DENNE, Thomas (1577-1656), of St Alphege, Canterbury, Kent and the Inner Temple, London; later of Denne Hill, Kingston, Kent

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press



Family and Education

bap. 1 Sept. 1577, 1st s. of Robert Denne, yeoman of Denne Hill and Thomasine, da. of Thomas Dane of St. John’s, Thanet, Kent. educ. King’s sch. Canterbury 1589; I. Temple 1598, called 1607. m. by Oct. 1611, Dorothy (bur. 21 Aug. 1637), da. of John Tanfield of Copfold Hall, Margaretting, Essex, 2s. (1 d.v.p.) 5da. 1 other ch. d.v.p. suc. fa. 1594. bur. 1 Aug. 1656.1

Offices Held

Dep. reader, Clifford’s Inn 1609, reader, Lyon’s Inn 1614, Clifford’s Inn 1616, I. Temple 1628;2 fee’d counsel, Canterbury 1617-at least 1636, recorder 1643-55;3 steward, reader’s dinner, I. Temple 1623, bencher 1626-d., reader’s attendant 1627, auditor 1628-9, 1631-2, 1638-9.4

Freeman, Canterbury 1617,5 common councilman to 11 Mar. 1656;6 commr. oyer and terminer, Canterbury 1622,7 subsidy 1624;8 j.p. Kent 1630-d.;9 commr. repair of highways, Kent 1631,10 charitable uses 1633,11 assessment (chairman), Canterbury 1643-5, 1647-53.12


Denne’s earliest known ancestor held lands in east Kent under John, and his son, Sir Alured, was seneschal of Christchurch Priory, Canterbury and escheator for Kent in 1234.13 Denne himself was born to a prosperous yeoman at Denne Hill in the parish of Kingston, five miles south-east of Canterbury. In the family’s possession from at least the mid-thirteenth century, Denne Hill lay at the heart of a modest estate that was expanded under Elizabeth to include purchases in neighbouring Barham and the Isle of Thanet. Following his father’s death in 1594, Denne, the eldest of five sons, should have inherited the Kingston-Barham estate, but it was conferred on his brother John instead. Moreover, the bulk of the Thanet property was divided between two other brothers, Vincent and Edward. The few lands specifically allocated to Denne were expressly withheld during the lifetime of his mother, who used them to amass more than £2,000 in rents in just 12 years. However, some property, unmentioned in the will, must have passed automatically to Denne, for in about 1606 he conferred lands on John worth £200 a year, plus £400 in cash. The condition of this gift was that John would leave Denne his entire estate if he died childless.14

Shortly after attaining his majority, Denne underwent a legal training at the Inner Temple, culminating in his admission to the bar in June 1607. He may have received encouragement from another Thomas Denne, New Romney’s standing counsel and perhaps a kinsman.15 By 1612 he was living in Canterbury,16 where from 1617 he was retained as counsel by the corporation following John Finch II’s* elevation to the recordership. For much of the 1620s Denne helped defend Canterbury’s charter at Westminster.17 However, his election to Parliament for the city in 1624 was contrary to the wishes of his employers. He and his fellow Canterbury resident, the self-styled puritan Thomas Scott*, persuaded each other to stand to prevent the return of the duke of Lennox’s secretary John Latham, whom Scott ‘much suspected for his religion’ and whose candidacy was supported by the city’s aldermen.18 On the strength of this evidence, Denne has been described by one historian as ‘a puritan lawyer’.19

Denne played little recorded part in the 1624 Parliament. On 25 Mar. he was nominated to the bill committee for the repeal and continuance of expiring statutes, and on 22 Apr. he reported a naturalization bill for the Norwich grain merchant Peter Verbeake.20 While at Westminster, Denne’s brother John secretly drafted his will. Instead of settling his entire estate on Denne, as agreed, John divided up the property he had bought with Denne’s money between his brother Vincent, Denne’s youngest son Thomas, and a clerk named James Benchkin. For some while after John’s death in February 1625, Denne remained ignorant of the will’s existence, so that on taking action against the Benchkins in 1626 he assumed that John had died intestate.21 On discovering the truth, Denne decided not to pursue Vincent, for as Vincent was unmarried it was possible he would inherit his entire estate anyway. However, he seized control of John’s lands and obtained permission to administer his goods and cash, for which he was hounded by the administrators of John’s widow, Elizabeth, who had died within hours of her husband. Indeed, over the next 16 years he fought a fierce rearguard action in several ecclesiastical courts as well as King’s Bench, Common Pleas, the Privy Council (where Denne was severely criticized) and, in 1641, the House of Lords.22

