HART, Richard (by 1517-78), of Exeter, Devon.
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Family and Education
b. by 1517. m. ?by 1538, ?Elizabeth, at least 5s.1
Town clerk, Exeter 1538-d., common serjeant by 1564.2
Although Richard Hart claimed gentility, he probably sprang from a family of yeomen dispersed through Devon. On his appointment as town clerk of Exeter in 1538 he was admitted as a freeman and settled in the parish of All Hallows where he lived until his death. He frequently visited London on civic business, and it was in recognition of his services to Exeter that on 28 Feb. 1552 he was given the stewardship of a manor there for life and an annuity of 20s.3
Hart’s office presumably accounts for his election at Exeter to three consecutive Parliaments. On the first occasion he served with Robert Weston, who was chancellor to Bishop Coverdale: as Weston was as fervent a Protestant as Hart was a Catholic, the city may have chosen its town clerk with this in mind. Weston was to receive no payment but Hart was given £10 before he left for the Parliament, of which he took £7 for wages and £2 for sundries, leaving £1 unspent. In the next two Parliaments his fellow-Member was his friend John Ridgeway. All that is known about Hart’s part in the work of the Commons is that he did not oppose the restoration of Catholicism in the autumn of 1553, but he presumably supported the bill introduced in October 1553 to bring the terms of apprenticeship in Bristol and Exeter into agreement with those in London. Although he qualified for re-election under the royal criteria he was not returned to the second Parliament of 1554, when Exeter chose two better-connected Members; thereafter he had little chance of re-election against such favoured competitors and, after 1558, the handicap of his Catholicism.4
On the death of John Southcote I in 1556 Sir Thomas Denys, the custos rotulorum, sought to exclude George Southcote from the clerkship of the peace and the crown for Devon by giving it to Hart but Southcote went to Chancery and Hart was deprived of the post. The episode marked a downturn in his fortunes and although he remained of ‘some authority’ in Exeter he ceased to be entrusted with civic business elsewhere. In his declining years he reorganized the city’s records, for which he earned a commendation from John Hooker alias Vowell†. On his death on 6 May 1578 he was succeeded as town clerk by his son Edward.