John Hooker (English constitutionalist)

John Hooker (English constitutionalist)

John Hooker or John Vowell (c. 1527 – 1601) was an English writer, antiquary and civic administrator. He wrote an eye-witness account of the siege of Exeter that took place during the Prayer Book Rebellion in 1549. From 1555 to his death he was chamberlain of that city, though he spent several years in Ireland as legal adviser to Sir Peter Carew during his claim to lands there. He was, for short periods, a member of both the Irish and English parliaments and wrote an influential treatise on parliamentary procedure. He was one of the editors of the second edition of Raphael Holinshed's "Chronicles", published in 1587. His last, unpublished and probably uncompleted work was the first topographical description of the county of Devon.

Personal life

Hooker was born at Bourbridge Hall in Exeter, Devon, England. He was the second son of Robert Vowell or Hooker and Agnes Doble, his third wife. The Vowell family had acquired the name Hooker in the 15th century, but usually retained the earlier name; in fact John Hooker was known as John Vowell for much of his life. By the time he was born the family had been prominent in Exeter for several generations. Hooker received an excellent classical education, reading Roman law at Oxford followed by a period in Europe studying with leading Protestant divines,Cite book
last = Youings
first = Joyce
title = Topographical Writers in South-West England
editor = Mark Brayshay
publisher = University of Exeter Press
chapter = Some Early Topographers of Devon and Cornwall
date = 1996
pages = 52-58
isbn = 0-85989-424-X
] notably Pietro Martire Vermigli.S. Mendyk, [ "Hooker , John (c.1527–1601)"] , "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography", Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2005, accessed 26 July 2008]

In the 1540s he married Martha, daughter of Robert Tucker of Exeter and they had three sons and two daughters. By 1586, Martha had died and he had married Anastryce (c. 1540 – 1599), daughter of Edward Bridgeman of Exeter. They had seven sons and five daughters. In later life his health failed [He wrote "…my sight waxeth Dymme my hyringe [hearing] very thycke my speache imperfecte and my memory very feeble."] and he died in Exeter some time between 26 January and 15 September in 1601 and was probably buried in the cathedral. He was the uncle of Richard Hooker, the influential Anglican theologian. [cite book
title=A History of Devonshire
first=R. N.
publisher=Elliot Stock


During the Prayer Book Rebellion in 1549 he experienced at first hand the siege of Exeter, leaving a vivid account of its events in which he made no effort to conceal his religious sympathies. From 1551 to 1553 he was employed by Myles Coverdale during his short incumbency as Bishop of Exeter; and then in 1555 he became the first chamberlain of Exeter, a post that he held until his death.

As chamberlain he was responsible for the city's finances, he dealt with disputes between guilds and merchants, oversaw the rebuilding of the high school, planted many trees in the city, and collected and put in order the city's archives. He used these records to compile his "Annals" of the City in which he details the characteristics of every Tudor mayor of Exeter, and in 1578 he also wrote and published "The Lives of the Bishops of Exeter".


In 1568, possibly because he regarded himself as underpaid for the work he was doing for the city, Hooker was persuaded by Sir Peter Carew to go with him to Ireland to be his legal adviser. He also organised Carew's papers in support of his claim for the barony of Idrone, a task to which he committed himself so deeply that in 1569 he was returned to the Irish parliament as member for Athenry. Hooker later wrote a biography of Carew, "The dyscourse and dyscoverye of the lyffe of Sir Peter Carew", in which he almost certainly understated the deceit and aggression behind Carew's Irish venture.

Until Carew's death in 1575, Hooker spent much time in Ireland, but he had also been returned to the English parliament in 1571 as one of the burgesses of Exeter. The session had only lasted a few weeks, but he kept a journal in which he accurately recorded the proceedings. His experiences in the Irish and English parliaments led him to write a treatise on parliamentary practice, "The Order and Usage how to Keepe a Parlement in England", which was published in two editions in 1572. One edition had a preface addressed to William FitzWilliam, the Lord Deputy of Ireland and was clearly intended to bring order to the Irish assembly; the other was addressed to the Exeter city authorities, presumably to aid his successor burgesses. In writing his treatise Hooker took much inspiration from the Modus Tenendi Parliamentum, a treatise from the early 14th century.

In 1586 Hooker again represented Exeter in parliament. At this time he was one of the editors of the second edition of Raphael Holinshed's "Chronicles", which was published in 1587. Hooker's "Order and Usage" was included and he contributed an updated history of Ireland, including parts of his "Life of Carew" and a translation of "Expugnatio Hibernica" ("Conquest of Ireland") by Gerald of Wales. In his Irish section he again made his religious and political sympathies very clear, repeatedly denouncing the Catholicism of the native Irish, seeing it as the cause both of their poverty and rebelliousness. Rome, he wrote, is "the pestilent hydra" and the pope "the sonne of sathan, and the manne of sinne, and the enimie unto the crosse of Christ, whose bloodthirstiness will never be quenched".

Later life

Hooker continued to serve Exeter in his later years, becoming coroner in 1583 and recorder in 1590. He was also appointed as steward of Bradninch by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1587. By this time he was involved in the long task of organising and writing his historically-based description of his home county that he called "Synopsis Corographical of the county of Devon". He probably started work on this before his friend Richard Carew began writing his similar "Survey of Cornwall". In writing his "Synopsis", Hooker was influenced by the style and structure of William Harrison's "Description of England", which had been published in 1577 as part of the first edition of Holinshed's "Chronicles".

Although Hooker revised "Synopsis" many times, he probably never completed it to his satisfaction. The work exists today as two almost identical manuscripts [One, dated 1599/1600, is in the British Library; the other (ex-libris John Prince) is dated 1599 and is in the Devon Record Office. An extract of the British Library copy was published in Citation
author = William J. Blake
title = Hooker's Synopsis Chorographical of Devonshire
journal = Rep. Trans. Devon. Ass. Advmt Sci.
volume = 47
pages = 334-348.
year = 1915
] which were used as source material for many later topographical descriptions of the county: Thomas Westcote's "Survey of Devon" of 1630, and Tristram Risdon's "Chorographical Description or Survey of the County of Devon", circa. 1632 are examples.

References and bibliography

*Cite book|last = W. J. Harte, J. W. Schopp, and H. Tapley-Soper|title = J. Vowell alias Hooker, The Description of the Citie of Excester|publisher = Devon and Cornwall Record Society|date = 1919 and 1947
*"Dangerous Positions; Mixed Government, the Estates of the Realm, and the Making of the "Answer to the xix propositions", Michael Mendle, University of Alabama Press, 1985. pp 51,

External links

* [ A portrait of Hooker by an unknown artist, 1601.]

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