Thomas and Margaret Blechynden – the impact of the English Civil War

This second post on Dr Thomas Blechynden and his wife Margaret focuses on the civil war years and beyond. For the first post click here.

The start of the English Civil War in 1642 was a difficult time for Thomas and Margaret Blechynden and their four young children. Thomas was summarily ejected from the clergy and his living as Parliament sought to overhaul the Church of England and make it less “popish”. This process had already started following the arrest of the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, in 1640 on a charge of Treason. These were febrile times.

Archbishop Laud had been an ally of Thomas and had intervened personally to help him secure a position at Canterbury Cathedral through the patronage of King Charles I. There is no evidence that Thomas was overtly “Laudian” or that he wanted the Church of England to move more closely to Rome although it seems fair to assume, given his Royal patronage that he was a supporter of the Monarchy. On the other hand we know that he married into a well-connected family with strong Puritan sympathies and it seems likely that Thomas was at least open to some of the new ideas and perhaps therefore walking a difficult theological tightrope.

Regardless of Thomas’ personal faith wider events took over when the King left London and raised the Royal Standard at Nottingham in August 1642. Senior members of the clergy of the Church of England were ejected from their posts and replaced with new men; land and revenues were sequestered by Parliament and many, including Thomas, were charged with being a delinquent. As early as October in 1642 Parliament was looking to seize the livings of members of the clergy, as well as the aristocracy, to support their cause:

Sequestration of Delinquents Estates. 14 Oct 1642

Resolved, &c. That the Fines, Rents, and Profits, of Archbishops, Bishops, Deans, Deans and Chapters, and of such notorious Delinquents, who have taken up Arms against the Parliament, or have been active in the Commission of Array, shall be sequestered for the Use and Service of the Commonwealth. The Manner of the Sequestration is referred to the Committee for sequestring the Estate of the Lord Capell.

‘House of Commons Journal Volume 2: 14 October 1642’, in Journal of the House of Commons: Volume 2, 1640-1643 (London, 1802), pp. 807-809. British History Online

For members of the clergy this was an anxious and unsettling time, many were subjected to violence and had to witness acts of vandalism and iconoclasm. There is even a record of the personal impact of this on Thomas and Margaret which must have taken place in Canterbury before he was ejected from his living there and most likely to be the “Disorders committed at Canterbury, by the Soldiers” referred to in the House of Lords on 10 September 1642. Given that their daughter, also Margaret, was baptised on 4 December 1642 it is possible that Margaret was heavily pregnant at this time. This passage leaves me with the impression that Thomas was probably scared for his life and that of his young wife:

when she saw a man strike at the Image of Christ lying in the manger, she skreet out and ran to her husband, who came … and pleaded for the Images, … and while this prebend was disputing … he grew very sicke, and was faine to go out of the Cathedral.

Thomason Collection of Civil War Tracts

Imprisonment and delinquency

On 21 November 1642 the war became even more personal for Thomas and Margaret as Parliament resolved that “several Gentlemen of Kent … as persons disaffected to the Peace of the County, and of the Kingdom… shall be forthwith committed Prisoners to Winchester House, there to remain during the Pleasure of the House.” The Gentlemen of Kent are noted as: Sir Anthony Ager, Sir John Fotherby, Sir Thomas Wilford and his Son, Mr. Geo. Chute, Mr. Anthony Hamond, Dr. Blechenden, Dr. Horsmanden, Mr. Henry Deering, Mr. Paynter, Mr. Smyth.

However, it would seem that this was overturned but then reissued one week later on 28 November with, I think, a rebuke to the Committee for the Safety of the Kingdom:

Prisoners remanded

Ordered, That Sir Jo. Fotherby, Dr. Blechenden, and Mr. Painter, committed Prisoners to Winchester House, by a former Order of this House, and released by a Warrant from the Committee for the Safety of the Kingdom, be forthwith remanded to Prison to Winchester House: And the Committee for the Safety of the Kingdom is to take Care herein. 

‘House of Commons Journal Volume 2: 28 November 1642’, in Journal of the House of Commons: Volume 2, 1640-1643 (London, 1802), pp. 866-868. British History Online
Winchester House in 1660

Winchester House was taken from the Bishops of Winchester, who had owned this site on the Southbank of the Thames for many centuries, at the start of the war. The House was used as a prison for Royalists until after the war, when it was sold off. It is perhaps not totally surprising that Winchester House should be used as a prison given that it already had a small but notorious prison within its grounds: the Clink! A name now synomymous with all prisons.

It is unclear how long Thomas languished in Winchester House. In January 1643 the House of Commons resolved that “Dr Blechenden and Dr Baker be forthwith sent for, as Delinquents”. But does this mean he was still imprisoned in Winchester House at this time? This is unclear although from letters written by Sir William and Lady Ann Brockman we know that conditions in Winchester House were far from ideal. The Blechynden’s were related to the Brockman’s and Thomas’ sister Anne had been living with the Brockman’s since the death of her husband Peter White. Sir William was sent up as prisoner on 28 November 1642 and committed to Winchester House on 2nd December so may have been living in close quarters with Thomas Blechynden. We know that Sir William was imprisoned for some time as Lady Ann Brockman pleads for her husband to be moved to a prison close to home fearing for his health on 7 Feb 1644:

Feb 7 1644
The Humble petition of the Lady Brockman to the Honourable Committee for the Parliament Affairse in Kent

Sheweth, that whereas my deare husband hath been a prisoner in Winchester house,4 London for the space of thirteene monthes, and upwards: I am bold to crave this lawfull favour at your hands, that you would vouchsafe to use such meanes as your wisdome shall prompt unto you, for his Removall from thence to Ostenhanger where he may be secured as well as there, under the Gouvernement of the Hon’ble Sr Edward Scott.

