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Help and advice for Reynolds of Pinhoe and Exeter

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Reynolds of Pinhoe and Exeter


Richard Meredith

Member of the Society of Authors

Dr John Reynolds, the theologian credited with a leading role in the creation of the King James Bible, and Sir Joshua Reynolds, first President of the Royal Academy, are held up as two of the county's greatest sons.

But were they from the same family?

Yes, said an article published in the Devon press exactly a century ago to mark the tercentennial celebrations of the KJB. The Pinhoe family of Dr John Reynolds (or Reinolds, Raynoldes, and other variations, as it was spelled in the 16th century) were indeed ancestors of Sir Joshua, the famous artist, and his line at Plympton, it asserted. Trouble was, the family tree didn't quite check out.

There was no Google or to help historians in those days, but experts who questioned the lengthy essay - which was published anonymously by the Devon and Exeter Daily Gazette* - came to the conclusion that one 'link' in the chain could not be proved.

Their focus fell on a Richard Reynolds who, the article argued, was on the one hand a nephew of Dr John Reynolds and on the other, the great-great-grandfather of Sir Joshua.

By family tradition I have a distant relationship to the Reynoldses of Devon through my maternal side, so I commissioned an Oxford University archivist to get to the bottom of the saga.

The narrative that follows is my summary of the findings of Dr John Jones, Emeritus Fellow of Balliol College, its former Dean and the archivist there for nearly 30 years.

And the Oxford scholar's verdict? They got the right name but the wrong man, he says.


It was nearly a century before the experts of Devon folklore finally found out who wrote the Reynolds family history.

An article - a monster of almost 5000 words, appeared anonymously in a local paper in 1911 [1] - and it grabbed the genealogists' attention because it linked two of the county's most famous sons into the same family.

Eventually, more than 90 years later to be precise, the author was revealed as the Rev Roger Granville [2], sub-Dean at Exeter, retired Rector of Bideford, resident of Pinhoe, and the published author of a number of titles on historical topics.

It was he who had set the heads scratching with his unattributed but nevertheless apparently well-researched article that linked the Reynolds lines of Pinhoe and Plympton in a piece entitled "The Reynolds family - their association with Pinhoe".

That the paper ran such an extended essay is a testament to the importance of the principal Reynoldses featured - the Pinhoe family of Dr John Reynolds (1549-1607), a leading voice on the Puritans' side of the translation teams which produced the King James Bible, and Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), the renowned artist and first President of the Royal Academy. Published just before he died in 1911, the (then) anonymous author said he wanted to tell the Reynolds family story to mark the 300th-year anniversary of the KJB's publication and of Dr John Reynolds's role in it.

There was much to discuss. Dr John Reynolds - who would be elected President of Corpus Christi College, Oxford - was one of six brothers from Pinhoe who included some of the most celebrated theological figures of the day. He had renounced Catholicism to become the Puritans' champion and it was on his proposition that the scriptures would be revised.

Conversely, elder brother William had turned completely the other way, converting to Catholicism and becoming a priest and scholar, while another brother, Edmund, had spent most of his long life as a don at Oxford's Catholic-leaning Gloucester Hall, amassing a fortune and taking ownership of a string of substantial local properties.

But were they really all predecessors of Sir Joshua?

The experts were unconvinced. Richard Aylmer, for example, editor of the Reynolds Newsletter and an authority on the painter, said he had particular difficulty in verifying one link in the chain. Working backwards, it was accepted that Sir Joshua's great grandfather was (another) Joshua - born 1609/10 and a merchant in Exeter - but it seemed that no one could find any evidence to back up Granville's statement that this Joshua's father was Richard Reynolds, a fellow of Exeter College, Oxford, and later the vicar of Stoke Fleming [3].

"I know that experts have been hired to look into this before but no documents or papers appear to have survived so all I can say is that this alleged linkage of the two Reynolds lines is on the borderline between tradition and fact," said Mr Aylmer. And that's the way it has stayed - until now.

Appropriately, as the UK this year marks the 400th anniversary of the publication of the KJB - possibly the world's most-read book of all time - with celebrations and events up and down the country, new research has concluded that Rev Granville was probably right to say to say Dr John Reynolds and Sir Joshua were from the same family - but for the wrong reason.

"Yes," explained retired Oxford University archivist Dr John Jones, "I am as sure as I can be that a Richard Reynolds connects both branches into the same family, but it's not the one that Granville thought it was - it's a case of mistaken identity!"

To solve the puzzle, the former archivist at Balliol says he consulted university records, online databases and standard genealogical sources including parish register transcripts and various historical data.

Also, among sources of new information, there were some unpublished hand-written sheets from the Worthies of Devon collection [4] of Rev John Prince, a 17th century clergyman of Berry Pomeroy, that had recently been deposited at the Plymouth & West Devon Records Office, and some listings of the 17th century Catholics around Oxford that turned up out of the blue in 1924 in a report to the county's Archaeological Society [5].

