HURST, William (by 1484-1568), of Exeter, Devon.

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



Family and Education

b. by 1484, s. of Robert Hurst of Modbury by Joan, da. of William Rivel of Stoneyford. m. Julian, da. of Walter Gere of Heavitree, at least 2s. 2da.4

Offices Held

Churchwarden, St. Petrox’s, Exeter 1512-13; bailiff, Exeter 1512-13, member of the Twenty-Four 6 Mar. 1517-d., receiver 1522-3, mayor 1524-5, 1535-6, 1545-6, 1551-2, 1561-2, sheriff 1540-1, constable of the staple, Exeter 1518-19, mayor 1525-6, ?lieutenant in 1541; j.p. Devon and Exeter 1537; commr. relief, Exeter 1550, church goods 1551; warden, merchant adventurers, Exeter 1559-60, consul 1560-1, ?gov. 1561-2.5


Sprung from a yeoman family in south Devon, William Hurst was reared to trade. On completing his apprenticeship to an Exeter merchant he was admitted a freeman of the city during 1504-5 and settled in the parish of St. Petrox. His commercial ventures, sometimes in partnership with other Exeter men, extended beyond Spain to the south and Calais to the north and established the fortune which enabled his descendants to purchase a country estate. He combined business acumen with a keen interest in civic and ecclesiastical matters, but he never put his distaste for the Reformation before his material advancement or the interest of the city.6

Hurst’s Membership of three Henrician Parliaments was an extension of his civic career. He and John Hull left Exeter for the Parliament of 1539 over two weeks before its opening to promote a bill for improvements to the river Exe. Once their efforts had borne fruit in the Act (31 Hen. VIII, c.4) passed during the first session Hurst returned home, presumably to discuss the best way of financing the scheme. He went back to London after the prorogation but by mid July he had returned to Exeter, leaving Hull to raise capital for several weeks more.7

The representation of Exeter in the next Parliament is a confused affair. There is no reason to doubt that Hurst and Thomas Spurway attended the first session, but on 1 Dec. 1542, less than a month after the meeting extending the prorogation, a writ was issued for a by-election on account of their incapacity (languidorum et impotentium). A similar reason had been given in 1534 in respect of a previous Member, John Blackaller, and in both cases its genuineness is open to doubt. Spurway may have been ill, but Hurst continued to transact civic business and on 18 Jan. 1543 he left Exeter for the second session which opened four days later. On 17 Mar., while the session was still in progress, a second writ was issued in the same terms as before but without explanation as to why the first had not been executed. The new writ was probably brought down by Hurst himself, who with Spurway attended the election on 27 Mar. of their replacements, Gilbert Kirk and John Pasmore. For his part, Kirk was back in Exeter and had his account settled within two weeks of going up to Parliament, whereupon Spurway took his place for the remainder of the session. The process whereby the original Member displaced his successor seems to have been repeated, if not during the second session at least by the third, in respect of the other pair, Hurst and Pasmore. Hurst received wages for the first 37 days of this session, and a further 2s. to cover payments made to the clerk of the Parliaments and the serjeant-at-arms. While in London he had a charter copied in the Exchequer, and either the work itself or the payment for it was witnessed by Pasmore and Spurway; Pasmore was a London-based lawyer whose presence on this occasion does not imply that he had taken Spurway’s place as the other Member. He may have travelled back with Hurst to Exeter, where on 25 Mar. the receiver paid him 5s.: three days later the Parliament was dissolved and on the day after that Pasmore died. His companion Kirk also predeceased the two ostensibly sick men of 1542: Spurway survived until 1548 and Hurst for a further 20 years, having been re-elected to the Parliament of 1545. Of his part in it nothing has been discovered, but during the prorogation he was instructed to pay the wages of his fellow-Member John Grenville.8

As one ‘well affected to the Romish religion’ Hurst must have shared the dislike of the rebels of 1549 for the Prayer Book, but when they besieged Exeter he helped to defend the city. Two years later he led the commission to dismantle the roodloft, altars and images in the church of St. Petrox and to remove its plates and vestments. He sought to turn the despoiling of the churches to civic profit by raising money on their plate to continue the work on the river and harbour which had languished for want of capital since its commencement in 1544: more than £200 was thus raised, but the scheme earned Hurst a rebuke from Bishop Coverdale and the Council. On the reunion with Rome under Mary he expiated his part in destroying the roodloft by heading the contributors towards a new one, and at Elizabeth’s accession he bought for his private use several of the images which had been placed in the church at that time; he nevertheless conformed to the Anglican settlement and escaped censure from Bishop Alley in 1564. He was a long-standing member of the consortium which bought former church property around Exeter on behalf of the city.9

In 1554 Hurst sued out a general pardon from Mary and six years later one for contravening trade regulations. His closing years were spent in establishing the merchant adventurers at Exeter. One of his last acts was to bring an action, which he won, against the corporation of London for the impounding of his goods when the City imposed a fine before allowing Exeter merchants to trade there. He died on 26 Mar. 1568 and was buried in the church of St. Petrox. In a will made two years earlier he remembered the poor at Modbury, left money for the repair of highways and bridges, and provided for kinsmen and descendants. His son John was dead, and he was succeeded by his grandson William, another merchant. If Hurst had not attained the age of 96 ascribed to him on a portrait, he was certainly well over 80 when he died.10

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: A. D.K. Hawkyard


  • 1. Exeter act bk. 2, f. 42v.
  • 2. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 3. Ibid. f. 73.
  • 4. Date of birth estimated from admission as freeman. Vis Devon (Harl. Soc. vi), 110; Vis. Devon, ed. Vivian, 96, 136, 293, 553, 592, 892.
  • 5. R. Dymock, St. Petrox’s Par. Exeter, 41-42; R. Izacke, Exeter (1681), 107, 112, 113, 118, 122, 125, 129; LP Hen. VIII, iv, xii; Exeter act bk. 1, 2 passim; CPR, 1553, p. 361; 1558-60, pp. 52-53; 1558-60, pp. 375, 427-8; W. Cotton, An Eliz. Guild of Exeter, 25, 40.
  • 6. Cotton, 36; W. T. MacCaffrey, Exeter 1540-1640, p. 256; Exeter Freemen (Devon and Cornw. Rec. Soc. extra ser. i), 64; E122/201, ff. 2-27 passim; 179/96/147, 97/246, 99/318; LP Hen. VIII, iv, xiii, xx; J. Hoker, The description of the citie of Excester (Devon and Cornw. Rec. Soc. xi), passim.
  • 7. Exeter act bk. 2, f. 42v.
  • 8. Ibid. ff. 56v, 73; L28; C219/18B/17, 18, 19.
  • 9. Hoker, 74, 410-25; Dymock, 56, 59, 79; W. Cotton and H. Woollcombe, Exeter 191-2; B. F. Cresswell, Edwardian Inventories for Exeter, p. xiii; Trans. Dev. Assoc. lxxxiv. 124, 136; Cam. Misc. ix(3), 70; HMC Exeter, 291.
  • 10. CPR, 1553-4, p. 426; 1560-3, p. 28; Hoker, 614-15, 725, 895; HMC Exeter, 342; PCC 3 Tashe, 8 Babington; Cresswell, 153; Eliz. Govt. and Soc. ed. Bindoff, Hurstfield and Williams, 163-4.