The Stormy Captain – John Warde

In St Edmund’s chapel in Hythe church a black tilting helmet, surmounted by a leopard crest, has hung for as long as anyone can remember.

In an old history of Hythe it is recorded that the grave of  Captain John Warde was discovered when the floor of the chapel was lowered in 1841. It bore the inscription:

Here lieth buried the Body of Captayne John Warde who departed this life the xxviiiday of Janua. 1601. Being of the age lxxxxvi and was a captain lxvi years’. (1)

It followed that the helmet must belong to John Warde, as it hung near his grave, in the manner of a hatchment.

I thought little more of this story,  but then came across in my papers a photocopy of a typewritten document: John Warde of Sandgate Castle. It is heavily amended in manuscript and each part of the biography is supported by references. Under the title is written ‘Cecil Humphery-Smith F.H.S  F.H.G’.  Humphery-Smith, it turns out, was a lecturer at the University of London, founder of the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies at Canterbury and an Honorary Fellow of Canterbury Christchurch University. In other words, a reliable source. Here is what he discovered about John Warde, together with my own research.

John Warde was born between 1504 and 1506, probably in Yorkshire, since the arms he later bore were those of the Warde family of Guisely. His parents are unknown, but they were dead by 1515, when John was made a Ward of Court under a Mr Tomlynson of Yorkshire. (2)

The next time he can be positively identified is when, in 1519, he was made a groom (attendant) in the household of ‘the king’s daughter’. (3) This was the three-year-old Princess Mary, daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. He was there for at least a year before, in 1520, being posted as a gunner at the Tower of London. (4) Soldiering was to be his future. He was promoted, maybe not rapidly, but steadily, to master gunner, yeoman gunner and finally, in 1540 captain gunner. (5)

The Tower in Tudor times

In summer 1544 he was present at the siege of Boulogne during one of Henry VIII’s ill-advised and usually disastrous campaigns against the French. (6)  It was not one of England’s finest moments. The siege lasted two months but before the English had blown up the walls of Boulogne to end it, they had lost half their troops to dysentery.

The Siege of Boulogne

Three years later, he was fighting again, this time at the battle of Pinkie Cleugh, part of the ‘Rough Wooing’ which attempted to secure a union of Scotland and England. (7)  The Scots were soundly defeated (but still refused to come to terms). Then it was back to France, for the capture of St Quentin in 1557. (8) Princess Mary had now become queen of England and had married Philip of Spain. The English and Spanish were allied in fighting the French at the besieged city and won the day, but the sight of the battlefield gave Philip a permanent distaste for war.

The following year John Warde took part in the rather pointless capture of Le Conquet, a small port near Brest.(9) He was now under the military command of Ambrose Dudley, Earl of Warwick.

Ambrose Dudley, 3rd Earl of Warwick

Mary’s sister Elizabeth had succeeded to the throne and in an effort to support the Huguenots, she engaged in a short campaign in France in 1563. The English captured Le Havre – and John Warde was there, too, still serving Warwick.(10) He was next sent to Ireland to fight against Shane O’Neil, a chieftain who was variously at war with the English and the Scots in furthering his ambitions to be overlord of the whole of Ireland. John Warde raised two hundred men from Devon and Cornwall to join the fight. (11)

O’Neil was assassinated in 1567 and that same year, John Warde, now in his sixties, made a suit to the queen for recompense for his service. (12) She agreed and gave him ‘the rectory or parsonage of Yalding and the advowson of the vicarage’ for thirty years. It would have been reasonable to expect that this would easily last him for the rest of his life. Advowson was the right to recommend a member of the Anglican clergy for a vacant benefice, or to make  an appointment. The rent on the parsonage would also bring him thirty ponds a year.

Yalding church, near Maidstone

In 1569, he was still in Ireland, in Limerick, writing to William Cecil, chief adviser to Queen Elizabeth about about the execution of some prisoners.(13) In fact, he could not have written the letter himself as later records show he was illiterate and must have dictated it to a scribe. He was also in a little trouble for having killed a man called Randolph, but the queen pardoned him for this.

Two years later, he returned from Ireland carrying with him a letter from Thomas, Earl of Ormered and Ossury to Cecil which ‘commends the suit of the bearer Captain Warde  now being discharged who served in winter where no  service was ever done by soldiers and returned barefoot and bodied in effect’. (14) He had to appear before the Privy Council to show why he had lost his equipment and baggage, but was exonerated and offered a knighthood. (15) This, however, was an expensive process and he declined.

What he accepted, the following year, was the post of Captain of Sandgate Castle with an annuity of forty pounds for life, a much more lucrative offer. (16) The castle had been built only thirty years earlier, just a mile or so from Hythe,  as a defence from the French at a vulnerable point on the coast. It comprised a central stone keep, with three towers and a gatehouse and was fitted with a total of 142 firing points for cannon and handguns.

