The Last Will of Dr Thomas White, Bishop of Peterborough, proved 1698

Thomas White after unknown artist line engraving, early 18th century, National Portrait Gallery D30900.

My last post was about Dr Thomas White, the former Bishop of Peterborough but I thought I would try to set out some points from his will which was proven in 1698. Although written in about 1690 (he says in the opening paragraph he is almost 62 years of age) the will is undated and there are also no named witnesses. This seems very unusual given the length of the will and it would seem that he pondered over aspects of it and changed elements from the first time it was written. Some text is struck out and there are comments and/or additional text in the margins, not all of which is legible.

I have added my transcription of the will to my last wills and testaments page so won’t repeat it all here but try to pull out a few key points and especially as they refer to his Blechynden relatives.

Thomas White starts his will in the usual way but then moves on quickly to commentary on some of the key matters that have played out during his life – he begins by professing his belief in the Church of England as the “safest way to heaven” and also his frustration that not everyone understands this: “O that my deluded countrymen would think soe too”.

He leaves £10 to the poor of the parish “where I shall dye” and £240 pounds to the poor in each of the parishes of Aldington; Newark; Bottesford; Peterborough and Castor. However, strict conditions are attached to this charity as those who might benefit must first repeat the Lords prayer, the Apostles Creed and the Ten Commandments “distinctly and exactly” and if one word is missed out or changed then they are not to benefit. Whilst this may seem like a very harsh test for those most in need of aid, Thomas White explains that he wants his charity to also benefit them spiritually and to encourage them to learn what it is to be a Christian:

And I do desire withal it may be observed that I do design this gift not only as a Corporal but as Spiritual alms to doe good unto the souls as well as the bodies of the poor, having with sorrow of heart taken notice of the inconceivable ignorance which prevails amongst the poorest sort of people that they are (at least very many of them) Xtians only in name, but know not why they are soe nor what it is they are to believe or practise or pray for or to answer the demand of the Xtian profession. 

Extract from Thomas White’s will

Thomas White makes mention in his will to being deprived of his bishopric for not taking the Oaths of Allegience and Supremacy in 1689 and asked for reference to that to be made on a small headstone. This did not happen and his grave in the grounds of St Paul’s Cathedral remains unmarked. In his will he also leaves a small bequest of £200 to his fellow “poor among the clergy” who were similarly deprived of their living in 1689 for not taking the Oaths and asks Francis Turner, the former Bishop of Ely, to distribute the monies.

Bequests to blechynden relatives

He leaves bequests to his cousins, the children of Dr Thomas Blechynden and Margaret Aldersey, with the largest amount to Thomas Blechynden (who inherited Ruffins Hill) although this is clearly to pay off debts and fifty pounds is given subject to a list of creditors being given and the debts resolved or he “gives him nothing”. Margaret (Aldersey) Blechynden in her will dated 1682 makes similar comments about the profligacy of her son so he was clearly already in debt then and his situation no better by 1690.

in considerasoin that my son Thomas was not so careful as he ought to have beene in receiving and accounting the rent of the Courtlage,

Extract from Margaret Blechynden’s will dated 3 February 1682/3

The other children of Dr Thomas Blechynden and Margaret Aldersey are left small bequests: Theophylact Blechynden is left the sum of thirty shillings and Ann Blechynden, Mrs Mary Dilkes, Margaret Blechynden and Dorothy Blechynden are given “ten pounds to be equally divided between them viz to each of them fifty shillings“. 

Next Thomas White gives to his cousin “Mr Richard Blechynden thirty pounds“. This must be his cousin Richard who is the son of  Richard Blechynden and Anne Cleark. Richard also enters the Church and is ordained 23 December 1677. He preaches a sermon at the consecration of Thomas White as Bishop of Peterborough and also receives a prebendal position at Peterborough Cathedral in 1686 so it seems highly likely that he would be remembered in Thomas White’s will. Richard Blechynden, although 20 years younger than Thomas White actually dies the year before him and makes Thomas White his sole Executor which suggests an ongoing family relationship.

