Reflections on the will of Nicholas Fowle of Wadhurst

In the previous post I reproduced my transcription of the last will and testament of Nicholas Fowle of Wadhurst, Sussex, who died in 1600. In this post I want to discuss what the will can tell us about Nicholas and his family.

Riverhall, Wadhurst, home of the Fowle family, in the 18th century, via theweald.org

Riverhall, Wadhurst, home of the Fowle family, in the 18th century, via theweald.org

Nicholas was the son of William Fowle of Rotherfield, who died in 1567, and his wife Margaret Godeyne. William was probably the ward of another Nicholas Fowle, who died in Lamberhurst, Kent, in about 1522, and who was my 14 x great grandfather (I’m descended from Nicholas senior’s son Gabriel Fowle of Southover, Lewes, via his son Magnus). Nicholas Fowle junior married Eleanor Isted some time in the 1550s. I’m particularly interested in Nicholas because I believe that one of his daughters married William (?) Maunser, the son and heir of another of my ancestors, my 12 x great grandfather Robert Maunser of Hightown. The Fowle and Maunser (or Manser) lines come together in my family tree in a later generation, in 1611, when Mary Maunser, daughter of Robert’s younger son John, married Stephen Byne of Burwash, son of Edward Byne and his wife Agnes Fowle, daughter of Magnus. Stephen and Mary Byne were my 10 x great grandparents.

The confirmation that one of Nicholas Fowle’s daughters did indeed marry a Maunser comes in a memorandum towards the end of his will, in which Nicholas declares that he has already ‘payde unto Mary Maunser my daughters daughter fiftye poundes of good English money, and John Maunser her brother Tenne poundes’. The accepted pedigrees of the Maunser family claim that William Maunser of Hightown married Mary, the daughter of Nicholas Fowle and that two of their children were named John and Mary. The former is supposed to have married Mary, daughter of Benjamin Cole of Aston, near Lewes, in 1614, and to have lived in Southwark; while the latter is said to have married Thomas Scotson of Malling, also near Lewes, in 1604. Why Nicholas Fowle’s will fails to mention his daughter’s eldest son Nicholas, who would inherit Hightown and who was evidently named after his grandfather, remains a mystery.

Almshouses, Sparrows Green, Wadhurst

Almshouses, Sparrows Green, Wadhurst

Besides this vital nugget of evidence for the Fowle-Maunser connection, Nicholas Fowle’s extensive will is also a mine of useful information about the Fowle family generally. As my fellow researcher Bill Green commented on reading my transcription, Nicholas’ wealth and his generosity to a large family are impressive. Bill points out that, in its bequest of almshouses at Sparrows Green, the will marks the inauguration of what was to become the Fowle Charity, which would continue until the nineteenth century when it was amalgamated with a number of other Wadhurst parish charities.

The beneficiaries of Nicholas Fowle’s will include a number of his siblings. ‘My brother Anthonye’ is the Anthony Fowle who married Margery Shurlock in 1553 and lived in Rotherfield. Nicholas’ will also makes frequent reference to his brother’s son, also named Anthony, as well as to his brother’s daughters.

‘My sister Farmer’ (or Fermor) refers to Nicholas’ sister Elizabeth who in 1540 married Alexander Fermor of Welches, Sussex, from a family who would be created baronets a century or so later. Their grandson, another Alexander, would be imprisoned in Lewes during the Civil War because of his support for the King. Interestingly, Alexander junior is said to have married a daughter of Anthony Fowle of Rotherfield, the brother of Nicholas.

‘My sister Stapley’ refers to Barbara Fowle who married John Stapley in 1561. John belonged to the Rotherfield branch of the Stapley family. He may have been a relative of the Puritan politician Anthony Stapley of Framfield, who was one of the commissioners who sat in judgement on King Charles I and signed his death warrant.

