Tristram Risdon

screen-shot-2017-02-01-at-19-07-36In 1701, John Prince (1643-1723) published his great work, The Worthies of Devon, describing the most prominent personages of the county. Among these was Thomas Risdon (d. 1641), Bencher of the Inner Temple; and tacked on at the end of the entry on Thomas, under the same heading, Prince appended a note on Thomas’s cousin: “To this family belonged Tristram Risdon, the famous antiquary of the county of Devon”.

There followed a description of how the young gentleman had  ‘a good school-education’, went up to Oxford, though left  ‘without taking any scholastick degree’, retiring to his (newly) inherited estate at Winscott, St Giles in the Wood, some 12 miles inland from Bideford.

There from 1605, probably not long after his return from Oxford, Risdon devoted himself to the antiquarian study which finally produced the Chorographical Description or Survey of the County of Devon, never published in his lifetime though a number of manuscripts circulated among interested parties.

Prince considered him worth at least an extended note in the article on his kinsman Thomas, though not quite worthy enough to merit an article of his own (the Survey of Devon had still to be published). Nevertheless, he waxed indignant at the criticism levelled at the author of the Survey : ‘Some there are, I know, who either to boast their own skill, which is not much, or to vent their malice, which is more, carp and cavil at this worthy person’s performance herein; and pretend him to be mistaken in things very near his home.’ Who these critics were and of what mistaken views Risdon was accused, Prince does not reveal.

Wm Camden, Britannia, pub. Radulphus Newbery, 1586

Wm Camden, Britannia, pub. Radulphus Newbery, 1586

What we can say, to recap, is that Risdon was not the first to associate the Battle of Cynuit and Hubba the Dane with this corner of Devon, near the river Taw. Camden had heard about this by 1586 when the first edition of Britannia was published in which he was wondering whether Chimligh/Chulmleigh was the location of ‘Kinuith castrum‘.

Risdon nevertheless had a role to play in the story. He might, indeed, have caused Camden to abandon any thought that arx Cynuit was located near Chulmleigh, even if his own studies (still at a very early stage in 1607) had not yet  thrown up a clear alternative.

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