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HELE, Sir JOHN (1543?–1608), serjeant-at-law, of a Devonshire family, fourth son of Nicholas Hele, of South Hele, Devonshire, by his second wife, Margery, daughter of Richard Down of Holsworthy in the same county, was born about 1543. He became a member of the Inner Temple and eventually Lent reader, and from 1592 to 1601 he was M.P. for Exeter, of which he was recorder from 14 July 1592 to the beginning of 1606. In November 1594 he became a serjeant-at-law, and was appointed queen's serjeant 16 May 1602. At the beginning of the next reign his patent was renewed, and he was knighted. So high did he stand in his profession that in 1600 or 1601 he was thought not unlikely to be the next master of the rolls. Attacks were, however, made, and probably not without reason, upon his character. He was alleged to be drunken, insolent, and overbearing. A petition was presented to the council by Garter king-at-arms accusing him of violent conduct to him in public, and Hele's answer practically admits the charge (see Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1601; Jeaffreson, Lawyers, ii. 95; Egerton Papers, pp. 188, 399). Nevertheless in 1602 he went circuit with Mr. Justice Gawdy in Sussex, Surrey, Kent, Essex, and Hertfordshire, ‘where,’ writes Chamberlain to Carleton, 2 Oct. 1602, ‘he made himself both odious and ridiculous,’ and again went circuit in the following year. In November 1603 Hele was employed as king's serjeant at the trial of Sir Walter Raleigh. On 8 Feb. 1608 he obtained a dispensation on the score of his age from attendance and service as serjeant. For thirty years he had been a justice of the peace. He amassed large sums, and though by the attainder of the Earl of Essex he lost 4,000l., he bought an estate at Wembury, near Plymouth, to build a mansion-house, costing 20,000l., and to found a boys' hospital in Plymouth. He also had a house at Kew, and owned the manor of Shirford, Knighton hundred, Warwickshire. Hele died on 4 June 1608, and was buried in Wembury Church, where the monument gives his age as sixty-six. His will was proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury 1 Oct. 1608.

Hele married Mary, daughter of Ellis Warwick of Batsborow, by whom he seems to have had eight sons and two daughters. The eldest son, Sir Warwick, was sheriff of Devonshire in 1618 and 1619, and another was ‘clapped up at Rome with other Englishmen in the inquisition’ in 1600 (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1600). The statement that Hele had a second wife, Margaret, is not well supported.

[Woolrych's Eminent Serjeants; art. by Mr. Winslow Jones in the Western Antiquary, x. 1 (reprinted separately); Prince's Worthies of Devon, p. 484; Oliver's Exeter, p. 236; Dugdale's Chron. Ser.; Westcote's Devonshire, p. 534.]

J. A. H.