II The Wotton Family


Part I  :    Introduction and Methodology

Part II :    The Wotton Family

Part III:    The Survey

Transcript of the Wotton Survey

‘The Wottons being a family that hath brought forth divers persons eminent for wisdom and valour, whose heroic acts and noble employments, both in England and in foreign parts, have adorned themselves and this nation, which they have served abroad faithfully in the discharge of their great trust, and prudently in their negociations with several princes; and also served at home with much honour and justice, in their wise managing a great part of the public affairs thereof in the various times both of war and peace.’1

Or, less floridly, the Wotton family, ‘for their learning, fortune, and honors, at times when honors were really such, may truly be said to have been ornaments to their country in general, and to this county in particular.’2

Like many noble and gentry families, the Wottons initially established themselves through trade. The earliest member of the Wotton family so far identified is William, a merchant of the City of London, whose will was proved in August 1391. He owned property in ‘Thamysestret and Wolsyeslane in the parishes of All Hallows the Great and All Hallows upon the Solar… in the lane and parish of S. Laurence aforesaid, and elsewhere.’ His widow Margaret, in her will of 1404, referred to ‘a tenement called "le Cok on the hoop," with wharf, &c., in Thamisestrete in the parish of S. Magnus the Martyr near London Bridge.’ William, and presumably his wife also, was buried in the church of St Lawrence Pountney in the City. This church was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, so if there was any memorial to them there it is now lost.3

After various bequests, both William and Margaret left the residue of their estates to their son Nicholas, a draper. Nicholas was sheriff of London in 1406-07, the year of Richard Whittington’s second mayoralty, and Lord Mayor twice, in 1415-16 and 1430-31.4

A William Wottone was elected alderman for Dowgate in 1388 and was among those representing the City in its dispute with Richard II in the 1390s. A Thomas Wotton, also a draper, was active in the City either side of 1400. Peter Wotton, draper, was a member of the Common Council, representing Bassishaw, in the ninth year of Richard II (1385-86).5 Since it was usual for family members to follow each other in the same trade, it is likely that Peter and Thomas at least were relatives of Nicholas. Research into the records of the Drapers’ Company and of the Corporation of London might reveal more information about Nicholas and other Wottons in the City of London, and about what role, if any, Nicholas played in relations between the City and the Crown at this critical point in English history.

It was common for successful citizens to acquire country estates. Brandon suggests the custom of gavelkind, and consequent active land market, made Kent particularly attractive. John Pulteney, four times Lord Mayor of London, bought the manor of Penshurst in the early fourteenth century. John Peche, clothier and alderman, bought Lullingstone in 1360. Government officials also moved out into Kent. Robert Belknap, Chief Justice (and an ancestor of Edward and Thomas Wotton), acquired Shawstead manor in Chatham and Gillingham and Sandling (Seynctling) in the Cray Valley in the second half of the fourteenth century. Geoffrey Chaucer, Comptroller of the Customs for the Port of London, had an estate in North West Kent.6

The Wotton family tree.

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The first generations of the Wotton family to settle in Kent acquired their lands through marriage and inheritance rather than purchase. Nicholas married Joane, daughter and heiress of Robert Corby. The Corby or Corbie family had been established at Eltham and at Widehurst in Marden since the early thirteenth century, if not earlier. The family rose to prominence in the reign of Edward III and was ‘of no small account in this county.’ Robert Corby was sheriff of Kent in the 8th year of Richard II (1384-85).

Through this marriage Nicholas Wotton acquired the manor of Boughton, or Bocton, Malherbe, and Boughton Malherbe was henceforward the principal residence of the Wotton family in Kent. The manor had descended through the female line over several generations prior to Nicholas Wotton acquiring it. It had come to Robert Corby through his wife, Alice, daughter of Sir John Gousall. Sir John Gousall had acquired it from his wife Martha, daughter of Thomas de Dene. The manor had come to the de Dene family through the marriage of Thomas’s father William to Elizabeth de Gatton.7

Descent of the Manor of Boughton Malherbe through the female line.

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In addition to Boughton Malherbe, the Corby marriage brought Nicholas Wotton substantial estates in Kent and elsewhere. Joane Corby’s inheritance included Wormshill, Chilton in Sittingbourne, Sheriff’s Court in Minster in Thanet, Thurnham, Whitehurst in Marden and Mardol in Boughton Aluph. Outside Kent, Nicholas Wotton acquired from Robert Corby the manor of Bayhouse at Purfleet in Essex, although it is unclear whether this was through his marriage, or by purchase.8

Joane predeceased Nicholas, and he remarried at least once. He died in 1447/8 leaving a widow, Margaret, and two sons, Nicholas and Richard, a clerk. Nicholas senior bequeathed one third part of his estate, including the manor of Chilton, to Richard, but as a clerk in holy orders, he could have no issue, so his inheritance reverted back to his brother.9

Nicholas Wotton junior married Elizabeth, daughter of John Bamburgh or Bamberg. The marriage brought the manor of Paddlesworth to the Wottons. Nothing is known of John Bamburgh’s life or career; there is no evidence of him having held public office or leaving a will. He was an executor of, and witness to, the will of Nicholas Wotton senior, so was evidently still alive when the will was made in 1447.

