The Ashburnhams: recusancy and conformity in a Sussex family

In his will of 1595, my 12 x great grandfather Magnus Fowle of Mayfield, Sussex, left twenty shillings in gold to Eleanor Ashburnham, the daughter of John and Isabel Ashburnham. I’ve discovered that John Ashburnham was Member of Parliament for Sussex and that Eleanor’s brother, another John Ashburnham, was a Catholic recusant who forfeited his estate under the Elizabethan penal laws. In my last post, I speculated that Magnus Fowle might, at the very least, have been secretly sympathetic to the recusant cause, particularly as his father Gabriel had been a loyal Catholic and other members of his family had connections with the priory of St Mary Overy, Southwark – where, intriguingly, Isabel Ashburnham was buried in 1584.

Elizabethan family

Elizabethan family

I’ve done some more research on the Ashburnham family and what I’ve discovered has strengthened my feeling that Magnus Fowle shared their religious convictions. The recurrence of similar names in successive generations of the Ashburnham family, together with contradictions between the available sources, can make understanding their story confusing. So it’s probably useful to begin with a simple account of their journey through the turbulent sixteenth century.

William Ashburnham died in 1530. Since his son John (1), who was married to Lora Berkeley, predeceased him, William left his estate to his grandson, another John (2), who was born in about 1528. It was this John Ashburnham who married Isabel Sackville and served as Member of Parliament for Sussex under Queen Mary.

John (2) and Isabel Ashburnham had five children: John (3), Thomas, Anne, Margaret and Eleanor – the latter being the beneficiary of Magnus Fowle’s will. Eleanor’s older brother John (3), who was born in about 1545, inherited the family estate on his father’s death in 1563. It was this John (3) who was accused of recusancy in 1574 and, because of unpaid fines, had his estate sequestered by the Crown in 1588. He married Mary Fane and they had six children: Katherine, John (4), Thomas, George, William and Mary.

John (3) died in 1592. His son, John (4), seems not to have shared his father’s religious principles and successfully recovered the family estate. He married Elizabeth Beaumont, Baroness of Cramond and was knighted.

Sir John Ashburnham by Hieronimo Custodis

Sir John Ashburnham by Hieronimo Custodis

Or, to put it even more simply:

William Ashburnham (1) died in 1530

John Ashburnham (1), son of William, married Lora Berkeley

John (1) and Lora had a son – John Ashburnham (2) (c. 1528 – 1563) – who married Isabel Sackville (1545 – 1592)

John (2) and Isabel had these children:

    John Ashburnham (3) (1545 – 1592)

Thomas (1549 – )




John (3) married Mary Fane – they had these children:

   Katherine (c. 1570)

(Sir) John (4) (1571)





(The names in bold are the members of the family mentioned in the Recusant Rolls – see below.)

It’s also helpful to see events in the Ashburnhams’ family history in the context of key national events, and alongside those in my own family tree, as in this timeline:

c.1528  Birth of John Ashburnham (2)

             Birth of Magnus Fowle

1530    Death of William Ashburnham

c.1544 Marriage of John Ashburnham (2) and Isabel Sackville

1545    Birth of John Ashburnham (3)

1547    Death of Henry VIII – accession of Edward VI

c.1550 Marriage of Magnus Fowle and Alice Luck

            Birth of Agnes Fowle

c.1552 Birth of Eleanor Ashburnham

1553    Accession of Queen Mary

1559   Death of Mary – accession of Elizabeth I

1563  Death of John Ashburnham (2)

1568  Marriage of John Ashburnham (3) and Mary Fane

1571  Birth of (Sir) John Ashburnham (4)

c.1575 Marriage of Agnes Byne and Edward Byne

1584  Death of Isabel Ashburnham

1586  Birth of Stephen Byne 

1592 Death of John Ashburnham (3)

1595 Death of Magnus Fowle

I’ve managed to find the names of various members of the Ashburnham family in the Recusant Roll for 1592. According to one source:

The rolls recorded the punishments and fines of those who refused to conform to the Anglican doctrine. After 1581, recusancy became an indictable offence, so recusants often appear in Quarter Session records and the fines levied were recorded in the Pipe Rolls. After 1592 a separate series of rolls called Recusant Rolls was created which continued until 1691 (previously recusancy was recorded in the Pipe Rolls). The Rolls could include other dissenters or nonconformists and show the fines and property or land surrendered by the accused.

1592 was a critical year for the Ashburnham family. It was the year in which John Ashburnham (3), who had inherited but then forfeited the family estate on account of his recusancy, died. His death offered the prospect of the estate being returned to its owners, once John’s son and heir, John Ashburnham (4), conformed to the state religion.

I’ve obtained a copy of the Recusant Roll for 1592. It’s written in legal and abbreviated Latin: I took Latin ‘O’ Level some forty years ago, so my knowledge of the language is a little rusty, but with the help of a dictionary I’ve been able to make some sense of the document. The Roll is organized by county, and in the section dealing with Sussex I’ve found two long passages which appear to detail the sequestration of the estate of John Ashburnham (3) and its occupation by ‘Willelmus Cordell magister coquus coquine domine Regine’ – William Cordell, Queen Elizabeth’s master cook – and (I think) its return to the Ashburnhams on John’s death.

There are two brief references to Eleanor Ashburnham in the Recusant Roll. In the first ‘Ellionara Ashburneham’ appears in a list of recusants fined £40. Eleanor’s name comes after that of one Eleanor Parker, a spinster of Willingdon, which was about fifteen miles south-west of the village of Ashburnham, and she is said to be ‘de eadem’ – of the same – and also a spinster. There is a similar reference a few pages further on in the document.

