The list of leading Jacobites compiled for James III shows twenty-one firm supporters in Devon. This is the third strongest county representation, after Cornwall with twenty-nine definite supporters and seven dubious, and Warwickshire, with twenty-five definite supporters, and just ahead of Somerset (twenty supporters). Whether this betrays genuine Jacobite fervour in comparison with other parts of the country is not known. It is possible that Jacobite intelligence was better in the south west owing to the involvement in the plot of Baron Lansdowne, who exercised considerable influence in Cornwall, and of whom the Somerset list states ‘Lord Lansdown’s credit is great here’.30 The Devon section is headed with the comment, ‘Numerous in Cloathiers and Manufacturers most idle at present and discontented’. This suggests that the depression in the county’s serge industry at this time led the plotters to believe they might exploit the dissatisfaction of under-employed workers.31 At the head of the list are Sir William Courtenay of Powderham and Sir Coplestone Warwick Bampfylde of Poltimore. The presence on the list of these two men is significant: they held the two parliamentary seats for the county of Devon.32 Courtenay’s identification as a Jacobite supports the argument that at the time of the Atterbury plot most leading Tories were active Jacobites. Prior to 1714 he had been regarded as a ‘Hanoverian Tory’, and regularly voted with the Whigs in parliament. In addition to being named on the 1721 list, other evidence suggests that he was in contact with Atterbury’s agents in 1722.33 Bampfylde was MP for Exeter from 1710-13 and for Devon from 1713-27. His Jacobitism appears to have been a family affair, passed down from his grandfather, who on his deathbed had extolled his family ‘that they should always continue faithful to the religion of the established Church of England and be sure to pay their allegiance to the right heirs of the crown’.34 He was among those arrested in 1715 for suspected treasonable activities and, following the discovery of the Atterbury plot, he sheltered Atterbury’s secretary, the non-juring Rev. Thomas Carte.35 Also on the list, although for Somerset rather than Devon, was Bampfylde’s brother John, MP for Exeter until 1722.
In all, the Devon section of the 1721 list reads like a directory of the leading Tory gentry of the time. John Fownes, of Nethway and Kittery Court was a member of a wealthy Plymouth family and served as MP for Dartmouth from 1715-22. Sir William Pole of Shute represented several constituencies between 1701 and 1734, and was MP for Honiton at the time of the plot.36 Other members of parliament for constituencies in the county listed include Stephen Northleigh of Peamore, MP for Totnes until 1722 and William Northmore of Okehampton, MP for Okehampton 1713-22. Also included on the list as a ‘dubious’ supporter was John Rolle of Stevenstone. Rolle was MP for various Devon constituencies between 1710 and 1730, and was named as another of the west country gentlemen in touch with Atterbury’s agents in 1722.37 The only peer included on the 1721 list for Devon was Lord Clifford of Ugbrooke, a Catholic and exception to the rule that Jacobitism was a largely protestant movement. In total, 9 of the 26 sitting MPs for constituencies in Devon at the time of the Atterbury plot can be identified as probable Jacobite supporters. The list also notes that opposition could be expected from Whigs such as Sir Francis Drake (MP for Tavistock), Richard Edgcombe and George Treby (both MPs for Plympton), Sir George Chudleigh and Sir Walter Yonge.38
The foregoing suggests considerable support for the Jacobite cause among the county gentry; however, this does not mean that the entire county was a hotbed of Jacobite sedition. Some isolated incidents suggest a degree of enthusiasm for a Stuart Restoration. On coronation day, 20 October 1714, the parson of Newton Abbott removed the ropes and clappers from the church bells so that the coronation could not be rung in.39 At Axminster on 5 November 1714, festivities were held to mark the anniversary of the gunpowder plot and of William of Orange’s landing at Torbay. It was reported that ‘a Jacobite, High Church Rabble, from Shute, Thorncombe, Colhamton, and other neighbouring Villages’ rescued effigies of the Pope and Pretender from a bonfire, proclaiming the latter King of England.40 It is also likely that the comment heading the Devonshire section of the 1721 ‘list’ was rooted in reality. In December 1717 Sir Hugh Paterson informed the Duke of Mar that mobs of clothiers in Exeter and other parts of Devon had demanded a new Parliament and for ‘the prohibition taken off as to the commerce with Sweden, by which they say all their manufactories are ruined’.41 At a national level, the popular Jacobite disturbances that had been commonplace in the first half of George I’s reign became less frequent after 1722.42 However, the relationship between social disquiet and popular expressions of Jacobitism hinted at in the reference to ‘idle’ and ‘discontented’ clothiers and manufacturers is evident in the behaviour of weavers at Culmstock in 1724. During a strike of that year a group broke into the house of their employer, and destroyed pictures of George I and his family. The employer was a nonconformist with close ties to the government.43 A series of riots that took place in Tiverton during the reign of George I could also be viewed in a similar context. However, here is no evidence in existing accounts of disturbances involving weavers in October and November 1717 and woolcombers in 1720 to suggest that these were anything other than economic riots.44 Nonetheless, they demonstrate the type of local discontent that the Jacobite leaders were seeking exploit.
In Exeter, there is some evidence of popular engagement with politics during the early eighteenth century. In 1709-10 the charismatic High Church preacher Henry Sacheverell was impeached and tried for high crimes and misdemeanours for preaching and publishing seditious sermons. The result of the trial was a barely token punishment that was greeted with a widespread outpouring of public emotion that erupted into rioting in some parts of England. On 27 March 1710 a great bonfire was lit in Exeter cathedral close, upon which the works of the Low Church controversialist Benjamin Hoadly were burnt, observers commenting upon the violent mood of the gathered crowd.45 Following elections later the same year more bonfires were lit by supporters of both the Tory and Whig candidates. According to two deponents to the Exeter Quarter Sessions one Joseph Gibon of St Sidwells burnt a picture of Dr Sacheverell saying, ‘wee will burn the Doctor first and the Church of England after’.46 Evidence of support for the Jacobite cause among Exonians can be found in the Quarter Sessions records following the Hanoverian Succession in 1714. James Rey, a cordwinder of the city, was accused by fuller John Sparke of having said that, ‘we shall have a new King within this halfe yeare’.47 In February 1716/17 an argument in the Pelican public house in Exeter resulted in a group of soldiers from Thomas Chudleigh’s regiment accusing Cesar Oldis of refusing to drink the health of King George. Oldis declared that it was for ‘want of forces or strength that King George was King of England’ adding that ‘he was not right heir to the Crown of England’.48 Further support for the Jacobite cause can be seen in the case of one Gideon Hide who refused to drink the King’s health, instead proposing to drink to the health of James Butler, the Duke of Ormond. Ormond had been impeached for high treason in 1715 and went on to become involved in Jacobite plans for a rising in the west of England.49 Such direct evidence of public engagement with the political controversies of the period is rare, but does suggest some support for Jacobitism among the Devon populace.