Revisiting the will of Joseph Greene (died 1738) – and a surprise discovery

Occasionally, in family history research, revisiting familiar records can highlight details that you had failed to notice before: details that may be tiny in themselves, but whose discovery can have important consequences. So it was that, two years ago, a closer look at the marriage record of my 7 x great grandfather Joseph Greene, London citizen and goldsmith, made me realise that his wife’s name was not Mary Byrne, as I and every other person researching our family history had thought, but Mary Byne. From that realisation, I was able to find her parents, John and Alice Byne, and through them uncover my connection to the history of the interconnected Byne, Manser and Fowle families in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Sussex – which has preoccupied me ever since.

18th century goldsmiths at work

18th century goldsmiths at work

But revisiting familiar records can have negative as well as positive consequences, shutting down existing lines of enquiry rather than opening up new ones, though this too can be helpful. So it was that yesterday, browsing through my family tree, I took another look at the will of Joseph Greene, which he made in December 1737, shortly before his death. I realised that I had never actually made my own transcription of the will, relying instead on the work of other researchers, nor had I posted the will on this blog. Finding the version available at Ancestry difficult to decipher, I purchased a new copy from the National Archives and set to work transcribing it.

Joseph Greene’s will is brief and to the point, concerned mainly (as you might expect from a prosperous goldsmith) with financial matters, and it contains few clues about his family or friends. One of the three witnesses, Joseph Letch, seems to have been a lawyer at the Middle Temple, and was probably the family attorney, while the other two witnesses, Anne Jones and Mary Phillips, have common surnames and might have been family friends, or even servants. The main business of the will is to ensure that Joseph’s only surviving daughter, also named Mary, receives the generous amount of money promised in her marriage settlement (she had been married for eight years when her father died). Mary had been promised £2000 and is now bequeathed a further £1000: this would be equivalent to about £250,000 (or $370,000 US dollars) in today’s currency.

Tower Hill in the late 17th century

Tower Hill in the late 17th century

Mary’s husband was John Gibson and they had been married at the parish church of All Hallows, London Wall, less than a mile from the Greene family home at Tower Hill, on 8th July 1729, when Mary was nineteen years old. John Gibson’s origins, and indeed many of the details of his life, remain a mystery. Was he the son of Benjamin and Mary Gibson of Gravel Lane, who had also been married at All Hallows, and who had a son John baptised in 1699, the year of ‘our’ John Gibson’s birth, according to his burial record? And was he the John Gibson, coal factor, convicted of defrauding the Crown and imprisoned in the Fleet in 1742, who took up the trade of brewing on his release?

These questions have yet to find a satisfactory answer. However, research into John Gibson’s life has also been guided by another assumption: that, at some stage, he served as an officer in the Navy. The only hard evidence for this is derived from Joseph Greene’s will, which appears to describe Gibson as a lieutenant:

Mr or Lieut?

However, taking a closer look at the will yesterday, I noticed that the letters that I, and other researchers, had thought spelled ‘Liet’ were in fact something rather different, and much more prosaic.

My daughter Mary

In fact, the first letter was remarkably similar to the initial letter of his wife’s name, Mary, in the previous line. And the final letter could be read, in fact, as an ‘r’ with a full stop beneath. In other words, Joseph Greene did not describe his son-in-law as a lieutenant, but as plain Mr. John Gibson.

This means that I can stop my fruitless search for John Gibson in eighteenth-century naval records and focus on his actual career, possibly as a lighterman and coal factor. This is not to deny that the Gibson family would, in due course, enjoy important links with the Navy. One of John and Mary Gibson’s grandsons would be named after the naval hero, Sir Edmund Affleck, who also seems to have been a witness to the first marriage of their son, Bowes John Gibson. However, this connection seems to come about through Bowes John’s own work for the East India Company, rather than through his father.

I’m sure I’ll be returning to the story of John Gibson at some point, and to that of his father-in-law, Joseph Greene. For now, and for information, here is my transcription of Joseph’s will:

I Joseph Greene Citizen and Goldsmith of London do make my last will and testament as follows. First I order and direct that all my just debts shall be paid and satisfied and whereas I agreed to give the sum of Two Thousand pounds as a portion with my daughter Mary upon her marriage with her now husband Mr. John Gibson to be setled to such uses purposes and in such manner as is mentioned and expressed in certain deeds of settlement made previous to and in consideration of the said then intended marriage which sum hath not as yet been paid by me Wherefore I doe order and direct that my Executrix hereafter named shall not only forthwith pay the said sum of Two Thousand pounds but also the further sum of One Thousand pounds to such person or persons as is or are intituled to receive the said sum of Two Thousand pounds by virtue of the said marriage settlement which said one Thousand pounds shall be applyde setled and disposed of in such manner and to upon and for such uses trusts intents and purposes as the said two Thousand pounds is thereby agreed and intended to be settled and secured Also I give devise and bequeath unto my dear and beloved wife Mary Green her heirs Executors and Administrators for ever All the rest and remainder of my estate real and personal of what nature kind quantity or quality so ever and do make and constitute my said wife sole Executrix of this my will hereby revoking all former will heretofore by me made In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal this nineteenth day of december in the year of our Lord one Thousand seven the mark of Joseph Green signed sealed published and declared by the said Joseph Green as his last Will and Testament in the presence of us who at his request have subscribed our names as witnesses thereto in his presence Anne Jones Mary Phillips Jos: Letch.

This Will was proven before the worshipfull Thomas Walker doctor of Laws Surrogate to the Right Worshipfull John Bottesworth also doctor of Laws Master Keeper or Commissary of the prerogative Court of Canterbury lawfull constituted the sixth day of February in the year of our Lord One Thousand Seven hundred thirty seven by the oath of Mary Greene widow the Relict of the deceased and Sole Executrix named in the said will to whom Administration was granted of all and singular the Goods Chattels and Credits of the said deceased being first sworn duly to Administer.

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Notes on the will of Thomas Lucke of Litlington (died 1552)

Thomas Lucke, curate of the parish of Litlington, Sussex, whose will I transcribed in the last post, died in March 1552, five years years after the death of King Henry VIII and the accession of his son, Edward VI. In those first few years of Edward’s reign, English replaced Latin as the language of church services, priests were given permission to marry, the first Book of Common Prayer was sanctioned by Parliament, and the first Act of Uniformity made the Catholic Mass illegal. Against this background, it is worth noting the traditionally Catholic preamble to Thomas Lucke’s will: he commits his soul ‘into the hands of almyghtie god, with the intercessyon of the blessed virgyn marye mother of god and all the holy companye of heaven’. A similar formula can be found in the will of his (probable) relative John Lucke of Mayfield, who had died two years earlier. However, it is perhaps just as interesting that Thomas’ will includes none of the requests for prayers for his soul that we find in John Lucke’s will, or indeed in the will of my 13 x great grandfather Gabriel Fowle (whose son Magnus married Thomas’ niece Alice), who died four years later, during the brief restoration of traditional religion under Queen Mary.

