Sir Charles Sedley – Issuer of An Enigmatic 17th Century Token From Honeychild Manor, Kent


The token illustrated below is different in several ways to other 17th century trade tokens discussed on this site. Firstly it is not from the city of London or its environs, although its issuer did spent the bulk of his life living in the capital. Secondly the token was not issued by a tradesman from his respective business premises but by a peer of the realm from one of his country seats.

A half penny token issued by Sir Charles Sedley from his Honeychild Manor estate on Romney Marsh, Kent

A half penny token issued by Sir Charles Sedley from his Honeychild Manor estate on Romney Marsh, Kent

The token in question is struck is brass and weights 2.05 grams and has a diameter of 21.4 mm. Its design is formerly described below.

Obverse: (sexfoil) THE (rosette) MANOR (rosette) OF, around beaded and linear inner circles. Within centre field is a large CS monogram with a (sexfoil) either side.

Reverse: (sexfoil) HONYCHILD (rosette) 1672, around beaded and linear inner circles. Within centre field the depiction of a goat’s head facing left (the crest of the Sedley family of Kent).

Comparing the above token to other examples in the 17th century series of British trade tokens its size and weight is highly suggestive of it being of a half penny denomination.

The issue date of the token, 1672, is clearly stated within its reverse legend as is the location of its issue, Honeychild Manor. This ancient manor was located just under half a mile south-east of St. Mary in the Marsh on Romsey Marsh in Kent. Other than as an occasional crop mark, viewed on aerial photographs, there is nothing left of the site of the manor house complex. It appears to have been demolished sometime between 1940 and 1960. Its buildings, including the site of a possible medieval fish pond are clearly visible in aerial photographs taken in the early 1940s.

A map of Romney Marsh (c.1813-18) indicating the position of Honeychild Manor

A map of Romney Marsh (c.1813-18) indicating the position of Honeychild Manor

While the issuer’s name is not stated on the token the combination of its issue location, the family crest illustrated on its reverse together with the obverse monogram, comprising the initials of the token issuer’s first and family names, allows it to be firmly attributed to Sir Charles Sedley (baptised: 5th March 1639; died: 20th August 1701).

Honeychild Manor and its associated lands were purchased by Charles Sedley’s father (prior to 1638) from Sir Roger Twysden for £5,000 (1). This acquisition added to the Sedley’s existing land holdings in Kent. Honeychild Manor was just part of Sir Roger Twysden’s assets on Romney Marsh. The Manor had defects that the Sedley’s were no doubt to discover in time. Like much of the land on Romney Marsh the Honeychild estate was only fit for sheep farming. By local standards the manor comprises of comparably poor land being noted as giving those sheep that grazed on it the “scab”. An added cost to the Sedley family through the purchase of the manor was the cost of its enclosure. There was poor availability of enclosure materials (i.e. timber, posts and rails etc.) on the Marsh so they had to be brought into the area at added cost (2).

Honeychild Manor and its immediate environs from aerial photographs of Romney March taken in 2010 (left) and 1940 (right)

Honeychild Manor and its immediate environs from aerial photographs of Romney March taken in 2010 (left) and 1940 (right)

The late issue date of the Honeychild Manor token places it as one of the last to be struck in the series of British trade tokens which span the period 1648/9 to 1672.

As noted earlier, while this token has the look and appearance of a typical 17th century tradesman’s token it must have been fundamentally different in that it was issued by a peer of the realm from, and possibly for use on, one of his country estates. This makes it unique in the British 17th century token series. If not used to help facilitate small trade transactions between a trader and his local customer base these tokens pose the question of what was their purpose and exactly how were they used?

A review of find locations for examples of this particular token type (Note 1) (3)(4) would indicate that their use and circulation was focused on Charles Sedley’s Honeychild Manor estate. Generally the most recent finds have been reported to be in good condition indicating relatively little circulation wear on their surfaces (2). If used as trade tokens this observation could be largely explained given their late issue. After 16th August 1672 the production and use of trade tokens were outlawed by Royal Proclamation. While there is evidence in parts of Britain to suggest that some trade tokens continued to circulate for some time after this date it may be reasonably assume that most would have been withdrawn from use shortly after the proclamation’s issue.

