which was by that time called Tarista- and Porthallow, where Jonathan Couch's father Richard lived, further to the south-east of both, with Polperro along the coast to the west. Landgreek Farm ('Langreek' in the Private Memoir) and Little Landgreek in Polperro lie just to the west of Crumplehorn. 

 The 1798 return names a Richard Couch as the tenant of St Veep in Talland, another property of Sir Harry Trelawny and a Richard Couch was also the tenant of Lord Camelford at Lanteglos-by- Fowey. George Couch was in occupation of a house and garden owned by the Borough of West Looe; a Francis Couch at East Looe; and a William Couch the tenant of Lisquite Mill at Lansallos. The proprietor of 'Couches' at St Winnow (Boconnoc) was a Miss Hunt.

It is likely that Jonathan Couch's great-grandfather, Samuel Couch was the grandson of John Couch of Mortha, yeoman, whose will of 1643 left bequests to his sons Samuell, Denizell, Roger, Richard and John and his daughters Elizabeth, Agnes and Grace. Mortha is very close to both Tarista (Trerest) and Menadue, and Porthallow is only a little further to the south-east. Jonathan Couch's great-great-grandfather was probably the John Couch who married Margery Frances in Talland in 1655. Interestingly, the banns were also called in Southill parish, as were the banns of Samuel Couch and Joan Libby. The marriage of Roger Couch of Talland to Katherine Tomlinson, 12 November 1690 was another marriage where the banns were also called in South Hill; as was the marriage of Richard Couch and Grace Notle on 14 May 1660.  This may have been because of the Trelawny connection: the incumbent of Southill at the time of Davies Gilbert's Parochial History of Cornwall was Hele Trelawny, son of Bishop Trelawny who was succeeded as Rector of Southill by his brother Edward, then his son Hele. 

John Couch of Mortha was probably the son of John Couch, husbandman of Talland, who died in 1616 and who married Sibblye Rennols of St Veep on 12 November 1581. They had several children including John, Roger, Denezell, Epiphany (a daughter) and two other daughters. The Couch family owned leasehold property in St Veep at the end of the eighteenth century as Richard Couch is mentioned on the land tax return of 1798. The names John, Roger, Richard and Denizell also appear amongst the children of John Couch of Mortha. The branch of the family linked to Tristram Couch was most likely descended from a brother of John Couch husbandman of Talland (died 1616), and probably ultimately from John Coyche of the Parish of St Martin at Looe mentioned in the Military Survey of 1522. 

The Couches of London

Another family tradition has it, as mentioned in the Private Memoir, that 'some of those who went abroad went to London, where I have heard one got employ in some situation attached to the palace'. A document by the Exchequer (Office of First Fruits and Tenths and the Court of Augmentations) of 1567 mentions a 'Certificate of Residence showing Robert Couche to be liable to taxation in the Royal Household'. Two cases in Chancery of Couche v Clerk of 1502-1503 and 1504-1515 mention 'Robert Couche of London Ironmonger' and 'Robert Couche of London Tailor' - probably the same person-  regarding property in Golant, Cornwall, the former seat of the Couch family,  and also Moorwinstow, Devon and Morestow Cornwall. The Robert Couche at the palace may have been a descendant. The name Robert Couch is also associated with Bodmin and the Couches of Golant were related to those at Bodmin.

Benjamin Couch, son of Samuel Couch and Joan Libby, lived in Hanover Square , where he was described as a gentleman. Having no surviving children, his estate was divided among his relatives, including £30 to Richard Couch, father of Jonathan. Jonathan Couch mentions in his Memoir a legacy of £50 as coming from a great-uncle 'the last of my family at St Germans', whom he later states as being Peter Couch, third son of Samuel and Joan, so there were probably two separate legacies to his father. 

The correspondence between Jonathan Couch and his cousin Benjamin Couch (a grandson of Richard Couch)  includes a reference to the living of Talland. Benjamin Couch writes that:

Mr Tancock, 2nd master of the Classical School at Devonport, sent me a note a few weeks hence, offering to get my son the curacy of Talland, the Rev. Mr Kendall being Mr T's relative. I enquired the stipend  £50 a year. O Times! £50 a year and after spending £1,000 to qualify for the pulpit. The church is now what some day society in general will be: luxury at one end and poverty at the other (Wheeler,1983)

Benjamin Couch's son, the Rev. Benjamin Franklin Couch, became curate of Hampstead, London but amongst his several appointments were two in Cornwall. He was curate of St Clement, Truro and Landrake with St Erney. 