High and Over and Chalk Horse from above Litlington, Sussex ((via wikimedia)

High and Over and Chalk Horse from above Litlington, Sussex ((via wikimedia)

Perhaps the explanation lies in the fact that Thomas was a priest under Edward’s reforming regime and had to conform, at least outwardly, to the new ways. At any rate, I take this preamble as evidence that Thomas was not a wholehearted convert to the new religion, and certainly not one of those priests who, like Thomas Hothe, became evangelists for radical protestantism. As I’ve noted before, the details of Thomas’ clerical career are rather unclear. If we accept the theory that he was formerly praecentor of the Augustinian priory at Michelham, which was suppressed in 1537, then his movements over the next fifteen years leading up to his death remain a mystery. According to the clergy records, he was curate at Litlington on 14th December 1551, three months before his death and two months after he made his will, but there is no other reference to him in the archives. On the same date, Lawrence Woodcock was said to be rector at Litlington, a post he would hold until his resignation in 1555. Woodcock had been a fellow of New College, Oxford, from 1508 to 1520, and held a number of posts in the Chichester diocese before coming to Litlington.

Thomas Lucke’s will makes a number of references to members of his family, though he rarely makes clear their relationship to him, or to each other. A notable absence is the name of Richard Lucke, who we know to have been his brother, and the father of my 12 x great grandmother Alice Fowle née Lucke, though he does refer to another beneficiary as the man who married ‘my brother’s daughter’. From this absence, I make the assumption that Richard probably predeceased his brother Thomas, and from the use of Alice’s maiden name I assume that she was yet to marry Magnus Fowle. Alice is to receive a number of sums of money, which correspond more or less to the ‘severall sumes of monye to the sume of tenne pounds together’ mentioned in the Chancery case, though there is no reference to the ‘two p[ar]cells of Sylver [ ] pounds & too [ ] called tablets of Sylver gylt sett with certen parcells to the value of five pounds’ also referred to in that document.

Tudor coins (via

Tudor coins (via

I’m fairly confident that the Elizabeth Lucke, who is also left a sum of money by Thomas, is the other daughter of Richard Lucke, referred to in the same legal case. It seems likely, too, that Thomasin Lucke, who is to share the sum with Elizabeth, was another sister. The identity of the Thomas Lucke ‘of maydston’ named in the will is unclear: it’s possible this person was either a son of Richard Lucke’s, or a cousin or more distant relative of the testator.

The only other person mentioned in the will who was definitely a relative of Thomas Lucke is ‘Woddye of hartysfelde that maryed my brothers daughter’. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is probably a reference to Hartfield, which is a dozen or so miles north-west of the Lucke family’s home village of Mayfield. A certain John Wodye senior made his will there in 1558. From the context, it’s impossible to be sure whether Wodye’s wife was another of the daughters of Richard Lucke, or of another brother of Thomas’.

We know from the case in Chancery that the Robert Holden named in Thomas Lucke’s will was actually his executor: he was the person with whom Magnus and Alice Fowle were in dispute about the will. Thomas describes him as ‘my hoste’ and his wife Agnes, a witness to the will, as ‘my hostess’: she is to receive many of his household goods. Does this mean that Thomas was living with the Holdens at the time of his death, even though one presumes that the parish provided accommodation for their curate? Or had they taken him in after his expulsion from the suppressed Michelham Priory? So far I’ve failed to find the Holdens in any local records, though a Nicholas Holden, a weaver of Wythyam, would be among the protestants burned at Mayfield in 1556.

Roger Deane and John Fawkener, who are bequeathed equal amounts of money by Thomas Lucke, seem to have been residents of Waldron, about fifteen miles north of Litlington. They had both acted as executors of the will of Thomas Jefferay of Chiddingley in 1550. That will also makes reference to Sir Edward Gage, and I’ve had occasion to mention the Fawkners and the Gages in the same context before, when writing about the will of my 11 x great grandfather John Manser of Wadhurst, who died in 1597. As I noted then, the Fawkners of Waldron were ironmasters and tenants of the Catholic Gage family: indeed, a John Fawkner assisted Sir John Gage in the interrogation of the radical protestant Richard Woodman, who was burned at Lewes in 1557.

Richard Turke, another beneficiary of the will, may also have lived at Waldron, though Richard Turke the elder and younger were named in the lay subsidy roll for Wadhurst in 1524-5. I’ve been unable to find a ‘Brooke of Retherfield’ in the records for Rotherfield, but the ‘Ric. brook the younger’ who witnessed Thomas Lucke’s will may have been the Richard Brooke of Litlington who made his own will in 1556. I’ve been unable to locate the Gregory Martyn (Martyr?) of Mayfield who is mentioned in Thomas’ will. Nor have I had much luck with William Hiberden or Hyberden, another of its witnesses, or with Joan Hyberden, who was perhaps his wife, though there were Hyberdens in Birdham near Chichester at this period, and a Francis Hiberden was parish priest in Heathfield in the 1550s.

St Andrews church, Alfriston (via

St Andrews church, Alfriston (via

There’s a Birdham connection with another of the witnesses to Thomas Lucke’s will. Richard Cresweller would be rector there from 1554 to 1569, but at the time of of Thomas’ death he was vicar of Alfriston, just a couple of miles north of Litlington. The Cresswellers, in fact, seem to have been a wealthy and influential Chichester family. Richard Cressweller was probably the fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, who in the early 1530s had been involved in a dispute, culminating in a violent quarrel, concerning property just across the county border in West Tisted, Hampshire.

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The last will and testament of Thomas Lucke, priest

I’ve taken delivery of a copy of the will of Thomas Lucke, a priest in the parish of Litlington, Sussex, who died in March 1552. I learned about Thomas’ existence when transcribing a document relating to a case in Chancery involving my 12 x great grandparents Magnus and Alice Fowle. Alice’s maiden name was Lucke and the document led me to conclude that she was the daughter of Richard Lucke of Mayfield. Richard had a brother named Thomas, a ‘clarke’, who ‘by his last will in writing made & declaryd at Lythyngton [i.e. Litlington]…the xxivth date of October in the yere of our Lorde god a thousand one hundred fifty & one dyd … bequeathe to the sayd Alyce … certen severall sumes of monye to the sume of tenne pounds together’. In other words, Thomas Lucke was Alice Fowle’s paternal uncle, and the Chancery case seemed to involve a dispute about his will and what had become of Alice’s legacy.

St Michael's church, Litlington, Sussex

St Michael’s church, Litlington, Sussex

Some extracts from Thomas Lucke’s will were included in a collection of Sussex wills published by the Sussex Record Society in 1938. I was interested to see that the editor shared my belief that Thomas had probably been a priest at Michelham Priory, about seven miles from Litlington, until its suppression in 1537. The Record Society publication makes reference to a volume of the Sussex Archaeological Collections which notes that, at the time of the Visitation of 1521, Thomas Luche or Luck was the precentor of the priory, being one of five priests and four novices who made up the community at that time. Interestingly, Michelham was an Augustinian priory, thus providing a connection between the Lucke and Fowle families, since Magnus Fowle’s relative (possibly his uncle) Bartholomew Fowle was the last prior of St Mary Overy in Southwark, having previously been a canon of Leeds Priory in Kent. As I’ve noted before, it seems likely that the Fowles were linked by marriage with the Pattenden family of Lamberhurst, who included among their number Thomas Pattenden, prior of Combwell in the early years of the sixteenth century. All of these were Augustinian foundations. 