Sir Charles Sedley

Charles Sedley was baptised on 4th March 1639 at the parish church of St. Clement Danes, Westminster. He was the youngest of nine children born to Sir John Sedley (died August 1639) the 2nd Baronet of Aylesbury and his wife Elizabeth (died after 1651) the daughter of Sir Henry Savile. The Sedleys (sometimes spelled Sidley) had been prominent in Kent since the first half of the 14th century but during the reign of King Henry VIII their fortunes rose after one of the family married a London heiress acquiring much property (5).

At the time of Charles’ birth the family were living in a wealthy town house in Shire Lane off the Strand. He and his brothers were too young to take part in the Civil War but their mother’s royalist sympathies were well known.

Charles Sedley was educated at Wadham College Oxford but left before taking his degree. After the death of his oldest surviving brother William in 1656 he became the 5th Baronet of Aylesbuty (6).

Contemporary portrait of a young

Contemporary portrait of a young “rakish” Charles Sedley

On 9th February 1657 Charles married Lady Katherine Savage a Catholic (the Sedley’s were Protestants) and the sister to his late brother Henry’s widow. The young couple set up house in Great Queen Street between Covent Garden and Holborn. Within a year they had a daughter, Catherine. In later life the witty Catherine Sedley went on to become the mistress of the Duke of York (later King James II), who created her countess of Dorchester in 1686.

On 7th March 1660 Charles Sedley was appointed one of the royalist commissioners to reconstitute the militia in Kent and in October of that year became a captain of the Kent Volunteer Horse. It was around this time that he began his long political career.

Aged twenty-one at the Restoration, Sedley took enthusiastically to the pleasures of the court and the city, becoming one of the “Merry Gang” of courtiers, whose prominent members included John Wilmot the 2nd Earl of Rochester, George Villiers the 2nd Duke of Buckingham and Charles Sackville the Lord Buckhurst, who combined riotous living with intellectual pursuits and patronage of the arts. Charles Sedley’s witty conversation and the fact that unlike others in the “Merry Gang” he never asked for any grace or financial favours of his host made him a favourite drinking companion of King Charles II.

Outside of the royal court Sedley and others in the “Merry Gang” could often be found making merry at one of their favourite haunts such as Locket’s tavern in Charing Cross, the Rose tavern in Russell Street or Will’s Coffee House in Covent Garden (7). Alternatively, as noted by the diarist Samuel Pepys, they could be frequently found behaving “loudly” in one of the city’s theatres, notably the Drury Lane Playhouse off Covent Garden.

It was while attending a raucous “boy’s night out” on 16th June 1663 at Oxford Kate’s Cock tavern in Bow Street, Covent Garden that Charles along with Lord Buckhurst and Sir Thomas Ogle orchestrated a drunken and licentious frolic on the balcony of the tavern which started a public riot and shocked London society. Although Samuel Pepys wasn’t in the audience outside the Cock tavern that day to witness the spectacle for himself he did give a summary of it in his diary entry for 1st July 1663. Such was the notoriety of these infamous events that they were still being recounted by city commentators such as Dr. Samuel Johnson almost a century later. As a result of his actions Charles Sedley was jailed for a week and fined £500, of which he paid only half, due it is said, to the kindness of the King. The details of this notorious “bad boys” night out are accurately described in the audio-visual presentation below.

On 8th May 1668 Charles Sedley won his first parliamentary election becoming the representative for New Romney in Kent. He continued to hold this seat for much of his life. Additionally he took on several more local and central government roles and offices. However, being a member of parliament didn’t prevent Sedley and his old friend Lord Buckhurst from staying out of trouble as is recounted in the following diary entry made by Samuel Pepys on 23rd October 1668;

“……among other news, the late frolic and debauchery of Sir Charles Sedly and Buckhurst, running up and down all the night with their arses bare, through the streets; and at last fighting, and being beat by the watch and clapped up all night; and how the King takes their parts; and my Lord Chief Justice Keeling hath laid the constable by the heels to answer it next Sessions: which is a horrid shame.”

