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Dennis, Thomas (DNB00)

DENNIS or DENYS, Sir THOMAS (1480?–1561), sheriff of Devonshire, was born at Holcombe Burnell, near Exeter, about 1480. He is said to have been a ‘domestic servant’ of Henry VII, privy councillor of Henry VIII, chancellor of Anne of Cleves, custos rotulorum of Devon, seven (or nine) times sheriff of the county between 1508 and 1556, and recorder of Exeter from 1514 to 1544. He was M.P. for Devonshire in 1529 and 1533. While sheriff in 1531 he received a writ for the burning of Thomas Bennet, a friend of Bilney, who had posted placards in Exeter declaring the pope to be Antichrist. He ordered a stake to be set up in Southernhay, within the jurisdiction of the city, but the Exeter ‘chamber’ resisted this as an infringement of their privileges, and he had to burn his heretic outside their boundary in Livery-dole. There in after days he founded an almshouse for twelve aged men, which, Hoker suggests, may have been intended as an atonement for the part he took in carrying out the sentence of the law. In 1541 he received a grant of St. Nicolas's priory, Exeter (Monasticon, iii. 376). He endeavoured to pacify the Devonshire insurgents in 1549, and was active in suppressing the rising. When in 1554 Sir Peter Carew [q. v.] called on the citizens of Exeter to petition against the marriage of Mary and Philip of Spain, ‘as a first step towards a rising,’ Dennis took command of the city, and put it in a state of defence. He arrested some of the party of the Carews, but connived at the escape of Sir Peter. He is said to have been about eighty at his death, 18 Feb. 1560–1, and accordingly to have lived in the reigns of eight English sovereigns. By his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Angel Dun of London, he had a son, Sir Robert Dennis, whose eldest son, Sir Thomas, was knighted by the Earl of Leicester in the Low Countries in 1586, married Anne, daughter of William Paulet, marquis of Winchester, and died in 1602. The grandson and grandfather are sometimes confused together (Maclean, Sir Peter Carew, p. 49 n.).

[Prince's Worthies of Devon, p. 235; Hoker's and Izacke's Ancient Hist. of the City of Exeter, ed. 1765; Vowell's (Hoker's) Life of Sir P. Carew, ed. Maclean; Oliver's Hist. of Exeter; Froude's Hist. of England, v. 322, ed. 1870; Freeman's Exeter, 101, 104 (Historic Towns Ser.); Dugdale's Monasticon, iii. 376.]

W. H.