PRESCOTT, John (c.1327-1412), of Prescott, Rake and Exeter, Devon.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b.c.1327, s. and h. of William Prescott of Prescott by his w. Joan. m. (1) Joan; (2) by 1393, Margery or Margaret, 1da.1
Commr. of inquiry, Devon Oct. 1369 (assaults), Nov. 1374 (disseisin), May 1387 (obstruction of a road), Mar. 1397 (Cary estates), Devon, Cornw. Aug. 1400 (concealments), Devon July 1401 (concealment of alnage); array Apr., July 1377, Aug. 1403; oyer and terminer Nov. 1381, Oct. 1382, Feb., Dec. 1396, Nov. 1398, June, Dec. 1400, Sept. 1401, Feb. 1403, Dec. 1404, Feb. 1405; to suppress unlawful assemblies Mar., Dec. 1382; make proclamation against insurgents June 1384, May 1402.
Steward of the estates of Guy, Lord Bryan, by Apr. 1374-aft. Mar. 1387,2 Edward, earl of Devon, in Devon and Som. by Mich. 1392-aft. Sept. 1399,3 John, earl of Salisbury, bef. 1400, the rebels against Henry IV, Devon 22 May 1400-c.1401,4 the dean and chapter of Exeter cathedral by May 1403-aft. 1407.5
J.p. Devon 20 Feb. 1378-July 1389, Dec. 1390-Feb. 1393, Feb. 1400-Oct. 1404,6 Feb. 1405-Nov. 1408.
Justice to take assizes, Som. c. Feb.-May 1404.
Tax collector, Devon Mar. 1404.
The importance of legal training as an aid to estate management is well illustrated by Prescott’s career, which also reveals that success as a lawyer could lead not only to election to Parliament for boroughs but also, despite lack of substantial landed possessions, as a knight of the shire. It seems likely that Prescott was no stranger to the lawcourts by 1361 when, just over 30 years of age, he first sat in Parliament for Exeter, following which, he represented either that borough or Totnes on another six occasions in the next 12 years. Throughout this period he frequently appeared as a mainpernor, most notably for the royally appointed farmers of the property of alien priories in Devon and Cornwall as well as, less often, for the collectors of customs in the ports of the south-west. In this role he was often partnered by another lawyer, John Hill†, who occasionally sat as his fellow parliamentary burgess. Prescott also acted as a witness to conveyances of land and as a feoffee, not just in Devon, but in London too.7
An able man of law preferring to do business locally rather than seek a career in the central courts was likely to be sought after not only by his colleagues in their frequent land deals but also by the owners of extensive properties needing assistance in estate management. At least as early as 1374 Prescott was in the service of Guy, Lord Bryan, as steward of his lands. He continued in this office for no fewer than 13 years, and was still in touch with Lord Bryan shortly before the latter’s death in 1390. In the meantime, since 1384-5 if no earlier, he had also been in receipt of livery from Edward, earl of Devon, for whom he acted as legal counsel, and by Michaelmas 1392 he had become steward of his estates in Devon and Somerset. He remained with the earl, both as counsellor and steward, certainly until Michaelmas 1399 and probably for longer. And before the end of Richard II’s reign he was also employed as steward of the property in the locality belonging to John, earl of Salisbury. In view of his experience in this respect, it is not surprising to find Prescott appointed by Henry IV to a like office managing the lands in Devon forfeited by those, including Salisbury, who had risen in rebellion in the first few months of the reign. Prescott’s will provides evidence of yet more employment of this sort. In the act of probate, made before Bishop Stafford in November 1412, he is referred to as having worn Stafford’s livery. In what capacity he had served the bishop can only be surmised, but he certainly acted as his commissary at the election of the prioress of Polsloe in 1404. By that date Prescott was also steward of the estates of the cathedral chapter, a post which he held for four years or longer. One of the bequests made in his will is significant, showing where his main interests lay: he left to Walter Northecote ‘all his books on the law of the land’.8
A professional man, much of whose time would be spent either touring his employers’ estates or else residing in their households, Prescott still found opportunity to acquire property of his own. The income of £20 p.a. from Devon which he was enjoying in 1412 (the year of his death) was drawn from the manors of Rake (in West Alvington), Elston (in Churchstow) and Prescott (in Culmstock), the two former properties being situated near Kingsbridge, the other (which he inherited from his father) near the border with Somerset. He also held the advowson of Teign Brewer, and passing references show him in possession of land in Wellington (Somerset), Teigngrace (where there were deposits of tin) and Kingsbridge (bought from the earl of Devon), a chapel at Prescott, and a house in Exeter. In addition, he acquired various temporary titles as a feoffee, his most important clients in this respect being members of the Carew family.9
Prescott made his will on 25 Jan. 1412 and after adding a codicil on 29 Oct., died before 23 Nov. The will, a long and interesting document, gives clear evidence of considerable wealth, much of it in the form of ecclesiastical vestments, chapel furnishings and devotional books. To the chapel of St. Mary at Culmstock, where he asked to be buried, he bequeathed red silk robes, missals, a large alabaster tablet, two images of angels, a new gilt cross, service and prayer books, a number of livestock, £3 to purchase a bell, and, for the maintenance of a chaplain for five years, £23 6s.8d. Two other churches received bequests of livestock, and many religious houses in Devon and Somerset were remembered. Prescott also made provision for the repair and maintenance of bridges at Totnes, Teignbridge and Culmstock. The furnishings in his house also featured: his daughter, Joan, was to have a bed ‘suitable to her rank’, his third best brass pot, a dish, an ewer and a wash-basin, as well as his best cloak of scarlet cloth trimmed with fur, and 40s. in cash. To Walter Northecote he gave not only his law books, but also a colt and some armour. Two more items call for mention: to the prioress of Polsloe he bequeathed his best silver cup, called ‘Franceys’, with instructions to preserve his memory by changing its name to ‘Prescote’; and his executors were told to sell his cider press. The codicil contained a few more bequests, including a clock and money sufficient to put a young kinsman of his to school for four years. Prescott’s moveable goods alone were valued at nearly £300. Of his executors, one was Thomas Raymond*, the recorder of Exeter, who like him had long been in the service of the earl of Devon and indeed still belonged to the Courtenay circle.10