Like at Stoke and Arley, what happened at Fenne and Scrane after John Rochford IV and his wife Agnes sold their estates to Westminster Abbey is a mystery. But it is clear that the family’s long connection with these places was not yet over.
In 1507, five or six years after John Rochford IV died, another John Rochford esquire was recorded at Toft, in an inquisition taken after the death of William Coppledike, the son and heir of John Coppledike. William held the same six acres of land in the parish under the younger John Rochford that John Coppledike had held under John Rochford IV in the late 1400s. The younger John Rochford must have been John IV’s son and heir.
His is the last act in the story of the Rochfords at Fenne. It is also, perhaps, the most macabre. The date is not certain, but at some point during the reign of Henry VIII – so between 1509 and 1547 – John’s wife Katherine Rochford made her way to the Court of Star Chamber to plead with the king to come to her aid. According to her testimony, John had enfeoffed a group of trustees to hold all his Lincolnshire property for her benefit, in what appears to have been a very generous, or perhaps foolish, gesture. But John soon embarked on a scandalous affair:
“…beynge of evyll rule of his body as avowtrer (adulterer) lyvinge ageynst the lawes of god, as opynly ys knowne, made many querelles to your seyd besecher, & put hyr in prison in a tower, parcell of the maner of Fenne, and there kepte hir in cheynes by the space of xvi dayes & xvi nyghtes, put hyr dayly in joberde (jeopardy) of hyr lyfe, tyll she was faynd (tempted) for the savegard of hir lyfe to sende to the seid feoffes to cause them to departe with ther interest in the seyd landes & tenementes to hyr seid husbond, contrary to alle right & concience.”
Regretting his earlier generosity, John had chained Katherine up in the tower that his grandfather Henry Rochford had built at Fenne. He threatened her there for sixteen days and nights until she was so afraid for her life, she sent message to her trustees to give the property up. Afterwards John threw Katherine out in the street and refused to provide for her, so that by the time she came to court she was reduced to begging and going “about to diverse … houses for her meat and drink”. Katherine pled with the king to call John before him to answer the charges. In return she promised to pray daily for the sovereign’s long life and rule.
The tower at Fenne was definitely included in the property sold to William Essington and then Westminster Abbey between 1497 and 1503. In 1542, after Henry VIII dissolved the abbey and re-established it as a cathedral, he granted back all its possessions including “the manors of … Fen alias Rocheford Tower and Skreynge, Lincolnshire”. Bizarrely, having sold the property to the abbey, the Rochfords must have leased it right back from them. This sounds like financial madness. It is so suspicious we have to wonder whether they were forced into it by Henry VII and his cronies. It was exactly the sort of the mean, calculating thing he would do.
It is not known whether Katherine had any luck in her plea to Henry VIII. He was not famed for kindness to his own wives – he had two of them beheaded, and divorced two more – so she was on shaky ground from the start. Evidently there was a John Rochford living at Boston in 1534, who was presumably the same person as Katherine’s husband. Otherwise, there are no other records of the couple, if you could call them that, together or apart.
Whether or not John had anything to do with his mad uncle Ralph Rochford, or received his inheritance at Stoke and Arley, is anyone’s guess. But events at those villages suggest that by 1539 John had died and that he left no children, as we will shortly see. By 1554 the Rochfords’ 400-year-old tenure of the manors of Fenne and Scrane was definitely over. Late that year Westminster Abbey leased the two manors to one Gabriel Pawlin of Middlesex for a rent of £33 a year. In 1570 Pawlin left them to his son Thomas in his last will.
So ended the Rochfords of Fenne. If we include their 1100s ancestors Alan and Ralph of Fenne, the family had been there for no less than twelve generations. This tiny hamlet had served as a launchpad for men like Sir Sayer and Sir Ralph III, whose astonishing achievements had taken the family name to the heart of the royal household and therefore the realm. And yet in just three generations the whole family had dissolved in what can only be described as a cesspit of sudden death, indifference, madness and cruelty. This had happened against the backdrop of a murderous civil war and a tyrannous new Tudor dynasty, both of which the Rochfords managed to completely avoid. Perhaps these last generations of the family were just a product of their age – the worst of it.
It is impossible to know what John IV and John V did with all the money from the sale of Fenne and Scrane. Perhaps they spent it all on the rent – it would only have lasted about fourteen years. But we do know what happened in the end to the family manors at Stoke Rochford and Arley. These ended up with a lady named Margaret Skeffington. By the time she died in 1539, she was the only surviving heiress of the whole family, through her grandmother Joan Rochford.