Peter Wentworth MP, died 10 November 1596, Tower of London

Peter Wentworth MP died in the Tower of London on his third stay there. His wife Elizabeth Walsingham, also died in the Tower a few short months before hand. She had been given permission to stay with her husband in the Tower and he described her as “my cheifest comfort in this life, even the best wife that ever poor gentleman enjoyed”. Wentworth even refused to be released from the Tower because it would be too much to be sent home to Lillingstone Lovell with memories of his wife there. He died in the Tower on 10 November 1596.

I am always a little surprised that the Wentworths died in the Tower, after all Elizabeth was the sister of Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth I’s “spymaster”. Did family count for nothing? But Sir Francis died in 1590 so could pull no strings and Peter Wentworth was his own worst enemy. He knew what would land him in trouble but carried on anyway. And I am full of admiration for him because of that.

Peter Wentworth was a thoughtful man, deliberate in what he said, and not one to pull any punches. In Parliament he raised the question of the Royal Succession, openly criticised the Queen and advocated for freedom of speech in Parliament. These were radical, maybe even treasonous, ideas especially as Elizabeth I had put in place controls over what the Commons could or could not discuss.

I have to admit that before digging around my family history I was not aware of Peter Wentworth or the speeches he made to Parliament and I think he deserves a wider audience, maybe a place in the national curriculum. I have mentioned in an earlier blog his connection to the Boys and Blechenden families so this one will just focus on controversial career in the House of Commons.

House of Commons, 11 November 1566

In 1566 Queen Elizabeth I had been on the throne for eight years and, aged 33, questions about her marriage and succession were rife. On 5 November of that year a delegation of 60 Lords and Commoners met with the Queen to urge her to consider the question of her marriage and the succession which provoked an angry response and on 6 November she sent a message to the Lords and the Commons that they were not to discuss the succession:

her Grace had signified to both Houses, by words of a Prince, that she by Gods Grace would Marry, and would have it therefore believed; and touching limitation for Succession, the perils be so great to her Person, and whereof the hath felt part in her Sisters time, that time will not yet suffer to trèat of it.

On 11 November Peter Wentworth questioned whether the Queen’s command to not discuss the question of her succession was contrary to the liberties and privileges of the House? The matter was debated for some time and the following day the Speaker of the House had to relay a special Command from her Highness that there should not be further talk of that matter in the House. Although the Queen later softened her approach, at least for a time, it is clear that freedom of speech in Parliament was only with Her Majesties Gracious Permission. Peter Wentworth’s questions, written in his hand, regarding the liberties of the House to free speech, have survived and can be seen on the National Archives website:

Whether hyr hyghnes’ commandment, forbyddyng the Lower Howse to speake or treate any more of the succession or of any theyre escewsses in that behalffe, be a breache of the lybertie of the free speache of the howse or not?

Wheter Mr Controller, the vicechamberlaine, and Mr Secretarye pronowncyng in the Howse the sayd commandment in hyr hyghness’ name, are of awthorytye suffycyent to bynde the howse to silence in that behalffe, or to bynde the howse to acknowledge the same to be a direct and sufficient commandment or not?

Yf hr hyghness’ said commandment be no breache of ye lybertie of the howse, or yf the commandment pronownced as afore is sayde be a suffycyent commandment to bynd the howse to take knoledge theroff, then what offence is it for anye of the howse to err in declaryng his opynyon to be otherwys?
House of Commons, 8 February 1576

Between 1572 and 1576 Parliament was prorogued on no less than ten occasions which gave Peter Wentworth time to consider the speech that he would deliver on the first day of the new session on 8 February 1576. This is his speech that is best known amongst parliamentary orations and is credited with being the first ever full statement of the doctrine of freedom of speech in the House of Commons.

Mr. Speaker, I find written in a little volume of words these words in effect: Sweet indeed is the name of Liberty and the thing itself a value beyond all inestimable Treasure. So much the more it behoveth us to take care lest we contenting our selves with the sweetness of the name, lose and forgo the thing, being of the greatest value that can come unto this noble Realm.