The maine end I aim at in this request is only the preservation of his health, wch I feare may be in some danger through the multitude of prisoners committed lately to that place from Arundell Castle, to the number oone hundred and upwards of wch companie divers have dyed since soe I commend this businesse to your serious and charitable consideration wherein if you shall gratify me I shall remaine gratefull to you and always pray for your welfare,
Ann Brockman

I have not yet found a record for Dr Thomas Blechynden of the outcome of the accusation of delinquency. “Delinquents” were those who supported the monarchy in the Civil War or who were “papists” or “recusants”. The National Archives explains that following an accusation of delinquency, if well grounded, the estate in question was seized and held until the accusation could be investigated. If the delinquency was proved to the satisfaction of the committee the delinquent was deprived of his whole estate, one fifth being, however, allowed to him for the maintenance of his children, and one fifth of the proceeds of the estate being allowed to the informer.

Therefore, just the accusation of delinquncy could mean that lands were held for months or years until the question was resolved. Although I have found no evidence that Dr Thomas Blechynden was a proven delinquent or had his estate sequestered it would appear that he remained in prison as his brother Richard, in August 1644, bailed him out but on the condition that he wasn’t allowed to travel far without consent and certainly not back to his estate in Ruffins Hill in Aldington:

Bond of Thos. Blechenden of London, S. T. P., Robert Crane of Whitecross-street, and Richard Blechenden of Paternoster-row, in 500l. to the Serjeant-at-Arms, John Hunt, conditioned that Dr.-Thos. Blechenden shall not go above three miles from London without consent of the Committee for Prisoners.

Charles I – volume 502: August 1644′, in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles I, 1644, ed. William Douglas Hamilton (London, 1888), pp. 387-465. British History Online

It is worth reflecting that 500l , or £500, is a significant amount of money to raise. Today this would be worth about £60,000. An evaluation of Thomas’ estates in 1650 assessed them at £200.

Execution of the Archbishop of Canterbury

Archbishop William Laud with image of his execution in the background

In March 1644 the long trial began of Thomas’ former ally, William Laud the Archbishop of Canterbury. Laud was a controversial figure, a staunch supporter of the King and had sought to combat Puritanism during his tenure as Archbishop of Canterbury. He was arrested on charges of High Treason but managed to successfully prove that he had not committed treason under known law. Therefore, as with Thomas Wentworth the Earl of Strafford, he was held to have subverted the constitution, and he was condemned by bill of attainder. Laud was executed at Tower Hill on 10 January 1645 at the age of 71.

It is impossible to know what personal impact the execution of William Laud had on the Blechynden’s. Thomas had spoken in his defense regarding the practice of bowing towards the altar which the puritans argued was evidence of Laud’s popish proclivities. Thomas argued that the practice had been in place for some time and ever since his own installation which took place “above ten years ago”. Regardless of his personal views the beheading of the Archbishop of Canterbury must have been a shocking event and deeply unsettling for the Anglican clergy who had been ejected from their livings in 1642.

Kentish Rebellion – what next?

On Christmas Day in 1647 the people of Canterbury decided they had had enough of puritan austerity. They wanted to celebrate Christmas and have a day off work and this led to what was known as the “plum pudding riots”. Although over relatively quickly it sowed the seed for the Royalist uprising in Kent that took place in May 1648. Again, the uprising was quashed this time with some force by Lord General Fairfax at the Battle of Maidstone on 1 June 1648.

The Kentish Rebellion began as a “humble petition of the Knights, Gentry, Clergy and Commonality…” and there is a suggestion that Thomas Blechynden was involved. Although initial charges made in 1648 were dropped the County Committee for Kent, on the 9th of October 1650, sent to the Committee for Compounding “a list of the estates of recusants and others which we have seized according to your instructions, and will transmit the charges and proofs against them as soon as transcribed” and amongst the estates seized of “delinquents in the late insurrection” was that of Dr Blechynden with a yearly valuation of his estate at £200.

Information was then provided on 7 Nov 1650 by Solicitor Thomas Fowle that Thomas Blechynden “promoted the late libellous and seditious petition of Kent, aided the late insurrection, was at several assemblies, and was in arms against Parliament” to which accusation Thomas defended himself or, rather his wife Margaret did, as it is she that she writes to the Committee for Compounding to challenge the case against him which she does successfully.

14 Nov. 1650. Order on his request that the County Committee give him a copy of the charge against him, and allow him to examine witnesses in his defence. They are also to send up a copy of the old charge of delinquency exhibited to the late County Committee against him.

10 Dec. He begs discharge, unless further cause appear against him. Was accused in 1648, and compounded with the County Committee, who discharged him, but now the County Committee revive the very charge from which he was acquitted. Signed, Margaret Blechinden.

10 Dec. His sequestration discharged, there being no convincing proof of delinquency.

Cases before the Committee: November 1650′, in Calendar, Committee For Compounding: Part 4, ed. Mary Anne Everett Green (London, 1892), pp. 2595-2635. British History Online

In March 1649 Thomas makes his will in which, according to The Blechynden Story, by E.M. Hall and H.V. Hall, he “bemoaned the unnatural wars and years of sequestration“. Perhaps it is telling that he makes his will after he had been suspected of involvement in the Kentish Rebellion and shortly after the execution on 30 January 1649 of King Charles I outside the Banqueting House, Whitehall. It was many years before his will was proven on 23 February 1663 so perhaps Thomas was seriously ill in 1649/50 which is why Margaret also writes to the Committee for Compounding on his behalf. Or had the years of imprisonment and suspicion taken their toll and after witnessing the executions of both Archbishop Laud and the King, Thomas decided to plan ahead and provide for his wife and children in case worse was to come?

