SHEPPARD, James (c.1681-1730), of Honiton, and Lawell, Chudleigh, Devon
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Family and Education
b. c. 1681, 1st s. of James Sheppard of Honiton, attorney-at-law, by Mary Walrond of Payhembury, nr. Honiton. educ. M. Temple 1700, called 1705. m. lic. 16 Mar. 1704, Elizabeth Fowler (d. 1723), 4s. (2 d.v.p.) 6da. (4 d.v.p.). Kntd. 14 May 1729.
Recorder, Honiton 1713; serjeant-at-law 1724, King’s serjeant 1727–d.1
The Sheppards were well established in the Honiton area, for in 1632 one of that name had purchased the nearby manor of Watton, though James Sheppard was evidently from another branch of the family, and, like his father, his local prestige was founded on the law. The similarity in the careers of father and son makes it difficult to trace Sheppard’s early progress, but it was evidently Sheppard snr. who was chosen in June 1688 as town clerk of Tiverton, an appointment which suggests Tory sympathies. The elder Sheppard may thus be tentatively identified as the ‘Mr Shepherd esq’ who in September 1704 appeared in a list of displaced Tory Devon j.p.s, with an estimated annual income of £600. In addition, Sheppard’s father may also have been the James Sheppard who in February 1705 was cited as secretary and clerk to the Devon lieutenancy. Sheppard clearly inherited his father’s Tory principles, and when barely into his thirties he attempted to dislodge the long-established Whig Member Sir Walter Yonge, 3rd Bt., at the Honiton election of 1710. The contest resulted in a double return, but the House subsequently ruled in his favour, after resolving on a restricted borough franchise.2
In the new Parliament Sheppard’s politics were confirmed by a list citing him as one of the ‘worthy patriots’ who detected the mismanagements of the previous ministry. Moreover, he was keen to seek advancement under the Tory administration, subsequent reports suggesting that he eagerly sought a place at the alienations office, albeit without success. His Commons activity is less easy to discern, due to the presence in the House of Samuel Shepheard II, the Member for Cambridge, who for at least the first two sessions of the 1710 Parliament shared Sheppard’s Tory outlook. In February 1712 both were listed as members of the October Club. However, given his legal background, the Honiton Member may plausibly be identified as a teller on 7 June in support of a rider to a bill for charitable uses which exempted wills from stamp duty. In the next session, unlike his namesake, he supported the French commerce bill in the crucial division of 18 June 1713. He can thus be credited as the ‘Mr Shepheard’ who on 14 May had backed the ministry during a Commons’ debate on the treaty.3
Both Sheppard and Samuel Shepheard II were returned at the general election of 1713, the former having fought off a strong local challenge. Although their activity remains confused, the Cambridge Member maintained his ‘whimsical’ stance, and thus Sheppard is more likely to have acted as a teller on 25 June 1714 against a motion to uphold the franchise for the Quakers of Southwark. Although he was unable to retain his seat at the general election of 1715, the Worsley list confirms him as a Tory. Another failure at the polls followed in 1722, but he was successful at the next general election, after which he supported the Whig administration. In the course of that Parliament he succumbed to ‘gaol distemper’, and died, v.p., on 10 Apr. 1730, aged 49. The House subsequently ruled that he had been unduly returned in 1727 and seated his opponent, thereby obviating the need for a by-election to replace him. By the time of his death, his heir James had already been called to the bar, but chose not to emulate his father’s parliamentary career.4