POLE, Sir Courtenay, 2nd Bt. (1619-95), of Shute, Devon.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

bap. 17 Feb. 1619, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Sir John Pole, 1st Bt., of Shute by Elizabeth, da. and h. of Roger How, merchant, of London; bro. of Sir William Pole. educ. L. Inn 1635. m. c.1649 (with £4,000), Urith, da. of Thomas Shapcote, attorney, of Exeter, 1s. 2da. suc. fa. 16 Apr. 1658.1

Offices Held

Capt. of ft. (royalist) 1643-6.2

Freeman, Lyme Regis May 1660; j.p. Devon July 1660-July 1688, Oct. 1688-d., Dorset 1661-74, dep. lt. Devon July 1660-?d., commr. for assessment Aug. 1660-80, 1689-90, oyer and terminer, Western circuit 1661, corporations, Devon 1662-3, loyal and indigent officers 1662, pressing seamen 1665; sub-commr. for prizes, Plymouth 1665-7; commr. for recusants, Devon 1675, customs frauds, Lyme Regis 1678; sheriff, Devon 1681-2; recorder, Honiton 1685-7.3


Pole’s great-grandfather, a distinguished antiquary, produced an impressive genealogy for his family, which certainly held land in Devon from the 15th century. The antiquary’s father, elected for Lyme Regis in 1545, is the first Member of Parliament who can be definitely placed in the pedigree. The family background was Puritan; Pole’s uncle and aunt settled in Massachusetts in 1637, and he himself was not confirmed until after the Restoration. His father, who is credited with securing the restoration of Honiton, eight miles from Shute, as a parliamentary borough in 1640, was in arms for Parliament in the Civil War; but Pole himself and his elder brother Sir William (who sat for the borough in the Long Parliament) took the Cavalier side. This arrangement was not without its disadvantages, for whereas the parliamentary garrison of Lyme did £5,000 worth of damage to Shute on one of their sorties, the other family seat, Colcombe Castle, was so roughly treated by the Royalists in 1644 that it was never reoccupied. On the other hand, the timely death of Sir William Pole, by which his estates reverted to his father, meant that the family escaped the burden of any fine except the £20 imposed on Pole himself, still a landless younger son at the time, for his service in the regiment of Sir John Hele which surrendered at Exeter in 1646. During the Interregnum, Pole seems to have managed the estate for his father, who went to live on his second wife’s property near London. Almost certainly it was grossly undervalued at £1,000 p.a. in the list for the projected order of the Royal Oak: Pole’s rental alone (exclusive of entry fines) amounted to £1,420.4

In the general election of 1661 Pole defeated Sir William Courtenay at Honiton. In the first session of the Cavalier Parliament he was appointed to the committees for the uniformity and corporations bills, the bill of pains and penalties, and the bill for the execution of those under attainder. After the Christmas recess he was given the delicate task, together with Edward Seymour and Thomas Burwell, of intimating to the King that the Duke of York’s patent for wine licences infringed the taverners’ rights. Three times in this session he claimed parliamentary privilege for his servants and property. But he was not unmindful also of his constituency, long the centre of the English lace industry; on 19 Feb. 1662 he was given responsibility, together with his colleague Peter Prideaux and William Sandys, for bringing in a bill against the import of foreign lace, and his name was the first on the committee appointed after the second reading of the bill. His principal achievement, however, was the hearth-tax, which he proposed and carried to the Lords. For this he was to be unmercifully guyed by the country party as ‘Sir Chimney Pool, that first moved for chimney money, for which he had the court thanks but no snip, though damnably promised’. He was indeed left unrewarded under the Clarendon administration, though he acted as chairman of the commissioners of corporations at Totnes and sent warnings of unrest in the west. His biggest disappointment was in Ireland, where his father had acquired a large estate in Meath during the Interregnum, now very ‘litigious and troublesome’. ‘You cannot be ignorant’ the King wrote to Ormonde, ‘what signal services Sir Courtenay Pole has done us, and consequently what extraordinary kindness we ought to have for him’. It is probable that Ormonde was of a different opinion; Pole was handicapped by the local notoriety of his wife’s kinsman, Robert Shapcote, and he eventually exchanged his Irish property for land nearer home of less than a third of its nominal value. In the 1663 session he acted as teller for debating the Declaration of Indulgence and for recommitting the leaseholds bill. He was among those instructed to consider defects in the Uniformity and Corporations Acts and to bring in a bill restricting office to loyal Anglicans. On 4 July he was teller for an additional corporations bill. In the succeeding sessions he was less active, though continuing to serve on committees for the Clarendon Code.5

