Hooker’s Discourse of Devonshire

Devon Notes & Queries, vol. I, (January 1900 to January 1901), pp. 184-6.



Prepared by Michael Steer

John Hoker alias Vowell (c. 1527-1601) was a solicitor, antiquary, civic administrator and advocate of republican government. He wrote an eye-witness account of the siege of Exeter that took place during the Prayer Book Rebellion in 1549. From 1555 to his death he was chamberlain of Exeter, though he spent several years in Ireland as legal adviser to Sir Peter Carew. He was, for short periods, a member of both the Irish and English parliaments and wrote an influential treatise on parliamentary procedure. He was one of the editors of the second edition of Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles, (1587). His last, unpublished and probably uncompleted work was this first topographical description of Devon. The extract, from a copy of a rare and much sought-after journal can be downloaded from the Internet Archive. Google has sponsored the digitisation of books from several libraries. These books, on which copyright has expired, are available for free educational and research use, both as individual books and as full collections to aid researchers.

Note 141. HOOKER'S DISCOURSE OF DEVONSHIRE. The following account of this Manuscript was written by the late James B. Davidson, M.A.:
"The manuscript (Harl. MSS., No. 5827) is in the handwriting of John Hooker, or Hoker (alias Vowell), and was concluded by him in 1599 (42 Eliz.) It bears the following title, ' A Discourse of Devonsh and Cornwall, with Blazon of Arms, &c., the Bishops of Exeter, the revenews of the Deneries and parsonages, and other Gentlemen.'
"John Hooker, who was uncle to Richard, the famed ecclesiastical writer, was made first Chamberlain of Exeter in 1555, and sat in Parliament for that City in 1571. He was the author of a number of works, enumerated for the most part in this MS., which was the last of the series, and contains an autobiographical sketch and notices of many Devonshire worthies. Prince has a life of John Hooker, compiled mainly from this MS., of which he says (Ed. of 1810, p. 506 : This book was never printed ; but goes up and down the country in MS. from hand to hand ; which upon the author's death was put into Judge Dodderidge's hands (who was a learned antiquary) to correct and fit it for the press. 'Prince describes a copy he has seen wherein that great lawyer (Dodderidge) had marked many things which he thought fit to be expung'd,' and this Harleian MS. is found to contain several erasures with marginal notes, amongst which is one at leaf 52, suggesting the omission of a passage which might not be pleasing to Sir William Peryam, then Chief Baron of the Exchequer, making it little less than certain that this is the MS. which was corrected by Dodderidge, and, as Prince adds, delivered, by Hooker's executors, after his death to Sir Walter Raleigh.
"Risdon, writing in 1630, made large use of this MS., and printed from it, apparently, one document (List of Places priviledged and free from Tax and Toll: Ed. of 1811, App: p. 17), if not more; and Westcote, whose work was published by Dr. Oliver and Pitman Jones in 1845, borrowed largely from the same source, adopting Hooker's arrangement and division of the subject, his ideas, even when erroneous, and sometimes his language The original, however, up to the present time, as in Prince's day, has never 'come under the press.'
"Four or five leaves are wanting at the beginning of this MS., and one in the middle, between leaves 56 and 57 of the last numbering. The first unbroken sentence relates to 'The nombre of the market townes.' From this the writer passes to 'The nombre of parkes,' the 'forestes, 'the nombre of the sweate waters, the 'abundance of fyshe,' and the 'salmon of the Exe.' He shews that the country is ' evill to be travelled, then describes the 'commodities ' and the nature of the people, 'being of four degrees, the gentleman,' the merchantes,' the ,yeomanrye,' and the 'laborer.'
Then comes a description of Dartmoor, mixed up with a number of charters of Elizabeth's reign, for the most part very incorrectly copied.
Soon after comes thirty-one pages of biography, from which Prince and others have largely borrowed. This was in all probability the germ of Prince's Worthies. Next a few pages are devoted to armory; then a great many to the Exeter trading companies, to the lives of the Bishops of Exeter, the materials of which were worked up by Godwin in the (English) edition of the De Presulibus, and to the monuments in Exeter Cathedral Church. Next follows a list of valuations of Ecclesiastical Benefices, both in Devon and Cornwall, with tables of tenths, aud having in the margin, inserted by another hand, the names of the patrons. Then are given, incorrectly, copies of well-known charters relating to the disafforesting and perambulation of Dartmoor, and then an account of the local customary rights existing to this day known as the Fenfield or Venville tenures. In his account of these tenures, Hooker has fallen into a singular mistake, the origin of which has been discovered. (Devon Association Transactions, Vol. VIII, p. 410).
He also gives a pen and ink sketch of his (erroneous) identification of certain boundaries existing in an Old English (Anglo-Saxon) hand in Exeter Cathedral library, and which he fancied were boundaries of the Venville parishes. In his identification of the boundaries, Hooker was followed by Risdon, and in the sketch map by Westcote on either occasion without acknowledgment.
Next occurs the list of valuations of parishes, arranged in hundreds, for Devon and Cornwall, and interspersed amongst these, descriptions of market towns in Devon, which possibly are (now) the most valuable portions of the MS. Then comes a list of names of gentlemen bearing arms, 'by way of a Catalogue or Alphabett,' with the names of their residences in the margin ; then a list of the 'Parkes,' of the 'Market Townes,' of the places exempt from Toll or Tax of the 'Monasteries,' and finally of the 'Castles,' with which the MS. ends."                 J.B.R.