Plympton Erle


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


 (not known)
1515(not known)
1523(not known)
1536(not known)
1539(not known)
1542(not known)
1553 (Oct.)?JOHN FOSTER II
1554 (Apr.)JOHN SPARKE

Main Article

By the early 16th century, with the silting-up of the river Plym, the better-situated Plymouth had become the port for Plympton, which nevertheless continued to thrive as a market, a stannary town and a centre of wool-combing and cooperage. In 1523 no less than 123 townsmen were assessed towards the subsidy, their quota of £14 being quite a large one for Devon. All the same, the town was included in the Act of 1540 (32 Hen. VIII, c.19) for the re-edification of towns westward.4

The manor, borough, castle and hundred of Plympton belonged to the Courtenay family. On the death of the 8th Earl of Devon in 1509 they were forfeited by reason of the attainder of his son and heir, but after being briefly administered for the crown by Sir Peter Edgecombe were restored to the 9th Earl in 1511. They again escheated following the Exeter conspiracy in 1539 and for a third time on the fall of the Protector Somerset, to whom they had been granted in July 1547; on both occasions their administration was given to Edgecombe’s son (Sir) Richard Edgecombe. Restored to the 11th Earl in September 1553, they were divided on his death in 1556 between his four coheirs, Margaret Buller, Reginald Mohun, John Trelawny and John Vivian. Although the castle was no longer habitable, the Courtenays and the crown continued to appoint constables. Until the Dissolution the family patronized the Augustinian priory of St. Mary the Virgin, the second wealthiest religious house in Devon, but on its suppression in 1539 the crown granted its site to the dean and chapter of Windsor and leased nearly all its property in the town to Sir Philip Champernon, from whom in 1545 the lease passed to his son Arthur, the Member in 1555. In a confusing variety of nomenclature the borough was known as Plympton Erle or Plympton Comitis, the town as Plympton St. Maurice after the parish’s patron saint, and the priory township, which had a church of its own, as Plympton St. Mary.5

In 1194 Plympton had been given the status of a mesne borough, with a market and a fair, and by charter of 1242 it was to be held at a fee-farm of £24 2s.2d. and to enjoy the same liberties as the city of Exeter. This grant was recurrently confirmed during the later middle ages and again in 1553. In the absence of borough records little more is to be learned about municipal government than that it was headed by a bailiff sometimes known as a mayor, and that his jurisdiction was limited by the powers of the lord’s steward, who held local courts to the profit of his master. It is hard to tell what part was played in the borough by its successive lords; the Courtenay estate papers are incomplete and uninformative. Only three election indentures survive; they are in Latin and date from the years 1553-5. The earliest, of September 1553, is between the sheriff and the bailiff and burgesses, the other two between the sheriff and the mayor and commonalty.6

Of the 19 Members sitting in ten of the Parliaments of the period, five were residents: the two John Martins alias Honychurch and John Sparke lived in Plympton St. Maurice, Thomas Gregory and the younger Richard Strode in Plympton St. Mary: Strode’s earlier namesake presumably did so too. The rest were from elsewhere in Devon, with the exception of the Members of 1547; of these, Thomas Dynham from Buckinghamshire, a descendant of the former Devon magnate Lord Dynham, was a kinsman of the sheriff Sir Peter Carew, whereas Edward Darrell of Sussex had no known link with the area and presumably owed his election to his membership of the Household. Several of the others were relatives or associates of the families of Courtenay, Edgecombe or Strode, some had kinsmen with property in the town or were interested in tin-mining. None of the townsmen is known to have sat more than once save Richard Strode II, who was to be re-elected for Plympton under Elizabeth, but a number of the others did so for constituencies elsewhere in Devon.

Elections by the borough were twice challenged. In October 1553 two committees were set up to scrutinize the return of John Foster, an ex-priest from Hampshire, and in March 1558 Christopher Perne was put in the custody of the serjeant-at-arms while the House considered the validity of his election. In neither case is the outcome known.

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. Statutes, iii. 53-54.
  • 2. C219/282/2; Hatfield 207.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. J. Brooking-Rowe, Plympton Erle, 3, 23, 90, 115, 383-5, 399; H. P. R. Finberg, ‘The stannary of Tavistock’, Trans. Dev. Assoc. lxxxi. 157-69; W. G. Hoskins, Devon, 107.
  • 5. Trans. Dev. Assoc. xix. 155-65; M. R. Westcott, ‘The estates of the earls of Devon’ (Exeter Univ. MA thesis, 1958), 83, 197, 244, 294; J. E. Kew, ‘The land market in Devon 1536-58’ (Exeter Univ. PhD. thesis, 1967), 96; Leland, Itin. ed. Smith, i. 214-16; Brooking-Rowe, 23-24.
  • 6. NRA 4154, p. 107; C219/21/47, 23/38, 24/44.