MARTIN, Thomas (-d.1620), of Exeter, Devon

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press




Family and Education

2nd s. of William Martin† (d.1609) of Exeter, merchant and his 1st w. Anne, da. of Richard Parker of Suss.; bro. of Richard* and half-bro. of Nicholas*.1 educ. appr. merchant by 1600.2 m. Rhoda, da. of Robert Collut, 3s.3 bur. 18 May 1620.4 sig. Tho[mas] Martyn.

Offices Held

Freeman, Exeter 1600,5 bailiff 1605-6,6 common councilman 1609-d.,7 recvr. 1611-12, sheriff 1612-13, mayor 1618-19;8 commr. piracy, Devon 1619;9 alderman, Exeter 1619-d.10

Member, Spanish Co. 1604,11 ?Virg. Co. 1612.12


Martin represented the third generation of a prominent Exeter merchant family which supplied the city with six mayors and a recorder.13 His father, William, who sat for Exeter in the 1597 Parliament, made his fortune exporting Devon cloth to France and the Low Countries.14 Martin was groomed to take over this business, his elder brother Richard having trained as a lawyer. William handed him property in five Exeter parishes when he married, and in 1609 appointed him his executor and residual legatee.15 Martin successfully exploited the resumption of peaceful trade with Spain, finding fresh markets across the Iberian peninsula and in the Canary Islands. He also built up strong ties with London, where his cousin Thomas Martin helped him ‘upon occasion of business’. Indeed, he was in the capital in August 1609, when he sought reassurances from Sir Daniel Dunne* that the proposed French Company would not infringe the privileges already enjoyed by Exeter merchants trading with France.16

Martin had already held all but the most senior positions in Exeter’s corporation when he was elected in 1614 to represent the city in Parliament. As a novice Member he made little impact on the Commons’ proceedings. Indeed, he may have been confused with his brother Richard, a notable figure in the previous six sessions, since the only committee to which he was personally named was to help draft the bill for the repeal or continuance of expiring statutes, a task normally assigned to lawyers (8 April). He was also appointed ex officio as an Exeter burgess to five legislative committees, whose subjects included the new pier at Axmouth, Devon, and problems caused by weirs (21 May). Martin presumably drew on his own recent experience of the shrievalty when, on 14 May, he used his only recorded speech to attack the conduct of the disputed Cambridgeshire election by that county’s sheriff. It is not known whether he was present in the Commons three days later to witness his brother’s ill-advised outburst on behalf of the Virginia Company, and he certainly took no part in the subsequent debates on how to punish such outspokenness.17 Martin and his colleague John Prowse assiduously updated Exeter corporation on developments in the House. However, plans for them to apply for a new city charter were cut short by the Parliament’s sudden dissolution. Following his return home, Martin received wages of £15 for 75 days’ service.18

In November 1618, early in his term as mayor of Exeter, Martin travelled to London to prove his brother Richard’s will. Instructed to dispose of the childless lawyer’s assets, he apparently acquired some of his lands himself, including Lyndridge barton at Bishopsteignton, Devon.19 Martin drew up his own will on 10 Apr. 1620, confident of his status as one of God’s elect. He bequeathed £30 to the poor of Exeter, stipulating that none of this money should go to ‘idle, sturdy or common beggars’. To his wife he left a life interest in the Lyndridge estate and his Exeter town house, while other Devon properties and two London tenements were divided between his younger sons. He died just over a month later, and was buried in St. Petrock’s, Exeter. His wife quickly took control of his estate, proving the will on 10 June, and implementing at least one of his bequests by 6 July, when Exeter corporation made plans to spend £5 designated for local road repairs. None of Martin’s descendants are known to have served in Parliament.20

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: George Yerby / Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 553; R. Dymond, ‘St. Petrock, Exeter’, Reps. and Trans. Devon Assoc. xiv. 463.
  • 2. Exeter Freemen ed. M.M. Rowe and A.M. Jackson (Devon and Cornw. Rec. Soc. extra ser. i), 108.
  • 3. Vivian, 553.
  • 4. St. Petrock, Exeter par. reg.
  • 5. Exeter Freemen, 108.
  • 6. J.J. Alexander, ‘Exeter MPs’, Reps. and Trans. Devon Assoc. lxi. 210.
  • 7. Devon RO, ECA Act Bk. 6, p. 358.
  • 8. Alexander, 210.
  • 9. C181/2, f. 348.
  • 10. PROB 11/135, f. 458v.
  • 11. Spanish Co. ed. P. Croft (London Rec. Soc. ix), 98.
  • 12. A. Brown, Genesis of US, 547; this investor was listed as ‘Thomas Martin, gent.’, and was possibly a namesake.
  • 13. Vivian, 553-4; W.T. MacCaffrey, Exeter 1540-1640, p. 257; R. Izacke, Remarkable Antiqs. of Exeter (1741), pp. 134, 137, 139, 146, 153.
  • 14. HP Commons, 1558-1603, iii. 24; E190/936/11; 190/1009/1.
  • 15. Exeter Freemen, 108; PROB 11/115, f. 49r-v.
  • 16. E190/941/4; 190/943/10; PROB 11/135, f. 459; SP14/47/87.
  • 17. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 35, 240, 275-8, 308-9.
  • 18. Devon RO, ECA Act Bk. 7, pp. 120, 123, 129; HMC Exeter, 90; J.J. Alexander, ‘Parl. Representation of Devon’, Reps. and Trans. Devon Assoc. lxviii. 108.
  • 19. PROB 11/132, ff. 359v-60; D. and S. Lysons, Devonshire, 491-2; C78/293/14.
  • 20. PROB 11/135, ff. 458v-60v; Devon RO, ECA Act Bk. 7, p. 375.