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.

Rev. Thomas White D.D., Bishop of Peterborough, 1628-1698

Kneller, Godfrey; Thomas White, Bishop of Peterborough (1628-1698) Magdalen College, University of Oxford;

Thomas White was the only son of Peter White of Aldington in Kent and Anne Blechynden, eldest daughter of Humphrey Blechynden also of Aldington. He was born into a family of relatively modest means but, as Bishop of Peterborough and as Chaplain to the future Queen Anne, played a pivotal role in the relationship between the Church, the State and the Monarchy. He was a devout man of strong principles which brought him into opposition with the King and with Parliament and resulted in a schism in the Church of England. Even though he spent his final years quietly, the principled decisions he had taken in his life, led to arguments after his death about his funeral and sadly his grave unmarked.

Thomas White’s early years

The marriage license, dated 3 November 1628, for Peter and Anne states that Peter White of Aldington is a yeoman, a bachelor, and aged about 39 and that Anne is unmarried, aged about 34, the daughter of Humphrey “Bleshinden” who gives consent (Canterbury Marriage Licenses 1619-1660). None of Anne’s brothers or sisters marry particularly young. Her brother Dr Thomas Blechynden D.D. is 42 when he marries, sister Mary is unmarried at the age of 42 (mentioned in her father’s will), brother Richard is 32 when he marries and, of the others, they either die young or never marry.

There is no rush to the altar for the Blechynden’s which is why it seems odd that the eldest daughter of the family, who given their many connections and local standing, would fall pregnant and perhaps even have the child before marriage. The baptism record survives in the Aldington parish records and states that Thomas, sonne of Peter Whyte, was baptised on the 19th December 1628 whilst his parent’s marriage was on 30th November 1628! Perhaps this was a love match and, rather than wait any longer, Anne and Peter forced the issue or perhaps, more prosaically, there is a date error somewhere.

Sadly Peter White died shortly after the birth of Thomas. In Edward Hasted’s History of Kent he refers to Peter White’s will of 1629 and Anne was certainly a widow by 1639 when her father wrote his will. Edward Hasted relates that through the family connection to the Clarke’s Peter White, and then subsequently Thomas, inherited the estate at Cophurst which was in the southern part of the parish of Aldington. Thomas White, in his will, refers to this as the “farme of Cophurst”.

Although the will and the death and burial record for Peter White eludes me but it appears to be generally understood that Anne and her young son Thomas went to live with their relatives, the Brockmans of Beachborough (aka Bitchborough). Henry Brockman is Anne’s 1st cousin once removed through her maternal grandmother Elizabeth Clarke whose sister Margaret marries William Brockman (d.1605). Sir William Brockman, son of Henry Brockman, gained local fame during the Civil War. A staunch Royalist, Sir William was imprisoned from 1642 to 1645, and in 1648 he came with a troop of 800 men to the aid of Maidstone, under siege from General Thomas Fairfax’s Parliamentary army.

The mother of Dr. Thomas White, a widow and grave matron, lived long in the family of William Brockman esq. of Beachborough in Kent, and was nearly related to that family, and had a jointure of estate in or near Romney Marsh holding of the court of Aldington.

Restituta Or Titles, Extracts, and Characters of Old Books in English Literature, Revived · Volume 1 by Samuel Egerton Brydges 1814

Thomas White was therefore brought up in a staunchly Royalist household in the years preceeding the Civil War and it is telling that he was admitted to St John’s College in Cambridge at the age of just 14 on 29 October 1642 (further confirmation of a date of birth in 1628) just a few short weeks before his uncle Dr Thomas Blechynden and Sir William Brockman, along with many others, would be imprisoned in Winchester House at the start of the Civil War in 1642.

The Cambridge admission record states that Thomas was admitted after three years at school in Wye, Kent, and there is a suggestion in other papers that he also attended King’s School, Canterbury, but it seems certain that he spent the early years of his education at the Grammar School at Newark-on-Trent, where he distinguished himself by his “genius, industry, and learned attainments, and was remarked for his singular personal strength, courage, and pugilistic skill”. According to one biography Thomas White often said:

“that he ever looked back to his school days, at Newark, as the pleasantest and happiest of his life.”

