This article appeared in the magazine “Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries” during
(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
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
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.