Elizabethan village scene: Joris Hoefnagel, 'Fete at Bermondsey', c. 1569

Elizabethan village scene: Joris Hoefnagel, ‘Fete at Bermondsey’, c. 1569

The first list in which Eleanor’s name appears includes three other members of the Ashburnham family: Mary and Katherine Ashburnham, both said to be of Ashburnham and both spinsters, and William Ashburnham of Dallington, which was about five miles north of Ashburnham. Mary, Katherine and probably William were all the children of the recusant John Asburnham (3) who died in 1592. Clearly, they did not share the desire of their brother John (4) to conform to the Church of England, but instead maintained their father’s recusant principles. There is a reference elsewhere in the document to a William Ashburnham of Ashburnham, but I’m not sure if he is identical with William of Dallington. There are also two references to a Thomas Ashburnham, who is probably another sibling of Mary, Katherine and William, but it’s also possible he was Eleanor’s brother of that name, who is mentioned in their mother Isabel’s will of 1584.

To summarise, we know that in 1592, three years before her name appears in Magnus Fowle’s will, Eleanor Ashburnham, the unmarried, middle-aged daughter of John and Isabel Ashburnham (she was probably about 40 years old at the time), was fined for holding fast to her late brother’s recusant principles. She was joined in this by two of her nieces and at least one of her nephews, and perhaps by her own brother. It’s worth noting that Eleanor’s nephews and nieces would have been in their late teens or early 20s at the time: they were all born in the reign of Elizabeth I and thus represented a new generation determined to hold on to the faith of their ancestors, despite the increasingly heavy penalties for doing so.

If Eleanor Ashburnham was still being fined £40 on a regular basis three year later, when Magnus Fowle wrote his will, it makes his bequest to her of ‘Twentie Shillings in gold’ more understandable. It also makes it more likely that Magnus was sympathetic to Eleanor’s religious stance, even though he felt unable, for whatever reason, to adopt that stance himself and face the legal consequences.

The Ashburnhams aren’t the only people named in the Recusant Roll with a connection to Magnus Fowle. In his will Magnus grants 40 shillings to ‘old John Tyshurst…sometime of Brightlinge’. There are references in the Recusant Rolls to ‘Johannis Ticeherst’ and also to a ‘Willelmi Tyshurst’. These occur in the sections dealing with the sequestration of the Ashburnham estate, so it’s unclear to me whether these men were fellow recusants or beneficiaries of the sequestration.

Even more intriguing are the references in the same sections of the document to Johannes Murfyne or Morfyne, always in association with one Thomas Palgrave. Is it too fanciful to suppose he could be a relation of William Morfyn, Magnus Fowle’s brother-in-law, who was appointed as one of the overseers of the latter’s will? If so, it would bring the accusations of recusancy right into the heart of Magnus’ family.

I’m not an expert on Tudor history, but what I’ve read in the works of Eamon Dufy and other writers on this period makes me wary of assigning definitive religious identities to my 16th century ancestors. When Magnus Fowle was writing his will, the separation from Rome under Henry VIII, the brief restoration of Catholicism under Mary, and the renewed separation under Elizabeth, were still fairly recent memories. Magnus would have been baptised a Catholic, married in a church that was officially Protestant, perhaps christened his children in a restored Catholic ceremony, and was buried in a Protestant churchyard – and it’s perfectly possible that all of these occurred in the same parish church. The divisions between ‘Catholic’ and ‘Protestant’  identities were yet to harden, and the character of the separated ‘Church of England’ was still in the process of development. A (growing) minority identified themselves as proudly Protestant, and on the other side the recusants, like Eleanor Ashburnham, were openly and defiantly Catholic. But most people, whatever their sympathies, probably kept their heads down and quietly conformed to whichever religious regime was currently in power. We know, for example, that there were a large number of ‘church Catholics’ at this time – that is to say, people who attended services of the official Anglican church, so as not to attract heavy fines or other penalties, but secretly maintained their Catholic faith and practices. I wonder if my ancestor Magnus Fowle fell into that category?

Posted in Ashburnham, Byne, Fowle | 2 Comments

Recusants and iron masters: reflections on the will of Magnus Fowle

What do we learn from the will of my 12 x great grandfather Magnus Fowle, a transcription of which I posted the other day? First of all, we discover when he died: the will was written on 30th July 1595 and proved on 11th May in the following year, so Magnus died some time between these two dates. We can also conclude that Magnus’ wife Alice predeceased him, since she is not mentioned in the will. The executors of the will are named as Magnus’ daughter Agnes, who married Edward Byne (they were my 11 x great grandparents), and her son, another Magnus. From this I gather that the latter must have been the eldest son of the family, and that he must have been an adult by this time, which means he was probably born some time in the 1570s. I also conclude that Agnes was the only surviving child of Magnus Fowle, and that he had no male heir.

Magnus’ will informs us that, in addition to his residence in Mayfield (or ‘Maughfield’),  Sussex, he also owned land in the villages of Ringmer and Glynde, some fifteen miles away and close to the town of Lewes. These are almost certainly the properties left to him by his father Gabriel Fowle in his will of 1554. Magnus seems to have had a connection, not only with these parishes, but also with Retherfield (or Rotherfield), Southover near Lewes (where his father lived) and Lewes itself, since he leaves money to the poor people of all these places. In addition, Magnus leaves money to six current or former servants, another sign of his generosity, and perhaps of his wealth and social status.

