John Northcote (1570-1632) of Uton and Hayne, Newton St Cyres, near Crediton, Devon, was a member of the Devonshire gentry, lord of the manor of Newton St Cyres, who is chiefly known to history for his artistically acclaimed effigy and monument in Newton St Cyres Church. Little or no documentary evidence concerning his career as a soldier or county administrator has survived, but either he or his identically named son was Sheriff of Devon in 1626, his own tenure of that office being suggested by the baton or staff of office held in the hand of his effigy. Such a baton is also held by the effigy of Lord Edward Seymour (d.1593), Sheriff of Devon in 1583, in Berry Pomeroy Church. He was ancestor of the Earls of Iddesleigh.
He was the 2nd son and heir of John Northcote (d.1587), a cloth merchant of Crediton, by his wife Elizabeth Dowrish (d.1587), daughter of Thomas VII Dowrish (d.1590) of Dowrish near Crediton, of an ancient Devonshire family. His elder brother was Walter Northcote (1566-1587), baptised and buried in Crediton Church, who predeceased his father. In 1585, aged 21 and two years before his death, Walter had married Mary Drewe, daughter and heiress of Edmund Drewe of Hayne, in the parish of Newton St Cyres. Although he had by her a daughter Elizabeth Northcote (b.1586), who married twice, the estate of Hayne became the inheritance of his brother John (d.1632), subject of the present article. His grandfather was Walter Northcote (d.1572) of Crediton, a cloth merchant, who married Elizabeth Hill, of the family of Hill of Shilston, in the parish of Modbury, Devon. Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, on 16 August 1557 Walter Northcote and his son acquired jointly from the crown for the sum of £827 8s 9d the manor and advowson of Newton St Cyres, formerly a possession of Plympton Priory, together with other lands in the parish of Crediton formerly owned by the Collegiate Church of Crediton, also dissolved, with other lands in Wiltshire, Westmoreland and non-monastic lands in Devon.
The family of Northcote originated in Devon at the Domesday Book manor of Northcote in the parish of East Down in North Devon. The Heraldic Visitations of Devon lists the founder of the family as Galfridus de Northcote, Miles ("knight"), living in 1103. The family later in the 16th century made its fortune as cloth merchants at Crediton.
He married twice:
Firstly to Elizabeth Rouse, daughter of Sir Anthony Rouse of Halton in Cornwall by his wife Elizabeth Southcott, daughter and heir of Thomas Southcott (d.1600) of Indio, Bovey Tracey, Devon. By her he had only one son Anthonie Northcote (d.1619).
Secondly in 1596 to Susanna Pollard (d.1634), a daughter of Sir Hugh II Pollard of King's Nympton, Devon, and sister of Sir Lewis Pollard, 1st Baronet (d.1641). A panel on the monument to her husband is dedicated to her memory and contains in the centre a sculpted relief of her head circumscribed by the following two lines of verse:
"My Jacob had by mee
As many sonnes as hee,
Daughters twice three"
Above her portrait is a chronogram in verse:
"See heer In ChrIst sLeeps shee,
FroM paInefVLL Labors free,
Her VVorks henCe foLLoVV on,
If the capital letters in red are added together as Roman numerals ("VV" being treated as V + V, and the first letters of each line excluded) the sum of 1634 results, Susanna's date of death. The remaining unused letters are SFHT, the initial letters of each line, of uncertain cryptic meaning. Below the chronogram is a heraldic escutcheon showing the arms of Northcote impaling Pollard: Argent, a chevron sable between three escallops gules. Below her portrait inscribed on a black stone tablet is the following verse:
"Jehovah first compos'd us two in one,
Then made one two, till strong affection
Did reunite us one; Death tried his skill
To part's us againe, but could not worke his will
One was our hope, faith, comfort, one's o(u)r tombe
One place our soule hath, till the day of Dome
Regia pacifisae commisit chartula libram
Justitiae lustris aetatis quinque peractis
Libravit rectum pura cum mente probatus
Stellata camera spectatur ut ignibus aurum"
By Susanna Pollard he had the following progeny, 12 sons ("as many sonnes as hee", possibly referring to the 12 letters making up the name "John Northcot") and 6 ("twice three") daughters:
- Sir John Northcote, 1st Baronet (1599-1676), eldest surviving son and heir, ancestor of the Earls of Iddesleigh.