He criticised the infringements upon the freedom of speech in previous sessions of Parliament and argued that without it it was just a place of “flattery and dissimulation”. It’s not hard to see why some of his fellow parliamentarians may not have welcomed Wentworth’s words:

I was never of Parliament but the last and the last Session, at both which times I saw the Liberty of free Speech, the which is the only Salve to heal all the Sores of this Common-Wealth, so much and so many ways infringed, and so many abuses offered to this Honourable Council, as hath much grieved me even of very Conscience and love to my Prince and State. 

…that in this House which is termed a place of free Speech, there is nothing so necessary for the preservation of the Prince and State as free Speech, and without it is a scorn and mockery to call it a Parliament House, for in truth it is none, but a very School of Flattery and Dissimulation, and so a fit place to serve the Devil and his Angels in, and not to glorify God and benefit the Common-Wealth.

He carefully spoke about rumours and messages on what the Queen liketh or liketh not and why these did ‘very great hurt’:

Amongst other, Mr Speaker, Two things do great hurt in this place, of the which I do mean to speak: the one is a rumour which runneth about the House and this it is, take heed what you do, the Queens Majesty liketh not such a matter, whosoever prefereth it, she will be offended with him; or the contrary, her Majesty liketh of such a matter, whosoever speaketh against it she will be much offended with him.

The other: sometimes a Message is brought into the House either of Commanding or Inhibiting, very injurious to the freedom of Speech and Consultation, I would to God, Mr Speaker, that these two were Buried in Hell, I mean rumours and Messages; for wicked undoubtedly they are, the reason is, the Devil was the first Author of them, from whom proceedeth nothing but wickedness.

Wentworth, argued that only by speeking freely could they best serve Her Majesty, even if that meant suffering the Queen’s displeasure:

Then I will set down my opinion herein, that is, he that dissembleth to her Majesties peril, is to be counted as an hateful Enemy; for that he giveth unto her Majesty a detestable Judas his Kiss; and he that contrarieth her mind to her Preservation, yea though her Majesty would be much offended with him, is to be adjudged an approved Lover, for faithful are the wounds of a Lover, saith Solomon, but the Kisses of an Enemy are deceitful.

 And he similarly exhorted the Queen to heed the advice of her councillors, with cricicism implied, or, rather ominously, risk the instability of her Kingdom:

And I beseech the same God to endue her Majesty with his Wisdom, whereby she may discern faithful advice from traiterous sugared Speeches, and to send her Majesty a melting yielding heart unto sound Counsel, that Will may not stand for a Reason: and then her Majesty will stand when her Enemies are fallen, for no Estate can stand where the Prince will not be governed by advice.

Unfortunately for Wentworth his arguments for the need for freedom of speech in Parliament led him to a more direct and explicit cricisism of the Queen -although he argued throughout that this was said for her own good as a faithful servant of Her Majesty:

Certain it is Mr. Speaker that none is without fault, no, not our noble Queen … Her Majesty hath committed great faults, yea dangerous faults to herself and the state … It is a dangerous thing in a prince unkindly to entreat and abuse his or her nobility and people as her Majesty did the last Parliament, and it is a dangerous thing in a prince to oppose or bend herself against her Nobility and People … and how could any prince more unkindly entreat, abuse and oppose herself against her nobility and people than her Majesty did the last Parliament? Did she not call it of purpose to prevent traitorous perils to her person and for no ther cause? Did not her Majesty send unto us two bills, willing us to make a choice of that we liked best for her safety and thereof to make a law, promising her Majesty’s royal consent thereto? And did we not first choose the one and her Majesty refused it, yielding no reason, nay yielding great reasons why she ought to have yielded to it? Yet did not we nevertheless receive the other and agreeing to make a law thereof did not her Majesty in the end refuse all our travails? And did not we her Majesty’s faithful nobility and subjects plainly and openly decipher ourselves unto her Majesty and our hateful enemy? And hath not her Majesty left us all to her open revenge? Is this a just recompence in our Christian Queen for our faithful dealings?

…It is a great and special part of our duty and office Mr. Speaker to maintain the freedom of consultation and speech for by this are good laws that do set forth God’s glory and are for the preservation of the prince and state made.

Therefore I say again and again, hate that is evil and cleave to that that is good. And this, loving and faithful hearted, I do wish to be conceived in fear of God, and of love to our prince and state, for we are incorporated into this place to serve God and all England and not to be Time-Servers and Humour Feeders, as Cancers that would pierce the Bone, or as Flatterers that would fain beguile all the World…

I particularly like the last sentence and perhaps all modern Parliamentarians should consider that they are incorporated into this place to serve God and all England and not to be times-servers and humour feeders.