Ashburnham today

Ashburnham today

Magnus Fowle’s will introduces to a usefully large cast of characters. I’ve been able to find out a little about some of these, and they certainly offer plenty of opportunities for further research. The first-mentioned beneficiary turns out to be one of the most intriguing: ‘I give to Elynor Ashbourneham the daughter of Mrs Isabell Ashbourneham Twentie Shillings in gold.’ The Ashburnhams were an ancient and notable Sussex family, associated with the village whose name they bore, which was near Battle and about fifteen miles from Mayfield. The Isabel Ashburnham mentioned in Magnus Fowle’s will was almost certainly the widow of John Ashburnham who sat in Parliament for Sussex in 1554. Isabel was the daughter of John Sackville of Buckhurst in Kent. John and Isabel Ashburnham had six children, of whom the Eleanor Ashburnham mentioned in my ancestor’s will was the fourth. Apparently she died unmarried. Intriguingly, after her husband’s death in 1563, Isabel Ashburnham spent her later years in Lambeth and in 1584 was buried at the church of St Mary Overy in Southwark – the very church where Magnus Fowle’s grandfather Thomas was buried, which he generously endowed in his will, and of which another member of the Fowle family, Bartholomew, was the last prior.

It would appear that the Ashburnhams, like Thomas Fowle and his son Gabriel, were loyal to the traditional Catholic faith, and remained so (at least initially) despite the upheavals of the Reformation. John Ashburnham junior, the son and heir of John and Isabel, and the elder brother of Eleanor, had an accusation of recusancy laid against him in 1574 – in other words, he refused to attend services of the now-Protestant Church of England. By 1588 he had amassed so many unpaid fines that his estate at Ashburnham was sequestered by the Crown and later farmed out by Queen Elizabeth to her master cook, William Cordell. It was only recovered when John died and his son, another John, who presumably did not share his father’s religious scruples, became head of the family. The estate was forfeited again during the Civil War, due to the family’s support for the King, but returned to them at the Restoration. (Ashburnham House was eventually sold off and partly demolished in the 1950s. It is now a Christian conference centre: I remember spending a weekend there in the 1970s).

I wonder if it was the family’s loss of their estate that prompted Isabel Ashburnham’s move to Southwark, and perhaps Magnus Fowle’s generous gesture towards her daughter? The question still remains as to why a yeoman farmer was leaving money to a member of a distinguished gentry family. At the same time, I can’t help wondering whether Magnus’ association with the Ashburnhams was a sign that he shared the same religious principles as his father and grandfather? I have no evidence that he, too, was a recusant – and I mustn’t be swayed by my own fascination with recusant history and a desire to identify a recusant ancestor. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t feel a secret sympathy for those who were brave enough to risk all for the religion of their (and his) forefathers, especially if there were long-standing links between the two families, perhaps connected with their shared patronage of the priory of St Mary Overy? The preamble to Magnus’ will provides few clues to his religious affiliation. Certainly there isn’t the appeal to Mary and the saints that we find in his grandfather’s will, but neither is there any sign of the sole dependence on the passion and merits of Christ that we find in those of some of his more ardent protestant descendants. Instead, there is a simple evocation of the Trinity: it would take someone with more theological and historical expertise than I have to interpret the significance (if any) of this.

Execution of Catholics during the reign of Elizabeth I by Franz Hogenburg

Execution of Catholics during the reign of Elizabeth I by Franz Hogenburg

Magnus Fowle was probably born in the 1520s and during his early childhood England was still a Catholic country. We know that his grandfather was a faithful Catholic and that another close relation was the head of an Augustinian priory. The dramatic events that led to the separation with Rome – the royal divorce, Henry VIII’s assumption of the title of Supreme Head of the Church, not to mention the dissolution of the monasteries that would have had a personal impact for the Fowle family – occurred while Magnus was growing up. We know that his father Gabriel remained loyal to the old religion and would have welcomed its restoration under Queen Mary. We don’t know what he would have thought of the burning of heretics that took place in Lewes and elsewhere in Sussex, including Mayfield, at this period, but mostly after his death.

I’m not sure of the identity of Robert Barham of Lamberhurst, who is left forty shillings in Magnus Fowle’s will, but we know that there are a number of links between the Barhams and my own family tree. For example, the first wife of my 13 x great grandfather Chrisopher Manser of Hightown, Wadhurst, who died in 1545, was Mildred Barham.

Magnus Fowle leaves ten shillings ‘to my sister Morfyn’ and twenty shillings to her children. Later in the will he appoints ‘my Brother William Morffyn’ as one of its overseers and awards him twenty shillings for his pain. The obvious implication is that Magnus had a sister who married a man named William Morfyn. So far, I’ve managed to find no trace of either of them, though Morfyn or Morfin is apparently a long-established name in both Sussex and Kent. However, this contradicts those sources that claim that Magnus only had one sister, Agnes, who married John Harman. More research is needed to clarify this.

Church of St Mary the Virgin, Ringmer

Church of St Mary the Virgin, Ringmer

Besides William Morfyn, Magnus Fowle names two other overseers of his will: John Motley and John Collett. I haven’t been able to identify the latter yet, but John Motley or Motlay was the parish priest at Ringmer: he graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1566 and was ordained a priest in 1575, serving as vicar of West Firle and Ringmer until his death in 1604. Perhaps Magnus’ association with Motley is evidence that he conformed to the Church of England, though it would be interesting to know where Rev Motley’s theological sympathies lay. Magnus leaves forty shillings to one ‘Michaell Marten sometime of Brightlinge’. This might be the Michael Martin who built the house known as ‘Shepherdes’ between 1554 and 1561, on the site of what is now Brightling Park.