- Edmund I Northcote (b.1606), 2nd son, predeceased father and died without issue.
- Amias I Northcote (b.1603), 3rd son, died without issue.
- Benjamen Northcote (1620-1620), 4th son, died an infant.
- Lewis Northcote
- Edmund II Northcote (d.1629), 6th son.
- Amias II Northcote
- Franciscus Northcote (b.1614)
- William Northcote (b.1615)
- Robert Northcote (b.1622)
- Walter Northcote (b.1617)
- Pollard Northcote (1618-1648), died unmarried.
- Elizabeth Northcote (1604-1644), married Thomas Western
- Susanna Northcote (1608-1635)
- Dorothy Northcote
- Gertrude Northcote (d.1644)
- Francisca Northcote (b.1614)
- Anna Northcote (b.1619)
The monument to John Northcote (d.1632), his two wives, son, daughter-in-law, grandchildren, father and grandfather, exists in the north-east corner of the Northcote Chapel situated at the east end of the north aisle of Newton St Cyres parish church. His grandfather had purchased the advowson of the church, thus the family effectively controlled the church and as was common in such cases, set up its own family chapel. The monument is about 15 ft high by 9 ft wide the base of which is a plain chest tomb with black marble pilasters on the front at either end with a thick slab of chamfered black marble on top. Seated on this is an elaborate marble baroque structure with a central niche containing a life-size standing effigy of John Northcote (d.1632). On either side of him, each between two pilasters, are shown within strapwork surrounds roundels containing sculpted reliefs of the heads of his two wives, his first wife at dexter in the position of honour, the second wife on the sinister side. Below each roundel is an inscribed tablet of black stone. This top structure is surmounted by a cornice with arched middle over the top of which is placed a heraldic cartouche showing many quarterings of the Northcote family. On top of the cornice on each side are relief-sculpted roundels with surrounds in the shape of antique harps on which are shown the heads of the father and grandfather of the standing effigy, with above each an escutcheon showing the arms of his wife's family. To the front of the chest tomb forming the base of the structure are kneeling effigies at dexter of the standing figure's son, Sir John Northcote, 1st Baronet, and opposite him on the sinister side beyond a central prie-dieu his wife Grace Halswell. Above in the centre is a cartouche showing the arms of Northcote impaling Halswell. Kneeling behind the male figure are the couple's three sons and behind the wife kneels their daughter.
The central standing figure is highly sculptural, in a relaxed pose reminiscent of the Italian Renaissance, the body describing the characteristic S-shape of classical Greek statues. He wears a military tunic with broad white collar and a sash of gathered red fabric draped over his torso from his right shoulder. In his right hand he holds a baton of office the base of which rests on his right hip. His left arm is extended downwards, the hand resting on the handle of his sword. On his lower body he wears hose with bare knees and knee-length boots, the tops of soft and supple leather relaxed in multiple folds. His left foot is raised and rests on a human skull.
- Vivian, Lt.Col. J.L., (Ed.) The Visitations of the County of Devon: Comprising the Heralds' Visitations of 1531, 1564 & 1620, Exeter, 1895, p. 582, pedigree of Northcote
- Listed building text, Church of St Cyriac and St Julitta
- Debrett's Peerage, 1968, p.604
- Information leaflet Church of St Cyre & St Julitta, Newton St Cyres, p.3; Risdon, Tristram (d.1640), Survey of Devon, 1811 edition, London, 1811, with 1810 Additions, p.51, refers to "Dennis Roll(e)...though he were the youngest that ever had the government of this county committed to him, to be commanded by a white staff...". Denys Rolle (1614-1638) was Sheriff of Devon in 1637
- Vivian, p.290, pedigree of "Dowrish of Dowrish"
- Name of her father Mr Hill not given in Vivian, p.581, Northcote pedigree and marriage not mentioned in pedigree of Hill of Shilston, p.486
- Youings, Joyce, (ed.), Devon Monastic Lands: Calendar of Particulars for Grants 1536-1558, Devon & Cornwall Record Society, New Series, Vol.1, Torquay, 1955, pp.121-2
- Vivian, p.581
- Hoskins, W.G., A New Survey of England: Devon, London, 1959, p.389
- Vivian, p.698, pedigree of Southcott
- Jacobus, Latin for "John"
- Date of burial of Susanna Pollard 5 June 1634, at Newton St Cyres, per Vivian, p.581