One interesting coincidence, if it is one, is that Jane Rundle Hitchens, eldest daughter of Jonathan Couch's marriage to Jane Prynn Rundle, moved with her husband and family to Brenchley in Kent, the village next to Horsmonden, where a John Couch had formerly had the living of the rectory. This gives rise to speculation that there may have been a long-established family connection with the area, especially as it seems odd that the Hitchens had moved to what is an extremely small village in Kent unless they already had connections there, although the Private Memoir does not elaborate. 

Three sons of Samuel Couch and Joan Libby, Joseph, Richard and Philip, moved to Plymouth, where their descendants were shipwrights, ships'-carpenters and naval officers. The Captain James Couch mentioned in the correspondence between Jonathan and Benjamin Couch, and who was a grandson of Philip Couch, also lived for some years at Camberwell, London. 

Nothing is known of the other sons of Samuel and Joan Couch, James and William, but it is likely that they predeceased their brother Benjamin Couch as they are not mentioned in his will, unlike his other brothers.

Couch Family Emigrants to America

Dr Jonathan Couch writes in his Private Memoir :

I received enquiry through a friend from an American captain of a merchant ship – Mr Robert Couch of Newberry Port in the State of Massachusetts as to the probability whether his family and mine are the same. His father or grandfather had emigrated from some part of Wales, of which he considered his family originally to have been, and this fact does not render it the less probable that our families were originally the same; for the names of places and in many instances of persons are common to both but the separation of the Couches of his stock must have been in a remote age.

The History of Essex County Massachusetts relates how Philip H. Blumpey (a merchant of Newburyport of French Huguenot origin whose ancestors lived in Guernsey) took an 'interest' in 1855 in the ship George West, of which Captain Robert Couch was master and part-owner. Captain Couch sought a cotton freight in New Orleans and:

'...fixed his terms and laid up the ship in the Mississippi until his figures were reached. At Liverpool she was taken for China on a French account, and made a very handsome voyage, returning to England, where she sold at a high price, when gold was at from seventy to eighty per cent premium. It was one of those rare instances where the value of the ship is buried beneath her income (Hurd, 1888).' 

The George West was a ship of 1123 tons built by John Currier Jr – of a family of ship builders at Newburyport – in 1855. A note in the History reads:

Previous to 1850 it was the custom of builders to contract with owners to deliver the ship with hull and spars only. After that date it was customary with Mr Currier to furnish the ship complete and ready for sea with sails, anchors, rigging, boats, cabin furniture, crockery, ballast etc. (Hurd, 1888).

In 1848 Captain Robert Couch was master of the brig Samson, which docked at New Orleans in that year, and in 1854 of the ship Grinding Star, sailing from Liverpool to Boston. This latter was a ship of 900 tons built at Newburyport and registered at the Custom House in 1853. 

The Vital Records for Couch before 1850 published by the Essex Institute, Salem, Massachusetts 1911 (transcribed by a Kenneth Couch) give two Robert Couches born in Newburyport but the most likely one is the son of William and Elizabeth Couch, born 28 June 1817. In 1870 a Robert Couch, probably the same one, was 13th Mayor of Newburyport and again in 1881-when he was 20th Mayor-and in 1884 was appointed President of the Marine Society. The Marine Society had been established in 1772 to promote the interests of ship masters and create a fund for the assistance of needy masters and their families. It was very active in building defences during the American Revolutionary War. Newburyport itself had been created in 1764 as a new town, distinct from Newbury, which had found conflicts of interest between those inhabitants who were mainly husbandmen, and the merchants and traders who lived at the water-side. Newburyport became a centre for shipping and shipbuilding, where there were three shipyards. 

Another Couch, John Heard Couch (1811-1879) of Newburyport was a sea captain and one of the pioneer founders of Portland, Oregan. He may have been related to Robert Couch but was not a brother. 

Robert Couch thought his ancestors were Welsh but Couch was not a common surname there and, until late in the nineteenth century, when there were quite a few Couches in Glamorgan and Pembroke, there were hardly any Couches in Wales. Most of the early Welsh emigrants to America in the seventeenth century settled in Pennsylvania. Robert Couch's ancestors probably came from Devon or Cornwall and embarked for America from a Welsh port, but whether he was a distant relative of the Talland Couches is impossible to establish without further information. 