The reference in Magnus Fowle’s will to a certain Arthur Langworth is intriguing. Magnus insists that, should his heirs at any time ‘bargayne sell alienate lease demyse grante or otherwise convey or assine’ any of his properties in Ringmer or Glynde ‘to Arthur Langworth to his heires or to anie of his name, or to anie other p[er]sone or p[er]sones whereby or by meanes whereof anie of my saide Landes or the inhertytance thereof maie come to the saide Arthure or to anie other p[er]sone or p[er]sones to his use,  or to the use of anie of his heries or of his name’, then John Motley and various other men ‘shall have full power and authoritie’ to enter those properties and (I think – the text is difficult to read here) turn them over to the use of the poor of the aforementioned parishes.

Who was Arthur Langworth and what did Magnus Fowle have against him? The first question is easier to answer than the second. Arthur Langworth lived at Broyle Place in Ringmer and his family are said to have had close links with the Archbishop of Canterbury. Langworth was the owner of ironworks, and this may be how Magnus knew of him. The Ashburnhams also made money from iron, for which the Weald of Sussex was  famous, as indeed did Magnus Fowle’s uncle William who apparently built his house at Riverhall, Wadhurst, with profits from his iron foundries – and my Manser ancestors at Hightown, Wadhurst were also iron masters. Arthur Langworth seems to have been involved in a number of property deals, so that may have been another possible cause of his breach with Magnus Fowle.

Iron works in the Sussex Weald (via

Iron works in the Sussex Weald (via

As for the men charged with ensuring that none of Magnus Fowle’s properties fell into Langworth’s hands: John Cornford was a yeoman of Ringmer. His father William had been the park keeper at Ringmer Park, which was owned by the Archbishop of Canterbury until it was sold to him in 1546. The Cornfords owned the property until 1580 when John sold it to Lord Buckhurst. John Sheppard was a yeoman of Ringmer as was John Delve, whose will is dated 1613. Thomas Sharpe also seems to have been from Ringmer.

Posted in Barham, Byne, Fowle, Manser | Leave a comment

Magnus Fowle of Mayfield (died 1595)

My last post discussed Bartholomew Fowle, the last prior of St Mary Overy, Southwark, before Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, and his possible connection with my 13 x great grandfather Gabriel Fowle of Southover, Sussex (1507 – 1554). I also summarised the information I’ve been able to glean about Gabriel, in the absence of his will: I’m in the process of applying for a copy from the Sussex archives and I’m hoping it will shed more light on his life and his family connections.

According to one source, Gabriel’s will reveals that he had two surviving children: a son named Magnus and a daughter named Agnes. Apparently Agnes married John Harman. The latter is said to have been mentioned in his father-in-law’s will, by which he was left Gabriel’s best gown and best jacket. John and Agnes Harman had a daughter named Elizabeth and a son named John.

St Dunstan's church, Mayfield (via

St Dunstan’s church, Mayfield (via

Magnus Fowle was my 12 x great grandfather. He was born in about 1528 and in about 1550 he married Alice Lucke, daughter of Richard Lucke of Mayfield. They had a daughter named Agnes, probably born some time in the 1550s, who married Edward Byne of Burwash: they were my 11 x great grandparents. According to Renshaw‘s history of the Byne family, on his death in 1555 Gabriel Fowle devised his properties in Ringmer and Glynde to Magnus, and Renshaw further states that Magnus was described as a yeoman of Mayfield in a document of 1560.  We also learn from Renshaw that in 1580 Magnus was one of the witnesses to the will of John Byne of Witherden in Ticehurst.

Magnus Fowle died in 1595 at Mayfield. I have a copy of his will, signed and sealed on the 30th July of that year. I’m posting my transcription below, and in the next post I’ll discuss what it can tell us about Magnus, his family and his times. As usual, I’ve kept to the original spelling and punctuation as far as possible, used ‘xxx’ for illegible words and ‘(?)’ to indicate any uncertainty about my transcription.

