SHAPCOTE, Robert (1621-bef.1690), of Bradninch, Devon and Dublin, Ireland.
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Family and Education
bap. 4 Feb. 1621, 1st s. of Henry Shapcote of Bradninch by 1st w. Wilmot, da. of one Hill. educ. L. Inn 1638, called 1645. m. 15 May 1646, Anne, da. of Henry Walrond of Bradfield, Devon, 1s. d.v.p. 2da. suc. fa. 1632.2
Col. (parliamentary) 1644-6.3
Recorder, Tiverton by 1647-?62, Bradninch 1647, South Molton till 1654; j.p. Devon 1647-9; commr. for militia, Devon 1655, Mar. 1660, oyer and terminer, Western circuit 1655, security 1656, assessment, Devon 1657, Aug. 1660-1, Dublin 1661, new buildings, London 1657-8.4
Commr. for fraudulent debentures 1656-8; solicitor-gen. [I] 1656-9; attorney-gen. [I] Mar.-May 1659, Feb.-May 1660.5
MP [I] 1661-14 Nov. 1665.
Shapcote’s ancestors can certainly be traced back to the 14th century, and it has been suggested that they may be descended from the Saxon occupiers of the farm which bears their name. But by the Civil War it was worth only £45 p.a., and the head of the family, an ardent Royalist, was an attorney and clerk of the peace for Devon. Shapcote himself was heir to a copyhold estate of £80 p.a. on the crown manor of Bradninch, and was also intended for the law. Although as a young man his sympathies were probably royalist, he joined the Earl of Essex’s army in 1644, and was elected to the Long Parliament two years later, for Tiverton, seven miles from his home, the only member of his family to sit. He lost his seat at Tiverton on a double return in 1659, and when the Rump was restored, he was deprived of his Irish post ‘for I was (in that rightly) adjudged not to be a commonwealthman’, but he regained both when the secluded Members returned.6
Shapcote was again elected at Tiverton in 1660 on his corporation interest in company with the opposition leader Thomas Bampfield, and was marked by Lord Wharton as a friend. He was an active Member of the Convention, in which he was named to 35 committees, and acted as teller against two private bills, both promoted by Cavalier peers. His 27 recorded speeches leave no doubt of his opposition to the Court on the main issues under discussion. In the first session he was particularly concerned with the indemnity bill, taking part in a conference on the Irish rebels, and urging that Irish Protestants who had acted with the Papists should be excepted. On the other hand he twice spoke in defence of the High Court of Justice men, administering a crushing rebuke to the suggestion that he had been one himself. He also took part in preparing a proviso on behalf of regicides who had surrendered themselves. On 17 Aug. he moved the rejection of the Lords’ amendments, and was named to the committee to consider them. Shapcote was also prominent in religious questions, sitting on the committee for the suppression of Anglican propaganda, and demanding that doctrine and discipline should be dealt with separately:
Many things in the liturgy might be amended. We hope men would not be imposing. He was not against the bishops but their power.
After the recess he was appointed to the committee to settle an establishment for Dunkirk, and seconded Bampfield’s motion for raising £500,000 out of church lands. Wharton sent him a copy of the case for modified episcopacy with objections and answers. He observed that ‘the King’s honour and the honour of the House are both concerned’ in giving statutory effect to the Worcester House declaration, and he was added to the committee to bring in a bill. He repeated his objections to ecclesiastical courts: ‘for a hen flying into a churchyard, or some such trifle, they would have excommunicated a man formerly.’7
With the dissolution of the Convention, Shapcote returned to Ireland. A cautious offer of government employment met a polite and dignified refusal; he wanted only to be allowed to practise his profession. Nevertheless he stood in at least three constituencies for the Irish Parliament and was soon noted as ‘a very leading man in the House, of a bold, seditious spirit’. Colonel Blood consulted him on his plan to surprise Dublin Castle in 1663, but Shapcote poured cold water on the Scheme, asking Blood if he would be in a position to keep the kingdom if he took it. The depositions of the conspirators showed the immense prestige Shapcote enjoyed among the Cromwellians in Ireland; he was arrested and noted as ‘the first we shall try to make example of’. But the law officers of the crown warned the Government that it would be difficult to obtain a conviction even of misprision, and after a year’s imprisonment he was reluctantly pardoned on the intercession of Winston Churchill and his kinsman Sir Courtenay Pole. He was expelled the House, but this does not seem to have adversely affected his legal practice, either as conveyancer or pleader. He was mentioned as one of the leading ‘fanatics’ in Ireland in 1682, but is not known to have taken any further part in active politics. He put a new life into his copy at Bradninch on 21 June 1683, but died before 3 May 1689. Apparently his only surviving child was a daughter, Ureth, who married her cousin Francis, but died without issue.8