The Lives of the Seven Bishops Committed to the Tower in 1688, Agnes Strickland, 1868

The pugilistic skill and personal strength was something which clearly carried on into his adulthood. There is a story that on one occasion, when accompanying the Bishop of Rochester to Dartford to officiate there, a trooper of the guard insulted the two and impeded their progress. Thomas White reproved the man, who retaliated by challenging him to fight it out. A fight ensued, in which Thomas White was victorious, and the trooper was compelled to ask the Bishop’s pardon.

King Charles II was, allegedly, highly amused at the story, which he had only heard second hand, and told Thomas White “that he should impeach him of high treason, for committing a personal assault on one of his guards“. But when Thomas White explained the provocation he had received, and the unprovoked insolence of the trooper, the King commended him “for the spirit and personal courage with which he had acted in teaching the fellow better manners” and promised to remember him when an opportunity of conferring a suitable preferment occurred.

When he was admitted to St John’s College, Cambridge, his tutor was “Mr Blechynden”. This is Francis Blechynden, his mother Anne’s brother, who was a tutor and a Fellow of the college. His admission record also speaks to his family’s status at the time as he is admitted “plebeii” i.e. a commoner, non- gentry class, which reflects his late fathers status as “yeoman” and also that he was admitted “sizar”. This means he had a form of scholarship and may have had to perform some duties in the college in return for assistance with college fees.

Thomas White, son of Peter White, ‘plebeii’ lately deceased, of Allington, Kent; born at Allington; school, Wye Kent (Mr Suerty-on-high Nichols) for 3 years; admitted sizar, tutor and surety Mr Blechynden, 29 Oct. 1642 aet 14.

Admissions to the College of St John the Evangelist in the University of Cambridge, Parts I II, Jan 1629/30 – July 1715

Whilst Thomas White was at college he would have witnessed the turbulence of the English Civil War first hand when, in 1644, the Earl of Manchester arrived to force the “perfect reformation” of the College. The college Master was removed and the Fellows had to swear to a new oath which some found unpalatable. Thomas would have seen his uncle, Francis Blechynden, now a Senior Fellow, summarily ejected from his position for refusing to subscribe to the so-called “Oath of Discovery”. Perhaps Thomas White recalled his uncle’s principled refusal when he also refused to take an oath of allegience many years later. Despite the ejection of his uncle Thomas White finished his studies and took the degree of B.A. in 1646.

Career in the Clergy

After he received his degree and during the Protectorate (1653-1659) under Oliver Cromwell, he held the post of lecturer at St. Andrew’s, Holborn where he became noted as one of the most eloquent preachers in London. (It is possible that the lecturer at St Andrew’s was actually another Thomas White who held the post of rector at St Mary At Hill in the City of London. However, the Memoirs of the Life of Mr. John Kettlewell – link below – published in 1718, not long after the death of Thomas White, states it was the Thomas White who became Bishop of Peterborough. I have therefore assumed this to be true for now given that when it was written it was very recent history.)

Immediately after the restoration of the Monarchy in May 1660 Thomas White petitioned King Charles II for the vicarage of Newark-on-Trent, which he obtained on 30 July 1660. Perhaps Thomas continued to preach in London as, when the Rectory of All Hallows the Great in the City of London became vacant in 1666, Thomas White again petitioned for the post and was granted it because he was “of known parts and Abilities, and much desired by the Parishoners there”:

Act Books of the Archbishop of Canterbury 1663 – 1914

Just four months after being appointed to the Rectory of All Hallows the Great the Church itself was destroyed, in September 1666, as were many others, in the Great Fire of London. The parishes of All Hallows the Great and All Hallows the Less were combined after the fire and temporary structures were erected to allow services to be held.

The Church was eventually rebuilt by the office of Sir Christopher Wren between 1677 and 1684 so Thomas White would have seen the work start but, in July 1679 he received the rectory of Bottesford described as the “Great Living” of the Earl of Rutland upon the death of “Old Boots of Trinity”, Dr Anthony Marshall who was rector of Bottesford for 17 years. I’m not sure whether “Old Boots” is a term of endearment or one of derision.