Wentworth drew his speech to a close with the following although it is also suggested that he was interrupted at this point out of a reverend regard of her Majesty’s Honour and and he was stooped from proceeding before he had fully finished his Speech:

Thus I have holden you long with my rude Speech, the which since it tendeth wholly with pure Conscience to seek the advancement of Gods Glory, our Honourable Soveraigns Safety, and to the sure defence of this noble Isle of England, and all by maintaining of the Liberties of this Honourable Councel, the Fountain from whence all these do Spring; my humble and hearty Suit unto you all is, to accept my good will, and that this that I have here spoken out of Conscience and great zeal unto my Prince and State, may not be buried in the Pit of Oblivion, and so no good come thereof.

Peter Wentworth was immediately sequestered for this speech and questioned by members of the Queen’s privvy council in the afternoon of the 8th February. A transcript of the questioning remains and it is interesting to see him invoke parliamentary privilege, although he does not use that term. Parliamentary privilege is enshrined in the Bill of Rights over 100 years later: Article 9 of the Bill of Rights (1689) states “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” but in 1576 when Wentworth is asked about certain rumors of the Queens Majesty, he answers:

If your Honours ask me as Councellors to her Majesty, you shall pardon me; I will make you no Answer: I will do no such injury to the place from whence I came; for I am now no private Person, I am a publick, and a Councellor to the whole State in that place where it is lawful for me to speak my mind freely, and not for you as Councellors to call me to account for any thing that I do speak in the House; and therefore if you ask me as Councellors to her Majesty, you shall pardon me, I will make no Answer; but if you ask me as Committees from the House, I will make you the best Answer I can.

During the questioning Wentworth is asked to explain himself and demonstrate the truth of his speech and again and again the committee is forced to agree with him, until at last they just admit he could have phrased it better!:

Commit. Yea but you might have uttered it in better terms…

Despite this Peter Wentworth was committed to the Tower for his “violent and wicked words” on 9 February and “there to remain until such Time as this House should have further Consideration of him”.

House of Commons, 12 March 1576

Fortunately for Peter Wentworth he was not in the Tower of London for too long, as by the Queens special favour he was restored again to his Liberty and place in the House on Monday 12 March that same year. But not before he had to make an admission of his fault on his knees:

Mr Peter Wentworth was brought by the Serjeant at Arms that attended the House, to the Bar within the same, and after some Declaration made unto him by Mr Speaker in the name of the whole House both of his own great fault and offence, and also of her Majesties great and bountiful mercy shewed unto him, and after his humble Submission upon his Knees acknowledging his fault, and craving her Majesties Pardon and Favour, he was received again into the House, and restored to his place to the great contentment of all that were present.

House of Commons, 1 March 1587

In 1587 not only was the question of sucession central to Elizabeth’s reign but she was also grappling with religious turmoil which the Elizabethan Settlement had sought to address. It did not. Peter Wentworth was a puritan and was MP for Northampton, a centre of puritan activity. When in 1587 the Queen surpressed a parliamentary Bill which sought to presbyterianize the Anglican church, Peter Wentworth was ready to argue for the right to debate the matter. He prepared again a series of questions on the matter, including the one below, but the Speaker on reviewing the Articles “pocketted” them up, showed them to Sir Thomas Heneage, and Wentworth was committed straight to the Tower and the questions were not moved at all. It is unclear how long he remained there.

Whether this Council be not a place for any Member of the same here assembled freely and without controllment of any person or danger of Laws, by Bill or speech to utter any of the griefs of this Commonwealth whatsoever touching the service of God, the safety of the Prince and this Noble Realm.

