Articles by Dorothy Shapcote
Reprint of the article by The late Dorothy Shapcote of Plymouth
Dorothy Shapcote was the great-
See the Chapter “The Shapcotes of Stepney”
She died in 1979.
This article appeared in the magazine “Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries” during the 1970’s.
(Photographs have been inserted to illustrate the text)
The pedigree of this family as published in the 1895 edition of Vivian’s “Visitations
of Devon” begins with Simon, who flourished sometime in the reign of Edward III,
or perhaps a little earlier -
The first person of note in the annals of his times seems to have been a John, whose
surname is spelt variously, Sapcott, Sapcoat; in the latter form he appears in “Izacke’s
Antiquities of Exeter” (1681) as holding the office of Sheriff of Devon. This I
deduce from the fact that his coat of arms -
John Sapcoat was Sheriff in 1478-
Mr. Worth gives the name of one of the judges in a suit pending between the town of Plymouth and Sir John Crocker in 1495 as “Sapcote”, and early instance of the family connection with the law.
Sir John married the widow of Fulke Bourchier, Lord Fitzwarren, who survived him and gave the window in Bampton Church.
The pedigree makes no mention of a knighthood, and gives the name of John Sapcott’s wife as “Edith (or Agnes) da and hey of Wm. Windigat”, but he may have been a widower when he espoused the other lady.
In 1477 a Robert Sapcot was instituted Vicar of Bampton, patrons John Sapcot, Esq. and Thomas Sapcot, the former possibly the Sherrif, and among the monks evicted from Buckfast Abbey at the Dissolution of the Monasteries, was a William Shapcott.
To the John whom I suppose to have been the Sheriff, succeeded another John, and to him Philip, the first mention of a Christian name which was to share popularity with Thomas and to appear in each generation hereafter.
Philip died in 1609; he had two wives, the first a Melhuishe, the second an Isack. Of his thirteen children only two sons seem to have survived infancy. The fifth son, German, is described as “of Gulvall in Cornwall”, and may have been the progenitor of the Shapcotts in that county, for the name is still prevalent there.
Thomas the seventh son, is styled “of Shapcote”, and with him the family fortunes
evidently rose to some height. Undoubtedly he was a man “of parts”, and he lived
through one of the most momentous periods of English History. Baptised at Knowstone
on February 16th, 1586-
In one copy of the pedigree her father is described as of “Cheshire” and in another as of “Poughill and Cheshire”, the Poughill I take to refer to the village near Crediton. She may have been an heiress and so helped on her husband’s fortunes.
Thomas Shapcote was a lawyer, an Attorney according to the Somaster MSS, Clerk of the Peace for Devon, and Master in Chancery. Among other offices, he held that of legal adviser to the Weavers’ Company; in 1620 he is recorded as administering the oath of the Wardens and he continued in this capacity up to 1664.
But evidently he was no “dry as dust” man of the law, for he was on such terms of intimacy with Herrick, the poet, that the latter calls him his “peculiar friend”, and dedicates to him one of his fairy poems, “Oberons Feast”. In addition, one of the “dedications” to friends, which are a feature of Herrick’s work, is to “Master Thomas Shapcott, Lawyer”.
One cannot picture this friend of the poet as a man whose mind and thoughts were wholly occupied with dull law – books and prosy arguments. He prized “things that are curious and unfamiliar”, and I think there must have lurked a twinkle in the eye of this Master of Chancery which pleased the fancy of the writer “Anthea” and the “Daffodils”.
Thomas appears to have lived almost entirely in Exeter, in the house in the Close, which is now the Library of the Devon and Exeter Institution.
With the exception of the eldest, all his children were baptised in Exeter churches, three at St Martin’s, and three at All Hallows, Goldsmith Street, of which latter church he was Warden in 1628. But it is probable that there were periodical visits to Knowstone, or the children may have been sent to nurse there, for the youngest son, Peter, died in September, 1632, and his burial is entered in the parish register. The Calendar of State Papers Domestic, July, 1639, contains information concerning a dispute between Thomas and the Vicar of Knowstone, Daniel Berry, “concerning glebe lands and parish customs”. The parson applied for redress to Archbishop Laud, but the lawyer got the best of it! A man of Thomas’s legal standing was hardly likely to bring a suit against anyone unless he had a good cause, and in 1639 my Lord Archbishop had weightier matters to consider than those of the Vicar of Knowstone.
Then came the Civil War, which in the West, and Exeter especially, was to be so deeply involved, and the Shapcotes and Shapcotts were involved too. Despite the variety of ways in which the surname was spelt, all no doubt were fairly near relatives in those days. The Knowstone – Exeter ones had Royalist leanings, while the branch that had established itself at Bradninch declared, in the person of Robert (Recorder of that ancient borough as well as of South Molton) for the Parliament. Of this Robert, more anon.
Thomas and his younger son Philip were among those fined “for delinquency” during
the Commonwealth (State Papers Committee for Compounding, 1643-
An episode in connection with the siege of Modbury Castle would appear to concern Thomas, for the name of “Master Shapcot, Clerk of the Peace”, occurs among those of the prisoners taken at the surrender of the castle. In April, 1646, however, he denies to the “Committee of Compounding” that he has ever taken up arms, though in the following month or so he begs to compound for delinquency in taking up arms for the King for two months.
