In 1428 Edward Guildford released to Sir Walter Hungerford, William Darell, Thomas Browne, and John Forescue the Manor of Eygthorne (Eythorne), to the use of Thomas Browne.
Edward Guildford (c1390-1449) was a landowner, administrator, and politician who served three times as a Kent MP and once as its Sheriff. At some time around 1428, Edward Guildford also had dealings with Sir Walter Hungerford over the manor of Elmton that he had acquired and which was a dependency of the Manor of Eythorne. Edward also had possession of certain other lands in the Eythorne area valued at £5 a year. Various episodes of Guildford’s life suggest that he was a man of violent temperament, at least in early life, and continued throughout his life to be involved in disputes and quarrels. In 1443, it was alleged in Chancery that, having been enfeoffed (was given land in exchange for a pledge of service) of the manor of Dane Court (Tilmanstone, later home to the Rice family), he had refused to return it to its rightful owner, John Fyneux. Edward’s first wife was Juliana Pittlesden or Picklesden with whom he had five children.
Edward Guildford died in 1449 and was buried in a chapel he founded in honour of St Anne and St Katherine at Rolvenden. According to the “Visitation of Kent“ in 1619, Edward’s first wife predeceased him and his second wife with the same first name, Juliana Markle, survived him. His widow was alive in December 1455 when she acted as advowee of Eythorne rectory. Advowson is the right in English law of a patron (advowee) to present to the diocesan bishop a nominee for appointment to a vacant ecclesiastical benefice or church living. Legally, advowsons were treated as real property that could be held or conveyed, and conversely could be taken or encumbered, in the same general manner as a parcel of land.
Thomas Browne, for whom the use of Eythorne Manor was obtained, was born in Surrey, in 1402 to Robert Browne and Margaret de Warren. In 1434 he was “Sworn to the Peace“ in Kent in 1434 and was made Justice of Peace there from 1436 to 24 December 1450. He was MP for Dover between 1439 and 1444 and High Sheriff of Kent in 1443 – 1444, and then MP for Kent between 1445 and 1446. He was present at Parliament in 1447 and 1449 as Under Treasurer. He was MP between 1449 and 1450 for Wallingford (then in Berkshire now in Oxfordshire). He was knighted 1449/51. During the reign of King Henry VI, his highest post was that Chancellor of the Exchequer which post he held between 1440 and 1450. He was later Justice of Peace for Surrey from 20 July 1454.
In 1437, he married Eleanor FitzAlan. They had nine children, seven sons and two daughters.
He bought Betchworth Castle from his father-in-law, Thomas FitzAlan. The castle was a fortified medieval stone house in Brockham, Surrey. The house would remain in the Browne family for the next 275 years. While Betchworth was the family’s main home, Browne owned nine manors across Kent. At least two of them were gifts from King Henry VI for his service. As well as Eythorne Manor, Thomas Browne also possessed the Manor of Barfrestone. The property was alienated (property transferred) to Browne from the heirs of John de Monynham (Moningham), who had “deserted their patrimony“ (relinquished the inheritance from father or male ancestor) here, in the latter end of King Henry VI’s reign. Thomas Browne became wealthy by receiving a license to export uncustomed wool in 1440 “in consideration of his recent misfortunes and impoverishments in Kent“.
In 1448 Dec 10, Thomas Browne, King’s Squire, was granted by Henry VI a Royal licence to crenellate five manors he owned, including Eythorne. This was a royal warrant allowing fortification of the applicant’s residence. Such improvements may have been more of a status symbol than for any practical defensive purpose and indicated that the grantee had obtained “royal recognition, acknowledgement and compliment“.
The grant is as follows ,“Grant, of special grace, to Thomas Browne, King’s Squire, that he may make a ditch (fossare) and enclose with walls of stone and mortar, crenellate and provide with battlements his manors of Tonge, Egethorne, Tonford, Kyngesnoth and Bettisworth cos. Kent and Surrey, and make of them towers and fortresses, and so hold them to them to him and his heirs; grant also that he may inclose 1,000 acres or less of his demense lands in each of the said manors, and hold the same as parks to him and his heirs; and that he and his heirs may have free warren in all their demense lands and lands thereto belonging: grant also to the said Thomas that he and his heirs, shall have in each of the said manors, view of frank-pledge of all their men, tenants and residents, with all that belongs thereto; notwithstanding that there is here no express mention etc.“
A demesne or domain was all the land retained and managed by a lord of the manor under the feudal system for his own use, occupation, or support (see graphic of a plan of a medieval manor). This distinguished it from land sub-enfeoffed by him (land given in exchange for a pledge of service) to others as sub-tenants.
The present manor house, now known as Eythorne Court, is said to be C15 in origin, (with major alterations and extensions C16, C18 and late C19) and hence may have been built for Thomas Browne or he may have extensively modified an existing building. A contemporary description of the entirety of Eythorne Manor or its manor house unfortunately doesn’t exist. One might, however, assume it was a desirable manor to have given the high status of the individuals that possessed it at this time and in the preceding century.
