Kennett Family Papers

Scope and Content

Deeds and property transactions relating to the Kennett's property as described under Biographical History, primarily at Coxhoe, and also at Hunwick Co. Durham and Whitwell, Yorkshire.

Administrative / Biographical History

Kennett family During the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, the Kennett family of Coxhoe, Co. Durham, belonged to the extensive network of Roman Catholic recusant families in the northern counties of England. They were among the upper ranks of the gentry and were connected by marriage, religious persuasion and political activity with members of the Catholic nobility. Although not leaders, socially or politically, the Kennetts were for the most part recusants whose devotion was sufficiently overt to ensure that they appeared frequently in records kept by both the English government and the Catholic clergy.

Coxhoe estate The immediate origins of the Kennetts of Coxhoe lay in Kent and London. Later claims to an aristocratic descent remain unproven, but successive heads of the family served the Crown throughout the sixteenth century in a manner which suggests no religious inflexibility on their part at that date. A connection with northern England and some of the most prominent recusant families there was established in the early seventeenth century when Sir William Kennett (d.1629) married as his second wife Catherine Conyers of Sockburn. His son, also William (1594-1663), married twice into northern recusant families. His first wife, Mary, was the daughter and sole heiress of Christopher Blakiston, then lord of the manor of Coxhoe. From then onwards the Kennetts were firmly established within the northern Catholic network. Numerous members of the family entered the religious life in English communities abroad; some of the men returned as missionary priests and chaplains. Generally speaking, members of the family remained on the fringes of Jacobite politics in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Nicholas Kennett appears to have avoided involvement with the Old Pretender only by dying in May 1715; his son-in-law, William Mackenzie, 5th Earl of Seaforth, suffered attainder and forfeiture and narrowly escaped execution in the Rising of that year.

Kenneth, the eldest son of Mary and the Earl, conformed. He sat as Member of Parliament for Inverness and later for Ross-shire. He was able eventually to redeem and repurchase various of his parents' estates including, in the 1740s, Coxhoe. The main Seaforth interests were, however, in Scotland. Mackenzie retained Coxhoe only until 1755, when he sold it to John Burdon of Hardwick, thus ending the family's connection with the manor. The Mackenzie family retained the manor of Eldon Co. Durham, which had belonged to the Kennetts, until it was sold in 1781.

The manor of Coxhoe formed the core of the Kennett family's holdings. Formerly in the possession of the Blakiston family, it came to the Kennetts as a result of the marriage of William Kennett to Mary Blakiston, before 1626. It remained at the centre of the fanily's interests at least until 1715, when what appears to be default on a mortgage after the death of Nicholas Kennett took it at least nominally into other, non-Catholic, hands. The equity of redemption descended to Kenneth MacKenzie, who was able to recover the manor in 1743, after the death of his father, the attainted Earl of Seaforth. He sold it in 1755.

Hunwick estate William Kennett (1594-1663) acquired the manor of Hunwick in 1637 from the Hutton family. He retained a life interest and resided there until his death, but the manor was settled, along with his other lands, on his son and heir John (see nos. 3 and 4). The manor also formed part of the settlement on the marriage of Cuthbert Kennett with Frances Towneley in 1688 and was later the source of a rent-charge contributing to Frances' jointure following the death of Cuthbert Kennett in 1692. Her interest endured until 1717 and probably until her death in 1737, but the land at Hunwick last appears in these deeds in 1689. It is not clear when or how the Kennetts disposed of the manor.

Tanfield, Co. Durham, the “East Demaines” was the Kennett family's earliest landed holding in Co. Durham; it was purchased in 1614 by William Kennett the elder from Richard Hickson. The family still held this property in the 1680s (see nos.7 and 8), but it vanishes from these deeds thereafter.

Over Whitwell estate The holding at Overwhite Hall (i.e. Over Whitwell, parish of Scorton, Yorkshire, is variously described in the deeds as a manor or messuages. In 1618 William Kennett the elder acquired a messuage and lands there from Sir Bertram Bulmer, a distant connection by marriage and subsequently in debt to Kennett. The Kennetts retained this land until at least the 1680s.



Access Information

Open for consultation.

Acquisition Information

Deposited 18 October 1963, as a gift. The British Records Association had received it from Langton and Passmore, 8 Bolton Street, Piccadilly, London W.1.

Other Finding Aids


Foster, M.R., The Kennetts of Coxhoe: Catholic Gentry in County Durham, c. 1614-1715 in Northern Catholic History 24 (1986)