BEARE, John (c.1645-1711), of Bearscombe, Buckland Tout Saints, Devon.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. c.1645, 1st s. of John Beare of Bearscombe by Elizabeth, da. and h. of Matthew Somers of Upwey, Dorset. educ. Balliol, Oxf. matric. 28 June 1662, aged 17. m. lic. 8 May 1674, Mary, da. and coh. of William Collings of Offwell, Devon, at least 1s. suc. fa. c.1684.1

Offices Held

Commr. for assessment, Devon 1673-9, j.p. 1674-89; recorder, Exeter Feb.-June 1683, Dartmouth 1684-Oct. 1688; alderman, Honiton 1685, mayor Oct. 1688; alderman, Totnes Apr.-Oct. 1688, Tiverton June-Oct. 1688.2


Beare’s grandfather is said to have ‘assumed the name of Bear from a worshipful family of Devon to dignify his own with; but let us not deny him the latter name, it being so congruous to his own nature’. Presumably he was also responsible for changing the name of the family estate, valued at £150 p.a., from Woodmason to Bearscombe. A colonel in the parliamentary forces, he served as assessment commissioner throughout the Interregnum. Beare’s father, burdened with a debt of £1,930, made over the estate to him in 1669, and he became an active persecutor of dissenters in the Kingsbridge area ‘as much as he could in his single capacity of informer only’. He told Bishop Sparrow that ‘if he were invested with the authority of justice of the peace, he would soon bring to obedience the enemies of the Church’, and in 1674 he was added to the commission ‘unqualified as he was both in regard to personal property, character, or judicial knowledge’. A year later Sparrow informed Archbishop Sancroft that Beare

hath done service beyond expectation and reduced the worst part of the county. He was much opposed at his coming in and threatened by the factious to be removed; but if he be, I am sure the Church will suffer for it.

A less generous but more accurate contemporary commented: ‘he who was so lately the head of informers was considered now but as the tail of justices’, and his zeal demonstrated ‘to the world that his injustice was only equalled by his ingorance of the laws of his country’. He quarrelled incessantly with his opponents and took legal action against Sir William Bastard for neglecting to execute the laws against conventicles, perhaps as revenge for Bastard’s earlier conviction of Beare and his brother for ‘abusive swearing’. In 1683 he attempted to profit from his growing reputation by petitioning unsuccessfully for ‘a position of trust in the customs, excise or hearth money’. He claimed to have been ‘very active in putting the laws in execution against dissenters and endeavouring to improve the revenue’, and from 1684 was rewarded with quarterly payments of £50 ‘bounty’. As recorder of Dartmouth under the new charter, Beare promised ‘never to admit into the corporation any rebel or disaffected person, or to choose burgesses any of those concerned in the mutinous votes of the late House of Commons, particularly that of the exclusion’.3

Beare was returned for Tavistock at the general election of 1685, and became an active Member of James II’s Parliament. He was appointed to 14 committees, including the committee of elections and privileges. On 5 June he was added to the committee for the disbandment accounts. His other committees included those to recommend the extension of expiring laws, and to consider measures to prevent clandestine marriages and the export of wool, to reform the bankruptcy laws, and to relieve poor debtors. As ‘one who will do his Majesty’s service with prudence, faithfulness, and courage’, despite poor health, he became the King’s leading Tory collaborator in Devon in the later stages of his reign, much to the disgust of the dissenters. He replied in the affirmative to all three questions on the repeal of the Test Act and Penal Laws, but the royal electoral agents reported that neither Tavistock nor Dartmouth would elect him. Nevertheless by September, Totnes, Honiton and Dartmouth had been transferred to his management; but he is not likely to have stood after the Revolution. ‘A notorious Jacobite’, he was fined 400 marks on 7 Feb. 1699 for having libels against William III in his house, and ordered to lie in prison until the fine was paid. Administration of his estate was granted to his son on 5 Apr. 1711, but no other member of the family entered Parliament.4

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Author: J. S. Crossette


  • 1. Dorset RO, 2987, 3000; Vivian, Vis. Devon, 220; Soc. of Genealogists, Exeter mar. lic. 19 Oct. 1640, 8 May 1674; Lysons, Devon, 165; C8/505/49.
  • 2. Devon RO, Exeter corp. act bks. 11, ff. 231, 237; Devon and Cornw. N. and Q. v. 170; CSP Dom. 1684-5, p. 175; 1685, p. 70; 1687-9, pp. 183, 223; E134/4/ Jas. II Mich. 38, f. 3v.
  • 3. Somers Tracts, vii. 590; Trans. Devon Assoc. xvii. 220; Lysons, 85; C8/505/49; Devon and Cornw. N. and Q. xxii. 48; CSP Dom. 1683-4, p. 178; 1684-5, p. 175; Secret Services (Cam. Soc. lii), 94.
  • 4. CSP Dom. 1686-7, p. 37; 1695, pp. 80, 96; HMC Montagu, 196; HMC 13th Rep. VI, 28; HMC Downshire, i. 593; Luttrell, iii. 545; iv. 113, 380; Add. 34546, f. 78v.