Denne’s decision not to pursue Vincent through the courts may have been misguided. Shortly before their mother died in February 1634, Vincent allegedly persuaded her to leave most of her property to him, including the share of the Thanet estate reserved for Denne in their father’s will. In this way Vincent compensated himself for his impending loss of Denne Hill, which at long last passed to Denne. Vincent’s final act of spite was to settle most of his estate on Denne’s youngest son, Thomas, two months before his death in June 1642, leaving Denne only a single cottage and plot of land in Kingston, worth just £35.23 Vincent’s will consequently set Denne and his eldest son John against Thomas, who was banished from his father’s presence.24 Thomas and Henry Oxinden of Barham (Vincent’s executor) were prosecuted, first in the Court of Wards and, after that court’s abolition in 1646, in Chancery. The quarrel proved so bitter that Denne even attempted to recover the cost of his son’s education, while Thomas accused John of having secretly poisoned Denne against him.25 Denne argued that he needed Vincent’s estate, having five daughters and ‘not means sufficient to raise convenient portions for them’, whereupon Thomas retorted that his father was ‘esteemed a man of £800 per annum or thereabouts and to have divers thousand pounds in his purse, besides his yearly gainings by his p[ro]fession as a counsellor at law’. Denne never forgave Thomas, even after John’s death in 1648, for in 1655 he settled his whole estate on his daughter Mary and her husband, Vincent Denne† of Gray’s Inn.26

During the First Civil War, Denne became recorder of Canterbury and chairman of the city’s ‘county’ committee. The assertion that he was a republican seems to be unfounded.27 Increasing infirmity probably explains his replacement as recorder in 1655 and why, early in 1656, he sought and was granted permission to resign from Canterbury’s Common Council.28 ‘Weak of body’, he drew up a short will on 7 July 1656, in which he asked to be buried at Kingston, ‘where my late wife and ancestors were interred’, and appointing his daughter Mary and her husband as his executors.29 He died a few weeks later at his house in Canterbury, and was buried at Kingston on 1 August. His son-in-law Vincent represented Canterbury in Parliament that same year, and again in 1681.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Andrew Thrush


  • 1. W. Berry, Kentish Genealogies, 194-6; Vis. Kent (Harl. Soc. xlii), 99-100; Vis. Essex (Harl. Soc. xiii), 295-6; Lists of Scholars of King’s Sch. Canterbury comp. W. Urry et al.; I. Temple Admiss.; Regs. St. Giles in Kingston, Kent ed. C. Hales Wilkie, 9, 130, 131; Regs. St. Alphaege, Canterbury ed. J.M. Cowper, 15-18, 20, 208.
  • 2. Readings and Moots at the Inns of Ct. II ed. S.L. Thorne and J.H. Baker (Selden Soc. cv), cvi; J.H. Baker and J.S. Ringrose, Cat. of English Legal Mss in CUL, 424; CITR, 164.
  • 3. Canterbury Cathedral Archives, CC/FA/22(1), f. 344; FA/24, f. 293; FA/25, f. 195v; FA/26, ff. 244, 301.
  • 4. CITR, 139, 155, 161, 170, 191, 231, 244.
  • 5. Roll of Freemen of City of Canterbury comp. J.M. Cowper, 315.
  • 6. Canterbury Cathedral Archives, CC/AC/4, f. 399v.
  • 7. C181/3, f. 70.
  • 8. C212/22/23.
  • 9. C231/5, f. 38; Cent. Kent. Stud. Q/JC/6, 7.
  • 10. C181/4, f. 88v.
  • 11. C192/1, unfol.
  • 12. A. and O. i. 336, 451, 541, 620, 640, 968; ii. 36, 301, 469, 666; SP28/252, items ‘B’ and ‘C’, passim; A.M. Everitt, Community of Kent and Gt. Rebellion, 177.
  • 13. Berry, 194.
  • 14. C2/Chas.I/D18/65; Cent. Kent. Stud. PRC 17/49, ff. 59v-62v.
  • 15. For this man, see LI Black Bks. i. 457; Cent. Kent. Stud. NR/AC1, ff. 68, 81v-2, 166, 192, 201v; Cal. of White and Black Bks. of Cinque Ports ed. F. Hull (Kent Recs. xix), 309, 343; C181/1, f. 28v.
  • 16. Regs. St. Alphaege, 15.
  • 17. Canterbury Cathedral Archives, CC/FA/23, ff. 150r-v, 200v, 203v, 247v, 337v, 387v.
  • 18. Canterbury Cathedral Archives, U66, f. 25v.
  • 19. P. Clark, ‘Thomas Scott and the growth of urban opposition to the early Stuart regime’, HJ, xxi. 12.
  • 20. CJ, i. 750b, name spelt ‘Deane’; ‘Hawarde 1624’, p. 251.
  • 21. C2/Chas.I/D50/61; 2/Chas.I/B124/62.
  • 22. For the details, see CSP Dom. 1634-5, p. 101; 1640-1, pp. 281-2; PC2/44, pp. 203-4; 45, p. 214; HMC 4th Rep. 36, 83, 86.
  • 23. C2/Chas.I/D18/65; Cent. Kent. Stud. PRC 17/69, ff. 467-8.
  • 24. Add. 28000, f. 343.
  • 25. Ibid. ff. 225v, 342r-v; C2/Chas.I/D18/65; D14/51.
  • 26. Cent. Kent. Stud. U36/T678.
  • 27. Everitt, 226n.
  • 28. Canterbury Cathedral Archives, CC/AC/4, f. 399r-v.
  • 29. PROB 11/261, f. 94r-v.