In the 1400s, there was a family of Rochfords connected with the town of Braintree in Essex. I have no idea where they originated from. One would guess they were cousins of the Rochfords of Rochford and Berden in Essex – a tremendously wealthy family who were in the area from at least the mid 1100s. But what little evidence I have found suggests that the Rochfords at Braintree may have been more closely related to the Rochfords of Fenne.
This article looks at the hazy history of these mysterious individuals.
Volume Two of An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Essex has the following to say about the south chapel at Braintree church:
“The 16th-century roof of the south chapel is a flat lean-to divided into six bays by heavy moulded and carved principal timbers with moulded rafters; at the intersection of the main beams are seven bosses carved with conventional foliage … and shields of arms including … quarterly a border bezanty for Rochford …”
Blomefield and Parkin’s History of Norfolk of the early 1800s also reports that these arms “are, or were to be seen in a window of the north isle of the church of Braintree, in Essex”.
The border bezanty – literally a thick border decorated with bezants, a type of gold coin from the east – is a distinguishing feature of the arms borne by the Rochfords of Fenne and their descendants. The border bezanty device was never used, as far as I know, by the Rochfords of Rochford, or by any family of Rochfords not descended from the Fenne branch.
The presence of these arms on the roof of this chapel suggests that one of Rochfords of Fenne’s descendants was a major benefactor to Braintree church – possibly he or she part-funded the building of the roof or the chapel in the 1500s.
Thomas Rechford, living 1386
The earliest record I have found of a Rochford near Braintree dates from 1386. In it, “Thomas Rechford, Joan his wife, and John son of William Doreward” let a field in “Bocking vill” from Canterbury Cathedral Priory, which had a manor there. Bocking is a village or settlement barely half a mile from the centre of Braintree – today it is more of a suburb.
Sir Sayer de Rochford, who was the heir of Fenne in the early 1300s, had two younger brothers, John and Thomas. He got into a dispute with Thomas in the 1330s, and it is from the records of this that we know about them.
Everything else about John and Thomas’ lives is a mystery, but either of them may well have moved to Braintree to found a branch of the Rochford family there. Or, of course, it is possible that the founder of the Braintree family was an otherwise unknown younger son of Sir Sayer himself.
John Rochford, died 1468
The next record I have of a Rochford in Braintree dates from about eighty years after Thomas Rochford let his field from Canterbury Cathedral Priory. Around 1468 “John Rocheford, bastard son of Ralph Rocheford” died in possession of a stall in the town market. According to an inquisition post mortem taken around 1473-4, he held it under Thomas Kempe, bishop of London, in socage, and he paid 4d rent a year for it.
Who was this John’s father?
The best known Ralph Rochford of this period was Sir Ralph Rochford III of Fenne, who died a very wealthy man in 1440. He was the heir of the Lincolnshire Rochfords. It is plausible that he had a bastard son, but there is no reference in his will or in any other record of his life to such a person.
Sir Ralph’s son and heir, Ralph IV of Fenne, appears to have been born in the 1420s. So it is possible that he was the bastard John’s father, although again there is no mention in his will of an illegitimate son. Ralph IV died just four years after his father in very strange circumstances, apparently childless.
There was also a “Ralph Recheford, citizen and stonemason of London”, which is to say he was a member of the Masons’ Guild – the forerunner of today’s Freemasons. He was active around 1400-1418, and was involved in dealings around Bermondsey with the famous London mayor Richard Whittington, among others. Nothing is known of this Ralph’s origins or family, but he might also have been the father of the bastard John Rochford.
Or, of course, it could have been someone else.
John Rochford, Beadle of Bocking, living 1468-1488
The inquisition post mortem following John Rochford’s death around 1468 reported that his heir was his son, also called John Rochford, who was 27 years old.
Canterbury Cathedral’s manor at Bocking (where Thomas Rechford and his wife Joan let a field in 1386) was run by a bailiff called the Bedel or Beadle of Bocking. From about 1479, if not earlier, and for many years thereafter, the Beadle was one John Rochford. In that year he was involved in the arrest of Sir William Lovell. In 1483 he was still Beadle, and in 1488 he was reappointed to the post for a further 21 years.