These two statements seem rather at variance, but may it not have been that, as Clerk of the Peace for the county he had been on business in the neighbourhood of Modbury, and so became involved in its troubles?
He would thus be among the “Malignants in Arms” and might be counted guilty, even though he had not “taken up arms” in the usual sense of that term.
In October 1643, the death occurred of his elder son, Thomas Shapcote “ye younger”,
and I am inclined to attribute it to war-
On the other side in the national struggle was Robert Shapcott, Recorder of Bradninch
and South Molton, and a member for Tiverton in the Long Parliamant. This branch
had settled in Bradninch, and may have derived from Robert Shapcote (extant about
the middle of the 16th century) or from a more remote side-
In 1646 the Committee for Compounding fined Thomas Shapcote 328 pounds for “delinquency”,
but when in February 1651, he was summoned to pay a further sum of 300 pounds he
got off on the above “compounding”. His Royalist sympathies were known however,
for in April 1651, he is noted among the “townesmen of Exeter generally well-
In 1661 his wife died and was buried in the Cathedral. With regard to the date of
Thomas’s death there is a discrepancy of some years between the pedigree and the
Cathedral Register. The former gives 1669-
Philip Shapcote, like his father, was a lawyer of some eminence, locally at all events.
Baptised at All Hallows, Goldsmith Street, Exeter, in February, 1621-
A fair amount can be gleaned about Philip’s public career, for he held various legal
offices in Devon. Undoubtedly he was more deeply involved in the Civil War than
his father; he makes no denial of his “deliquency” but compounds on the “Exeter Articles”.
His fine of 40 pounds seems small compared to his father’s, but he may have had
no separate estate and but little “private means”. He was Recorder of South Molton
from 1654 to 1669, in succession to his cousin (?) Robert; Town Clerk of Plymouth
1662 – 1665 (doubtless a temporary, safe appointment of the Royalists); and Deputy-
Of his private life less is to be gathered, but the pedigree in giving him only two wives and one son is hopelessly inaccurate. He was married and was the father of at least two daughters many years before the date given as that of his “first” marriage with Katherine Bowden, a widow of Chudleigh. The licence for this marriage, dated November, 1668, describes him as a widower. The name of his first wife I have not yet traced, nor can it be said with any certainty whether she was the mother of all the seven children whose names occur in family wills between 1696 and 1703. Urith, baptised at Exeter in 1661, and Anne at Shute in 1662, must have been hers, and probably the son, Thomas, the sole offspring noted in the pedigree. In addition there were three more sons – John, the administrator of his father’s estate in 1703, Philip and Walter, of whom nothing helpful to the genealogist transpires, and yet another daughter, Katherine, who from her name may have belonged to Katherine “Bowden”. Anne is said to have married a Molland Courtenay, but I have not traced this connection. Philip, himself, married for his third wife Elizabeth, widow of James Courtenay of Molland, and previously relict of John Rosier, of Swymbridge, Her daughter, Elizabeth Rosier, was married to Philip’s son Thomas, but which wedding took place first I do not know.
Philip appears to have lived more at Knowstone than his father, and from perusal
of those wills aforementioned I gather that the family fortunes were on the down-
Like many other able Lawyers, Philp neglected to make a will. This may be accounted
for by the deaths during the last few years of his own life, of his grandson, Jan.,
Thomas, presumably the eldest son, does not seem to have been an altogether satisfactory person, though it may be that the times he lived in were to blame for this. The first fact about him that I know is that he received a pardon in 1674 for killing John Tildesley, but he must have been quite young then, and duels were frequent in those days. Even so to obtain a pardon must have cost money, as well as influence, and by judging the wording of his Will, at the time of his death he had very little of his own to bequeath. He played rather a leading part, however, on one occasion in the history of South Molton, for he went to London as his father’s deputy to bring home the new Charter graciously granted to the town by Charles II. This was in 1684, and Philip probably
had no desire to undertake the strenuous journey from the remote West to London.
An account of the Charter’s reception is given in the town’s “History”, and after
this I suppose the two Shapcotes would have ridden home to Knowstone, up and down
the long switchback hills and over the bleak moors that lie between the two places.
Thomas died in Exeter, at least he is buried in the “Quire” of the Cathedral, as
is also his wife, and it seems probable that he lived usually in the City … But it
is quite clear from his wife’s will that they were frequently at Knowstone, she bequeaths
to her father-
Of Philip Shapcote’s other sons I have as yet found out nothing, except that John’s two little sons died as infants, and that he had daughters who presumably grew up (Knowstone Register Transcript at Exeter). Philip and Walter vanish into obscurity, and in view of the evident decline in the family fortunes, I think they may have gone further afield to seek their own.
I cannot help thinking that our branch may derive from either of these sons, who
were most certainly existant and connected with Knowstone in November, 1698, when
If further facts ascertained since my last query should help towards bridging the gap between 1701 and 1740 I should indeed be glad, and should welcome any information that may seem to bear upon the matter.