GILES (GELYS, JELYS), John (by 1487-1553), of Bowden in Ashprington and Totnes, Devon.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer




Family and Education

b. by 1487, ?s. of John Giles of Totnes. m. by 1508 Eleanor, da. and h. of one Towkerman, 2s. 1da.1

Offices Held

Mayor, Totnes 1517-18.2


The richest merchant in the county of Devon, according to the subsidy rolls of 1523 where he was assessed on goods worth £520, John Giles was returned as senior Member for his borough to the Parliament of 1529. During the second session he was one of several merchants who were pardoned on 23 Mar. 1531 for piracy. Having seen this Parliament through to its end he was probably re-elected to its successor of June 1536 in accordance with the King’s general request for the return of the previous Members, and he may have sat again in 1539, when the names of the Members for Totnes are lost.3

Giles invested much of the profits of his trade in property in and around Totnes, his principal acquisitions being the manors of Ashprington in 1544 and of Dean Prior in 1548. The title to the latter was contested in Chancery by one William Sing, who maintained that it had been devised to him on 30 Sept. 1509 by the prior of the dissolved house at Plympton, but Sing’s claim was evidently dismissed. Giles’s ownership of several other properties was similarly disputed and subsequently settled by litigation. His purchases, augmented later by his son’s, established his descendants among the gentry of the shire.4

According to the inquisition post mortem held at Crediton on 12 Apr. 1553 Giles died at Totnes on the previous 10 Jan., whereas the inscription formerly on his tomb in Totnes church placed the event two days later. By his will of 24 Jan. 1550, which was proved a month after his death, Giles had made provision for his wife, his 44 year-old surviving son, his grandchildren and several charities.5

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Authors: L. M. Kirk / A. D.K. Hawkyard


  • 1. Date of birth estimated from marriage. Vis. Devon, ed. Vivian, 409; Vis. Devon, ed. Colby, 113-14; Westcott’s Devonshire, 530.
  • 2. Western Antiq. ix. 124.
  • 3. LP Hen. VIII, v; J. A. Youings, ‘The disposal of monastic property in Devon 1536-58’ (London Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1950), 24; L. M. Nicholls, ‘The trading communities of Totnes and Dartmouth late 15th and early 16th centuries’ (Exeter Univ. M.A. thesis, 1960), 12.
  • 4. Nicholls, 139; H. R. Moulton, Catalogue (1930), 190-2; DKR, x. 21; LP Hen. VIII, xvii, xviii; C1/1126/6-10, 1135/15-17, 1296/13-15, 61, 1297/37-42.
  • 5. Western Antiq. ix. 124; C142/98/5; PCC 3 Tashe.