 Jonathan Couch's Memoir also refers to another Robert Couch of America: 

I have become possessed of a little book called Praxis Catholica, or The Countryman's Universal Remedy, written by Robert Couch, sometime Practitioner in Physick and Chyrurgery at Boston in New England, and who probably was among the ancestors of the person there mentioned [Captain Robert Couch] . . . This Robert Couch appears to have been an able medical practitioner, and a learned and sensible man, and he informs us that he had accompanied the English Army serving in Flanders as a surgeon (Wheeler, 1983).

The manuscript of the Praxis Catholica was acquired on the death of Robert Couch by Francis Willis of Ware River, Virginia (where Robert Couch had died) and who sent it to the London chemist Christopher Pack. Pack arranged for its publication with his own additions (about which Jonathan Couch was scathing) and with a dedication to Willis. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography says of Christopher Packe that he set up his laboratory in 1670 at the sign of the 'Globe and Chemical Furnaces' in Little Moorfields, London, and styled himself a professor of chemical medicine, and 'practised as a quack under powerful patronage including that of the Hon. Robert Boyle and Edmund Dickinson, physician to the king' .

The New England Historical and Genealogical Register has this Robert Couch as originating in London, citing a document in the Suffolk deeds of 6 April 1663 by which:

John Tottey of Ratcliff in the parish of Stepney, County of Middlesex, England, gave a power of attorney to his trusty and well-beloved friend Robert Couch of Shadwell in the parish of Stepney, chirugion (now bound forth and intended for a voyage to New England)(NEHGR, 1985).

Robert Couch lived most of his life in America in Boston, with a brief period in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and in Virginia, where he died towards the end of the 1670s. Captain Robert Couch was frequently at Boston but he thought his family came from Wales and that it was his father or grandfather who had emigrated, which would have been quite a lot later than Robert Couch the surgeon, so they were probably not related. Jonathan Couch thought that: 'it is probable that a General Couch of the Northern Army of the States in the war between the North and South, was descended from him [Captain Robert Couch]'.

Major-General Darius Nash Couch, born in Southeast, Putnam County, New York, in 1822 was descended from Simon Couch of Hartland, Devon, born in 1833, the son of Lewis Couch (also spelt Lewes Cowche in some records) and Isot Maine, of Hartland, Devon. Andrew Symons points out that the unusual name of Isot is a derivative of Isolde or Iseult, the legend of Tristram and Isolde being particularly associated with Cornwall. A memorial of Darius Couch (who apparently pronounced his name 'Coach') tells of how Simon Couch and two of his brothers, reluctant to go to London to be educated, stowed away on a ship at Plymouth and indentured themselves to some of the first settlers in Connecticut who had arrived there in the 1620s (the 'Pilgrim Fathers'). Simon Couch became a very large landowner in Fairfield County, Connecticut.


Records show that by the sixteenth century the Couch family was firmly established in the east and south of Cornwall centred around St Germans, Launceston, Liskeard, Bodmin and Lostwithiel, and reaching as far down as Penryn and Falmouth, including the Roseland peninsula. There were very few early Couches in the far west of the county, apart from a cluster at St Ives where the recurrence of the name Anthony in records suggests a link to St Germans. 

The areas where Couch family members were most firmly entrenched were also those where the influence of the great priories of Bodmin and St Germans, and to a lesser extent Tywardreath, held sway. Combined with the influence of the leading gentry families of Arundell, Courtenay and Edgcumbe, the opportunities offered by the coinage towns of Liskeard, Lostwithiel, and Truro; together with the great maritime and mercantile traffic of the harbour of Fowey and the development of that at Falmouth these areas offered opportunities for employment and social advancement. Indeed, the triangle between St Austell and Fowey, had had importance as a trading centre since the Iron Age, when the two great centres of trade with the continent were Trethurgy, two miles north of St Austell, and Tintagel on the opposite coast. Fragments of pottery and glass found at Trethurgy indicate a trading history at least until around 600 CE, and include fragments from as far away as Bordeaux, South-West Dorset and Oxfordshire (Adams, 2021).  

