DENYS, Sir Thomas (1559-1613), of Holcombe Rogus (Holcombe Burnel), Devon.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer




Family and Education

b. 1559, 1st s. of Sir Robert Denys by his 2nd w. Margaret, da. and h. of Sir William Godolphin of Godolphin, Cornw. m. Anne, da. of Sir William Paulet, 3rd Mq. of Winchester, 2da. Kntd. 1586; suc. fa. 1592.1

Offices Held

Capt. in Netherlands 1586; j.p. Devon from c.1583, Dorset by 1591, Hants by 1605; feodary, duchy of Lancaster in Devon, Cornw. and Som. 1590; dep. lt. Devon 1592, sheriff 1594-5.2


Denys was heir to considerable west country estates. As a young blood at court his behaviour was such that the Queen had to intervene personally before the Marquess of Winchester would permit his marriage with Anne Paulet. However, after his return from the Netherlands he settled down, and was frequently employed on military and local duties in the west. The lord lieutenant, the Earl of Bath (whom Denys supported against the Champernowns in a dispute over Devon musters) described him as ‘always ... very dutiful and forward on all occasions of service to the Queen’. Denys was also interested in trade. He approached the lord treasurer in London on behalf of the Devon merchants, who wanted a ‘grant for salting of fish’ overthrown, and his name frequently occurs in the Exeter records. During the 1588 invasion scare one of his servants was appointed muster-master for the city.3

Considering his standing it is a little odd that Denys should have sat in Parliament only once. On this one occasion he was active. Apart from the committees on which he might have sat as knight for Devon (the subsidy, 26 Feb., a legal committee, 9 Mar., and kerseys on 23 Mar. and 2 Apr.), he was named to the delegation sent by the Commons to the Lords to discuss the subsidy (1 Mar.); and to the committees on the bill for punishing rogues (12 Mar.), for recusants (4 Apr.) and for Plymouth harbour (29 Mar.). He took charge of the bill dealing with woollen cloth in Devon (2 Apr.); and spoke in the House on the amendments on 3 Apr.4

During the last few years of Elizabeth’s reign Denys helped his brother-in-law, the Marquess of Winchester, who was in financial trouble. In 1598 as one of the commissioners appointed to apportion the lands between the Marquess and Lord Mountjoy, he concerned himself mainly with the south-west. He was occupied with this matter when the Essex-Cecil faction dispute was at its height, and was perhaps glad enough to be able to excuse himself to Essex, regretting that owing to his many duties he could not become one of his close followers. His sympathies seem in any case to have been with the opposite party. In 1595 he followed up a letter to the Privy Council with a personal one for Robert Cecil, and during the early part of James I’s reign wrote several times to Cecil, now Marquess of Salisbury, about affairs in Hampshire, where Denys was now on the commission of the peace. In 1609 he petitioned Salisbury for the post of under-steward of the manor of Ottery, where he was already chief steward; he presumably wanted the minor post for a servant or relative.5

By his will, drawn up in July 1613, Denys left to his wife £200, ‘which I earnestly entreat her to accept as a remembrance of my love and affection’, one third of his plate, and a life interest in his main residence. Among other family bequests was one to the child of Sir Henry Rolle, who had married Denys’s daughter Anne—although Rolle at the time owed his father-in-law £1,000. There were charitable legacies to the poor of Holcombe. Denys died 6 Aug. 1613, and his two daughters—the younger, Margaret, aged 17, married to Sir Arthur Mainwaring—shared the inheritance.6

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. C142/234/63; Vis. Devon, ed. Vivian, 280; Roberts thesis.
  • 2. E. M. Tenison, Eliz. England, vi. 209; Barnstaple Recs. ii. 122; Somerville, Duchy, i. 635; APC, xxiii. 270; CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 249, 503; HMC Hatfield, xvii. 492.
  • 3. PRO, T/S lay subsidy roll, 18 Eliz.; PCC 71 Harrington; St. Ch. 5/D14/35; PRO Index 6800, f. 35d; Trans. Dev. Assoc. viii. 523; HMC Hatfield, viii. 416; Tenison, vi. 209; R. C. Strong and J. A. Van Dorsten, Leicester’s Triumph, 114; Notes and Gleanings (Exeter 1888), i. 80; APC, xix. 87; Trevelyan Pprs. (Cam. Soc. lxxxiv), 99; Cotton, Otho E 11, f. 28; HMC 15th Rep. VII, passim; Exeter act bk. 3, f. 328; 4, f. 557; 5, f. 254; HMC Exeter, 67.
  • 4. D’Ewes, 481, 499, 512, 513, 514, 517.
  • 5. HMC Hatfield, v. 285; viii. 483; ix. 197; C. Monro, Acta Canc. 717; Bodl. Tanner 283, ff. 15, 172; 115, f. 12; CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 249, 503, 547.
  • 6. PCC 122 Capell; C142/390/133.