BASSETT, Arthur (1598-1673), of Heanton Punchardon, Devon.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press




Family and Education

b. 1598, 1st s. of Sir Robert Bassett† of Umberleigh, Devon and Elizabeth, da. and coh. of Sir William Peryam†, c. bar. Exch.1 educ. Exeter Coll., Oxf. 1613, BA 1616; I. Temple 1617.2 m. 13 Apr. 1629, Agnes, da. of Sir William Leigh of Northam, Devon, 4s. (1 d.v.p.). suc. fa. 1641. d. 7 Jan. 1673.3

Offices Held

J.p. Devon 1634-at least 1643, 1660-d.;4 commr. charitable uses, Barnstaple, Devon 1637,5 piracy, Devon 1637-at least 1641, from 1662, soap manufacture 1638,6 assessment 1641-2,7 array 1642,8 col. militia 1642, from 1661,9 commr. oyer and terminer 1660-d.,10 dep. lt. by 1661-at least 1662;11 commr. assoc. Barnstaple 1665.12

Recorder, Barnstaple 1661-5.13


The Bassett family had settled in the West Country by the thirteenth century, and traced their ancestry to the Norman Conquest. Their ancient estates lay in Cornwall, but these passed to a junior branch in 1529, while the senior line based itself at Umberleigh in north Devon.14 Bassett’s grandfather represented the county in Parliament in 1572, and served as sheriff two years later.15 At his death in 1586 he owned over 13,000 acres in four counties, with the greater part of his lands situated in and around Barnstaple.16 His heir initially followed him into local government,17 but Sir Robert Bassett proved to be somewhat unstable. Having begun to ‘waste and consume his estate’, he was prevailed upon to settle his property on his wife and children in 1601, but then recovered it due to continuing financial difficulties. Pushed into conveying his lands to his father-in-law Sir William Peryam in 1603 in return for an annual allowance,18 Sir Robert fled to Italy, blaming ‘that damned filthy old judge’ for his troubles. Under suspicion of Catholicism and treason, he was denied leave to return to England for eight years, and once back in Devon remained under surveillance until 1614.19

In this insecure environment, Bassett and his mother turned to their extended family for support. Peryam died in 1604,20 but two years later the bulk of the estates were conveyed in trust or mortgaged to Sir Robert’s uncle Sir Arthur Chichester, the recently appointed lord deputy of Ireland.21 Chichester seems to have adopted the role of patron to the family, also promoting the career of Sir Robert’s brother Arthur, who seems to have been the recipient of a three-year grant of feudal dues from six Irish counties in 1615.22 During the 1614 Parliament a bill was introduced to enable Sir Robert to clear his debts, presumably by land sales, but it proceeded no further than its first reading. Drifting ever deeper into debt, around 1615 he sold one of his Devon manors to Sir Thomas Monck* in breach of the 1606 trust.23 Monck sought to secure his title by persuading Chancery to overturn the earlier settlement, and finally obtained a new ruling in 1618 from the lord chancellor (Sir Francis Bacon*). By this decree, three manors passed to fresh trustees, some land was freed for sale or lease to satisfy Monck and other creditors, and existing trust agreements were cancelled as appropriate. Almost immediately, Sir Robert breached this settlement also, conveying the three trust manors to Monck and Sir Henry Helmes*, another major creditor, and this seems to have convinced Bassett that his inheritance was under serious threat.24 When in 1621 the impeachment proceedings against Bacon generated allegations that Sir Robert and Monck had bribed Bacon, through Helmes, to obtain the 1618 decree, Bassett petitioned the House of Lords to investigate the charge more vigorously.25 Bacon’s submission on 24 Apr. brought the Lords’ inquiry to a halt, but Bassett transferred his complaints to the Commons with a private bill repeating the allegations and seeking a return to the pre-1618 settlement. However, the bill failed to proceed beyond its first reading on 8 May.26

