SELMAN, John I (d.1426), of Plymouth Erle and Newnham, Devon.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1386-1421, ed. J.S. Roskell, L. Clark, C. Rawcliffe., 1993
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Family and Education

?s. of John Selman of Plympton. m. (1) Elizabeth, da. and h. of John Newnham of Newnham; (2) Eleanor; ?1 illegit. s. John II*.

Offices Held

Commr. of oyer and terminer, Devon Sept. 1412 (on petition of the abbot of Tavistock), Oct. 1412, July 1423 (on petition of the commonalty of Plympton).

J.p. Devon 12 Feb. 1422-July 1423.


The four Selmans who sat in the Commons in this period were members of the most important family living in Plympton Erle in the 15th century. John was probably the son of a namesake who was assessed for the parliamentary subsidies collected in the hundreds of Roborough and Plympton in 1373, and brother of Walter Selman, who had a reversionary interest in property in Plympton Erle in 1389.2 Another kinsman, Nicholas Selman (d.1435), who was an Augustinian canon and preacher, became prior of Plympton in 1422. John held lands in Grendon, near Tavistock, and through his first marriage he acquired property in Limeslake in Bishop’s Nympton and no fewer than 13 messuages and 260 acres of land in the Plympton area. In 1412 he was said to enjoy an income from his landed holdings of £20 a year. Previously, he and his wife had obtained a licence from Bishop Stafford of Exeter to have an oratory at their ‘mansion’ at Newnham in Plympton St. Mary.3

By the time of his earliest election to Parliament, Selman had presumably completed his training in the law, which stood him in good stead in years to come. In 1396 he appeared in Chancery on behalf of Peter Whitelegh, who had been accused by the executors of a former mayor of Plymouth of owing them £200. A year later he joined two other Devonshire lawyers, John Pasford* and Thomas Norris II*, in assisting Thomas Cary to recover estates forfeited in accordance with a judgement of the Merciless Parliament by his father Sir John Cary, chief baron of the Exchequer; and with a third, William Frye*, he received recognizances in Chancery for £100 from a tailor named Richard Underwood. Selman was again in Chancery in 1398 and 1399, acting as a bailsman and mainpernor. His legal counsel was often sought by the citizens of Exeter in the course of their disputes with the dean and chapter of the cathedral: in 1410-11 they not only paid him a fee of 40s., but also gave him a breakfast and two suppers while he was conducting negotiations with the chapter on their behalf. Two years later the city laid on a special dinner in the mayor’s house at which the chief guests were Selman and his kinsman John II, and Thomas Raymond* and his son Richard*. Selman had more than a passing acquaintance with the elder Raymond, who was then recorder of Exeter, and shortly afterwards he acted as a feoffee of his colleague’s property near Holsworthy.4 Indeed, both men, like Selman’s other associates Frye and Norris, were members of the circle of the powerful Courtenay family, whose head, the earl of Devon, was lord of Selman’s manor of Newnham as well as of the borough of Plympton Erle, which he represented in Parliament. On 12 Jan. 1420, following the death of the blind earl, Edward, Selman was one of those who were granted custody of all of his estates for as long as they should be in the Crown’s possession. In 1421 he was associated with the new earl’s steward, John Fortescue, as co-patron of a prebendal church in Chulmleigh, and the earl himself made him a feoffee of the manors of Columbjohn and Dannon. Another transaction, completed on Midsummer Day 1421, by which Selman and others were granted by Earl Hugh a lease of three Devonshire manors, the hundred of Colyton, and the manor of Crewkerne (Somerset), made them liable for a huge fine of 500 marks when it was discovered that no royal licence for the settlement had been obtained, but presumably the revenues of the earldom were put at their disposal to cover the demand. Selman’s involvement in Courtenay affairs even continued after the death of Earl Hugh: in 1423 he appeared as a mainpernor at the Exchequer for John Copplestone*, joint steward of the Courtenay estates during the minority of the heir, and he later asked Copplestone to take on the trusteeship of his own property.5

Selman attended the elections held at Exeter castle for the Parliaments of 1413 (May), 1420 and 1421 (May), on the last occasion serving as pledge for the newly elected knights of the shire, Sir Hugh Courtenay and Robert Cary. However, it was not he but John Selman II who sat for Plympton Erle in 1420 and 1421 (May), and probably the younger man, too, who was returned in 1421 (Dec.) and 1425 (although on these latter occasions the MP was not described on the returns as ‘junior’). Selman senior was still sufficiently active to serve on the bench in Devon in 1422, and evidently also to make one more journey to Westminster, for in the next year he was recorded at the Exchequer as one of the sureties for the keepers of Abergavenny priory. On 7 Sept. 1425 as ‘lord of Odescombe’ he confirmed a grant to Magdalen hospital, Exeter, made long before by Ralph Odescombe; and he died shortly before 17 June following.6

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: L. S. Woodger


  • 1. On both occasions called ‘junior’.
  • 2. E179/95/33; CP25(1)44/65/99.
  • 3. Devon RO, Bedford ms D84/22; CIMisc, vii. 396; Reg. Stafford ed. Hingeston-Randolph, 280; Feudal Aids, vi. 418.
  • 4. CCR, 1396-9, pp. 11, 202, 280, 390, 403, 436; Exeter City RO, receivers’ accts. 12-13 Hen. IV, 14 Hen. IV-1 Hen. V; CP25(1)45/76/71.
  • 5. CFR, xiv. 320; xv. 47; Reg. Lacy ed. Hingeston-Randolph, i. 11; CCR, 1422-9, pp. 3, 39; 1435-41, p. 418; CPR, 1422-9, p. 108; J. Maclean, Trigg Minor, iii. 137.
  • 6. C219/11/1, 12/4-6; CFR, xv. 71, 111; Exeter City RO, ED/MAG/78.