In dei nomine Amen the Thirtieth daie of Julye in the yeare of our Lorde god One Thousande five hundred ninetie five and in the Seaven and Thirtieth yeare of the Reigne of our Sovraigne Ladye Elizabeth by the grace of god Queene of England France and Irelande Defender of the faith – I Magnus Fowle of the parrishe of Maughfield in the countie of Sussex and xxx in the peculiar xxx of South mallinge, whole of mynde in perfecte health, and of good remembrance, Thankes be to Alimightie god Doe ordeyne make dispose and putt in wrytinge this my present Testamente and Last will in manner and forme following. Firste I give and wholie bequeathe my soule to Almightie god, the father, the sonne, and the holie ghoste, Three persones and one god, and my Bodye to the earth when and where yt shall please god of his mercie to dispose yt. Item I give to the poore people of the parrishe of Retherfield Tenne shillings. Item I give to the poore of the parrrish of Maughfield Tenne Shillings. Item I give to the poore of the parrishe of Southover nexte to Lewes Thirtene shillings and foure pence. Item I give to the poore of Ringmer tenne shillings. Item I give to the poore of the Towne of Lewes Tenne shillings, Item I give to Elynor Ashbourneham the daughter of Mrs Isabell Ashbourneham Twentie Shillings in gold. I give to my old servannte Katheryne Byshopp Tenne shillings of sterling money. I give to Robert Barham of Lamberhurst fortie shillings. Item I give to my sister Morfyn Tenne shillings and to her children Twentie shillings Item I give to my godsonne Magnus Mone (?) Two shillings and two pence. Item I give to my servannte Thomas Over five shillings. Item I give to my cosen Hamnon Hardyman Tenne Shillings. Item I give unto Thomas Floude and to his wife Twentie shillings. Item I will that this my will be proved in the Qyeenes prerogative court. The Residue of all my moveable goodes not given nor bequeathed I give and bequeathe to Agnes Byne my daughter and to Magnus Byne my godsonne whome I make my Executours of this my Laste will and Testament . This is the Last will and Testamente of me the abovenamed Magnus Fowle made and declared in wrytinge the daie and yeare firste above written concerning the disposicion of my Landes Tenements rentes xxx and heredytaments whatsoever. Firste I will that ymeadyatlie After my decease my sonne in lawe Edward Byne shall have and take duringe the term of five yeares nexte after my decease the proffitts of all suche Landes and Tenements as I have purchased Lyenge in Ringmer and Maughfield upon condicion and to this ende purpose and effecte and not otherwise viz that he performe and accomplishe this my will, paye my Legacies and debts And first that he paye or cause to be paide to John Burges of Buxted my servannte five poundes of sterling money And to Thomas Ellis of Burwashe Eighte shillings. Also my very mynde and will is That yf the saide Edward Byne doe refuse to paye the saide somes of money and to accomplishe this my will That then I desire ordeyne and appoynte Mr John Motley viccar  of Ringmer and John Collett and my Brother William Morffyn to be my Overseers and to take the proffitts of my saide Landes And they to paye and performe this my will as the saide Edward Byne should do. Item I give to John Oake sonne of Robert Oake of Maughfeld five shillings. Item I will that after the saide five yeares be ended Magnus Byne shall have the use and possession and the proffitts of my said purchased landes duringe the coverture between my daughter his mother and the saide Edwarde Byne his father. And yf yt shall fortune (?) the saide Edward Byne to dye before my saide daughter his wiefe Then I will that my saide daughter shall have all my saide purchased Landes and all my other Landes duringe her natural life And after he decease I will all my saide purchased Landes to remayne to remayne to the saide Magnus Byne and to his heires forever. Item I give to Alice Fourde and to Alice Miller sometimes my servannte to eche of them Twenty shillings yf they demande yt. And I give to the saide John Motlay vicar of Ringmer John Collett and William Morffyn unto eche of them Twentye shillings for their paynes over their charge borne Item I give to my servannte Rose Brackfield five poundes. Item to every poore bodye that shall come to my Buryall foure pence. Item I will all my other landes and Tenements to my saide daughter duringe her natural liefe, and after her decease, I will all my saide Landes remayne to the saide Magnus Byne and to his heires Item I give to Michaell Marten sometime of Brightlinge fortie shillings. Item I give to old John Tysherst his xxx sometime of Brightlinge fortie shillings Item I give to everye of my servants xxx xxx in my house Tenne shillings provided always and my verie will and mynde is That and yf my sonne Edward Byne or my daughter his wiefe or Magnus Byne shall att any tyme xxx bargayne sell alienate lease demyse grante or otherwise convey or assine any of my Landes Tenements rents or herdytaments situate or lyinge in Ringmer or Glynde of the saide countie of Sussex to Arthur Langworth to his heires or to anie of his name, or to anie other p[er]sone or p[er]sones whereby or by meanes whereof anie of my saide Landes or the inhertytance thereof maie come to the saide Arthure or to anie other p[er]sone or p[er]sones to his use,  or to the use of anie of his heries or of his name, Then my verie will and mynde is that John Motley gentleman John Fitzherbert, John Corneforde, nowe of Grensted John Shepparde sonne of Robert Shepparde xxx, John Delve and Thomas Sharpe and their heires shall have full power and authorytie to enter into all my purchased Landes and Tenementes and the same to xxx to them and  their heires to the use of the poore of the parish of Ringmer, the Towne of Lewes and Southover, and the parrishe of Retherfield There beinge witness, Richard Burges, Roberte Oake, John xxx and William Foster Snr.

Posted in Byne, Fowle, Lucke | Leave a comment

Bartholomew Fowle and the Southwark connection

(Update 26th February 2014: for corrections to some of the information in this post, please see this post and those that follow.)

The 1525 will of my 15 x great grandfather, Thomas Fowle of Lamberhurst, Kent, tells us that he was survived by his wife, whom he appoints his executrix, by his daughter Elizabeth who was not yet married, and by an unnamed son and heir. However, we know from other sources that Thomas’ son was called Nicholas, and that he was born in Lamberhurst in 1480, at the height of the Wars of the Roses.

What do we know about Nicholas, who was my 14 x great grandfather? We know that in about 1500 he married Joan Vince, who had been born in 1485. According to a number of sources, they had four surviving sons: two of these were born in the last years of the reign of Henry VII and two in the early years of Henry VIII’s reign.

If we believe these sources, the eldest son of Nicholas and Joan Fowle was William, who was born in about 1505. Apparently William Fowle was born at Riverhall in Wadhurst, just across the border in Sussex. William married Margaret Godive, daughter of Richard Godive of Rotherfield, in about 1520. They had six children, the eldest of whom, another Nicholas Fowle, would inherit Riverhall.

18th century map of area around Wadhurst, Sussex (with Lamberhurst across county border at right)

18th century map of area around Wadhurst, Sussex (with Lamberhurst across county border at right)

Nicholas and Joan Fowle’s second son Gabriel, who was born in 1507, was my 13 x great grandfather. According to one source, he was born in Southover, near Lewes, but that remains unconfirmed. What’s certain is that he died there in 1554 or 1555, having been (according to Renshaw’s history of the Byne family) master of the Free Grammar School of Lewes, which was then located in Southover. As I’ve noted before, the last years of Gabriel’s life coincided with the restoration of Catholicism under Queen Mary. One source interprets his will as evidence that Gabriel welcomed these developments: apparently he bequeathed his ‘written mass book’ to his parish church and was in a minority of Lewes testators from this period who maintained the old custom of endowing masses for their souls. But the source also suggests that Gabriel ‘was clearly aware that there might be difficulty in finding priests to sing them’, since he asked that masses be sung by ten priests ‘if they can be got’. Gabriel’s cautious optimism about the return of the old religion was illusory: within a few years of his demise, Mary’s death and her sister Elizabeth’s accession to the throne would spell the end of the traditionalists’ hopes.