Thomas White, throughout his career, had built up some strong alliances and patrons and this became more evident shortly after his appointment to the rectory of Bottesford. On 4 June 1683 he was created Doctor of Divinity of the University of Oxford and, shortly afterwards, chaplain to the Lady (afterwards queen) Anne, daughter of James, Duke of York, on her marriage in July 1683 with Prince George of Denmark. He was also installed archdeacon of Nottingham that year on 13 August 1683. Then, on 3 September 1685, he was elected Bishop of Peterborough, was consecrated on 25 October and enthroned by proxy on 9 November. One of Thomas White’s cousins, Richard Blechynden, had also taken holy orders, and preached a sermon at Thomas White’s consecration which took place in the Archbishop’s chapel at Lambeth Palace. Thomas White subsequently appointed his cousin Richard to a prebendary position at Peterborough Cathedral in 1686.

Chaplain to Lady Anne

Thomas White was personal chaplain to the future Queen Anne, from the point of her marriage to Prince George of Denmark in 1683, until he was suspended on 1 August 1689 for not taking the new Oath of Allegiance. The Lady Anne was born into the heart of royal and political life on 6 February 1665. She was the daughter of James, Duke of York (who became King James II), and his first wife, Anne Hyde. Although Anne was brought up in the Protestant faith, according to the instructions of her uncle King Charles II, when her mother died (when Anne was only 6 years old), her father remarried in 1673 to Mary of Modena confirming his allegiance to the Roman Catholic faith.

The country had lived through many years of conflict between Church and State, Parliament and Monarchy, Protestants and Catholics, and it wanted stability. The appointment of the personal chaplain to the Lady Anne was not carelessly made given her important place in the royal succession of heiress-presumptive to the throne, after her father and childless elder sister, the Princess of Orange.

…the appointment of so firm a churchman and excellent a character as the apostolic, learned, and eloquent Dr. White, became a matter of general satisfaction. All England, indeed, looked anxiously to him as the person on whose influence the religious principles of their future sovereign in a great measure depended.

The Lives of the Seven Bishops Committed to the Tower in 1688, Agnes Strickland, 1868

Thomas White remained Chaplain to the Lady Anne until 1 August 1689 and it has been suggested that it was his influence upon her that encouraged her moderate and conciliatory approach towards the Church and Parliament. It is the case that Queen Anne, last of the Stuarts, ruled in a new way and one which we might recognise today. She retained her commitment to the Church of England and a Protestant succession and unlike her grandfather, Charles I, she did not seek to rule according to the divine right of kings but, instead, set the path for monarchs to rule in conjunction with parliament.

Her fostering conduct to the Church is the best part of her career in life, and this was assuredly owing to her spiritual adviser, Dr. Thomas White. There was no other holy and purely disinterested person who enjoyed her confidence in opening life excepting White, whose influence could have worked on her mind for good.

The Lives of the Seven Bishops Committed to the Tower in 1688, Agnes Strickland, 1868

Trial of the Seven Bishops

Dr Thomas White, Bishop of Peterborough, is best known for being one of the seven bishops who were committed to the Tower of London in June 1688 for declaring that the King’s use of the dispensing power (i.e. the power to do away with acts of parliament in certain cases), was illegitimate and an inappropriate infringement on the rights of the church. King James II had issued an order in May 1688 that all his ministers should read his second ‘Declaration of Indulgence’ which granted religious toleration, but the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Sancroft, and six of his bishops including Thomas White, petitioned against it whilst, at the same time, professing their loyalty to the King.

James II’s overt Roman Catholicism and favouritism shown to Catholics was causing concern amongst the political and spiritual elite. Even those church leaders who had supported James’s right to succeed to the throne resisted the Declaration of Indulgence. This far and no further, they declared. The King was furious at the petition and summoned the bishops to explain themselves:

“Is this what I deserved, who have supported the Church of England, and will support it? I will remember you that have signed this paper. I will keep this paper; I will not part with it. I did not expect this from you, especially from some of you. I will be obeyed in publishing my Declaration.”

James II and the Trial of the Seven Bishops, William Gibson 2009

“God’s will be done” was Thomas White’s response to the King at his fury. The King feared this act of defiance would lead to wider rebellion and charged the seven bishops with seditious libel, committing them to the Tower of London on 8 June 1688. The trial was heard on the 29 June and the quickly prepared defense argued, at some length, that the bishops had the right to privately petition the King and that to read out the Declaration of Indulgence would run counter to the Act of Uniformity.