William Hogarth's

William Hogarth’s “A Midnight Modern Conversation” (c.1733) – A reminiscent scene of 17/18th century gentlemen “living it large” at an evening soiree.

In the late 1660s Katherine Sedley, after showing symptoms of insanity and insisting in being called “Your Majesty”, was consigned by her husband to a Roman Catholic convent in Ghent, Holland, where she remained, living and being cared for on a pension from her husband, until her death in 1705 (8).

After successfully committing Katherine to the long term care of the nuns of Ghent, Charles tried in vain to obtain a divorce from her as he now had a new love in his life, Ann Ayscough, who he met in 1670 and by whom he soon had two illegitimate sons, William and Charles. In April 1672 Sedley went through a form of bigamous marriage with Ann Ayscough and moved to a new house in Bloomsbury Square, London (9).

Contemporary portrait of an older more

Contemporary portrait of an older more “statesman like” Charles Sedley

On the death of his friend and patron King Charles II in 1685, Sedley was illegally excluded from the parliament by the Catholic King James II. There can be no doubt that Sedley opposed James in favour of the protestant William of Orange during the “Glorious Revolution”. There was no love lost between the two. Commenting on the accession of William and Mary, Sedley is quoted as saying;

“As the king (i.e. James II) has made my daughter a countess, the least I can do, in common gratitude, is to assist in making his Majesty’s daughter (i.e. Mary) a queen”.

In March 1690 Sedley was returned to parliament, his political career reaching its zenith through his becoming Speaker of the Commons.

Charles Sedley’s relationship with Ann Ayscough lasted to the end of his life and it appears that she was a great stabilizing influence on him and his public behaviour. Charles died at Hampstead on 20th August 1701 and was buried at Southfleet Church in Kent. The Sedley baronetcy became extinct on his death.

Charles and Ann Sedley had two sons, William and Charles. William, died in infancy while his brother survived into adulthood, eventually being knighted by King William III after his coronation in 1689 and created a baronet in 1702.

While the above account of Charles Sedley’s history is focused on his family and social life it should be noted that during his lifetime he was famous as an accomplished poet, play wright and classical translator. However, above all things it was his notorious wit that his contemporaries, like Samuel Pepys, most admired him for even to the extent of forgiving him the riotous and rakish behaviour of his youth.

 

Foot Notes:

1) As early as 1869 (3) there are reports of “copper coins” (likely to be our brass tokens) found in the fields adjacent to Honeychild Manor in Kent. More recently the present author has been made aware (4) of further metal detector finds of this token type on the former site of Honeychild Manor.

References:

  1. Jessup, F. – Sir Roger Twysden 1597 – 1672: Study in the Life and Literature of the Reformation. (London, 1965).
  2. Ibid 1.
  3. Bunbury, T. – Note on page 56 of “Notes and Queries: A Medium of Inter-Communication for Literary Men and General Readers etc. Fourth Series, Volume IV. July – December 1869. (London, 1869).
  4. Private communication between the author and Duncan Pennock of Dymechurch, Kent. (16th August 2015).
  5. De Sola Pinto, V. – Sir Charles Sedley 1639 – 1701: Study in the Life and Literature of the Reformation. (London, 1927).
  6. Ibid 5.
  7. Ibid 5.
  8. Ibid 5.
  9. Ibid 5.

2 Comments

Filed under 17th century Tokens issued by Pepys' Acquaintances Outside of London

2 responses to “Sir Charles Sedley – Issuer of An Enigmatic 17th Century Token From Honeychild Manor, Kent

  1. I don’t have the references at hand, but there were at least a couple of examples of gentry/nobility issuing ‘script’ (paper money) to the people of their localities during the recoinage crisis of 1696, when usable coinage was in very short supply. Obviously paper is much more ephemeral than coins, but it may have served a similar purpose.

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    • Very interesting Brodie. Do you think you could find some more details on this subject that you could share with us? I wonder if any of these paper scrip have survived in any museums?

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