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.

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