BASSETT, Arthur (1541-86), of Umberleigh, Devon.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer




Family and Education

b.1541, 1st s. of John Bassett of Umberleigh by Frances, da. and coh. of Sir Arthur Plantagenet, Visct. Lisle. m. Eleanor, da. of Sir John Chichester, 5s. inc. Robert 2da. suc. fa. 1541. Kntd. 1575.

Offices Held

J.p. Devon from 1569, sheriff 1574-5.

Commr. grain 1578; dep. warden of stannaries by 1580.


Bassett was one of the close-knit group of west-country puritans, friends of the 2nd Earl of Bedford, of whose will he was an overseer. Inheriting at least 11 manors when he came of age, Bassett entered into a number of land transactions to raise money for the expedition his cousin Richard Grenville II was taking to the South Seas. Bassett’s closest ties were with his wife’s family, the Chichesters. Sir John Chichester had conveyed the rectory of Pilton to Bassett for five years and made him a trustee for his lands and an executor of his will. The records show Bassett and another of Chichester’s sons-in-law, Hugh Fortescue, working together in matters concerning the wardship of John Chichester, the heir, and in other business around the neighbouring town of Barnstaple which Bassett represented in Parliament soon afterwards. In the same way Bassett was in close touch with another neighbour, the 3rd Earl of Bath (who married the Earl of Bedford’s daughter), writing on Bath’s behalf to Sir Edward Stradling and corresponding with other friends such as Amias Paulet, who wrote on one occasion

Good Mr. Bassett, You are so proud that you have got my Lord of Bedford into your country, that I doubt if you will vouchsafe to bestow the reading of poor men’s letters; and yet I presume that your friendship toward me is so well grounded as neither prosperity in you, or adversity in me, can diminish the same; and therefore do not doubt but that my letters shall receive their welcome after the old fashion ... I pray you commend me most heartily to my cousin Chichester ...

It is probable that his friendship with Philip Sidney led Bassett, along with the young Sir John Chichester and several other Devon men, to volunteer for a military command in the Netherlands, and in January 1586 Bassett was serving under Sidney’s uncle, the Earl of Leicester, at The Hague.

Returned for the shire in 1572, Bassett was on the committee to consider a bill for weights and measures, with Robert Apley, one of the Barnstaple Members (23 May 1572). In 1576 he was one of those appointed to consider petitions about ports (13 Feb.), and on a committee for a bill to reform abuses committed by under-sheriffs (18 Feb.). In the following session he was on committees dealing with the subsidy (25 Jan.) and the religious bills and also on another dealing with wrecks (30 Jan.). With Sir John St. Leger, Sir Richard Grenville’s father-in-law, he was added to a committee considering defaults of weavers and officials concerned with woollen cloths (8 Feb.).

In 1585 Bedford recommended the appointment of six deputy lieutenants for Devon, but, if only two were to be appointed, thought these should be Bassett and Chichester. But neither he nor they had long to live; Bedford died in July of that year, and in 1586 occurred one of the ‘black assizes’ when gaol fever killed eight of the bench of justices at Exeter. John Hooker wrote:

none more lamented than these two knights Sir John Chichester and Sir Arthur Bassett, who albeit they were but young in years yet ancient in wisdom, upright in judgment and zealous in the administration of justice,

and Walsingham, typically, in a letter to Leicester:

The taking away of well affected men in this corrupt time shows that God is angry with us.

Bassett had made his will, a document of some six folio pages, on 18 Oct. 1585, asking to be buried ‘honestly and decently’ beside his wife. He was dead by 7 Apr. 1586.

This biography is based upon the Roberts thesis. Other references: PCC 32, 45 Windsor, 43 Daper; CPR, 1563-6, pp. 202-3; deeds in Clinton box 34, Exeter Castle; St. Ch. 5/A24/28; A. L. Rowse, Grenville, 95, 127-8, 151, 232; Exeter city muniments 50/11/1/13 a-b; Barnstaple Recs.ed. Chanter, ii. 117, 121, 144; Stradling Corresp. ed. Treherne, 242; Copy bk. of Sir Amias Paulet (Roxburghe Club), 167-8; E. M. Tenison, Eliz. England, vi. 45; CJ, i. 97, 105, 106, 119, 120, 123; D’Ewes, 247, 249, 288-9, 293; HMC Bath, v. 68

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: P. W. Hasler