John Blechenden of Kennington (Part 2)

This second post on John Blechenden focuses on his later years including his two marriages to Margaret Ashenden and Frances Blechenden and his children.

We don’t really know where John spent his childhood or as a young man and the first record we have which gives us any clues is in 1576 when John would be in early 20s and he takes on takes on a 78 year lease of the Manor and parsonage of Woodnesborough with the houses, buildings, rents, glebe lands, tithes, pensions, oblations, portions, emoluments, commodities and profits at a cost of £33 rent per annum.  In those documents he is referred to as John Blechenden of Allington, gentleman.   Allington, Edward Hasted explains, is how Aldington was usually referred to at that time.   This suggests to me that John was probably living with or close to the wider Blechenden family who had a range of properties in Aldington and in Mersham, especially after the fortuitous marriage of his great grandfather William Blechenden to Agnes Godfrey.  That marriage brought with it the properties at Ruffyns Hill and Simnells in Aldington which were family homes to the Blechendens including John at one point. However, taking on the lease at Woodnesborough also suggests to me that John is looking to establish himself in his own property and perhaps especially before his marriage two years later to Margaret Ashenden.

Lockdown has helped me to find many more online resouces than I realised were available and in particular I am grateful to those which the National Archives have made available online for free during the past year or so.  These have helped me to establish family relationships and links to properties and land that may have otherwise taken me months or years to do so.  For example, they have helped demonstrate that John Blechenden of Kennington, of Aldington, of Symnells and of Monkton are one and the same person. They have helped to demonstrate that John’s son and heir, Thomas, is the Thomas who marries Elizabeth Boys, which is where my interest in this family started.  See the following Deed of Settlement made in 1607, shortly before John died: 

Deed of Settlement Made between John Blechenden of Monkton in the Isle of Thanet and Thos B his son of the one part Sir John Boys of St Gregory’s near Canterbury Knt and Sir Edward Boys of Fredvill in the pa of Monnington of the other part, of lands in Eastbridge & Bonnington on the marriage of Thos B to Elizabeth da of Sir Edw Boys. Dated: 1607

MARGARET ASHENDEN (d. 1596)

John and Margaret Ashenden were married in Nonington, Kent, in 1578 and the parish records describes them both as gentry.  Margaret is the daughter of Richard Ashenden of Tenterden, gent (d.1562) and Jane Engham, who goes on to marry, after her husband’s death, Edward Boys of Fredville in Nonington (there is a very colourful story about Edward Boys’ marriages that I will cover in a separate post). 

It is unclear whether John and Margaret ever lived at Woodnesborough after their marriage or just benefited from the revenues of the estate.  However, at least one child, Jane, was baptised at Nonington which is just five miles from Woodnesborough. I haven’t been able to find, yet, baptism records of the other children of John and Margaret, including that for Thomas, John’s son and heir, but we know from the burial inscription to Margaret at St Martin’s Church in Aldington that, in their 18 years of marriage together before Margaret passed away (on 30 June 1596) they had five sons and eight daughters together!  Given the lack of reference to their children in other documents I suspect, for now, that the majority did not survive infancy.  There is an intriguing reference, however, to a “John Blechenden of Fredvill” in papers dated 31 Oct 1609 regarding the bargain and sale of lands from Thomas Blechenden to William Ashenden..” (Canterbury Cathedral Archives). 

John Blechenden of Fredville is unlikely to be John, the subject of this post, given he died in 1607 and never, as far as I am aware, lived in Fredville the home of the Boys family. John Blechenden of Fredville also cannot be the John born to Thomas Blechenden and Elizabeth Boys as he was baptised in 1612.  So perhaps John Blechenden of Fredville is one of John and Margaret’s missing children.  There were close links between the Boys and the Blechendens and as Jane Engham’s (Margaret Ashenden’s mother) second marriage was to Edward Boys perhaps this John of Fredville was brought up in the home of his grandmother and step-grandfather at Fredville or found an occupation on the estate? 

Records held by Canterbury Cathedral Archives indicate that John and Margaret spent some years at Kennington in Kent before moving to the family home Simnells at Aldington; an Indenture of Agreement dated 1585 states that John Blechenden of Kennington and Margaret his wife, amongst other parties, allow the use of Callowfields in Aldington to Edmund Smith and his heirs.  And in 1586 an indenture involving the Boys, the Ashendens and the Blechendens, amongst others, refers to John as John Blechenden of Kennington, Kent.  His eldest son and heir Thomas is also born in Kennington and we know this because he refers to himself as of Woodnesborough, born in Kennington, Kent when he appears as a witness at the Court of Chivalry in 1638.  From information online it does not suggest that parish records for St Mary’s in Kennington have survived pre-1670 so it seems unlikely that parish records will be able to confirm whether John and Margaret’s children were born and baptised there.  

