ROLFE, Thomas (by 1518-66/67), of Sandwich, Swingfield and Canterbury, Kent.
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Family and Education
Auditor, office of gen. surveyors 1539; collector of customs, port of Sandwich 1540-7; jurat, Sandwich 26 Dec. 1541-3; esquire of the body by 1544.3
Nothing has come to light about Thomas Rolfe’s family and origins save that his brother John was a clerk in Canterbury by 1547: his marriage to the daughter of a Sandwich merchant presumably followed on his appointment as customer there. His first appointment in June 1539, at the suit of Sir John Dauntesey and Richard Pollard, was as auditor of the possessions of the dissolved abbey at Woburn, Bedfordshire, and other forfeited lands at an annual fee of £20; five years later he and Francis Southwell, were granted the more profitable auditor-ship of the lands of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, and Richard Fermor, which they surrendered in November 1548 in exchange for an annuity of £100. He may have been the Thomas Rolfe admitted to Gray’s Inn in 1543.4
Rolfe evidently owed his return for Sandwich to his customership: he was admitted a jurat on 26 Dec. 1541, the day of his election, and sworn again a year later, but he was only once entered as present at any other assembly of the mayor and jurats. In 1547 he was accused in the exchequer court of concealing goods and fined £185, thrice the value of the merchandise concerned, but his supersession as customer at the end of the year by Simon Linch had been arranged earlier, Linch compounding with him for the office; not until April 1550 did he receive his final discharge from all liabilities. From 1543 he was also engaged with Thomas Wingfield in victualling the King’s ships in the Straits of Dover and he was thus brought into association with the admiral, John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, from whose son he was later to lease lands in Kent.5
Rolfe took advantage of his official contacts to build up an estate in Kent. In 1543-4 he purchased the house and site of the Greyfriars in Canterbury from Thomas Spilman, an augmentations receiver, and in 1547 with his brother John he acquired Lydcourt manor, near Sandwich, from (Sir) Richard Southwell, a brother of his fellow-auditor, and Edward Bashe, surveyor of victuals for the navy. On the accession of Elizabeth he sued out a pardon as of Swingfield, near Folkestone, and Canterbury. Possession of Lydcourt brought him into conflict with Sandwich over the highway between that port and Deal which ran through his land. An affray over the right of way was followed by Rolfe’s imprisonment in the town gaol and in 1564 he sued the port authorities in the Star Chamber: early in 1566 the arbitrators appointed by the court, Archbishop Parker and (Sir) Richard Sackville II ruled that the way must be kept open but with ‘no straggling nor ranging’ beyond it.6
By his will of 16 Feb. 1566 Rolfe left all his possessions to his executors John Dudley (possibly the Member for Carlisle and Helston) and William Lovelace†, to be disposed of ‘as by my writings I have required them’. By one such indenture, made on the same day as his will, Rolfe granted the Greyfriars in Canterbury to Lovelace and others to be given to his widow in compensation for her dower, and this was done in November 1567. Nevertheless she contested the will and it was not until 18 May 1568, after Dudley had testified that Rolfe was of whole mind at its making, that administration was granted to Lovelace.7
Ref Volumes: 1509-1558
Author: Helen Miller
- 1. Sandwich old red bk. f. 141v.
- 2. Date of birth estimated from first reference. Vis. Kent (Harl. Soc. xlii), 68.
- 3. LP Hen. VIII, xiv, xix, xx; CPR, 1549-51, p. 292; 1553, p. 314; Sandwich old red bk. ff. 141v, 151.
- 4. CPR, 1547-8, p. 73; LP Hen. VIII, xiv, xix; E403/2448, f. 8.
- 5. Sandwich old red bk. ff. 141v, 151; LP Hen. VIII, xviii-xxi; CPR, 1549-51, p. 292; 1553, p. 314; E159/362, mm. 39-40; APC, ii. 169; iii. 294, 305; NRA 8388 (Essex RO, Lennard mss D/DL, T6/30).
- 6. Arch. Cant. xxxiv. 90-91; CPR, 1547-8, p. 73; 1558-60, p. 150; St.Ch.2/26/291 (misdated temp. Hen. VIII); Sandwich little black bk. ff. 224-5, 253, 290-1, 298v.
- 7. PCC 10 Babington; Arch. Cant. xxxiv. 91n.