One of Wentworth’s questions that were never put before the House of Commons. Simonds d’Ewes, ‘Journal of the House of Commons: February 1587’, in The Journals of All the Parliaments During the Reign of Queen Elizabeth (Shannon, Ire, 1682), pp. 407-411. British History Online
Imprisoned again, the Gatehouse, 1591

In 1587, after the death of Mary Queen of Scots, Wentworth drafted A Pithie Exhortation of her Majestie for establishing her successor to the crowne, a tract which was given prominence when published posthumously in 1598. In it Wentworth was his characteristic blunt self. He argued strongly about the need to settle the question of the succession arguing that without this the country would be thrown into confusion and perhaps civil war with Elizabeth effectively sentencing her subjects to the “merciless bloody sword”. Drafts of the tract were leaked to the Privy Council, and in August 1591 he was once again imprisoned but this time in the Gatehouse – a prison in Westminster which stood at the front of Westminster Abbey. He was moved in November 1591 and confined in a private house before being released in February 1592.

House of Commons, 25 February 1593

At the start of a new Parliament Wentworth, returned again for Northampton, went to Westminster determined to raise again the question of the succession. Using the arguments he had set out in his Pithie Exhortation, he tried to influence newer Members of Parliament but news got out of Wentworths plans. Despite his several imprisonments he was unrepentant and remained convinced of the need to, and of his right as a Member of Parliament to, debate the matter of the succession. Peter Wentworth, together with Sir Henry Bromley, sought to obtain the support of the Lords as well as the Commons in the consideration of a Bill regarding the question of the succession. This did not go down well with Queen Elizabeth who was “highly displeased” and despite the House not sitting Wentworth, Bromey and some others were called before members of the Privy Council with Wentworth being sent to the Tower where he was to remain until his death.

Wentworth and Bromeley committed. The day after, being Sunday, and Feb. 25. and the House sat not; yet the aforesaid Mr. Wentworth, Sir Henry Bromeley, and some others, were called before the Lord Burleigh Lord Treasurer of England, the Lord Buckhurst, and Sir Thomas Henage, who intreated them very favourably, and with good Speeches; but so highly was her Majesty offended, that they must needs commit them, and so they told them. Whereupon Mr. Peter Wentworth was sent Prisoner to the Tower, Sir Henry Bromeley, and one Mr. Richard Stevens (to whom Sir Henry Bromely had imparted the matter) were sent to the Fleet, as also Mr. Welche the other Knight for Worcestershire.

For about 30 years Peter Wentworth argued for the right to freedom of speech in Parliament without limitation, without the need for the Monarch’s approval and in order to debate and perhaps help settle some of the most pressing issues of the day. He spent a number of years in the Tower of London for his pains and both he and his wife died there. Peter Wentworth was not a great politician. He was a man of conviction but he pressed ahead regardless of the almost certain consequences when perhaps a more subtle approach would have won the day. As the Committee in 1576 said “…you might have uttered it in better terms…”. But I like to think that he helped to lay the foundations for the Freedom of Speech enshrined in the 1689 Bill of Rights and which is symbolically reasserted at the beginning of every Parliament even today.

My Boys Family Connection

Today’s post reflects on the links between the Blechendens and Boys family in Kent. I almost entitled this post “my connection to Boys” but thought better of it when I realised that it might attract the wrong sort of internet traffic! Anyway, back to the serious stuff. I have tracked down quite a large number now of my direct ancestors in Kent, England, including one directly back to the Boys/Boyes/Bois family in Kent through the marriage of John Wanstall to Hannah Boys in Waldershare, near Dover in Kent, in 1735.  Hannah Boys is a descendent of  Thomas Boys of Bonnington (d 1508) who married Thomasine.  Through this line I can take the family tree further back to c1066 – thanks to the large amount of research that has gone into this family already.

William Boys and Isabella Phallop brass plate at Holy Cross Church, Goodnestone

The photo on the left was taken earlier this year when as a special wedding anniversary treat my husband took me on a hunt of my Kentish ancestors. The rest of our family think we are mad but I was thrilled to find this brass plate on the floor of the Church of the Holy Cross Goodnestone dedicated to my 14x great grandparents William Boys (d1507) and Isabella Phallop (d1517). The inscription underneath the effigies says something like “Here lies William Boys and Isabella his wife. William died the last day of July 1507. God have mercy on their souls“.

As mentioned, the Boys family are well researched and written about and in one of those documents I spotted a marriage between Elizabeth Boys/Bois and Thomas Blechenden on 26 August 1607 at Nonington in Kent.  There is also a further marriage between Edward Boys and Emily Grace Blechynden in Tenterden in 1837 which having looked into it a little does suggest that some lines of the families remained in the same area of Kent and perhaps in touch over that period of time.  This made me wonder whether there was a family connection here to help me with my Blissenden blockage.