Sir John Mennes 1599-1671
courtesy of The National Portrait Gallery

One of John and Margaret’s surviving children, Jane, marries Andrew Mennes and is the mother of Sir John Mennes, Vice Admiral, Comptroller of the Navy and sometime poet. Mennes features heavily in the Diary of Samuel Pepys who reported directly to Mennes at the Navy Office.  You get the strong impression from the Diary that Pepys thought little of Mennes as an administrator of Navy business – clearly Mennes’ strengths were at sea and not in the office. However, Pepys considered Mennes’ skills as a poet and a mimic made him the best of company. 

Although John and Margaret were living in Kennington in 1586 they eventually moved to the family home Simnells in Aldington. The last will and testament of Nicholas Robinson who d. 1594 (see below) refers to John Blechenden of Simnells and there is also a reference to it both on Margaret’s monument inscription (she dies in 1596) as well as on John’s.

It is worth mentioning that Kent Archeological Society records the monument inscription for Margaret Blechenden, as noted by the Rev Bryan Faussett in 1759, as Margaret late the wife of Richard Ashenden who departed this life on 30 June 1596 with the implication that it was with Richard, and not John, that she had the many sons and daughters.  It continues that this was on a brass plate in the Chancell of Aldington Church but now kept in the Parish Chest.  However, there is a fuller inscription which states:

Here lieth burried that religious and modest gentlewoman Margaret Blechenden the late wife of John Blechynden of Simnels in Aldington, gent. and daughter of Richard Ashenden late of Tenterden, gent. who had by her said husband 5 sons and 8 daughters she departed this life in faith of Christ 30th June 1596. Sister of Sir William Ashenden.

This fuller account rings truer because John’s own burial monument states that he was the father of a “numerous issue” and it seems highly unlikely to me that, as a  young man, he would take on a widow who had had so many children.

FRANCES BLECHENDEN (1565-1611)

Thomas Epps – First Husband

John was about 40 when Margaret died and in February the following year 1597 at Minster, in Kent, he married his cousin Frances Blechenden, daughter of his uncle Thomas Blechenden.  Frances’ first husband was Thomas Epps of New Romney (Jurat and twice Mayor of New Romney) and they were married on 22 July 1584 but the marriage was short-lived with Thomas dying the following year.  There is an account in The Discovery of Witchcraft, by Reginald Scot, first published in 1584 of how, when Thomas Epps’ first wife, Maria Stupenny, was taken ill her parents in law suspected witchcraft. But this is a cautionary tale intended to demonstrate the foolishness of such beliefs. Scot was a native of Kent, with properties in Aldington, Brabourne and Romney Marsh and may even have knows the Epps family personally. Certainly John Blechenden knew Sir Thomas Scott, Reginald’s first cousin who he often stayed with (Sir Thomas is a party to the Indenture of Agreement dated 1585 mentioned above), and it is highly probable that the Blechenden’s knew the Epps family ahead of Frances’ marriage to Thomas Epps.

The abstract of Thomas Epps’ will does not suggest that Frances was left with much apart from the “best bedsteddle…with feather bed upon same..” with the majority going to his sons William and Allen by his first wife, Maria Stupenny:  

Extract from the will of Thomas Epps from the Kent, England, Tyler Index to Wills, 1460-1882
Nicholas Robinson – Second Husband

Frances’ second husband was Nicholas Robinson of Monkton, gent. (died 23 June 1594). Nicholas’ monument inscription indicates that he had five children by Frances: three sons and two daughters. He left an extensive will (which is in two parts plus a codecil) leaving the majority of his land, properties and goods to his eldest son Thomas Robinson but also making provision for his surviving children Henry Robinson and Anne Robinson.  However,  Frances gets the majority of it until her demise so she would have been very well provided for.  She is named the Executrix but there are two perhaps surprising overseers to the will:

Al the rest of all my goods moveable my debtes and legaceys discharged I give and bequeath to Francis Robinson my wife whom I make and ordeyne my sole Executrix of this my last will and testament.  Also I do make constitute and ordeyne my cosen John Blechenden of Simnells in Aldington  gentleman and my brother Humfrey Blechenden of Aldington aforesayed gentleman my overseers and to be assistant to my executrix in the performing of this my last will and testament.

