Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

No names known for 1510


 (not known)
1523(not known)
1536(not known)
1539(not known)
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by 23 Jan. 1552SIR ARTHUR CHAMPERNON vice Wilford, deceased7

Main Article

Barnstaple was the only port of any consequence in north Devon, but by the 16th century the haven had begun to silt. Although the town continued to prosper, it was overtaken by Totnes as the third richest town of the county and its mayors attributed to poverty the townsmen’s failure to pay their subsidy contributions in full. Of the 2,000 inhabitants during this period, only six had assessments of £382 for the subsidy of 1523.8

On the death of Lady Margaret Beaufort the lordship of the manor passed to Henry VIII. He granted it to his illegitimate son the Duke of Richmond, whose death in 1536 brought it back to the crown. It remained in royal hands until April 1557 when it was granted, with the reversion of the lease of the market, to Thomas Marrow of Redfern, Warwickshire. In 1565 Marrow’s son sold both to (Sir) John Chichester, who resold them to the corporation. The nearby manor of Tawton was owned by the bishop of Exeter, the manor of Fremington by Sir William Fitzwilliam I, and after the Dissolution the site and properties of the priory at Barnstaple by William Lord Howard. None of these three appears to have exercised any parliamentary patronage at Barnstaple. George Stapleton began his career in the service of Bishop Veysey; the mayor received instructions from Fitzwilliam during the invasion scares of the 1530s; and Howard’s ‘good mastership’ was secured by frequent gifts.

Athelstan was the reputed originator of the liberties of Barnstaple. In the 13th and early 14th centuries the town supposedly received charters now known to be forged copies of those for Exeter; these were confirmed during the later middle ages and in 1512, 1547 and 1554. Incorporation followed on 29 May 1557, when authority was vested in a mayor and 24 capital burgesses, two of whom were to be aldermen. This charter removed many of the difficulties which had previously hampered administration: others were dealt with in charters of 1596 and 1611. There was a recorder and several lawyers were retained as counsel. The receivers’ accounts for the period are complete and other records include letters received and sent. The town usually gave 12d. to the sheriff’s servant who brought the precept ordering an election; the precept of 1509 survives in the municipal records. The election was held in the guildhall and an indenture (which cost 8d.) was returned by the sheriff to Chancery. Indentures survive for the Parliaments of October 1553, 1555 and 1558; they are in Latin and are between the sheriff and the mayor and commonalty. In 1545 the town gave the nomination of its Members to the new recorder, Sir Hugh Pollard, and the townsman who consulted Pollard made the indenture out ‘as the sheriff’ and delivered it to the sheriff.9

Of the 19 Members sitting in this period, seven were townsmen who combined trade with municipal office. Several were Devonians living in the locality and with chambers in the Middle Temple: of these, Hugh Yeo was connected with Sir Thomas Stukley, recorder in 1529, Anthony Bury was to become one of the town’s counsel and Robert Carey recorder early in Elizabeth’s reign. The well-connected Sir Arthur Champernon and the Lincoln’s Inn lawyer George Haydon both came from south Devon; Champernon’s return was probably the work of his friend John Chichester, the sheriff, who lived near Barnstaple, was recorder under Mary and sat as one of its Members in 1559. Thomas Prideaux, a Londoner of Devon birth, had a brother and uncle who bought chantry lands in the town. Sir James Wilford was also of Devon stock and George Rolle, keeper of the records in the court of common pleas, a recent immigrant. George Ferrers, besides being a distant kinsman of Chichester and of the 2nd Earl of Bath, belonged to the Household and was known to Sir John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford, who owned property in the town and whose former ward William Gardiner had sat for it earlier. Wilford’s election with Bartholomew Traheron, soon after Traheron came back from the Continent in 1547, looks like the work of Russell on behalf of the Protector Somerset and the Privy Council.

Until 1555 Barnstaple made a token payment to its resident Members never exceeding 13s.4d. This custom notwithstanding, Robert Apley and George Stapleton protested when in 1556 the town refused to pay them in full and swore never to sit in Parliament again without a guarantee of payment; it is not known whether this was forthcoming when Apley was re-elected under Elizabeth. Champernon, a Member without personal links with the town, was given sack and a box of marmalade. The town expected to reimburse such incidental expenses as payments to the clerk of the parliaments and the purchase of copies of Acts affecting its interests.

Author: A. D.K. Hawkyard


  • 1. N. Devon Athenaeum, Barnstable, 3972, f. 23.
  • 2. Ibid. f. 26v.
  • 3. Ibid. f. 27.
  • 4. Ibid. f. 54.
  • 5. C219/282/2.
  • 6. Ibid.; Hatfield 207.
  • 7. Hatfield 207.
  • 8. W. G. Hoskins and H. P. R. Finberg, Devonshire Studies, 172, 218; Hoskins, Devon, 328; J. C. Russell, Brit. Med. Population, 273.
  • 9. S. Reynolds, ‘The forged charters of Barnstaple’, EHR, lxxxiv. 699-720; T. Wainwright, Barnstaple Recs. i, ii passim; J. B. Gribble, Barnstaple Mems. passim.