“My Lords, this is the bishops’ case with submission; they are under a distress being commanded to do a thing which they take not to be legal, and they with all humility, by way of petition acquaint the king with this distress of theirs, and pray him, that he will please to give relief.” – Serjeant Levinz (for the defence)

extract from: The Proceedings and Tryal in the Case of the Most Reverend Father in God, William, Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, London: Printed for Thomas Basset and Thomas Fox, 1689

The charge of seditious libel was a serious one and had been a legal concept since 1275. The telling or publishing of “any false news or tales whereby discord or occasion of discord or slander may grow between the king and his people or the great men of the realm” became a crime tried by the King’s Council in the Star Chamber (a court that sat at the Palace of Westminster). Then in 1606, the Case De Libellis Famosis, tried in the Star Chamber, developed the concept further and set out that libel against the monarch or the government might also be a crime because “it concerns not only the breach of the peace, but also the scandal of government.” This is important because it meant that any criticism, whether grounded in truth or not, of the monarch or of the government, could be seditious.

Trial of the Seven Bishops by John Rogers Herbert

The Solicitor General, arguing the case for the King, argued that no one had the power to petition the King unless it was through Parliament. The audience watching the trial were furious at this and there were audible hisses across the court room. Even the Lord Chief Justice baulked at this but acknowledged that it could lead to instability for the Government:

Truly, Mr Solicitor, I am of the opinion that the bishops might petition the King, but this is not the right way of bringing it…I am sure it will make the Government very precarious.

extract from: The Proceedings and Tryal in the Case of the Most Reverend Father in God, William, Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, London: Printed for Thomas Basset and Thomas Fox, 1689
Simon Gribelin etching of the seven bishops, 1688, courtesy of the British Museum

After much deliberation the jury was asked to retire and consider their verdict. This went on throughout the night and it was six in the morning before they were all agreed. When the jury announced their verdict of “Not guilty” the court room erupted, the thousands who had gathered nearby shouted and cheered and the news spread quickly. This was no back room trial with a disinterested public. It was the news of the day. Church bells rang out in celebration, commemorative coins were stamped, poems were written, the engraver Simon Gribelin had prints of his etchings of the seven bishops drawn up and distributed across London. The seven bishops became popular heroes, and the King’s attempt to enforce his will and quell rebellion massively backfired. The trial and aquittal of the seven bishop fatally undermined James II’s authority. Later that year James II fled the country and a new monarch was installed following the so-called Glorious Revolution.

Despite the outcome of the trial the bishops continued to advise James II for the next few months and Thomas White, with other bishops, attended on the King to give counsel on 24 September, on 3 October, and again on 6 November, when he says “we parted under some displeasure.” On that occasion he made a personal protestation that he had not invited the William of Orange to invade, nor did he know any that had done so. Thomas White remained loyal to the King despite the gaping differences between them.

The nonjuring bishop

In December 1688 James II fled the country and the following year William of Orange and his wife Mary (daughter of James II) were invited to take the throne. Constitutionally this was challenging. James II had not died so who was the monarch? In the end it was decided that he had abdicated and a Declaration of Rights was drawn up which was agreed to by William and Mary ahead of their joint accession to the throne.

The Declaration is worth a read as it curbs the power of the monarchs and elevates that of Parliament. It includes a reference to the trial of the seven bishops and says that James II “did endeavour to subvert and extirpate the Protestant Religion, and the Laws and Liberties of this Kingdom….. By committing and prosecuting divers worthy Prelates, for humbly petitioning to be excused from concurring to the said assumed [dispensing] Power.” The Declaration then goes on to make the dispensing power illegal, enshrines the right of the subject to petition the King and that of freedom of speech in Parliament:

That the pretended Power of dispensing with Laws, or the Execution of Laws, by Regal Authority, as it has been assumed and exercised of late, is illegal.

“That levying of Money, for or to the Use of the Crown, by Pretence of Prerogative, without Grant of Parliament, for longer Time, or in other Manner, than the same is or shall be granted, is illegal.

“That it is the Right of the Subject to petition the King; and all Commitments and Prosecutions for such Petitioning are illegal.

