Two Tavistock legends re-examined

By Mary Freeman and Rick Glanvill. Published "Devon Historian"

Reproduced here by their Kind Permission

Do local legends always have some foundation in fact, or is truth the first casualty of word-of-mouth? In Tavistock there are two curious tales associated with the Glanvill family, concerning John Glanvill (1542-1600), Justice of the Common Pleas from 1598, and his immediate family, that reward further inquiry.

The first story, from the 16th century, recounts that the Judge sentenced his daughter to death for the murder of her husband, an old miser of Plymouth called Page. The crime was commemorated in a contemporary account and ballads, and in a later play [source 1]. Even two centuries later the common people of Tavistock firmly believed that Judge Glanvill had condemned his daughter [source 2]. Unfortunately, John Glanvill was not yet a judge at the time of the trial.

The kernel of truth here, though, is that the murder did take place and that the Glanvill family were involved. Vivian [source 3] shows that Eulalia Page was not a daughter, but a niece, of John Glanvill; her father was actually John's elder brother Nicholas.

This legend has been worked over by several authors. Baring-Gould [source 4] listed the ballads. Brushfield [source 5] analysed the records, quoting from a contemporary diary of Adam Wyatt that has recently been published in a fuller version[ source 6]. This established that "Serjt. Glandyl [lodged] at Rog. Cades" in Barnstaple during the trial in March 1590 o.s.; as a barrister he may have been defending counsel, and perhaps he witnessed the execution of his niece. Baring Gould [ source 7,8] asserted that she was burnt alive, the penalty for petty treason, but there is reason to doubt this. Wyatt stated that 18 prisoners were hanged on a gibbet at Castle Green on the Saturday of assize week, having been tried on the Wednesday. Four of these - from Plymouth - were condemned for murder. In the Parish Registers [source 9], during March o.s. (before Lady Day), there are burial entries for the three men cited as Eulalia's accomplices, and also for "Ulalia Payge buryed at Bishop's Tawton". Three men buried the same day (20 March) appear also to have been prisoners, and there were three other entries that month for people who died. There is no entry for Eulalia at Bishops Tawton, and no indication what happened to the bodies of the remainder of the 18 prisoners hanged; possibly they had no friends to ensure burial in a churchyard. The contemporary records, both Wyatt's [source 6] and that quoted by Whitfeld [ source 1], do not state that Eulalia was burnt, only executed. Ballads would surely have stressed such a sensational detail. Perhaps her uncle's pleading led Judge Anderson to mitigate the worst penalty.

The second story concerns John Glanvill the Judge, his eldest son Francis (later knighted) and another son, John (later King's Serjeant and Speaker of the House of Commons). The story is that the Judge was so displeased with Francis that he disinherited him in favour of the second son, John, who later restored the estate to his brother. The earliest published account is in Burnet's Life and death of Sir Matthew Hale [source 10]; the younger John Glanvill had encouraged an initially reluctant Hale in his legal studies. Burnet wrote: "I shall mention one passage of the Serjeant which ought never to be forgotten. His Father had a fair Estate, which he intended to settle on his Elder Brother, but he being a Vicious young man, and there appearing no hopes of his recovery, he settled it on him, that was his Second Son. Upon his death, his eldest son finding that what he had before looked on, as the threatenings of an angry Father was now but too certain, became Melancholly, and that by degrees wrought so great a change in him, that what his Father could not prevail on him while he Lived, was now effected by the severity of his last Will, so that it was now too late for him to change in hopes of an Estate that was gone from him. But his Brother observing the reality of the change resolved within himself what to do: so he called him with many of his Friends together to a Feast, and after other dishes had been served up to the Dinner, he ordered one that was covered to be set before his Brother, and desired him to uncover it; which he doing, the Company was surprized to find it full of Writings. So he told them that he was now to do, what he was sure his Father would have done, if he had lived to see that happy Change, which they now all saw in his Brother: and therefore he freely restored to him the whole Estate."

