The Name and Family of Barham

by Sydney Pay Barham

Chapter Nine


After the passing of Richard, the light of the Berhams becomes somewhat dim, and the evidence about the succession is conflicting. 'Villarae Cantianum', the survey based upon material collected by John Phillipot, which was published by his son in 1659, states that on a roll kept in the exchequer wherein is mentioned all of these things of this county who paid respective aid in the fourth year of Henry IV, at the marriage of Blanche, that monarchs daughter, there is a recital of Nicholas Berham who contributed a supply for his lands at Terston (Teston). The fourth year of Henry IV was 1402-03 at which period Richard was alive and residing at Sissinghurst. We might therefore suppose that Nicholas was his son and that the Teston estate had been made over to him during his father's lifetime. But the same John Phillipot, who was an industrious genealogist, and who carried out a heraldic visitation of Kent in 1619-21 has left a manuscript pedigree of the family which makes no mention of Nicholas. It says that the son and heir of Richard was John Berham, who in turn was the father of Henricus Dominus de Berham of Teston and Sissinghurst. The story is further complicated by a pedigree in the possession of the Courtland family of Wiley in Ticehurst, which states that the Richard the sheriff had a son and heir John Berham, who had as his son Nicholas Berham, of Barham Court Teston, and that this Nicholas was the father of Henry who was Lord of Barham, Teston, and Sissinghurst. Mr FitzGerald-Uniacke thinks that both these pedigrees are defective, and that the correct order of Richard's descendants is

  1. Nicholas
  2. John
  3. Henry

I am not competent to judge whether this reconstruction is right or wrong, and so I will pass over the dubious Nicholas to John Berham, who has left a more substantial trace of his existence.

John Berham must have been a person of some eminence for his name is included in a commission dated 1st May 1434, which was addressed to the Archbishop and some other country magnates instructing them to take an oath of certain Knights, Esquires, and men of influence and substance, that they would not wittingly receive, cherish, hold in household, nay maintain pillors, robbers, oppressors of the people, manslayers, felons, outlaws, ravishers of women and the law, or any other misdoers. This commission is eloquent of the disorders of the realm under the weak reign of Henry VI, and of the evil effects of the Hundred Years War now entering upon its inglorious last phase, the number of ruffians at large and the willingness of many of the gentry to give them harbourage and employment. The name of John Berham occurs in the commission next to that of John Bettenham, son of Stephen whose shield is displayed on the tower of Cranbrook Church, but the name of Bettenham was fated to disappear from the parish, for John left three daughters and no sons. The disorders of the realm culminated in the insurrection of the men of Kent under the leadership of Jack Kade in 1450, which had a political background involving some of the Kentish gentry, and serving as a prelude to the War of the Roses. Now Phillipot says in the account of Bettenham in his Villariae Cantianum that in the 12th year of Henry VI (1433-34) a number of gentlemen of prime rank in this county, who included John Berham and John Bettenham, were summoned to appear before Robert Poignings and John Perry to disclaim the title of the House of York. As the conflict between Lancaster and York did not open until 1455, by which year John Berham was no more, it appears that Phillipot has confused these summons with the commission mentioned previously. It is quite possible however that the Government of Henry had reason at a later date to suspect the loyalty of the Berham family, and others of the Kentish family, as the county was believed to be Yorkist in sympathy.

John Berham died in 1442; his will extant, and in it he directs that his body is to be buried in the church of St. Dunstan, Cranbrook, before the altar of the Blessed Mary. Mr. Pyle believes that before the reformation of the Lady Chapel the north chancel, which today is blocked by the organ. Here therefore the body of John Berham was laid to rest, but no memorial now marks the spot.

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