The will shows that there was a clear and friendly relationship between Nicholas and Frances Robinson and the Blechendens of Aldington, specifically her brother Humphrey and her cousin John and so it is likely she also knew well John’s first wife Margaret Ashenden.  I can not see in the will of Nicholas any proviso that, should Frances remarry, everything goes to the children.  Indeed, she is charged with bringing them up and ensuring that the two boys are good scholars and be maintained at school at either the university of Oxford or of Cambridge.  Frances would therefore have been a wealthy widow at the age of just 29.

John Blechenden – third husband

Frances’ third husband is her cousin John.  I do wonder if Frances’ father Thomas Blechenden had a hand in arranging the marriage between the two cousins in order to consolidate land and property including both the Ruffyns Hill and Simnells properties in his children and their heirs.   The parish records state that John Blechenden of Aldington and Frances Robinson, of Monkton, are married in Thanet on 6 February 1596 (which with the calendar change would be 1597).  At this second marriage it appears that John moved home and lived the remainder of his days at Monkton and perhaps in the “Mansion House” at Monkton that Nicolas Robinson refers to in his will.  It would be tempting to think that after almost 20 years of marriage to Margaret, not to mention 13 children, and Frances’ two marriages with at least three surviving children, John’s second marriage to his cousin Frances was a pragmatic or transactional relationship but the monument inscription (see below) to Frances at Monkton Church states that Frances had children by all three of her husbands.   

John Blechenden, esq, held a number of positions in his later years – he was a Justice of the Peace and in 1601 appointed Treasurer for the lathes of St. Augustine, Shepway, the hundreds annexed, and the four hundreds of Scray. There are also a number of records held at either the National Archives, Canterbury or Kent History and Library Centre which show that John was involved in a number of legal disputes around land and property. One of which involving Andrew Osborne, of London, merchant tailor, about property in Birchington, seems to have become quite fractious with John in 1603 making a claim that there had been: Tampering with witnesses in a Star Chamber suit for a messuage and land in Birchington. Proceedings were also undertaken in 1602 against Raimund Brooke of Woodnesborough and against John Lancasheire in 1606 regarding property in Eastbridge, Romney Marsh shortly before he died.

If John was born around 1556 as the son of William Blechenden, Captain of Walmer Castle, he would have been about 51 when he died.  This would explain the monument at Aldington which indicates that he died before old age: 

John Blechynden, esq. of Simnells, who died an immature death, being then married to his second wife, and father of a numerous issue. He lived the latter part of his life at Monkton, in Thanet, obt. 1607,    [arms, Blechenden impaling a lion rampant, gules.]   

I have recently (yesterday!) been able to access The Blechynden Story on FamilySearch which has given some additional information one of which is a slightly different reading of the monument at Aldington but which states the age of John as about 51 (in the fifty second year of his life) which matches exactly with my own conclusions. The text is reproduced below including any typos:

here lies buried under solid marble the body of John Blechynden gent. of arms, holding Simnells as his seat, whom fatal internal stone brought to a sad end, and an early death carried him shen he was united in his second marriage, a parent to numerous prosperity, from the earth. He drew out the last threads of life at Monkton in the Isle of Thanet…He died in the year of our Lord 1607, September 19 in the fiftysecond year of his life.

The Blechynden Story, E.M. Hall, H.V.Hall, 1964

I wonder what the fatal internal stone was that brought John to a sad end and an early death. Perhaps some form of cancer or other illness took John from Frances and his young family? The Blechynden Story includes some references to the contents of John’s will. It states that John left the property to eldest son Thomas, gave a small gift to his “Godson John Minnes, son of my daughter Jone” and £300 as a wedding dowry to his daughter Margaret. A daughter-in-law Ann is mentioned and it is suggested that she is the widow of one of John’s son’s. Ominously, none of the other children of John and his first wife Margaret, are mentioned. According to The Blechynden Story, John’s will is mostly concerned with his second family, his wife Frances and their children Frances, John, William and Millicent and he asked his brother Humphrey and bother-in-law John Wright to take charge of his young children.

Following her husband’s death Frances had to make a claim under the terms of the settlement of her husbands will. The defendents include Thomas Blechenden,who I assume is not her father but her late husband’s son and heir from his first marriage, and also Jervas Leeds, Elizabeth Leeds and Thomas Noble:

Short title: Blechenden v Blechenden. Plaintiffs: Frances Blechenden (late the wife of John Blechenden). Defendants: Thomas Blechenden, Jervas Leeds, Elizabeth Leeds and Thomas Noble. Subject: claim under the settlement and will of John Blechenden to lands in Chislett, Hearne, St Nicholas, St Giles, and Moncton, Kent, formerly of Nicholas Robinson, the plaintiff’s first husband, and also Symnells in Allington alias Aldington, and lands called the Prior’s Lane, and an annuity of £50 charged upon the rectory of Winnesburrowe alias Wodensborrowe.

