CHICHESTER, John (1519/20-68), of Great Torrington, Youlston and Raleigh, Devon.
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Family and Education
b. 1519/20, 1st s. of Edward Chichester of Great Torrington by Elizabeth, da. of John Bourchier, 1st Earl of Bath. m. Gertrude, da. of Sir William Courtenay I of Powderham, Devon, 7s. 9da. suc. fa. 27 July 1526; gdfa. 22 Feb. 1536. Kntd. 2 Oct. 1553.3
Capt. Struce of Dansick 1545; sheriff, Devon 1550-1, j.p. 1555, q. 1558/59-d.; commr. relief 1550; other commissions 1551-d.; recorder, Barnstaple by 1554-9 or later; dep. lt. Devon by 1559.4
Succeeding while still under age to the headship of a long-established and well-connected Devon family, John Chichester was probably introduced at court by his maternal grandfather, a friend of Cromwell’s; his name first appears on a list prepared by Cromwell in 1538 of ‘gentlemen not to be allowed in my lord’s household but when they have commandment or cause necessary to repair thither’. It was also through this grandfather that Chichester became associated with Edmund Wyndham, whose stepmother the earl had married as his third wife; in 1546 Chichester stood bail when Wyndham was accused of wrongfully seizing a Spanish vessel. In 1544 he accompanied the King to France and saw action at the siege of Boulogne. In the following year he served under the command of his neighbour Sir George Carew as a naval captain. At the court Chichester moved in Protestant circles and by the death of Henry VIII he had become an ardent believer in the reformed faith.5
Chichester’s election to the Parliament of 1547 as second knight of the shire may have owed something to his standing at court, and in particular with Protector Somerset, whose adherent he was to remain after Somerset’s overthrow; if so, the support was probably mutual, for two other followers of Somerset were returned for Barnstaple, a borough amenable to Chichester’s influence. In the main, however, his choice must be seen as reflecting the position he had come to occupy in the county. Two years later his hold on that position was to be put to the test at the time of the western rebellion. On its outbreak he followed Sir Gawain and Sir Peter Carew down from London and his subsequent conduct sufficiently impressed Sir John Russell, Baron Russell, who commanded the royal forces, for Russell to recommend him for the shrievalty: he also shared with Sir Arthur Champernon a grant made by Russell, and later confirmed by the King, of the iron fittings of the dismantled church bells of the county. A violent episode of assault and robbery on two Irishmen, for which Chichester was indicted at Exeter on 29 Mar. 1550 and pardoned on 11 Aug. 1551, did not debar him from becoming sheriff in November 1550, in which capacity he was responsible for returning his friend Sir Arthur Champernon at a by-election at Barnstaple. Despite Russell’s recommendation, he had been passed over a year before, perhaps because he was too closely identified with the Protector, who had been overthrown in the previous month. At that time Chichester suffered no other penalty, but when the final attack on Somerset was launched in the autumn of 1551 Chichester was one of those put in the Tower with him. He appears to have been released in time to attend the final session of the Parliament, for on the list of Members revised in preparation for that session the note ‘in turrem’ first written against his name was crossed out and replaced by ‘stet’, as occurred in the cases of two of his fellow-Members, John Brende and Sir John Thynne. During the third session of the Parliament he and his fellow-knight Sir Gawain Carew were away when a bill was committed for scrutiny to one of the Members for Dartmouth, but the ‘answer’ was deferred until their return to the House. On 7 Apr. 1553 a pardon was drawn for Chichester which specifically excluded the return of the goods which he had forfeited in connexion with his indictment for felony in 1550.6
As a former partisan of Somerset, Chichester was not surprisingly absent from the Parliament of March 1553 which met under the aegis of the Duke of Northumberland, and in the succession crisis which followed he gave no countenance to the claim of Lady Jane Grey. In this he followed the example of his cousin, the 2nd Earl of Bath, who was one of the first to defy Northumberland by proclaiming Queen Mary’s accession: the Queen rewarded the earl with a privy councillorship and Chichester with a knighthood. As Chichester was dubbed three days before the opening of the first Parliament of the reign it might be thought that he had come up to take a seat in the Commons; but the names of all the Devon Members are known and unless Chichester was either a late replacement for one of them or (which is unlikely) had been elected elsewhere it seems that on this occasion he did not sit. He was to do so six months later, when he gained the senior knighthood of the shire; three weeks after the close of this Parliament he sued out a pardon.7
In 1555 Chichester joined his friend Francis Russell, 2nd Earl of Bedford, on his embassy to the imperial court at Brussels and subsequently accompanied him as far as Venice, where on 31 July they received a licence to carry arms during the next two months. The time of their departure from Venice is not certain, although Bedford appears to have still been there at the beginning of September. Chichester is known to have returned and been in London during the time of the Parliament of 1555, which was held in the last three months of that year. There is, indeed, one piece of circumstantial evidence to suggest that he was a Member of it. A ‘Mr. Chechester’ was named by one John Daniel as having been present when the ‘opposition’ group of Members met to concert their plans: all the others named by Daniel—Sir Arthur Champernon, Sir William Courtenay II, Henry Peckham, Sir John Perrot, Sir John Pollard and John Young—are known to have sat in this Parliament, and it might be thought that Chichester did also. There are, however, two points which tell against this inference: not only are all the Devon constituencies accounted for by other names, but the list of Members of this Parliament who opposed one of the government’s bills does not include Chichester. It therefore seems that, although not a Member (perhaps he had returned from abroad too late to find a seat), he joined in the discussion of a group several of whom were kinsmen or close friends of his.8
Early in 1556 Chichester became involved in the abortive Dudley conspiracy. On its disclosure he was arrested and on 29 Apr. imprisoned for a second time in the Tower, but no indictment was brought against him and on 15 May he was released subject to appearing before the Council daily; this lasted until 6 July, when he was allowed to return to Devon under obligation to appear within 20 days of being summoned. During one of his daily appearances it was discovered that a debt of £1,080 which he had owed to the crown since 1552 was still outstanding and on 25 June he was ordered to settle the debt within four months. Although Chichester remained under a cloud for the rest of the reign, he had the advantage that his cousin the earl was lord lieutenant of Cornwall, Devon and Dorset, a connexion which helps to explain the use made of him to examine the newly discovered mines in Devon and to view the fortifications of the Scilly Isles in 1557.9
In the new reign, Chichester became deputy to the new lieutenant, his friend Bedford, and was active both in Parliament and in local administration until his death on 30 Nov. 1568.10
Ref Volumes: 1509-1558
Author: A. D.K. Hawkyard
- 1. C219/282/2; Hatfield 207.