KENT, John (c.1558-1630), of Market Place, Devizes, Wilts.
Available from Cambridge University Press
Family and Education
b. c.1558, o.s. of Roger Kent of Coppenhall, Cheshire, and Petronelle Hawkins.1 educ. Barnard’s Inn.2 m. 13 Dec. 1585, Mary (d.1640), da. of Thomas Wyatt of Calne, Wilts., 3s. (1 d.v.p.), 1da.3 d. 1 Oct. 1630, aged 72.4 sig. John Kent.
Coroner, Devizes 1587-1600, 1602-6,7 member of the Twelve 1589,8 chamberlain (jt.) 1592-5, 1624-d.,9 town clerk 1592-d.,10 mayor 1602-3,11 j.p. 1605-d.,12 steward of ct. of record (jt.) 1612-29,13 warden, new almshouse 1603-26;14 clerk of the peace, Wilts. 1597-1626.15
Kent’s family had been settled in Coppenhall, Cheshire, since at least 1494, when his great-uncle was the incumbent of the parish church.16 Kent himself trained as an attorney at Barnard’s Inn.17 He had moved to Devizes by December 1585, when he married the daughter of a former constable of nearby Calne, Thomas Wyatt.18 At around the same time he began to manage the newly acquired Wiltshire properties of Lady Frances Sidney, the daughter of secretary of state Sir Francis Walsingham†, including the manors of Bradford-on-Avon and nearby Winsley.19 It is likely that he was still in the service of Lady Frances, now countess of Clanricarde, when he purchased Winsley himself in about 1612.20
After settling in Devizes, Kent quickly climbed the ranks of municipal office, beginning with that of coroner in 1587. It was as town clerk, however, an office he occupied from 1592 until his death 38 years later, that he made a lasting impact on borough affairs, for his duties involved far more than merely keeping the minutes of the corporation. In 1609-10, for instance, he handled the negotiations with the Exchequer official Edward Wardour* over the latter’s surrender of his lease in reversion of the profits of the borough’s court leets, fairs and markets.21 Moreover, in 1614 he restructured the borough’s three fraternities into separate guilds and commissioned a richly decorated Book of Constitutions, into which were copied all the borough charters and election procedures, as well as the statutes and ordinances of the guilds, for which he was paid £6.22 As a key municipal figure, Kent was also expected to lend money to the corporation from time to time. In 1615, for example, he loaned the corporation £40, which was repaid two years later.23 However, his official salary was meagre: he received £4 p.a. as chamberlain and 53s. as town clerk, though this latter sum was increased to £6 in 1612 after it was noted that Kent ‘takes great pain and travail’ in ordering and managing the borough’s courts.24 Kent’s official salary was, of course, supplemented by his income as a lawyer. He was first recorded working as an attorney for the borough in 1588, when he drew up several feoffments.25 In later years he represented the borough in a variety of suits, including one against the inhabitants of neighbouring Stert for neglecting to maintain the highway between the two towns.26 Between 1617 and 1627 the corporation paid him at least £57 in legal fees in connection with suits heard in the capital, as well as other sums to cover expenses for journeys to London and Marlborough.27 His clients did not only include the Devizes corporation: in 1617 Kent was made a trustee of the 1st earl of Hertford’s properties of Bentley Woodes and Amesbury manor, Wiltshire, and of the earl’s profits from Amesbury’s markets.28 Kent’s generous earnings from his legal work allowed him to purchase the leases of a considerable number of properties in Devizes, including a house facing the town’s market square, which he acquired in 1619 and made his permanent home. Some of these properties required additional outlay: after purchasing the leases of two ruinous messuages in Devizes in August 1587, Kent spent at least £100 on repairs.29
Kent, who first served in Parliament in 1597, was the corporation’s choice for a parliamentary seat in 1604, but in the event his place in the return was taken by the local magnate Sir Henry Bayntun.30 It was perhaps to placate Kent after this apparent slight that in the following year the corporation broke with precedent and appointed him town clerk and municipal magistrate for life.31 Kent did not represent Devizes in Parliament again until 1621, when he made no impression on the parliamentary records but received £19 for his services, as well as 55s. for books and other expenses.32 In the records of his third and final Parliament, that of 1624, Kent occurs only once, on 24 Mar., when he was named to consider a bill to confirm the sale of the Wiltshire lands of the debtor Sir Thomas Redferne.33 After the Parliament, Kent and his colleague Sir Edward Bayntun were paid wages and expenses totalling £28.34
Shortly after the prorogation of the 1624 Parliament, Kent was sent back to London with his fellow chamberlain to negotiate the sale of the fee farm of the borough’s profits arising from its court leets, markets and fairs.35 However, the resulting charter, which cost £120, was not granted until the king passed through Devizes at the end of July. Kent subsequently remained active in all aspects of borough affairs until shortly before his death. Perhaps as a result of declining health, he resigned as borough steward in May 1629, though he stayed on as chamberlain.36 In the following month his responsibility for overseeing the town’s principal charitable legacies was transferred to his son Thomas.37 On 28 Sept. 1630 members of the town council met at Kent’s house to elect a new mayor, he ‘being at that time extremely sick’.38 Kent died three days later and was buried on 10 Oct. at St. John’s, Devizes.39 A commemorative brass tablet, depicting him in the gowns of a borough magistrate, was erected in 1640 by his family. The Latin inscription claims that Kent’s piety was so fervent that, ‘having thereby obtained the peace of an untroubled conscience he was thought to be nearing the bliss of heaven whilst yet on earth’.40 His will, drawn up in September 1629, testifies to his success as a prominent town official and lawyer.41 His widow was left the remainder of the lease on the house in Devizes’s market place, including its contents, together with a life interest in further properties in the town. Winsley manor was left to his eldest surviving son, Thomas. Another son was left an annuity of 20 marks and a debt of £100, owed by the corporation. His only daughter, Mary, who had already been given a house at her marriage in 1605,42 received £150. Robert Drewe, who had himself represented the town and from whom Kent leased two tenements, and the lawyer (Sir) Nicholas Hyde* were named as overseers. Kent’s reputation as an astute guardian of the borough’s charitable legacies was briefly marred by the revelations of his successor as town clerk, Robert Nicholas, who discovered that the stock had been reduced by £20 as a result of ‘improvident leasing’ and other irregularities; money had been distributed without interest and had been given to a number of preachers for their sermons, both contrary to the benefactors’ wishes.43 Kent was succeeded by his eldest surviving son, Thomas, who represented Devizes in 1628.