I am conscious that I have not spent much time in this post on Margaret Aldersey. The civil war years for her must have been challenging especially, if like Lady Brockman, Thomas was imprisoned for a significant amount of time or at least unders suspician and investigation. Writing to the Committee for Compounding in 1650 shows strength of character and I imagine, like Ann Brockman, she lobbied on her husbands behalf to get him home or at least to a prison nearer home. Her will points to interesting family connections and, well frankly money, as she distributes her gold, diamonds and pearls amongst her family. But she also sets up through her will almshouses for “six poor widows” to be maintained “forever” and these are still operational today providing sheltered accommodation in Salisbury!

Dr Thomas Blechynden eventually gets to go home to Ruffin’s Hill and spends the remainder of his days there dying in 1662 or 1663 – his death and burial record eludes me but his will is probated in 1663. Margaret Blechynden outlives her husband by 20 years and her will (1683) records that she is living in the parish of St Paul’s, Covent Garden, in the County of Middlesex (now central London). Margaret’s will is worth looking at separately to explore her wider family connections. So I will follow that up shortly but end this one with a quick summary of their children:

Children of Dr Thomas Blechynden and Margaret Aldersey:

  • Ann – eldest daughter, baptised 23 Dec 1636 Canterbury Cathedral, mentioned in her mothers will of 1683, still unmarried at that time.
  • Mary – second daughter, baptised 7 Jan 1639/40 Canterbury Cathedral. Marries Edward Dilkes (possibly related to the Dilkes of Maxstoke Castle, Warwks). Her mother’s will refers to Mary’s “children” and she and her children are also referenced in her cousin Richard Blechynden’s will dated 1697.
  • Thomas – eldest son and heir, baptised 12 Mar 1640/41 Canterbury Cathedral. Marries Marie Cartwright in Dulwich and has a number of children.
  • Margaret -baptised 4 Dec 1642 (note this is just a few days after the House of Commons orders her fathers imprisonment). Never marries. Will proven in Chester 20 April 1713.
  • Dorothy – no baptism record found. Mentioned in her father’s will so born before 1649. Never marries. Will proven in Chester in 1717.
  • Theophilact – no baptism record found but mentioned in his father’s will so born before 1649. His mother’s will of 1683 refers to him and his wife (Elizabeth Garland?) and his cousin Richard’s will (1697) refers to “Captain Theophilus Blechynden and his wife”.

Dr Thomas Blechynden and Margaret Aldersey

This post will focus on Thomas Blechynden, Doctor of Divinity, and his wife Margaret Aldersey. Dr Thomas Blechynden was a distant cousin of Thomas Blechenden. They were direct decendents of James Blechenden but decended down the lines of his two wives. The Thomas Blechenden who married Elizabeth Boys inherited the family home of Simnells in Aldington in Kent and the Thomas Blechynden who married Margaret Aldersey inherited Ruffyns Hill in Aldington.

The extract from my ancestry tree shows that they were of the same generation and, as contemporaries who died just a year apart, they lived through the same political and religious upheaval. But their lives took a very different path. Thomas Blechenden studied law at Gray’s Inn and was involved in public affairs in Kent but lived relatively quietly whilst Dr Thomas Blechynden studied at Cambridge, entered the Church, enjoyed Royal patronage but who was also thrown into prison at the start of the Civil War in 1642.

Thomas Blechynden was the eldest son of Humphrey Blechynden and Mary Toke and the eldest of eight children (not all of whom survived infancy) . He was born in Aldington in Kent and baptised at the local Church in January 1592/3. As the eldest son of a well-connected country gentleman Thomas would have received a good education and in 1609, when Thomas was 16 he went to study at St John’s, Cambridge, receiving his B.A. 1612-13. Thomas continued his studies and received his M.A. in 1616; B.D. in 1624 and D.D. in 1635. D.D. is the degree of Doctor of Divinity. This is the highest of the degrees awarded by the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. It often appears in the sources as ‘STP’, that is Sanctae Theologiae Professor. It also sometimes appears as ‘Theo. dcr.’ and as ‘STD’ (Sanctae Theologiae Doctor).

So, it would seem that Thomas Blechynden had no interest in managing the family estates and headed instead for a career in the Church. Following his ordination in Peterborough Cathedral on 23 May 1619, and whilst still a Fellow of St John’s, he was appointed household Chaplain to Francis, Lord Russell of Thornhaugh, 4th Earl of Bedford. Through his patronage he was appointed Rector of Sowton in Exeter in 1625, a position he held for the next 10 years. In 1627 he was also appointed Rector of Norton Fitzwarren in Somerset via the patronage of Edward Bourchier, 4th Earl of Bath, a position he held until 1638.

The Earl of Bedford was heavily involved in the programme to drain the Fens and correspondence survives between The Earl of Bedford and Sir Henry Vane, Ambassador at the Hague about this. There is an interesting element to the letters which indicates the close relationship between Thomas Blechynden and the Earl and Countess of Bedford as it would seem that the Earl planned to settle two of his younger sons in the “Low Countries” and the Countess asked Thomas to go with them and see them settled there. Perhaps accompanying the children abroad wasn’t in the job description of household Chaplain as the Earl, in his letter of 25 July 1630 to Sir Henry Vane, says he “hopes this will not be a cause of misunderstanding between him and Mr. Blechenden.

