Exemptions and Exceptions

Returns of men eligible to serve on juries were made by all parishes in the county with the exception of those within certain towns. Devon contained eleven incorporated towns during the eighteenth century, in addition to the city of Exeter (a separate county). Each incorporated town had its own justices of the peace and quarter sessions, and inhabitants would have been summoned to appear on grand and petty juries within their jurisdiction. Whether or not inhabitants of these towns were included in the freeholders books appears to have depended upon the terms of their incorporation. The royal charter granted to Dartmouth in 1341 exempted burgesses from serving on juries other than their own. Those granted to Plymouth in 1440 and Totnes in 1505 contained similar privileges.11 Thus the Devon freeholders books contain entries for Bradninch, South Molton, Tiverton, Plympton St. Mary and Okehampton, but not for Bideford, Dartmouth, Exeter, Great Torrington, Plymouth or Totnes. Barnstaple was also excluded from the lists, with the exception of 1751 when nine inhabitants of the town were included for reasons that are unclear.

In addition to the separate arrangements made by some incorporated towns, specific types of people were also excluded from serving upon juries. As well as women, those who did not meet the statutory property requirements, and those who were too young or too old, a number of other groups were exempt. Convicted criminals, peers, judges, some apothecaries, clergy, lawyers, Quakers, dissenting ministers, registered seamen, visitors of workhouses, army officers, Catholic Priests, coroners, gaolers, keepers of houses of corrections, and certain other holders of public office could also not be called upon to serve.12 However, this did not stop parish constables from returning the names of men whom they knew to have been exempt or disqualified. The constables of Uffculme regularly included the names of Quakers from the parish in their returns, identifying them as such in their submissions to the justices of the peace. Attorneys, apothecaries and dissenting ministers are also named in the freeholders books. It is not clear from the documents whether constables across the county were consistent in including exempt or disqualified individuals in the lists, or whether some simply excluded them without comment.

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  1. Martin Weinbaum, British Borough Charters 1307-1660 (Cambridge, 1943), 23-28. [back]
  2. Hay, 'Class Composition', 321. Giles Jacob, The Compleat Parish Officer (7th ed., London 1734), 46. [back]