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The Worthies of Devon

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A work wherein the lives and fortunes

of

the most famous divines, statesmen, swordsmen, physicians,

writers and other eminent persons,

natives of that most noble province,

from before the Norman conquest to the present age, are memorized,

in an alphabetical order

out of the

most approved authors, both in print and manuscript.

 

BY: JOHN PRINCE

Vicar of Berry-Pomeroy, in the same county.

First published: 1702

Reprint: 1810, for Rees and Curtis, Plymouth

Pages: 55-58

BATH, SIR HENRY, KNIGHT

BATH, Sir Henry Kt. one of the Justices of the King’s Bench, was born, most probably at the ancient seat of the name Bathe-house, in the parish of North-Tawton, lying in the heart of this county. There was sometime, a great estate in these western parts belonging to this family; Heniton-siege, since called Wear, near Topsham, was the habitation of Augustin de Bath;a Sheepwash, Merland, Buckland, and Aesland, were anciently in this name.b And among the famous men who flourished in this shire, in the days of K. Hen. 3, is memoriz’ed, Sir Walter Bath, or Bathon, of Colebrook,c about three miles west of Crediton, so called, from his dwelling in that place; where he held two knights fees at that time.d

     This name occurs among authors variously written, as, de Baa, de Bada, de Bathon, de Bathe, and Bath; which the family took either from, or left unto, this place of its principle residence in North-Tawton aforesaid; by which it is known this day: whereof is a most remarkable passage recorded, and confirmed too, from so good authority, that to let the world see, our country also can produce her wonders, and rarities of nature, I shall crave leave here to relate, as I find it.e

     In the court before this house, was (I suppose still is) a certain pit, of a large circumference, so deep in the center, as the heighth of a man well mounted on horse-back, generally dry, unless after great rains, or in the winter time; where would sometimes in the driest season, a spring break out, which filled the pit so full, that it would overflow its banks.f And this was observed to be the forerunner of death of some great personage; or else of some sorrow that would ensue: and ‘tis said, it would thus continue, until the matter happened which it did prognosticate. And my author farther adds; That in those latter days, it had been seen to do so three times, in a little more than thirty years.

     Not unlike that Born in Hartfordshire,g that is also said to presage some sad accident, when it breaketh out of the earth; from whence it is called Wo-mer. Of which nature is that meer, belonging to my Lord Brereton in Cheshire, mentioned by Cambden also,h and attested by many persons; That before any heir of this family dies, there are seen in a lake adjoining, the bodies of trees swimming upon the waters for several days together. Not much different, saith he, from what Leonardus Vairus relates, "That near the abbey of St. Maurice in Burgundy, there is a fish-pond, into which a number of fishes are put, equal to the number of monks of that place; and if any one of them happen to be sick, there is a fish seen floating upon the water sick too; and in case the sickness proves fatal to the monk, the fish foretells it by its own death some days before." In relation to which passages, I shall only add this learned author’s judgement, and proceed.

     " If they are true, saith he, they must be done, either by those blessed spirits whom God has appointed guardians and keepers of us; or else, by the arts of both of them are intelligent beings, and will not produce such preternatural things, but upon design, and to attain some end or other: those ever pursuing the good and safety of mankind; These ever attempted to delude us, vex us, or to ruin us". Thus he.

     This family of Bath, was of great antiquity in this county; and indeed it ran so very far back, that I could not overtake the original thereof. Nor was it of less honour and reputation in its time; for Sir Walter de Bathon, Kt. was High-Sheriff of the

Notes for page 55: Adjoining first paragraph: Flor. A.D. 1238. R.R. Hen. 3d.

a) Westc. Desc. of Devon in Wear

b) Hol. quo. sup.

c) Sir W. Pole’s Desc. of Devon. in famous men in K. H. 3

days, MS.

d) Risd. Chor. Desc. of Devon in Colebrook.

e) Risd. and Wes. in Bath-house.

f) I have heard it avouched before a Rt. hon. person, and of the

privy council to Q. Eliz. Bourcher, E. of Bath, being at the place.

So Mr. Westc. in his view of Bath-house, MS.

g) Camb. Brit. in Heref. p. 801

h) Brit. in Ch. p. 562, ult. edit.