There is also a letter dated 2 November 1630 from Thomas Blechynden to Sir Henry Vane which suggests that he was, or was angling for, a position as Sir Henry’s chaplain. The letter also passes on news from the Earl about the work to progress the draining of the Fens. Here is a summary of his letter from the Calendar of State papers (and a slightly fuller version is also here):

On 17th October, the Earl of Bedford countermanded former directions for the writer to see his two sons to Leyden, because the Lord Treasurer had made some alteration in the business of the Fens, which reason of delay is to the writer a mystery. Would have waited upon Sir Henry as chaplain, but was informed from “my Lady” that Mr. Vane had gone over in that capacity. If Sir Henry commands the writer to attend him in the States, begs the favour of a previous letter to the Bishop of London. Congratulations on the birth of a son. P.S. dated the next day adds, that a fresh letter from the Earl of Bedford explains that the stoppage in the business of the Fens arises out of a misunderstanding of Vermuyden’s former proceedings; but he is well esteemed here, and the business of draining is now conceived so feasible, that the Earl will have sharers sufficient in England to carry him through that vast undertaking. He will reserve a considerable quantity of acres for Sir Henry.

‘Charles I – volume 175: November 1630’, in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles I, 1629-31, ed. John Bruce (London, 1860), pp. 371-396. British History Online

It would seem that Thomas was made chaplain to Sir Henry Vane, as in 1631/2 a letter from Bishop Laud to Sir Henry refers to Thomas as “Sir Henry’s Chaplain”. The letter suggests that Laud held Thomas Blechynden in esteem or, as a minimum, held Sir Henry in esteem and wanted to assist his chaplain.

My very good Lord, I wish you all health and happiness in your employment. I shall according to my promise, take all the care I can for Mr. Blechenden’s business. But sure, if Dr. Anyon have denied Dr. Hunt his dividend in the church of Canterbury, it is not with any eye to Sir Henry’s chaplain, but to increase their own dividend; for it hath been the custom in that church, and in some others, to allow some small proportion to him that lives absent, and when the audit comes, to share the remainder among themselves, towards their charge of housekeeping upon the place. And howsoever, if they refuse to give the Dean of Durham anything at all, yet Mr. Blechenden cannot challenge any part of it, being as yet no prebend there. And whosoever caused your Lordship to write in that way did much deceive both himself and you. For the business, if I live to see the place made void, I shall fail in no point of trust, but be ready to move His Majesty for Mr Blechenden.

Letter CCXXXV to Sir Henry Vane, January 27 1631/2. Scott, W., Bliss, J., Laud, W. (1860). The Works of the Most Reverend Father in God, William Laud, D.D. Sometime Lord Archbishop of Canterbury. United Kingdom: John Henry Parker.

Royal Patronage

I find the comment made by Bishop Laud that Thomas Blechynden was “as yet no prebend” puzzling. The very useful Church of England Clergy database says that on 14 September 1631 that he was presented for appointment to the Prebendary of Canterbury Cathedral and this time his patron was King Charles I. It is possible that the Bishop rejected the presentation, but is that likely given the King was the patron? Whatever the matter here, Thomas was presented again by the King on 15 November 1633 by which time William Laud was the Archbishop of Canterbury and this time there seems to be question of Thomas’ appointment. Notes to the presentation indicate that Thomas was “royal chaplain in ordinary to King Charles” which would have been a largely honorary, albeit still prestigious, role but could have meant he preached occasionally at the Royal Chapel or to other members of the Royal family. Royal patronage and the support of the Archbishop of Canterbury could have set Thomas Blechynden on the path to much greater things if it wasn’t for the Civil War and, by 1649, the execution of both Archbishop Laud and King Charles.

In addition to his position as a prebend of Canterbury Cathedral in 1638 Thomas Blechynden was appointed Perpetual Vicar of Eastry with Worth and in 1639/40 Vicar of Kingston, Kent. The Parish Registers of St Giles make reference the Return of the Churchwardens to the Visitation in 1640 with a note on “Dr Blechindin” which helps confirm his recent appointment there:

“Dr. Blechindin’s Chancel wants Tyling, and it doth rain in upon the Communion table.”

The Parish Registers of S. Giles, Kingston by Rev. Christopher Hales Wilkie, published 1893

Both of these later positions – in Eastry and Kingston – he held until his death in 1662 although it is unknown whether he had access to the livings from these two parishes during the Commonwealth. The Parish Registers of S. Giles, Kingston by Rev. Christopher Hales Wilkie, are also helpful in that they contain a short biography of Thomas Blechynden D. D. which helps to provide further evidence of his family:

There is one further possible appointment in Esher as there is a letter from Thomas Blechynden to William Dell, Secretary to Archbishop Laud, about a “insolent work of darkness” which took place in the Church to remove the altar rail and which names a number of suspects. Thomas refers to a witness to the act Katherine Gill, a “poor woman” of “ill life and fame” and there is an unsettling, unchristian threat made in the letter which does not make me think highly of him:

I shall labour to have her confess it to some other; she is threatened with the pulling down of her house, and subtraction of maintenance when I am removed to Canterbury.

Charles I – volume 460: July 14-23, 1640′, in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles I, 1640, ed. William Douglas Hamilton (London, 1880), pp. 475-508. British History Online 

Margaret Aldersley

Thomas Blechynden spent his early years in study, advancing his career and building up a network of powerful friends and allies. By the time he was 41 he was prebendary to Canterbury Cathedral with no less than the Monarch as his patron and an ally in the Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud. His attention then turned to marriage, and perhaps recognising the need for a future heir to the family estate he turned his eye on young Margaret Aldersley. They were married in 1635 when he was 42 and she just 18 years old!