Thomas BlechEnden and Elizabeth Boys

But back to Thomas Blechenden and Elizabeth Boys – the focus of this post. Thomas was born in c1586 in Kennington in Kent, the son of John Blechenden and Margaret Ashenden. Elizabeth Boys was born c1587 in Nonington, Kent the daughter of Edward Boys (1528-1599), later to be knighted as Sir Edward Boys, and his first wife Mary Wentworth, daughter of Sir Peter Wentworth MP and Elizabeth Walsingham.

I haven’t been able to find a birth record for Thomas but I have been able to estimate his date and place of birth from evidence he gives to the Court of Chivalry in 1638/39 in which he is described as Thomas Blechenden of Woodnesborough, co Kent, esq. born in Kennington, co Kent, aged 56 – this would give his year of birth as c1586.   There are many Thomas Blechendens in the family but I am confident that this is the right Thomas given the approximate year of birth and because a deed of settlement is made in 1607 between the fathers of Thomas and Elizabeth on their marriage. This deed is held by the Canterbury Cathedral Archives and Library but the website of the National Archives describes it as:

Deed of Settlement. Made between John Blechenden of Monkton in the Isle of Thanet and Thomas B his son on the one part Sir John Boys of S Gregory’s near Canterbury Knt and Sir Edward Boys of Fredvill in the pa of Monnington of the other part, of lands in Eastbridge & Bonnington da of Sir Edward Boys.

Admission to Gray’s Inn

The first real record we have of Thomas Blechenden is from October 24 1604, at the age of about 18, when he is admitted to Gray’s Inn, still one of the most famous Inns of Court, in London.  The Register of Admission to Gray’s Inn, 1521-1889, states that  Thomas Blechenden was the “son and heir of John Blechenden of Monckton, Isle of Thanet, Esq.

This helps to confirm Thomas’ identity as we know that his father John moved to Monkton on his second marriage to his cousin Frances (see earlier post).  The Gray’s Inn website explains that in the 16th century the prosperity of the Inns grew and attracted a broader culture to the Inns which included entertainment, pageants and plays and this also meant that it became a fashionable place for noblemen and country gentlemen to send their sons, many of whom had no intention of becoming barristers. This seems to be the case for Thomas as I have found no evidence that he became a barrister and instead imagine that admission to Gray’s Inn at the age of about 18 years old was more in the nature of a finishing school and networking opportunity!  

Elizabeth Boys’ family

Thomas’ wife to be, Elizabeth Boys, was born around 1587 according to the baptism records at Nonington. She was the daughter of Edward Boys, later to be knighted as Sir Edward Boys, and his first wife Mary Wentworth. Mary Wentworth herself is of interest as she was the daughter of Sir Peter Wentworth MP by his second marriage to Elizabeth Walsingham the sister of Sir Francis Walsingham (also a member of Gray’s Inn) who was Queen Elizabeth’s so-called spy master and principal secretary.

It is sometimes too easy when researching family history to focus on names and dates and forget the social, religious and political context of the day.  Thomas and Elizabeth certainly lived in turbulent times.  One year after they were born saw the attempted invasion via the Spanish Armada in 1588; there was religious dissent and persecution both at home and abroad and growing speculation and concern about the question of the royal succession.  

Elizabeth herself grew up in a strongly protestant household – her grandfather Sir Edward Boys, the Elder of Fredville, was one of the 800 or so “Marian Exiles” who fled abroad in fear of religious persecution, first to Frankfurt in Germany in 1557 and then to Geneva to help establish a puritan colony at Aarau. Whilst at Geneva Boys was probably heavily influenced by John Calvin and may have helped bring some of  Calvin’s ideas back to England when he returned after Queen Mary’s death in 1558.  There is a passing reference to Edward Boys (Bois) in The Lives of Two and Twenty English Divines which describes him as a “man eminent for Piety in those daies“.

