CHEYNE, Sir Thomas (1482/87-1558), of the Blackfriars, London and Shurland, Isle of Sheppey, Kent.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer



? 1529
Mar. 1553
Oct. 1553
Apr. 1554
Nov. 1554

Family and Education

b. 1482/87, 1st s. of William Cheyne (d. 8 May 1487) of Shurland by 2nd w. Margaret Young. m. (1) by 1515, Frideswide (d.1528/29), da. and h. of Sir Thomas Frowick of Finchley, Mdx., 1s. 3da.; (2) disp. 24 May 1539, Anne, da. of Sir John Broughton of Toddington, Beds., 1s. Henry 1da.; 1s. 1da. illegit. suc. half-bro. 20 Jan. 1512. Kntd. by 10 Nov. 1513, KG nom. 23 Apr. inst. 18 May 1539.4

Offices Held

Henchman, royal household temp. Hen. VII; esquire of the body by 1509-15, knight 1515-26; constable, Queenborough castle, Kent 1512-d., Rochester castle 1525-d., Dover castle 1536-d., Saltwood castle 1540-d.; commr. subsidy, Kent 1512, 1514, 1515, 1523, 1524, tenths of spiritualities 1535, coastal defences 1539, loan 1542, benevolence 1544/45, array 1545, chantries 1546, goods of churches and fraternities 1550, relief, Kent, London, Canterbury, Household 1550, church goods, Kent 1553; sheriff, Kent 1515-16; j.p. 1526-d.; gent. privy chamber 1526-39, ld. warden, the Cinque Ports 17 May 1536-d.; ?high steward, lands of abpric. of Canterbury by 1536-16 Nov. 1540, treasurer, the Household 9 Mar. 1539-d.; PC 1539-d.; ld. lt. Kent 1551-3; bailiff, Sandwich 16 June 1553-d., Dover 24 Oct. 1557-d.; numerous minor offices.5


Sir Thomas Cheyne was an astute soldier, diplomat and royal servant whose urge to please those in authority so curbed the proud and overbearing manner of his youth that in his old age he was dismissed as ‘a timid man, much addicted to worldly possessions’. Cheyne’s father was the eldest of nine sons. His property in Kent passed to his son and heir Francis, Thomas’s elder half-brother, but was temporarily occupied by an uncle, John Cheyne, Lord Cheyne. It was probably he who encouraged in his nephew that proficiency in the French tongue for which Thomas Cheyne was later famed. After Lord Cheyne had died childless in 1499 and his brother and heir Robert in 1503, Francis wrongfully took possession of their lands in Berkshire and Kent which should by an earlier settlement have passed to John, the son of a younger brother Roger. When Francis himself died childless in January 1512 Thomas succeeded to his father’s estates but failed to obtain possession of the other lands, which in 1515 were finally awarded to his cousin John. He had by then married the daughter of a judge who brought with her a modest inheritance in Berkshire and Middlesex.6

It is unlikely that Cheyne was the man of this name who in 1511-12 became a bachelor of civil law at Cambridge, for he had been in the royal household since before the end of Henry VII’s reign and he was in regular attendance at court in the years that followed. Succeeding his brother as constable of Queenborough castle in 1512, he was knighted in that or the following year: he is first mentioned as a knight on 10 Nov. 1513 (not on 12 June 1511 as in the Dictionary of National Biography, where he is confused with a Lincolnshire namesake who died in January 1514) but for some time after that he is called knight or esquire indifferently. He served as a captain in the naval expedition to Brest under Sir Edward Howard and in 1514 was sent on the first of several diplomatic missions, one of goodwill to Leo X. He was in Italy again in 1519 and at the Field of Cloth of Gold and the meeting with Charles V in 1520.7