Sure enough, confirmed Dr Jones, there was a notable Richard Reynolds who Granville had identified as being at Oxford at around the right time.

Inspection of the university records showed him to be born about 1580, entered Exeter College on February 2 1596/7, graduated BA in 1601, was a chaplain there until 1608, vicar of Egoshayle, Cornwall, from 1610-14, and thereafter Rector of Stoke Fleming.

A 'larger than life' character in every sense and immensely strong, Prince had this Rev Richard Reynolds as fathering 15 children, living well into his 80s and a being a fierce Royalist who was ejected from his parish by Cromwell's men during the Civil War.

He was probably related to the Dr Reynolds of KJB fame, but via an earlier generation than that indicated by Granville, thought Dr Jones.

On the other hand, the Balliol historian said he had now been able to examine evidence that another Richard Reynolds was the real missing link. This one was a nephew of Edmund Reynolds, Dr John's brother [6]. Born like his namesake in 1580, university records showed that he had entered Gloucester Hall - where his rich uncle was a tutor - on May 4 1593.

It would have made him only 13 on matriculation, but in those days it was not unusual for some pupils to enter university at that age, confirmed Dr Jones. Records also showed that several more nephews of Edmund's similarly went up to Gloucester Hall, which is known today as Worcester College.

Tracking the life of this young Richard Reynolds further, Dr Jones said he appeared to have left the college without graduating, but by 1630 - the year his uncle died - he was recorded as living at a valuable leasehold property with land in Eynsham (a village on the outskirts of Oxford) which Edmund had left to him. He had renewed the lease for a further term three years later [7], but by 1643 - only months after the beginning of the Civil War in which Oxford was to play such an important part - he had died aged 63.

"Granville's article was evidently the product of exhaustive study and mostly it checked out," said Dr Jones, "but my theory is that he mixed up the two Richard Reynolds because they both had the same name, were born at about the same time and both had Devonian origins."

He went on: "I think Granville conflated the two RRs of almost the same age into one. But there were definitely two! Matriculation was a once-only formality and the university's archives confirm there were two - Edmund's nephew from Gloucester Hall in 1593 and the later rector of Stoke Fleming from Exeter College in 1596.

Dr Jones says he concludes that the confusion has arisen because of slight errors (by previous historians). "They have made one Richard Reynolds out of two, born around 1580," he said.

What still isn't entirely clear however, is whether more evidence can be found to confirm or refute that this Richard Reynolds fathered Joshua (1609-after 1691), the known great-grandfather of Devon's most famous artist.

The father was surely not the Rev Richard Reynolds, fellow of Exeter College and rector of Stoke Fleming, as Granville and others have said, as he is unlikely to have been married or living in Devon in 1609 concluded Dr Jones. "[But] whilst there is some confirmation [8] this Joshua was baptised in St Thomas's parish, Exeter, on January 2 1609/10, there is no indicated paternity . . . so I still can't be 100% certain that the father was Richard Reynolds, tutor Edmund's nephew."

Local historians in Devon are now being asked to look again at their records and come forward with further information. But meanwhile Dr Jones declared: "The most likely scenario that I construct from all of this is that Richard Reynolds, nephew of Edmund, returned to Devon after a few years with his uncle at Gloucester Hall without taking a degree, married there about 1600-1605, fathered this Joshua Reynolds b. 1609/10 who would later become the painter's great-grandfather, and sometime between 1621 and 1630 took up residence in his uncle's leasehold house at Eynsham."


[1] 'The Reynolds Family - their Association with Pinhoe', Devon & Exeter Daily Gazette March 8, 1911 (author anon; later confirmed as Rev Roger Granville).

[2] Biographical obit on Rev Roger Granville (1848-1911) Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature & Art vol43, pp. 39-40 July 1911

[3] Finding people in the Reynolds Connection, by Richard Aylmer pp. 23-24.

[4] 'Worthies of Devon', Unpublished files c 1700 recently found. No transcripts. Plymouth & West Devon RO within 373/2 pp. 491-531 ref Rev Richard Reynolds.

[5] Recuscants in Oxford 1603-1663 by HE Salter. (Ox Arch Soc 1924 No. 68, pp. 7 - 71). At Oxford Studies Library.

[6] William Reynolds' letter to Wood ref the Pinhoe Reynolds, published by Oxford antiquarian & scholar Rev Andrew Clark OHS 1891 XIX p. 303.

[7] Eynsham leases ref: Bodleian MSWood F31.fols 51r and v.

[8] International Genealogical Index.

* The Devon & Exeter (Daily) Gazette was absorbed into the Western Morning News in 1952 and is today part of Northcliffe's South-west Media Group of newspapers.
© Richard Meredith, Oct 2011