William Blechynden of Mersham, d 1510

Those of us who are researching the Blechynden family, often seem to start with William Blechynden. There are records which can reliably date him and his family and which refer to his ownership of Simnells, in Aldington in Kent, by virtue of his marriage to Agnes Godfrey and, before that, the family property of Quarrington, a small moated manor, in Mersham also in Kent:

[Quarrington] came into the possession of Nicholas Blechenden, who resided here at the latter end of that reign, whose grandson William Blechenden being the earliest possessor of this manor that is mentioned in the deeds of it, was owner of it in the reign of king Richard II. He married Agnes, daughter and coheir of Godfrey, of Simnells, in Aldington, of which becoming possessed in her right, he left this place and removed thither, though his descendants seem to have continued proprietors of it till the latter end of the reign of queen Elizabeth…

Edward Hasted, ‘Parishes: Mersham’, in The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 7 (Canterbury, 1798), pp. 592-602. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-kent/vol7/pp592-602 [accessed 25 March 2023].

William and Agnes Godfrey

We can roughly date William’s birth year by looking at the date of his father-in-law’s death and will which is dated 8 October 1490. By the time of Thomas Godfrey’s death in c1490 William and Agnes had had at least five children named in Thomas’ will, according to Henry Vernon Hall, [John C Hall Ancestry, published 1970, Salt Lake City Utah, see www.familysearch.org]. Assuming a birth every two years and that all the children survived (which would have been unusual) William and Agnes would have been married for at least 10 years (no later than c1480) so we can assume William was born some time between 1450-1460. William is allegedly the grandson of a Nicholas Blechenden who was the owner of Quarrington in the reign of Richard II (who reigned between June 1377 – September 1399) and this is quite possible with William’s father perhaps being born between 1410-1430.

William’s wife, Agnes Godfrey, had two brothers, Thomas and Humphrey who both died without issue, leaving Agnes and her sister Rabege, joint heirs to their father’s estate. Thomas and Humphrey are both alive in 1490 and are the executers to their father’s will with William Blechynden and Thomas Godfrey’s other son-in-law, John Clerke, acting as supervisors. The extract below from the 1619 Visitation of Kent shows that William and Agnes inherited the manor of Ruffins Hill whilst John and Rabege inherited Hurst (i.e. Cophurst). Cophurst eventually passes to Dr Thomas White, as recorded by Edward Hasted and mentioned in Thomas White’s will: The Last Will of Dr Thomas White, Bishop of Peterborough, proved 1698.

It seems to be generally accepted that Agnes and William had at least 10 children together, both sons and daughters, and the earlier Visitation of Kent from 1574 (see below) names two of them, John and James, presumably the eldest two sons, although curiously the tree follows only the line of James and not John even though he married into the prominent Crispe family – I have written about John Blechynden and Margaret Crispe here: Tudor Crispes, Crayfords and Blechendens as well as William’s grandson and namesake here: William Blechenden, Captain of Walmer Castle (Updated).

The visitations of Kent, taken in the years 1530-1 by Thomas Benolte, and 1574 by Robert Cooke; v. 74 – Part 1

However, I have recently been reviewing a transcribed copy of William’s will (now on my pages at Last Wills and Testaments), and that, together with another version of the family tree, has thrown some new and unexpected information my way. I haven’t seen other family trees record this information so I will set it out below.

A new family tree?

Within the book about the Crisp family (Collections relating to the family of Crispe : further and final extracts relating to the name from the records of the College of arms, new series, vol. 1 available at http://www.familysearch.org) there is a family tree of the Blechynden family which is also allegedly from the 1619 Visitation of Kent. I cannot verify this and have not been able to find this tree in any of the Visitations of Kent that I have reviewed. However, from my research into this family I can confirm that the tree looks accurate. Some children/grandchildren are omitted which is not unusual and, as per the 1574 tree above, it sets out only two sons of William, that is John and James, and none of the other children. However, this time, it sets out that James is the son and heir of William and Agnes and that John is the second son (“Sedus” which I assume to be an abbreviation of secundus) but not of William and Agnes but of William and his second wife! She is the daughter of “Fox” and William’s “uxor Secunda” (second wife).

It certainly wasn’t unusual for men to take a second wife given the high mortality rates of women at that time especially in childbirth (and indeed for women to take a second husband) but if this is true here who is the mother of the other children? Did Agnes die early and are the majority of William’s children from his second marriage? The will of Thomas Godfrey would seem to suggest otherwise given that at least five of their children were mentioned in it and that Agnes and Raberge became joint heirs of Thomas Godfrey’s properties after the death of their brothers (both of whom were still living in 1490).