Nicholas junior died in 1480 and his widow Elizabeth in 1494. Their memorial brass in Boughton church shows them with three sons and seven daughters, but only one son, Robert, and three daughters appear to have survived to adulthood. The daughters married into the Baker, Cheyney and Cumberland families.10

Nicholas and Elizabeth Wotton brass in Boughton Church
© Jacqueline Bower

Nicholas & Elizabeth Wotton brass, Boughton Malberbe church

Nicholas and Elizabeth seem to have had a comfortable but not overly lavish lifestyle. Among the items Elizabeth bequeathed to her daughters were a featherbed with coverings and hangings, sheets of hemp and flax, tablecloths, napkins and towels, several items of brass, a psalter and primer, ‘my best gowne Furred with mynke, a blewe gowne Furred with Black my Furred cloake … my blak gown lined with velvet.’11 On her memorial brass, Elizabeth is shown wearing a gown that appears to be trimmed with fur, possibly mink, at the cuffs and neckline - possibly the gown referred to in the will.

Detail showing dress trim

©Mike Perring

Detail of brass showing trim on Elizabeth’s gown.

Nicholas Wotton junior does not appear to have held any public office. He lived much of his adult life against the background of the Wars of the Roses and the reign of Edward IV; perhaps he was not a supporter of the Yorkists.

The Wottons might have been out of favour under the Yorkists, but they appear to have flourished under the early Tudors. The family seems to have moved up the social scale during the lifetime of Nicholas junior‘s son Robert. Robert Wotton is the first of the family who can be shown to have played a part in public life in Kent. He was sheriff of Kent in the 14th year of Henry VII (1498-99), and was knighted at some point.

Robert also held office further afield. Under Henry VIII he was chief gatekeeper of Calais, lieutenant of Guisnes, and later Comptroller of Calais.12 Calais and the ‘English Pale’ around it were the last remaining English territory in France. Given Henry VIII‘s uncertain relations with France, these were politically and militarily sensitive appointments.

According to Peter Clark, 'The personnel of the Calais garrison and administration was increasingly recruited from Kentish folk; landholding on both sides of the Channel was fairly common and in time of war Calais was largely provisioned from the county.’ Kent and Calais may have together formed a regional economy that counterbalanced the increasing pull of London in this period. The need to provision Calais, Guisnes and English Pale stimulated the economies of Kent and East Sussex, it is suggested. This need may have been a factor in the apparent preference for gentlemen from Kent as officeholders in Calais. As landowners, gentlemen such as Robert Wotton would have had access to the quantities of supplies needed, and been aware, through their stewards, of local market conditions.13

Robert Wotton married Anne Belknap, daughter of Sir Henry Belknap, who held lands in Warwickshire, Essex, Sussex and Kent. He died in 1488. ‘Robard Wotton’ was one of his executors. Sir Henry’s heir, Edward Belknap, also held office in Calais; he was one of the Commissioners responsible for overseeing the construction of the encampment at the ‘Field of the Cloth of Gold’ for Henry VIII’s meeting with Francis I of France in June 1520. The king’s retinue of six thousand men and women was bigger than the population of most, if not all, towns in Kent at the time. The ‘temporary’ palace was built of stone, brick, wood and canvas. Three of the rooms were larger than any room in any of the king’s palaces in England.1

Edward Belknap died in 1521. His estates were divided between his sisters Elizabeth Cooke, Mary Danett and Anne Wotton. The Wottons thereby acquired a one third share of the manors of Ringwould, Saintling Okemere in St Mary Cray and Old Longport in Lydd, as well as land in Warwickshire.15

The Wottons and the Belknaps.

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In May 1522 Robert Wotton was ‘sore vexed with contynewall infyrmite and by all symylitude of no longe perseverance in this liff.' In July he was still `very seke'. He died in 1524. In his will he asked, if he died in Calais, to be buried next to his late wife Anne, before the altar of the church of the Blessed Mary the Virgin of the Order of Carmelite Friars in Calais. This church was suppressed by Henry VIII, so no memorial to Anne or Robert Wotton survives.16

Robert Wotton appears to have had a more lavish lifestyle than his parents, possibly due to the requirements of his office. His will mentions gold crosses and chains, silver plate, and cloth of silver bought to make him a coat. The spiritual bequests in the will indicate an orthodox Catholicism; he required his son Edward and Edward’s heirs to provide, out of their inheritance, a priest to sing in the church at Boughton Malherbe for twenty years for the souls of his ‘fader and moder’, for the souls of Robert himself and Anne, and for all Christian souls. The will shows that the family’s Continental links stretched beyond Calais; Robert’s nephew William Baker was a student at Louvain, one of the leading universities of the sixteenth century.17

Six of Robert and Anne’s nine children survived to adulthood. Their daughter Idonea married Thomas Norton ‘of Calais’. Mary married first into the Guldeford family of Leeds in Kent, then into the Carew family of Devon. Margaret married first William Medley, then Thomas Grey, second Marquess of Dorset, grandson of Elizabeth Woodville and thus a cousin of the King. This marriage elevated the family, or at least Margaret, from the gentry to the aristocracy and brought them close to the Court and the political intrigues of the mid sixteenth century; Margaret and Thomas’s son Henry was the father of Lady Jane Grey.18

Robert Wotton’s heir was his son Edward. His second surviving son, Anthony, was a monk at Canterbury. The third, Nicholas, born about 1497, was also a churchman and diplomat. Edward and Nicholas did not conform to their father’s conservative religious beliefs. Clark suggests that Edward was one of a number of Kent gentlemen holding radical religious views in the 1530s. Nicholas was one of a humanist circle that flourished at Canterbury in the later 1520s.19

Although an ordained priest and Dean of Canterbury and of York, Nicholas Wotton followed a career in law and diplomacy. He held office under Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth, serving as ambassador to Cleves, the Netherlands, the Empire, France and Germany. He is described as ‘one of the most long-serving, and probably the last, of the great early Tudor clerical diplomats‘. Nicholas Wotton died in 1567 and was buried in Canterbury Cathedral. 20

Memorial - Nicholas Wotton in Canterbury Cathedral

© 2012 Graham Stark
Nicholas Wotton - memorial at Canterbury Cathedral.