By and large, evidence shows that the family's beliefs about their origins were correct. Whilst they never achieved the prominence of rising merchant families such as the Rashleighs and the Eliots, some achieved gentle status via the law and the church or as successful merchants and tradesmen by acquiring land holdings. Some Couches were 'gentle' but would probably not have been classed as 'gentry', although their daughters were considered worthy of alliance with minor gentry families such as the Manatons of Manaton. They were not included in the records of the Herald's Visitations of Cornwall, except as allied to other families. The coat of arms which Benjamin Couch (son of Samuel Couch and Joan Libby) was given at the Herald's Office may have been the arms of a Couch family elsewhere in England. Evidence that it was in use by some branches of the family, however, was shown by the watch engraved with the Couch crest in the possession of Lieutenant Edward Couch and which was found by the McClintock expedition of 1854, in search of survivors of the Franklin expedition. 

It is impossible to locate a Couch in Cornwall from whom all other Couches were descended, or even to say for certain whether they are all related. The name being derived from a descriptive term, rather than a place name, slightly lessens the likelihood. However, one can pinpoint the most likely centre of origin as being in the area between Liskeard, Lostwithiel and Looe, with Golant as the place where the Couch family established their 'seat'. There was also a strong link to the county of Devon and Couches of this area. Records demonstrate links between Couches in all the principal areas mentioned above, and it is extremely likely that the Couches of Talland were a cadet branch perhaps arriving at Talland via Pelynt but also St Germans. 

The names of Samuel Couch and Joan Libby's twelve sons were a mixture of biblical and kings' names, which was traditional, but they also demonstrated, as was also a strong tradition in Cornwall, family connections. From the evidence as to landholdings contained in the Private Memoir,  and their geographical locations, and various wills held in the Cornwall County Archive-Kresen Kernow-it is probable that Samuel Couch was descended from John Couch of Mortha, who died in 1644: a yeoman farmer born during the reign of the first Elizabeth, as family tradition had it and whose parents were probably John Couch husbandman of Talland (died 1616) and Sibblye Rennols of St Veep; and probably ultimately from John Coyche of St Martin at Looe of the Military Survey of 1522.

A comparison with wills and records of the sixteenth century and the 1841 census, when population movement was still relatively stable, shows Couch family members still where they had always been, with some wider dissemination to the north and west of the county. The sons of Samuel Couch and Joan Libby who did not remain at Talland sought their fortune in areas where they already had Couch connections. During the period of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Couch family shared in the general prosperity of the region and several of them rose to positions of local prominence. Later, in the eighteenth century and early nineteenth century, the American and Napoleonic wars offered opportunities in the navy, ship building and customs. 

By the time of the 1841 census the social status of the Couch family had declined and most of those with the surname Couch were artisans, tradesmen, agricultural labourers and farm and domestic servants, with some farmers who employed others. Those who became clergymen, like the son of Benjamin Couch, or doctors and naval officers, represented those with the highest status. It was Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch who elevated the family once more and he and his children consorted on equal terms with Treffrys, Rashleighs, and Vyvyans. 

When he began his Private Memoir, Dr Jonathan Couch wrote:

All the world is ready to laugh at the silly vanity of those who let it appear that they are actuated by pride of Family; and yet it has been observed, that none is free from a feeling of this nature such as have no family to be proud upon. . . Another consideration influences me. I have had means of information which if passed by, must be lost for ever, and when it is recollected that the public have no concern with this, but that it is written solely for the use of my Children, every consideration of vanity seems sufficiently obviated (Wheeler, 1983).

He would have been astonished at the amount of interest in his private family history generated by the fame of his grandson, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, who was a small boy when Jonathan Couch died, and by the growing interest in his own achievements and those of his son Richard Quiller Couch.



Adams, M. (2021) The First Kingdom: Britain in the Age of Arthur. London: Head of Zeus Ltd.

Allen, R.E. (ed.) (1990) Concise Oxford Dictionary, 8th edition, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Bindoff, S.T. (ed.) (1982) The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558

Boase G.C. and Courtney, W.P. (1874)  Bibliotheca cornubiensis Vol I: A Catalogue of the Writings both Manuscript and Printed of Works Relating to the County of Cornwall and With Biographical Memoranda and Copious Literary References. London: Longmans, Green, Reader and Dyer.

Calendar of the Close Rolls: Edward III AD 1330-1334 (1898). London:HMSO.

Carew, R. (2004) The Survey of Cornwall and An Epistle Concerning the Excellencies of the English Language. Edited by Chynoweth J., Orme N., and  Walsham A.,  Exeter: Devon and Cornwall Record Society, New Series, Vol 47.