What remains today of Sandgate Castle

A document of 1573 shows  that his duties involved settling disputes between locals and also shows us that he could not write (though this does not mean that he could not read: the subjects were taught to children separately). (17) This is a facsimile of two letters he could manage, ‘J W’:

Sandgate Castle  would not have been a comfortable place to live, though the queen visited in 1573 and is reported to have rested there.  John Warde overcame the accommodation problem by acquiring a house in the Bayle in nearby Folkestone. He was elected mayor of the town in 1579, 1581 and 1583.  The house , now demolished, had his coat of arms, a cross patonce or, on the ceiling.

In Folkestone, John Warde was known as ‘the stormy captain’.  The trouble started when his son, Ambrose (possibly named for the Earl of Warwick) killed one Edward Phillpott. As was the custom, Ambrose’s goods and chattels became forfeit to the the Lord of the Manor of the Bayle, John Herdson. (18) A row ensued, but John seems to have conceded and went to live in Hythe.

Despite his advanced age, he was appointed master of the camp when in 1588, forces were raised in Kent to resist the Spanish Armada.  Five years later, at the age of eighty-eight, he was commissioned to prepare a report of the condition of the castles on the Kent and Sussex coasts. (19)

His last years were disturbed once again by Ambrose’s misdoings and by family strife.  Ambrose had a sister, Hester, who had married Lawrence Baker of New Romney. Baker and Ambrose had several joint financial dealings with various third parties. Baker then borrowed three hundred pounds which he could not afford to repay, and when his creditors became unpleasant about it, insisted that the debt was his brother-in-law’s. Ambrose said it was not and Baker was thrown into gaol in the ‘theefe house’in Lydd, which he said was ‘a vile hole’.

Hester went twice to plead with her brother to no avail. Ambrose allegedly told her that her husband could stay in prison ‘until the lice and mice ate him’ before he would pay a penny of the debt. His wife and children apparently starving, Baker had to sell the silver buttons from his doublet to get them food. He was then persuaded, despite the misgivings of his friends,  to make over all his property, which should have gone to his son, to Ambrose, who said he would give him an allowance of twenty shillings a week. Ambrose almost immediately reneged on the bargain.

John Warde thought that Lawrence Baker was untrustworthy, but also seems to have disapproved of Ambrose’s actions. He asked the Town Clerk of Hythe to come to his house and speak to his son, but it was again to no avail.

Baker wanted some recompense and brought a case against Ambrose in Chancery. The case was heard in Dover before the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, Lord Cobham. It then proceeded to a Commission in Canterbury, but was dropped when Baker could no longer afford the costs. This, he said, was because his tenants, threatened by Ambrose, were withholding their rents. Eventually, it was resurrected in the Star Chamber.  The case dragged on from December 1601 to February 1603 and both parties brought  witnesses ready to dish the dirt.

Ambrose was accused of smuggling out of the country ‘great quantities of wool, leather, tallow, corn, munitions’, which he kept in a barn at Sandgate Castle. Baker was described as ‘a man of riotous and unruly behaviour since he came to the years of discretion’. (20)

Unfortunately, the outcome is not recorded and John Warde was no longer interested. he made his will on 25 January 1601 and was dead before the month was out.  Only his tilting helmet survives as a memorial to a soldier who served four monarchs.

With thanks to Mike Umbers for additional information and Brin Hughes for the photograph of the helmet. 

  1.  Herbert H. Dale, The Ancient Town of Hythe and St Leonard’s Church Kent (Hythe: Kipps Bookshop Ltd, 1931)
  2. Calendar of Foreign, Domestic & State Papers Henry VIII, VoII, part II 1517-18, p. 1487 (Brewer)
  3. Calendar of State & Domestic Papers, Henry VIII, Vol. III, part I, p.970
  4. Patent Rolls
  5. ibid.
  6.  mss. R.J. Finmore
  7.  ibid.
  8.  ibid.
  9.  Patent rolls
  10. ibid.
  11.  Calendar of State Papers Ireland 356
  12.  ibid. 399
  13.  ibid 42
  14.  ibid 38 , Vol XXI p. 17
  15. Patent Rolls
  16.  ibid
  17.  Kent Archives CP/Bp45
  18. Folkestone Manor Office
  19. Archaeologia Cantiana, Vol 11 1877
  20.  The case between Ambrose Warde and Lawrence Baker is recorded in Louis Knafla, Kent at Law 1602 (London: List and Index Society, 2012)

Commonwealth – Part One

In Hythe, the aftermath of the 1648 Kent rebellion was suspicion and mistrust.  The rebellion had flared into violence when the County Committee had tried to suppress a petition, signed by many, calling for the dismantling of the New Model Army and the reinstatement of the king. Now parliament was out to get anyone who had put their name to the petition, particularly if they were in any sort of public office. The Hythe jurats William Deedes, Laurence Weller and Austen Greenland and the town clerk, Thomas Curtis were all hauled before the Committee, suspected of involvement in insurrection, but were cleared and the Committee found the whole town to be blameless in the affair.