Edward Wotton was born about 1489. He was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn in 1511. It was becoming common for the sons of gentlemen to spend time at the inns of court instead of, or in addition to, university. As well as the useful social connections to be made, knowledge of the law was valuable to men who might have to deal with complicated legal matters in connection with their own estates, and who were likely also to be required to serve as magistrates. Possibly through the influence of his father in law, Edward Wotton was a ‘filazer’ - a court official - at Westminster from 1513.21

The next phase of Edward Wotton’s career was typical of many county gentlemen. He was a Justice of the Peace in 1524, knighted by 1528 and sheriff in 1529 and 1535. He was present at a number of court occasions, including the coronation of Anne Boleyn in 1533 and the baptism of Prince Edward (the future Edward VI) in 1537, and was among those who travelled to Calais to greet Anne of Cleves on her way to England in 1539. The following year he was appointed treasurer of Calais. Much of his work there involved overseeing the extensive refortification of the town, and preparation for war with France. He continued his career in public service into the reign of Edward VI.22

Edward also paid attention to the family estates. During the 1520s he substantially extended Boughton Place, the Wottons’ principal seat at Boughton Malherbe. He added to his estates by marriage and by purchase, taking advantage of the active land market in Kent when monastic estates became available following the Dissolutions. In 1539 and 1549 he was one of a number of Kent gentlemen who sought Acts of Parliament to disgavel their estates. These disgavelling Acts led to the Survey which was carried out by Edward Wotton’s son Thomas and is transcribed here. The disgavelling Acts are discussed at greater length in Part III of this introduction.23

Boughton place today

©Mike Perring

West wing of Boughton Place viewed from the Greensand Way.

Edward Wotton was married twice. His first wife, Dorothy or Dorothea Rede or Reed, was the daughter of Sir Robert Rede, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas. She was the mother of Edward’s heir, Thomas. Like Robert Wotton’s brother in law Edward Belknap, and Idonea Wotton’s husband Thomas Norton, the Redes had links with Calais. Robert Rede’s father, Dorothy’s grandfather, was a Lincolnshire man who traded as a Calais merchant. Further research into the English community at Calais might reveal more about their family connections and business interests there.

Robert Rede’s wife was Margaret, daughter of John Alfegh or Alphay of Chiddingstone. Through this marriage Robert Rede acquired land in Kent which eventually passed to Edward Wotton by his marriage to Dorothy. The Rede lands included manors in Eynsford and Cliffe and other lands in Sittingbourne, Brenchley and Hadlow.24

Dorothy died in 1529. Edward married secondly Ursula, daughter of Sir Robert Dymoke of Scrivelsby, Lincolnshire, and widow of Sir John Rudston, draper and former Lord Mayor of London.25

Edward Wotton died in 1551. In his will he asked to be buried in the choir of Boughton Malherbe parish church. There is a memorial brass to him there.

Edward Wotton memorial brass in Boughton Malherbe church

©Mike Perring
Edward Wotton memorial brass in Boughton Malherbe church

Edward Wotton’s will indicates an austere personality with strongly Protestant beliefs. He refers to his ‘bodie or vile Carkas’ and to his soul being received by God ‘into the number of his Elect.’

‘Where oftentimes greate summes of money be wastfully spent and consumede aswell in Bowelynge and Ceryng of the corps, as also in the funerall (to wyt in blacke clothe for Morners and servantes) in a hersse with lights and deckyde with schochyns of Armes, with cote Armes, helmet and sworde with suche other ceremonyes usually don by the heraulds at Armes with suche lyke, I do utterly charge myne Executours that in nowyse they bestowe one peny in eny of all the foresaide thinges.’26

There was a somewhat pointed legacy for the King:

‘Where the King of most famous memorye King Henry theight my late Master by his testament dyd give and bequeathe to me three hundreth poundes, whiche I have not yet recevyde, I do frely Remytt and give to the King’s Maiestie our present Master the said legacie and some of three hundreth poundes.’

Edward Wotton was survived by his sons Thomas and William and daughter Anne. Two more sons and a daughter died young. Family relationships became complicated in this generation. Brother and sister Thomas and Ann Wotton married sister and brother Elizabeth and Robert Rudstone, daughter and son of their stepmother Ursula by her first marriage to Sir John Rudstone. William Wotton married Mary Danett, descendant of one of the co-heirs of the Belknap estates.27

Thomas, born in or before 1521, was his father’s principal heir. While his father Edward’s and uncle Nicholas’s lives are reasonably well documented, Thomas’s is not. He appears in the Dictionary of National Biography only as an addendum to his father’s life.

Thomas was educated at Lincoln’s Inn and at Cambridge. He probably spent time in Calais when his father was there and is also believed to have visited Paris as a young man.28

Having succeeded his father at Boughton Malherbe, Thomas Wotton might also have expected to follow him in a career in government service, perhaps holding an appointment at Calais as both his father and grandfather had done. However, while his father and grandfather had successfully negotiated the uncertainties of Tudor politics in the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI, Thomas found himself vulnerable under Mary.

On the death of Edward VI in July 1553, the Duke of Northumberland proclaimed his daughter in law Lady Jane Grey queen.29 The attempted coup collapsed after nine days and Mary Tudor succeeded to the throne. Northumberland was executed. Jane and her husband, Northumberland’s son Guildford Dudley, were imprisoned in the Tower. Lady Jane’s father, Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk, Thomas Wotton’s first cousin, remained free.