Elizabeth’s other grandfather, Sir Peter Wentworth MP, was also a prominent puritan who spoke out in the House of Commons on what were, at that time, very controversial issues, including freedom of speech, religion and the royal succession. Sir Peter spent time in the Tower of London for his outspokenness in Parliament in 1576, 1587 and then again in 1593. This last stay would be his last, he died there in November 1596 aged 73. Sir Peter was probably not considered a great Parliamentarian amongst his peers, and I get the impression that he wasn’t a great politician. But he was exceptional in his clarity of thought and should hold a stronger place in our history for speaking so clearly about the need for freedom of speech – his speeches to the House of Commons are the first such statements recorded and because of his convictions he spent his aged and final years in the Tower of London. The History of Parliament online is a useful reference for Peter Wentworth MP.

Sir Peter’s wife, Elizabeth Walsingham, also spent her final years in the Tower demonstrating that being the sister of Sir Francis Walsingham carried no special privileges. Elizabeth also died in the Tower just four months before her husband, and was buried on 21 July 1596.  I wonder whether Elizabeth Boys (perhaps named for her grandmother) ever really knew her grandparents – she was just six years old when the Wentworth’s died.  I imagine the family would feel a deep sense of injustice, but perhaps also pride, that elderly members of their family died in the Tower for their beliefs.  Memorials for both Peter and Elizabeth Wentworth are in the Chapel of Saint Peter-ad-Vincula within the walls of the Tower of London.  

Given Elizabeth’s upbringing in a staunchly protestant/puritan family it is most likely that Thomas Blechenden was of the same faith and puritan leanings.  However, there is no evidence that Thomas’s immediate family were also Marian exiles or spoke out so publicly on controversial matters.  The Blechendens were doing alright for themselves; they had land and property; they mingled with and married into influential families but to turn a phrase, they kept their heads down and kept their heads on! 

The Boys were an influential family in Kent and Thomas Blechenden, or rather his father John, who would have had a leading role in organising the match, must have thought this would be a route to better things. For Sir Edward Boys and his brother Sir John, named in the marriage settlement, this must also have been a good marriage – Thomas was the heir to his father’s properties and the marriage would have seen Elizabeth, one of a number of daughters, settled comfortably. There were also pre-existing family ties between the Boys and the Blechendens: Thomas’ grandmother was Jane Engham who married Richard Ashenden. Her second husband was Edward Boys of Nonington and Fredville (1528-99) whose first wife was Clara Wentworth. 

Family tree of Thomas and Elizabeth

The family tree becomes a little complicated, especially with the various marriages on the part of the Boys and Wentworths so this extract from my Ancestry family tree tries to set it out more clearly. It shows that there was no blood relationship between Thomas and Elizabeth, but given both of their grandmothers (Clara Wentworth and Jane Engham) had been married to Edward Boys of Nonington and Fredville it is likely that Thomas and Elizabeth knew each other as children.

Thomas and Elizabeth’s children

1663 Visitation of Kent

In the 1663-68 Visitation of Kent there is an outline of the Blechynden family tree which takes us from Thomas’ marriage to Elizabeth in 1607 in Nonington (although the Visitation record mistakenly refers  to her as Mary, perhaps confusing her with her mother) to the first three children of his grandson Thomas and Margaret Linch/Lynch.   The Visitation record only gives information of one of Thomas and Elizabeth’s children: John who married Anne, the daughter of “Glover of Canterbury”.  We can, however, identify their other children from various records:  

  • Maria, baptised in Nonington, Kent on 21 August 1608,
  • Edward, baptised in Nonington on 16 April 1610,
  • Elizabeth, baptised in Nonington on 26 June 1614,
  • Francis, baptised in Aldington on 29 September 1617, and
  • Thomas, baptised in St Olave’s London on 5 Nov 1618.  

John was probably also baptised in Nonington in 1612 but I have not found a baptism record. However, we have some evidence for his date of birth from Oxford University Alumni records which illustrate that Edward and his brother John matriculated at the same time – Edward was 17 and John just 15 which would make John’s date of birth as 1612 fitting neatly in between the births of siblings Edward and Elizabeth.

Blechinden, Edward, s. Thomas, of Bishpsborne, Kent, gent. ST ALBAN HALL, matric. 4 May, 1627, aged 17.

Blechinden, John, s. Thomas, of Bishopsborne, Kent, gent. ST ALBAN HALL, matric. 4 May, 1627, aged 15. B.A. from MAGDALEN HALL, 1 Feb., 1630-1, brother of the last named.