Cheyne was by then a favoured royal servant, supported at court on one occasion by his cousin Sir William Sandys. In 1522 he was sent to France to join Sir William Fitzwilliam I in an embassy to Francis I which had the expected result of a declaration of war between the two countries on the day after his return. In the course of that war he first served in the campaign in Brittany under the Duke of Suffolk and in 1525 was assistant to Fitzwilliam in the army of the 3rd Duke of Norfolk. Between March and May 1526 he was again on an embassy in France, this time with John Taylor, in an attempt to persuade Francis I to break the Treaty of Pavia which he had just concluded with Charles V: when the mission succeeded Taylor gave Cheyne high praise and described his popularity with the French court. By contrast, a quarrel early in 1528 between Cheyne and Sir John Russell about the wardship of Russell’s step-daughters (one of whom he later married), earned him the displeasure of both the King and Wolsey. In the King’s view he was ‘proud and full of opprobrious words, and endeavoured to dishonour those who were most glad to serve him’, and he was forbidden to enter the royal presence until he had confessed his fault and made peace with Russell. Anne Boleyn, who was distantly related to Cheyne, interceded for him.8

In 1532 Henry VIII showed that he had forgiven Cheyne by making him a New Year’s gift and by spending two days with Anne Boleyn at his new house at Shurland. Cromwell also held him in regard, and when Sir Henry Guildford died in May of the same year he nominated Cheyne (in preference to a kinsman of Cheyne’s, Sir Edward Neville) to replace Guildford in the House of Commons, with what result is unknown. Cromwell also tried to heal the continuing enmity between Cheyne and Russell and in 1535 he put pressure on a reluctant William Lelegrave to sell Cheyne the house in the Blackfriars where Cheyne had formerly lodged. Above all, it was said to have been at Cromwell’s suggestion that in 1536 Cheyne was made lord warden of the Cinque Ports, in return for his surrender to the minister of the stewardship of Writtle, Essex, which he had held since the death of William Carey, the first husband of Mary Boleyn. Cheyne’s patent as warden was dated 17 May 1536, the day on which his predecessor, Anne Boleyn’s brother George, Viscount Rochford, was executed: it is clear that his earlier patronage by Anne did not compromise him. If he had sat in the later sessions of the Parliament of 1529 he was presumably returned to its successor of June 1536, in compliance with the King’s wish for the re-election of the previous Members, and was thus involved in the legislation which completed the destruction of the Boleyns. Once he was lord warden, Cheyne became the most powerful man in Kent. His authority in the Cinque Ports was virtually unquestionable, notably in the matter of parliamentary elections, but its weight was also felt throughout the county. Cheyne’s religious conservatism was a source of contention. In 1537 there was a sharp exchange of letters between him and Cranmer, who wrote that ‘people in Kent dare not read God’s word for fear of your threats at sizes and sessions’, and in 1540 his own son John accused him of treason, albeit unsuccessfully, before the Privy Council for having images in his chapel. Cheyne seems to have been high steward of the archbishop’s lands from 1535 to 1540, at a fee of £40 a year, but relations between the two remained bad and in 1546 they were in dispute over a matter of wreck.9

In 1537 Cheyne received a New Year’s gift from Cromwell and was present at the christening of Prince Edward. As early as January 1539 John Hussee thought that he would be the new treasurer of the Household, although the appointment was not made official until early March. Cheyne was busy in Kent that spring, preparing defences against the threat of a French invasion, and he used the opportunity to procure his own and Gregory Cromwell’s election as knights of the shire to the Parliament which opened on 28 Apr. 1539. He must have missed its first week or more, for on 3 May he was writing to Cromwell from Shurland about two vessels which he had arrested in the Thames, but he had made his appearance by 12 May when he and others took two bills up to the Lords, those making fish stealing a felony, and ordering the precedence of peers; two days later he dealt similarly with two bills, for bowstaves and for the Marquess of Exeter’s attainder, and on the last day of the first session with seven more, including those for the dissolution of the greater monasteries, for the abolition of gavelkind (this was one in which he had a personal interest, his name appearing in the preamble) and for the renewal of the Act concerning vagabonds. Nothing has come to light about his role in the second session of this Parliament, but during the third he led a delegation from the Commons which on 6 July 1540 joined the temporal Lords in asking the King to allow the legality of his marriage to Anne of Cleves to be determined by Convocation, a formal request preparatory to the issue on the same day of a commission for that purpose. Several months earlier Cheyne had been entrusted with her reception at Dover, but he was now named to the commission which told her of the King’s decision to part with her. On the dissolution of this Parliament Cheyne was sent a letter about the collection of the subsidy which he had just helped to grant.10

