FEN, Nicholas (by 1521-83 or later), of Great Yarmouth, Norf.

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



Family and Education

b. by 1521.1

Offices Held

Member of the Forty-Eight, Great Yarmouth by 1542, of the Twenty-Four by 1549, collector of half doles 1542-3, of charnel rents 1544, auditor St. Erasmus’s guild 1545, churchwarden 1545-6, 1546-7, 1548-9, auditor 1546-7, 1551-2, 1553-4, 1556-7, 1558-9, 1560-1, 1562-3, 1568-9, 1572-3, 1574-5, 1577-8, bailiff 1549-50, 1563-4, j.p. 1550-1, 1564-5, 1566-7, 1569-70, 1573-4, 1578-9, 1580-1, coroner 1551-2, 1553-4, 1554-5, 1556-7, 1562-3, 1581-2, 1582-3, heyner Trinity guild 1553, keeper St. Mary’s hospital 1559-65/66.2


Nicholas Fen’s municipal career has probably to be separated from those of two namesakes. The chamberlain of Yarmouth in 1526 and churchwarden in 1535 may have been an older relative and the coroner of 1581 a younger one, perhaps the man admitted to Lincoln’s Inn 20 years earlier. How the three were related, and whence they came, are not known. There was a landed family of Fen or Venn at Worlingworth, near Framlingham, in which Nicholas was a fairly common christian name: John Fen of Worlingworth had a third son Nicholas, perhaps the Yarmouth chamberlain, who was killed at Boulogne in 1544.3

His entry into municipal service apart, Fen is first heard of at the time of Ket’s rebellion. From the camp at Mousehold Robert Ket sent a letter on 8 Aug. 1549 to Fen and one Thomas Gardiner demanding that its unnamed bearer should have restored to him legacies due by the death of his uncle, and threatening that ‘if you shall refuse to do this, there will be found means to bring you hither before us ... to your great shame’. As at the time Fen appears to have held no higher office than that of churchwarden, it is likely that he was personally involved. Part of the aftermath of the rebellion was the need to replace the timber for the ‘new haven’ which had been destroyed: Fen’s contribution of £2 was a modest one for a member of the Twenty-Four, but whether it matched his resources is not clear: when he was returned to Parliament he was styled ‘merchant’, but the only reference found to any property of his is to three houses in his tenure in the parish of St. Nicholas, in 1548 forming part of the large purchase of chantry lands by Sir Thomas Woodhouse. It is possible, however, that he disagreed with the corporation’s policy over the harbour: when a fresh start was made in 1559 he voted to have it ‘cut beneath at Gorleston’ instead of ‘in the old haven by the town’. Yet his prominent position in the borough brought him membership of numerous committees on the matter, and he was one of those given full powers for the town’s defence during the French war of 1557. Other duties assigned to him—unless in some cases the ‘Mr. Fen’ concerned was Edward, under steward of Yarmouth from October 1558—included the inspection of borough charters in connexion with admiralty business, visits to local magnates, and the dismissal of the parson who kept the grammar school. When the corporation was uncertain whether to proclaim Mary as Queen, he was one of those who rode to Norwich to see what the position was. That this did not imply his support of Mary’s subsequent policy is shown by his inclusion among the Members of the Parliament of 1555 who voted against one of the government’s bills.4

Since no will or inquisition post mortem has been found, the date of Fen’s death remains unknown.

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. Date of birth estimated from first reference.
  • 2. Gt. Yarmouth rolls 1526-7, 1558-9, 1560-1; ass. bk. A, ff. 29v, 31v, 33, 59v, 206; B, f. 50; information from P. Rutledge.
  • 3. Information from Rutledge; HMC 9th Rep. pt. i. 303b; J. Venn, Venn Fam. Annals, 214.
  • 4. C219/24/109; H. Swinden, Gt. Yarmouth, 938 and n; ass. bk. A, ff. 2, 11, 31v, 34v, 83, 171, 182v, 186v, 198v, 199v, 209, 213, 217; B, ff. 27v, 50; CPR, 1548-9, p. 117; HMC 9th Rep. pt. i. 315-16; Guildford mus. Loseley 1331/2.