William Blechynden’s will

The second piece of information I have reviewed recently is a transcribed copy of William’s will which suggests probate was in 1514. The Canterbury Probate Records Database has a record of a William Blechynden of Mersham making his will in 1510 and with probate in the same year. I have assumed for now that the date on the database is the correct one but added the transcribed copy to my pages here Last Wills and Testaments. This will does indeed indicate that William married again as he refers to his wife as “Margaret”. There is no mention of her being the daughter of “Fox” as suggested in the above 1619 Visitation of Kent and there is no mention of a former wife, i.e. Agnes.

William mentions his children in his will and makes provision for the education of his sons. Education was the luxury of the wealthy at this time so the fact that he is looking to educate all his sons demonstrates his position in society and also that his children, at least those from his second marriage, were still quite young when he died. Provision for James’ education is not mentioned and this is presumably because, as the eldest son from William’s first marriage, he had finished his schooling:

 and the money yerely comyng therof for that time to be reaysed by Margarett his wyf as long as she kepe her sole unmaried to use and pyng Scule of his sonnes, Humphrey, John, Edward and Christover;

William also makes provision for the marriage of his daughters. There is no reference to his daughter Alice, who is mentioned in Thomas Godfrey’s will, perhaps this is because she was married at this point and had had her portion:

 Anne Johanne Sibell and Myldred his daughters to their maryages to ev’y of them XX pounds of good and lawfull money;

The first part of William’s will relates to his wife Margaret to whom he leaves his land, tenaments and premises, but on the basis that she keeps herself unmarried for 12 years and pays towards his sons’ education (i.e. Humphrey, John, Edward and Christover) and towards the marriage of his daughters (i.e. Anne, Johanne, Sibell and Myldred). Perhaps the 12 years clause was to ensure the security of his children until they were all of age.

In his will, William makes reference to various lands and properties that he leaves to his five sons. They speak to his influence, to his wealth and business acumen. But given the length of this post I will set them out in a separate post to follow.

Sir William Scott and his son John Scott play an important role in the will. Margaret is expected to follow their advice and council and moreover, if she marries in the 12 year period stated, all the rents and other income coming from William’s lands go instead to Sir William and John Scott to fund his sons’ education, his daughters’ marriages and the governing of them. If that wasn’t enough, the will states that Margaret, if she marries, would have to “delyv’r and pay…all thyssue and esetts …duryng the hole time of the foresayd XII Yeres...”. I think this means she would have to back pay any income from the land, properties etc to Sir William and John Scott should she decide to marry at any point in the 12 year period after William’s death:

 the sayd Margaret his wiff shall delyv’r and pay to the fore sayd Sir William Scott knight and John Scott squier for the mariage of his forsayd daughters and that then the sayd Sir William Scott knight and John Scott squier shall resayve all thyssue and esetts of all the beforesayd lands and ten’ts duryng the hole time of the foresayd XII Yeres kepyng all repacions his sonnes to soole and role and governing of all his foresaid children sonnes and daughters durynge the time aforesayd.

Not only does Margaret have to follow the rule, advice and council of Sir William and John Scott for 12 years but she also cannot follow the rule of Robert Harlakenden without everything going to the Scott family:

and if that it happe his wyf refuse the rule and adwyse and councill of the foresaid Sir William Scott knyght and John Scott squyer and folow the rule of Robert Harlaseynden that then the foresaid William will that the foresaid Sir William Scott knyght and John Scott squyer shalhave and take the rents of hys lands and of his children duryng the foresaid terme of XII yeres.

This raises the interesting question of who was Robert Harlakynden, what was his relationship to Margaret and why did William feel the need to include this in his will?

Who is Margaret, William’s uxor secunda?

Henry Vernon Hall posits that Margaret is the sister of Sir William Scott which would explain why he makes it a condition of the will that Margaret follow their advice and counsel. Sir William did indeed have a sister Margaret but she married Sir Edmund Bedingfield and, given that her will is dated 1513, she cannot be the wife of William Blechynden.