Between 1540 and 1542 Cheyne attended Council meetings frequently. He sat for Kent again in the Parliament of 1542, and as a Councillor and leading official he doubtless acted as a spokesman for the government and again carried bills to the Upper House, although this time the Lords Journal does not mention him. On 8 Jan. 1543 Richard Cavendish, comptroller at Dover, was pardoned before the Privy Council for allegations that he had made against Cheyne: they are unspecified but cannot have been damaging as Cheyne was soon afterwards chosen to lead a small force to serve with the imperial army fighting the French. The choice did not please the imperial ambassador, and it was probably on his representation that Sir John Wallop was appointed instead. In the following year Cheyne served under the Duke of Norfolk, who reported that he ‘showeth himself here right worthy to be much made of, for his great pains and diligent service’: his son John, who accompanied him, was killed in a foray at Montreuil. Cheyne himself was back in England in 1545 suffering from ague, and on 1 July a minstrel was punished by the Privy Council for slandering him. He returned to the campaign in France later in the year but was in London in time for the last Parliament of the reign, where on 14 and 22 Dec. he appeared in the Lords in connexion with the subsidies to be granted to the King. After the conclusion of a treaty between France and England on 7 June 1546 Cheyne was sent on an embassy to France to stand proxy for Henry VIII at the christening of a daughter of the Dauphin. He served on the commission appointed to try the Earl of Surrey on charges of treason in January 1547 just before the death of Henry VIII, who left him £200 in his will and made him an assistant executor. According to Paget he had been included in the first, but not the second, list of those whom the King had intended to create barons.11

With Edward VI on the throne Cheyne was reappointed to all his offices and it was he who made the arrangements for the coronation. On 28 Aug. 1547 the Council asked for his support to obtain the election of the Speaker-designate, (Sir) John Baker, as one of the knights for Kent in the Parliament summoned for November. On the following 28 Sept. the Council wrote again to him to stop him from imposing its will on the shire, understanding that he and the sheriff, (Sir) Henry Crispe, ‘did abuse towards those of the shire their request into a commandment’. In the upshot Baker sat for Huntingdonshire and Cheyne was re-elected for Kent. In June 1548 he signed the Council’s order for the imprisonment of Gardiner and six months later he joined in the proceedings against Lord Seymour of Sudeley. During the second session of the Parliament he was appointed to the committee to hear the matter against (Sir) Nicholas Hare, the bill for purveyance was committed to him after its first reading, and on 27 Feb. 1549 he took seven bills up to the Lords. In the following session he signed six Acts, including the general pardon and that for the fine and ransom of the Duke of Somerset, and on three occasions he was the bearer of bills to the Upper House. He was frequently present in Council until the fall of Somerset, which he and Sir Philip Hoby were sent to justify to the Emperor. On 17 Mar. 1550 he received a licence to eat flesh and milk foods in Lent and on 12 Apr. he was given permission to retain ten men. Cheyne seems to have played a less prominent part in national affairs than under Henry VIII, staying mainly in Kent and concerning himself with his duties there. He did, however, attend the Parliament summoned on the Duke of Northumberland’s initiative in the spring of 1553, when he took his customary place for Kent. It was he who on 2 Mar. nominated James Dyer as Speaker and who the following day informed the House of the time for his presentation to the King: he also resumed the task of taking bills up to the Lords, doing so on 28 and 30 Mar.12

In the light of his religious sympathies it is surprising to find that Cheyne gave at least grudging support to the attempt to place Lady Jane Grey on the throne. The imperial ambassador reported on 15 June 1553 that Cheyne and others had been summoned to court to discuss the succession and on 4 July that he and others ‘demurred and made many difficulties before consenting’ to the plan; all the same, Cheyne was one of those who five days later wrote to Mary from the Tower declaring that Jane was rightful Queen. On 19 July he signed a letter from Jane’s Council to Lord Rich but later that day, when Mary was proclaimed Queen, Cheyne declared for her. On 6 Aug. Mary made him a member of her Privy Council and three weeks later she sent him on a goodwill embassy to the Emperor. On his return Cheyne took his place once again as a knight of the shire in Parliament, where on 5 Oct. he nominated John Pollard as Speaker. He took the bill for tonnage and poundage up to the Lords and before the end of the first session he carried up three other bills. A bill for the planting of woods was committed to him on 20 Oct. after its second reading; it was killed by the prorogation of the following day, but when given a first reading in the second session it was again committed to him. During this Parliament two of Cheyne’s servants received writs of privilege against attachment.13

