A complex problem

One of the most difficult problems which confronted Charles II and his advisers at the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 was how to deal with land which had been appropriated by the Commonwealth from the Crown and the Church—the two largest landowners in England—and from what were called ‘delinquent Royalists’. As far as the lands of the church were concerned, after the Commonwealth Parliament had abolished the offices of bishops, deans and other cathedral offices as well as collegiate churches in 1646, their lands had been appropriated and in 1650 an Ordinance had been passed for the sale of these lands. The king’s first inclination had been that all the appropriated land should be returned to its original owners. However this was before he had grasped the complexity of the problem. In south-east England alone, for example, land appropriated from fifty royalists had been split up and sold to more than five times that number of purchasers. So in the Declaration of Breda, which was Charles’ ‘manifesto’ prior to his being restored to the throne, the king agreed ‘all things relating to such grants, sales and purchases, shall be determined in Parliament, which can best provide for the just satisfaction of all men who are concerned.’ In the event, Parliament fudged the issue as far as former Crown and Church lands were concerned, but agreed that a commission should be set up by the king to treat with the purchasers of these lands. This commission was established by a proclamation on 7 October 1660. A few days later the king wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury asking that former tenants be given priority in the grant of new leases.

In the Chapel Archives is a petition (reference XI.J.21) addressed to the royal Commissioners by Sir Henry Pickering regarding the rectory of Whaddon in Cambridgeshire. This rectory, with its lands, tithe and other income, had been the subject of a succession of leases to the Tempest family of Whaddon, the latest before the Civil War having been granted to William Tempest. He is known to have been a Royalist—a search of his house for arms having been ordered in February 1642; he was also a Catholic, having been registered as a ‘recusant’ in 1641. Sir Henry Pickering, on the other hand, had been a colonel in Cromwell’s elite New Model Army and a Member of Parliament for Cambridgeshire, so was a prominent member of the Commonwealth establishment. He claimed in his petition to have taken an assignment of the lease of the rectory in 1648/9 from Thomas Tempest, the son and executor of the will of William Tempest. One can only speculate at the pressure which this powerful Parliamentarian was able to bring to bear on Thomas as a Royalist and, possibly, also a Catholic. Having acquired the lease, Pickering as tenant would then have been able to take advantage of a provision in the Ordinance giving tenants of former Crown and Church lands rights of pre-emption. Parliamentary officers and Members of Parliament were reputed to have been among the main purchasers of former Crown and Church lands: a pamphleteer of 1648 had complained how ‘both Delinquents’ estates and Bishops’ Lands are by Members of Parliament shared among themselves. ’ This might also have been behind the wish expressed in the king’s letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury of October 1660 that no leases for the time being should be granted to former purchasers who had been members of the Parliamentary Army.

In his petition Pickering, with what might be considered some audacity, states that he had bought the lease from Thomas Tempest partly ‘for the preservation of the Church’s Interest.’ He then says that he approached the Dean and Canons for a new lease, to which they replied—presumably in line with the king’s letter to the archbishop—that at that time they had no power to grant one and he then goes on to complain that some time afterwards they granted a lease of the premises to William Tempest junior, brother of Thomas. The petition is undated but must have been presented some time after October 1660 but before 23 January 1661, when the Commissioners wrote to the Dean and Canons with a copy of the petition, desiring them ‘to take up the allegations thereof into their serious consideration,’ and to try ‘if they can to compose the differences’ between Pickering and Tempest. Nothing further is recorded of the matter but future leases were granted to the Tempest family so, not entirely surprisingly, the former New Model Army colonel and Member of Parliament got nowhere with his petition. Unfortunately, most of the records of the Commissioners have not survived so it is not known whether Sir Henry received any compensation. It is interesting though that the Dean and Canons may have expected some compensation to have been payable: the lease granted to William Tempest on 20 October 1660 contains a clause by which Tempest indemnified the Dean and Canons against any ‘charge or composition concerning [any conveyance] of the premises by the late usurped power or its trustees to any person,’ together with a covenant that he was ‘to pay any purchaser any sum of money which might be imposed upon the Dean and Canons.’

Jeremy Sims, Archives Volunteer

The King's Free Chapel. The Chapel of the Most Honourable and Noble Order of the Garter. The Chapel of the College of St George.