Whatever his previous experience, we know that Thomas Lucke was curate at Litlington on 14th December 1551, two months after he made his will and a little over two months before that will was proved. This is the only record of Thomas to be found in the database of clergy appointments. How long he had been at Litlington and what he was doing beforehand is unclear, particularly in the fourteen years since Michelham Priory was shut down and enjoyed the dubious distinction of being the first religious house in the country to be awarded to Thomas Cromwell, the agent of its destruction.

Gatehouse, Michelham Priory (via

Gatehouse, Michelham Priory (via

Thomas Lucke’s will includes some useful information about his associates and connections, though perhaps less about his family relationships than I had hoped. I’m sharing my transcription of the will below, and I’ll discuss what I think it can tell us in another post. I’m fairly confident that I’ve managed to decipher most of the words accurately, though I’m less sure about the Roman numerals, which are perhaps less important. I’ve emboldened proper names thus for ease of reference.

In dei no[m]i[n]e Amen In the xxiivth day of Octobre the yere of o[u]r Lorde god. I Thomas Lucke hole of mynde & off good memorye make this my last wyll & Testament in forme & man[ne]r as ffoloweth. Ffyrst I comytt my soule into the hands of almyghtie god, w[i]th the intercessyon of the blessed virgyn marye mother of god and all the holy companye of heaven, My bodye to be buryed where yt shall please god to departe my soule from this p[re]sent lyffe Item I wyll twenty nobylls of the monye in the hands of Roger deane, & John ffaweken[e]r to be equally devyded betwene theme, as parte of the xth in there hands. And the rest off the xth, that ys, x nobylls to be dystrybuted to the povrtie, after the dyscretyon of my executor: In Lytlyngton, & Mayghffelde & ther aboutt, after the dyscrecon of my executor to the most nedye. Item I wyll of the xth of myne in the hands of Richard Turke, I wyll of the same xth, to hym x nobylls. And to Alyce Lucke other x nobylls. & to the povertie, after the dyscretyon of my executor at my buryall or monethes mynde, at Lytlington, Item I wyll to woddye of hartysfelde that maryed my brothers daughter, which hayth xith in his hands, whereof I gyve to the sayde woddye x nobylls, And to the sayd Alice Lucke other x nobylls, and to the povertie other x nobylls after the dyscretyon of my executor at Lytlyngton and there about, and the xxv remaynynge of the xith, I will to Thomas Lucke of maydston. Item I fforgyve brooke of Retherfelde the xxv which he oweth me Item I wyll of that monye that ys in Gregorye Martynes hands of Mayghfelde xlv to the povertie there to be dystrybuted by my executor. And the Resydue of the monye in his hands, I wyll halfe to Alice Lucke: the other halffe I wyll equally betwene Thomasyn Lucke and Elizabeth Lucke, by the hands of my executor to theme to be delyvred. Item I wyll to Jone hyberden xxd of the monye which I have here about me, that is, ii peces of golde which ys xxs, also angelate, a cruseado wherreof one of the xv I wyll to Robert holden my hoste, & my best shorte gowne my worsted deybyde (?). If (?) I wyll the crusado my Longe fyne gowne, & my sylver spone I wyll to agnes holden my hostes & all my beddynge wth the ptyanance (?). The Resydue of my goods not bequeathed nor here rehersed I wyll to Robert Holden my sole sp(??) I make Mr Willm hiberden my ov[e]rsear of this my Last wyll, to whome I wyll for his Labour my angelate nobyll & one of my gallones (?). Theyse beinge wytnesse Mr Willm hyberden, Sir Cresweller clerke, Sir brook the yongr, and Agnes holden with other the day & yere afore wrytten.

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Some new notes on Magnus Byne (1615 – 1671)

While I wait for some recently-ordered documents to arrive, my attention has turned away temporarily from my sixteenth-century Fowle ancestors and back to their descendants in seventeenth-century Sussex, and in particular to my 9 x great grandfather Magnus Byne (1615 – 1671), who was the rector of Clayton-cum-Keymer. Magnus Byne was the son of Stephen Byne and Mary Manser, the grandson of Edward Byne and Agnes Fowle, the great grandson of Magnus Fowle and his wife Alice Lucke, and the great great grandson of Gabriel Fowle.

Parish church of St John the Baptist, Clayton, Sussex

Parish church of St John the Baptist, Clayton, Sussex

Yesterday I thought I’d found a new source that independently verified some of the information about Magnus Byne that, until then, I’d only seen in Walter Renshaw’s history of the Byne family. The source was a chapter on ‘The Manor of Keymer’ in a 1911 collection published by the Sussex Archaeological Society. However, on closer investigation, it turned out that the chapter was written by none other than Walter Renshaw himself, who was apparently chairman of the society’s council.

Nevertheless, the chapter contains some interesting snippets of information which have added somewhat to my understanding of Magnus Byne’s life and times. For example, it reminded me of the close ties between Clayton and Lewes Priory. The priory held the advowson for the parish until its dissolution in 1537. Not only that, but its famous medieval wall paintings, uncovered in the nineteenth century, were the work of monks from the priory.

Medieval wall paintings uncovered at the parish church of Clayton, Sussex

Medieval wall paintings uncovered at the parish church of Clayton, Sussex

Was it simple coincidence that Magnus Byne became rector of a church with historical ties to Lewes, where his great-great-grandfather (and my 13 x great grandfather) Gabriel Fowle had been master of the free grammar school a hundred years before?

After the dissolution of Lewes Priory, the advowson of Clayton-cum-Keymer came into the possession of Thomas Cromwell, the agent of its destruction, before passing to Edward Knight of Clayton. Renshaw’s chapter lists the three rectors who served the parish in the second half of the sixteenth century. The last of these, John Farley, ‘seems to have been somewhat negligent in his duties, as he forgot to preach for two consecutive years’.

Farley’s successor was William Wane, who was my 10 x great grandfather, since it was his daughter Anne who would marry Magnus Byne and become the mother of my 8 x great grandfather John Byne. Before coming to Clayton, William Wane had been curate at Wivelsfield, twelve miles away. He married Joan Kemp, widow of Thomas Kemp of Albourne, just five miles from Clayton.

Renshaw writes that William Wane was instituted to the rectory at Clayton on 9th December 1601, ‘on the presentation of Queen Elizabeth “ratione defectus liberatione Thomae Whiting generosi”’, and inducted on 1st January 1601/2. He continues:

Some difficulty connected with the title to the advowson existed at this time, as on 25th November, 1601, Sir Edward Michelborne wrote to Sir Robert Cecil stating that he claimed the patronage. In 1603, however, Sir Edward was returned as being the patron. Thomas Whiting was closely related to Sir Edward Michelborne.

Edward Michelborne of Clayton (c.1562 – 1609) was a soldier, adventurer and Member of Parliament who was implicated in the the Earl of Essex’s rebellion of 1601. However, this note by Renshaw is particularly interesting to me because of the other name mentioned: Thomas Whiting. It may be mere coincidence, but this was also the name of the father-in-law of Stephen Byne, Magnus Byne’s eldest son, who would hold the advowson for Clayton for a time after his father’s death. Thomas Whiting, was a London citizen and joiner, and a neighbour both of Stephen, a citizen and upholsterer, and his brother John, a citizen and stationer.