When in January 1554 Sir Thomas Wyatt II raised Kent against the Queen, Cheyne was rumoured to be sympathetic to the rebels. On 1 Feb. he wrote to the Council protesting his loyalty but claiming that the people around him were so bent upon their ‘devilish enterprise’ that he could not trust ten of his own men: he complained that he had received no answer to earlier letters, but suspected that they had been intercepted by the rebels. On the following day he arranged with a neighbouring magnate to be at Rochester on the 4th, but on the 7th he was still at Shurland assuring the Council of his goodwill. He probably meant it but there is no proof that he did anything towards suppressing the rebellion: the claim in the Historie of Wyates rebellion that he joined the Queen’s supporters at Rochester on 5 Feb. is hard to reconcile with his letter two days later, as is the further statement that he ‘went in post’ to the Queen for instructions. His dilatoriness had not pleased the Council but after the rebellion he was to benefit from the distribution of forfeited property and in the following spring he was re-elected to Parliament, although on this occasion the Journal is silent as to his activity in the House. No such veil shrouds his part in the second Parliament of that year. On 12 Nov. he attended the Queen and her consort to Westminster abbey for the mass which heralded its opening, and later in the day he helped the Speaker-elect, Clement Heigham, to the chair. On 12 Nov. he and (Sir) William Petre took to the Lords the bill repealing the attainder of Cardinal Pole, returning with a message from the King and Queen that they would give it their assent next day. On 27 Nov. he carried to the Lords another important bill, for the signing of letters patent, and two days later several lesser bills. During this Parliament an attempt was made to reduce the size of the Council and in the process to exclude Cheyne, but he shared in the successful opposition to both efforts.14

As a leading political figure Cheyne was given a pension of 1,000 crowns by King Philip. His remaining years saw little slackening in his activity, although he ceased to attend the Council with his former regularity. Advancing years or ill-health may explain his absence from the Parliament of 1555, his first for at least 16 years: the knights chosen, (Sir) John Baker and (Sir) Robert Southwell, were friends with whom he had sat on previous occasions. While this Parliament was in session Cheyne attended the Council only once, but after its dissolution he was there regularly when those whose behaviour in and out of the Commons had given offence were being examined. Three years later he was elected for the last time. Before this Parliament began Calais fell to the French and Cheyne was ordered to raise a force to save Guisnes and to prepare Kent against the invasion which was expected to follow. Failing to save Guisnes he focussed his efforts on the defence of the shire and it is unlikely that he was able to attend the first session. He begged to resign the wardenship but was kept in office and in frequent correspondence with the Council throughout the spring and summer. A quarrel with his wife added to his vexations, but in July the pair were reconciled and the Queen commended him for taking his wife back. He was still preoccupied with defence when the second session opened, but on 11 Nov. the Council asked him to come to court at his own convenience as his presence was ‘thought very requisite at the Parliament’. With this request Cheyne may not have complied, for two weeks later, after Elizabeth’s accession, the Council wrote to him about freedom of navigation in the Channel. He did, however, travel up soon afterwards to swear allegiance to the new Queen. The visit proved fatal for it exposed him to the epidemic then abroad in London and on 16 Dec. 1558 he died at the Tower.15

Cheyne had been a sick man on 6 Dec. 1558 when he made his will. He provided for his second wife, his only surviving legitimate son, his three daughters married respectively to Nicholas Crispe, (Sir) John Perrot and Thomas Kempe, and an illegitimate son and daughter. After leaving bequests to the Earls of Bedford and Pembroke, his mother-in-law the dowager Countess of Bedford, and Baron Howard of Effingham, he remembered among others his ‘brother-in-law’ Henry Crispe, his cousin John Cheyne II, John Fowler, Sir George Howard, Thomas Keys, William Oxenden and his servants Richard Daper and Henry Tennant. He joined with his wife as executors Robert Catlyn, Henry and Nicholas Crispe and Roger Manwood II. The will was witnessed by, among others, Sir Thomas Cawarden, and it was proved on 25 Apr. 1559. On New Year’s Day Cheyne had been buried, in compliance with his wishes, beside his first wife in the chapel of St. John at Minster in the Isle of Sheppey, but in 1581 his son destroyed this chapel and the body was re-interred in the church.16

