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 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/chas1/1629-31/pp371-396

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 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/chas1/1640/pp475-508 

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.

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