‘My Syster Markwicke’ refers to Dorothy Fowle who married Thomas Markwick of Wadhurst, one of the three men given responsibility by Nicholas for the ‘litle house’ in Sparrows Green to be reserved for the poor. Thomas Markwick would make his own will in 1611.

Not mentioned in Nicholas’ will is his sister Amy, who married Nicholas Burges, son of Nicholas and Joan Burges of Brook House, Rotherfield. Apparently Nicholas Burges’ older brother John married Silvester, daughter of Alexander Fermor (senior?) of Welches. Nicholas Burges junior died in 1586 while his wife Amy was buried in 1606.

I haven’t been able to trace ‘my sister Sommer’ mentioned in Nicholas Fowle’s will. Perhaps she was Suzanne, wife of the Humphrey Sommer of Heathfield who made his will in 1598? Humphrey was the local schoolmaster and is mentioned by the historian Nicholas Tyacke in his discussion of Puritan name-giving in Elizabethan Sussex, since in 1588 Sommer gave his daughter the distinctive name ‘Flee-sin’. (Tyacke’s book also mentions Goddard or ‘Godward’ Hepden of Burwash, the uncle of Elizabeth Hepden the wife of Nicholas Maunser of Hightown, who christened his children with equally memorable ‘godly’ names.) Bill Green suggests that ‘my sister Sommer’ might actually have been a sister of Nicholas Fowle’s wife Elizabeth.

I was finding it difficult to establish the identities the other two men associated with Sparrows Green – John Barham and John Luke or Lucke – though their surnames are familiar enough in my family tree. However, Bill Green identifies John Barham as the husband of Nicholas’ wife’s sister Alice (she is mentioned later in the will). I wonder if John Lucke was a relative of Agnes Lucke of Mayfield who married Nicholas’ cousin, my 12 x great grandfather Magnus Fowle?

Nicholas Fowle makes various bequests to his children and grandchildren. We know that he had only one surviving son, William, who was born in 1568. Another child of that name had been born in 1568 but died in infancy, a son named Nicholas had died in 1587, and another son named Thomas, who was born in 1569, also seems not to have survived. Besides ‘my only son’ William, Nicholas Fowle’s will also makes reference to ‘my six daughters’, of whom only two are named, and then only indirectly via their husbands.

Nicholas’ daughter Elizabeth Fowle married John Polhill of Frenches in Burwash. He was the son of John Polhill of Preston in Shoreham, Kent. Among the children of John and Elizabeth Polhill were John; Edward, who became rector of Etchingham; Nicholas; and Robert, who lived in Burwash and was (I think) the father of the famous Puritan author Edward Polhill (see this post). John Polhill died in 1611, his will mentioning his brother-in-law, William Fowle. Two years later his son John made a will in which he referred to his uncle William Fowle, to whom he left his hawk. Interestingly, John the younger also made a bequest to Thomas Scotson, who is almost certainly the person who married Mary Maunser, granddaughter of Nicholas Fowle.

Nicholas’ daughter Dorothy married John Dunmoll of Wadhurst. According to Mandy Willard, he was the son of Thomas Dunmoll of Eynsford, Kent. John and Dorothy Dunmoll had at least five children. Apparently John made a will in 1624/5 which mentions his brother-in-law William Fowle.

Nicholas’ son and heir William Fowle married Elizabeth Pankhurst and lived in Frant. Nicholas’ will mentions five of William’s children: Nicholas, Dorothy, Eleanor, Frances, and Elizabeth. According to Bill Green, another son and daughter would be born after Nicholas’ death.

William Fowle of Frant made his will in 1634. I find it curious that neither his will, nor that of his brother-in-law John Polhill, make any reference to the Maunser family. I haven’t seen John Dunmoll’s will, so I don’t know if any Maunsers make an appearance there. Perhaps we can conclude from this, and from the absence of a Maunser son-in-law from Nicholas Fowle’s will, that William Maunser of Hightown (if that was indeed his name) had died before 1599.

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