Thomas and Margaret’s license to marry

Their marriage license is difficult to read but it says something like: “Which day appeareth formally Thomas Blechynden one of the prebendary of Christ Church of Canterbury bachilour aged 42 years and allegedly he intendeth to marry with Margaret Aldersey of the parish of St Katherine Coleman Street London maiden aged 18 years  and the lawful and real daughter of Samuel Aldersey merchant deceased, and she at y disposal  of her mother-in-law [i.e. step-mother] Margaret Aldersey who consents to this intended marriage.  And of the month …. Also that there is no lawful lot or impediment by reason of any existant …….affinity or otherwise to hinder the so intended marriage ho made faith and do first …. to be married in the church  of St Faiths London or in ye …Church of St Leonard Foster Lane London….”. The marriage was attested to by Thomas’ younger brother Richard Blechynden who is a silkman living in Paternoster Row, close to Saint Paul’s Cathedral in the City of London.

Margaret Aldersey was the daughter of Samuel Aldersey of Bunbury in Cheshire an influential and generous member of the Habadashers Company who died in 1633 and was buried in the Chancel of St Stephen’s, Coleman Street. St Stephen’s was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666, rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren but destroyed again in the blitz, 29 December 1940 but there is happily, the following record of his burial:

In the Chancel lies buried the Body of Mr. Samuel Aldersey, Merchant Citizen and Haberdasher of London, July 25. 1633. His Hatchments and Ensigns proper to his Name and Estate, hang over him.

John Strype’s A Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster, Coleman Street Ward [Monuments]Vol 1, 1753

We should take a moment to pause on Samuel Aldersey and the significance of St Stephen’s in Coleman Street as it speaks volumes about the type of person that Margaret probably was and the family that Thomas was marrying into. The parish of Coleman Street was a notorious hotbed of religious radicalism – not only in the parish church of St Stephen’s but in the merchant houses and the taverns and inns nearby. Samuel Aldersley was at the centre of that in the early 1600s. He was well known by the Dutch community in London (his first wife, Mary Van Oyrel, was Dutch) and also by the elders of the Dutch Reformed Church. Samuel was a vestryman at St Stephen’s and helped to appoint the leading Puritan minister John Davenport to the Church in 1624. Samuel Aldersey was also one of the three founding members of the Massachusetts Bay Company which was formed in 1628 as a joint stock venture to trade in the fish and furs of New England but leading members of the company also wanted to use it to promote the founding of a Puritan religious commonwealth.

Sir Norton Knatchbull and Mary Aldersey, 1629

Samuel’s sister Mary married firstly Thomas Westrow, Alderman of London and secondly Sir Norton Knatchbull (not to be confused with his nephew also Sir Norton Knatchbull, Baronett, who as a “dear friend” is one of the overseers of Thomas Blechynden’s will) and we can assume therefore that they knew each other well. People seemed to move in quite small social circles and I found it interesting to note that Sir Norton’s first wife was Ann Wentworth, eldest daughter of Paul Wentworth who was in turn the brother of Peter Wentworth, grandfather to Elizabeth Boys, and the wife of the other Thomas Blechenden mentioned at the start of this post. Sir Norton Knatchbull, Baronett, also married Dorothy Westrow, the daughter of Thomas Westrow and Mary Aldersey, shortly after Mary remarried to Sir Norton Knatchbull (senior).

Thomas and Margaret’s children

Thomas and Margaret married in 1635 and quickly had children, six in total: Anne (bap 1636), Mary (bap 1640), Thomas (bap 1641), Margaret (bap 1642), Theophilact and Dorothy. The first four children are all baptised at Canterbury Cathedral -appropriate given Thomas’ position as a prebendary of the Cathedral – but I have not been able to find baptism records for Theophilact and Dorothy.

Things probably started taking a worrying turn for Thomas in 1640 when Archbishop William Laud was arrested for Treason and I would imagine questions were asked about his friends, family and those he appointed to prominent positions. The start of the English Civil War started in earnest on 22 August 1642 when King Charles left London and raised his standard in Nottingham with the first battle at Edgehill in October that year. This changed everything for Thomas and Margaret. He lost his position at Canterbury Cathedral and later in 1642 by order of the House of Commons was ordered to be remanded to prison.

Although we don’t know where Theophilact and Dorothy were baptised during this period of war, disruption and uncertainty, it is perhaps telling that the name of his youngest son means “guarded by God”.

The Civil War years and beyond will be covered in my next post.

My Boys Family Connection

Today’s post reflects on the links between the Blechendens and Boys family in Kent. I almost entitled this post “my connection to Boys” but thought better of it when I realised that it might attract the wrong sort of internet traffic! Anyway, back to the serious stuff. I have tracked down quite a large number now of my direct ancestors in Kent, England, including one directly back to the Boys/Boyes/Bois family in Kent through the marriage of John Wanstall to Hannah Boys in Waldershare, near Dover in Kent, in 1735.  Hannah Boys is a descendent of  Thomas Boys of Bonnington (d 1508) who married Thomasine.  Through this line I can take the family tree further back to c1066 – thanks to the large amount of research that has gone into this family already.

William Boys and Isabella Phallop brass plate at Holy Cross Church, Goodnestone

The photo on the left was taken earlier this year when as a special wedding anniversary treat my husband took me on a hunt of my Kentish ancestors. The rest of our family think we are mad but I was thrilled to find this brass plate on the floor of the Church of the Holy Cross Goodnestone dedicated to my 14x great grandparents William Boys (d1507) and Isabella Phallop (d1517). The inscription underneath the effigies says something like “Here lies William Boys and Isabella his wife. William died the last day of July 1507. God have mercy on their souls“.