 

county of Devon, i 1 Hen. 3 1217. After that, in the 21st year of the same reign, he was again advanced to the same honourable office, in which he continued about 14 years together. I know he is confounded in Mr. Issac’s catalogue of the sheriffs of Devon, who follows Fuller herein, into Bada and Bathond: but a much more critical person in these matters, than either of them, hath given us the former account; I mean Sir. William Pole. In which also, we have the consent of Mr. Risdon, in his catalogue of the sheriffs of this county.k Unto which Sir Walter de Bath, I take Sir Henry, of whom we are treating, to be a younger brother; he being expressly said, to be a branch of this family.l

     And this we may well suppose, prov’d the occasion of his applying himself to the study, and at length to the profession of the laws of this country: In the knowledge wherof, he grew unto that eminency, that he was advanced, together with Hugh Giffard, by K. H. 3. in the 22nd year of his reign, 1238, to be one of the justices of the common-pleas.m

     In the 24th of that King, he was constituted one of the justices itinerant, as they were then called, for the county of Hartford.n In the 32d he was for Essex and Surrey; in the 33d for Kent and Southhampton; in the 34d for Lincoln: when he had allowed him out of the exchequer, by a peculiar favour, an hundred pounds a year for his sustentation, in the discharge of his said office.o But the year following, he fell from the King’s grace and good will; the occasion whereof, were certain crimes laid to his charge; which if true, he can’t be justified: and true or false, I shan’t here conceal them; although upon due examination of the matter, we may observe such circumstances, as will greatly alleviate, if not wholly expung them, and blot them out.

     He was accused by no mean persons at the time in the government,p "of being guilty of corruption in justice; getting to himself in one circuit, two hundred pounds per an. in lands; and of acquitting a malefactor for a bribe; and of stirring up the barons against the King, to the endangering of a general rebellion in the kingdom."

     This accusation, as well it might, highly provoked the King; insomuch, in the parliament soon after holden at London, proclamation was made, That whosoever had any action or complaint against Henry de Bath, should come in, and they should be heard. A strange encouragement, this, for envy and malice to break in upon, and confound the greatest innocence; although we do not find that any one hereupon urged any thing against him: which is no mean evidence, that he was not so guilty as he is represented.

     Unto this parliament, Sir Henry Bath is also summoned to answer the mateers should be laid to his charge. And unto this parliament he boldly came, but so strongly defended with knights and gentlemen, his own, and his ladies friends and allies, the Bassets and Samfords,q (great men in those days) as daunted the violence of his prosecutors. Whereupon the King in a great rage mounted into an higher place than before, cryed out in these words:r.

     Whosoever shall kill Henry de Bath, shall be quit of his death; and I do hereby acquit him. And presently departed.

     Now however, he left behind him many men, who would readily have executed the King’s terrible doom; yet, by the wisdom of Sir John Mansel, one of the King’s privy council, they were restrained, with these words; worthy to be remembered in this place.

     Gentlemen, it is not necessary for us to put that presently into execution, which the King in anger hath commanded. It may be, when his wrath is over-blown, he will be sorry he hath said it, and moreover, if any outrage be done to Bath, his friends are here, who will take all sorts of revenge.

Notes to page 56:

i) Sir W. Pole’s Desc. of Dev. in his catalogue of sheriffs.

j) skipped

k) Chor. Descr. of Devon.

l) Id. ibid. in Sheepwash, MS.

m) In Crastino S. Joh. Bapt. An. 1238 Dugd. Chr. ser. p.11

n) Ibid. p. 13.

o) Hen. de Bath. habet C.1. annuatim percip. de Scac. ad se sustentandum

in Officio Justitiarii. A. 34, H. 3. 1250.ib. p.15.

p) Speed’s Hist. of Gr. Brit. in K. H. 3. N. 78 p. 610.

q) Risd. in Sheepw.

r) Speed quo sup. p. 611.

 

     Upon this, Sir Henry escaped the threatned danger for the present; and afterwards, upon the promise of two thousand marks to the King, and the intercession of the Earl of Cornwal, who was the King’s brother; and the Bishop of London, at that time Fulco Basset, he not only obtained his peace, but also his former places and graces with the King.

