The Cawnes - our earliest known owners

Stone effigy of Thomas Cawne at Ightham Church

Having moved here in about 1360, Thomas Cawne (also shown in the records as Couen, de Coven, Cawen) is the first known owner of Ightham Mote.

Early years

Thomas, Richard and John were the sons of Richard de Coven, a tailor from Staffordshire. Owning a number of tenements in Wolverhampton, Richard was ‘town gentry’ and relatively well off.

As a young man, Thomas and his friends used to get up to a bit of mischief. In 1345, he, along with his brothers and 4 other men were charged with the serious offence of hunting and poaching deer in John de Sutton’s park at Sedgely in Staffordshire. They were also charged with stealing money, and the less serious crime of assaulting de Sutton’s servant.

The hundred years war

Leaving his family home in Staffordshire, the ambitious young Thomas Cawne decided to seek his fortune in the military rather than follow in the family business. There is no evidence of his early military service, but by utilising the political instability in France during the 1350s to his advantage, he became a prominent soldier. By 1357, as captain of the fortress of the Neuberg, just outside Rouen in Normandy, he had a pivotal foothold in the region.

As only a small number of captains were recorded during the 100 Years War, the fact that Thomas Cawne is amongst them shows just how important he was to the war effort – both in France and back home in England. He was also knighted for his services.


Social network

Cawne’s network of friends and acquaintances originally centred near his home in Staffordshire, however, after he enlisted in the military, his circle of friends moved to London and its neighbouring counties.

The business of war often required people to travel between the capital and the channel, which made Kent an attractive place to live. It was in Kent that he married Lora Moraunt, daughter of Sir Thomas Moraunt of Chevening. They settled at Ightham Mote with their two children, Robert and Thomas.

The chivalric order of knights – or not.

In 1369, Cawne and his army occupied a house in the village of Etienne Dupree near Rouen. The owner of the house William de Cordier payed Cawne 70 francs to ‘protect’ his house, on the condition that Cawne’s army left the village and his house would be spared from the fire. Unfortunately, when Cordier returned home, he found it razed to the ground. When Cordier complained, Cawne stole his horse, which meant he had to buy another horse (from the English) to get home.

Robert Cawne

After Sir Thomas Cawne died, his eldest son Robert inherited Ightham Mote. He was certainly a character – he was sent to the Tower of London for trying to kill his wife Marjory by throwing her into a well. He was eventually pardoned by the king, but little is known of him afterwards.

(Based on research by PhD student Gemma Minnihan)