Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

No names known for 1510-23


4 Jan. 1536GEORGE CAREW vice Courtenay, deceased
1536(not known)
1542RICHARD POLLARD C219/18B/159.
 (aft. 10 Nov. 1542 not known)
1545(not known)
1547(SIR) GAWAIN CAREW C219/282/2; Hatfield 207.

Main Article

Devon remained largely a county of prosperous freeholders farming their own lands, although speculation following the Dissolution brought considerable estates to the Denys, Edgecombe, Pollard and Russell families. The influence of the most important noble family, the Courtenays, continued paramount despite the attainder of the Marquess of Exeter, the lengthy imprisonment of his son and the failure of direct male heirs in 1556. Other noblemen with extensive property in Devon before the 1540s were Thomas Grey, 2nd Marquess of Dorset, and John Bourchier, Lord Fitz Warine, who in 1536 became 1st Earl of Bath, while during the period Sir John Russell, later Baron Russell and 1st Earl of Bedford, emerged as one of the wealthiest figures in the south-west. None of these magnates is known to have exerted any pressure in support of their relatives or clients at elections, but Sir William Courtenay presumably benefited from his kinship with Exeter, (Sir) Gawain Carew from his with the Dorsets father and son, and John Chichester and John Fulford as nephews of the 2nd Earl of Bath.

The Devon elections were held at meetings of the county court at Exeter castle. Six indentures survive, one for the by-election in January 1536 and five for the years between 1542 and 1554; the contracting parties were the sheriff and between 20 and 50 electors. The group of five is unusual in having appended the names of the Members returned for the boroughs, for whom the customary separate returns were also made to Chancery. With each indenture the sheriff sent a schedule of the names of the two knights of the shire and 12 borough Members; this was usually signed by himself and on occasion by two others as sureties. The five schedules extant, which span the years 1545-55, are not coincidental with the indentures.5

The 13 men who sat for Devon in this period between 1529 and 1558 all belonged by birth or marriage to the families of Carew, Courtenay, Denys and Pollard, and the same could well have been true of their precursors from 1510. During the 1530s and 1540s it was the Carew-Courtenay-Pollard group, familiar at court and in the field, and sympathetic towards reform, which took the lead, but thereafter the advantage passed to men of more conservative disposition like James Bassett and Sir Thomas Denys. Bassett’s personal standing with Queen Mary presumably counted for more than his recent ascendancy in the county and may explain his precedence in the returns. Only he, Sir Peter Carew and John Prideaux are known to have had any previous parliamentary experience, although Richard Pollard had perhaps sat for Taunton in 1536; (Sir) Gawain Carew, Chichester and James Courtenay went on to represent Devon boroughs. At their first election Bassett, the brothers Carew, Chichester, Fulford and George Kirkham all lacked experience of local government, but only Bassett was to fail to acquire it. James Courtenay’s return coincided with the brief blossoming of his career: named to the bench shortly before his election and pricked sheriff while knight of the shire, he ceased to count in public life from the accession of Elizabeth. George Carew, who had replaced his uncle Sir William Courtenay in the Parliament of 1529, was re-elected to Henry VIII’s last Parliament after having perhaps sat in the previous one; his drowning in the Mary Rose before the assembly of Parliament in 1545 doubtless occasioned a by-election, but with what result is unknown. No payment of wages to the knights is known, but the exemption obtained by the inhabitants of Ashburton in 1509 from contributing towards such payment seems to imply that it was not altogether a thing of the past.6

Problems arising from the maintenance of harbours and from the production of wool, cloth and tin in the county were referred to Parliament. In 1512 Richard Strode I introduced several bills against the damage being done by tinworks to Devon ports and estuaries, but the situation continued to worsen until the Parliament of 1529 passed two Acts (23 Hen. VIII, c.8 and 27 Hen. VIII, c.23) to remedy it. Two measures promoting anchorages at Salcombe and at Teignmouth failed in the Parliament of 1555. A bill for the manufacture of straits passed both Houses in 1515 but did not receive the royal assent. A similar bill failed after three readings in the Commons in 1547, but two Acts (5 and 6 Edw. VI, c.6 and 7 Edw. VI, c.9) regulating cloth production were passed in the early 1550s. Nothing came of a bill of 1540 for the marking of hard tin produced in the county, of a bill of 1548 for the sale of wool, and of two introduced in the mid 1550s to make Devon craftsmen live in towns. The bill exhibited by Devon clothiers modifying the Relief Act (2 and 3 Edw. VI, c.36) failed after a single reading in the Commons on 16 Nov. 1549, but it was subsumed in the petition ordered two days later for a release of taxation on cloth and sheep, from which emerged the Act of 1550 (3 and 4 Edw. VI, c.23).7

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. E159/319, brev. ret. Mich. r. [1-2].
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. C219/18B/159.
  • 4. C219/282/2; Hatfield 207.
  • 5. C219/18A/1, 2, 18B/159, 18C/32, 33, 20/41, 21/41, 23/38, 39, 24/41, 282/2, 3.
  • 6. LP Hen. VIII, i. g. 257(87).
  • 7. CJ, i. 2, 3, 11, 38, 42-46; LJ, i. 39, 40, 131.