The coronation of King Charles II

The coronation of King Charles II

Is there a connection between the two Thomas Whitings: was Stephen Byne’s father-in-law the son of the man who was once the patron of his father’s parish? And does this suggest that the Whitings of London, like their neighbours the Bynes, had their roots in Sussex? I haven’t been able to answer this question yet, but in hunting for information, I’ve discovered more about Thomas Whiting. As a master joiner, he helped to prepare pageants for the Lord Mayor’s show in 1659, 1660 and 1662, and in 1661 he worked on the entertainments for the coronation of Charles II. He also played a part in the rebuilding of the church of St Edmund the King, Lombard Street, and in the design of Brewers’ Hall. Thomas was obviously a wealthy man: in 1676 he donated an organ to the church of St Botolph, Aldgate, which was installed in the early years of the eighteenth century and is still apparently in situ, having recently been restored.

In the early decades of the seventeenth century, the advowson for Clayton-cum-Keymer passed through a number of hands before being purchased by John Batnor, the puritanically-inclined and possibly deranged rector of Westmeston, just a few miles to the east of Clayton. In his will of 1624 Batnor entrusted the adowson to four people, including ‘my unnaturall and undutifull sonne’ Richard, and stated his wish that the post of rector should be conferred on his son-in-law Henry Cooper, the husband of his daughter Joan. However, this hardly reflected any confidence in Cooper, whom Batnor commanded ‘upon danger of a curse from God to continue incumbent of the said living […] sincerely preaching the sacred word of God without any fantasticall conceits or divelish brethings’. Batnor’s will went on to abuse his other sons, noting that John, the eldest of them, ‘on 15th July, 1623, cursed me with a bitter curse calling me hellhound and challenging mee to be worse than the divell for the divell loved his own’. One can only speculate what life in the Batnor household must have been like.

Renshaw informs us that, on John Batnor senior’s death in 1626, the probate was revoked by sentence: ‘it is in charity to be hoped on the grounds of the testator’s insanity’. The result was that the advowson of Clayton devolved upon John Batnor junior, who took up the post in September 1626. As I’ve noted before, John Bantnor became the first of the clerical husbands of Anne Wane, daughter of his predecessor, when he married her at Clayton in July 1628.

After John Batnor’s death in 1638 he was followed as rector of Clayton by William Chowne, who became Anne’s second husband. Chowne only lived for two years after his arrival at Clayton, and was succeeded in July 1640 by Magnus Byne, who became Anne’s third husband in the following March. Magnus and Anne would have five children together, the youngest being my 8 x great grandfather John, before Anne’s death in March 1661/2. As I noted in my earlier post about Anne, she had spent her whole life at Clayton rectory, being born there as the daughter of one incumbent, and having subequently married three others.

Printing in the 17th century

Printing in the 17th century

Renshaw’s chapter reminds us that Magnus Byne’s second wife was Sarah Bartlett, ‘daughter of John Bartlett of St Faith’s, in the City of London, citizen and stationer’. I’ve written before about John Bartlett’s puritan sympathies and his publication of works of religious propaganda during the 1630s and 1640s. In 1656, eight years before his marriage to Sarah Bartlett, Magnus Byne had published a book of his own, with the resonant title, The Scornful Quakers answered, and their railing reply refutedI wonder if it was through his contacts with London publishers that Magnus met John Bartlett and thus his daughter?

Renshaw notes that Magnus’ diatribe against the Quakers, was printed, not by John Bartlett, but ‘by William Bentley, for Andrew Crook, at the sign of the Green Dragon, in St Paul’s Churchyard. (In 1655 John Bartlett was himself at the sign of the Gilt Cup ‘in the new buildings on the South side of Pauls, neer St Austin’s-Gate’, and in 1657 he would be ‘at the Golden Cup in Pauls Church Yard over against the Drapers’).

The cover of Magnus Byne's book

The cover of Magnus Byne’s book

In the same year, 1656, that he printed Magnus Byne’s book, William Bentley was involved in a case concerning his right to print Bibles, which he claimed were ‘being for the fairnesse of the print, and truth of the Editions generally approved of to be the best that ever were printed’. According to one source, Bentley ‘enjoyed the favour of the interregnum government’ and (rather like John Bartlett) specialised in political and religious works, ‘printing very few texts of imaginative literature’. As for Andrew Crooke, he has been described as ‘one of the leading publishers of his day’, issuing significant texts of English Renaissance drama and producing important editions of works by Ben Jonson and Sir Thomas Browne.

I can’t help thinking that it was through one of these London publishing contacts – whether John Bartlett himself, or William Bentley or Andrew Crooke – that Magnus Byne arranged for his own son, John, my 8 x great grandfather, to be apprenticed as a stationer, probably some time in the late 1660s.

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Gabriel Fowle: a schoolmaster in sixteenth-century Lewes

My revised transcription of the will of my 13 x great grandfather, Gabriel Fowle of Lewes, Sussex, has confirmed that he was indeed the master of the Free Grammar School there. Here is the crucial passage in Gabriel’s will:

Item I wyll to be gyven amonge the scholers of the ffrye schole namely soche have been with me a quarter of a yere iijs iijd a peny a pece, as far as yt wyll serve as to pray for me. Item I wyll to John Cotmott the yonger, Andrewe baran Edward Pelham John Raynold & John ffeharbar for theyr dylygence about me vs amonge them, equally to be devyded & all theyse v to take advantage of theyr peny apece, yf ther be under xl scholers beside them.

I’ve been in email contact with David Arscott, author of Floreat Lewys, 500 Years of Lewes Old Grammar School who confirms that his book refers to Gabriel Fowle as headmaster of the school during the reign of Queen Mary.

A Tudor schoolroom: Stratford Grammar School, attended by William Shakespeare

A Tudor schoolroom: Stratford Grammar School, attended by William Shakespeare

Before we explore Gabriel’s life and career in Lewes, it might be helpful to summarise what we know about his origins and early life. Most sources agree that Gabriel was the son of Nicholas Fowle of Lamberhurst, on the Kent-Sussex border, who made his will in 1522, appointing Gabriel as co-executor with his mother Elizabeth. I’ve come to the conclusion that he is not the ‘Gabriel mercer’ mentioned early in the will, who is to receive a ‘good heffer’ when he reaches the age of eighteen. This bequest may have been the source of the claim in some sources that Gabriel was born in about 1507, whereas I now believe that he was born somewhat earlier, perhaps around 1500 or even in the late 1490s.

The name of the property bequeathed to Gabriel Fowle

The name of the property bequeathed to Gabriel Fowle

Nicholas bequeaths to his son Gabriel ‘my ii messuages with the gardens with a medo and a orcharde called [——–] the whiche I hold in fee formme of the prior and covent of ledes’. The name of the property (see above) is difficult to decipher: the first letter looks like a ‘w’, the second is probably a vowel (‘i’ or ‘e’), the middle consonants could be ‘lh’ or possibly ‘th’, and the final abbreviated group of letters (indicated by the symbol above them) might end in ‘n’. It would be useful to have access to a list of field names in and around Lamberhurst against which to check this. Leeds priory owned many properties in Kent, including the manor of Lamberhurst, until its dissolution some time in the late 1530s.

This bequest is dependent on Gabriel ‘paying suche charges as it is charged with all so that my saide son gabriell shall suffre my said wif his moder to have suche parte of that same messuage & gardene as I have now in occupying for all the terme of her lif’ and provided that ‘my sayde son gabriell shall suffre my saide son Thomas to have all suche yeres (?) as he hath taken of the saide partt of the saide messuage gardens & medow as the said Thomas hath now in farme paying unto hym and here iil of lawfull money of England furthermore’.

