Elize Hele

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Arms of Hele: Gules, five fusils in bend argent on each an ermine spot[1]
Monument to Elize Hele in Bovey Tracy Church, Devon. In front of his semi-recumbent alabaster effigy are the kneeling effigies of his two wives, facing each other, behind one of whom kneels his young son[2]

Elize Hele (1560–1635) (alias Ellis,[3] Latinized to Elizeus) of Fardel[4] in the parish of Cornwood, Devon and of Parke[5] in the parish of Bovey Tracey, Devon, was an English lawyer and philanthropist.[6] In 1632 he transferred his lands into a trust intended for "pious uses", from which charitable action in order to distinguish him from his many prominent relations, he became known to posterity as "Pious Uses Hele", which his biographer Prince looked upon "as a more honourable appellation than the greatest empty title".[7] The trustees included his wife, together with John Hele and a number of friends. The trust was used to create a number of schools in Devon including Hele's School.


Hele was born in 1560 at Worston[8] (or Winston[9]) in the parish of Brixton near Plympton, Devon. He was the elder of two sons of Walter Hele[6] of Brixton by his wife Jone (or Jane[8]) Maynard, a daughter of Thomas Maynard of Brixton.[10] His uncle was the very wealthy lawyer John Hele (d.1608), of Wembury, Devon, Recorder of Exeter in 1592, and Member of Parliament for Exeter 1593–1601,[11] who married a daughter of Ellis (alias Elizeus[12]) Warwick of Holbeton. The Hele family originated at the manor of Hele in the parish of Cornwood.[13]

Marriages & progeny[edit]

He married twice:

  • Firstly to Mary Hender,[14] daughter and co-heiress of John Hender of Bottreaux Castle in Cornwall,[15] by whom he had a son:
    • Walter Hele (1611-1624), who died aged 13.
  • Secondly in 1618/19 to Alice Bray[16] (d.1636), a daughter of Reginald Bray of Northamptonshire and widow of Nicholas Eveleigh (1562-1618),[15] whose sumptuous monument survives in Bovey Tracey Church (5th son of John Eveleigh of Holcombe in the parish of Ottery St Mary, Devon[17]), Steward of Devon Stannaries, who died when the roof of Chagford Stannary Court collapsed, killing 9 other people.


Hele was a lawyer of the Inner Temple in London. He was called to the bar in 1590 and to the bench in 1603.[11] He was the treasurer to James I.[18] He was a major landowner in south and west Devon. After his only child, Walter, died at the age of eleven, Hele decided to bequeath a number of his estates for “some godly purposes and charitable uses”.[18]

A deed was signed on 9 January 1632 between Elize Hele, John Maynard, later Sir John Maynard, John Hele and Elize Stert in which Elize Hele dedicated his estate to charitable and godly use. Elize Hele included the manors of Fardel, Dinnaton, Brixton Reigny, Cofleet, Halwill, Teignharvey, Clyst St Lawrence and Clyst Gerrard and Woolvington rectory and St Giles in the Heath.

He died in 1635 and was buried in St. Andrew's Chapel in Exeter Cathedral as was his wife when she died on the 20 June 1636.[19]

However his will took some time to settle. Twenty years later, his will was challenged in the House of Commons because his brother, Nicolo's, granddaughter, Joane, who had recently married Captain Edmond Lister, petitioned the court to allow funds from the will to be redirected to her. Hele's executor, Sir John Maynard, was neutral to the outcome and Sir Edward Rhodes ruled that funds should be given to his great niece but the charitable causes should not be abandoned.[6]

In 1649 John Maynard and Elize Stert, as surviving trustees of the estate, granted the lands and the profits of them to be enjoyed by the governors, assistants and wardens of the Hospital of the Poors Portion, Plymouth, for the education of poor children. John Maynard and Elize Stert had also purchased an estate in 1656 at Lower Creeson, Mary Tavy, out of the funds of the Hele Charity. Yearly accounts were compiled each November and money was to be used to build a schoolhouse at Plympton St Maurice and to buy lands at Brixton to support the preaching minister.

In 1656 his trustees, Sir John Maynard and Elize Stert apportioned money for the foundation of the Blue Maid's Hospital (later renamed The Maynard School) and, in 1658 for the establishment of Hele's School in Plympton.[20]

An indenture of 17–18 December 1658 between the Hele Charity trustees and the city of Exeter and governors of St John's Foundlings Hospital, Exeter, granted the profits of the manor of Clyst St Lawrence, Clyst St Gerrard and Teignharvey, as well as Torre House, Newton Ferrers to the hospital for the maintenance of the poor children. The heirs of Sir John Maynard were the Earl of Ancram, Lady Suffield, Viscount Valletort and Viscountess Castlereagh.[21]

Sir John Maynard's descendants received the remaining income from the bequest and distributed it to charities as they decided for the next two centuries[18] Legal proceedings resulted in depriving the descendant of Sir J. Maynard, who was the surviving trustee, of all control over the funds, which were thereupon vested in the Crown.[18]


  1. ^ Pole, Sir William (d.1635), Collections Towards a Description of the County of Devon, Sir John-William de la Pole (ed.), London, 1791, p.487
  2. ^ Pevsner, Nikolaus & Cherry, Bridget, The Buildings of England: Devon, London, 2004, p.192
  3. ^ Vivian, Lt.Col. J.L., (Ed.) The Visitations of the County of Devon: Comprising the Heralds' Visitations of 1531, 1564 & 1620, Exeter, 1895, p.467, pedigree of Hele
  4. ^ Prince, John, (1643–1723) The Worthies of Devon, 1810 edition, London, p.487; also as inscribed on his ledger stone in Exeter Cathedral, as recorded in Prince, p.488
  5. ^ Copy lease, Elize Hele of Parke, Bovey Tracey, Esq, 12th August 1618, Plymouth and West Devon Record Office [1]. The mansion house of Parke is today the headquarters of Dartmoor National Park
  6. ^ a b c 'House of Commons Journal Volume 7: 6 June 1657', Journal of the House of Commons: volume 7: 1651-1660 (1802), pp. 548-549. url. Date accessed: 22 June 2008.
  7. ^ Prince, p.487
  8. ^ a b Prince, p.486
  9. ^ A History of Devonshire By Richard Nicholls Worth, ISBN 0-543-92000-3
  10. ^ Vivian, pp.467, 464
  11. ^ a b old totnesians
  12. ^ Vivian, p.461
  13. ^ Prince, p.484
  14. ^ Ecclesiastical Antiquities in Devon, George Oliver, 1840, p.250
  15. ^ a b Vivian, p.467
  16. ^ A Perambulation of the Antient and Royal Forest of Dartmoor, Samuel Rowe, Joshua Brooking Rowe Published 1896
  17. ^ Vivian, p.336, pedigree of Eveleigh
  18. ^ a b c d Kellys Directory of Devonshire 1923
  19. ^ Some account of the ancient borough town of Plympton St. Maurice by William Cotton, 1859
  20. ^ Exeter charities accessed 22 June 2008
  21. ^ Hele's charity at the National Archives accessed 22 June 2008