SPECCOTT, John (c.1561-1644), of Thornbury, Devon.
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Family and Education
b. c.1561, 1st s. of Humphrey Speccott† of Thornbury and Elizabeth, da. of John Walter of Broxbourne, Herts., wid. of John Arscott of Tetcott, Devon (d.1558).1 educ. Oriel, Oxf. 1581, aged 20; New Inn; M. Temple 1583.2 m. (1) Elizabeth, da. of Peter Edgcumbe of Mount Edgcumbe, Cornw., 2s. 1da.; (2) bef. 1620, Jane, da. of Sir William Mohun of Hall, Cornw., 1s. d.v.p. 1da.; (3) 20 Feb. 1629, Emeline (d.1660), da. of Thomas Trosse and wid. of Christopher Wise (d.1628) of Totnes, Devon, s.p.3 suc. fa. aft. 1602;4 kntd. 2 June 1604.5 d. Aug. or Sept. 1644.6 sig. Jo[hn] Speccott.
J.p. Devon 1604-at least 1640;7 commr. sewers, Cornw. from 1605, Devon from 1634,8 subsidy 1621-2, 1624, 1628,9 swans, W. Country 1629, piracy, Devon 1630-7,10 assessment 1641-2, July 1644-d.;11 sheriff, Devon 1614-15, Cornw. 1622-3.12
The Speccotts were one of the oldest gentry families in Devon, tracing their ancestry back to the twelfth century. They took their name from a barton in the parish of Merton, north Devon, and claimed to have founded almshouses at nearby Taddiport in around the thirteenth century. Speccott’s father represented Plymouth in the last Marian Parliament, and served as county sheriff in 1585-6.13 Speccott himself received a standard gentry education, attending university and spending at least three years at the inns of court. He subsequently maintained his London connections, as he was outlawed for debt there in about 1591.14 In 1604 he was knighted and elevated to the Devon bench, by which time he had probably succeeded to his father’s estates.
Speccott almost certainly owed his election to Parliament at St. Mawes in 1604 to the influence of his second wife’s family. One of his brothers-in-law, William Mohun, owned the manor of Bogullas alias St. Mawes, while another, Sir Reginald Mohun*, was a trustee of the estates of the Trevanion family, the borough’s usual patrons, during Charles Trevanion’s* minority.15 In the opening session, Speccott was named or added to four bill committees. One dealt with procedures for the receiving of homage (13 June 1604), while the others concerned recusants and clerical abuses (4 May, 30 May, 18 June).16 An interest in religious matters while at Westminster reflected Speccott’s puritan sympathies. Described by his fellow Devon j.p. Sir Thomas Browne in a 1605 lawsuit as ‘a great favourer and upholder of ... sectaries’, he was said to have stated that ‘the wearing of the surplice was a toy, and found great fault with those laws and ceremonies now commanded to be used’ in the Church of England. The case itself was prompted by his efforts to protect the like-minded curate of Pancrasweek, a parish six miles from Thornbury. In a counter-suit, however, Speccott complained that Browne had profanely administered the oath to witnesses using ‘Lambert’s Justice of Peace’ instead of a Bible, and had challenged him to a duel.17
The dispute with Browne spilled over into the second session of Parliament. On 11 Feb. 1606 the committee of privileges considered a subpoena obtained in Star Chamber against Speccott, but its decision is not recorded. On 13 Mar., immediately after being added to a land bill committee, Speccott was granted leave to depart, presumably for personal reasons.18 During this session he was named as a trustee in the bill to clear the debts of the late Sir Jonathan Trelawny*, his kinsman by marriage. Although enacted, this measure proved to be flawed, and a revised bill was introduced in the 1606-7 session.19 Speccott’s only appearance in the records of the third session was his nomination to a legislative committee dealing with debt repayment (26 Feb. 1607).20 The fourth session saw him named to eight bill committees, rather more than before, including one on non-resident clergy and two dealing with the poor and the suppression of idleness.21 He is not known to have sought election to Parliament again.