Oxford University Alumni 1500-1714, Vol 1

The parish church for Nonington, St Mary the Virgin, where most of the children are baptised, is less than one mile from Fredville Park which suggests that Thomas and Elizabeth perhaps either lived with her family at Fredville after their marriage, or near by, given that their first four children are baptised there. Thomas would have inherited Simnells, the Blechenden family home, in Aldington after his father John’s death in 1607 but it is unclear whether Thomas and Elizabeth lived there at all before c1617. When his daughter Francis is baptised in Aldington the parish records state that she is the daughter of Thomas Blechenden of Simnells. Only one year later, however, Thomas and Elizabeth are in London – perhaps visiting some family or in town to witness the execution of Sir Walter Raleigh on 29 October? Sadly, however, whilst they are staying in London their baby daughter Francis dies and is buried on September 25th at St Olave’s, Silver Street, in the City of London. Just over a month later Thomas and Elizabeth have another child, Thomas, who is baptised on 5 Nov 1618, but it would appear that Elizabeth dies in childbirth, or shortly after, as she is buried just two days later on 7 Nov 1618 also at St Olave’s. St Olave’s was destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666 and was never rebuilt.

Record of the burials of Francis and Elizabeth Blechenden, St Olave’s, City of London

The death of Elizabeth in 1618 meant that Thomas became a widower with 5 young children at the age of just 32. It was not unusual for people to remarry even when there were a number of children involved, as was the case for Thomas’ father John Blechenden, but I have not found any reference to a second marriage for Thomas. Memorials to him refer to his arms as Azure, a fess nebulee argent, between three lions’ heads erased, or, attired gules, empaling; Boys. No other family is mentioned.

Perhaps Thomas spent the next few years ensuring the future of his children. It appears that he moved from Simnells in Aldington to Bishopsbourne – in 1623 there is a record of a sale of land in Eastbridge by Thomas Blechenden of Bishopsbourne and the records of Edward and John’s education at Oxford (matric 1627) refer to their father as Thomas Blechenden of Bishopsbourne. We know that his two daughters married into the Cason family. Maria (Mary) married Edward Cason of Furneaux Pelham, Hertfordshire in 1629 at Woodnesborough, and Elizabeth married Edward’s younger brother John in 1633 also at Woodnesborough. Records suggest that the family home of Simnells in Aldington transferred to the Casons around this time although John Cason alienated it back to Thomas and Elizabeth’s grandson, “Thomas Blechenden of Woodnesborough, gent”, in 1663.

Despite the death of Elizabeth in 1618 it is likely that the Blechenden and the Boys remained close. One piece of evidence of the ongoing family links and friendship between the Boys and the Blechenden’s is in a case brought before the Court of Chivalry in 1638/39. This is a strange case which was made against one William Crayford for “scandalous words provocative of a duel”. In this both Thomas Blechenden and Edward Boyes of Betteshanger are called as witnesses (and the case is heard before Thomas’ father-in-law Sir Edward Boys). Although the outcome of the court case is not known it sounds as if there was a long-standing disagreement between a Mr Argent and a Mr Crayford and then, one market day in Sandwich, a group of gentlemen were sitting down in the Pelican (tavern) for refreshments when the old argument flared up again. Thomas Blechenden refers to sitting down for dinner and Edward Boyes in his evidence says that he was at the Pelican in Sandwich because “there was an ordinary for gentlemen where he met his friends”. It was not unusual for both men and women to dine out in taverns and “an ordinary” usually referred to a set dinner at a fixed price. Despite the dispute between Mr Argent and Mr Crayford we can infer that the Blechendens and the Boyes as well as having family connections were on friendly terms.

The civil war years and beyond?

There are a couple of references which suggest that Thomas Blechenden may have followed in his fathers footsteps and become involved in the administration of local affairs and perhaps controversially so. During the English Civil War in 1643 Thomas Blechynden was added to the list of committee members responsible for seizing and sequestering the estates of “papists and delinquents” by order of the House of Lords. Sequestration was a policy implemented by Parliament during the Civil War to legally seize the assets or impose a fine to Catholics and those who may have supported the King. This was a great revenue earner for the Parliamentarians and, although there was a process where families could appeal against sequestration or offer to pay a fine, many families were still ruined financially as result of the Civil War. The Boys were also committee members – John Boys was appointed the same time as Thomas Blechenden and Sir Edward Boyes was appointed to the Kent Committee in March 1643.