In 1449 (8 July) Thomas Browne obtained the grant of a fair on the day of St. Peter ad vincula (feast of Peter in Chains, 1 August) yearly in Eythorne and also one at the neighbouring village of “Wimlingswold”, to be held on the feast of St. Margaret the Virgin (20 July), but which was later held yearly on old Mayday (13 May). He also obtained grants on a fair at his other Kent possessions.
In 1453, King Henry VI, Thomas Browne’s patron, lost control of the last English lands in France and was ousted as King of France. England became increasingly politically unstable as Henry fell into a long mental breakdown marked by bouts of insanity. His Queen, Margaret of Anjou, ruled the kingdom in his place. Tensions mounted between Queen Margaret and Richard, Duke of York over control of the incapacitated King’s government which resulted in civil war in 1445. At the time, and for more than a century after, they were known as “The Civil Wars“ but then later as the “War of the Roses”. Throughout this, Browne remained loyal to Henry VI and Lancastrian forces. Browne was pardoned by the Yorkist’s in 1455, and 1458. During this period, Thomas continued to serve in powerful roles appointed by the king. From 1454-1460, he was Sheriff and then High Sheriff of Kent – the principal law enforcement officer in the county.
In June 1460, Yorkist nobles and their army entered London. As the troops approached, many Lancaster nobles and their families took refuge in the Tower of London. The Lancastrian garrison of the Tower of London, commanded by Lord Scales, opened fire indiscriminately into the surrounding streets with cannon and wildfire (an incendiary weapon), causing many deaths and injuries. The Yorkists quickly cut off supply routes and then pummelled the Tower with canons for days. Meanwhile the Lancastrians army of approximately 5,000 under Henry VI were heavily defeated at the Battle of Northampton on 10 July. About 300 Lancastrians were killed and and Henry VI was captured. Back at the siege of the Tower of London, the Lancastrians ran out of ammunition and were helpless to defend themselves. Thomas Browne led a group attempting to smuggle food to the Lancastrians when they were caught by Yorkist troops. On 19 July, the garrison of the Tower were starved into surrender. Scales attempted to escape in disguise by boat, but was recognised and butchered by a mob. Less than a year later, King Henry VI was deposed by Richard of York’s son, Edward IV. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London.
On July 20 1460, Thomas Browne was convicted of treason. According to some sources he was immediately executed by beheading (the form of execution usual for treason for nobility) but it seems likely (following the treason act of 1351) that he may, along with five others, have been hung, drawn and quartered at Tyburn. The bodies may then have been displayed at Tyburn and his head displayed on a spike on London Bridge as was usually the case for those convicted of treason. He may have been dragged or “drawn” to his place of execution behind a horse or on a hurdle. Thomas Browne was buried in Blackfriars Priory which no longer exists. Henry VIII‘s dissolution of the monastries led to Blackfriars Priory being closed in 1538 after 260 years of worship, with the land and buildings sold off. During the time of the original friary, the grounds were used for several important government occasions, such as meetings of Parliament. One major historical event hosted by the Blackfriars was the divorce hearing between Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon in 1529.
Thomas Browne was in his grave less than three months when Sir Thomas Vaughan (a Welsh soldier, court official, and later ambassador and chamberlain to the prince of Wales, who died 1483) married his widow, Eleanor. One moment Vaughan was a loyal, but not necessarily wealthy member of Henry’s court, sharing the ownership of a house in London with Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke, the next he is the proud owner of nine estates in Kent with the hope of getting his hands on the tenth. George Browne, Thomas Browne’s son, and a politician like his father, detested being Vaughan’s stepson and went on to spend much time, money and energy claiming back what he considered rightfully his. He took part in the Duke of Buckingham’s failed rebellion against Richard III, and was beheaded on Tower Hill on 4 December 1483. Ironically Thomas Vaughan was also executed in 1483 by Richard III as part of his seizure of the throne.
Besides Thomas Browne, three other people were involved in obtaining the use of Eythorne Manor for him. Sir Walter Hungerford (1378-1449) was a knight and landowner. From 1400 to 1414, he was a member of the House of Commons, of which he became Speaker and a Privy Councillor. He also became an Admiral and a peer. Sir Walter Hungerford was among the most notable Members of the House of Commons during this period. Even apart from his long and successful political and administrative career, the extent of his estates (principally in the south-west) made him an important figure.
Sir John Fortescue (c. 1394 – December 1479), of Ebrington in Gloucestershire, was Chief Justice of the King’s Bench and was the author of De Laudibus Legum Angliae (Commendation of the Laws of England), first published posthumously circa 1543, an influential treatise on English law. He was also an executor of Hungerford‘s will. William Darell was an MP and was later married in 1438 to Anne Guildford, daughter of Edward Guildford.