BLISS (BLISSE), Thomas (c.1647-1721), of Maidstone, Kent
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Family and Education
b. c.1647, ?s. of Thomas Blith of Maidstone and St. George’s, Canterbury by Mary, da. of one Eastman of All Saints, Canterbury. m. bef. May 1695, Elizabeth (d. 1730), da. of John Kenward of Yalding, Kent, wid. of Ambrose Warde of Yalding, s.p.1
Chamberlain, Maidstone 1678–9, 1684; alderman 1682–88, 1710–112
Bliss may have been the son of Thomas Blith, a brewer, whose marriage licence was issued at Canterbury in 1640. In 1662 a Thomas Blist took the oaths against the Solemn League and Covenant when the commissioners for corporations visited Maidstone. A man of that name leased a tenement in Maidstone in 1667. Rather confusingly, a ‘Thomas Blist’, a surgeon, aged 30, was licensed to marry a Maidstone widow, Ann Howting, in 1670. A widow of the same name actually married in 1674, implying that this Thomas Blist had died in the interim, or had not gone through with the ceremony. Interestingly, Bliss’s house sported the arms of the barber surgeons’ company and a deed of 1681 called him a surgeon. The date of Bliss’s marriage to Elizabeth Kenward is not known, although it certainly took place before the will of her son by a previous marriage, Ambrose Warde, which was made in May 1695.3
Bliss had an extensive career as a local office-holder, beginning in 1674 when he took on the duties of churchwarden at All Saints’ church in Maidstone. He served as chamberlain to the corporation in both 1678 and 1679, becoming an alderman in the charter granted in 1682 by Charles II, mayor in 1682–3 and chamberlain again in 1684. From this it seems clear that his sympathies lay with the local Tories, although his dismissal from the aldermanic bench in January 1688 is indicative of his refusal to support James II’s religious policies. His attitude to the Revolution is unknown, but he may have been restored to the corporation. In 1691, Bliss acquired the lease of an alehouse in Maidstone which subsequently became known as the Globe. In July 1692 he became a j.p. for the county. Not surprisingly, in view of his Tory proclivities, his name appears on an undated list of subscribers to the land bank.4
Bliss entered the Commons at the 1698 election, being classed as a Country supporter on a comparative analysis of the old and new Parliaments. His name also appeared on a list which was probably a forecast of those Members likely to oppose a standing army. On 28 Jan. 1699 he received leave of absence for ten days to go into the country. In May 1699 his name was approved by the King as a deputy-lieutenant for Kent. By March 1701 he was listed as Captain Bliss, thereby indicating that he held a commission in the militia. Returned again in the election of January 1701, Bliss appears on a list of likely supporters of the Court over the ‘Great Mortgage’. The appearance of Bliss’s name on a ‘blacklist’ of those opposed to making preparations for war with France during the 1701 Parliament had significant repercussions at the Maidstone election the following November. Bliss’s main opponent, Thomas Colepeper, distributed copies of the ‘blacklist’ as part of his campaign, implying that Bliss was a Jacobite. To support this contention he produced a witness who claimed that Bliss had called William III ‘a usurper’. Thus, although Bliss won the election by two votes, he faced an election petition and a separate prosecution ordered by the attorney-general, which was instigated in December 1701. Bliss survived the accusations of Jacobitism which resurfaced in the Commons and was declared duly elected on 7 Feb. 1702. In the 1701–2 session his name occurs on a ‘white list’ of those who favoured the motion of 26 Feb. vindicating the Commons’ proceedings in impeaching William III’s ministers. Two days after the death of William III a ‘Captain Bliss’ lobbied Sir Charles Hedges* over whether the secretary had given orders to stop his prosecution. Bliss was right to be worried about this continuing saga for at the general election of 1702, allegations of his being in French pay and of Jacobitism were again made, and Bliss was defeated at the polls. Resort to petitioning saw the Commons make void the election on 8 Dec. 1702, but no new writ was issued. Thus the appearance of Bliss’s name on a list of 13 Feb. 1703 of those Members who had voted against agreeing with the Lords’ amendments to the bill enlarging the time to take the oath of abjuration is more likely to represent the compiler’s conviction that Bliss would have voted with the Tories on this occasion.5
A new writ for Maidstone was eventually moved on 24 Oct. 1704. Bliss was elected on 3 Nov., in time to be the last name added to Robert Harley’s* lobbying list for the Tack, which was originally composed on 30 Oct. Bliss was forecast as an opponent of the Tack, and on a subsequent list of 1705 in reference to the actual vote on 28 Nov. was described as a ‘sneaker’. However he did not face difficulties at the 1705 election over his refusal to vote for the Tack. In the new Parliament he voted on 25 Oct. 1705 against the Court candidate in the division on the Speaker. Shortly afterwards, on 25 Nov., he received leave of absence for a fortnight. He seems to have been an inactive Member, but only one further leave of absence was granted to him, on 11 Feb. 1708, for a month. On two parliamentary lists in 1708 he was classed as a Tory, and he may have seen defeat looming in the 1708 election since he appears not to have put up on that occasion.6
Having retired from parliamentary politics, Bliss continued to play a role in local affairs. He was restored to the aldermanic bench in October 1710, but this decision was overturned in March 1711. He continued to accumulate property in Maidstone, taking a lease in 1714 of the rectorial tithes. He also set about securing a place for his family in the annals of the town, through small displays and charitable works. Thus in 1713 he presented a silver chalice, decorated with the Bliss coat of arms, to St. Martin’s, Detling. In 1719–20 he spent £700 on a workhouse in Maidstone, which was subsequently finished and fitted out by the parish. He was removed from the commission of the peace in January 1719, but did not die until 8 Oct. 1721. In his will, he left his lands and personal estates to his wife, Elizabeth, whom he made his executor for carrying out the will and his bequests which totalled just over £1,800. She later married William Turner.7
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Stuart Handley
- 1. J. M. Russell, Hist. Maidstone, 351; Canterbury Mar. Lic. ii. 111; iii. 49; PCC 104 Bond.
- 2. Russell, 197, 351; Recs. of Maidstone ed. Martin, 164, 171; Centre Kentish Stud. md/ACm1/4, burghmote minutes, 30 Oct. 1710, 12 Mar. 1710–11.
- 3. Canterbury Mar. Lic. ii. 111; iii. 49, 143; Recs. of Maidstone, 146, 154; Russell, 350, 352; PCC 104 Bond.
- 4. Russell, 351; Recs. of Maidstone, 164; Arch. Cant. lxxii. 8; info. from Prof. N. Landau; NLS, Advocates’ mss 31.1.7, f. 95, land bank subscribers, n.d.
- 5. CSP Dom. 1699–1700, p. 153; 1700–2, pp. 251, 454, 461; Add. 28885, f. 203.
- 6. Add. 70306, Harley’s lobbying list.
- 7. Russell, 122, 351, 379; Arch. Cant. xxvi. 224; Hasted, Kent, iv. 316; info. from Prof. Landau; PCC 215 Buckingham.