Thomas Prideaux, the eldest son of John and Agnes was born in 1571.
He was born and brought up at Stowford on the Prideaux property along with his siblings, Johan, Agnes, Henry, John, Hugh, Christopher, Richard, Elizabeth and Francis. As children of John and Agnes Prideauxs and cousins of many other Prideauxs within the same area, the family was well known and respected.
Although they had been sold the property by the Williams family of Stowford Manor, they were not considered far down the social scale. Their cousins were considerable landowners in the vicinity and Prideauxs held the influential positions of churchwarden at Ermington and Ashburton and elsewhere.
Incidentally, it is written in some documents, notably, ‘Lives of Individuals’ by R A Davenport, that this family of Prideauxs numbered twelve children, seven boys and five girls.
There is a lot of information about one of the children, John, the future Bishop of Worcester. I am pursuing that separately and have written a book about him. The Bishop and the Witch.
Luckily for me, because there is so much information recorded about Bishop John Prideaux that I have been able put together quite a good story about his siblings and parents. Again, there may be some incorrect information and I noticed that some mistakes have been carried forward from earlier to more recent writers. But I expect someone will say that about me soon.
The South Hams was a relatively small place and most people knew each other, so the Prideaux family did not have to prove their respectability in any quarter. The farm at Stowford was a working farm and Thomas worked alongside his parents, siblings and farmhands in order to make the place viable.
Hunting happened regularly on their land and on Dartmoor, but would more than likely have diminished somewhat when Queen Elizabeth gave the demesne lands which ran between Prideaux land and Williams land, to her Speaker Thomas Williams, The Royal family had used this land for easy access to the moors from the highway.
The roads during this period were as bad as they ever had been since Roman times. Although many travelled from London to Plymouth, this was generally done on foot by the ordinary man , horse by the wealthier and sedan by the infirm. The roads had been deteriorating for a thousand years and were little more than tracks which could be rock hard and dry in summer and wet and muddy for much of the rest of the year. Some of the hilly tracks were said to sometimes resemble a waterfall, with water running down to the lowest point over stones and rocks on the road. Only the locally bred horses were able to negotiate the unstable roads.
The road from London to Plymouth was 215 miles and could be achieved in a week when using horses kept at staging posts. Two centuries later, a gentleman being examined before a committee of the House of Commons about the conditions of the road in the west stated,
’ they were so deep that it had been seriously debated, whether it would be less expensive to convert them into canals, rather than to repair them.’
I found this wonderful quote in the ’Lives of Individuals who raised themselves from poverty to eminence or fortune,’ by R. A. Davenport, although the term poverty could scarcely be applied here.
The highway never bypassed any town, but cut through the centre in order to allow the traveller to reach markets and inns. These centres could be busy, smelly and muddy. There were no sewers and animals were slaughtered in the towns. Travel during this time was not as dangerous as it was during the 17th century when trade increased and there were more highwaymen about.
This highway passed along the edge of the Prideaux property and crossed the Ivybridge, which had been built in the 12th/13th century. Each corner of this bridge was in a different parish. Mills were grouped around the area and the two cottages, Bridgend and Churchland on the Prideaux farm had previously been an inn and a chapel. These were the cottages eventually built over with the London Inn.
Ashburton, further north on the highway was a staging post and the home of Ashburton Grammar School, where many sons of those who could afford it attended. Education there was of a high standard and was supported by gentry in the surrounding area. It is highly likely that Thomas attended the school as his brother John, the future bishop, did.
Their father John was highly educated and he and his mother would have encouraged their children to follow suit.
Even during bad times in later generations, the Prideaux family members have always encouraged education and many have found that they have an underlying desire and curiosity for learning. Well haven’t you? Where wives were only able to sign with a cross, the Prideaux could write his name and in a later generation represent himself in a court case.
Cattle, pigs and sheep would be kept and horses for ploughing. Horses would also be kept for riding, hunting and travel for the better off. There were some crops sown and hay harvested for fodder.
Thomas married Blanche in the early years of the 1600s at the time of the death of Queen Elizabeth and the crowning of James I.
John and Agnes, his parents, were both alive at the time of his marriage and his younger siblings were still working on the farm and also trying to make their own way via marriage or trade. Tenancies were pursued in respect of other farms and cottages, but there is no record of the houses in which the other siblings lived. They obviously, with the exception of their brother John, stayed within the local area as they married, christened their children, and finally were buried in the local churches. They signed the Protestation Returns in 1641 in the parish of Ermington.
By 1610 all seven children were married and some married twice. Thomas was the heir and had the right to the Prideaux Farm. He may have stayed at the farm as heir and carried on with his work there, or moved to one of the cottages at the corner of the property which overlooked the bridge. All we know is that Agnes lived there after she became a widow in 1620. We cannot be sure whether Thomas and his father swapped residences prior to that date.
When Agnes died, Thomas took over as patriarch of the family and there is some evidence that he kept good communication with the other brothers. All of them being involved in each others wills and stating the known wishes of their celebrated brother. Thomas and Richard were involved in organising the inventory in respect of their mothers will.
They were also careful in regard to the future care of their brother Henry and ensured that John, even though now in Oxford, was mentioned in legal papers with regard to his rights. Francis had Henry living with him after the death of his mother and there was a document written which shows that Thomas, Richard and Hugh formally resigned their claim to the administration of Henry’s goods in favour of their youngest brother Francis.
They were proud of their brother John and his achievements, especially as they were involved in the making and placing of the plaque in Harford Church. John liked nothing more than to visit his family without prior notice and often brought presents for all his relatives and would give good advice , money and assistance wherever it was necessary.
