Thomas Arden in Faversham

The Man Behind The Myth

by Patricia Hyde

Written for the general reader, this is the first full-scale study of Thomas Arden, legendary as the gentleman murdered in 1551 by his wife, Alice, and 9 other conspirators after 6 botched attempts over London and the south-east. The treachery of his wife and two servants was then viewed with such horror that it was defined as petty treason.

The murder was the basis of the anonymous play, Arden of Feversham, first published in 1592, which has been attributed to Shakespeare or Marlowe, amongst others. Appendix 21 of the book takes a comprehensive look at Edward White, Bookseller of London, his associates and the first printing of the play. The basic story remains the same, but there can be little doubt that the man in the play, bewitchingly created for us by the anonymous playwright, was nothing like the historical character, on whom this biography has concentrated. Patricia Hyde decided that the information available to the chronicler Holinshed came from the trial. As Dr Michael Zell says in the foreword, “She has provided us with a more accurate account of the textual pedigree of the Arden of Feversham murder narrative from local first-hand accounts to Stow through Holinshed to the late Elizabethan playwright.” Thomas Arden lived in Faversham, Kent in the 16th century, was Customer in the town and deeply involved in business affairs, which often involved one or other of his two patrons Sir Edward North & Thomas Cheyne. But in this book a far more complex picture emerges- of a man who through his connections was close to the heart of national affairs, of wife whose family background made her even closer, and of a town intent upon making the most of its liberation from the thraldom of a great abbey, dissolved in 1538.

The book in a numbered limited edition of 1000 copies, describes many other people in the town besides Arden, in order to determine exactly the importance of his contribution. The result of research since 1982, it includes transcripts of all the documents on which it is based (concerning both Thomas Arden and the Dissolution of Faversham Abbey). As Dr. Zell says, this means that readers can make up their own minds.’ The transcripts furnish an invaluable treasure trove of early modern source material, very little of which has ever been published before, and will be invaluable both to people interested both in the history of Faversham and Kent and in the dissolution of the monasteries and its repercussions as well as to others interested in Arden of Feversham and its origins. In view of its subject matter, the book will also appeal to those who just like a gripping story.

This hardback book with coloured laminated dust-jack, taken from a contemporary map of the East Swale, has been handbound to the highest standards. Consisting of xii + 616 pages, it has 57 illustrations and pedigree charts, three being in colour.

P. Rowe in his review for Journal of Kent History, says, “This book is superb history can only marvel at the industry of Patricia Hyde and those associated with her in the production of this book.” Dr Martin Wiggins Fellow of the Shakespeare Institute, writes, “I must express my admiration for your splendid gathering of materials which will of immense value to scholars.” John Titford in Family Tree Magazine, wrote “I am particularly impressed by the approach adopted in this splendid book ... Here is a book which is sumptuous, solid, heavy (such is the quality of the paper), a wonderful piece of scholarship and a thorough joy. Do buy one you may not see its like again for many a long while.” Mark Gardner, Faversham Times, “In setting her thesis in the historical context and explaining the different conventions that then applied Mrs Hyde has done a superb job in helping us to understand a very different Society. She has truly rewritten a slice of important history in the best possible sense.” Professor P. Clark, Urban History Newsletter “This is an excellent publication with copious illustrations.”

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