Robert Dennis (died 1592)

Sir Robert Dennis (died 1592) of Holcombe Burnell in Devon, was a Member of Parliament for Devon in 1555 and served as Sheriff of Devon.

Personal life

Robert Dennis was the eldest son of Sir Thomas Denys (c. 1477 – 1561) of Holcombe Burnell,[1] Sheriff of Devon nine times between 1507/8 to 1553/4 and Member of Parliament for Devon who acquired large estates in Devon at the Dissolution of the Monasteries. His mother (his father's second wife) was Elizabeth Donne, a daughter of Sir Angel Donne,[2] an Alderman of London, by his wife Anne Hawarden (alias Hawardine), of Cheshire, and widow of Sir Thomas Murfyn,[2] Lord Mayor of London.

Dennis married twice. His first marriage was some time before 4 April 1552 to Mary Blount, the second daughter of William Blount, 4th Baron Mountjoy,[3] and first cousin to Lady Jane Grey, the Nine Day Queen of England.[lower-alpha 1] Their children were:

His second marriage, at some time before 12 October 1555, was to Margaret Godolphin, a daughter and co-heiress[6] of Sir William Godolphin of Godolphin in Cornwall. By her he had three sons and five daughters including:[5]

Their other children included Arthur; James; Elizabeth, who was the wife successively of John Stewer, Sir Thomas Acton and Gilbert Blackaller; Margaret; Jane, who married Sir ... Fowks; Phillipa (died 1655), who married William Drake (died 1625) of Wiscomb; and Mary, who died childless.[5]

Dennis died in 1592 and according to W. G. Hoskins, the Easter Sepulchre monument in Holcombe Burnell church was used as his tomb.[9]


Denys was a Member of Parliament in 1555 and was knighted at some time before 16 November 1557. He was Feodary for the Devonshire estates of the Duchy of Lancaster (a crown possession) in 1556 and to 10 December 1566 and then between 7 December 1568 and 27 July 1590. He was appointed Sheriff of Devon for 1557/8 and again for 1567/8. In 1558 or 1559 he was appointed a Justice of the Peace for Devon, and was appointed to the honourable position of Recorder of Exeter from 1572; He held both positions until he died.[1]

Denys acquired the manor of Bicton, on the other side of Exeter (i.e. the eastern side) to Holcombe Burnell.

Livery Dole Almshouses

In March 1591 he founded the Livery Dole Almshouses in Heavitree Road, to the east of Exeter, near which site in 1531/2 his father, as Sheriff of Devon, had supervised the burning at the stake of the Protestant martyr Thomas Benet. In his will he requested that the building should be completed by his son Sir Thomas Denys (1559–1613) (erroneously stated on a stone tablet above the entrance gate to have been his brother).[10] The buildings were completed in 1594.[11] In 1849 the almshouses were rebuilt as twin blocks on a larger scale by Lady Rolle of Bicton House, widow of John Rolle, 1st Baron Rolle (died 1842), eventual heir of the Dennis family. At that time new sculpted stone escutcheons showing the Dennis arms were affixed to the new buildings. The almshouses today occupy the central part of Livery Dole to the west of the chapel.

Sir Robert Dennis stated in his will dated 25 July 1592 and proved 22 September 1592, that he had "designed to set aside a plot of ground and to erect an alms-house and chapel for a certain number of poor people with weekly stipends and certain yearly commodities, as would appear in a devise signed and sealed by him".[12] He appointed his son Sir Thomas Dennis as sole executor, with the testator's brothers Edward Dennis and Walter Dennis as overseers together with George Cary of Cockington and four others. He requested in his will that if he should die before its completion then his son Sir Thomas Dennis should complete the building work "in consideration of the love he bore him and that he had not disinherited him". He also directed his overseers to complete the work if his son should refuse to do so. Sir Robert did indeed die before the work was finished, and his son Sir Thomas Dennis completed the work in 1594. A "peppercorn" chief rent of one penny per annum was payable by the Livery Dole Hospital to the lord of the manor of Heavitree.[13]

"There is not the slightest doubt of this Sir Thomas Dennis having been the testator's son",[14] yet on a seemingly contemporary stone tablet erected over the entrance to the formerly existing quadrangle he was erroneously described as Sir Robert's "brother": "These alms-houses were founded by Sir Robert Dennis, knight, in March 1591 and finished by Sir Thomas Dennis his brother (sic) in 1594". The tablet contains also a heraldic escutcheon sculpted in relief showing ten quarterings of the Dennis family:[14][lower-alpha 3]


  1. Lady Jane Grey's father Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Suffolk was the brother of Dorothy Grey, wife of William Blount, 4th Baron Mountjoy and mother of Mary Blount (See pedigree in Vivian, p.102)
  2. The main panel shows Christ arising from the tomb, with slumbering guards. Transitional in style, Renaissance classical elements are shown such as a classical pediment and Italianate putti, but the whole is contained within a late Gothic arch.
  3. The quarterings are: 1. Dennis, 2. Dabernon, 3. Giffard of Halsbury in the parish of Parkham, Devon, an heiress of Dabernon,[15] 4. Brewer, heiress of Giffard,[16] 5. Bockerell, 6. Cristenstowe, 7. Gobodesley, 8. Chiderleigh, 9. Donne (or Dunne), 10. Godolphin. These quarterings can be seen clearly and with tinctures on the well-preserved monument in the private Rolle Mausoleum at Bicton to Denys Rolle (1614–1638), the son of Anne Denys, heiress of Bicton, with an added first quarter of Rolle, which has necessitated the omission of the last quarter of Godolphin.


  1. A. D.K. Hawkyard (1982). S.T. Bindoff (ed.). "DENYS, Robert (by 1530-92), of Holcombe Burnel and Bicton, Devon". The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558. The History of Parliament Trust and Institute of Historical Research. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  2. Kirk & Hawkyard
  3. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, article by Cooper, J.P.D.
  4. Vivian, p.174, pedigree of Chichester
  5. Vivian, p.280
  6. Pole, Sir William (died 1635), Collections Towards a Description of the County of Devon, Sir John-William de la Pole (ed.), London, 1791, p.241
  7. "About us - Clinton Devon Estates".
  8. "MAINWARING, Sir Arthur (c.1580-1648), of Pyrford, Surr.; later of Sayes Park, Chertsey, Surr. - History of Parliament Online".
  9. Hoskins, W.G., A New Survey of England: Devon, Newton Abbot: David & Charles. New edition, 1972. ISBN 0-7153-5577-5. p. 410.
  10. Harding
  11. Charles Worthy (1892). The History of the Suburbs of Exeter: With General Particulars as to the Landowners, Lay and Clerical, from the Conquest to the Present Time, and a Special Notice of the Hamlyn Family. Together with "A Digression" on the Noble Houses of Redvers, and of Courtenay, Earls of Devon. Henry Gray. p. 33. Retrieved 22 July 2013.
  12. Quoted from Harding
  13. Harding, p.276, note 7
  14. Harding, p.278
  15. Vivian, p.279
  16. Vivian, p.279; given erroneously by Harding as arms of Stapledon
  • Harding,Lt.-Col. William, An Account of the Ecclesiastical Edifices of Exeter, published in Exeter Diocesan Architectural Association Transactions, 1851–1853 and 1863, pp. 276–279, p.278.
  • Vivian, Lt.Col. J.L., (Ed.) The Visitations of the County of Devon: Comprising the Heralds' Visitations of 1531, 1564 & 1620. Exeter, 1895.
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