Andrew Marvell in 1666 described Pole as leader of those whose political unpopularity compelled them to vote with the Court. His activity increased after the fall of Clarendon, when he was named to the committees of inquiry into the miscarriages of the second Dutch war, the sale of Dunkirk, and the conduct of Lord Mordaunt. He helped to reduce the charges against Clarendon into heads, and acted as teller against the second reading for payment of naval debts. He seems to have felt genuine indignation at the plight of the discharged seamen; on 28 Feb. 1668 he proposed in the House that those guilty of fraud over their tickets should refund or be hanged, and on the same day he and Prideaux received an oral promise from the Treasury for payment to some men whom they had pressed. He was included in both lists of the court party in 1669-71 among those who usually voted for supply. Honiton, situated on the main Exeter road, was naturally concerned to reduce the burden of highway repairs on the inhabitants. Pole served on committees for seven turnpike bills, spoke twice in the debate of 16 Mar. 1670, and acted as teller for prohibiting the drawing of wagons by five horses in file, which, he said, spoilt the breed and discouraged navigation. He was mildly reprimanded by the House on 19 Jan. 1671 for exercising moral pressure on the high constables to vote for the court candidate for Devon. Seymour’s father had supported the country candidate, Sir Coplestone Bampfylde; but when Seymour himself became Speaker and Privy Councillor in 1673 Pole was one of those who could see no incompatibility in the two posts. His only conference was in the next session, on the joint address recommending peace with the Dutch (3 Feb. 1674).6

In the spring session of 1675 Pole was appointed to two anti-Papal committees, on the bills to exclude Papists from Parliament and to hinder the growth of Popery. When Danby was accused of mismanagement at the Treasury, he observed sapiently that ‘this is a great crime, and a great man’, hinted that the charge could not be substantiated, and moved for time to consider it. A bill to incapacitate placemen from sitting he described as ‘a garbling the Parliament, and a new modelling the government from a monarchy into a commonwealth’. Anxious to prevent a complete breach between the Houses over Shirley v. Fagg, he acted as teller against describing the conduct of the Lords as unparliamentary. He received the government whip for the autumn session, in which his principal committee was to investigate reports of corruption among Members (27 Oct. 1675). When during a supply debate he aspersed the record of (Sir) Edward Bayntun in the Civil War, William, Lord Cavendish, with equal irrelevance expressed surprise that ‘the author of the most vexatious tax upon the people that ever was known’ should speak of the Long Parliament. Pole’s name appeared on the working lists and among the government speakers, though he did not often address the House, and a passage in the satirical poem The Chequer Inn suggests that only his fellow Devonian (Sir) Henry Ford could applaud, or even understand his eloquence. Sir Richard Wiseman clearly regarded him as a safe man for the Court, who only needed reminding to make sure of Bampfylde, now his son-in-law, as he promised. By this time Pole’s financial position was so healthy that he was able to take much of the Shute demesne out of production and fence it off as a park. It was only now that the ‘damnably promised snip’ materialized. By the end of 1676 he was in receipt of a Treasury grant, derived partly from the French subsidy and partly from the hearth-tax, though none could know better that such assignments had been declared illegal and subject to the penalty of double repayment. In 1677 he was granted the exceptionally large excise pension of £1,000 p.a. He was appointed to the committee on the bill to enforce the recall of British subjects from the French service (22 Feb.), acted as teller for the Court on alliances, and was marked ‘thrice vile’ by Shaftesbury. As a west-countryman he had profited by the prohibition of cattle imports from Ireland, and he acted as teller against a motion to refer the repeal of the Act to a committee of the whole House. In the earlier sessions of 1678 he continued to act as teller on supply, and his name appears in both lists of the court party. He was, however, appointed to the committee to draft the address for the removal of counsellors (7 May). In his last speech, on 21 Dec., he seconded the motion of (Sir) John Bramston for a regular commitment of the articles of Danby’s impeachment, naming time and place. An active Member, he had been appointed to 283 committees, including the committee of elections and privileges in nine sessions. He acted as teller in 19 divisions, and made so recorded speeches.7

It is unlikely that Pole ever stood again; it was said jestingly that he would ‘never be chosen Parliament man of any place where there are chimneys’, and he was listed among the ‘unanimous club’. He had endeavoured to cultivate an interest at Lyme Regis, but Danby had refused to accept his nomination for the post of collector of customs, and he had embroiled himself in the feud between the rival factions of the court party in the town. No doubt he was better pleased to be out of the House when he was identified as a pensioner by (Sir) Stephen Fox. He continued to enjoy the royal favour, and his appointment as high sheriff after the dissolution of the Oxford Parliament dismayed the nonconformists. An address was procured from Devon abhorring Shaftesbury’s ‘Association’, and Sir Francis North wrote of the sheriff: ‘As he has in all other things advanced the King’s service, so he has done in appointing so eminent a grand jury’. He was nominated recorder of Honiton under the new charter, but he was removed in 1687, and returned the same unsatisfactory answers as Sir Edward Seymour to the lord lieutenant’s questions on the repeal of the Test Act and Penal Laws. But he may have modified his attitude at a later date, for he was approved as deputy lieutenant in 1688. When William of Orange landed, John Manley borrowed Pole’s horses for the use of the invaders; the proffered payment was refused. Their owner was by now very infirm, and took no further part in politics, though he appears to have continued in local office under the new regime. He was buried at Shute on 13 Apr. 1695.8

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 603; Cornw. RO, Carew Pole mss, PS24/16.
  • 2. SP23/183/821.
  • 3. Lyme Regis mss, B6/11; Trans. Devon Assoc. lxiv. 446; Carew Pole m