PRESTWOOD, Thomas (c.1570-1655), of Totnes, 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

b. c.1570,1 2nd s. of Thomas Prestwood (d.1576) of Exeter, Devon and Mary, da. of William Strode of Newnham, Devon. m. (1) by 1599, Mary (bur. 2 Mar. 1636), da. of Nicholas Goodridge of Totnes, merchant, 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 2da; (2) 1 Feb. 1637, Frideswide (bur. 28 May 1646), wid. of Samuel Wise of Totnes, ?s.p. bur. 22 Oct. 1655.2 sig. Tho[mas] Prestwood.

Offices Held

Member, Spanish Co. 1604.3

Warden, Magdalene almshouses, Totnes 1611-12,4 ‘master’, Totnes by 1628, mayor 1628-9, 1643-4.5


Prestwood’s family traced their roots to fifteenth-century Worcestershire. His grandfather Thomas, a successful merchant, settled at Exeter, serving twice as mayor, and representing the city in Parliament from 1549 to 1552. A staunch Protestant, he invested in ex-monastic property, and built up a moderate landed estate.6 Prestwood himself, a younger son, also turned to commerce in pursuit of his fortune, basing himself at Totnes by 1600. Like most of the town’s merchants, he primarily engaged in the cloth trade with France, though he also imported other produce, such as prunes from Bordeaux.7 Having married into a local mercantile family, in 1605 he petitioned the Court of Wards for a commission to examine his father-in-law’s alleged lunacy. In later life Prestwood apparently scaled down his business activities, and in 1625, when he was assessed for subsidy at £12 in goods, he was listed as a gentleman.8 Two years earlier, he had inherited the lease of the town mills from his aunt, Mary Babb. Her late husband had considerably extended the mill operation, and it was said to be worth £240 a year to Prestwood. However, the lease also brought him into conflict with a major local landowner, Arthur Champernowne*, who sued him on the grounds that Prestwood’s weir interfered with the workings of his own mill.9

Prestwood replaced Champernowne as a Totnes MP in 1628, but made no recorded contribution to the Commons’ proceedings. Most unusually, while still a serving Member, he was elected mayor of Totnes in September 1628. Although not debarred from resuming his seat when Parliament reassembled in the following January, his local responsibilities must have made it difficult for him to do so, and it is therefore questionable whether he attended the 1629 session.

Prestwood’s problems with the town mills worsened in 1629, when another local landowner, the 5th marquess of Winchester (Lord John Paulet*), complained that the weir had caused flooding on his property. Forced to compensate the marquess, Prestwood sought to offset his financial losses against his rent, but Totnes’ corporation refused to endorse this arrangement, and in 1633 successfully sued him for payment of his arrears. Prestwood, who asserted that he had agreed Winchester’s compensation deal in consultation with the corporation, denounced this apparent betrayal by close associates such as Walter Dottyn*, Christopher Brooking* and Lawrence Adams*, which he regarded as a scant reward for his former services to the town, not least as its MP.10 The largest contributor to a royalist collection at Totnes in December 1642, Prestwood subsequently had his property sequestered by Parliament. When he petitioned to compound in December 1650, now aged 80, he was in debtor’s gaol in Exeter. He recovered his property in March 1652 for a fine of £133 10s., but his will, made two months earlier, reflected his reduced circumstances. Apart from the distribution of household goods, his largest single bequest was the 20s. left to his servant Ann Cole, ‘who hath been much helpful to me in my troubles’. It was hardly surprising that he accounted himself one of the ‘miserable sinners’ for whom Christ had died. Prestwood was buried at Totnes in October 1655. No further members of his family are known to have sat in Parliament.11

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: George Yerby / Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. Aged 80 in 1650: CCC, 2675.
  • 2. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 615; Totnes par. reg.
  • 3. Spanish Co. ed. P. Croft (London Rec. Soc. ix), 99.
  • 4. Devon RO, 1579A-O/7/1/4.
  • 5. E. Windeatt, ‘Totnes Mayors’, Reps. and Trans. Devon Assoc. xxxii. 111, 123.
  • 6. HP Commons, 1509-1558, iii. 150-1.
  • 7. E179/101/421; E190/938/11, 14.
  • 8. HMC Hatfield, xxiii. 199; E179/102/463.
  • 9. P. Russell, Good Town of Totnes, 59-60; PROB 11/141/361v-2v; C2/Jas.I/C28/75; 2/Chas.I/P48/68.
  • 10. Russell, 60; C2/Chas.I/P48/68; 2/Chas.I/T38/50.
  • 11. Devon RO, 1579A-O/17/30; CCC, 2675; PROB 11/253, ff. 237v-8; Vivian, 615.