It is said that there was a chapel in Bocking church given by a John Rochford for a priest to celebrate mass in, and that in 1549 it was sold to Ralph Agarde and Thomas Smyth, but this is all that is known of it.
Ralph Rochford, citizen and grocer of London, living mid-1500s
In the mid 1500s there was a well known merchant named Ralph Rochford, a citizen and grocer of London, who had property in Braintree and Bocking. He was presumably of this family. He seems to have been succeeded by a daughter Jane Rochford, who was dead by 1577 when Alice Grigges of Braintree wrote a will leaving land in Bocking and Braintree that once belonged to the Rochfords to her son Mark Motte.
 ‘Braintree’, in An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Essex, Volume 2, Central and South west (London, 1921), pp. 27-35. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/rchme/essex/vol2/pp27-35 [accessed 22 October 2016].
 Francis Blomefield, ‘Freebridge Hundred: Walpole’, in An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 9 (London, 1808), pp. 99-121. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/topographical-hist-norfolk/vol9/pp99-121 [accessed 1 July 2017].
 Canterbury Cathedral Archives, CCA-DCc-ChAnt/B/253, http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/rd/36353bde-7387-4483-b552-721e3faa0e46
 CP40/304 m435, first case, http://aalt.law.uh.edu/AALT1/E3/CP40no304/aCP40no304fronts/IMG_0878.htm; Wrottesley, Pedigrees from the Plea Rolls, p27, https://archive.org/stream/pedigreesfromple00wrotrich#page/26/mode/2up; Legal History: the Year Books, no. 1329.128, http://www.bu.edu/phpbin/lawyearbooks/display.php?id=6284
 IPM C 140/44/27, http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C6545147
 See my account for the dates of the major events Sir Ralph III’s life, https://therochfords.wordpress.com/volume-one/rise/sir-ralph-rochford-iii/. For his will, see: Westminster Abbey Muniments, 14738, http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/c/F25473; TNA PROB 11/3/470, http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/D968655; Frederick J Furnivall, Fifty Earliest English Wills in the Court of Probate, London, p120, http://quod.lib.umich.edu/c/cme/EEWills/1:54?rgn=div1;view=fulltext
 See my account, https://therochfords.wordpress.com/volume-one/fall/ralph-rochford-iv-john-rochford-iii-both-died-1444/; TNA PROB 11/3/537, http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/D968708
 Corporation of London Record Office: City of London, Bridge House Estates, CLA/007/EM/02/H/028, http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/rd/141f894c-72e1-4521-a935-2985ce2283ce, CLA/007/EM/04/002/267/301, http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/rd/333ee8ec-77ca-48a4-ad9d-ca7b36a4d38f, CLA/007/EM/04/002/268/302, http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/rd/34f53748-ef23-45fd-ae7e-b622d483db13; Inquisitions Ad Quod Damnum, C 143/439/5, http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C7578095
 Canterbury Cathedral Archives, CCA-DCc-ChAnt/B/261A, http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/rd/3af3cfe6-182f-439b-a15c-3949ba3e3013, http://archives.canterbury-cathedral.org/CalmView/Record.aspx?src=CalmView.Catalog&id=CCA-DCc%2fChAnt%2fB%2f261A&pos=1
 J. B. Sheppard, ed., Christ Church Letters, 1877, pp47, 52, 102, http://scans.library.utoronto.ca/pdf/1/20/christchurchlett00shepuoft/christchurchlett00shepuoft_bw.pdf; Canterbury Cathedral Archives, CCA-DCc/ChChLet/I/78, CCA-DCc/ChChLet/I/14, CCA-DCc/MA/73, http://archives.canterbury-cathedral.org/CalmView/Record.aspx?src=CalmView.Catalog&id=CCA-DCc%2fChChLet%2fI%2f78&pos=5
 Trans Essex Archaeol Soc (Fowler, RC) New Series, Vol 16, p107 Dated : 1923, http://unlockingessex.essexcc.gov.uk/uep/custom_pages/monument_detail.asp?content_page_id=89&monument_id=20816&content_parents=48
 The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Vol L, 1896, p251, https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=FA8ALY0ZtYYC&pg=PA251