Copies of both John and Frances’ wills are at the Canterbury Cathedral Archives and Library and the Kent History and Library Centre which I hope to be able to visit in the near future. This may clear up who the other defendents are above. However, one option is that Elizabeth Leeds was born a Blechenden, perhaps a sibling of Thomas. The Canterbury Cathedral Probate Records https://wills.canterbury-cathedral.org/ indicate that an Inventory was taken in 1604 of the goods of Elizabeth Leeds also known as “Basenden” and that an Inventory was taken in 1620 for Jervis Leeds from Kennington where we know the Blechendens had a family home. The Blechynden Story includes some snippets from John’s will and from Frances’ but no mention is made of Thomas Noble or the Leeds’ so they are a mystery for now.

Frances Blechenden only lived a further four years after losing John, dying on 25 December 1611 just before her 48th birthday. The Blechynden Story states that Frances’ will was made 23 December 1611 just before she died and probated the following February, in which she requests burial in Monkton Church near “My late husband Nichilas Robinson”. Frances also died very young but led quite a full life; she had three husbands, outlived each one, had children by each of them, seven of which survived her. On her monument it is stated, which makes me smile, that “she injoyed three husbands”: 

Here lyeth interred the body of that modest gentlewoman Frances Blechenden eldest daughter of Thomas Blechenden Gent.  She injoyed three husbands, Thomas Epps of New-Romney Gent. her first; Nicholas Robinson of this Parish of Monkton Gent. her second; and John Blechenden of Aldington Esq; She had by each of them Issue; she lived 48 years wanting twelve days, departing this world in the true faith of Christ the 25 of December 1611.

The History and Antiquities Ecclesiastic and Civil of the Isle of Tenet in Kent, by John Lewis, printed 1723

What happened to their children?

We know that eldest son Thomas from John’s first marriage became his son and heir – and will be the subject of my next post. Jane married Andrew Mennis and Margaret, of the £300 dowry is a mystery. Of the children from John’s second marriage we know that Millicent, born approx 1605 and no doubt named after her grandmother Millicent See (who dies in 1612), married Leonard Hughes of Woodnesborough. The Visitation of Kent 1663-1668 further clarifies that Millicent is the daughter of John Blechenden of Monkton in Thanet. And young Frances, who is bequeathed all her mothers linen and jewels, marries Samuel Pownell, Vicar of Alkham:  

Hughes, Leonard, of Ringleton in the parish of Woodnesborough, g., ba., about 31, and Millicent Blechinden, s, p., v., about 23, d. of John Blechinden, dec. At same. Feb 14 1628.

Canterbury marriage licences, Vol 2

Pownall, Samuel, clerk, B.A.. vicar of Alkham,  ba., about 35, and Frances Blechinden of Newington n. Hythe, v., about 25, whose parents are dead. At Newington. Philemon Pownall of the Precincts of Ch. Ch., Cant., clerk, and Abdias Pownall of Shepherdswell, g., bonds. Oct. 27, 1627.

Canterbury marriage licences, Vol 2

The Blechynden Story says that the two boys, John and William, from John’s marriage to Frances are “packed off to college with a choice between Oxford and Cambridge”. I can’t, however, find a reference to them in the Alumni records and it is unclear, for now, what happened to the two boys. More research needed there but for another day.

William Blechenden, Captain of Walmer Castle (Updated)

This post is about William Blechenden, the son of James Blechenden of Aldington and grandson of William Blechenden of Mersham and Agnes Godfrey. William was the second appointed Captain of Walmer Castle whose specific role was to command a small garrison on the south coast of England to help prevent any foreign invasion but who sadly was murdered, not by foreign troops, but by “a felon” in the Castle in 1557.

An early design for Walmer or nearby Sandown Castle

Walmer Castle was built in 1539/40 at the instruction of King Henry VIII in response to concerns about invasion from Europe following Henry’s divorce from Katherine of Aragon, the creation of the Church of England and the seizing of church lands and property. Walmer, along with Deal, Sandown and other reinforcements were built to resist invasion through the use of big guns to sink any enemy ships and troops to fight any landing force. This threat never really materialised although it came close with the Spanish Armada in 1588. Walmer Castle became, over time, the official home of the Lords Warden of the Cinque Ports. What is now a ceremonial position was once named Keeper of the Coast, and has been held by the Duke of Wellington, William Pitt, Sir Winston Churchill, WH Smith (the bookseller and politican) and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.