The Wottons and Greys.

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There is no evidence that Thomas Wotton was in any way implicated in Northumberland’s attempted usurpation. A few months later, however, events in Kent placed him much closer to potential treason.

Mary Tudor’s intention of marrying Philip II of Spain aroused the opposition of many of her subjects. Kent had already experienced economically motivated disturbances in 1551 and 1552. Late in 1553 Thomas Wyatt of Allington, a close contemporary of Thomas Wotton, began to conspire with other gentlemen in Kent to lead an uprising against the Spanish marriage. There were to be simultaneous risings in Herefordshire, in Devon and in East Anglia, the East Anglian rising to be led by Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk. Although the stated aim of the rebels was only to stop the Spanish marriage, it was widely suspected that at least some of them intended to depose Mary and place Elizabeth on the throne instead. Additionally, Wyatt and other conspirators, like the Wottons, owned former monastic lands. It was known that Mary wished to restore those lands to the church. Preserving their estates therefore provided additional motivation for the plotters.

Wyatt’s co-conspirators in Kent were thirty or so gentry from the Medway Valley area, many of whom were linked by marriage. The plot was also known and supported by the French ambassador; France had an interest in stopping the Spanish marriage.

In January 1554 Wyatt led his followers out of Kent. They reached Westminster and attempted to enter the City. The situation might have become critical, but after initial uncertainty and weak leadership among the queen’s advisors, the rebellion crumbled. Wyatt was arrested and executed, as was Thomas Wotton’s cousin the Duke of Suffolk, and also Lady Jane Grey and Guildford Dudley, although they had not been in any way involved the rebellion. Elizabeth was suspected of having supported the rebels and for a time she too was in danger, but nothing could be proved. She spent two months in the Tower but her life was spared. 30

In such a closely connected community as the Kent gentry, it seems unlikely that Thomas Wotton knew nothing of the conspiracy, even if he was not directly involved. If he had intended to take part in the rebellion, however, he was prevented from doing so. The rising in Kent began on 25 January 1554. Four days before that, Thomas was committed to the Fleet ‘to remain a close prisoner … for obstinate standing against matters of religion.’ 31

The exact circumstances of Thomas’s arrest and imprisonment are unknown. According to Isaak Walton,

‘Nicholas Wotton, Dean of Canterbury, being then Ambassador in France, dreamed that his nephew, this Thomas Wotton, was inclined to be a party in such a project, as, if he were not suddenly prevented, would turn both to the loss of his life, and ruin of his family….

‘Considering also that Almighty God (though the causes of dreams be often unknown) hath … by a certain illumination of the soul in sleep, discovered many things that human wisdom could not foresee: Upon these considerations he resolved to use so prudent a remedy, by way of prevention, as might introduce no great inconvenience either to himself or to his nephew.

‘And to that end, he wrote to the Queen, and besought her, That she would cause his nephew, Thomas Wotton, to be sent for out of Kent; and that the Lords of her Council might interrogate him in some such feigned questions, as might give a colour for his commitment into a favourable prison; declaring that he would acquaint her Majesty with the true reason of his request, when he should next become so happy as to see and speak to her Majesty….’32

Leaving aside the story of the dream, it is quite plausible that Nicholas Wotton heard of the Wyatt conspiracy, either from acquaintances in Kent or through his diplomatic contacts in France, and determined to keep his nephew out of it by having him arrested on a lesser charge.

The author of a pamphlet on the Wyat rebellion wrote

‘It befell … that … the Privy Council committed a Gentleman of that Shire [Kent] to Ward, one to Wyat above all others most dear: whereby the common bruit grew that he (suspecting his secrets to be revealed, and upon that occasion to be sent for by the Council) felt himself, as it were for his own surety, compelled to anticipate his time. But whether that were the cause or no, doubtful is.’33

It is suggested that the gentleman referred to was Thomas Wotton, and that it was he who revealed Wyat’s plans to the authorities. Even if Thomas did speak of anything he might have known, it is highly unlikely that it would have made any difference to the course of events. His imprisonment occurred only days before the rising; the authorities had known long before that a conspiracy was in progress.

Thomas was still in prison on 4 March. The date of his release is unknown. In a letter to Francis Walsingham written in 1578, Thomas seems to suggest that Walsingham was responsible for securing his release.

‘Thus have you first delyvered mee (without good cause surely as I thincke, once shut up in prisonne,) and nowe for my sake my sonne.’34

However, this must refer to some later, as yet unidentified, imprisonment. Walsingham was abroad throughout Mary’s reign and was in any case too young at the time to have had that much influence over the Privy Council.35

The former Margaret Wotton, Marchioness of Dorset, Henry Grey’s mother and Thomas’s aunt, did not live to see the execution of her son and granddaughter, having died in or soon after 1535.36

The loss of one or more family members to the executioner’s block was not an unusual experience for the gentry and aristocracy in the Tudor period. Thomas’s will and his letters show that he was aware of his wider family connections.37 It is impossible to know how close he was to his Grey cousins, and how deeply he might have been affected by the executions of Henry and Jane, but the events of 1553 and 1554 perhaps explain why he held no public office at national level during Mary’s reign. Although his uncle Nicholas continued to serve the crown as a diplomat (albeit at a safe distance, in Paris, until the outbreak of war with France in 1557), Thomas may have considered it wise to keep a low profile.