“That the raising and keeping a Standing Army within this Kingdom, in Time of Peace, unless it be with Consent of Parliament, is against Law.

“That the Subjects which are Protestants may have Arms for their Defence, suitable to their Condition, and as allowed by Law.

“That Election of Members of Parliament ought to be free.

“That the Freedom of Speech and Debates, or Proceedings in Parliament, ought not to be impeached or questioned in any Court or Place out of Parliament.

‘House of Lords Journal Volume 14: 12 February 1689’, in Journal of the House of Lords: Volume 14, 1685-1691 (London, 1767-1830). British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/lords-jrnl/vol14/pp124-127

But not everyone was happy with the new world order. Again Thomas White along with William Sancroft, Archbishop of Canterbury, and other senior clerics opposed this change. I am sure they did not oppose the right to petition the King, how could they, but they had given their oath of allegience to James II and oaths before God were not to be taken lightly.

Thomas White, as Bishop of Peterborough, argued in the House of Lords, following the flight of James II, that the king had not abdicated and made his throne vacant and instead sought a lesser form of words which would allow William of Orange to govern in a form of regency and not as monarch. However, on 6 February 1689, word came from the House of Commons that they insisted on a clean break, and that the King had abdicated. This time the House of Lords agreed, although Thomas White put his name to the list of those who dissented:

Vote that King James has abdicated, and that the Throne is vacant, agreed to.

And, after Debate, this Question was put,

“Whether to agree with the House of Commons in the Word [“abdicated”], instead of the Word [“deserted”]; and to the Words that follow, [“and that the Throne is thereby vacant”]?”

Resolved in the Affirmative

‘House of Lords Journal Volume 14: 6 February 1689’, in Journal of the House of Lords: Volume 14, 1685-1691 (London, 1767-1830). British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/lords-jrnl/vol14/pp118-119.

William and Mary were proclaimed King and Queen and the Lords Spiritual and Temporal were required to take new oaths of allegience. Thomas White refused, was suspended from office on 1 August 1689 and deprived of his see on 1 February 1690. Thomas White was not alone in refusing to take the new oaths. Five of the bishops who were tried in 1688 refused the oath along with others and about 400 members of the clergy! This became known as the nonjuring schism in the Church of England. Nonjuring means a refusal to take the oath.

Whilst some of the nonjuring bishops returned eventually to the established church, four of them, including Thomas White, sought to create an alternative nonjuring Church of England. Archbishop William Sancroft passed his authority as primate of the English church to William Lloyd, who sent a delegation to seek approval from the exiled James II to consecrate bishops and so continue the episcopal line. James II approved this request and so in February 1694 Thomas White, William Lloyd and Francis Turner (Bishop of Ely) consecrated George Hickes and Thomas Wagstaffe as suffragan bishops for the diocese of Norwich. This was to pointedly establish the principle that it was for the Church to carry out ordinations of members of the Church and not Parliament.

Thomas White lived out his remaining years relatively quietly. His last public appearance was at the execution at Tower Hill of Sir John Fenwick on 28 January 1697, a notable supporter of James II and implicated in a plot to assasinate William III. At the scaffold Sir John presented a paper “Contemplations upon life and death…” and it has been suggested that this was written by Thomas White or co-authored. If true this might suggest a closer, if quieter, alignment between Thomas White and the Jacobite cause.

Thomas White died on the 30th of May 1698 and was buried on the 4th of June at about 9 or 10 in the evening in the churchyard of St Gregory’s by St Paul’s, a parish church in the City of London, built against the south-west tower of St Paul’s cathedral but which was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 and not replaced. The parish burial record refers to him as Dr Thomas White, late Bishop of Peterborough.

Sadly, even Thomas White’s burial was not without controversy. His remains were attended by the nonjuring bishops, Francis Turner of Ely, Lloyd of Norwich, and the Irish Bishop of Kilmore, who with two other deprived members of the clergy supported the coffin to the graveside. Forty of the ejected clergy, and several of the Jacobite nobility and gentry followed the hearse; but, when Francis Turner requested that he, or one of the other nonjurors present, should read the burial service, this was rejected by the Dean of St. Paul’s, who insisted upon a conforming minister. At this the bishops, the forty clergy and majority of the nobility and gentry left. I hope some of his Blechynden relatives were present and remained to witness his final resting place.