William must have been only a young man when he was appointed to the position of Captain. The History of Walmer and Walmer Castle by Charles Robert Stebbing Elvin, published 1894, provides a list of the Captains of Walmer Castle and it states that William Blechenden was appointed the 12 June 1551. However, Privy Council records indicate that he was Captain from a much earlier date and, if not the first Captain of the Castle, then probably appointed shortly after the Castle was built.

To be specific, in the records of the Privy Council dated 18 November 1545, which was held at Oatlands Palace, there is a reference to a disagreement between William Blechenden and his deputy John Barley and two of his gunners John Barrow and Henry Gryffin (D.N. Oatlands was a Royal Palace in Surrey and is also where Henry VIII married Katherine Howard in 1542). Although it is unclear what happens to John Barley the two gunners are dismissed from Walmer because of their “lewde demeanour towards their Capitayne” and sent to serve in France. See the extracts below and at British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/acts-privy-council/vol1/pp251-275:

Acts of the Privy Council 1545: John Barley, Deputie of Walmer Castle in the Downes, complayning to be interrupted by William Blechenden, his Capitayne, both for his office, wages, and license of absence specially granted by the Kinges Majeste, and lykewise John Barrowe and Henry Griffyn, gonners, complayning to be thrust out, had letters to the sayd Blechenden for their contynuance, thone bicause his Majeste reserved to himself thappointement of the Deputiship, and thother for that they had billes signed for terme of lief, and if he had juste matier, to charge them by advertisment hither.

And:

Acts of the Privy Council 1546: John Barroe and Henry Griffyne, late gonners at Walmer Castle, and dismissed thens for their lewde demeanour towardes their Capitayne, were addressed with letters to therle of Hertford, Lieutenant of the Kinges Majestes Armye, to be placed there by his discrecion, and for their conduite and cotes had by warrant to Treasourour of the Chambre xxxviij’.

Walmer Castle, September 2021

William was the son of James Blechenden and “…Finch”. I have not been able to establish who “Finch” is although there is a prominent family of that name in Eastwell which is only two miles from Kennington in Kent, where John, William’s son, and also Thomas, his grandson, spend some of their youth. It seems likely that there is a family connection here but as of yet this is unproven.

If William was Captain of Walmer Castle from at least 1545, and not 1551, then he must have married whilst he was Captain. His wife is Millicent See, one of the three daughters of Henry See of Herne and the Monumental Inscription below suggest she was born in c 1538. See, or Sea, is also spelled Atsea and Atte Sea and some records (perhaps just a mistransciption) use Gee and even Lee. Note the following Monumental Inscription in St Nicholas Church, Thanington, to Millicent, William’s wife, as recorded by Rev Bryan Faussett in 1757: 

Here lies Buried Millicent, One of ye Daughters, Coheirs of Henry GEE, Gentleman; First, Wife of William BLECHENDEN of Aldington Esq. Wife, Next, to Hieram BRETT, of Leeds Esquier. Lastly, Wife to Thomas BROWNING Gentleman. Aged 74 Years. Died Widow. 24 Octob. 1612.

Additional evidence of William’s marriage to Millicent See is provided by the following Court Case involving William Blechenden (Blackenden) shortly before he died with Millicent his wife, his two sisters in law and their husbands: Mary See who married Edward Crayford and Elizabeth See who married Arthur Chowte. The court case is about various property including the manor of Makinbrooke (Mekynbroke) which was held by Henry See (Lee) esq. deceased. Phillip Chowte, the defendent, was the husband of Elizabeth Girling (who first married Richard Crompton, Mercer of London, then Henry See, then Philip Chowte).  

Short title: Blackenden v Chowte

Plaintiffs: William BLACKENDEN, Millicent his wife, Edward CRAYFORD, Mary his wife, Arthur CHOWTE and Elizabeth his wife Defendants: Phillip CHOWTE, esquire Subject: Detention of deeds relating to the manor of Thornton alias Bartletts (in St Nicholas at Wade), Northolme, North Ryckett, and Madford (in Hemyock), and a messuage and lands in the manor of Mekynbroke (in Chislett, Herne and Hoath) and Madford, late of Henry Lee, esquire, deceased, father of the female complainant. Kent, Somerset, Devon.

When Henry See died (will dated 1537) he left one male heir but he must have died shortly afterwards as Henry’s daughters, including Millicent became coheirs.  Given that Millicent See was born c 1538 and Henry See’s will was dated 1537 it is likely tht Millicent was either born after her father died or shortly before he died. Henry See was a barrister at Lincolns Inn and also the Member of Parliament for Bramber in 1529.  Information on Henry See is available at http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org

The 1574 Visitation of Kent

The 1574 Visitation of Kent helpfully sets out a family tree from William Blechinden of Mersham and this shows that Captain William Blechenden and Millicent See had at least two children before his untimely death: John and Anne and I will devote a couple of posts to John. I have been unable to find any further record of Anne.