The 1612 Visitation mentioned above suggests that William married the daughter of “Fox” and so perhaps Margaret is Margaret Fox? I initially explored the possibility that “Fox” is a phonetic spelling of “Fogge”. This would make sense given the very close family ties between the Scotts and the Fogges, both of whom had benefitted from supporting the Yorkist cause during the Wars of the Roses. The Scotts and the Fogges are related by marriage: Sir William Scott’s son Edward marries Alice Fogge and John Scott’s son William marries Anne Fogge. Alice and Anne Fogge are sisters and the co-heirs of Thomas Fogge Esq, Serjeant Porter of Calais to both Henry VII and Henry VIII, obit 1512.

Although we see no direct marriages between the Blechyndens and either the Scotts or the Fogges we can summise that they knew each other from other related marriages. In particular William Blechynden’s two sons, John and James, both marry into families that are connected to them: John marries Margaret Crisp sister to Sir Henry Crisp who marries Catherine Scott; and James marries Ursula Whetenhall the aunt of Mary Whetenhall who marries Richard Scott. John Blechynden was also a witness to the last will of Reignold Scott (brother to Catherine and Richard Scott) and perhaps it is for him that John names one of his sons Reignold. Interestingly Reignold Scott, in his will dated 4 September 1554, gives “Isabell Blachenden, my servante, to her mariage tenne pounds“. I haven’t identified Isabell but she must be a member of the family and £10 was a very generous sum (and worth about £4,000 today).

Despite all of the above I haven’t managed to find a Margaret Fogge who might fit the bill and be our Margaret Fox. However, William’s will does mention a William Fox when he leaves various lands etc to his son John “being in the pish of Mersham and Brabourn the wyche were somtyme William Fox“. I have found a number of references to William Fox of Mersham across different records and am setting these out below.

Firstly, Manchester University Library holds a number of records relating to the parish of Willesborough in Kent and one of these mentions the “Power of attorney given by William Fox of Mersham, to Thomas Carter of Willesborough, to give seisine of lands.”

Also, in Memorials of the family of Scott, of Scot’s-hall, in the county of Kent, there are a handful of references to a William Fox some of which make him a witness to land transfers which include as parties “William Harlokynden, John Scott, John Fogg, John Dygges and William Fynche...”. Given the names, dates and locations mentioned in the documents it seems very probable to me that this William Fox is the same person mentioned in William Blechynden’s will (and would also therefore counter any suggestion that Fogge and Fox are the same person/family). One entry is particularly persuasive as it refers to the grant of land to, amongst others, William Fox and Thomas Godfrey (i.e. William Blechynden’s father-in-law), to 24 acres of land in the parish of Smeeth. This shows that William Fox was a landowner and with land in the parish of Smeeth it’s not surprising that he would also have held land in the contiguous parishes of Mersham and Brabourne.

Grant in perpetuity from Stephen Bettenham, of the parish of Cranebroke, Gentleman, and John Badmynton, of Appildare, to Thomas Godfrey, George Knoldane, Thomas Elvene, William Fox, and William Knetchebole, of fifteen pieces of land, meadow, and pasture called Wythonys, containing twenty-four acres of land lying together in the parish of Smethe and in the holding of the courts at Aldyngton and Thefgate, towards the lane called le Melbroklane, leading from Thefgate unto Stonestede towards the west, towards the said lane and the land of Thomas Laurens towards the north, towards the lands of John Passhele, Esq., called Thefgate Park and Thefgate Mead, towards the east and south, heretofore granted to them by Margery Raynold, alias Chaloner, with other lands and tenements. To hold the same of the chief Lords of the Fee by the services therefore due and of right accustomed. 7 Edward IV., August 4, 1468.

Memorials of the family of Scott, of Scot’s-hall, in the county of Kent by James Renat Scott, pub 1876

The final reference to William Fox in the Scott Memorials is in 1474 when Thomas Kempe, the Bishop of London, grants in perpetuity Coombe manor, and other lands, to his kinsman Sir John Scott. William Fox, amongst others, is appointed as attorney “to deliver up possession and seisin thereof“. So it would seem that William Fox of Mersham was of the legal profession as well as holding lands in Brabourne, Smeeth and Mersham. He was probably of a similar social standing to William Blechynden who is also mentioned in the Scott Memorials in 1503/4 when he a witness to a land transfer, although, unlike his counterparts, he is given the title, Gentleman:

Memorials of the family of Scott, of Scot’s-hall, in the county of Kent by James Renat Scott, pub 1876

Finally, Canterbury Cathedral Archives and Library have a record from 1484 in which we have both William Fox and William Blechyden acting as witnesses to a robbery in Bockhanger Wood, which lay to the south of Quarrington Manor. The manor was moated and this is still visible in the 1816 Ordnance Survey map shown below.

