ARDERN, Thomas (by 1516-51), of Faversham, Kent.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. by 1516. m. by 1538, Alice, da. of Edward Murfyn of London, stepda. of (Sir) Edward North of Kirtling, Cambs., the Charterhouse, Mdx. and London, 1da.2

Offices Held

Servant of Edward North by 1537, Sir Thomas Cheyne by 1541; member of the Twenty-Four, Faversham 1543-4, jurat 1544-50, mayor Mar.-Sept. 1548, churchwarden 1548-9; comptroller of the customs, Sandwich by 1543-d.3


The first trace of Thomas Ardern dates from July 1537 when a warrant was issued to the treasurer of augmentations to pay £6 13s.4d. to him as one of the clerks of Edward North, esquire, clerk of the Parliaments, ‘in recompense of such pains as he and his fellows have taken in and about the writing and making of certain books of Acts of Parliament for the King’s Highness, concerning as well the suppressed lands as the King’s ... purchased lands’. He was already living at Faversham when in June 1540 the King granted him several messuages there and the buildings of the former White Friars’ priory in Sandwich. By the following year he had entered the service of Sir Thomas Cheyne, a file of evidence accompanying a petition to Cheyne mentioning him as ‘steward of Hothfield Court, servant unto Sir Thomas Cheyne’. In December 1544 Cheyne was licensed to alienate to him the conventual buildings of Faversham abbey and four months later he bought for £117 other property in the town formerly belonging to the abbey. It was doubtless with Cheyne’s assistance as lord warden of the Cinque Ports that he obtained his comptrollership at Sandwich.4

The granting of the freedom of Faversham to Ardern is twice entered in the borough records. The list of freemen made on 20 July 1541 includes his name, but there is no further entry of a fine paid or reason why this was not demanded; in 1543 he was made ‘free and [the freedom] given him by the commons’. He immediately became one of the Twenty-Four, and in the following year a jurat. Long negotiations by the town culminated in 1546 in the grant of a new charter, and he was repaid £13 4s.6d. ‘which he paid for charges of the charter’. On the death of the mayor in 1548 he was elected for the remainder of the year of office, but not long after this mark of favour his relations with the town began to deteriorate. On 22 Dec. 1550 he was disfranchised

because he, being jurat and sworn to maintain the franchises, liberties and freedoms of the ... town, hath contrary to his oath ... gone about ... to the uttermost of his power to infringe and undo the said franchises, liberties and freedoms, that therefore the said Thomas Ardern shall be deposed from the bench, and no more to be jurat of the said town, but from henceforth to be utterly disfranchised for ever.

The reason for this was probably Ardern’s success in procuring that the annual fair should be held entirely on his ground, instead of, as formerly, partly on the town’s ground, thus depriving Faversham of a source of revenue.5

Ardern’s comptrollership presumably accounts for his return at Sandwich to the Parliament of 1547: the Protector Somerset, who as treasurer was head of the customs administration, may have intervened, perhaps at the request of Sir Edward North, but it was almost certainly Cheyne who as lord warden procured the return. The election was a cause of contention as Thomas Pinnock and John Seer were first chosen, apparently with the support of Archbishop Cranmer, but the mayor insisted on a second vote and returned Ardern and Thomas Patche. After an appeal to the Protector the Privy Council declared the second election invalid, but the retention of their names on the revised list of Members may indicate that they sat in the Commons until the Council decided against them. By the time the list was revised Ardern had been dead for nearly a year and this fact was duly noted.6

Ardern made his will on 20 Dec. 1550. As he stood bound to Sir Edward North in 1,000 marks to make his wife a jointure of £40 a year for her life, or else to appoint it to her by his will, he left her the house where he dwelt and other property in Faversham, which after her death were to descend to their daughter and only child, and her heirs, with remainder to his sister. He also left lands in Faversham to provide the endowment for an annual sermon. He named his wife sole executrix and North overseer of the will. He was murdered in his own parlour at about seven o’clock at night on 15 Feb. 1551 by his wife’s lover Thomas Morsby, a London tailor once in North’s service, and a hired assassin, Black Will of Calais. He was strangled with a napkin by Black Will, then struck with a tailor’s pressing iron by Morsby, who finished him by cutting his throat with a dagger. His body was left in a nearby meadow where it was found later the same night: footprints and a trail of blood led back to his house where his killers had been unsuccessful in covering the traces of their crime. His widow, who had instigated the murder, and her accomplices were tried at Faversham and condemned to death: their goods were sold to the use of the town and realized £184 10s.d. Later in the year the custody of Ardern’s 13 year-old daughter Margaret was given to Sir Thomas Cheyne. The contemporary account in the Faversham records confirms in essentials the more detailed description given by Holinshed, which in its turn furnished the plot for the earliest surviving murder play in English, Arden of Feversham, published anonymously in 1592. Holinshed’s inclusion of the story may have owed something to his own service with Robert Burdett.7

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: Helen Miller


  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament; Hatfield 207.
  • 2. Date of birth estimated from first reference. Arch. Cant. xxxiv. 102.
  • 3. Faversham wardmote bk. passim; E122/130/15; CPR, 1553, pp. 346, 374.
  • 4. HMC 8th Rep. pt. 2 (1881), 22; SP1/243, ff. 262, 264; LP Hen. VIII, xv, xix, xx, add.
  • 5. Faversham wardmote bk., ff. 34v, 38, 38v, 42, 47, 57v; Holinshed, Chron. 1029.
  • 6. APC, ii. 536-7; Hatfield 207.
  • 7. Faversham wardmote bk., ff. 59-60, 280v-281; E. Jacob, Faversham, 197-202; Holinshed, iii. 1024-31; C142/93/111; CPR, 1560-3, pp. 128-9; F. P. Wilson, Eng. Drama 1485-1585, p. 146; Arden of Feversham, ed. Macdonald and Nichol, passim.