Countryside near Lamberhurst (via

Countryside near Lamberhurst (via

Although Gabriel is named as the executor of Nicholas’ will, he seems to have been the youngest of the three sons who are mentioned as beneficiaries. His brother John is to receive a number of properties, including Great Petfold and Little Petfold, on the death of his mother Elizabeth, while his other brother Thomas is bequeathed perhaps the greater part of Nicholas’ lands, including the Byne (or Vyne?) in Lamberhurst town and Pyfers, Paldings, Overmead and Hogwood in the wider parish. Gabriel’s bequest of a single property is quite modest by comparison.

In an earlier post I mentioned that a case in Chancery puts Gabriel Fowle in Lewes by 1529 at the latest. However, I’ve now found a reference to him in the Lay Subsidy Roll for 1524-5 – i.e. the year after his father’s death. Gabriel is listed as resident in the borough of Southover, where he is assessed as earning (?) £2 (per annum?) not quite the lowest amount in the list, but a long way behind the prior of Lewes at £18 and Thomas Puggeslye (of whom more later) at £40.

I had always assumed that Gabriel moved to Southover specifically to teach at the Free Grammar School, but I’ve begun to wonder about this. If he was master of the school in 1554, it would mean he had taught there for thirty years – and that he had been appointed as quite a young man. My fellow researcher Bill Green suggests that Gabriel might have been come to Southover in order to marry. Certainly it would seem that the extensive lands in Ringmer and Glynde that Gabriel bequeathed in his will were probably gained through marriage. The question is: to whom? I’m currently searching his will, and other documents, for clues as to his wife’s surname. I think there’s a good chance that her first name was Agnes – the name that Gabriel gave to his daughter, and that his son Magnus gave his daughter, my 11 x great grandmother.

Ringmer, Sussex

Ringmer, Sussex

The other unsolved mystery surrounding Gabriel’s early adulthood is: where did he acquire the education that prepared him for the role of schoolmaster? I can find no trace of him in the alumni records for Oxford or Cambridge. I wonder what kind of training or qualification a grammar school master needed in the early 16th century?

The Free Grammar School at Southover had been founded out of a bequest in the will of Agnes Morley, who died in 1512, just ten years or so before Gabriel arrived in Lewes. The will includes provision for the employment of a ‘scolemaister which shalbee a preest able to teche grammer in the said Free Scole, if such a preest able to canne bee had, or els to put in a seculer man whiche ys able teche grammer in the meane tyme in his stede’. There was clearly a close relationship between the new school and the neighbouring Cluniac Priory of St Pancras, since Agnes Morley wills that the prior is to be involved in organising the payment of the wages to the schoolmaster and to an usher. The schoolmaster is to receive ‘xli by the yere’ and the ‘receyvour’ appointed by the prior to handle payments is to ensure that the ‘messuage at Watergate, that is to say, the scolehouse and the house that the scolemaister and the ussher dwellith in, and closure about the same’, are ‘well maytenyned and repaired in all maner condition’.

Elsewhere in her will Agnes Morley bequeaths lands in Southover to ‘Thomas Puggislee the elder and the heirs of his body lawfully begotten’, and if he fails to produce an heir, then ‘that al the saide landes and tenementes shall remayne to the use and behofe of the Free Scole at Watergate, and for the mayteynyng of Saynte Erasmes Chapel in the church of Southovere’. Presumably Thomas was a relative – perhaps the father? – of ‘Sir Andrew Puggeslie’, the curate of St Michael’s church in Lewes and later vicar of Ringmer, who witnesssed Gabriel Fowle’s will.

David Arscott informs me that the original building of the Free Grammar School was in the corner of the grounds of what would become Southover Grange. There is still a Watergate Lane nearby. The school would have been very close to the grounds of Lewes priory.

Tudor schoolmaster and pupils (via

Tudor schoolmaster and pupils (via

The names of some of the scholars left money by Gabriel Fowle are familiar from local records of the period. ‘John Cotmott the younger’ may be a relative (the son?) of the man of that name who was assessed in the Lewes Lay Subsidy Roll of 1524-5, and who seems to have been quire wealthy. From Graham Mayhew’s sumptous recent book on Lewes priory, I learn that a John Cotmott was the priory’s surveyor and its second highest paid servant at the time of the Dissolution. He left several houses in his will of 1559. Edward Pelham may have been a member of the noble Pelham family of Sussex, possibly the son or brother of Sir Nicholas Pelham. As for Andrew Baran (Baron?) and John Raynold, there are a number of people with those surnames in contemporary local records. Previously I thought that ‘ffeharbar’ was a misspelling of Fitzherbert, but I see that a Henry Ferherberd was listed in the Lay Subsidy Rolls for Ringmer.

Dunstan Sawyer, vicar of Ringmer during Mary’s reign, and one of the overseers appointed by Gabriel Fowle, seems to have remained a loyal Catholic. In his will of 1559, a year after Queen Elizabeth’s accession, he, like his late friend Gabriel Fowle, asked for masses to be said for his soul.

Some of the other name that occur in Gabriel’s will – such as Nicholas Aptott of Ringmer Green, William Marle, John Fortune and John Revet – might provide valuable clues to his family connections in the area. I’m also intrigued by the fact that two members of the Brown family are mentioned by Gabriel. He leaves money to a certain Thomas Brown, and elsewhere decrees that his moveable goods are to be equally divided between his son Magnus and daughter, Agnes, ‘with thadvyse of my overseers and Edward Brown.’ Is this an indication that Gabriel was closely connected to the Brown family, perhaps by marriage? Might Thomas Brown be the man of that name, from the parish of St John the Baptist, Southover, who made his own will four years later, in 1558?

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The will of Gabriel Fowle (died 1555): a new transcript and new information

My exploration of the life of Bartholomew Fowle, the last prior of St Mary Overy, Southwark, has thrown considerable light on his life but produced no conclusive evidence about his links to my own Fowle ancestors. I’ve discovered that Bartholomew lived until at least 1553 but whether he was, as some sources claim, the brother of my 13 x great grandfather Gabriel Fowle of Southover near Lewes remains unproven.

The home of Anne of Cleves: a surviving Tudor hours in Southover, Lewes

The home of Anne of Cleves: a surviving Tudor house in Southover, Lewes

Researching Bartholomew’s life demonstrated again the considerable uncertainty that surrounds the early generations of the Fowle family. I want to return to that early history at some point, but for now I’m focusing on those ancestors about whom I can write with more confidence. I’m fairly sure, for example, that Magnus Fowle of Mayfield, Sussex, who died in 1595, was my 12 x great grandfather. His only surviving daughter Agnes married Edward Byne of Burwash and they were my 11 x great grandparents. Nor do I have any doubts that Magnus was the son of Gabriel Fowle of Southover: Gabriel’s will of 1554 mentions a son named Magnus, a fairly uncommon name, and Magnus’ own will refers to properties in Ringmer and Glynde that were almost certainly inherited from Gabriel.