Prince [source 11] gave biographies of the Judge and of John the son, yet his version of the story of the inheritance is taken from Burnet, almost verbatim. Prince also had information from "an intelligent person, Mr. G.D. of Tavestock, in a letter dated July 29, 1695". This correspondent can be identified as George Diptford [source 12]. Neither source was a contemporary witness of the inheritance by Francis Glanvill, who died January 29, 1638 o.s. Diptford lived in Tavistock, at least after 1671, when the baptism of a daughter is recorded [source 13], and died in 1716. He was churchwarden in 1675 [source 12], by which time Kilworthy had passed to Ambrose Manaton [source 13,14]. Whatever George Diptford may have told Prince about the Judge and his sons was at best second-hand. How Burnet became possessed of the story is even less clear; he wrote 80 years after the event. He must have known Hale, who was admitted to Lincoln's Inn in 1629, where John Glanvill the younger, although not yet serjeant-at-law, was considerably senior to him. Sir John died in 1661 [source 11], Hale in 1671 [ source 10]. Whether Burnet knew Sir John Glanvill personally, and how well, is not apparent. It seems probable that the tale he published about the disinheritance was gleaned from gossip current in legal circles in London.

Mrs Bray [source 2], [iip336] whose source was Prince as well as vernacular knowledge gained from her husband, saw "no cause to doubt" the truth of the story. She repeated it with moral reflections and some embellishment, including the elapsing of time between the Judge's death and the feast of restoration. Another fictional account was published by Rachel Evans [source 15] who set the feast of restoration in 9th James [1611 [source 16]] and made John's wife Winifred one of the characters [p61]; otherwise she followed Mrs Bray's model.

In a further published version, Glanville-Richards [source 17] [p101] introduced a romantic twist to the tale. Francis was said to be spending his "days in vicious living and great profligacy in London" but to have taken time off to rescue a William Crymes from attackers in the street. Calling on Crymes next day, Francis saw a portrait of his daughter Elizabeth in the house, and found that Crymes lived at Buckland Monachorum and knew the Judge. Francis was so taken with Elizabeth's beauty that he resolved to marry her and reform, and he asked Crymes to intercede with the Judge. Sadly, according to the tale, the Judge died "and John Glanville had succeeded to the property" before that could happen.

Facts and chronology enable some comment on this legend.
Judge Glanvill fell from his horse and died on 27 July 1600 [source 18], perhaps negotiating the steep hill between Kilworthy and Tavistock. He was 58. No will for him is recorded, and the following month his wife Alice had obtained administration [source 19].

His Inquisition post-mortem is dated two years later, 12 August, 44 Elizabeth. At the time of his father's death Francis was a minor, aged 18 years two months; by agreement of Francis and his mother, the estate was managed by Sir Francis Godolphin [source 20], who married Alice on Christmas Day 1600 [source 21].

If the Judge died intestate with his eldest son a minor, it would be normal for his widow to be ranted administration. The Dukes of Bedford, in their minorities, granted leases through their mothers and other trustees [source 22]. Francis's brother John was five years younger still [source 21], so could not have possessed the estate even if there had been a will in his favour. Francis duly inherited on coming-of-age. Nevertheless there must have been some reason for the origin of the story of the disinheritance. It is credible that Francis, already certain of a life of comfort as the Judge's heir, had little enthusiasm for the law. Though he enrolled at Lincoln's Inn, London, in January 1596 [source 23] there is no record of his being called to the bar. Brother John followed him to the Inn in February 1603 [source 23] and took after their father as an assiduous student, which may have engendered some resentment.

A William Crymes, possibly Elizabeth's brother, enrolled at Lincoln's Inn four months after him [source 23], and would have been known to his brother Francis.
Then again we may incline towards questioning whether Francis was actually riotous, or merely high-spirited. The Tudor dress codes of the Inns of Court were somewhat stringent. At Lincoln's Inn "cut or pansid Hose, or Bryches; or pansid Doblet" (fashionably padded), long hair, large ruffs, cloaks, or boots with spurs were all banned [source 24]. Such regulations were probably irksome to a young man such as Francis who did not intend a legal career but liked to be chic, and he may well have got into scrapes that his upright parents disapproved of.
But perhaps it is a simple a case of mistaken identity. Francis's nephew, yet another John (the Speaker's son) was implicated in a scandalous pub brawl in July 1640, the eve of the Civil War, while at Lincoln's Inn. The Whitehall inquiry into this "Affair of the Three Cranes" [source 25] heard that John and other legal trainees drunkenly fought with and "pumped" (ie half-drowned under a water pump) employees of the influential Earl of Northumberland. John himself was unadvisedly heard to raise a toast to "the confusion and destruction of my Lord's Grace of Canterbury," [source 25] the controversial William Laud. The Three Cranes pub was close to the Glanvills' London house on Chancery Lane and the storm must have displeased his high-ranking father at a sensitive time.