The next few years witnessed a downward spiral in the Bassett fortunes. By early 1622 Sir Robert was imprisoned for debt in the Fleet, where he remained for at least three years. From prison he sought to reach terms with his son, and a new Chancery decree followed in February 1622, which guaranteed Bassett inheritance of the three trust manors in return for £3,000 to clear the outstanding debt. Unable to raise this sum by himself, Bassett turned to his old protector Lord Chichester, who provided the money on security of the same three manors. However, the financial agents to whom the £3,000 was entrusted failed to observe the terms agreed for its disposal. Sir Robert remained unable to obtain his release, and an evermore-complicated legal battle developed over who possessed the best title to the disputed manors.27 Chichester died in February 1625 while still attempting to recover his money.28 Deprived of his principal ally, Bassett attempted to take on his father and all other parties in Chancery, but Sir Robert countered with a King’s Bench suit apparently alleging Bassett’s failure to honour his side of the 1622 bargain. Arrested and unable to secure bail for such a huge debt, Bassett also found himself in prison.29

Salvation this time came in the form of Jonathan Rashleigh*, Bassett’s brother-in-law. That the family could rely on his support is clear from the fact that in March 1625 Bassett’s mother confidently arranged for Rashleigh to take over one of their leases without first consulting him.30 Rashleigh was the dominant political patron in Fowey, and it must have been with his backing that Bassett, though still in prison, was returned for the borough on 26 April.31 There followed a careful examination of his entitlement to parliamentary privilege. A petition from Bassett was delivered by Sir John Eliot to the Commons on 28 June, and referred to the committee for privileges; and his case was raised again on 4 July by the Barnstaple MP John Delbridge, one of the Bassett trustees. Four days later the committee reported back favourably, and following debate privilege was granted, on the grounds that Bassett had not been convicted, and could have been released on bail to stand for election in the normal fashion. Although one speaker argued that the case set a precedent for men entering Parliament primarily to avoid their debts, the view prevailed that to refuse privilege in this case would encourage candidates in contested elections to use similar charges as a weapon against their rivals. Bassett was delivered to the House on 9 July, and thereafter disappears from the records of that Parliament.32 He was returned for Fowey again in 1626 without similar controversy, and is not mentioned by name in the proceedings of that year. As a port-town burgess he would, however, have been entitled to sit on bill committees dealing with the export of ordnance (13 Feb.), the customs projector Edmund Nicholson (18 Feb.), and the sale of sea-coals (20 Feb.); also on committees considering petitions from London merchants trading in France (16 Mar.), the ship-wrecked merchant John Heaman (22 Mar.) and framing a bill on shipping and mariners (15 April).33

The squabbles over the family estates dragged on for several more years, and Bassett spent some time in the early 1630s resident in property belonging to his wife’s family. However, there is also evidence of him starting to redeem mortgages,34 and in the later 1630s he began to participate in local government.35 In 1639 he promised £10 towards the costs of the First Bishops’ War. Two years later, what remained of his inheritance finally came to him on his father’s death, and in January 1642 he was chosen to help deliver Devon’s petition against popery to London. Despite this concern over royal policies, the king, at the outbreak of the Civil War, instructed him to take command of Sir Samuel Rolle’s* regiment of Devon militia and disband it. Bassett thereby incurred the wrath of Parliament, which ordered his arrest.36 In the events which followed, his career needs to be distinguished from that of his Cornish cousin Sir Arthur Bassett of Tehidy, a professional soldier who fought in the north and in Cornwall.37 Bassett himself is not known to have played an active part in the war. He compounded in 1648 only for having been a commissioner of array, though he was named as a notorious delinquent and stood accused of attempting to murder the agent sent to sequester his estates in 1646. The sequestration process was complicated by the fact that some of his properties were still mortgaged, but a partial re-sequestration in 1650 amid claims that he had undervalued his estate suggests harassment by the county committee. He was not finally discharged until 1654.38