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Authors: Patricia Hyde / Helen Miller


  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament; LP Hen. VIII, vii. 56 citing SP1/82, ff. 59-62.
  • 2. LJ, i. 107-9, 112, 153; E159/319, brev. ret. Mich. r. [1-2].
  • 3. Hatfield 207.
  • 4. Date of birth estimated from elder half-brother’s (25 July 1481) and from father’s death, CIPM Hen. VII, ii. 113, 247; C142/27/117. Vis. Berks. (Harl. Soc. lvii), 104; Vis. Kent (Harl. Soc. lxxiv), 5; Arch. Cant. xxiv. 122-7; Lincs. Peds. (Harl. Soc. 1), 212; Cat. Arundel Mss. in College of Arms, 62; N. and Q. (ser. 9), iii. 383; Fac. Off. Reg. 1539-49, ed. Chambers, 185; Machyn’s Diary (Cam. Soc. xlii), 282-3; DNB (Supp.).
  • 5. LP Hen. VIII, i-xxi; Statutes, iii. 79, 112, 168; CPR, 1547-8, p. 79 passim to 1557-8, p. 122; Val. Eccles. i. 7; Somerville, Duchy, i. 606, 609; APC, iii. 258, iv. 49, 277; R. E. Brock, ‘The courtier in early Tudor soc.’ (London Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1964), 27, 43, 320-1.
  • 6. CSP Span. 1550-2, p. 8; CP, iii. 191-2; Brock, 16-17, 332; CIPM Hen. VII, ii. 113, 247, 281; C1/259/294/30, 295/25; 142/27/18, 117-18, 145.
  • 7. LP Hen. VIII, i-iii; Lincs. Peds. 242; French War of 1512-13 (Navy Recs Soc. x), xxxviii-xxxix, 119, 143, 147-8.
  • 8. LP Hen. VIII, i. iii-iv; Pprs. George Wyatt (Cam. Soc. ser. 4, v), 6; Brock, 153-4.
  • 9. LP Hen. VIII, iv-vii, ix-x, xii, xiii, xvi, xxi; Elton, Tudor Rev. in Gov. 379; Policy and Police, 167, 169; Brock, 73-74, 101-4, 113-14, 191-2, 252-3.
  • 10. LP Hen. VIII, xii, xiv-xvi; LJ, i. 107-9, 112, 153; E159/319, brev. ret. Mich. r. [1-2].
  • 11. Brock, 50-51, 171-4; LP Hen. VIII, xv-xxi; LJ, i. 274, 280; Wealth and Power, ed. Ives, Knecht and Scarisbrick, 88-89.
  • 12. CPR, 1547-8, p. 97 passim to 1553-4, p. 356; APC, ii-iv; CSP Span. 1547-9, pp. 457, 462-3, 467; 1550-2, p. 8; Elton, Tudor Constitution, 293-4; CJ, i. 8-9, 13-15, 24, 26; House of Lords RO, Original Acts, 3 and 4 Edw. VI, nos. 22-25, 29, 31.
  • 13. CSP Span. 1553, pp. 55, 67, 70, 114, 155; CPR, 1553-4, p. 135; Strype, Cranmer, app. lxix; Holinshed, Chron. iii. 1066-7; Chron. Q. Jane and Q. Mary (Cam. Soc. xlviii), 12; Machyn’s Diary, 37; Brock, 174-5; CJ, i. 27-30.
  • 14. CSP Dom. 1547-80, pp. 58-59; R. P. Cruden, Gravesend, 171-85; A. A. Daly, Isle of Sheppey, 157-64; D. M. Loades, Two Tudor Conspiracies, 57, 63-64; Pprs. George Wyatt, II n.3; CSP Span. 1554-81, pp. 81, 101, 151; CJ, i. 37-38.
  • 15. CSP Span. 1554, pp. 39, 295; APC</