William Pole (antiquary)

For other uses, see William Pole (disambiguation).
Portrait of Sir William Pole (1561–1635), the Antiquary, National Trust, collection of Antony House, Cornwall, ref. 352390. Formerly hung at Shute House, Devon. In manner of Van Dyck, possibly painted during his visit to England 1620–21[1] but is not included in Bryan's "Dictionary of Painters", the comprehensive list of Van Dyck's British sitters
Sir William Pole (1561–1635). Engraving of portrait now at Antony House
Arms of Pole of Shute: Azure semée of fleur-de-lys or, a lion rampant argent[2][3]

Sir William Pole (1561–1635) of Shute House in the parish of Shute and of Colcombe Castle in the adjoining parish of Colyton, both in Devon, was an English country gentleman, a colonial investor, Member of Parliament and was most famously an antiquarian whose ground-breaking researches into the history and descents of the ancient families of Devon and their landholdings and the heraldry of Devon laid the foundation for not only future historians of the county but also for his contemporaries, such as Tristram Risdon (d.1640) who borrowed heavily from his work.[4]


Pole was baptised on 27 August 1561 at Colyton, Devon, the son of William Pole, Esquire (1515–1587), MP, by his wife Katherine Popham (died 1588), daughter of Alexander Popham of Huntworth, Somerset by his wife Joan Stradling.[5] Katherine was the sister of John Popham (1531–1607), Lord Chief Justice. In 1560 his father had purchased Shute House, near Colyton and Axminster, Devon.

He entered the Inner Temple in 1578, was placed on the Commission of the Peace for Devonshire, served as Sheriff of Devon in 1602–3, and was MP in 1586 for Bossiney, Cornwall. He was knighted by King James I at Whitehall Palace on 15 February 1606. He paid into the Virginia Company, and was an incorporator of the third Virginia charter.

Marriages and children

Monument to Mary Periham (1567–1605) 1st wife of Sir William Pole (1561–1635), in the Pole Chapel, Colyton Church, Devon, in which parish is situated Colcombe Castle
Arms of Peryam: Gules, a chevron engrailed between three lion's faces or

Pole married twice, and had children by his first marriage to Mary Peryam (1567–1605), who was one of the four daughters and co-heiresses of Sir William Peryam (1534–1604), of Fulford House, Shobrooke, Devon, a judge and Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer.[lower-alpha 1] By Mary Peryam he had six sons and six daughters including:

Secondly he married Jane Simmes (died 1653), daughter of William Simmes (or Symes) of Chard, Somerset, and widow of Roger How, merchant of London. The marriage was childless. Sir William Pole's son and heir John Pole (c. 1589 – 1658), later 1st Baronet, married her daughter, Elizabeth How, heiress of her father Roger How.

Death and burial

Pole died on 9 February 1635, aged 73, at his home Colcombe Castle, in the parish of Colyton, to which he had retired leaving Shute for the occupation of his son John. He was buried in the west side of the chancel in Colyton church, in the floor of which exists a simple ledger stone, with an inscription now much worn.

Antiquarian works

At his death Pole left many unpublished manuscripts containing his researches concerning the history, genealogy and antiquities of Devon. This was enlarged by his son Sir John Pole, 1st Baronet, "who was much addicted also to this ingenuous study"[11] but much of the work housed at Colcombe Castle and Shute House was damaged or destroyed during the Civil War.[11] However much survived, namely:

These collections were used as source material for their own historical writings by among others, John Prince, Tristram Risdon and John Tuckett, in his edition of the "Heralds' Visitation of Devonshire in 1620", published in 1859.

Pole stated that he used as his sources "Records out of ye Towre, the Exchecquer & such deedes & evidences which in my searches I have founde".[13]


  1. Mary Peryam's mural monument survives in the Pole Chapel in Colyton Church, and depicts her kneeling behind her 4 surviving sons and in front of her 5 surviving daughters. The central escutcheon at the top shows the arms of Pole impaling Peryam, which arms are shown separately at dexter (Pole) and sinister (Peryam). Below the effigies and inscribed tablet is a lozenge on which are displayed further quarterings. The inscription is as follows:
    Heere lieth ye body of Mary late ye wife of Sr. Wm. Pole of Shute knig. beinge ye eldest daughter & one of ye foure heires of Sr. W. Periham of Fulford knig. Lo. Chief Barron of ye Kinge majesties Exchequer. She left behind her 4 son(n)es & 5 daughters unto her saide husband viz: John, Periham, Wil., & Franncis, son(n)es, Mary, Katherine, Elizabeth, Ane & Elioner, daughters. She brought unto him also 2 other son(n)es viz Wil., her first child & Arthur being on(e) of ye 3 son(n)es wi.ch she brought at on(e) birth & perished by an unfortunat fall.[6] She dyed ye 2 of May in ye yeere of our Lord 1605 being then of th'age of 38 & on(e) moneth & maried unto her husband 22 yeeres tenn monethes.


  1. per Bridie, M.F., The Story of Shute House, Axminster, 1955, p.83
  2. Pole, p.497
  3. Debrett's Peerage, 1968, p.645
  4. "Mr Risdon acknowledges that he received great assistance from Sir William Pole's work...and it is very apparent that he did so to any that shall compare them both..." (quoted from Preface to pre-1791 edition of Risdon's Survey of Devon, quoted in Introduction to 1791 edition by Sir John-William de la Pole, 6th Baronet of Sir William Pole's "Collections Toward a Description of the County of Devon", p.vi-vii)
  5. Parentage according to 1587 brass tablet on monument of William Pole (d.1587) erected by his son the Antiquarian.
  6. Sometimes interpreted as a fall which killed Mary herself, but which seems here to relate to the death of Arthur, one of her triplets baptised 4 December 1593 at Shute
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Vivian, J.L., ed. (1895). The Visitations of the County of Devon, Comprising the Heralds' Visitations of 1531, 1564, & 1620. With additions by Lieutenant-Colonel J. L. Vivian. Exeter: Henry S. Eland. p. 603.
  8. Pole, p.131
  9. The chorographical description or survey of the county of Devon, Tristram Risdon, 1811
  10. Pole, p.239
  11. 1 2 Pole, Introduction, p.xi
  12. Pole, Introduction, p.xv
  13. Pole, p.34


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