We know that Millicent See was born in c 1538 but was a widow with two children by 1557/8. We also know that her son John was an infant when his father died and given Millicent’s age this would suggest that William and Millicent were married no later than 1555 by which time Millicent was just 17. I have also tried to establish William’s likely age; if we assume he was at least 20 years old when he was Captain of the Castle – and the privvy Council records suggest he was Captain in 1545 – then he would be born no later than 1525 which in turn would mean his father James married the daughter of “Finch” and had William by the age of 18 (if James is born c1507 which needs verifying). This all feels quite “tight” in terms of the dates and ages but not impossible. The inconsistency in dates of appointment between the Acts of the Privvy Council and those in The History of Walmer and Walmer Castle is also a cause for some concern but one which given the passage of time may never be resolvable.

What we do know, however, is that William was, whilst on duty probably late in 1557, murdered “by a felon” who had got into the Castle. We don’t know the name of the felon – perhaps it was one of the disgruntled gunners that were sent to France! – but we do know he was captured and held in Canterbury gaol but after some demands from the people of Sandwich he was tried and then executed there in 1558 (see The History of Walmer and Walmer Castle by Charles Robert Stebbing Elvin, 1894 and Collections for an History of Sandwich by William Boys, 1792). William left behind, a young widow Millicent and their two infant children.

update(7 Jan 2022)

Since writing the above I have uncovered some additional, rather grisly, details of William’s murder. In 1682 (printed 1689) Jos. Keble Esq of Grays Inn wrote a book pulling together the “particular clauses of all such statutes from Magna Carta to James II that do any ways concern the power of Justices“. This is intended to be a useful reference book of legal precedent for Justices of the Peace and covers statues across a diverse range of issues such as “bastardy and bawdery”, “popery”, “conjuration”, as well as serious crimes such as treason and murder.

There are some specific examples of how statutes have been applied and one of these refers to the murder of William Blechenden. The example given relates to whether someone should be judged as guilty of an offence if they assisted it to happen but did not take part in the actual crime. Sir William Portman (d. 1557), Chief Justice to the Kings Bench, ruled that they were as guilty and this principle was also applied in the murder of William Blechenden. Here, although murdered by a stranger, Keble’s book states that this was “by assent” of some of Blechenden’s servants. It isn’t clear to me whether the servants actually aided the murder eg by letting the murderer into the Castle even though they are described as being in the Vault of the Castle and not in the “Parlor where he was kill’d”. The legal precedent established by Portman would suggest to me that they did aid the murderer or as a minimum knew it was happening but did nothing to come to their Captain’s aid.

There is a reference at the end of the example to someone being “Drawn and Hang’d” and initially I read this to mean that William was murdered in that way but on reflection this seems unlikely especially if he was killed in the “Parlor”. I think Keble is instead recording the verdict that was meted out to Blechenden’s servants. There is only one other reference in Keble to being “Drawn” which makes clear that this was being tied to the tail of a cart and drawn to another location whilst being whipped along the way. Being drawn and hanged and sometimes quartered was the most extreme of punishments and reflected the seriousness of the crime. To murder the monarch’s appointed Captain in his Castle may have been viewed as an attack on the monarch’s authority or by proxy as if it were an attack on the monarch in person. So a grisly end not only I presume for the murderer, but also to those who assented to it.

But the Law is with Portman, and so it was adjudged in the Case of one Blechenden, Captain of the Castle of Wallm’ in Kent, who about 5 Mariae was kill’d in the Castle by a stranger, by assent of one Bigg and others, Servants of the said B. being then in the same Castle in a Vault there, and not in the Parlor where he was kill’d, and was Drawn and Hang’d.

An assistance to justices of the peace, for the easier performance of their duty.: By Jos. Keble , of Grays Inn, Esq.

John Blechenden of Kennington c1556-1607

John Blechenden was born towards the end of the five year reign of “Bloody Mary”, the first reigning Queen of England in her own right.  John was the son of William Blechenden and Millicent See and probably born shortly before his father’s murder in 1557.

The son of Thomas?

