(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 thurgartonhistory.co.uk)

Augustinian canon (via thurgartonhistory.co.uk)

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.