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Champernowne was the second son of Sir Philip Champernowne of Modbury, Devon, whose family had lived in Devon since arriving from Cambernon in Normandy in the eleventh century as part of the Norman Conquest. Sir Humphrey Gilbert and Sir Walter Ralegh, the sons of his sister Katherine, were his nephews. His aunt Katherine Champernowne was governess to Elizabeth I.
He was knighted by Edward VI in 1548, after serving in France and fighting in skirmishes over Boulogne-sur-Mer. In 1549 he helped subdue the rebellion against the English-language Bible. The rebellion had started amongst the Cornish, who, since English was a foreign language, sought to have the Latin Bible restored. He was briefly imprisoned during the unrest, which accompanied Queen Mary’s marriage to the future Philip II of Spain. He was installed as Member of Parliament for Barnstaple in 1552 (replacing the elected MP, Sir James Wilford, who had died), and the elected in turn for Plympton Erle in 1555, Plymouth in 1559 and Totnes in 1563.
In 1546 Sir Arthur married Mary Norreys, widow of Sir George Carew, whose father Sir Henry Norris had been implicated in the fall of Anne Boleyn and was beheaded. In 1554 he exchanged with Thomas Aylworth, Lord of Dartington, the mansion house at Polsoe, Exeter for the Dartington Estate, which contained the medieval Dartington Hall. By 1560 the construction of a new Elizabethan front on the foundation of the older buildings was underway and this continued for several years. His descendants continued to live in Dartington Hall until it became partly derelict and was sold in 1925.
- 1552 - MP for Barnstaple
- 1555 – MP for Plympton
- 1559 - MP for Plymouth
- 1559 – Sheriff of Devon
- 1562 – Vice-Admiral of the Devon Coasts, a post he held for life.
- 1563 – MP for Totnes
In 1568 he organised the interception of the Spanish treasure fleet which was taking money to the Duke of Alva, Regent of the Netherlands. Champernowne personally delivered 64 boxes of treasure weighing some 8 tonnes safely to the tower of London, worth some 2 million Royales. Over half of the money was used by Queen Elizabeth to fund her navy, the remainder she sent on to Amsterdam.
He was a staunch friend of the Huguenots, and his son, Gwayne, married the daughter of Gabriel, Count of Montgomery, a staunch Huguenot supporter in 1572. The Count, whose immediate forebears were Scots, was Captain of the Scots Guards. Champernowne was at Dwercy, France for the marriage and reported back to Lord Burghley on the conditions ln France. Following the massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve, the Count escaped France and was given refuge at Dartington Hall. Champernowne wrote to Queen Elizabeth proposing the raising of an army to provide relief for the Protestants in France.
Many other members of the Champernowne family were also called Arthur and some of them were knighted, however their activities were largely restricted to Devon and Cornwall, none was so close to events of national importance.