Francis Turner, Bishop of Ely, gives an account of Thomas White’s funeral in the following letter to his brother:

“MOST DEAR SIR,

“I acquainted you with the sad occasion of my being in town last week. There I stayed till yesterday, that I might attend the funeral on Saturday night. It was earnestly desired by many that I should perform the office at the grave (in St. Gregory’s, i.e., in the churchyard, for there is no church). I yielded, if it might be permitted, which I told them would hardly be, and that my poor name would never pass muster. Yet the curate of the place agreed with all the ease and respect imaginable. But his de facto dean, Dr. Sherlock, coming to know it, forbade it expressly, nor could any intercessions prevail with him to suffer any one of the deprived, not the most obscure or least obnoxious, to officiate. This did not hinder me nor anybody else from waiting on the corpse to the grave, the Bishop of Kilmore and myself with four others holding up the pall. As soon as our bearers set down we made our exit; and all the clergy with most of the gentry followed.”

The Lives of the Seven Bishops Committed to the Tower in 1688, Agnes Strickland, 1868

Thomas White wrote a lengthy will which referred to the challenging times he lived through. It gave various bequests to the poor, to his family and to his fellow deprived clergymen. I will set out the will separately but note here Thomas White’s final request for his burial which, sadly, was not made good. Perhaps the Dean of St Paul’s, who refused to have a nonjuring Bishop officiate at his burial, would also not allow the headstone that Thomas White asked for and so his final resting place, albeit in the grounds of St Paul’s Cathedral, is unmarked:

Having commended my soul unto the mercy and grace of God, I do appoint my body to be buryed in the churchyard of the parish wherein I shall die, without any funeral pomp, sermon, or expenses above ten pounds; and without any monument or inscription, saving this upon a little stone, if it may be allowed. The body of Thomas White, DD: late Bishopp of Peterburgh, deprived of that Bishopprick for not taking the Oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy established one thousand six hundred eighty nine is buryed here in hope of a happy resurrection.

Extract from Thomas White’s last will and testament.

Rev. Francis Blechynden, 1601 – ?

Today’s post is to record what I know about Francis Blechynden, son of Humphrey Blechynden of Aldington and younger brother of Dr Thomas Blechynden.

Francis was born in Aldington in Kent where he was baptised on 3 May 1601. Although a younger brother and Humphrey’s third son he also had the opportunity of a good education and followed his brother Thomas to St John’s, Cambridge receiving his B.A. in 1621-2; M.A. in 1625 and B.D. (Bachelor of Divinity) in 1631. Like his elder brother, Francis entered the Church and was ordained a priest at Upton Chapel in Northamptonshire on 9 June 1628.

I’m not sure, however, that Francis entered “active service” as it were, as we know from The Oxinden Letters that Francis was at Cambridge and tutoring James Oxinden there between 1629-31 where it would appear that it was a constant battle to get Henry Oxinden to provide for his brother James which often left Francis putting his hand in his own pocket:

….I feare my owne purse againe must satisfie his wants, which will hardly supplie mine owne. Wherefore lett me intreat you not to lett the Carriar returne from you empty handed, and since I have undertaken to be a petitioner unto you, lett me further intreat you to furnish your brother with a winter gowne;

“The Oxinden Letters” (archive.org)

There is an interesting reference in the Oxinden Letters to an outbreak of the plague in Cambridge in 1630 which forces the college to close down and for “both fellowes and schollers, to depart“. Francis later writes that between March and November of that year “343 people have dyed or suspected to have dyed of the Plague.”

In 1631 Francis writes that “Urgent occasions doe now call me from the Universitie into west contrye, and as yet I know not how long or how litle while I shall stay there, wherefore I have thought fitt to convertt your Brother to another man’s Tuition..”. I haven’t been able to discover what the “urgent occasions” might have been although his brother Thomas held a couple of livings in the “west countrye” at this time – at Sowton in Devon and Norton Fizwarren in Somerset.

St John’s College c1685

Francis Blechynden was appointed Vicar of Ospringe in Faversham, Kent in 1638 but this is a short term post as he resigned in 1639 and was replaced by Thomas Mason in February 1640. This was an appointment essentially made by the College who held the ability to appoint to the post and benefit from the revenues etc from lands in the parish. The probable reason for his resignation was his impending appointment in 1640 as a Fellow of St John’s College. He also held the post of Bursar in 1643/44 and was made a Senior Fellow on 21 July 1643.