And I doe constitute the Rt Reverend father in God Thomas White Dr in Divinity late Lord Bishop of Peterborough my honoured Lord my sole Executor if he pleases to undertake the trouble And that he may take to himselffe (my funeral charges, debts and legacies being first paid) what he pleases or to distribute it amongst my relations or in works of charity as he thinks fitt…

Extract from Richard Blechynden’s will dated 26 October 1697

Thomas White bequeaths thirty pounds to his godson another Richard Blechynden, the son of Thomas Blechynden “towards the discharge of the expense of the degree of Bachelor of Laws when he shall take it at Oxford.”  This Richard Blechynden took his Bachelor of Laws, was rector of two parishes and became the first Provost of Worcestor College, Oxford until his death 8 October 1736.

Thomas White makes a conditional bequest of ten pounds to his distant cousin Gratian Blechynden “the son of Thomas Blechynden of Symnells of Aldington lately deceased“. This Thomas was the Thomas Blechynden who married Margaret Lynch and who died in 1690 leaving Symnells to his eldest son John. Clearly this branch of the Blechynden family were also not doing as well as they should but Thomas White gave the ten pounds on the basis that the youngest son of Thomas and Margaret learn a trade, “be bound forth an apprentice“, and in a typically firm way, that his brother John Blechynden:

…pay the arrears of his rent for Giggers Green which at Mich’mas next amount to above ninety pounds and discharge the arrears of Cophurst in his father’s hands when he dyed or therefore I give him nothing.

Extract from Thomas White’s will

There is a further reference to Giggers Green and Cophurst in Thomas White’s will but with some of the text struck through which suggests that he changed his mind at some point after the will was initially written in circa 1690. Unfortunately it isn’t all entirely legible and the number of people called John or Thomas in the Blechynden family make some of this extremely hard to follow. But what we do know from records at the National Archives is that Thomas Blechynden (the son of Dr Thomas Blechynden who d. 1662) together with his widowed mother sold some of their land in Aldington to Thomas White and Julius Deedes in 1668 and perhaps Giggers Green is part of this or followed later.

The Thomas Blechynden above who sold the land in Aldington did not have a brother John (i.e. Dr Thomas Blechynden did not have a son John) and it is therefore most likely that the reference to Mr John Blechynden of Aldington in the struck out text below is to the John who was the eldest son of the Thomas Blechynden who married Margaret Lynch. Earlier text in the will indicated that that John, brother of Gratian, was in arrears at Giggers Green and so it seems as though Thomas White decided to leave it to another John Blechynden who was the son of another Thomas Blechynden, this one of Fenchurch Street, in London.

Item I give and bequeath all that parcel of land called Giggers Green being sixty acres ….or life now in the onnparon of Mr John Blechynden of Aldington in the County of Kent to John Blechynden the sonne of Thomas Blechynden of Fenchurch Street in London and to his heirs forever being that parcel of land which I purchased of the said Mr Thomas Blechynden about twelve years since.  Item I leave the farme of Cophurst and all the land belonging thereunto to my heir at common law being as I think the Grandsonne of my Uncle Mr Paul White. 

Extract from Thomas White’s will

In trying to work out who is John, son of Thomas of Fenchurch Street, there are two strong contenders. The first is the son of Thomas White’s cousin Thomas Blechynden who is given £50 on the basis that he pays off his debts. John is the third, possibly fourth, surviving son of this Thomas, is born in 1680 and baptised, along with some of his other siblings in St Nicholas Cole Abbey in the City of London which is approximately one mile from Fenchurch Street. But would Thomas White have intended to give lands to the 10 year old son of his cousin Thomas whilst at the same time knowing that Thomas was not managing his financial affairs well at all. And why a younger son and not the eldest son Richard who was also his godson?

The other contender is John the son of Thomas White’s cousin Thomas Blechynden (son of Richard and Anne Blechynden). This Thomas Blechynden is born in 1650, is a land surveyor for the port of London but dies in c 1695 leaving a widow Mary and a son, John. In Richard Blechynden’s will of 1697 he mentions Mrs Mary Blechynden, widow of Mr Thomas Blechynden, who gets five pounds and five pounds to each of her children except her son John to whom he gives ten pounds which suggests to me that John is the eldest son. Thomas Blechynden, as a land surveyor for the port of London, could quite possibly have worked from the new Customs House building designed by Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London. Customs House (although now a new building) is still no more than a five minute walk from Fenchurch Street.

