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.  











Articles By Dorothy Shapcote






























































































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.  



Next - Articles By Dorothy Shapcote Page 2



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