Like his supposed brother Bartholomew, Gabriel Fowle is an intriguing figure. If he was indeed the son of Nicholas Fowle of Lamberhurst, on the Kent-Sussex border, then at some point between his birth in about 1507 and 1529 at the very latest (i.e. by the time he was in his early twenties), Gabriel moved about thirty miles south-west to Lewes, where he would remain until his death in 1555 at the age of about 48. According to Walter Renshaw’s history of the Byne family, Gabriel’s will reveals that he was the master of the Free Grammar School in Lewes. Until now, I’ve had to take that claim on trust, since I could find no evidence in my own copy of Gabriel’s will to support it. However, having come across some transcribed extracts from the will online, I realised that two key sentences that I had been unable to decipher contained the vital clue. Armed with this information, I returned to the original will and decided to produce a new transcription.

Springtime at Southover Grange, Lewes (via

Springtime at Southover Grange, Lewes (via

The transcript below updates some of the details in the version I posted here, and I’ve highlighted the two key sentences in bold. A question mark [?] indicates uncertainty about a particular word or phrase, while [—] indicates a word that I was unable to decipher. I’ll have more to say about the will, and other new information that I’ve been able to unearth about Gabriel, in another post.

In the Name of god amen the 27th day of January a[nn]o d[omi]ni 1554 I Gabryell Fowlle off the p[ar]yshe of Southover next Lewes in the countye of Sussex within the dio[cese] of chychystre. hole of mynde & of good remembraunce thanks be to god do orday[n] & make this my Testam[en]t & Last wyll in man[ne]r & fforme ffollowynge. ffyrst I bequeath my soule to allmyghtie god and my bodye to be buryed within the churche yarde of the p[ar]yshe of Southover aforesayd Item I gyve to the hygh altare of Ryngmer xxd. Item I wyll x preistes yf they can be gott to celebrate & say masse for my sowlle & all crysten sowles, & to be honestly recompensed by my executor. It[em] I give my new graylle Imprynted to the churche of Ryngmer. Item I give my wrytten masse book to the church of Southover. I gyve John Harman my sonne in law my best gowen & my best Iacket. Item I do gyve to Jane Bryan my old servaunt that my housse & garden called pecketts in Southover, ffor terme of her lyff, & after her decease to remayne to my daughter agnes harman, & to her heires of her bodye lawfully begotten. Item I gyve to agnes harman my daughter that my peece of grounde callyd ffennes garden lying in the p[ar]yshe of Glynd together with one acre in the gores [?] in Glynde also, to her use for terme of her lyff, & after her death to remayne to Magnus Fowlle my sonne and to his heires of his bodye Lawfully begotten. I wyll my executor to bestowe at my buryall in monye amonge the poutrye of Ringmer, Lewes & Southover by thadvyse of my overseers xs. And as muche at my monethes mynd. Item I wyll all my Lands & Ten[emen]ts Lyenge & beyng in Southover otherwyse then granted to Jane Bryan as ys aforesayd, to John Harman and Agnes hys wyff & to the heires of theyr bodyes lawfully begotten, Provyded & allwayes excepted that the same John shall not clayme any further Sumes of monye nor monye worthe whiche I p[ro]mysed hym for the maryage of my daughter. So that yf the sayd John chaunce to clayme any further Sumes off monye as afore ys sayd, Then my exec[utor] to pay to the same John xx [—] in redye monye & then my sayd exec[utor] to enter to upon all the sayd Lands in these forme as ys aforesayd. Item I wyll my daughter agnes to have my iwells of sylver that ys a [—] with and a bande of sylver & gylte, [—] of my silver spones, her mothers best harness gyrdle, a payr of corall bedes gawdyd with sylver. Item I wyll all my moveable goods, unbequeathed (sauyd [?] books) to be equally devyded betwen my daughter agnes and my exec[utor], with thadvyse of my overseers & Edward Brown. Item I wyll that Jane Bryan my s[er] vaunt have one of my chestes at Ryngmer, with locke and key & a payr of potts [?]. Item I wyll all my Lands in Ryngmer & Glynde otherwyse than ys above specyfyed to Magnus Fowlle my sonne & to his heires of his bodye Lawfully begotten to gether with all suche tytle & ryght whiche I have or owght to have, or by any meanes in tyme to come may have, concerning my right and tytle in Sussex or in Kent, And if yt shall chance my sayd Sonne Magnus to dye without heires of his bodye Lawfully begotten, Then I wyll all my sayd lands & Ten[amen]ts ryyghts & [—] bothe within Kent & Sussex to remayne soly to my daughter Agnes & to her heires of her bodye Lawfully begotten, & yf she fortune to dye without heires of her Bodye Lawfully begotten. Then I wyll all my sayd Lands & [—] to be sold by my overseers, & the Summes of monye to be bestowed by my overseers upon almese howsses, high wayes & suche other other deads & workes of charytye and specyally toward the reparacions of the church of Ryngmer. Item I make my sonne Magnus Fowlle, my sole executor. And Dunstane Sawyer now vicar of Ryngmer & Nycholas Aptott of Ryngmer grene my overseers & the same Dunstane to have for hys labor my second best gown, & the same Nycholas to have an angell or xs of monye. Item I wyll that my overseers shall have full & perfect authoryty to take advyse of Lerned counsel, & to alter & change or otherwyse sett any clause or sentence which might be or ought to be more formally made in any thynge toward the performance of thys my Last wyll, So yt allways be & shalbe toward the strengthynge of the ryghts of my children. as my wyll ys. Item I gyve to all my godchyldren xyd apece. So yt be asked. Item I gyve to John Harman my daughters sonne, a cowe [?], & to Elizabeth Harman my daughters daughter a sylver spone. Item I wyll to be gyven amonge the scholers of the ffrye schole namely soche have been with me a quarter of a yere iijs iijd a peny a pece, as far as yt wyll serve as to pray for me. Item I wyll to John Cotmott the yonger, Andrewe baran Edward Pelham John Raynold & John ffeharbar for theyr dylygence about me vs amonge them, equally to be devyded & all theyse v to take advantage of theyr peny apece, yf ther be under xl scholers beside them. Item I give to Thomas Brown xxd. provided allway yt yf that fortune my sayd oversers to fayle at suche tyme as my land to be sold for Lacke of heires of my children as ys aforesaid, That then I wyll that the churchewardens of the paryshe of Ryngmer for that tyme beynge, shall have ffull power & pfect auctorytye with thadvyse of the other honest men of the p[ar]yshe to sell my sayd Lands & to bestowe the monye thereof, accordynge to the fforme of this my last wyll, as my sayd oversers shuld have done. Item I wyll a copye of my wyll to remayne in p[ar]chement [?] in the churche of Ryngmer, or some other safe keepyinge for the same entent [?] Item I wyll that yf yt shall fortune my oversers to take any payne in rydynge or goynge to se this my wyll fulfylld, they to be honestly recompensed by my exec[utor]. Item I wyll that my overseers shall see this my wyll p[ro]vyd & registered. To all this witnesseth Sr Andrewe Puggeslye. Wyllm Marle, James West, John ffortune, & John Revet [?] with other. S[ig]n[e]d. Jny. [—] echibit [?] Roxia [?] de Marsfield iy die augusti a[nn]o d[omi]ni 1555 [—] ad valore [—]

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In search of Bartholomew Fowle, the last prior of Southwark

In the last post I noted that my Fowle ancestors and their neighbours in late 15th and early 16th century Kent, the Pattendens, had something intriguing in common. Both had family members who were priors of houses of Augustinian canons. I wondered whether this similarity might provide further evidence, confirming suggestions in various family wills, of a connection between the two families.

