SIR WILLIAM PERYAM 1534 – 1604
On the north side of the chancel of the church (on the left-hand side, looking towards the altar), is the big tomb of Sir William Peryam, an important individual both in local and national terms in the last years of the reign of Elizabeth I. Peryam was one of the judges who tried Mary Queen of Scots in 1586, was involved in several other big treason trials of the age and was given the office of Chief Baron of the Exchequer in 1593. He was a Governor of Crediton Church and twice church warden; he bought the estate of Little Fulford, in the 1580′s and built a manor house there, the estate being renamed Shobroke Park in the early eighteen-hundreds.
The tomb shows the judge reclining, his head arms propped up with his right hand, beneath him the seven ladies of his life – his three wives and four daughters (he had no sons); above him are the Peryam arms.
William Peryam was born in Exeter in 1534, second son of John and Elizabeth Peryam. His family was a well-connected one, he was a cousin of Sir Thomas Bodley, founder of the famous Bodlean Library in Oxford. His father was a man of means and was twice mayor of Exeter (he died during his second term of office in 1572).William’s brother, John, was also twice mayor of the city and was in office when the Spanish Armada appeared off Devon in 1588.
Education & Career
William Peryam was educated at Exeter College, Oxford, where he was elected fellow in 1551 at the age of 17.
A Lawyer Still Quoted Today
In 1553 he was admitted to the Middle Temple and was one of Plymouth’s MP’s from 1562 until 1567, being called to the bar whilst at Westminster – the duties the average backbencher weren’t particularly arduous in Tudor times! His arms, which can be seen at the top of the tomb, are still to be found in the hall of the Middle Temple. There are records of his involvement in some mid-Devon cases around the time of he became a QC; in one (1566) he became a trustee of the locally important Dowrish estate in Sandford. In 1568 he was appointed as a justice in Ireland, serving Sir John Pollard, President of Munster. Quite a lot of correspondence from his time in Ireland survives in State Papers. An amusing letter tells of his reluctance to return to Ireland without Sir John, who was suffering from gout. Also on record from this time is the successful attempt he made (with the help of John Hooker, the Exeter antiquary) in 1569, to reclaim the Barony of Odrone on behalf of Sir Peter Carew – from whose family he was to buy his land in Crediton ten years later. He was made a serjeant-at-law in Michaelmas term of 1579 and in February 1581 was appointed a Judge of the Court of Common Pleas. In 1586 he was one of the judges at the trial of Mary Queen of Scots [pictured left]. When Sir Christopher Hatton retired from office in 1591, Peryam was named as one of the Judges of the Chancery Court and during the last two decades of the sixteenth century and the first years of the seventeenth was involved in a number of “show” trials of State offenders including, among others, those of the Earl of Arundel (originally imprisoned in 1585 for helping Mary, then accused of having a mass said in support of the Armada in the Chapel of the Tower of London in 1588 and tried for, and found guilty of, treason – although the death sentence was never carried out, in 1589), Sir John Perrot (tried and found guilty for what could be described as “mild” treason in 1592, but not executed) and that of the Earl of Essex [pictured left] (found guilty of treason for organising an attempted coup; he was tried and executed in 1601). The precedents Peryam set and legal decisions made in these and other cases are still quoted in the legal textbooks. In 1593 Peryam was appointed Chief Baron of the Exchequer, where he presided for twelve years. He received the knighthood which was usual with that office.
He died at Fulford Park on 9th October, 1604. The date of his death is shown on his tomb inscription as 1605. It seems likely that the tomb was erected as many as fifteen years after his death (ie during the lifetime of his widow), by which time her memory may have been fading a little because, although the Parish Registers for 1603 – 7 are missing from the Devon Record Office, papers in the National Archive clearly show that the grant of his office of Chief Baron of the Exchequer was made void on October 9th, 1604, so the earlier date of death should be taken as the valid one.
Peryam married three times. His first wife was Margery, daughter of John Holcot of Berkshire; there were no children of this marriage.
His second wife was Anne, daughter of John Parker of North Molton by whom he had four daughters, Mary, Elizabeth, Jane and Anne who all married “well”.
His last wife was Elizabeth, a daughter of Sir Nicholas Bacon (a fellow government law officer) – who outlived William by twenty years. She was related by marriage to William Cecil, Lord Burghley – in fact, Peryam was related either directly, or by marriage, to many court figures of Elizabeth’s reign.
Shobroke & Holy Cross
Peryam had bought Little Fulford, or Fulford Park (which became Shobroke Park) from Sir Richard Carew in the early 1580’s and had constructed “a fayre dwelling house” there – a predecessor of the Georgian house which was burnt down in the 1940’s. He left the house and the estate to his daughters who sold it to his brother, Sir John Peryam. He in turn sold it to the Tuckfields, whose descendants, the Shelleys, still own the estate. Peryam was a churchwarden of Holy Cross in 1589 and 1600 and was also a Governor. In 1578 he leased a manor in Sidmouth from Sir Walter Raleigh and his two sons, Carew and Walter The document still survives in the Devon Record Office. It is carefully preserved because the signatures of the Raleighs are on it! That house is now the Woodlands Hotel in Sidmouth, which, although it was substantially altered in the early nineteenth century, preserves much of the Elizabethan fabric. His widow, Elizabeth, endowed a fellowship and two scholarships in his name in Balliol College, Oxford in 1620. William Peryam’s only sibling, his brother, John, also had a very distinguished career. He was mayor of Exeter in 1587/8 and in 1598/9. Also knighted, he was a liberal benefactor to the city and to Exeter College, Oxford – and his widow endowed fellowships and scholarships to that college A panel portrait of an enrobed Sir William hangs in the National Portrait Gallery (as shown on the top of this page).
Oil painting of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex (1566-1601) by Marcus Gheeraert the Younger, by kind permission of the National Portrait Gallery www.npg.org.uk
Oil painting of Mary, Queen of Scots (after Francois Clouet), by kind permission of the National Portrait Gallery www.npg.org.uk
Page top: watercolour of Sir William Peryam (in judge’s robes) of about 1600 – the artist is unknown, by kind permission of the National Portrait Gallery www.npg.org.uk