Gabriel’s religious affiliation should come as no surprise, if we believe the sources claiming that his younger brother Bartholomew was an Augustinian canon and the last prior of St Mary Overy in Southwark before the dissolution of the monasteries. Once again, Renshaw’s history of the Byne family is our starting-point. He says of Gabriel Fowle (p.99):

He was son of Nicholas Fowle by Joan (Vince) and brother of William Fowle, of Riverhall…and of Bartholomew, the last prior of St Saviour’s, Southwark.

However, my own research has led me to doubt this statement. For one thing, the Bartholomew Fowle who was prior of Southwark was also known by the surname Linsted (or Lynsted, or Lynstede), apparently because he was a native of that village, in the north of Kent. Surely if he was the son of Nicholas Fowle, and the brother of Gabriel, then he would have been born in Sussex, or at least closer to the Kent border?

St Mary Overy in the 17th century by Wenceslas Hollar

St Mary Overy in the 17th century by Wenceslas Hollar

More significantly, the dates don’t match. According to another source, Bartholomew Fowle was elected subprior at Southwark on 26th January 1509, having previously transferred there in 1508 from Leeds priory.  However, all the pedigrees of the Fowle family that I’ve seen place the birth of Bartholomew, brother of Gabriel, in 1509. Even if he was actually born somewhat earlier than this, the dates are probably still too early to make it possible for him to be the son of Nicholas Fowle.

It could be that Renshaw and others have confused two Bartholomew Fowles, and that the Bartholomew who was prior of Southwark was a different person to the man of that name who was Gabriel’s brother. However, the connection between the Fowle family and the priory, reflected in the will of Thomas Fowle, suggests that the prior might have been related in some way to my ancestors. The dates make it more likely that he was a contemporary of Thomas’ – perhaps a brother or a cousin, rather than a grandson, as I had previously believed. It even occurs to me that the unnamed ‘high master’ of St Margaret’s, Southwark, to whom Thomas Fowle bequeaths 25 marks in his will, might actually have been Bartholomew (the fact that Thomas doesn’t give his name shouldn’t worry us: after all, his wife and son are not referred to by name either).

An alternative possibility is that the pedigrees of the Fowle family are mistaken, and Nicholas Fowle did not have a son named Bartholomew after all. I’ve seen at least one pedigree claiming that Nicholas and Joan Fowle had three sons – Gabriel, Christopher and John – and an unnamed daughter. This information is supposedly gleaned from Nicholas’ will, dated 1522. The date seems unlikely, given that his father, Thomas, died three years later. I’ve found a reference to a will of 1531 – 2 by Nicholas Fowle of Rolvenden in Kent: I’ve asked the local record office if it’s possible to obtain a copy.

Augustinian canon (via

Augustinian canon (via

Whatever his connection to my family tree, Bartholomew Fowle alias Linsted was obviously an interesting character. One source describes him as ‘a very learned man, and author of a book entitled De Ponte Londinii.’ This book’s account of the origins of London Bridge is often quoted, for example in Stow’s Survey of London of 1598, and in John Strype’s revised edition of 1720:

And first concerning the Bridge over the Thames, commonly called London Bridge. The original Foundation whereof, by Report of Bartholomew Linsted, alias Fowle, last Prior of S. Mary Overies Church in Southwark, was this. A Ferry being kept in Place where now the Bridge is built, at length the Ferryman and his Wife deceasing, left the same Ferry to their only Daughter, a Maiden named Mary. Which, with the Goods left by her Parents, as also with the Profits rising of the said Ferry, builded a House of Sisters, in Place where now standeth the East Part of S. Mary Overies Church above the Quire, where she was buried. Unto the which House she gave the Oversight and Profits of the Ferry. But afterwards the said House of Sisters being converted into a College of Priests, the Priests builded the Bridge of Timber, (as all other the great Bridges of this Land were) and from time to time kept the same in good Reparations. Till at length, considering the great Charges of repairing the same, there was, by Aid of the Citizens of London, and others, a Bridge builded with Arches of Stone, as shall be shewed.

As for Bartholomew’s time as prior of Southwark, we have this account from an early twentieth-century history of London:

An important chapter of the canons regular of St. Austin was held in their chapter-house, Leicester, on Monday, 16 June, 1518, when one hundred and seventy joined in the procession, of whom thirty-six were prelati or heads of houses. As night came on they adjourned till Tuesday morning at seven, and when they again assembled, the prior of Southwark, with every outward demonstration of trouble and sorrow, appealed for a stricter and verbal observance of their rule. His manner and address excited much stir, but he was replied to by many, particularly by the prior of Merton. On the first day of this chapter a letter had been read from Cardinal Wolsey observing with regret that so few men of that religion applied themselves to study. On Wednesday, the concluding day of the chapter, Henry VIII and his then queen were received into the order. 

In 1535 the clear annual value of this priory was declared to be £624 6s. 6d. Their rents in Southwark alone realized £283 4s. 6d. 

On November 11th of this year there was a great procession by command of the king, at which were present the canons of this church, with their crosses, candlesticks, and vergers before them, all singing the litany. 

The signs of royal approval cited in this report were not enough to save the priory of St Mary Overy from the cataclysm that befell all of England’s religious houses, only four years after this splendid procession. The account continues:

Prior Bartholomew Linsted and the convent ‘surrendered’ on 27 October, 1539. The prior obtained a pension of £100, two of the monks £8 each, and nine monks £6 each. A note to the pension list, which was signed by Cromwell, stated that the prior was to have a house within the close where Dr. Michell was dwelling. 