Thomas Pattenden was prior of Combwell near Goudhurst until his death in 1513. He was both a beneficiary of and a witness to the will of James Pattenden of Lamberhurst who died in 1488. Bartholomew Fowle, who was the prior of St Mary Overy, Southwark, until its dissolution by Henry VIII in 1539, is said by some authorities to have been the son of my 14 x great grandfather Nicholas Fowle of Lamberhurst and the brother of my 13 x great grandfather Gabriel Fowle.

St Mary Overy, from the Norden Map

St Mary Overy, from the Norden Map

So far I’ve found no independent verification of Bartholomew’s link to my Fowle ancestors, and in previous posts I’ve cast doubts on claims that he was Nicholas’ son, while suspecting that he was probably related to him in some way. I remain fascinated by Bartholomew – it’s intriguing to find such an interesting historical figure in one’s family tree – and I’m keen to solve the mystery of his origins and family connections. In this post I’m revisiting Bartholomew’s story and endeavouring to gather together everything that I’ve been able to find out about him. 


Bartholomew Fowle’s date of birth is unknown, and this remains one of the difficulties in establishing his place in the Fowle family tree. However, Bartholomew’s place of birth is said by some sources to have been Lynsted in Kent, a village in the north of the county, between Sittingbourne and Faversham, and about thirty miles north-east of Lamberhurst. For example, a chapter on Lynsted in an eighteenth-century county history notes that ‘Bartholomew Fowle, alias Linsted, a native of this place, was the last prior of St Mary Overie, London, being elected to that office anno 1513.’ Interestingly, Lynsted had close associations with the Roper family, who were linked by marriage with Sir Thomas More: I’ve written elsewhere about the recusant Lady Roper of Teynham who lived at Lynsted Lodge in the early seventeenth century.

Early etching of Lynsted Lodge

Early etching of Lynsted Lodge

Some sources give Bartholomew’s name as Lynsted alias Fowle, while others reverse the order. We can only speculate as to why Bartholomew used an alternative surname. Was it a common habit to take the name of your home village, or was it a particular practice among members of religious orders? Did Bartholomew find it politic to conceal his Fowle family connections for some reason, or alternatively did he have a particular reason (a local benefactor or sponsor, for example) for identifying with Lynsted?

Leeds Priory

At some point Bartholomew Fowle joined the Canons Regular at the Augustinian priory of St Mary and St Nicholas at Leeds, Kent, about twelve miles south-west of Lynsted and eighteen miles north-east of Lamberhurst (which happened to be one of the manors it owned and one of the parishes for which it possessed the advowson) .

Canons Regular were priests living in community under the Rule of St Augustine and sharing their property in common. Unlike monks, who lived a cloistered, contemplative life, the purpose of the life of a canon was to engage in a public ministry of liturgy and sacraments for those who visited their churches. Apparently the canons sought to reflect supernatural order and stability within their priories, with examples of worship, farming, medical care, librarianship, learning, and so forth. The canons often worked in towns and cities, where the worship, medicines, education and the skills of the enclosed Benedictines were not present to the growing numbers of urban dwellers. By the 12th century hundreds of communities of canons had sprung up in Western Europe. Usually they were quite autonomous of one another, and varied in their ministries.

As far as we know, Leeds was the first religious house that Bartholomew joined. I’m not sure at what age young men and women joined religious orders at that time, but my research into recusant families suggests that it was usually in their middle teens. Even so, this doesn’t help us with determining Bartholomew’s date of birth, since although we know when he left Leeds priory – 1509 – we don’t know when he joined. Presumably, since canons tended to be priests, and one assumes that some years training was required before ordination, it was a number of years before then.

William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury, by Hans Holbein

William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury, by Hans Holbein

I haven’t found any records for Leeds priory during Bartholomew’s time there, but two years after he left, Archbishop Warham of Canterbury made a visitation. According to a county history:

Richard Chetham, prior, said that all was well; John Bredgar, formerly prior, was now vicar of Marden, and rarely came to the monastery, but thought that all things were well; and Thomas Vincent, sub-prior, said that much had been reformed, but much still remained to be reformed by the prior and sub-prior. […] Besides the eight canons already named there were twelve others, making a total of twenty in addition to the prior.

We’ve come across Thomas Vincent before. In 1513, on the death of Thomas Pattenden, he would take over as prior of Combwell, just a few miles from Lamberhurst. There was obviously a fair amount of movement of personnel between the Augustinian priories of southern England.

St Mary Overy 

We don’t know why Bartholomew Fowle transferred from Leeds to the priory of St Mary Overy at Southwark in 1509, the year in which Henry VIII came to the throne. Was this a promotion of some kind? If so, it wasn’t yet to a senior role in the community, since that would not come until 1513, four years after Bartholomew’s arrival in Southwark. According to one source, Bartholomew Lynsted alias Fowle was elected sub-prior in January 1513, but there is a suggestion that he was promoted again to prior very soon afterwards, perhaps as early as February in the same year. Robert Michell had been prior from 1499 until his resignation in 1512, when he was succeeded by Robert Shouldham, whose term of office appears to have been less than a year, though the reason for this is unclear.

We only know a little about Bartholomew’s time as prior of Southwark, which coincided with the tumultuous years of Henry VIII’s reign. In previous posts I’ve quoted the account of his intervention at the chapter of the Canons Regular held at Leicester in 1518, when he called ‘with every outward demonstration of trouble and sorrow’ for a ‘stricter and verbal observance’ of their rule.

London Bridge in the 16th century (via

London Bridge in the 16th century (by Peter Jackson, via

At the same conference a letter from Cardinal Wolsey was read, ‘observing with regret that so few men of that religion applied themselves to study’. It seems this criticism could not be applied to Bartholomew Fowle, who was said to have been ‘a very learned man’, and not just in matters of religion. He was the author of the book De Ponte Londini in which he popularised a tradition about the origins of London Bridge, subsequently repeated in Stow’s Survey of London. According to one source:

In the early part of the Saxon times there is no notice of any town or other place on this spot ; but a tradition of Bartholomew Linsted, or Fowle, Iast prior of St. Mary Overie, preserved by Stow (Survey of London, book i, chapter xiii), notices that the profits of the ferry were devoted by the owner, “a maiden named Mary,” to the foundation and endowment of a nunnery, or “house of sisters,” afterwards converted into a college of priests, by whom a bridge of timber was built, which with the aid of the citizens was afterwards converted into one of stone.

Subsequent historians cast doubt on Bartholomew’s theory, but a recent author has reassessed its validity.

In 1535 the annual value of Southark priory was declared to be £624 6s. 6d, with its rents in Southwark alone realising £283 4s. 6d. On November 11th of that year there was a great procession by command of the king, at which the canons were present, with their crosses, candlesticks, and vergers before them, all singing the litany. However, if this was a sign of royal favour towards St Mary Overy, it was to prove shortlived. 


