Reprint of a second article by The late Dorothy Shapcote of Plymouth (continued)


It deals in considerable detail with the Will of Elizabeth Shapcote,

wife of Philip Shapcote of Knowstone, Devon




8 DECEMBER, 1699



The chief thing apparent from this long and complicated document is that Elizabeth was a wealthy woman; no doubt an heiress in the first place, she had acquired property, real estate and otherwise, by previous marriages to (i) John Rosier; (ii) James Courtenay of Molland.


The pedigree calls her the “da. Of Wm. Lyte of Lynn” but although she mentions various relatives named Lynn, no Lytes appear at all, and I think the “of” must be a misprint for “or”, showing that the complier was not certain of the surname.


After a statement regarding some trust arranged in 1695 apparently connected with Philip Shapcote’s affairs, the exact purpose of which is rather difficult to make out, she goes on to say that she wishes to be interred in Molland Church, in the grave of her “deere deceased Husband, James Courtenay, Esquire, according to his desire”.  This makes one think that James Courtenay was the husband of her choice – the first marriage to John Rosier may have been a family arrangement which took no account of the lady’s feelings or wishes – the third, to Philip Shapcote, a matter of convenience between neighbours possibly already connected through other marriages.  Between these did there come a few years of “romance?”  We may well think so; whatever the early part of her seventeen years as Philip’s wife, the latter part must have been saddened by the many deaths that occurred in such quick succession, and probably by the failing fortunes of her husband’s family.


To this little glimpse into her past succeeds a long list of monetary bequests totalling 1,422 pounds 11 shillings, a sum which shows that, apart from real estate, she was well-off, and in addition to this the legacies of “goodes and chattells” were so numerous that the copy of the will in my possession covers about fifteen pages of legal foolscap.


The first of the money bequests tells us that she was born in the parish of Clapthorne, near Oundle, in Northamptonshire, but why a maiden from so remote a part of England should marry into a Devon family cannot be explained.  It is however, a coincidence that in Northants there is a village named Sapcote, and a Sir John Sapcote in Devon records connected with a Chichester marriage stated to be “of Northants.”  So although Elizabeth went far afield before she became a S(h)apcote in name, she began life much nearer to it.


After enumerating the various parishes to receive legacies of money, she makes a very definite condition that receipts of her gift by the said poor shall not cause their “parish pay” to be abated.  A kindly-disposed, far seeing lady this, and one, albeit, versed in the ways of the parish authorities!  Another quaint bequest is to the Treasurer of Exeter Cathedral for the “poore persons that most frequently repaire dayly to the divine service.”  It was to be paid on January 2nd., but if the “poore” attended in large numbers each individual would not have got much, the interest on “thirtye poundes” being the amount to be distributed each year. I wonder if the Rev. the Treasurer still has anything to do with other charities and administered by some corporate body.


The legacies to her husband, Philip Shapcote, and to his children bear out my idea of the affectionate terms on which the family at Knowstone lived.  Philip, “the honoured and deere husband” is to have one hundred pounds, the picture “he esteemed and is in my closet, the Booke of Marters”, and  - intimate touch – “my weddinge gold ringe”.  In describing Philip’s children she calls them all her “sons and daughters”, neither “step” nor “in-law” appears to qualify the relationship, and she calls her own child, Elizabeth, in one place “my deere daughter Shapcote”.


The children thus mentioned are, in order of the bequests, John, Anne, Catherine, Urith, the last named being the residuary legatee and “whole executrix”.  Nothing of the other two sons, Walter and Philip, which may have indicated that they were seeking their fortune further afield, or of course their temperaments may have not commended them to their stepmother.


That Urith Shapcote should have been made executrix points somewhat conclusively to the fact that no child of Elizabeth herself survived; she appeared to be especially attached to this eldest daughter of Philip, the little “Uriah” of Exeter Cathedral Register.  And to consider her capable of carrying out her wishes.  But after the Will was signed and a codicil added, in 1700, the testatrix feels a little nervous lest she has bound too grievous a burden on a woman.  Therefore in another appendix – it is not a codicil, but it is signed and witnessed – she desires one Nicholas Oliver “to be aydeinge and assistinge to my said Executrix in due execution of the same and to see the same faithfully performed according to the tenor of my saide Will.  And for his paynes and assistance in soe doeing I give and bequeath unto him the sume of Tenne poundes.”  This Nicholas Oliver is stated at the beginning of the Will to have been the trustee for Elizabeth “Courtenay” (as she was at that time) in the matter of what I presume to have been a marriage settlement since the other party to the “Articles of Agreements and Convenants Tripartite” was Philip Shapcote, and the year 1684.


This Will is a very long document, and its bequeaths are many and individual.  Her relatives, personal and acquired by marriage, were numerous, and I should think no one of them was forgotten.  More than twenty separate names occur, in addition to the poor of the parishes of Clapthorne, Barnstable, Swymbridge, Bishop’s Nympton, Tawstock, Knowstone, Molland and of Exeter Cathedral, already mentioned in this note.  Lynns, Rosiers, and Courtenays all are remembered, and of course it is possible that some of the bequests were of a nature of heirlooms in the respective families, and so must return to the representatives of each.


Elizabeth had a large quantity of beautiful silver and china, and the home in Knowstone, if it contained all these items enumerated in the Will, must have indeed been a treasure house, and someone must have had plenty to do to polish and wash it all.  Candlesticks, high and low, some with snuffers and pan; fruit dishes and cream basons; faire wrought silver cupps and cover; another “cupp”; poringers and trencher plates; salts and “boles”; spoones many, and tankards are mentioned, and from their description they must have been beautiful and valuable.


Urith, Anne, and Catherine Shapcote were left “the rest” of her china “vessels and images”, and Urith in addition had a “seaven” stone diamond ring, and the gold watch that had belonged to her sister-in-law, the other Elizabeth Shapcote, and also twelve choice and best “bookes”.  Was Urith fond of reading, I wonder?  And what were the “bookes”?  Were they choice and best from a literary or artistic point of view?  The remainder of Elizabeth’s books were to be divided between her cousin, Roger Rosier, Rector of Meshaw, and Martin Wight, Rector of Knowstone.


I told the present Rector of Knowstone (the Rev. A.E. Edwards) of this bequest, and he regretted greatly that they had not followed the presentations to the living so that I could have seen them.  They no doubt went to Mr. Wight’s heirs and assigns, and have long since perished.


As well as silver, china, and “bookes”, quite an amount of napery and furniture is mentioned, and pictures of herself and her father, and her mother.  A “Courtenay” relative, one “Amye”, is bequeathed a large piece of furniture called a cabinet, with a looking glass and “Cornish of Gumwork fflowers belonging to it (all of my late deere daughter’s Elizabeth Shapcote) her own workinge, with the case belonginge to the same”.  Exactly what a “Cornish”* meant, I do not know, unless it was some kind of covering, as it had been worked by the beloved daughter; perhaps as a “Courtenaye” cousin was to have the piece of furniture it had some connection with James “Courtenaye”, the second husband of the testatrix.


The perusal of the above Will has thrown a good deal of light on certain aspects of the Knowstone Shapcote’s family life, but after these no more appear in the Exeter Probate list that can be definitely assigned to this branch.


Wills of Shapcotes or Shapcotts from many parishes in North Devon or near Exeter are to be found, and I am hoping that a further search may reveal some connection between these testators and Knowstone ones.


  Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries.














Articles By Dorothy Shapcote (continued)





























































































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