As mentioned, the Boys family are well researched and written about and in one of those documents I spotted a marriage between Elizabeth Boys/Bois and Thomas Blechenden on 26 August 1607 at Nonington in Kent.  There is also a further marriage between Edward Boys and Emily Grace Blechynden in Tenterden in 1837 which having looked into it a little does suggest that some lines of the families remained in the same area of Kent and perhaps in touch over that period of time.  This made me wonder whether there was a family connection here to help me with my Blissenden blockage.

Thomas BlechEnden and Elizabeth Boys

But back to Thomas Blechenden and Elizabeth Boys – the focus of this post. Thomas was born in c1586 in Kennington in Kent, the son of John Blechenden and Margaret Ashenden. Elizabeth Boys was born c1587 in Nonington, Kent the daughter of Edward Boys (1528-1599), later to be knighted as Sir Edward Boys, and his first wife Mary Wentworth, daughter of Sir Peter Wentworth MP and Elizabeth Walsingham.

I haven’t been able to find a birth record for Thomas but I have been able to estimate his date and place of birth from evidence he gives to the Court of Chivalry in 1638/39 in which he is described as Thomas Blechenden of Woodnesborough, co Kent, esq. born in Kennington, co Kent, aged 56 – this would give his year of birth as c1586.   There are many Thomas Blechendens in the family but I am confident that this is the right Thomas given the approximate year of birth and because a deed of settlement is made in 1607 between the fathers of Thomas and Elizabeth on their marriage. This deed is held by the Canterbury Cathedral Archives and Library but the website of the National Archives describes it as:

Deed of Settlement. Made between John Blechenden of Monkton in the Isle of Thanet and Thomas B his son on the one part Sir John Boys of S 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 da of Sir Edward Boys.

Admission to Gray’s Inn

The first real record we have of Thomas Blechenden is from October 24 1604, at the age of about 18, when he is admitted to Gray’s Inn, still one of the most famous Inns of Court, in London.  The Register of Admission to Gray’s Inn, 1521-1889, states that  Thomas Blechenden was the “son and heir of John Blechenden of Monckton, Isle of Thanet, Esq.

This helps to confirm Thomas’ identity as we know that his father John moved to Monkton on his second marriage to his cousin Frances (see earlier post).  The Gray’s Inn website explains that in the 16th century the prosperity of the Inns grew and attracted a broader culture to the Inns which included entertainment, pageants and plays and this also meant that it became a fashionable place for noblemen and country gentlemen to send their sons, many of whom had no intention of becoming barristers. This seems to be the case for Thomas as I have found no evidence that he became a barrister and instead imagine that admission to Gray’s Inn at the age of about 18 years old was more in the nature of a finishing school and networking opportunity!  

Elizabeth Boys’ family

Thomas’ wife to be, Elizabeth Boys, was born around 1587 according to the baptism records at Nonington. She was the daughter of Edward Boys, later to be knighted as Sir Edward Boys, and his first wife Mary Wentworth. Mary Wentworth herself is of interest as she was the daughter of Sir Peter Wentworth MP by his second marriage to Elizabeth Walsingham the sister of Sir Francis Walsingham (also a member of Gray’s Inn) who was Queen Elizabeth’s so-called spy master and principal secretary.

It is sometimes too easy when researching family history to focus on names and dates and forget the social, religious and political context of the day.  Thomas and Elizabeth certainly lived in turbulent times.  One year after they were born saw the attempted invasion via the Spanish Armada in 1588; there was religious dissent and persecution both at home and abroad and growing speculation and concern about the question of the royal succession.  

Elizabeth herself grew up in a strongly protestant household – her grandfather Sir Edward Boys, the Elder of Fredville, was one of the 800 or so “Marian Exiles” who fled abroad in fear of religious persecution, first to Frankfurt in Germany in 1557 and then to Geneva to help establish a puritan colony at Aarau. Whilst at Geneva Boys was probably heavily influenced by John Calvin and may have helped bring some of  Calvin’s ideas back to England when he returned after Queen Mary’s death in 1558.  There is a passing reference to Edward Boys (Bois) in The Lives of Two and Twenty English Divines which describes him as a “man eminent for Piety in those daies“.

Elizabeth’s other grandfather, Sir Peter Wentworth MP, was also a prominent puritan who spoke out in the House of Commons on what were, at that time, very controversial issues, including freedom of speech, religion and the royal succession. Sir Peter spent time in the Tower of London for his outspokenness in Parliament in 1576, 1587 and then again in 1593. This last stay would be his last, he died there in November 1596 aged 73. Sir Peter was probably not considered a great Parliamentarian amongst his peers, and I get the impression that he wasn’t a great politician. But he was exceptional in his clarity of thought and should hold a stronger place in our history for speaking so clearly about the need for freedom of speech – his speeches to the House of Commons are the first such statements recorded and because of his convictions he spent his aged and final years in the Tower of London. The History of Parliament online is a useful reference for Peter Wentworth MP.

Sir Peter’s wife, Elizabeth Walsingham, also spent her final years in the Tower demonstrating that being the sister of Sir Francis Walsingham carried no special privileges. Elizabeth also died in the Tower just four months before her husband, and was buried on 21 July 1596.  I wonder whether Elizabeth Boys (perhaps named for her grandmother) ever really knew her grandparents – she was just six years old when the Wentworth’s died.  I imagine the family would feel a deep sense of injustice, but perhaps also pride, that elderly members of their family died in the Tower for their beliefs.  Memorials for both Peter and Elizabeth Wentworth are in the Chapel of Saint Peter-ad-Vincula within the walls of the Tower of London.  