In 1531, following the dispute with Rome over his desire to divorce Katharine of Aragon, Henry VIII had declared himself Supreme Head of the Church of England. Five years later the king, through the agency of his chief enforcer Thomas Cromwell, began the process of suppressing the country’s religious houses and appropriating their property. According to Wriostheley’s Chronicle for the year 1539:

Also this yeare, in Octobre, the priories of Sainct Marie Overis, in Southwarke, and Sainct Bartholomewes, in Smithfield, was suppressed into the Kinges handes, and the channons putt out, and changed to seculer priestes, and all the landes and goodes [escheated] to the Kinges use. 

The priory of St Mary Overy was ‘surrendered’ to Thomas Cromwell’s agents on 27th October 1539. Cromwell himself signed the pension list, which granted £8 each per annum to two of the canons and £6 to nine others. There were eleven annuitants in all, besides the prior, with their pensions totalling £70 in all. At least one source claims that Bartholomew Fowle quibbled over his original grant of £80 per annum and managed to have it increased to £100.

Southwark priory buildings in about 1700

Southwark priory buildings in about 1700

In addition, Bartholomew was provided with a house ‘within the close where Dr Michell was dwelling’. Robert Michell was the last prior but one before Bartholomew, and had probably resigned due to ill health or old age. A certain William Michell, almost certainly a relative, had witnessed the will of Thomas Fowle of Lamberhurst, whom I believe to have been the elder brother of my ancestor Gabriel, in 1525. Thomas left a number of bequests to the priory church at Southwark.

In 1545 the priory buildings and grounds came into the possession of Sir Anthony Browne, and there were complaints in the manor court of Southwark that he had opened a public bowling green in the close and was allowing gambling there. Although he was a staunch Roman Catholic, Browne remained a close friend of Henry VIII and became the owner of much former monastic property. His eldest son, Anthony, was created Viscount Montague in the time of Queen Mary. It seems probable that Lord Montague lived in what had previously been the house of the prior of St. Mary Overy and utilised the other buildings for stabling and so forth. He died in 1593, leaving to his wife, Magdalen (see this post), his mansion house of ‘St. Mary Overies,’ for her life, with reversion to his grandson Anthony.

The area around the former priory buildings became known as Montague Close and, as I’ve written elsewhere, in the late 16th and early 17th century, it became a refuge for Catholic recusants, under the protection of the Browne family.


There is evidence that Bartholomew Fowle remained in London after his enforced retirement, and also that he continued to serve as a priest. For example, in 1543 Dame Joan Milbourne, the widow of a former lord mayor of London, bequeathed money in her will to a number of priests to come to her burial at the church of St Edmund Lombard Street and to pray for her soul. She left the sum of £6 13s 6d ‘to my very good friend Bartholomew Linsted some time prior of St Mary Overies, to pray for my soul’.

From this, we can conclude that Bartholomew Fowle was well connected with the gentry of London and that, despite the religious changes of Henry’s reign, Catholic practices such as prayers for the dead were still popular.

The date of Bartholomew’s death is unknown, and I’ve failed to find any trace of a will, but a number of sources confirm that he was still receiving his pension in 1553. In other words, he lived for at least another fifteen years or so after his expulsion from St Mary Overy.

This means that Bartholomew Fowle long outlived Nicholas Fowle, who died in 1523, and Nicholas’ son Thomas, who died in 1525. Like my ancestor Gabriel, who died in 1555, Bartholomew lived long enough to witness the brief restoration of Catholicism under Queen Mary.

There was a Bartholomew Fowle living in Boughton Monchelsea, Kent, in 1565, about whom we know because of an accusation of incest with his daughter, but it seems extremely unlikely that this was the same person, despite the location.

Family connections?

Does Bartholomew’s survival until at least 1553 provide us with any clues about his date of birth, and therefore about which generation of the Fowle family he belonged to? Life expectancy rates are not much help: many adults died in their thirties or forties in the 16th century, and 50 and 60 were reckoned to be good ages to reach – but there were some cases of survival to the age of 80 or more. If we suppose that Bartholomew was about 30 when he became prior of Southwark in 1513, then he would have been 70 in 1553, which seems reasonable. In that case he would have been born in about 1483. If on the other hand it was possible to lead a religious house at a younger age – say 25? – then he might have been born closer to 1490. On the other hand, he might have been older when he became prior, and survived into his eighties, meaning that he belonged to an earlier generation.

In other words, it’s technically possible that Bartholomew was born late enough to be a son of Nicholas Fowle of Lamberhurst, or early enough to be his contemporary, perhaps his brother. My initial information about Bartholomew came from a footnote in Walter Renshaw’s history of the Byne family of Sussex, in which (page 99) he has this to say about my ancestor Gabriel Fowle: ‘He was son of Nicholas Fowle by Joan (Vince), and brother of William Fowle of Riverhall, with whom the pedigree in Berry’s Suss. Gen. commences, and of Bartholomew, the last prior of St Saviour’s, Southwark’.

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

Riverhall, Wadhurst, former home of the Fowle family, in the 18th century, via

Renshaw cites as his source for these claims ‘Harleian MSS, 1562, fol[io] 89a and 90’, which is in fact the record of the Visitations of Sussex. This contains a pedigree of the Fowle family that is replete with dubious information. For example, it claims that Nicholas was the son of Thomas Fowle of Lamberhurst , who is said to have died in the seventeenth year of the reign of Henry VII (i.e. 1502), but of whom I have found no trace. The same pedigree claims that Nicholas was married to Joan Vince and gives him four sons: William of Riverhall, Gabriel, Bartholomew and Robert Fowle of Carshalton. My fellow researcher Bill Green has highlighted some of the problems with this information in an article in the journal of the Sussex Family History Group (March 2012). On a more trivial level, the pedigree mistakenly states that the daughter of Gabriel’s son Magnus daughter was the wife of someone named ‘Bird’ of Burwash, when in fact we know that the person Agnes Fowle married was Edward Byne. In other words, the source on which Renshaw depends for his information about Bartholomew Fowle is inherently unreliable. Incidentally, there is another example in the same footnote that shows Renshaw, for all his meticulous and groundbreaking research, relying on unconfirmed sources, when he claims that Richard Lucke of Mayfield, the father of Alice who married Magnus Byne, made his will in 1593, when in fact (as I have shown) the person who did so was a different Richard Lucke of Wadhurst, and Alice’s father had died some forty years earlier.

On her family history website Mandy Willard includes this extract from Arms of Sussex families by J.F.Huxford:

In 1427, during the reign of King Henry VI, a certain Ricardus Foull was summonded to parliament for East Grinstead.  Whether or not he was an ancestor of the Fowles I cannot say, for they are said to descend from a brother of Bartholomew Fowle, last prior of St. Mary Overie in Southwark.  They were among the ironmasters of Sussex and a forge at Riverhall between Wadhurst and Frant was worked by them.

Who was the brother of Bartholomew Fowle from whom the Fowles of Sussex were said to descend? Was it Nicholas, or was Huxford simply relying on the Visitation records, which claimed that William Fowle of Riverhall was the brother of Bartholomew?

Perhaps the strongest argument against Bartholomew being the brother of Gabriel and the son of Nicholas is not chronology, but locality. If Bartholomew really was ‘of Lynsted’, then it’s unlikely that he was the son of Nicholas, unless the latter had moved all the way across Kent to Lamberhurst at some point during his adult life.

It seems that determining Bartholomew’s precise place in the Fowle family tree will depend on resolving some of the other puzzles that still surround the early history of the family.

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