Regardless of which is the right John and Thomas Blechynden it is clear from Thomas White’s will that he changed his mind and decided to leave the land at Giggers Green and the farm at Cophurst to his “heir at common law being as I think the Grandsonne of my Uncle Mr Paul White” thus cutting out his Blechynden relatives from all but small financial bequests.  There is a lawsuit following Thomas White’s death “Baxter v Bletchynden” concerning his will. Perhaps this is about the struck out text and the sixty acres at Giggers Green? George Baxter is the Executor to the will and given that the will is undated and not witnessed that does perhaps raise questions about the struck out text and the intent of Thomas White.

Other bequests

Other cousins are given small amounts of money: James White gets five pounds and Mary Rousewell “wife of Mr Rousewell now or late Minister of Rislip near Uxbridge in Buckinghamshire tenn pounds”. The very helpful clergy database records Mr Rousewell as Robert Roswell who was vicar at Ruislip between 1682 and 1708. I haven’t confirmed this but suspect that Mary Rousewell was born Mary White.

Next Thomas White gives to “Mrs Lucy Brockman my watch clock and Alarme which I formerly received from her” and also receives a ring of 15 shillings.  As mentioned in my post Thomas and his mother Anne went to live with their relatives, the Brockmans of Beachborough in Kent, after his fathers death.

There a few small bequests to non family members including his “worthy friend Dr Walter Needham” who receives ten pounds. Dr Walter Needham was a physician and anatomist, admitted as an honorary fellow of the College of Physicians in 1664 and fellow in 1687; elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1667 and physician to the Charterhouse in 1672. He also gives twenty pounds to his “old good friend Major John Pownell of Borton in Wye in Kent” and ten pounds to “Corp Rob Marris of Newark.” This is likely to be the Robert Marris who was Mayor of Newark in 1675, 1687, 1700 and 1709. He also leaves ten pounds to “Mr William Whatton of Belvoire“.  William Whatton was a non-juror and Chaplain to the Earl of Rutland at Belvoir Castle. For six years Thomas White had been vicar of St Peter’s at Bottesford, the parish church for the Earls of Rutland, and probably where the association with William Whatton began.

The Seven Bishops who were tried for seditious libel, by Simon Gribelin 1688

Thomas White remembers four of his colleagues who were tried with him for seditious libel: Dr William Sancroft late Archbishop of Canterbury; Dr William Lloyd late Bishop of Norwich; Dr Francis Turner late Bishop of Ely; and Dr Thomas Ken late Bishop of Bath and Wells and gives each of them “a ring of 20 shillings price which I desire them and each of them to accept as a memorial of their fellow sufferers service and friendship“.  Dr Robert Frampton late Bishop of Gloucester, is also named in the above list although he was not one of the seven bishops but this is only because, due to a delay in travel plans, he was not able to join the delegation that petitioned the king and was not then imprisoned in the Tower of London. Two other bishops are not mentioned: John Lake Bishop of Chichester but he died in 1689 shortly after being suspended from office and Jonathan Trelawney Bishop of Bristol. Of the seven bishops tried only Trelawney was not also a non-jururing bishop and perhaps this is why he is not mentioned in Thomas White’s will.

Thomas White makes some final bequests (rings to the value of 15 shillings) to friends and colleagues and appoints Mr George Baxter “my faithful servant” to be sole Executer and leaves to him any “goods, chattels and personal estate” not already bequeathed. He appoints “two worthy friends William Thursby of the Middle Temple Esq and Edward Jennings of Lincoln Inn Fields Esq” to oversee the disposal of his estate to the various charities he mentioned and to assist George Baxtor and for their trouble they are each given ten pounds.

Thomas White Library

Finally, it is worth mentioning that Thomas White gives all his printed books to the town of Newark to form the start of a Library. With Thomas White’s usual thoroughness he gives detailed instructions for the location of the Library “in the upper End of the Church of Newarke behind the Quire” and that they shall be kept separate from the rest of the Church by means of “a lock and key thereto which key I require shall be kept by the Vicar of the Towne for the time being” and states there should be security of a thousand pounds to prevent embezzlement. Furthermore, there should be an audit of the Library once a year with any missing books replaced and the Library “shall be swept once every month and the bookes shall be all bright and rub’d once every quarter of a year”.

It is probably due to this typical fastidiousness that the Bishop White Library still exisits today in St Mary Magdalene with St Leonard, Newark. It has been expanded upon and contains some 1300 books from the period 1600-1800 but largely from the seventeenth century. The Church’s website records that the books are regularly cleaned and conserved and I am sure Thomas White would have approved.

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