On one journey home, Bishop John Prideaux heard the bell tolling for his godmother as he passed through Ugborough, so he immediately stopped his journey and accompanied the body to its final resting place and gave a blessing at the graveside. John was similar to Thomas and liked joking and laughing and having fun, but disapproved of swearing.
They both believed in exercise as the way to keep healthy and John, an accomplished archer tried to pass on what he learnt to his nephews. He could not return for the funerals of his brothers however, as he was so involved with the King and his problems. He probably also wished to keep unwanted attention away from his family by the Puritans. He is known to have sometimes stated that he was born at Lifton, some miles away from Stowford.
By 1620 the family would have been aware of the exodus to America of the Puritans and their sheltering from bad weather at Plymouth. There was travel back and to from all major towns, if not by the Prideauxs themselves, then by their neighbours. Gossip was just as interesting then as now. This fact was not forgotten by Puritans during the Civil War and many personal vendettas were remembered when Cromwell came to power.
Thomas and Blanche produced six live children as follows.
John was born in 1606 buried in 1682 and married Agnes Edgecombe on 4 Sep 1635. They passed on the tenancy of Prideaux Farm to their eldest son and it remained in his family, until the lands were sold in the 1800s.
Hugh was born in 1612 and Susan, born in 1614. James, born around 4 Mar 1618 and Richard born around 17 Feb 1611.
Thomas, born around 1610 married Joane and took the tenancy of Woodlands, an area later known as Ivybridge Manor and now also under roads and houses. He is also my direct ancestor.
The plaque as mentioned previously was placed in Harford Church on 20th July 1639 and may have been to show their support for their brother during the very scary political and religious time.
Bishop John Prideaux being so involved with the King and standing shoulder to shoulder with him against the ever growing support for Cromwell may not have made him popular in some quarters. Many at this time had begun to keep out of the limelight and many would not make their allegiances known.
It does show that this branch of the Prideaux family was Royalist and despite the Bishop writing to the contrary, were happy to make an official record to God and the local people, that they were proud of their brother.
The family is shown on the plaque, praying for their parents with John wearing his red robes. One likes to imagine that he came to the church for the hanging of the plaque. Ironically in this world of coincidence, John died on the 20th July 1650, eleven years to the day of the dedication of the plaque.
I had to go back and look at this twice, because the first time I saw it, I just thought of it as another Prideaux monument. But after more research and writing and involving myself with the characters, I saw them as family. Then a sad feeling overcame me, when I thought of their troubles and loneliness and happiness all in that lovely little church. This was not the first and only time I wish that I could have met them. I hope writing about them brings these people to life for you.
Harford Church is beautiful and spooky and very old. I had a feeling of history when I entered the place and although the place was quite empty of the living, it felt full of the dead.
The Prideauxs signed the Protestation Returns during 1641. The returns related to the years 1641- 42, around the start of the Civil War. The Protestation was an Oath of loyalty to Parliament and to the King, and was originally drawn up and taken by the members of the House of Commons on 3rd of May 1641, the following day the protestant Peers in the House of Lords also swore it. On the 30th July the House of Commons passed a resolution that all who refused the Protestation were unfit to hold office in Church or Commonwealth. The rules then changed to include all adult males and some females. Sometimes only the head of the family signed or made his mark.
Avoidance could be difficult as a bench of local dignitaries (constables, magistrates, clergy, overseers etc) who would know of most inhabitants of the parish – heard their Oath & witnessed it.
The oath was as follows.
I, _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ do, in the presence of Almighty God, promise, vow, and protest to maintain, and defend as farr as lawfully I maye, with my Life, Power and Estate, the true Reformed Protestant religion, expressed in the Doctrine of the Church of England, against all Popery and Popish Innovations, within this Realme, contrary to the same Doctrine, and according to the duty of my Allegiance, His Majesties Royal Person, Honour and Estate, as alsoe the Power and Privileges of Parliament, the lawful Rights and Liberties of the Subjects, and any person that maketh this Protestation, in whatsoever he shall do in the lawful Pursuance of the same: and to my power, and as farr as lawfully I may, I will appose and by all good Ways and Means endeavour to bring to condign Punishment all such as shall, either by Force, Practice, Councels, Plots, Conspiracies, or otherwise, doe any thing to the contrary of any thing in this present Protestation contained: and further, that I shall, in all just and honourable ways, endeavour to preserve the Union and Peace betwixt the Three Kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland: and neither for Hope, Feare, nor other Respect, shell relinquish this Promise, Vow and Protestation.
Thomas died not long after signing the returns, perhaps the stress of living under the political problems proved too much for him. He buried his beloved brother Henry and sister Agnes and had helped bury sister in laws Mary, Margaret, Alice and Jane and a brother in law James. He was involved in the wills and distribution of many of the possessions of his kin after they died. Many grandchildren died, including five of his son John. He did however hear that his younger brother John had been made Bishop of Worcester in 1641, just prior to his death. I hope it was not on his deathbed.
Agnes and John kept their children in a loving and caring family whom they taught how to be kind and generous to all. The children lived up to that reputation and earned the respect of their neighbours as their parents had.
I don’t know why I feel particularly close to this generation of the family. Perhaps it is because I have worked out through the study of old maps, exactly where they all lived and which roads they travelled. I have been to the places and stood where they stood, but then I have done that for every member of my family I have written about. Maybe it is because of the amount of information I have discovered about the Bishop and then by association, the rest of the family. There are paintings and pictures available of Bishop John and I have personally seen letters written by and to him from the King. Now in this digital world, it possible to not only see the images of your own family, but those of many other people. I am sure that we feel closer to people because of that, but that is just a personal opinion.
Article originally written in 2009
Featuring Thomas Prideaux.