I haven’t found a birth record for John Blechenden although I have seen some references to it being in 1563 and the son of Thomas Blechenden and Ann Ashburnham.   A close reading of the parish registers for Aldington rule this out however as they clearly state that John Blesynden, ye sonne of Thomas, was baptised ye [sixth?] August 1563 and buried ye next daye.  The 1574 Visitation of Kent indicates that William Blechenden had a son John who was in turn the grandson of James Blechenden of Mersham which points to this John. And finally we can also rule out John being the son of Thomas and Ann because of his third marriage to his cousin Frances Blechenden (maiden not married name) who, according to the parish registers, is the daughter of Thomas. There is no other likely Frances who fits the bill and it seems entirely possible to me that Thomas Blechenden, who looms large across the Blechenden family at that time, would have helped to arrange the marriage between his nephew and his wealthy widowed daughter.

The son of William Blechenden

We know that John is the son of William Blechenden, Captain of Walmer Castle, through a number of different documents. Firstly, the 1574 Visitation of Kent sets out a family tree which shows that his father was William and that he married the daughter of “Sea”. We know that this is Millicent Sea/See, the daughter of Henry See of Herne and for more on this see the earlier post on William Blechenden. Also included in the family tree below are John’s uncle Thomas “of Rofinshil” (Ruffin’s Hill) and his future wife Frances Blechenden.

Further evidence of William’s parentage can be found through some land transfer documents and court cases. I am setting these out here because I haven’t seen them mentioned in other family trees and indeed William, the Captain of Walmer Castle, and his son John are rarely mentioned at all. Many trees make the mistaken assumption that John is the son of his uncle Thomas (as already mentioned above). I hope that other family historians will therefore find this information helpful. To explain the evidence a little it may be helpful to firstly mention the records of a deed of sale which clearly sets out the family relationship between John, William and his uncle Thomas:

John Blechenden gent, son and heir of William Blechenden, gent, late Captain of Walmer Castle to Thos Blechenden his uncle of Reddenham and Clegham woods in Aldington. 

Canterbury Cathedral Archives and Library

There are also at least two separate legal proceedings, Blechenden v Blechenden, in the Court of Chancery (records held  by the National Archives) involving John Blechenden, an infant, by his guardian which refers to his grandfather James Blechenden and where the primary defendent is James’ widow Ursula Blechenden (née Whetenall) regarding a property in Horton and:

Lands in Allington, Hurst, Benenden and Estbrige [Eastbridge], Kent, late the estate of James Blechenden, plaintiff’s grandfather.  

The infant John referred to in the second example above must therefore be the child of one of James’ sons but, as he cannot be the son of Thomas who was still living during the period of the legal proceedings, this adds weight to John being the son of Captain William Blechenden of Walmer Castle mentioned in the first example above.  The family tree in the 1574 Visitation of Kent also tells us that James Blechenden married twice – to the daughter of “Finche” and then to Ursula Whetenhall. The Calendars of the Proceedings in Chancery, in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth published in 1827 link here provides a little more information on the court case as they indicate that it involved a “bill to set aside dower”. Dower is a widow’s entitlement to her share for life of her husband’s estate. As John is the grandson of “Finche” and not Ursula this would also help to explain the court case(s) as she would no doubt want to protect her dower and also be looking to her own children inheriting her late husband’s land and property and not the grandson of his first wife. 

Children and grandchildren of James Blechenden (d.1556/7):

  • William Blechenden (d.1557) m Millicent See (d. 1612)
    • John Blechenden (c1556-1607)
    • Anne Blechenden
  • Sybil Blechenden m John Knight (d.1566)
    • Thomas Knight
    • Sybil Knight
    • Margarett Knight
    • Catherine Knight
    • Arthur Knight
  • Mary Blechenden m John Pecke (d.1581)
    • Ashbournham Peck
    • Arthur Pecke
    • Ursula Pecke
  • Thomas Blechenden (1534-1610) m Ann Ashburnham (1527-1600)
    • Lawrence Blechenden (1563-1563)
    • John Blechenden (1563-1563)
    • Frances Blechenden (1565-1611)
    • James Blechenden (born 1566)
    • Humphrey Blechenden (1567-1639)
  • Margaret Blechenden m William Egleston (d.1579)
    • Thomas Egleston
    • John Egleston
    • Eve Egleston
    • Elizabeth Egleston
    • Frances Egleston
  • Arthur Blechenden
  • Humphrey Blechenden
  • John Blechenden
  • George Blechenden

John’s early years

1556/7 were awful years for the Blechenden family and John in particular.  John’s father William and his grandfather James both die around this time.  William Blechenden is murdered by a “felon” in Walmer Castle late in 1557 and records in the Canterbury Cathedral database indicate that his grandfather James Blechenden made his will in 1556 and that probate was in 1557. 

