THE BIG RED BOOK 12: EBSWORTHY QUARRELS

The Harleian Society edition of the 1620 Visitation to Devonshire states that Rafe de Combe had purchased Bidlake in 1309. This would have been Wester Bidlake, the next estate to Easter Bidlake owned by the Ebsworthys. His grandson John moved to Bidlake, built a house there and called himself John de Biddelake, whilst Rafe’s son William, the father of John de Biddlake, remained at Combe. By early in the Seventeenth Century a feud had developed between the Bidlakes, who were armigerous, and the Ebsworthys, who had still not registered arms even though they were an equally ancient landowning family, having lived at Ebsworthy for at least as long as the Bidlakes had lived at Wester Bidlake. In 1613 another William Bidlake and his wife, Agnes, who had become involved in several quarrels with neighbours, drew up charges against the rector of Bridestowe, Gilbert Germyn, which also implicated two Ebsworthy brothers, Peter and Paul, and their wives.

The rector had married a daughter to one of the Ebsworthys, thereby becoming involved in the quarrel between the Bidlakes and the Ebsworthys. William’s father, John, wrote a letter to William and Agnes urging them to seek peace and ensue it, warning them that suits of law are as variable as the turnings of a woadercock. Nevertheless, John and his son William pursued a lawsuit against some members of the Ebsworthy family who were living at Stone and also against Shilston Calmady of Leawood: Paul Ebsworthy’s wife, Catherine, was a daughter of Vincent Calmady of Wembury, a relative of Shilston Calmady of Leawood. Peter’s wife was Susan, daughter and heir of John Alford, a former town clerk of Okehampton.

Having detailed the charges against the rector, William and Agnes then accused Peter Ebsworthy “for usurpinge of place in the Churche, being a man of no discent, or parentage, and claiminge a Seate unfittinge for a man of his ranke and position.” It is true that the Ebsworthys had not become as wealthy as the Bidlakes, but they were nevertheless of comfortable means and had made several marriages into armigerous families. Then came the further charge “Next for his wief abusing of my wief in goinge to the Communion, by blowes and afterwards with disgrace full words.”

Then William and Agnes charged Paule Ebsworthy “for layinge of violent handes upon my wief in the Church yard: and his wiefs scouldinge, Katheren Ebsworthy using these wordes before the Parson unto her sister, Peter’s wief, that her sister might be ashamed to suffer such to goe before her as my wief was.”

The case against Parson Germyn was heard by the Bishop of Exeter at Okehampton in May 1613. William died in 1625, leaving a substantial personal estate of around £700; In 1641 Agnes moved to South Devon, where she died in 1651.

OKEHAMPTON CASTLE

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