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Authors: Henry Lancaster / Andrew Thrush
- 1. Vis. Cheshire (Harl. Soc. lix), 137.
- 2. Lansd. 47, f. 118.
- 3. Wilts. RO, 2083/1, unfol.; PROB 11/183, f. 197v; Vis. Wilts. (Harl. Soc. cv-cvi), 47; E. Kite, Monumental Brasses of Wilts. 76; Wilts. RO, 1597/1, ff. 6r-v, 54.
- 4. MI, St. John’s, Devizes.
- 5. I. Ide, ‘John Kent (1558-1630) of Devizes, Potterne and Winsley’, Wilts. Arch. Mag. lxxxviii. 91.
- 6. Wilts. N and Q, iii. 361.
- 7. Wilts. RO, G20/1/16, ff. 110v, 185, 195v, 222v.
- 8. Ibid. f. 121.
- 9. Ibid. ff. 150v, 158; G20/1/17, ff. 27, 65v; B.H. Cunnington, Some Annals of Bor. of Devizes, i. pt. 2, p. 20.
- 10. Wilts. RO, G20/1/16, ff. 130, 213.
- 11. Ibid. ff. 188, 195-6.
- 12. Ibid. f. 214v.
- 13. Wilts. RO, G20/1/17, ff. 31v, 65v.
- 14. Ibid. f. 202; Wilts. RO, G20/1/17, f. 49.
- 15. E. Stephens, Clerks of the Counties, 178. Stephens observes, however, that bet. 1597 and 1600 Kent’s forename appears on the pipe rolls as ‘William’.
- 16. Ormerod, Cheshire, ii. 52.
- 17. Writing in 1626, one testator referred to him as ‘John Kent of Devizes ‘attorney that was’: Wilts. N and Q, v. 543. For evidence that he was versed in Latin, see Wilts. RO, G20/1/16, f. 134.
- 18. Guild Stewards’ Bk. of Calne 1561-1688 ed. A.W. Mabbs (Wilts. Rec. Soc. vii), 15.
- 19. Ide, 91; CP, iii. 231; C142/232/72.
- 20. Wilts. RO, Wilts. Buildings Rec. B5420; Ide, 95.
- 21. Wilts. RO, G20/1/16, f. 251v.
- 22. E. Kite, ‘The Guild of Merchants, or Three Trading Companies, formerly existing in Devizes’, Wilts. Arch. Mag. iv. 161-9; Wilts. RO, G20/6/1; G20/1/3; G20/1/16, f. 286.
- 23. Wilts. RO, G20/1/16, ff. 285v, 299v.
- 24. Wilts. RO, G20/1/16, f. 263.
- 25. Ibid. G20/1/16, f. 112v.
- 26. Ibid. f. 287; G20/150/47.
- 27. Wilts. RO, G20/1/16, ff. 299v, 309, 315, 323v; G20/1/17, ff. 17v, 28-9; Lansd. 230, f. 3.
- 28. Wilts. N and Q, iii. 361.
- 29. Ibid. 36; Wilts. RO, G20/1/16, ff. 184, 251; G20/150/50.
- 30. Wilts. RO, G20/1/16, f. 203; 765/7; C219/35/119.
- 31. Wilts. RO, G20/1/16, ff. 213, 214v.
- 32. Wilts. RO, G20/1/17, ff. 4, 11v.
- 33. CJ, i. 688b.
- 34. Wilts. RO, G20/1/17, f. 29.
- 35. Ibid. f. 29.
- 36. Ibid. f. 65v.
- 37. Ibid. f. 72.
- 38. Ibid. f. 73.
- 39. Wilts. RO, 1597/1, f. 54.
- 40. Translation in Kite, Brasses, 85-6.
- 41. PROB 11/159, ff. 205-8v.
- 42. Wilts. RO, 212B/2320, 2327; Wilts. Arch. and Nat. Hist. Soc. Lib., Devizes, Kite, Wilts. Peds. ii. 246.
- 43. Wilts. RO, G20/1/17, ff. 80v-1.