He did, however, hold office at local level. He was sheriff of Kent in the fourth and fifth years of Mary’s reign, completing his second shrievalty under Elizabeth. He was sheriff again in 1577-78. In August 1573 the Queen visited Boughton Place on her progress through Kent. Thomas ‘had many invitations from Queen Elizabeth to change his … retirement for a Court, offering him a knighthood … and that to be but as an earnest of some more honourable and profitable employment, yet he humbly refused both’.38

Thomas could not, of course, continue the family tradition of office holding in Calais following its capture by the French in 1558. In 1574 it was rumoured that he was to have an appointment in Ireland, but, he wrote, ‘I am not (I thanke God) so ambitious as that for a little honoure. I sholde take upon me an office of greater weight then my shoulders ar hable to bear, and so eyther fall and shame meself, (which were yll), or by simple service for lacke of good knowledge hynder her Matie and the Realme (which were woorse).’39

Both Nicholas and Thomas served on a Commission established by the Queen in 1561 to investigate the ‘ruyne and decaye’ of Rochester Bridge and take immediate steps for its repair. The main work of reviewing the bridge accounts was undertaken by Nicholas, Richard Sackville and William Lovelace. Thomas served on a second Commission in 1571 (Nicholas had died by this time) and a third in 1573. This Commission led to the Rochester Bridge Act of 1576. The Act required the parishes which contributed to the upkeep of the Bridge to elect annually two wardens, twelve assistants, and four auditors to manage the Bridge estates and accounts and ensure the maintenance of the Bridge. Thomas served as one of the auditors in this new system’s first year of operation. In 1583 he was Senior Warden.40

Rochester Bridge and Castle 1795

Rochester Bridge 1795

The new system seems to have made the administration of the Bridge’s affairs more efficient, but not to have increased its income. Expenditure on repairs and maintenance consistently exceeded income; the average annual deficit 1576-85 was nearly £80. The Wardens resorted to soliciting gifts for the maintenance of the Bridge. In 1583 Thomas wrote several letters asking for donations.41 To ‘the right honorable his verye good Ladie the Countesse of Pembrooke’, a daughter of Sir Henry Sidney, he wrote

‘You maye saie, Good madame, that I doo in a presumptuous sorte moche forget mee selfe in the first Letter that ever I sent you, and afore that ever I spake wythe you, in a matter of charge to present a petition unto you.

'The reaporte of your great curtesye and bountie of thone side dothe incourage mee; the necessitie of the thing I have in hande of thother syde dothe constrayne mee unto yt. Yf emong other of yout most vertuous actions, yt might please you to bestowe some good Portion of moneye upon Rochester Brydge, you shall hardelye bestowe yt upon any persounes that wyll more gratefullye receyve yt then th officers of that Brydge, (wherof unworthily I am one), you can hardlye bestowe yt upon any woorke that ys in shewe more bewtifull; in stuffe or matter more notable; in trade rnore usuall; in use more necessarye; and in present estate more ruinous then Rochester Brydge. Yf I had not ihis Sommer of myne awne moneye bestowed upon yt lixiviij li yt had surelye fallen into a verye great decaye.

'You knowe, right vertuous Ladye, that Beggars maye be no choosers; towarde this good purpose appoynt what ye will, and when ye will. I will therof, God willing, towarde a continuall rememberance of your most virtuous disposition among our recordes make a speciall note.'

Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, was only in her early twenties at the time this letter was written. Thomas Wotton was forty years older. The highly respectful tone of the letter might be because Thomas was asking for money from someone he did not know, or may reflect the difference in social status which Thomas may have perceived to exist between them. Mary Herbert's mother, Mary Sidney, born Mary Dudley, was a sister of John, Duke of Northumberland, and Robert, Elizabeth I’s Earl of Leicester.

Thomas was a public spirited man. He wrote many letters seeking the help of prominent men on behalf of acquaintances, or with county business. He wrote to the highest in the land - Leicester, Burghley, Walsingham - but the correspondence is formal and business like; there is no suggestion that he was on intimate terms with any of these men.

In February 1573 he asked Sir Henry Sidney to use his influence with his servant, Thomas Finch, on behalf of Mrs Finch. Mrs Finch, who was evidently living apart from her husband, had appealed to Thomas for help in resolving her marital troubles. In June 1574 Thomas wrote to the Archbishop, Matthew Parker, about ‘poore Bonham, in profession a christian man, in conversation a virtuous man’, who was imprisoned for failing to conform to the Church of England.42

Although Northumberland had fallen in 1553, the Dudleys were still prominent and powerful. Thomas had dealings with members of the family on more than one occasion. In March 1578 he wrote to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, the Queen’s Master of the Horse, appealing for a reduction in the quantity of oats the county was required to supply to the Queen’s stables.43

In September 1582 he rejected an appeal from Ambrose Dudley, Earl of Warwick, brother of Northumberland and Leicester, on behalf of Thomas Wandenne, apparently a servant or protégé of Warwick’s;

‘Our bounden dutyes unto your good Lordeshippe most humblie remembered. Right sorye ar wee that the lewde demeanure of Thomas Wandenne dothe holde us from shewing hym that favoure that for the dutye wee owe unto you, the sight of your lyverye alone might otherwyse easelye bryng us unto. At the last quarter sessions holden in this place, accused to be, and by good testimonye proved to be a person moche bent unto quarreling.

'And here also then accused, and by like testimonye well proved to have uttered verye sclaunderous woordes against Mr Hendeleye (whom all wee and besyde us a great nomber, for his great yeres and vertuous course of lyfe, doo highlye esteeme), hee was by recognisaunce bounde to his good behavoure.