To add insult to injury, soldiers had been billeted in the town to fight the rebels under the command of Sir Michael Livesey, a ruthless parliamentarian soldier. Months later the victuallers who had put them up and fed them had still received no recompense and saw little hope of ever receiving it.

Sir Michael Livesey, Parliamentarian soldier and administrator
Sir Michael Livesey, Parliamentarian soldier and administrator

In 1653, the charges against the four jurats were revived. They appealed to their M.P., Tom Westrow, who put the Committee straight on the men’s allegiance to parliament.  This was more or less his last act for his constituents, as that year the Rump Parliament was dissolved. A new nominated assembly of one hundred and forty-four members took its place, named the Barebones parliament after a godly London leather seller, Praise-God Barebone, one of its members. Hythe was not represented on this assembly, but it did not last long, resigning its powers to Cromwell at the end of the year.

Cromwell was now Lord Protector. Despite the best efforts of the Rump to impose strict Puritan codes of behaviour on the country, Cromwell, believed that it was still in need of moral reform. He divided the country into twelve regions, each under the command of a Major-General. Their first duty of the Major-Generals was to maintain security by suppressing unlawful assemblies and disarming Royalist ‘malignants’.

Kent’s Major-General was Thomas Kelsey. Originally a London button-maker, he had risen to power through the New Model Army and had been Lieutenant of Dover Castle. The Major-Generals became the enforcers of righteousness and godliness. At the beginning of the civil war the Book of Sports had been burned and edicts were published to ensure that pleasure of any sort never again happened on a Sunday.  The edicts were re-issued with more vigour. ‘No persons shall hereafter exercise or keep maintain or be present at any wrestling, shooting, bowling, ringing of bells, masque, wake, feast, church-ale, dancing games, cock-fights, cock-running, horse races, bear baiting.’ Children under twelve heard cursing were to be publicly whipped. Convicted fornicators were to be sentenced to three months and adulterers were to be hanged.

Kent’s proximity to the continent and the exiled Charles II made it of particular interest to parliament and the Major-Generals. Time and again Hythe and the other Cinque ports were warned to look out for the comings and goings of ‘dangerous persons’ and to apprehend them. Kelsey also oversaw the administration of parliament’s Decimation Tax, designed to punish Royalist. One of these was Robert Spice of Old Romney, who also leased a house in Hythe.   No longer able to afford  live in Old Romney, he moved his family to Hythe to the appropriately named  Romney House, where they settled down. The house belonged to the corporation, but Spice, presumably broke, was not paying the rent.  Learning of this, the corporation dispatched the Chamberlain to take possession and to persuade Spice to pay up.  Even if they felt sorry for him, his was not a time when showing open compassion to Royalists was a sensible option.

In 1655, the same year that he appointed the Major-Generals, Cromwell, issued another proclamation prohibiting ‘Delinquents,’ that is anyone who had actively supported the king in any way, from holding office or having a vote in any election. In February of the following year, during one of Hythe corporation’s quarterly meetings, they were unexpectedly visited by Captain Laurence Knott of Sandgate Castle who, with several of his soldiers burst into the Common Hall, flourished this proclamation and proceeded to read it aloud.  He then insisted that despite having been cleared of any offence by the County Committee, most of the corporation were, in fact, Royalists who had signed the 1648 petition. They were therefore delinquents and should give up their places on the corporation. He refused to leave the building until they had done so.  John Grey, John Mercer, Laurence Weller and Ferdinando Bassett, the landlord of the ‘White Hart’ finally left, together with the town sergeant, John Browning.

Captain Knott was a Dover man, but did not let his local connections and sympathies get in the way of performing his duty to the Protector.  At the Restoration it was he who was imprisoned, in Dover Castle, not for his activities during the Commonwealth, but because of his dissenting religious views. Laurence Knott had become a Quaker.

A Tide in the Affairs of Men – Part Four

Smugglers were not necessarily all from the normal criminal classes. In 1601 a Star Chamber case against Ambrose Warde, gentleman and later mayor of Hythe, revealed some details he would rather have kept private. The suit against him was brought by his brother-in-law, Lawrence Baker of New Romney who had married Hester, Warde’s sister. Baker, a man of small fortune and seemingly less sense, got his business and financial affairs inextricably muddled with those of Warde.  He borrowed three hundred pounds which he could not afford to repay, and when his creditors became unpleasant about it, insisted that the debt was his brother-in-law’s. Warde said it was not and Baker was thrown into gaol.  His wife and children apparently starving, Baker had to sell the silver buttons from his doublet to get them food. Warde (and this was his own family he was talking about) said that Baker could stay there ‘until the lice and mice ate him’ before he would pay a penny.

