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A guest post by Bruce Ryder, an independent researcher working on a biography of Bishop Thomas Ken.

J. C. Sainty, in his paper The Parliament Office in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (1977), identifies Thomas Ken as one of the assistants to the Clerk of parliaments in the 1640s, possibly holding the position that became the Reading clerk in the House of Lords. Sainty had little information about Ken other than his relationship by marriage to Thomas Browne, Clerk of parliaments from 1638 to 1649 and 1661 to 1691. The increased availability of relevant records through the internet now permits a somewhat fuller picture of Thomas Ken and his family to be told.

Thomas Ken was baptized on 18 December 1580 at All Hallows Church Lombard Street, London. He was the son of Mathew Ken and Elizabeth Barret or Bennet. Mathew Ken was an active member of the Worshipful Company of Barber Surgeons. Thomas was admitted to the Freedom of the Company by patrimony in 1607, but he did not practice its profession; instead, he was an attorney.

There are few records of Ken’s early career, but by 1630 it appears that he specialized in judicial administration. In that year he and John Monger filed a certificate of their fees as prothonotaries for the Sheriff’s Court of London. In 1637, he and James Prynne prepared a note of the fees they had paid for passing the accounts of the sheriffs of London and Middlesex the previous year. Ken also served as clerk of the Great Sessions for the counties of Glamorgan, Brecon, and Radnor.

Ken married twice. His first wife, Jane, was the daughter of Rowland Hewes or Hughes, rector of the parishes of Essendon and Little Berkhampstead in Hertfordshire. Jane died in September 1625. In December 1625, Thomas married Martha, the widow of William Carpenter. Martha was the daughter of Ion Chalkhill and Martha Browne, and she may have been a cousin of Thomas’ first wife. Martha Ken died in March 1640/1, shortly after giving birth to the ninth child of her marriage to Thomas.

By November 1642, Ken had added Clerk in the House of Lords to his other posts. While Ken’s experience as a clerk in the courts probably qualified him to hold this position, he likely owed his appointment to the fact that Thomas Browne, who was then serving as Clerk of parliaments, was a cousin of his late wife Martha.

On 25 November 1642, Ken presented a petition to the House of Lords addressing one of the many administrative difficulties caused by the beginning of the Civil War. Ken, describing himself as “One of the Clerks attending upon this Honorable House of Peers, and Clerk of the Great Sessions of the Counties of Glamorgan, Breccon, and Radnor,” asked the House to assist him in recovering a sumpter chest of records of the Great Sessions that had been violently taken from Francis Riccards, clerk of the peace for Radnorshire, and was being held in Hereford. Ken stated that the continued detention of those records was wholly hindering “the Justice of the Law against Offenders and Debtors in those Counties.” Ken’s petition does not state why the chest had been seized, but the Earl of Stamford had previously informed the House that he had dispatched a company of soldiers to Presteigne, Radnorshire, where they had captured a group of Royalist leaders. The group included Riccards, whom the Earl described as “a professed Enemy to the Parliament”; the soldiers likely seized the chest when they captured Riccards. The House granted Ken’s petition and ordered the Earl of Stamford to deliver the chest and all its contents to Ken or his deputy.

Petition of Thomas Ken to the House of Lords, 25 November 1642, Parliamentary Archives HL/PO/JO/10/1/137

On 29 February 1643/4, Ken presented another petition to the House, this time requesting a personal benefit. Stating that for three years he had been “a servant attending this honorable house,” Ken asserted that his chief means of maintaining himself and his six children had been to serve as clerk and prothonotary for the courts in three counties in Wales. Pleading that he had received no income from that office for eighteen months because of his attendance on the House and the ordinances suspending those courts, he requested that he be released from paying a tax. The House again granted Ken’s petition.

Petition of Thomas Ken to the House of Lords, 29 February 1643/4, Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JO/10/1/166

A third reference to Ken’s service to the House of Lords comes not from Parliamentary records, but from the minutes of the Court of Assistants of the Company of Barber Surgeons. As mentioned above, Ken had been admitted to the Freedom of the Company as a young man; on 30 January 1645/6, he asked to be excused from serving on the Court of Assistants “because of his attendance on the Honourable House of Peers in Parliament.”

It is not clear how much longer Ken continued to serve the House of Lords. The House was abolished on 18 March 1648/9, six weeks after the execution of Charles I. Ken died on 12 June 1651, and was buried the next day at the Church of St Andrew Holborn.

In his will, Ken divided his estate among his six surviving children (at least six others had predeceased him). Three of those children have their own places in history. Anne married Izaak Walton, author of The Compleat Angler and of biographies of John Donne, George Herbert, and others. Jon or Ion served in the East India Company and may have been its Treasurer in 1683. Thomas became a priest and served as Bishop of Bath and Wells from 1684/5 to 1691, becoming a member of the House of Lords his father had served; he was one of the seven bishops whose acquittal on charges of seditious libel was a catalyst for the Glorious Revolution in 1688.


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