Given Elizabeth’s upbringing in a staunchly protestant/puritan family it is most likely that Thomas Blechenden was of the same faith and puritan leanings.  However, there is no evidence that Thomas’s immediate family were also Marian exiles or spoke out so publicly on controversial matters.  The Blechendens were doing alright for themselves; they had land and property; they mingled with and married into influential families but to turn a phrase, they kept their heads down and kept their heads on! 

The Boys were an influential family in Kent and Thomas Blechenden, or rather his father John, who would have had a leading role in organising the match, must have thought this would be a route to better things. For Sir Edward Boys and his brother Sir John, named in the marriage settlement, this must also have been a good marriage – Thomas was the heir to his father’s properties and the marriage would have seen Elizabeth, one of a number of daughters, settled comfortably. There were also pre-existing family ties between the Boys and the Blechendens: Thomas’ grandmother was Jane Engham who married Richard Ashenden. Her second husband was Edward Boys of Nonington and Fredville (1528-99) whose first wife was Clara Wentworth. 

Family tree of Thomas and Elizabeth

The family tree becomes a little complicated, especially with the various marriages on the part of the Boys and Wentworths so this extract from my Ancestry family tree tries to set it out more clearly. It shows that there was no blood relationship between Thomas and Elizabeth, but given both of their grandmothers (Clara Wentworth and Jane Engham) had been married to Edward Boys of Nonington and Fredville it is likely that Thomas and Elizabeth knew each other as children.

Thomas and Elizabeth’s children

1663 Visitation of Kent

In the 1663-68 Visitation of Kent there is an outline of the Blechynden family tree which takes us from Thomas’ marriage to Elizabeth in 1607 in Nonington (although the Visitation record mistakenly refers  to her as Mary, perhaps confusing her with her mother) to the first three children of his grandson Thomas and Margaret Linch/Lynch.   The Visitation record only gives information of one of Thomas and Elizabeth’s children: John who married Anne, the daughter of “Glover of Canterbury”.  We can, however, identify their other children from various records:  

  • Maria, baptised in Nonington, Kent on 21 August 1608,
  • Edward, baptised in Nonington on 16 April 1610,
  • Elizabeth, baptised in Nonington on 26 June 1614,
  • Francis, baptised in Aldington on 29 September 1617, and
  • Thomas, baptised in St Olave’s London on 5 Nov 1618.  

John was probably also baptised in Nonington in 1612 but I have not found a baptism record. However, we have some evidence for his date of birth from Oxford University Alumni records which illustrate that Edward and his brother John matriculated at the same time – Edward was 17 and John just 15 which would make John’s date of birth as 1612 fitting neatly in between the births of siblings Edward and Elizabeth.

Blechinden, Edward, s. Thomas, of Bishpsborne, Kent, gent. ST ALBAN HALL, matric. 4 May, 1627, aged 17.

Blechinden, John, s. Thomas, of Bishopsborne, Kent, gent. ST ALBAN HALL, matric. 4 May, 1627, aged 15. B.A. from MAGDALEN HALL, 1 Feb., 1630-1, brother of the last named.

Oxford University Alumni 1500-1714, Vol 1

The parish church for Nonington, St Mary the Virgin, where most of the children are baptised, is less than one mile from Fredville Park which suggests that Thomas and Elizabeth perhaps either lived with her family at Fredville after their marriage, or near by, given that their first four children are baptised there. Thomas would have inherited Simnells, the Blechenden family home, in Aldington after his father John’s death in 1607 but it is unclear whether Thomas and Elizabeth lived there at all before c1617. When his daughter Francis is baptised in Aldington the parish records state that she is the daughter of Thomas Blechenden of Simnells. Only one year later, however, Thomas and Elizabeth are in London – perhaps visiting some family or in town to witness the execution of Sir Walter Raleigh on 29 October? Sadly, however, whilst they are staying in London their baby daughter Francis dies and is buried on September 25th at St Olave’s, Silver Street, in the City of London. Just over a month later Thomas and Elizabeth have another child, Thomas, who is baptised on 5 Nov 1618, but it would appear that Elizabeth dies in childbirth, or shortly after, as she is buried just two days later on 7 Nov 1618 also at St Olave’s. St Olave’s was destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666 and was never rebuilt.

Record of the burials of Francis and Elizabeth Blechenden, St Olave’s, City of London

The death of Elizabeth in 1618 meant that Thomas became a widower with 5 young children at the age of just 32. It was not unusual for people to remarry even when there were a number of children involved, as was the case for Thomas’ father John Blechenden, but I have not found any reference to a second marriage for Thomas. Memorials to him refer to his arms as Azure, a fess nebulee argent, between three lions’ heads erased, or, attired gules, empaling; Boys. No other family is mentioned.

Perhaps Thomas spent the next few years ensuring the future of his children. It appears that he moved from Simnells in Aldington to Bishopsbourne – in 1623 there is a record of a sale of land in Eastbridge by Thomas Blechenden of Bishopsbourne and the records of Edward and John’s education at Oxford (matric 1627) refer to their father as Thomas Blechenden of Bishopsbourne. We know that his two daughters married into the Cason family. Maria (Mary) married Edward Cason of Furneaux Pelham, Hertfordshire in 1629 at Woodnesborough, and Elizabeth married Edward’s younger brother John in 1633 also at Woodnesborough. Records suggest that the family home of Simnells in Aldington transferred to the Casons around this time although John Cason alienated it back to Thomas and Elizabeth’s grandson, “Thomas Blechenden of Woodnesborough, gent”, in 1663.