The Restoration brought a return to local government, but also a period of conflict with the corporation of Barnstaple. Bassett was employed first in reorganizing the town’s trained band, despite protests by the borough, and then in purging the corporation in 1662. By this time, although not known to have been a barrister, he had also been installed as its recorder, but the corporation succeeded in removing him in 1665.39 Bassett was proposed for the order of the Royal Oak in 1660 with an estimated annual income of £1,000, but when he made his last will on 13 Apr. 1672 his key manors of Umberleigh and Heanton Punchardon were still mortgaged. His eldest son had predeceased him in 1660, and when Bassett died in January 1673 his principal heir was his grandson John, who sat for Barnstaple between 1677 and 1686.40

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Paul Hunneyball



  • 1. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 47.
  • 2. Al. Ox.; I. Temple Admiss.
  • 3. Vivian, 47, 528.
  • 4. C193/13/2; Devon RO, QS 28/2; C220/9/4.
  • 5. C192/1, unfol. (6 July).
  • 6. C181/5, ff. 84v, 102v, 133; 181/7, p. 139.
  • 7. SR, v. 61, 83, 150.
  • 8. Northants. RO, FH 133.
  • 9. HMC Portland, i. 54; HMC 9th Rep. i. 215.
  • 10. C181/7, pp. 9, 636.
  • 11. HMC 9th Rep. i. 215; SP29/60/139.
  • 12. C181/7, p. 305.
  • 13. J.B. Gribble, Memorials of Barnstaple, 229-300.
  • 14. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 45-7.
  • 15. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 36.
  • 16. C142/209/21.
  • 17. APC, 1600-1, pp. 146, 363.
  • 18. C2/Jas.I/B36/70; 2/Chas.I/C71/62.
  • 19. HMC Hatfield, xv. 288; CSP Dom. 1611-18, pp. 64, 72; APC, 1613-14, pp. 305-6; SP78/55, f. 111v.
  • 20. Oxford DNB.
  • 21. C2/Jas.I/B36/70; Oxford DNB.
  • 22. CPR Ire. Jas. I, 276-7; Analecta Hibernica, viii. 111.
  • 23. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 210; C2/Chas.I/M11/43.
  • 24. C2/Jas.I/B36/70; 2/Chas.I/C71/62.
  • 25. LJ, iii. 60, 66, 85; Harl. 6799, f. 79.
  • 26. CJ, i. 612b; CD 1621, iii. 197; C2/Jas.I/B36/70.
  • 27. C2/Jas.I/C4/37; 2/Jas.I/B36/70; 2/Jas.I/H7/62; 2/Chas.I/C71/62; 2/Chas.I/M11/43.
  • 28. C2/Jas.I/C4/37; Oxford DNB.
  • 29. C2/Jas.I/B36/70; Procs. 1625, pp. 235, 353.
  • 30. Cornw. RO, DD.R.(S.) 1/7.
  • 31. E.W. Rashleigh, Short Hist. of Fowey, 29.
  • 32. CJ, i. 801b, 806b, 807a; Procs. 1625, pp. 257, 353-4.
  • 33. CJ, i. 819b, 822a, 837a, 840a, 845a.
  • 34. C2/Chas.I/C71/62; 2/Chas.I/B43/65; 2/Chas.I/B100/30; 2/Chas.I/M3/46.
  • 35. CSP Dom. Addenda, 1625-49, p. 589.
  • 36. PC2/51, p. 77; Devon RO, QS 1/8; HMC Portland, i. 54; CJ, ii. 744.
  • 37. CSP Dom. 1637, p. 315; M. Coate, Cornw. in Gt. Civil War, 189. This distinction is not made in P.R. Newman, Roy. Officers in Eng. and Wales, 18.
  • 38. CCC, 77, 97, 1878-9; CCAM, 1156.
  • 39. HMC 9th Rep. i. 215; Barnstaple Recs. ed. T. Wainwright, i. 230-1; Gribble, 298-300.
  • 40. J. Burke, Commoners of Gt. Britain , i. 689; PROB 11/342, ff. 148v-150.