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Fowey Harbour Heritage Society

The Michaelstow/Mixtow Family, Pirates, 14th to 15th Centuries

The Michaelstow or Mixstow family is first noted in Fowey in 1357 when Richard de Michelstow hired his vessel to the Black Prince earning £20. He later held official positions in the ports of Lostwithiel and Fowey. The main occupation for which the family is known, however, is for piracy. At this time, ships were at times lawfully armed as privateers, their owners holding Letters of Marque from the Crown to prey on enemy shipping. In the often confused world of medieval wars and shifting allegiances, these shipowners were also accused of piracy, acting without authority in attacking shipping.

Fowey was particularly notorious. Payment was obtained from legally seized ships but attacks on shipping didn't stop during truce periods, nor were the pirates too concerned about the country of origin. Rewards were shared widely amongst the several owners and the wider community.

The Michaelstows or Mixstows, probably used the creek of Mixtow for careening their ships. Mark Mixstow was the most notorious and his son John carried on the family career with his ship the Edward of Polruan. Both men and their many partners were frequently named in Chancery Proceedings, as merchants attempted to get redress. In 1433 John Mixstow's ship was described as carrying 200 men 'armed and arrayed for war' when he captured a vessel travelling from Seville to Kent with a cargo destined for an English merchant.

John Mixstow's daughter and heiress, Amicia, married into the Treffry family.

Research Virginia Pollard

Sources: Helen Doe A Fair and Commodious Haven: The History of the Harbour of Fowey. (Truro: Truran, 2010); D.M. Gardiner, (ed). A Calendar of Early Chancery Proceedings relating to West Country Shipping 1388-1493 (Devon and Cornwall Record Society); John Keast, The Story of Fowey,( Dyllansow Truran, 1987).

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