‘Dr. (Robert) Michell’ was an earlier prior of Southwark, who had resigned in 1512. Interestingly, a certain William Michell had been among the witnesses of Thomas Fowle’s will in 1525: was he a relative?

We may never know for certain how, if at all, Bartholomew Fowle was related to my own Fowle ancestors. However, it’s possible that family wills might provide some clues. Gabriel Fowle’s will is held at the Sussex record office, and I’m in the process of applying for a copy.

Posted in Byne, Fowle | Leave a comment

‘To our blessed Lady and to all the saints of hevyn’: the pre-Reformation will of Thomas Fowle

(Update 26th February 2014: for corrections to some of the information in this post, please see this post and those that follow.)

Despite its brevity, the will of my 15 x great grandfather Thomas Fowle of Lamberhurst, Kent, who died in 1525, is interesting for a number of reasons. Its preamble reminds us that during Thomas’ lifetime England was still a Catholic country and, judging by his will, he was a faithful son of the Church. Although, as stated in the will, Henry VIII had been on the throne for sixteen years when it was written, the crisis of the royal divorce which precipitated the split with Rome would not occur until two years after Thomas’ death.

The last will and testament of Thomas Fowle (1525)

The last will and testament of Thomas Fowle (1525)

Unlike his Protestant descendants, who simply trusted their souls to God their Creator and (especially if they were Protestants of the more Calvinist variety) hoped for salvation solely through the merits of Christ their Saviour, Thomas Fowle bequeathed his soul ‘to almighty god, to our blessed Lady and to all the saints of hevyn’. A further sign of Thomas’ Catholic piety is the fact that he leaves money to the Church and that priests are both beneficiaries of and witnesses to his will.

Of particular interest is the church where these priests are located, and where Thomas asks to be buried. One of the witnesses to the will, William Carnell, is described as parish priest and ‘curet’ of Saint Margaret’s church in Southwark. Thomas wishes to be buried in the churchyard there and he bequeaths money to the ‘high master’ of the church and to the church itself. Why would a resident of Lamberhurst, on the borders of Kent and Sussex, and some fifty miles from Southwark, have such a strong association with its parish church?

I’ve discovered that the church of St Margaret was granted to the priory of St Mary Overy by Henry I, and presumably the ‘high master’ in Thomas Fowle’s will was the master or prior of that establishment. We know from other sources that, fourteen years after Thomas’ death, his grandson Bartholomew would be serving as the last prior of St Mary Overy before its dissolution. When Thomas wrote his will, Bartholomew, who was born in 1509, would have been sixteen years old. Was he already a junior brother, or perhaps a pupil, at the priory in Southwark? Without further information, it’s difficult to know whether Thomas Fowle’s connection with the priory was on account of his grandson, or whether that connection preceded Bartholomew’s involvement, and perhaps was one of its causes. Was Thomas a benefactor of the priory, and did his family’s association go back even further than his own time?

Thomas Fowle will screenshot

There are one or two other questions arising from Thomas Fowle’s will. If my transcription is correct, who is the ‘gosteley fader’ to whom Thomas bequeaths 12 marks (see above)? Can we translate ‘gosteley’ as ghostly, i.e. spiritual, and does ‘fader’ mean father? And if so, is this a reference to a confessor or spiritual mentor at the priory, suggesting an even closer relationship with that institution? Or is my transcription entirely fanciful? And what is a ‘morowe masse priest’ – does this simply mean ‘morning’? Incidentally, the honorific ‘sir’ before a priest’s name was quite normal (see, for example, the parish priest Sir Christopher Trychay who is the subject of Eamon Duffy’s The Voices of Morebath) and did not indicate the possession of a knighthood as it did in later periods.

London Bridge from Southwark, with St Mary Overy in the foreground (1616, by Claes Van Visscher, via

London Bridge from Southwark, with St Mary Overy in the foreground (1616, by Claes Van Visscher, via

These questions are intriguing, especially given the continuing connection between my maternal ancestors and Southwark, even after the dissolution of St Mary Overy. Following that event, the local parishes of St Margaret and St Mary Magdalene were united and were given use of the former monastery. The parish was thenceforth known as St Saviour’s (it became Southwark Cathedral in 1905) and it was there that my 9 x great grandfather Magnus Byne, a great-great-great grandson of Thomas Fowle, married his first wife Anne in 1640. As I’ve noted before, there are other links between the Byne and Manser families and Southwark which are difficult to explain. Perhaps further research into the Fowle family’s history will throw some light on these questions.

Posted in Byne, Fowle, Manser | Leave a comment

The will of Thomas Fowle of Lamberhurst (1450 – 1525)

(Update 26th February 2014: for corrections to some of the information in this post, please see this post and those that follow.)

In the previous post I offered an overview of the Fowle family of Kent and Sussex, with whom I’m connected via my 11 x great grandfather Edward Byne of Burwash, who married Agnes Fowle, daughter of Magnus Fowle of Mayfield. I’ve managed to trace this branch of my maternal family tree back as far as Thomas Fowle of Lamberhurst in Kent, my 15 x great grandfather, who was born in 1450 and died in 1525.  In some records Thomas’ name is preceded by ‘Sir’, but I’m not absolutely sure that he was a knight. We also know that his wife’s name was Ellen and that they had a son and heir named Nicholas, also of Lamberhurst – my 14 x great grandfather.

View from Lamberhurst church, via

View from Lamberhurst church, via

So far, that’s all I’ve been able to find out about this ancestor of mine. However, I’ve now obtained a copy of his will, which casts a little more light on Thomas’s life and circumstances. I’m posting my transcription here, and I’ll discuss what the will tells us in another post. As always, I’ve kept the original spelling and punctuation as far as possible, and used question marks (?) where I’m uncertain about a word.