'Sythens which tyme hee ys here also shrewdelye suspected to have corrupted sondrye bagges of woade, the doying wherof dyd tende to the great losse and hynderaunce of dyvers honest Personnes.

'The consideracon of whiche thinges thus layed together hathe inforced us in this Sessions towarde hym to doo as moche as wee dyd in the last Sessions. Wherof (and so of the disposition of the persoun hym self), wee thought meete to advertise your good Lordeshippe. And thus wee beseeche the Lorde in honourable estate to sende you a course of many ioyfull yeres.’44

There is a marked difference in tone between this letter and Thomas’s appeal to Warwick’s niece, the Countess of Pembroke, the following year. Between the minimal courtesies here there is a fairly brisk dismissal of what appears to have been an attempt by Warwick to interfere in county justice.

Thomas’s one known sporting interest was deer hunting. He spent more than £56 enclosing South Park in Boughton Malherbe in 1567, although ‘The days of deer hunting were moving to a close.’ Deer parks were being converted into farmland, as the rising population led to rising demand for agricultural produce and rising prices.45

The park was stocked with ‘six score deer’. These had come ‘from the nomber of 30 deere of all sortes by the gifte and graunte of John Tufton Esquire had owt of the parke of Westwell … in the iiiith of November 1561.’46

Thomas in turn made gifts of deer to others. In 1580, ‘to his verye assured frende Mr Best’, ‘of all the deere that ever you had, I sende you (I feare) the worst, and yet of all those that I nowe have, I sende you (I thincke) the best. But seeing hee ys neyther suche as you deserve, nor suche as for you I desyre hee sholde bee, in the place of this I praye you, appoynt when and where ye will have suche as my Parke can geve, for suche hathe your curtesye ben towarde mee, as at my handes yt deservethe greater matter then Buckes.’47

Antiquarianism and other scholarly interests were common pursuits among gentlemen in Kent. In the seventeenth century Edward Dering acquired a substantial collection of manuscripts dating back to the Anglo Saxon period. In the eighteenth century Edward Hasted published his parish by parish History and Topographical Description of Kent.

Nicholas Wotton compiled a collection of histories and genealogies of distinguished English and French families, derived from books and manuscripts borrowed from friends and acquaintances.48

Thomas probably made some of his uncle’s manuscripts available to William Lambarde, the first historian of Kent, for use in his research. When Lambarde was seeking informed opinions on his Perambulation of Kent, prior to its publication, he sent the manuscript to ‘the Right Woorshipfull, and vertuous, M. Thomas Wotton, Esquier’. In his dedication to Thomas in the published work, Lambarde wrote ‘When I [was] minded to communicate the same with some such of this Countrie, as for skill abundantly could, and for good will indifferently would, weigh and peruse it, You (Right Woorshipfull) came first to my minde, who, for the good understanding and interest that you have in this Shire, can (as well as any other) discerne of this dooing, And to whom (beyond other) I thought my selfe for sundry great courtesies most deepely bound and indebted.’ Thomas, returning the compliment, wrote a preface commending the work to the gentlemen of the county.49

Thomas Wotton’s greatest personal interest seems to have been his library of books with fine bindings. He is believed to have been the first Englishman to assemble a library of gold-tooled bindings, most of which he acquired in Paris around 1550-1552.

His library included works by Chaucer, Cicero and Pliny, a ten volume edition of Ersamus’s works, Bernardo Ochino’s Tragoedie or Dialoge of the unjuste usurped primacie of the Bishop of Rome, (1549) translated by John Ponet, a leading Protestant theologian, Bishop of Rochester under Edward VI.50

The greater part of the library passed through the hands of Thomas’s descendants into the possession of the Stanhopes, Earls of Chesterfield and ultimately to the fifth Earl of Caernarvon. It was sold by him, and the volumes dispersed, in 1919. About 140 books in existence today can be identified as having belonged to Thomas. Some are in the British Library. Some are in the library of Eton College. Others are in the United States. One volume sold by Christie’s in New York in 2005 achieved a price of $31,200.51

Thomas married twice. His first wife, whom he married before 1545, was Elizabeth, daughter of Sir John Rudstone. They had six sons and three daughters. Elizabeth died in 1564. Thomas subsequently married Heleonor, daughter of William Finch of Eastwell, widow of Robert Morton. Thomas and Heleonor had two sons.52 By his marriage to Heleonor, Thomas also became stepfather to her son George Morton. George seems to have been a less than satisfactory stepson. In July 1582 Thomas wrote to him

‘Howe the state of your lyving maye maynteyne the charges that your abode in London dothe put you unto, How your abode there without cause dothe answer the dutie ye owe unto your virtuous wife and Childerne (as farre as I can see left to themselves in the Countreye), every man maye easelye judge.’53

Thomas died in 1587. His will displays the same austere attitude to funerals as his father. He wanted to buried ‘without any manner of pompe … without sermon Armes or Banners black gownes or Coates or the presence of other persons then such as maye be accepted my ordinarye and Daylye familye.’54

There is an alabaster memorial bust to Thomas on the north side of the chancel in Boughton Malherbe church.

Bust of Thomas Wotton on his memorial.

©Mike Perring

Thomas Wotton memorial bust in Boughton Malherbe church

W.E. Moss, a collector and bibliophile who compiled a catalogue of Thomas’s library, believed the bust was ‘a mass produced thing and not portraiture.’55 Nothing that is known of Thomas’s character suggests that he would have been pleased with a mass produced memorial, but if he left no instructions (there are none in his will) then it would have been the choice of his widow and his heir.