Whatever, even before the date of Francis's father's Inquisition "ffrancis Glanvile, esq." was acting as a foeffee in Tavistock, 10 January 44 Elizabeth (1601 o.s.) [source 12], so he must have been resident at Kilworthy. He did indeed marry Elizabeth Crymes on 21 September 1604 [source 17], and they lived at Kilworthy for many years.

We also know Francis was pronounced the lawful heir on 12 August 1602, and came of age in May 1603 [source 20]. Naturally there would have been a family feast on this occasion, and it is not at all improbable that young brother John would have arranged a ceremony by which the title deeds were presented in a covered dish, as a merry joke.
We believe that some such stunt, probably related later by John himself to his friends in London, was the origin of the inheritance story, which became increasingly garbled by repetition and got into print from the Inns of Court, many years after the event.



1. Whitfeld, HF. 1900. Plymouth and Devonport: in times of war and pace. Chappie (Plymouth).
2. Bray, AE (Mrs). 1838. Traditions of Devonshire on the Borders of the Tamar and the Tavy. 3 vols. Murray (London).
3. Vivian, J.L. 1887. The Visitation of Cornwall. Pollard (Exeter).
4. Baring-Gould, S. 1889. The story of the murder of Page. Western Antiquary, 9, 10.
5. Brushfield, T.N. 1889. The story of the murder of Page. Western Antiquary, 9, 35-37.
6. Gray, T. (ed.) 1998. The lost chronicle of Barnstaple, 1586-1611, Devonshire Association (Exeter).
7. Baring-Gould, S. 1909 (1899). A Book of Devon. Methuen (London).
8. Baring-Gould, S. 1926 (1908). Devonshire Characters and Strange Events, first series. Lane (London).
9. DRO microfiches of Parish Registers, Barnstaple and Bishops Tawton.
10. Burnet [sic] G. 1682 (1681). The life and death of Sir Matthew Hale, Kt. Shrowsbery (London).
11. Prince, J. 1810. The Worthies of Devon. New ed. Longman et aL (London).
12. Worth, RN. 1887. Calendar of the Tavistock parish records. Brendon (Plymouth).
13. DRO microfiches of Parish Registers, Tavistock.
14. Alexander, JJ. 1925. The coats of arms at Kilworthy. Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries, 13, 316-322.
15. Evans, R. 1846. Home scenes: or, Tavistock and its vicinity. Commins (Tavistock).
16. Cheney, CR. 1961. Handbook of dates. Royal Historical Society.
17. Glanville-Richards, WUS. 1882. Records of the Anglo-Norman House of Glanville from AD 1050 to 1880, Mitchell & Hughes (London).
18. Hasler, PW. 1981. The House of Commons 1558-1603, volume II, Members D-L. HMSO (London).
19. PRO ref., PROB6/6. Administration of estate of Sir John Glanvill, 16C
20. PRO ref., C142/271 item 158. John Glanvyle, Inquisition post-mortem. 44 Elizabeth [1602].
21. Vivian, JL. [1895]. The Visitation of the County of Devon. Eland (Exeter).
22. DRO L1258 M/L/E5/1/3, lease of Kilworthy to Mary Turner 1775.
23. Records of the Honourable Society of Lincoln's Inn, Admissions, 1420-1799. 1896. (London)
24. Dugdale, Sir W. 1680. Origines Juridiciales. 3rd ed. Wilkinson, Dring, Harper (London).
25. Records of the Honourable Society of Lincoln's Inn, the Black Books. 1897. (London)


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