PEIRCE (PEARCE), Francis (c.1577-1642), of Minehead, Som.
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Family and Education
b. c.1577, s. of ?John Peirce of Minehead and Joan, da. of one Yend. m. ?4 July 1602, Mary (d.1667), da. of Lawrence Byam of Luccombe, Som., ?wid. one Menefie, 4s. (1 d.v.p.) 6da. (2 d.v.p.). bur. 7 June 1642.1
Peirce’s origins are unclear. It seems likely that his parents were John Peirce and Joan Yend, who married in 1576, but the loss of Minehead’s baptismal records for the period 1573-8 means that we cannot be sure. Another possibility is that Peirce’s father was Thomas Peirce, who married Izote Steddon in 1585 and died in 1610.5 In the 1597 subsidy Thomas was assessed at £3 in land, the same as Peirce himself in 1625. These were among the highest ratings.6
Though evidence of Minehead’s life in this period is very fragmentary, Pierce appears to have been a member of an extensive and prominent town family. In 1605 Thomas and Walter Peirce surrendered a cellar, a barn and some ground in the borough to the lord of the manor, George Luttrell,7 and in 1621 the town hall was leased by Luttrell to a Richard Peirce, probably the brother mentioned in Peirce’s will, for 99 years.8 In 1620 a Bristol ship brought a cargo of wool for Walter Peirce, and in 1629 another Bristol ship brought a cargo of beef and tallow for a William Peirce.9
Peirce married Mary, the daughter of Lawrence Byam, rector of the nearby parish of Luccombe. It is possible that she was a widow and that their marriage was the one recorded at Minehead on 4 July between Francis Peirce and Mary Manefie; alternatively this may be an otherwise unrecorded first marriage, or the marriage of a namesake.10
Sometime before 1618 Peirce was instrumental in providing relief for the people of the town after an outbreak of plague. Pending a collection from the surrounding countryside, ‘one Francis Peirce of the same town, by appointment of the justices nearby, did undertake to victual and provide the necessities of life for the infected people’. In July Peirce was still owed ‘£20 or thereabouts’, and the justices therefore took steps to ensure that the collection was completed. This may suggest that Peirce was a victualler.11
Peirce was the only townsman to sit for Minehead during this period. One parliamentary diarist, unable to believe that Minehead was represented by a mere townsman, credited Peirce with a knighthood. It was, in fact, particularly appropriate and perhaps necessary for the town to elect a townsman in 1621, as the borough was attempting to revive its parliamentary representation in the face of the opposition of the lord of the manor, George Luttrell, who claimed that it had been forfeited when the borough’s charter had been rescinded in 1604. Luttrell pursued the two MPs to London with a petition to the House of Commons, asserting that they had no right to be there.12 The borough’s defence seems to have been managed by their other MP, (Sir) Robert Lloyd, rather than by Peirce himself, who secured confirmation of the borough’s representation on 16 March.13
The following week Lloyd was expelled as a monopolist, and Peirce became Minehead’s sole representative. Peirce’s own position was threatened when Luttrell renewed his attack on the franchise following the debate concerning the question of whether to authorize a by-election to replace Lloyd. The House resolved to send out a writ for a new election on 7 May, citing the fact that there was ‘another here for Minehead already’.14 Peirce left no trace of any other activity in the House. Thereafter, although not chosen again, he continued to play a prominent part in Minehead’s elections, for in 1624 and 1626 he was named first in the lists of inhabitants in the election indentures.15
Peirce was buried at Minehead on 7 June 1642.16 In his will, dated 17 Aug. 1641, he bequeathed 40s. to the church of Minehead and the same amount to the poor of that parish and also to the poor of the parish of Honiton, in Devon. He gave his unmarried daughters £200 each, which sum was to be halved if they married against their mother’s wishes, and made his brother-in-law Henry Byam, a canon of Exeter Cathedral who had preached an anti-puritan sermon at Minehead in 1627, one of the overseers. The will was proved by his widow on 4 July 1642.17 No other member of the family sat in Parliament.
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Authors: George Yerby / Ben Coates
- 1. Som. RO, D/P/m. st. m. 2/1/1, unfol. St. Michael’s Minehead. par. reg.; Vis. Som. (Harl. Soc. xi), 17; PROB 11/190, f. 2.
- 2. Som. RO, DD/X/CHNI, C/1469.
- 3. HCA 14/43/3/231.
- 4. Som. Q. Sess. Recs. Chas. I ed E.H. Bates-Harbin (Som. Rec. Soc. xxiv), p. xxiii.
- 5. St. Michael’s Minehead, par. reg.
- 6. E179/171/315, 179/171/361.
- 7. Som. RO, Luttrell ms DD/L/P, 30/53.
- 8. Ibid. 30/59; PROB 11/190, f. 2.
- 9. E190/1086/8, 190/1087/16.
- 10. Oxford DNB sub Byam, Henry.
- 11. Q. Sess. Recs. for Co. of Som. ed. E.H. Bates. (Som. Rec. Soc. xxiii), 238, 258.
- 12. Nicholas, Procs. 1621, i. 68.
- 13. CJ, i. 556b; Nicholas, i. 175.
- 14. CD 1621, iii. 190-1.
- 15. Som. RO, DD/L, 1/59/1.
- 16. St. Michael’s par. reg.
- 17. PROB 11/190, f. 2v; Oxford DNB sub Byam, Henry.