     Now, were this great person guilty of this charge, hardly any punishment were adequate to his crime. The justice of Cambyses, a heathen prince, is admired and commended unto this day;s who, when Sisamnes, one of his chiefest judges,had given an unjust judgement, caused him to be flead alive, and his skin to be hung over the judgement-seat. And having bestowed the office of the father, upon Otanes, the son, he willed him to remember, That the same injustice would deserve the same punishment; giving him this caveat,

Sede sedens ista judex inflexibilis esto.

Sit tibi lucerna, lux lex, pellisq; paterna.

Which I find thus translated to my hands.t

Thou judg that sittest in this seat,

uprightly deal therein:

And for thy guide, take thou the light,

The law, and father’s skin.

     But that he was not guilty, or at least, not in so hainous a measure as is suggested in our chronicles, may be well inferred; partly from hence, That so great a number of persons of the first rank and quality stood by him, and took his part; powerfully defending him from any intended mischief to his person, Nor is this a small circumstance in behalf of his innocence, that the King’s own brother, Richard of Earl of Cornwal. (afterwards chosen King of the Romans) was so zealous an intercessor for him; knitting up his mediation with these words;u We must not forsake gentlemen in the r right, nor in preserving the peace of this tottering kingdom. And the Bishop of London, and several others, became mediators on his behalf with the King: which we cannot well think they would, as we kno in honour they could not, had he been so notoriously criminal, as supposed.

     And then it may partly be farther inferred from hence, That after this storm of his enemies’ rage and malice was abated, and blown over, the King took him again into his grace and favour, and re-established him in the same seat of judicature he was in before, or rather advanced him higher up; for thus was he made chief justice of the King’s Bench, after about three years discontinuance from his office of a judg: in which honourable station he continued for eight years after; that is, unto the time of his death: For in the 44th of K. Hen. 3. Henry de Bathonia and William de Wiltone, were justices itinerant, for the counties of Huntingdon, Norfolk, Suffolk, and Canbridg, which was the year before he died.w

    And here, least any should imagin, that this gentleman’s restoration to so weighty a trust, should be the act of the King’s mere arbitrary pleasure, we are informed, it was done by the advice and provisions of the lords and great men of his council; as appears from this clause in the writ,x Hii omnes (speaking there of Sir Henry and his associates) per provisionem magnatum Anglae, qui sunt de consilio Regis, ad melioationem status totius regni, assignati errant ut supra. These all, by the providing of the great men of the kingdom, who are of the King’s council, were appointed to better the state of the realm.

     That this gentleman therefore should be readmitted to the dispensation of the publick justice is a manifest argument, That either he was not guilty of the corruption he had been accused of; or that those great men who entrusted him again in his office

Notes for page 57:

s) Val. Max. 1. 6.c.3. in Exter. p. 169.

t) Westc. Surv. in Monkleigh. MS.

u) Speed quo antea.

v) skipped

w) Chron. ser. p. 19.

x) Dugd. Chr. ser. p. 19.

were not innocent; which the respect we owe to a crowned head and venerable council; altho’ long since laid in the dust, forbids us to imagin.

     As to his abilities for so high an undertaking, there is this testimony remaining of him,y That he was a learned knight, and a special counsellor to the King. Where this honourable person’s ashes lie we cannot say; but we are expressly told when he died, viz. 45 H. 3., 1261.z Whether this gentleman left any issue, I do not find; but Margaret, the daughter and heir of Augustine, the son and heir of Sir Walter de Bath, brought Bath-house, Wear, Sheepwash, and other estates to her husband, Sir Andrew Medstead, of the same noble family, with the Duke of Exeter; whose posterity is yet in being in this county, tho’ much short of the splendor of their ancestors. I find this coat also belonging to Bath,2 Quarterly Or. and Gule. 4 Escalops counterchanged. And Issac gives him this, Azur a Saltire engr. Or. and Azur 3 Chev. Arg. Cat. Sher.

Notes to page 58:

y) Speed quo antea.

z) Henric de Bathon. defunctus, An. 45. Hen. S. Chr. ser. p. 19.

2) Hol. Catal.

 

Notes on the transcription: If you think the spelling, capitalization, punctuation and other errors found in the text are mine, you’re probably wrong. I kept it as close to the original as possible.

Michael Edward Bath

Québec, August 2001

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