ACLAND, Sir John (by 1553-1620), of Columbjohn, Broad Clyst, Devon

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press



27 Jan. 1607

Family and Education

b. by 1553, 2nd s. of John Acland (d.1553) of Ackland Barton, Landkey, Devon and Margaret, da. and coh. of Hugh Radcliffe of Stepney, Mdx.; half-bro. of Sir Robert Brett*.1 educ. Exeter Coll. Oxf.;2 L. Inn 1573.3 m. (1) Elizabeth, da. of George Rolle† of Stevenstone, Devon and wid. of Robert Mallett (d.1577) of Woolleigh, Beaford, Devon, 1da. d.v.p.;4 (2) pre-nuptial settlement 26 Nov. 1605, Margery, da. of Sir Henry Portman of Orchard Portman, Som. and wid. of Gabriel Hawley (admon. 16 Mar. 1604) of Buckland Sororum, Som., s.p.5 kntd. 14 Mar. 1604.6 d. 14 Feb. 1620.7 sig. John Aclande.

Offices Held

J.p. Devon by 1587-d.,8 commr. sewers 1600,9 piracy 1603-4, 1615,10 recusants 1606;11 freeman, Exeter, Devon 1607;12 commr. inquiry into duchy of Cornw. lands, W. Country 1607,13 subsidy, Devon 1608,14 sheriff 1608-9,15 commr. inquiry into lands of Sir Walter Ralegh†, Devon 1612.16

Member, Virg. Co. 1610-d.17


Acland was born at Landkey in north Devon, where his family had owned property since at least the twelfth century. Although a younger son, he inherited his mother’s lands in the London area, and further enhanced his finances by marriage to a wealthy widow, whose jointure estate at Woolleigh provided him temporarily with a seat eight miles south of his birthplace. The first of his family to enter Parliament, he was returned for Saltash in 1586, and became a Devon magistrate at around the same time.18 Prior to 1591, he relocated to the south of the county, purchasing an estate at Columbjohn, and rebuilding the house there on a grander scale. As a j.p. resident in Exeter’s hinterland, he soon found himself drawn into the city’s affairs, though he clearly retained some ties with north Devon, for in 1600-1 he helped to supervise the embarkation at Barnstaple of reinforcements for Ireland.19

Acland was knighted in 1604, and in the following year married for the second time, again choosing a rich widow as his bride. He subsequently decided to convert the newly rebuilt estate chapel at Columbjohn into a chapel-of-ease by appropriating the revenues from the nearby sincecure prebend of Cutton, which he was currently leasing. However, not owning the prebend himself he was unable to make permanent arrangements to implement this plan without an Act of Parliament. An opportunity to promote such legislation from inside the Commons soon arose, though, when it was ruled that Sir Thomas Ridgeway, by his appointment as Irish treasurer-at-war, was prevented from sitting any longer as a Devon knight of the shire. Acland was elected to replace him in January 1607, and took his seat on 10 February. Thirteen days later, he secured a first reading for his bill, which proposed that the Cutton revenues should fund a priest who would both hold services at Columbjohn and teach in the nearby village of Broad Clyst, where Acland would construct a schoolhouse. On 25 Feb. the measure went to committee, which all the Devon Members were entitled to attend. Reported with amendments on 3 Mar. by John Hoskins, the bill was passed by the Commons two days later, but ran into problems in the Lords. Reported there on 21 Mar. with further amendments, it was referred back to committee, and failed to return to the House.20 In the Commons, meanwhile, Acland attracted nominations to six other legislative committees, whose topics included the estates of Herbert Pelham* and Sir Jonathan Trelawny*, debt collection, and the judicial procedures in ecclesiastical courts (20-1 and 26 Feb., 16 May). Despite this comparatively slight record, Acland was well enough known to warrant inclusion in the scurrilous ‘Parliament Fart’ poem, which portrayed him as the voice of obtuse common sense.21

Acland now abandoned his Columbjohn chapel scheme in favour of a much broader charitable project, the establishment of 200 Devon apprenticeships, particularly in husbandry. His concerns about deficiencies in the agricultural workforce presumably sprang from his long and varied experience of local government, most recently as the county’s sheriff in 1608-9. However, his conversion to large-scale philanthropy was doubtless also motivated by his lack of a direct heir, and the desire to perpetuate his name by other means. To safeguard the long-term efficacy of his donations, he devised elaborate conditions, including administration by the local municipal or parish officers, who were to be accountable to the county bench. He then sought to enforce this framework with legislation in the first parliamentary session of 1610. The bill ‘for the continuing and better maintenance of husbandry and other manual occupations by the true employment of monies given ... for the binding out of apprentices’ was, as he later recorded, ‘made and provided by my special means and endeavours’. Drafted as a public measure applicable to all similar benefactors, it received its first reading on 17 Mar., and was assigned ten days later to a committee which included both Acland himself and John Prowse, to whose Exeter constituency Acland had recently donated funds for 18 apprenticeships. The bill was reported without amendments on 28 Apr., and passed by the Commons on 8 May. Following an equally smooth passage through the Lords, it was duly enacted at the end of the session.22