The Canterbury Probate Records Database provides two possible candidates for this William Fox – one William Fox of Mersham whose will is dated 1488 and one William Foxe of Mersham whose will is proved in 1509 and perhaps the first is Margaret Fox’s father and the second her brother? Although I have found nothing which ties William Fox, mention in William Blechynden’s will, directly to Margaret this seems likely to me given that the two Williams knew each other (as evidenced by the witness statement above) as well as knowing the Godfrey family and the Scotts. I will have to try and confirm this family relationship in time when I can access the wills at Canterbury.

Who is Robert Harlakynden?

But why did William impose the requirement that Margaret could not folow the rule of Robert Harlaseynden? The Harlakyndens were a prominent family and we see a couple of female Blechynden marriages into the family in later generations but it is difficult to see probable candidates for Robert given the surviving information. We know that there was a Robert Harlakynden of Bridge, son of Roger, who died in 1557 but he was born in 1510. There was also a Robert Harlakynden, son of Thomas Harlakynden of Woodchurch but information on him is sketchy at best.

I have seen some suggestions that Roger Harlakynden, the “warm asserter of Edward IV” is also known as Robert. Roger Harlakynden is a colourful character. In July 1493 he was charged with corresponding with Perkin Warbeck, pretender to the crown, and had allegedly agreed to support the invasion with a force of eight hundred men. Although he was acquitted the justices refused to release him and his case was sent to King’s Bench on 1 June 1495. “Roger Harlakynden of Wodechurch, Kent, London, and Erthyngleygh, Suss., g.” also appears in Henry VIII’s pardon roll of 1509-1510 although it is unclear what he is being pardoned for – the list of names is extensive and is a general pardon – but perhaps questions about his loyalty still lingered. To note, I think Erthyngleygh is the place we would know today as Ardingly in West Sussex. Roger’s second wife is Alice Colepeper, daughter of Richard Colepeper of Wakehurst, the estate of which is less than a mile from the centre of the village of Ardingly and best known today for the botanical gardens, run by Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

There is also a reference to Roger Harlakyden in Archbishop Warham’s register, following his Visitation of the county in 1511, which refers to him as “…a common oppressor of his neighbours, whom none loveth….that he is meddling of many matters, and will check the parsons and the priests that they cannot be [at] rest for him.“(see The Topographer and Genealogist, Vol. 1, edited by John Gough Nichols, 1846.)

So, it is tempting to reach the conclusion that Roger Harlakynden is the Robert in William’s will as, given the less than glowing references above, we can understand why William might not want his wife or children to be under the influence of someone who is a “common oppressor…whom none loveth“. Even if Roger isn’t Robert perhaps William was acting with an abundance of caution given that, in all likelihood, Robert would be a close relative of Roger Harlakynden. Overall, I get the impression that, despite how harsh it seems to me with my modern sensibilities to deny Margaret of the opportunity for another marriage for 12 years, I also understand that William was protecting his children’s inheritance and his daughters’ potential for marriage, by placing them, by proxy, within the protection of Sir William Scott and Squire John Scott.

Conclusion and Disclaimer

Given the additional information provided by the new family tree, the information in the (transcribed) last will and testament and the various other documents, some of which are mentioned above, I think I am satisfied that William Blechynden was married twice with son James being the son of Agnes Godfrey and perhaps most of the daughters as well being those of Agnes. But his second wife was likely Margaret Fox, daughter of William Fox, their eldest son being John but with younger brothers Humphrey, Edward and Christopher. I think the family tree therefore looks something like this:

But on to my disclaimer. Records are patchy for the 1400’s and early 1500’s. Therefore, whilst I have been able to glean infomation from some records that survive it is still possible that I have drawn incorrect assumptions. I can’t be 100% positive that the William who married Agnes is also the William that married Margaret. There are no references in William’s will to Quarrington Manor, or to Symnels or Ruffyns Hill – the latter two properties came to the Blechynden family through William’s marriage to Agnes. Perhaps ownership of them was transferred to oldest son James on the death of Agnes?

I have also made assumptions, based on the available evidence, about the birth dates of William’s younger sons but these could be wrong, as could that of Agnes’ death. When looking this far back in time it is hard to be definitive and I’m sure I’ll need to revisit these dates and “assumptions” at some point soon.