In his will Thomas made bequests of varying sums of money to more than twenty named male servants. He also refers to ‘the rest of my yeomen servants as … being my household servants doe take my yearely wages.’ Possibly these were farm servants working on the demesne at Boughton Malherbe. Boughton Place was a substantial house, but it seems improbable that there would have been enough work for this number of male servants plus an unknown number of women servants. (The will mentions Mary Whitton, who was perhaps the housekeeper, plus unspecified women servants.) It sounds more like the retinue of a minor medieval nobleman than the household of an Elizabethan country gentleman. Possibly research into the named servants would shed light on what role they played in Thomas’s household.

Thomas seems to have been respected by all who knew him. Renolde Scot of Smeeth described him as ‘a man of great worship and wisedome, and for deciding and ordering of matters in this commonwealth, of rare and singular dexteritie.’56

Isaak Walton, who knew his son Henry, wrote that Thomas was ‘a gentleman excellently educated and studious in all the liberal arts… a man of great modesty, of a most plain and single heart, of an ancient freedom and integrity of mind… This Thomas was also remarkable for hospitality, a great lover and much beloved of his country; to which may justly be added that he was a cherisher of learning.’57

The editor of his letters described him as ‘a man of strong character, austere, and utterly devoid of humour.’ This assessment is unfair, since the letters on which it was based were mostly formal, addressed to men of superior social status. They were not the place for humour or frivolity.58

Thomas was typical of the Kent gentry of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Extensive family connections, not overly ambitious, conscientious in his attention to his estates and to county affairs, honourable, well respected and scholarly. He seems to have been comfortable with people in all walks of life, from the highest to the lowest. At one time he was entertaining the Queen at Boughton Place. At another he was walking or riding around fields and overgrown woods, observing while his servants measured out his lands. As he himself said, he was ‘brought up … in the Countrye about Countrye causes …. In a meane estate contented wythe that that the Lorde hathe sent me, being many wayes moche more then I have deserved, and every waye as moche as I desyre.’59

There is scope for further research into Thomas Wotton’s life, especially his family connections, his role in county affairs and his religious beliefs.

Descendants of Thomas Wotton.

(Opens in resizable new window)

Four of Thomas’s sons - Edward, James, John and Henry - were knighted. James was a soldier, who took part in a raid on Cadiz. Henry travelled widely in Europe, carried out diplomatic missions for James I, and ultimately became provost of Eton. John died too young to have become established in any career.60

Edward was Thomas’s heir at Boughton Malherbe. He was a courtier and diplomat under Elizabeth and James I. In 1603 James created him Baron Wotton of Marley (one of the Wotton manors, in Harrietsham). He served as MP, JP, sheriff and Lord Lieutenant in Kent.61

Edward married Hester, natural daughter and heiress of William Pickering. Pickering had served in Calais under Henry VIII, so this was possibly an old Wotton family connection. Hester died in 1592. Edward subsequently married Margaret, daughter of Philip, third Baron Wharton.

In the early seventeenth century Edward rejected the Protestantism of his father and grandfather and converted to Catholicism. He avoided notice until 1624, when he was summoned before the Quarter Sessions on charges of recusancy. Because of his age (he was seventy six), his long  service to the county and the country, and the respect with which his family was regarded, the magistrates took no action against him.

Edward died in 1628. His heir was his son Thomas, who was also a Catholic. Thomas survived his father by only two years. He had no son; his heirs were his four daughters. The greater part of the Wotton estate, including Boughton Malherbe, passed to the eldest daughter, Catherine. She was married to Philip Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield, and her part of the Wotton estates passed down through the Stanhope family until 1750, when it was sold. 62

This is not intended to have been an exhaustive account of the Wotton family in Kent. Its purpose has been to provide some background and context for the Survey, to draw together in one place all the aspects of Thomas Wotton’s life, which has only been written in a fragmentary fashion, and to suggest further avenues for research into the family.


Part I  :    Introduction and Methodology

Part II :    The Wotton Family

Part III:    The Survey

Transcript of the Wotton Survey


Where books or articles are available online, a link to the website is given at the first reference. However, a subscription or password may be required to access some material.

1. Izaak Walton, Lives of John Donne, Henry Wotton, Richard Hooker, George Herbert, &c. http://www.archive.org 

2. Edward Hasted, The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 5 (1798), pp. 397-415. http://www.british-history.ac.uk

3. Wills: 21 Richard II (1397-8); Wills: 6 Henry IV (1404-5); Calendar of wills proved and enrolled in the Court of Husting, London: Part 2: 1358-1688 (1890). http://www.british-history.ac.uk/

4. The Visitation of Kent, Taken in the Years 1574 and 1592 (1924); Hasted, op. cit.

5. Reginald R. Sharpe (editor) Calendar of letter-books of the City of London: H: 1375-1399 (1907), pp. 380-396; Calendar of letter-books of the City of London: K: Henry VI (1911); Calendar of the plea and memoranda rolls of the City of London: volume 3: 1381-1412 (1932), ) http://www.british-history.ac.uk

6. Peter Brandon, The North Downs (2005) p.86.

7. Hasted, op. cit., Vol. 1, Vol. 7, (1798). http://www.british-history.ac.uk

8. A History of the County of Essex: Volume 8 (1983), pp. 57-74. http://www.british-history.ac.uk

9. Visitation, op. cit.; Abstract Will of Nicholas Wotton http://www.kentarchaeology.org.uk/Research/Libr/Wills

10. Visitation, op.cit.

11. Will of Elizabeth Wotton, CKS PRC32/4/27

12. Hasted, op. cit.; Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 2: 1515- 1518 (1864). http://www.british-history.ac.uk

13. Peter Clark, English Provincial Society from the Reformation to the Revolution: Religion, Politics and Society in Kent, 1500-1640, (1977), p.11; Mavis E Mate, Trade and Economic Developments 1450-1550; The Experience of Kent, Surrey, and Sussex, (2006).

