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”.