In the name of god amen This xviith day of the month of October. In the yere of our Lord god a Thousand five hundred and xxv And in the reigne of our sovereign lord king henry the viiith the xvi yere. I Thomas Fowle dwelling in the p[ar]ishe of Lamberest [Lamberhurst] in the countie of Kent doo make this my present testament and last will in this maner of forme. First I bequeath my soule to almighty god, to our blessed Lady and to all the saints of hevyn And my body to be buried within the church yarde of Saint Margaret in Southwerk. Item I bequeath to the high master of Saint Margaret xxv Item I bequeath to the churche of Saint Margaret xxv Item I bequeath to my gostely fader (? ) xii Item I bequeath to Elizabeth my daughter x marks to hir marriage The residue of my moveable goods not bequeathed that is to say my catall my corne and my appalls I doo give it only to my wife the which I doo make my chief executrix and she to se my detts paid And Master Geoffrey I doo make my overseer and he to help my wife in her besynes and so he to have for his labours xiii Willm Carnell p[ar]ishe priest and Curet of the foresaid Saint Margaretts Sir Richard Dawson morowe masse priest and Wm Mychell be records of this testament with other men (?) 

This is my last will made of my landes on the day of the month before rehersed First I will that my wife shall receyve yearly the profits of my landes  to sucour hir and hir children to the tyme and season that my sonne the which is my heire be xxi yere of age and then he to entre into his landes at that age with godds blessing and myn, the records of this will be in the foresaid testament. 

Posted in Byne, Fowle, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Fowle family

The other day I wrote about my 10 x great grandfather William Wane (1576 – 1626), the rector of Clayton-cum-Keymer in Sussex. His daughter Anne (1611 – 1661) married Magnus Byne (1615 – 1671), one of her father’s successors as rector at Clayton: they were my 9 x great grandparents. I’ve requested a copy of William Wane’s will from the Sussex Record Office and I’m hoping it will enable me to extend this branch of my family tree a little further back.

Burwash churchyard (via

Burwash churchyard (via

In the meantime I’ve been revisiting Magnus Byne’s own family tree. Magnus was born in 1611 in Burwash, thirty miles or so to the east of Clayton. He was the son of yeoman Stephen Byne (1586 – 1664) and his wife Mary Manser or Maunser, daughter of John Manser of Wadhurst. Stephen was the son of Edward Byne of Burwash (died 1611)  and Agnes Fowle (died 1626) – my 11 x great grandparents.

I’ve written briefly about the Fowle family before, but in this post I want to fill in some more details of their history. Agnes Fowle was the daughter of Magnus Fowle of Mayfield and his wife Alice Lucke, the daughter of Richard Lucke, also of Mayfield.  They were my 12 x great grandparents.  Magnus, who was born in about 1528 and died in 1593, was the son of Gabriel Fowle of Southover, near Lewes.

Countryside near Lamberhurst (via

Countryside near Lamberhurst (via

Gabriel Fowle, my 13 x great grandfather, was the Master of the Free Grammar School in Lewes. He died there in 1555, having made his will in the previous year. Born in 1507, he was the second son of Nicholas Fowle of Lamberhurst,  who was himself born in 1480, and his wife Joan Vince, born in 1485: they were my 14 x great grandparents. They probably married in about 1504 and their eldest son and heir was William Fowle (born 1505) of Riverhall in Wadhurst, Sussex. Nicholas and Joan Fowle had two more sons after Gabriel: Bartholomew, born in 1509, who was the last prior of St Mary Overy in Southwark before the dissolution of the monasteries, and Robert, born in 1511.

Riverhall, Wadhurst, in the 18th century, via

Riverhall, Wadhurst, in the 18th century, via

Nicholas Fowle was the son of Thomas Fowle of Lamberhurst who was born in 1450. He married Ellen, born in the same year. They were my 15 x great grandparents. Thomas died in 1525.

It might be helpful to put some of these dates in chronological order, and to look at them alongside national events during that turbulent period in English history:

1422 Henry VI becomes King 

1450 Birth of Thomas Fowle

1455 – 1487 Wars of the Roses

1471 Edward IV becomes King 

1480 Birth of Nicholas Fowle

1483 Richard III becomes King

1485 Henry VII becomes King 

1507 Birth of Gabriel Fowle

1509 Henry VIII becomes King 

1525 Death of Thomas Fowle

1528 (?) Birth of Magnus Fowle 

1531 Henry VIII assumes title of Supreme Head of Church of England

1533 Henry VIII excommunicated by the Pope

1536 – 1540 Dissolution of the monasteries

1547 Edward VI becomes King 

1550 (?) Magnus Fowle marries Alice Lucke

Birth of Edward Byne (?)

1551 (?) Birth of Agnes Fowle

1553 Mary Tudor becomes Queen

1555 Death of Gabriel Fowle

1559 Elizabeth I becomes Queen 

1564 Birth of William Shakespeare

1575 Agnes Fowle marries Edward Byne

1586 Birth of Stephen Byne

1588 Defeat of Spanish Armada 

1593 Death of Magnus Fowle

1603 James VI of Scotland crowned King James I of England

I’ve previously traced another branch of Magnus Byne’s family tree back to a similar point in history. Magnus’ mother Mary Manser or Maunser, my 10 x great grandmother, was descended from Robert Maunser of Hightown, Wadhurst, who was alive during the reign of Richard III and indeed was knighted by him. Like his contemporary Thomas Fowle, Robert was one of my 15 x great grandfathers.

Posted in Byne, Fowle, Manser | Leave a comment