Despite the death of Elizabeth in 1618 it is likely that the Blechenden and the Boys remained close. One piece of evidence of the ongoing family links and friendship between the Boys and the Blechenden’s is in a case brought before the Court of Chivalry in 1638/39. This is a strange case which was made against one William Crayford for “scandalous words provocative of a duel”. In this both Thomas Blechenden and Edward Boyes of Betteshanger are called as witnesses (and the case is heard before Thomas’ father-in-law Sir Edward Boys). Although the outcome of the court case is not known it sounds as if there was a long-standing disagreement between a Mr Argent and a Mr Crayford and then, one market day in Sandwich, a group of gentlemen were sitting down in the Pelican (tavern) for refreshments when the old argument flared up again. Thomas Blechenden refers to sitting down for dinner and Edward Boyes in his evidence says that he was at the Pelican in Sandwich because “there was an ordinary for gentlemen where he met his friends”. It was not unusual for both men and women to dine out in taverns and “an ordinary” usually referred to a set dinner at a fixed price. Despite the dispute between Mr Argent and Mr Crayford we can infer that the Blechendens and the Boyes as well as having family connections were on friendly terms.

The civil war years and beyond?

There are a couple of references which suggest that Thomas Blechenden may have followed in his fathers footsteps and become involved in the administration of local affairs and perhaps controversially so. During the English Civil War in 1643 Thomas Blechynden was added to the list of committee members responsible for seizing and sequestering the estates of “papists and delinquents” by order of the House of Lords. Sequestration was a policy implemented by Parliament during the Civil War to legally seize the assets or impose a fine to Catholics and those who may have supported the King. This was a great revenue earner for the Parliamentarians and, although there was a process where families could appeal against sequestration or offer to pay a fine, many families were still ruined financially as result of the Civil War. The Boys were also committee members – John Boys was appointed the same time as Thomas Blechenden and Sir Edward Boyes was appointed to the Kent Committee in March 1643.

It is this Day Ordered, by the Lords in Parliament, That Sir William Springate Knight, John Boys of Trappam Esquire, Sir Edward Monins Baronet, Thomas Blechynden, Thomas Westroe, Esquires, Sir John Roweth, and Mr. Thomas Plummer of Cranbrooke, be added to the Committee for seizing and sequestering the Estates of Papists and Delinquents, and for the Weekly Assessments, in the County of Kent.

House of Lords Journal Volume 6: 10 May 1643′, in Journal of the House of Lords: Volume 6, 1643 (London, 1767-1830), pp. 38-41. British History Online

Records of Thomas’ involvement with the committee and attendance at committee meetings have not survived as far as I am aware and it is impossible to say to what extent he was involved with the sequestration of properties of his Kentish neighbours and possibly his family (a cousin also named Thomas Blechenden D.D. was subject to a sequestration order).

Following Thomas’s death in 1661 his son, Thomas, enters into a mortgage agreement in 1666 with a Margaret Sherman the papers to which refer to him as “Thos Blechenden son of Thos Blechenden Clk”. Was Thomas a Clerk, perhaps a Clerk of the Peace? A Clerk of the Peace helped to record court sessions, performing the many functions of a clerk to the court and usually required someone with some legal training so perhaps, if this is the case, then Thomas’ time at Gray’s Inn was put to good use. It was also a position which was held for life and, if he was a Clerk of the Peace, this may also explain the monument to him at St Mary’s Church in Woodnesborough which says he died at a grave old age after steadfastly and industriously administering public affairs but also that he was distinguished for his justice which I hope also prevailed as a member of the sequestration committee. The marble monument is in Latin so with the help of google translate it says something like this:

Under this marble will be resurrected Thomas BLECHENDEN Arm. The bones were buried, descended from the ancient family of the Blechendens of Aldington in the county of Kent. He was distinguished for his piety, justice, and refinement, and at length, at a grave old age of 77, after steadfastly and industriously administering public affairs to the brothers, he died on November 22, 1661.

The will of Thomas Blechenden

Thomas Blechenden died on the 22 November 1661 and I have to admit his last will and testament puzzles me. He is the father to five children and a large number of grandchildren through his sons and daughters. Yet his will only directly references two of his sons – John and Thomas who each receive a very small inheritance – and some, but not all of his grandchildren. Only the children of his son John are mentioned in the will with John, Edward and Anne each receiving an equal share of Thomas’ half-part share and interest in the lease of the rectory of Winsborough (Woodnesborough). Grandson Thomas, the heir in waiting, gets five shillings and the eldest grand-daughter Elizabeth gets £300! The Casons and Cason grandchildren receive nothing even though John Cason is a witness to the will. The Executor of the will is Thomas’ “loving nephew” Sir John Mennes who also receives £10 to buy a ring of remembrance and whom he entrusts to execute the will “not doubting of his faithful service of the same amending to my true intent and meaning herein discharged”. There is no mention of land or properties or goods in his will other than his half-part share in the rectory of Winsborough, which is surprising – what about Simnells? Or properties in Bishopsbourne or Kennington? There are two possibilities here, the first is that Thomas has already settled the majority of his goods and lands etc on his children and grandchildren and this is the final “divvy up”. His will does say “And so by me bequeathed is to be as an […?] to him the said John Blechynden over and beside what is already settled upon him.” Perhaps grandson Thomas – who was by this time married with his own children – had already had a bequest from his grandfather and hence the token five shillings. There is also the possibility that some of this was lost to the Blechenden’s during the English Civil War – despite being on the sequestration committee is it posible that lands were taken or offered up to help raise money? There is no evidence of the latter so I favour the former option. But it is a very modest last will and testament despite the lack of the usual reference to the distribution of property etc. He offers up his soul “into the hands of Almighty God my Creator” but there are no requests to be buried within a specific part of the parish Church, or with his wife or other family; simply to be “decently interred at the discretion of my Executors”. £5 is also given to the poor of the parish. His last will and testament reflects the words on his monument: piety, justice and refinement.