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.
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.
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
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.
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 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/lords-jrnl/vol6/pp38-41.
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.
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