WERE, Humphrey (c.1569-1625), of Halberton, Devon and the Inner Temple, London

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.1569, s. of John Were of Bradworthy and Halberton.1 educ. Exeter Coll. Oxf. 1585 aged 16; Lyon’s Inn; I. Temple 1589, called 1597.2 m. ?(1) 6 June 1597, Margery Whytinge;3 (2) Elizabeth, 1s. 4da.4 ?suc. fa. 1621.5 admon. 10 May 1625.6

Offices Held

Feodary, Devon 1600-at least 1605,7 commr. aid, Exeter, Devon 1609,8 piracy, Devon 1611-14,9 j.p. by 1612-d.;10 feoffee, Tiverton g.s., Devon 1617;11 commr. subsidy, Devon 1621-2, 1624.12

Bencher, I. Temple 1613-d., Lent reader 1614;13 recorder, Tiverton, Devon 1615-18.14


Were’s family can be traced no earlier than the second half of the sixteenth century, when there were minor landowners of that name in various parts of Devon, notably at Clyst Honiton near Exeter. The John Weare listed in the lower ranks of the 1581 Halberton subsidy assessment may have been Were’s father, as this Member was described as ‘of Halberton’ when he entered the Inner Temple, and the parish of Halberton, four miles east of Tiverton, remained his principal home in later life.15 Were probably owed his position as Devon feodary to the earl of Bath, the county’s principal resident peer, who referred to him as his ‘loving good friend and counsellor’ when making him an executor of his will.16 In 1612 Were was among a group of 11 magistrates, headed by Bath, who endorsed a petition requesting the king to sanction a general collection in aid of Tiverton following the recent disastrous fire. He was appointed to the bench of the Inner Temple in the following year, and as the Inn’s Lent reader in 1614.17

The circumstances behind Were’s election at Callington in 1614 are unclear, but he may have been recommended by the Trelawny family of Trelawne, Cornwall, who frequently made nominations to the borough, and were major landowners in the Tiverton area.18 Most surprisingly for a novice Member with his social background, Were was appointed to the committee for privileges (8 Apr.), presumably in recognition of his abilities as a lawyer. He clearly took an interest in the election disputes debated by the committee, for on 14 Apr. he quibbled over the level of evidence required before the Commons could safely eject mayors or bailiffs who returned themselves. Were’s legal skills must also explain why he was required to help examine two precedents from Richard II’s reign concerning impositions (16 May). Overall, though, Were made little impact on the Commons’ proceedings, as he made only one other brief speech, about an estate bill, and received just one further committee nomination, to examine the question of old debts (23 and 31 May).19

In August 1614 Were was among the Devon j.p.s who protested to the Privy Council against the Benevolence solicited by the king following Parliament’s failure to grant supply.20 In the following year he became Tiverton’s first recorder, the town having just secured incorporation, while in 1617 he was elected a feoffee of the free grammar school.21 Although Were was replaced as recorder in 1618 by a relative from the Clyst Honiton branch of the family, he remained active as legal counsel in the south Devon area, and in 1620 he advised the Exeter Weavers’ Company about acquiring a new charter.22 The next year he was one of four ‘justices near Tiverton’ asked by the mayor to deal with a person accused of making ‘unseemly speeches against the king’.23

Were’s own local standing was undoubtedly a significant factor in his election for Tiverton in 1624, but he may also have enjoyed the backing of his ‘good friend’ and colleague in local government, Sir George Southcote, who possessed some electoral influence in the borough.24 Were apparently remained silent during the last Jacobean Parliament’s debates, but attracted 12 nominations. Most of these related to legislation on legal matters or private estates, such as the bills concerning alienations and concealments (5 Mar. and 22 May). However, he was also named to help draft a bill on the assize of bread (3 Mar.), and the amendments to the monopolies bill (13 May). In addition, on 30 Apr. he was appointed to attend a conference with the Lords about the bills of limitation, and Exchequer pleadings.25

Were was still active at the Inner Temple as late as November 1624,26 and was apparently in London when he wrote his will on 11 December. In this he expressed anxiety at ‘the dangerous infection and sickness of this present time’, so conceivably it was the plague that killed him a few months later. The will included an unusually lengthy religious preamble, in which Were spelled out the core tenets of his Protestant faith for the benefit of his family, presumably because three of his children were still under age and therefore in need of instruction. He particularly requested that his wife take trouble over his son John’s ‘religious and virtuous education’, expressing the hope that the boy would go on to study law. He also asked his friend John Poulett* to act as the family’s informal guardian. By this time he owned property in Halberton, Bradworthy and Tiverton, besides the Devon rectory of Morebath, all of which he intended should descend to his son.27 Were died in early 1625 and was buried in Halberton church, where a memorial was erected to him.28 During the Civil War, his son proved to be one of Devon’s more active Parliamentarian leaders. However, no further members of this family sat in the Commons.29

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: George Yerby / Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. W. Prest, Rise of the Barristers, 401.
  • 2. Al. Ox.; I. Temple Admiss.
  • 3. Devon RO, St. Mary Arches, Exeter par. reg.
  • 4. PROB 11/145, ff. 389-90.
  • 5. D. and S. Lysons, Devonshire, 252.
  • 6. PROB 11/145, f. 390.
  • 7. J. Roberts, ‘Armada Ld. Lt.’, Reps. and Trans. Devon Assoc. ciii. 110; HMC Hatfield, xxiii. 199.
  • 8. E179/283/12.
  • 9. C181/2, ff. 140, 201.
  • 10. C66/1898; 66/2310.
  • 11. P. Blundell, Donations of Benefactors to Free G.S. at Tiverton, app. i. p. xlii.
  • 12. C212/22/20-1, 23.
  • 13. CITR, ii. 71, 150; Readers and Readings in Inns of Ct. and Chancery ed. J.H. Baker (Selden Soc. suppl. ser. xiii), 95.
  • 14. M. Dunsford, Hist. Mems. Tiverton, 456.
  • 15. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 774; Devon Taxes 1581-1660 ed. T.L. Stoate, 82.
  • 16. Roberts, 110.
  • 17. Dunsford, 408.
  • 18. C142/282/82.
  • 19. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 34, 80, 259, 319, 391.
  • 20. APC, 1613-14, p. 650; Prest, 239.
  • 21. Dunsford, 413.
  • 22. Ibid. 456; B.F. Cresswell, Hist. of Exeter Weavers’ Co. 126, 128.
  • 23. SP14/122/111.
  • 24. PROB 11/145, f. 389v; HMC Hatfield, xxiii. 199; CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 312.
  • 25. CJ, i. 677a, 678a, 695b, 703b, 793a.
  • 26. CITR, ii. 149.
  • 27. PROB 11/145, ff. 389-90.
  • 28. Lysons, 252.
  • 29. Lysons, 509; CSP Dom. 1644, pp. 303-4; A.R. Bayley, Civil War in Dorset, 47, 131, 222.