It is this Day Ordered, by the Lords in Parliament, That Sir William Springate Knight, John Boys of Trappam Esquire, Sir Edward Monins Baronet, Thomas Blechynden, Thomas Westroe, Esquires, Sir John Roweth, and Mr. Thomas Plummer of Cranbrooke, be added to the Committee for seizing and sequestering the Estates of Papists and Delinquents, and for the Weekly Assessments, in the County of Kent.

House of Lords Journal Volume 6: 10 May 1643′, in Journal of the House of Lords: Volume 6, 1643 (London, 1767-1830), pp. 38-41. British History Online

Records of Thomas’ involvement with the committee and attendance at committee meetings have not survived as far as I am aware and it is impossible to say to what extent he was involved with the sequestration of properties of his Kentish neighbours and possibly his family (a cousin also named Thomas Blechenden D.D. was subject to a sequestration order).

Following Thomas’s death in 1661 his son, Thomas, enters into a mortgage agreement in 1666 with a Margaret Sherman the papers to which refer to him as “Thos Blechenden son of Thos Blechenden Clk”. Was Thomas a Clerk, perhaps a Clerk of the Peace? A Clerk of the Peace helped to record court sessions, performing the many functions of a clerk to the court and usually required someone with some legal training so perhaps, if this is the case, then Thomas’ time at Gray’s Inn was put to good use. It was also a position which was held for life and, if he was a Clerk of the Peace, this may also explain the monument to him at St Mary’s Church in Woodnesborough which says he died at a grave old age after steadfastly and industriously administering public affairs but also that he was distinguished for his justice which I hope also prevailed as a member of the sequestration committee. The marble monument is in Latin so with the help of google translate it says something like this:

Under this marble will be resurrected Thomas BLECHENDEN Arm. The bones were buried, descended from the ancient family of the Blechendens of Aldington in the county of Kent. He was distinguished for his piety, justice, and refinement, and at length, at a grave old age of 77, after steadfastly and industriously administering public affairs to the brothers, he died on November 22, 1661.

The will of Thomas Blechenden

Thomas Blechenden died on the 22 November 1661 and I have to admit his last will and testament puzzles me. He is the father to five children and a large number of grandchildren through his sons and daughters. Yet his will only directly references two of his sons – John and Thomas who each receive a very small inheritance – and some, but not all of his grandchildren. Only the children of his son John are mentioned in the will with John, Edward and Anne each receiving an equal share of Thomas’ half-part share and interest in the lease of the rectory of Winsborough (Woodnesborough). Grandson Thomas, the heir in waiting, gets five shillings and the eldest grand-daughter Elizabeth gets £300! The Casons and Cason grandchildren receive nothing even though John Cason is a witness to the will. The Executor of the will is Thomas’ “loving nephew” Sir John Mennes who also receives £10 to buy a ring of remembrance and whom he entrusts to execute the will “not doubting of his faithful service of the same amending to my true intent and meaning herein discharged”. There is no mention of land or properties or goods in his will other than his half-part share in the rectory of Winsborough, which is surprising – what about Simnells? Or properties in Bishopsbourne or Kennington? There are two possibilities here, the first is that Thomas has already settled the majority of his goods and lands etc on his children and grandchildren and this is the final “divvy up”. His will does say “And so by me bequeathed is to be as an […?] to him the said John Blechynden over and beside what is already settled upon him.” Perhaps grandson Thomas – who was by this time married with his own children – had already had a bequest from his grandfather and hence the token five shillings. There is also the possibility that some of this was lost to the Blechenden’s during the English Civil War – despite being on the sequestration committee is it posible that lands were taken or offered up to help raise money? There is no evidence of the latter so I favour the former option. But it is a very modest last will and testament despite the lack of the usual reference to the distribution of property etc. He offers up his soul “into the hands of Almighty God my Creator” but there are no requests to be buried within a specific part of the parish Church, or with his wife or other family; simply to be “decently interred at the discretion of my Executors”. £5 is also given to the poor of the parish. His last will and testament reflects the words on his monument: piety, justice and refinement.