Perhaps the death of James and William so close together left questions against their wills about land and property which had to be taken to the Court of Chancery to resolve especially because John was an infant. It’s unclear who the guardian is that instigates legal proceedings on behalf of John. I’m not inclined to think that it his mother or her family because Millicent remarries to Jerome Brett of Leeds (in Kent) and afterwards of London (Hasted). There is no indication that John lived with his mother and moved to Leeds and it seems more likely that he lived with family in Kennington. Perhaps with members of the Finch family who lived in Eastwell just two miles from Kennington and who I suspect are directly related to John.

Nor it is clear whether the court cases were resolved amicably but given it involved a bill to set aside Ursula’s dower that seems unlikely to me. Ursula Blechenden never remarried after James’ death but remained in the family home in Aldington where she died and was buried in the parish church in 1584. Despite being the eldest surviving grandson of James Blechenden John remained in Kennington until at least 1586. His eldest surviving son Thomas (named after his uncle perhaps?) is born in Kennington, Kent in c 1586 and other records from 1586 still refer to him as John Blechenden of Kennington.  We know he moved to Monkton in the late 1590s, so although his memorial in Aldington Church refers to him as John Blechenden of Simnells it is likely that he spent little time there.  But my next post will focus on John’s marriage(s) and children. 

The Blissenden Blockage

One of the main blockages in my family tree that I would like to resolve is that of my Blissenden ancestors (my mother’s family). I can trace them from North Yorkshire to Deal in Kent in the 1800s and 1700s and then possibly to Sanderstead in Surrey for a generation but no further back.  

Wilf Blissenden on one of his motorbikes

It has always struck me as odd that I can’t trace the family back further in Surrey because Blissenden isn’t a common name (although it can suffer a multitude of spelling variations and is “Besenden” or “Bisenden” whilst the family are in Surrey) and together with the fact that there is a much older family with deep roots in Kent, not too far from Deal, makes me wonder if the Sanderstead connection is the right one.  Or whether the move to Sanderstead was a temporary one for personal or social reasons perhaps for work or marriage before moving back to Kent.  If they did move back to live with or close to family then they certainly did not benefit financially – the family wasn’t wealthy and a number ended up in the workhouse and sadly ended their days there.  

The Croydon Bissendens?

There is a Bissenden family in Croydon, also in the 1700s, just 3.5 miles north of Sanderstead but I have not been able to establish any connection with the Sanderstead Bisendens.  The Croydon family have property and some quite extensive wills and probate records regarding that property but there is no reference in those wills or other records to the Sanderstead family, i.e. to cousins or brothers, sisters etc, that I can see.  

Because I have tried to work back through my ancestors to trace the Blissenden’s beyond the 1700s in Surrey without success I am instead starting further back and working forward and sideways to see if that gives me any clues. I have started by looking at the “ancient family” of Blechenden’s in Kent and will devote a number of posts to that family.  

My husband often asks me why I am researching the Blechenden’s if I don’t know whether or not they are my family.  And the answer is, well they may be, but if not I have learnt something about them, the often turbulent times they lived in and the closet historian in me finds all of that fascinating. 

So Who Do I Think I Am?

First Things First

For my first blog here I thought I should start with a little bit about me and why I am blogging.  

About 15 years ago my husband introduced me to genealogy – he has been researching his family tree for quite some time – and fairly quickly I was hooked.  To start with I realised that I didn’t know some basic information such as the names of my grandparents.  They had died when I was quite young and to me they had only ever been Grandma and Grandad, Nana and Grandpa.  I didn’t know where they were born or where they met or what they did for a living.  When you are a child these aren’t the things you ask.  Luckily my parents were able to fill in the gaps for me and this helped to set me off on the right tracks to go back further (although I often made the novice mistake of accepting other people’s work without checking and have had to reset branches of my tree more than once).   

Nan and Grandad with two of my aunts and uncles taken circa 1924

I was born and brought up in the North East of England, in a small town that used to prosper when the coal mines were open but not any more.  My aunts and uncles and cousins all lived close by and as far as I knew this is where the family had always lived.  It was therefore a revelation to me to learn that only a couple of generations ago the majority of my family were from Kent and Hampshire at the other end of the country, “down South”.  Ironically, I learnt this when my husband and I had moved to Kent and I did wonder at the co-incidence of going back to my roots! 

My DNA suggests that I am almost 100% English, whatever that means, and even though I know there are French Huguenots in my tree. Ancestry suggests an elusive 2% from Sweden but I haven’t worked that one out yet.  But overall my DNA shows that I am predominately from the North and from the South of England – hence the title of this blog.

Researching my family tree has uncovered poverty and nobility, clerics and criminals and one line that takes me back to 1066!  But there are lots of blockages, lots of gaps and puzzles and this blog will explore those and share some of my research in the hope that others may also find it useful.