Articles by Dorothy Shapcote




Reprint of the article by The late Dorothy Shapcote of Plymouth

Dorothy Shapcote was the great-grand-daughter of Lieutenant John Shapcote  (of  The Second Convict Fleet).  

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 - his son John was alive in the fiftieth year of that king as he was party to a deed.  The pedigree ends with Philip Shapcote of Shapcote, buried at Knowstone in 1703, predeceased by a son and a grandson who would appear to be his only descendants.  This I shall prove later to be an error; there were other sons as well as daughters, and the line did not become extinct then.

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 - sable three doves’ cotes argent - was borne by later Shapcotes who intermarried with other old Devon families.  These arms are to be found in the stained-glass windows of three churches, viz., Shute, Bampton, and Holcombe Burnell, and there may be others.  

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Shapcott Family Contents   |   Shapcotts During The English Civil War

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The Shapcote Family of Stepney & The Second Convict Fleet   |   Our Branch of the Shapcotts of Whitestone Exeter and the Musical Shapcotts   

John Sapcoat was Sheriff in 1478-9; in 1486 Plymouth Municipal Records contain an account of a payment to “Sir John Sapcott” for “vj lovys of suggr” when the town made its benevolence.  

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, 1586-87, he died in February, 1669-70, and was buried in the North Transept of Exeter Cathedral by the side of his wife, Urith Sotherin.

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, 1643-60).  His eldest daughter Mary had married Thomas Southcott of the Dulcishayes family, whose political bias does not transpire, but the husband of his second daughter, Urith, was Courtenay Pole of Colcombe and Shute, grandson of the “antiquary” and Royalist son of a Parliamentarian father.

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-service, directly or indirectly.  It occurred shortly after the siege of the City, and he may have succumbed to the effects of a wound or of illness caused by the privations of the times.  All Hallows and the Cathedral registers both record the burial, but neither throws any light on the cause of death.  The loss of this youth in his prime must have been a severe blow to his family, for he appears to have inherited his father’s ability in legal matters – in 1632 he was called to the Bar from the Inner Temple – and now of four sons born to Thomas and Urith Shapcote, only one, Philip, was left.

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-shoot.  He was an officer in Cromwell’s army, and a great supporter of the Protector.  However, by 1654 he appears to have weakened in his adherence, for in that year a petition was presented against him by the “well-affected inhabitants of Tiverton” on account of his Royalist leanings and generally roystering behaviour.  In this case, as in that of the elder Thomas, the authorities rather contradict one another.  The petition was presented in 1654 (State Papers, Domestic, August 1st); in 1655.  “Col. Shapcote” noted by the Parliamentary leader, sent to quell a Royalist rebellion in the West, as giving him great assistance.  This may, of course, denote speedy reformation on the part of Robert, but somehow the roystering, Royalist  at-heart “Rob” of the petition does not fit in with other ideas of the sober-minded legal luminary of Bradninch and South Molton.  Can there have been two Roberts, details of whose careers have become mixed?  At all events a Robert Shapcott always considered to be the Recorder, was one of the Restoration Commissioners.

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-affected to the King”. (Hist. MSS., Commission).

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 1669-70, the latter “1660….Thos. 16 Jan” and presumes in its Index that the surname of this “Thomas” was Shapcote.  In support of the pedigree the Weavers Company Records note under February, 1664, that “counsell should be taken of …. and Mr. Shapcote”, Thomas had been their legal adviser, and Miss Creswell considers this entry to refer to the same man.

Philip Shapcote, like his father, was a lawyer of some eminence, locally at all events.  Baptised at All Hallows, Goldsmith Street, Exeter, in February, 1621-22, he lived to a ripe old age, and died at Knowstone in August 1703.  Although removed from its original site in front of the altar, his gravestone fortunately remains intact in the vestry.  The Inscription, in Latin, describes him as “armiger”, the coat of arms is incised on the stone, and the name is spelt “Shapcote” both with regard to the man and house.

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-Recorder of Totnes, 1681.

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-grade, at any rate in the later years of his life.  The girl, Elizabeth Rosier, was something of an heiress, and her mother evidently more so, and no doubt their money helped to keep “Shapcote” going for the time.  But the little son of Thomas and Elizabeth who would have inherited from mother and grand-mother, died when less than a year old, and most of the latter’s actual property other than personal possessions or savings, went back to Rosiers or Lynns, her own people, a Northamptonshire family.

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., 1690-91; his son, Thomas, July, 1696; his daughter-in-law, Elizabeth, Jan., 1698; his wife Elizabeth, Nov., 1700.  Apart from the alterations these consecutive demises would no doubt have caused in the dispotion of his estate, they must also have affected him personally, and by 1696 he was an old man, 75, a great age for those days.  Whatever the cause, no will was made apparently, for in October, 1703, administration of the estate was granted to his son John, whose existence I first discovered on reading the administration deed.

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-in-law and other Shapcotes, furniture etc., evidently in the house there.

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 their sister-in-law made her will.  My great-grandfather, born some time in the early 1740’s, maintained that his family came from North Devon.  We have the same coat of arms – handed down, not applied for in any way – and we have kept the spelling of the name as it appears on Philip’s tombstone at Knowstone, and moreover in those wills alluded to, wherever one of the family is the writer.

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.

Dorothy Shapcote