14. Victoria County History: Warwickshire http://www.british-history.ac.uk; Will of Henry Belknap TNA PROB 11/8; ed. John Nichols, Chronicle of Calais in the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII to the year 1540, http://www.archive.org. Jasper Ridley, Henry VIII (1985) p.118. A painting of the Field of the Cloth of Gold, by an unknown artist is in the Royal Collection; http://www.royalcollection.org.uk

15. Will of Edward Belknap TNA PROB 11/20.

16. State Papers, quoted in David Potter, ‘Sir John Gage, Tudor Courtier and Soldier (1479-1556)’, English Historical Review, cxvii, November 2002; Will of Robert Wotton TNA PROB11/21; http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03354a.htm

17. Will of Robert Wotton TNA PROB11/21. Louvain was in the Duchy of Brabant, present day Belgium, in the sixteenth century part of the dominions of the Hapsburgs.

18. Visitation, op.cit.; Robert C. Braddock, ‘Grey, Thomas, second marquess of Dorset (1477–1530)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (2004). [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/11561, accessed 1 April 2011]

19. Visitation, op. cit.; Clark, op. cit. pp 52, 29.cit

20. For a full account of Nicholas Wotton’s career see Michael Zell, ‘Nicholas Wotton‘, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (2004). [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/30002, accessed 5 Dec 2010]

21. Records of the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn: Admissions 1420-1799. http://www.archive.org ; Clark op. cit. p.18; J. H. Baker, ‘Rede, Sir Robert (d. 1519)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (2004); [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/23247, accessed 6 Dec 2010]; Oxford English Dictionary.

22. For a full account of Edward Wotton’s career see Luke MacMahon, ‘Edward Wotton‘, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (2004) [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/29998, accessed 5 Dec 2010]

23. Anthony Quiney, Kent Houses (1993) p.180; Michael Zell, Early Modern Kent 1540-1640, p.64.

24. Robert Rede, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; Survey.

25. Edward Wotton, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

26. Will of Edward Wotton TNA PROB11/34.

27. Visitation, op.cit.

28. Edward Wotton, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; http://venn.lib.cam.ac.uk/Documents/acad/intro.html

29. Historians debate how far this was Northumberland’s initiative alone, in an attempt to maintain his own position of power after the death of Edward VI, and how far it was the wish of the young king himself, as a means of securing the Protestant succession.

30. Clark, op. cit., p.87.

31. John Roche Dasent (ed.) Acts of the Privy Council of England vol 4 1552-1554 p.389 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/

32. Walton, Lives.

33. John Proctor, 'Wyat’s Rebellion; with the order and manner of resisting the same', (1555) Tudor Tracts, 1532-1588. http://books.google.co.uk/

34. G. Eland (ed.) Thomas Wotton’s Letter-Book 1574-1586 (1960) p.16.

35. Simon Adams, Alan Bryson, and Mitchell Leimon, ‘Walsingham, Sir Francis (c.1532–1590)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (2004); [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/28624, accessed 1 April 2011]

36. Thomas Grey, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

37. Will of Thomas Wotton TNA PROB 11/70; Letter-Book pp.11, 40, 55.

38. Edward Wotton, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; Walton, Lives.

39. Letter-Book, p.3.

40. Nigel Yates and James M. Gibson, Traffic and politics: the construction and management of Rochester Bridge, AD 43-1993 (1994).

41. Letter-Book, pp. 50, 53, 55, 56, 59.

42. Ibid., pp. 5, 7.

43. Ibid., p.30.

44. Ibid., p. 44.

45. Joan Thirsk, “Agriculture in Kent, 1540-1640”, Michael Zell (ed.) Early Modern Kent 1540-1640 (2000) p.88.

46. Survey p. 93.

47. Letter-Book p.39.

48. BL Add. 38692

49. Retha M. Warnicke, William Lambarde Elizabethan Antiquary 1536-1601 (1973) p. 31; William Lambarde, A Perambulation of Kent (1576) http://books.google.co.uk

50. The British Library Database of Bookbindings http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/bookbindings; Bindings database; http://smu.edu/Bridwell/specialcollections/masterbookbinding/SixCenturiesHighlights.htm; Letter-Book p. xii.

51. Letter-Book p.xii; http://www.south-derbys.gov.uk/Images/BretbyA4complete_tcm21-85585.pdf

The fifth earl was of course the man responsible for financing the excavations which resulted in the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922. Possibly the sale of Thomas’s library helped to pay for Howard Carter’s dig?

The Times 12 March 1936 p.10 col c.


52. Visitation, op. cit.; Transcript of Boughton Malherbe Parish Register CKS TR2896/48

53. Letter-Book p.41.

54. Will of Thomas Wotton TNA PROB 11/70

55. The Times 12 March 1936 p.10 col. c.

56. Renolde Scot Discoverie of Witchcraft http://www.archive.org

57. Walton, Lives.

58. Letter-Book p.xiv.

59. Letter-Book p.3.

60. Walton, Lives.

61. A. J. Loomie, ‘Wotton, Edward, first Baron Wotton (1548–1628)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (2004); http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/30000, accessed 1 April 2011

62. Edward Hasted, The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 5 (1798), pp. 397-415. http://www.british-history.ac.uk

Text:  Copyright © 2011 Jacqueline Bower
Design & Layout:  Copyright © 2011 Kent Archaeological Society