Thomas White

Whilst at Cambridge Frances stood surety to at least three students who were admitted “sizar” which I understand to mean that they had a form of scholarship on the basis that they undertook defined work around the college. One of these students was his nephew Thomas White, the son of his sister Anne who, when her husband Peter White died, went to live with Sir William Brockman. It is interesting to note that Thomas White is admitted to Cambridge at the age of just 14 on 29 October 1642 just a few short weeks before Dr Thomas Blechynden and Sir William Brockman, along with many others, would be imprisoned in Winchester House at the start of the Civil War. I wonder if Anne was removing her only son from what might have been a tense situation at home to the relative calm of Cambridge and the care and protection of her brother Francis?

Thomas  White,  son  of  Peter  White, ‘plebeii,’  lately  deceased, of  Allington,  Kent ;  born  at  Allington ;   school,  Wye,  Kent  (Mr Suerty-on-high  Nichols)  for  3  years;  admitted   sizar,  tutor  and surety  Mr  Blechendyn,  29  Oct. 1642  aet  14.

Admissions to the College of St John the Evangelist in the University of Cambridge, Parts I II, Jan 1629/30 – July 1715

Thomas White is worthy of his own blog post, rising to the position of Bishop of Peterborough, tutor to Princess Ann and “all England indeed looked anxiously to him as the person on whose influence the religious principles of their future sovereign in a great measure depended“. But despite this he ended up in the Tower of London for refusing to take the new oaths of alligiance (seems to run in the family!), was stripped of his bishopric and his living and died a few short years later. His will is helpful as it name-checks a large number of people including many Blechynden relatives.

Ejected from the College

From what I have found to date it looks as if Francis Blechynden had settled upon a career in education and learning but this was abruptly brought to an end in 1644 when, like his brother Thomas, the English Civil War changed the course of his life. As part of the puritan reforms it was seen as necessary to ensure that the Universities were compliant and supportive. The Earl of Manchester was empowered by Parliament to ensure reformation of the college and he ejected the Master of St John’s, William Beale, and then arrived at the college to appoint a new one, John Arrowsmith. Unlike other appointments the records note that Arrowsmith was made master by the Rt Hon Lord Earl of Manchester by the authority of parliamentary ordination.

As part of his appointment Arrowsmith had to take an oath which would provide for the “perfect reformation both of the College and University” which also became a requirement for the Fellows, including Francis, together with swearing to uphold the doctrines enshrined in the Solemn League and Covenant. Not all felt able to agree to this and many Senior Fellows and Fellows were summarily ejected from their posts at the College.

…which with the Covenant not being of easy digestion, several of the Fellows were ejected, beginning with the seniors Mr Thornton, Bodurda, Tirwhit, and Blechenden, men of good worth;

History of the College of St John the Evangelist, Cambridge by Thomas Baker – Part 1
Print of the Solemn League and Covenant, courtesy of the British Museum

The trail for Francis goes cold after he is ejected from St John’s College. There is one reference to a possible appointment to a new living at Brenzett in Kent, on the Romney Marsh. The National Archives has the following record:

24 November 1646 — Application for an order for Sir Nathaniel Brent to institute and induct Francis Blechinden to the vicarage of Brenzett, Kent, on the presentation of Sir William Brockman.

https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/e50ebea8-ae68-45e9-a76e-366bcc33eb3f

However, there is no evidence in the Clergy Database that Francis became Vicar of Brenzett and perhaps the presentation by Sir William Brockman – a staunch Royalist – went against him. After this, I have found no further records that can be ascribed with certainty to this Francis, the brother of Dr Thomas, son of Humphrey and Mary, educator and sometime vicar.

There is a burial record for a Francis Bletchenden dated 19 March 1672/73, St George the Martyr, Southwark and perhaps this is him. Other members of the family had moved out of Kent and were now living in London or its outskirts. But Francis is a family name and this record could also belong to the Francis who was born in the City of London in 1642, son of Ralph Blechenden. For now, at least, what happened next for Francis Blechynden is a mystery.