Acland was named in person to six other legislative committees during this session, their subjects including restrictions on moor-burning and hawking, highway repairs, and the suppression of alehouses (27 and 29-31 March). As a representative of a maritime county, he was also entitled to attend the committee for the bill to encourage the use of sea-sand as fertilizer in Devon and Cornwall (22 February). He presumably did so, since he was one of several Devon magistrates who petitioned Parliament in support of the measure.23 On 15 May he successfully moved that Sir Stephen Proctor should not be released from custody until he acknowledged his fault in slandering Sir John Mallory*. Acland left no mark on the records of the fifth parliamentary session, but he was apparently one of the Members recruited then to the Virginia Company.24

Having this time achieved his legislative objective, Acland seems not to have sought election to the Commons again, but spent the next decade implementing his apprenticeships scheme on the lines of the 1610 Act, with donations finally totalling £540. Predictably the bulk of the money was bestowed on locations near his present or former homes, Exeter being one of the first places to benefit, though other Devon towns such as Plympton and Okehampton were also remembered. To further encourage the due administration of this charity, in 1616 and 1619 he also instituted bread doles in two-thirds of these parishes, though this project took on a life of its own, with 14 additional communities being targeted. This bread, which cost £75 8s. a year, was funded by the profits from Acland’s lay rectory at Churchstow, Devon; as a compensatory gesture, he also augmented the vicar’s stipend. In the same two years, Acland resolved the Columbjohn issue by assigning £25 of his annual land revenues in perpetuity to employ a preaching minister at his chapel. Although the Broad Clyst school project was dropped, Acland recalled his original intentions by specifying that the choice of minister should rest with the current patron of Cutton prebend. Financial oversight of the bread dole and Columbjohn stipend was entrusted to Exeter corporation, the initial trustees including John Prowse* and Ignatius Jourdain*.25 Beyond Devon’s borders, Acland also donated £800 in 1618 towards the reconstruction of the hall at Exeter College, Oxford.26

By 1620 almost all of Acland’s charitable provisions were settled, and his will, drawn up on 9 Feb., primarily recited the existing arrangements, though a further £16 was assigned to founding two scholarships at Exeter College. His wife Margery’s marriage settlement already assigned her £500, to which Acland now added plate, household goods, and an annual supply of firewood. Most of his other relatives received only token bequests. Mourning gowns or cloaks were provided for Exeter’s mayor, recorder, swordbearer and sergeants-at-mace, as inducements for them to attend his funeral, and the corporation was also left a silver-gilt cup. Acland died on 14 Feb., leaving his nephew John as his principal heir. He had already constructed an elaborate tomb for himself at Broad Clyst, but the gap left for his epitaph was never filled. Instead, his memory was indeed preserved by his charitable donations, particularly the bread dole and the Oxford grants. Despite all his precautions, his apprenticeship scheme was defunct by the early nineteenth century. His family was next represented in Parliament by his great-nephew, Sir Hugh Acland, who sat for Barnstaple after the Restoration.27

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Tim Venning / Paul Hunneyball


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  • 2. Reg. Exeter Coll. ed. C.W. Boase (Oxf. Hist. Soc. xxvii), 318.
  • 3. LI Admiss.
  • 4. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 4; PROB 11/59, ff. 210v-11v.
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  • 6. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 130.
  • 7. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 4.
  • 8. E163/14/8, f. 7v; C193/13/1, f. 22v.
  • 9. C66/1541.
  • 10. C181/1, ff. 70, 93; 181/2, f. 242.
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  • 13. C181/2, f. 34.
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  • 15. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 36.
  • 16. C181/2, f. 170.
  • 17. A. Brown, Genesis of US, 466; Recs. Virg. Co. ed. S.M. Kingsbury, iii. 317.
  • 18. PROB 11/136, f. 104v; W.G. Hoskins, Devon, 422; J. Prince, Worthies of Devon (1810), pp. 1-2;
  • 19. C142/392/101; T. Westcote, View of Devonshire, 117; B. Cherry and N. Pevsner, Devon, 279; HMC Exeter, 66-7; APC, 1600-1, p. 14; 1601-4, pp. 127, 262, 302.
  • 20. Prince, 2-3; HMC 3rd Rep. 11; CJ, i. 324a, 339b, 340b, 346a, 349a, 1011b; LJ, ii. 493a, 496b-5a.
  • 21. CJ, i. 338a, 339a, 343a, 374b; J. Mennes, Musarum Deliciae, 69.
  • 22. PROB 11/136, ff. 96v-7v; SR, iv. 1157-9; CJ, i. 412b, 415a, 422a, 426a; LJ, ii. 592b, 593b, 598b; Devon RO, ECA Act Bk. 6, p. 387.
  • 23. CJ, i. 398b, 415a, 416a, 417a, 424a; HLRO, Lords main pprs. 19 Apr. 1610.
  • 24. CJ, i. 428b; Brown, 466.
  • 25. PROB 11/136, ff. 96-9v, 103v-5v; W.J. Harte, Gleanings from Richard Izacke’s Antiqs. of Exeter, 23; Devon RO, R4/1-0/Z/79; Rep. Charity Commrs. on Devon (1826-30), i. 18; ii. 122; iii. 196.
  • 26. VCH Oxon. iii. 116.
  • 27. PROB 11/136, ff. 96-107v; Prince, 4-5.