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.