Cornwall Hearth Tax and Poll Tax 1660-1664, (1981), T.L. Stoate, Almondsbury, Bristol

The Cornwall Military Survey 1522: with the Loan Book and a Tinner's Muster Roass c.1535 (1987), T.L.Stoate,  Almondsbury, Bristol

The Cornwall Muster Roll for 1569 , edited by Henry Leslie Douch, (1984), T.L. Stoate, Almondsbury, Bristol

Cornwall Online Census Project Cornwall Online Census Project 

Couch, B. (undated) Letters, Archive Morrab Library, Penzance

Fry, E.A. (ed.) (1906)  Calendar of Inquisiones Post Mortem for Cornwall and Devon from Henry III to Charles I (1216-1649), Exeter: Devon and Cornwall Record Society. 

Fry, E.A. (ed.) (1908) Calendar of Wills and Administrations Relating to the Counties of Devon and Cornwall Proved in the Court of the Principal Registry of the Bishop of Exeter 1559-1799, Exeter: Devon and Cornwall Record Society.

Gilbert, D. (1838) The Parochial History of Cornwall, Founded on the Manuscript Histories of Mr Hals and Mr Tonkin. In Four Volumes London: J.B. Nichols & Son.

Glencross, R.M. (ed.) (1929) Calendar of Wills, Administrations and Accounts Relating to the Counties of Cornwall and Devon in the Consistorial Archidiaconal Court of Cornwall: with which are included the records of the royal peculiar of St. Burian. Part I 1569-1699 Part II 1700-1799 (1932), London: British Record Society.

Glencross, R.M. & Douch, H.L. (1974) Cornwall Protestation Returns 1641, edited by Stoate, T.L.. Almondsbury.

Hurd, D. Hamilton (ed.) (1888)History of Essex County Massachusetts with biographical sketches of many of its pioneers and prominent men Philadelphia:J.W. Lewis & Co.

Goring, J.J. (1982)  'Ralph Couche I (c.1503-77/78) of Glasney, nr Penryn, Cornwall' in Bindoff, S.T. (ed.) The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558

Goring, J.J. (1982) 'Courtenay, John (1520/21-60) of London and Tremere in Lanivet, Cornwall' in  Bindoff, S.T. (ed.) The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558.

Cassidy, I. (1981) 'Couche Ralph (1535-c.88) of Glasney, nr Penryn, Cornwall' in Hasler, P.W.The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, (1981)

Kresen Kernow Archives, Redruth, Cornwall

Lysons, D & S. (1814) Magna-Britannia, (Vol 3: Cornwall) London: T Cadell & W Davies.

Morrab Library Archive, Penzance, Cornwll

National Archives

National Library of Scotland: maps at

New England Historical and Genealogical Register Vol. I  (2nd series) (1985), Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co. Inc..

Parkin, H. (ed.) (2021) Concise Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain. Oxford: O.U.P.

Rowe, J.H. (ed.) (1914) Cornwall Feet of Fines Vols I & II. Exeter: Devon and Cornwall Record Society.

Quiller-Couch, A. T.  (1944) Memories and Opinions: An Unfinished Autobiography of Q, edited by Roberts S.C.. Cambridge: C.U.P.

Rowse, A.L. (1941) Tudor Cornwall: Portrait of a Society,  (1957 edition), London: Jonathan Cape.

Rowse, A.L. (1988) Quiller-Couch: A Portrait of Q, London: Methuen, London

Transactions of the Natural History and Antiquarian Society of Penzance, Vol II 1851-1855, (1864), Penzance: W. Cornish. 

The Visitations of Cornwall, comprising the Heralds' Visititations of 1530, 1573, & 1620, With Additions by Lieutenant -Colonel J.L. Vivian (1887), Exeter: William Pollard & Co..

Vital Records for Essex County Massachusetts (1911), transcribed by Kenneth Couch Essex Institute, Salem, Massachusetts, USA.

Wheeler, A. (ed) (1983) The Private Memoir of Jonathan Couch. Journal of the Royal  Institution of Cornwall.

Whetter,  J. (1988) The History of Glasney College,  Padstow: Cornwall

Wood, M. (1987) Domesday: A Search for the Roots of England, (1987), London: Book Club Associates.

Other useful websites