Baker then apparently mislaid whatever brains God had given him. He was persuaded to make over all his property, which should have gone to his son, John, to Warde, who said he would give him an allowance of twenty shillings a week. Warde immediately reneged on this. Baker wanted some recompense and in bringing his case to court he brought with him a host of character witnesses ready to dish the dirt on Warde.

In the first place, it was revealed that Warde was a murderer. He had stabbed to death a man called Philpott, but had acquired a royal pardon for ‘a great sum of money’. Furthermore, it was alleged that he was using his father’s position as Captain of nearby Sandgate Castle to facilitate an extensive smuggling operation. He used the barn at the castle to store ‘great quantities’ of wool, leather, tallow, corn, and most seriously munitions, which were shipped illegally overseas. He had beaten and severely injured one of the officers at the castle who threatened to betray him and threatened a fisherman, who became suspicious of his night-time activity, with the press gang.

Warde naturally denied this detailed allegation, and the fisherman who reported his activity and threats later unaccountably withdrew his statement. He had been mistaken, he said. No charges were brought.

The customs men were not above suspicion, either. In 1622 John Browning, the cousin of the Thomas Browning (gentleman, let it not be forgotten) whom we met earlier, was accused of offering to smuggle some wool to France for Simon Head of Alkham. He told Head that he could get him six shillings a quarter, which is what he had got when he smuggled and sold his own wool. Browning was, at the time, the Customs Searcher for Hythe. The matter came to light when a Biddenden man offered Head four shillings and tenpence a quarter, and Mrs Head told him that they had received a better offer from Browning.  When the matter was investigated, the usual wall of silence descended.  Mrs Head denied saying anything of the sort, and her husband backed her up.  Three witnesses to the conversation heard only the discussion about prices and nothing about Browning. The case was dropped.

When they did try to enforce the law, things could get nasty for the customs men. William Sneath was the Collector for Customs for Hythe in 1657, and one night, seeing a sloop approaching the shore at Shornecliffe (just along the coast eastward from Hythe), he suspected smuggling. It was not a usual landing place. He tried to seize the goods ‘for the Commonwealth’ but was set upon by the recipients, about twelve men armed with staves. They had come ready for trouble.  His assistant, Josias Swaffer was also injured, as was another assistant, Edward Carter, who tried to fire the small gun he used for fowling, the only weapon he had, but who was knocked down and beaten.  The mayor of Hythe, James Arthur, who was also a physician, was called out at midnight to patch them up.

The problem did not go away. In 1662, the son of the mayor of Hythe was arrested at Sandwich  for ‘extraordinary insolence and violence used against the Customs Officers’  James Basset was the gamekeeper at the country house of  Viscount Strangford, Hythe’s M.P. He was accompanied by the estate’s gardener and three known smugglers. Perhaps it was a youthful prank – he was only twenty three, and the case against him was circumstantial. At any rate, he survived the escapade, perhaps with some influential intervention.

Thirteen years later, it was the mayor himself who was implicated in criminality. When a smuggler was killed by a customs official early in 1685, Julius Deedes, Hythe mayor, falsified evidence against the officer at the inquest. Knowing that he was liable to be arrested, he took advantage of a providential parliamentary election in Hythe and secured a seat. He secured with it parliamentary privilege against charges. The electorate was made up of the mayor and corporation of Hythe, and Deedes not only voted for himself in the election, but as mayor was also the returning officer. His plan backfired when his election was declared invalid, he was forced to resign as mayor, and most humiliatingly of all, the lord high steward of England vetoed his nomination as one of the canopy bearers at the coronation of James II.

Deedes bounced back and was re-elected to parliament in 1689 and allowed to take part in the coronation of William and Mary, but his new-found respectability was short-lived. In May1692, fourteen of his employees were arrested for a serious assault with staves on Customs officers who had seized sixteen bags of wool from a barn belonging to Deedes, which they said were destined to be smuggled. The Customs Board said that it had been a legal seizure, based on ‘reasonable suspicion’. Deedes said the Customs men were acting illegally, as they had no constable with them as the law required, which was a little disingenuous of him as the said constable, Birch, was one of the men assaulting the customs officers and was in his pay. Deedes himself, at the time of the attack, was conveniently at home, twelve miles away, but Birch had incriminated him by showing his written order to some men at Lydd.

The situation looked bleak for Deedes, but he was saved once again from prosecution, this time by dying, in September 1692. He was something of a blot on the escutcheon of an otherwise unimpeachably respectable family.