Speccott’s ancestral home was at Thornbury, but he also acquired houses at North Petherwin, Devon, and Penheale, near Egloskerry, Cornwall. Purchased in 1620, Penheale manor-house was Speccott’s principal residence for the next decade, the period during which he served as Cornwall’s sheriff.22 A Cornish domicile did not, however, prevent him from paying his assessment for the 1626 Privy Seal loan in Devon, thereby avoiding a higher demand in Cornwall; as his subsidy rating in 1628 stood at £30 he could doubtless have afforded the higher charge.23 During the later 1620s Speccott’s presence at Penheale allowed him to exert electoral influence over the nearby borough of Newport. In 1625 he secured a seat there for his younger son, Paul. His son-in-law Thomas Williams lost out in a three-way election dispute in the following year, but his nephew Piers Edgcumbe was successfully returned in 1628.24
Speccott’s dislike of the clerical establishment seems not to have lessened with time, and for ten years from 1626 he resisted the rector of Merton’s efforts to improve his tithe income from Speccott barton. Speccott refused to contribute to the king’s journey into the north in 1639, and sided with Parliament in 1642, taking refuge in Plymouth when royalist forces advanced into Devon.25 He was appointed a commissioner for assessment as Parliament prepared its counter-attack, but may have died before the subsequent campaign collapsed in September 1644. Speccott’s will, drawn up in 1641, testified to his hope in ‘the resurrection of the justified’, and requested burial at Thornbury ‘without any vain pomp or mourning weeds’. He had clearly already settled the bulk of his lands on his sons, as the will mostly dealt with his moveable property. Predictably, the money left to the poor of Thornbury and Egloskerry was intended for setting them to work. The decayed tomb at Thornbury usually described as Speccott’s memorial may in fact commemorate his parents and wives, as the will refers to such a monument, which was awaiting completion. How many of Speccott’s bequests were honoured is uncertain; following the premature deaths of most of his male heirs, administration of the residue of his estate was granted in 1681 to the second husband of his grandson’s widow.26
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Author: Paul Hunneyball
- 1. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 16, 706-7.
- 2. Al. Ox.; M. Temple Admiss.
- 3. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 707; Vis. Cornw. (Harl. Soc. vi), 272; C2/Chas.I/S51/11.
- 4. Humphrey Speccott was granted a Crown lease in Dec. 1602, but has not been traced after that date: C66/1597.
- 5. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 133.
- 6. C2/Chas.I/S36/45.
- 7. C66/1662, 2859.
- 8. C181/1, f. 122v; 181/4, f. 163v.
- 9. C212/22/20-1, 23; E179/102/501.
- 10. C181/4, ff. 2v, 52v; 181/5, f. 84.
- 11. SR, v. 61, 83, 150; A. and O. i. 459.
- 12. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 23, 37.
- 13. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 706; C2/Chas.I/S80/33; 2/Jas.I/S24/64; List of Sheriffs, 36.
- 14. MTR, 258, 291; C66/1371.
- 15. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 707; Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 325; PROB 11/115, ff. 112v-13; C142/218/43.
- 16. CJ, i. 198a, 228b, 238a, 241a.
- 17. STAC 8/76/1; 8/259/1.
- 18. CJ, i. 266b, 284a.
- 19. Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 325, 476; HLRO, O.A. 3 Jas.I, c. 40; 4 Jas.I, c. 24.
- 20. CJ, i. 343a.
- 21. Ibid. i. 415a-b, 416b, 418a-b, 419a, 432b.
- 22. PROB 11/197, f. 282; C54/2428/38; C2/Jas.I/S30/19; 2/Chas.I/S67/16.
- 23. E401/2586, p. 544; E179/102/501.
- 24. C142/457/87; Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 142.
- 25. C2/Chas.I/S80/33; 2/Chas.I/S36/45; PC2/51, p. 79.
- 26. PROB 11/197, ff. 282-3; 11/244, f. 375; M. Coate, Cornw. in Gt. Civil War, 59; B. Cherry and N. Pevsner, Buildings of Eng.: Devon, 803.