In the last few posts I’ve been exploring the will of my 12 x great grandfather, Magnus Fowle, of Mayfield in Sussex, who died in 1595 or 1596. In this post, I want to share what we now know about Magnus’ life and about his immediate family.
Magnus Fowle was born in about 1528, perhaps not long after the death of his great grandfather Thomas Fowle of Lamberhurst in Kent. Magnus was the son of Gabriel Fowle, who was himself the son of Thomas Fowle’s eldest son Nicholas. Gabriel was probably Nicholas Fowle’s second-born son: the latter’s eldest son and heir was William, who lived at Riverhall, in Wadhurst.
As I’ve noted before, we know very little about Gabriel Fowle’s life: for example, we don’t know the name of his wife, Magnus’ mother, who seems to have predeceased him. Since I’m still waiting to see a copy of Gabriel’s will, I’m relying on other sources for the little information I have about his family. According to one source, he had only two children – or at least, two who survived – Magnus, and a daughter named Agnes, who married John Harman. However, Magnus’ will mentions ‘my sister Morfyn’, and ‘my brother Morfyn’ is named as one of the will’s overseers, suggesting that there might have been another Fowle sister who married a man of that name.
Renshaw’s history of the Byne family tells us that, according to his will, Gabriel Fowle was master of the Free Grammar School in Lewes, though Renshaw cites another contemporary source that places Gabriel in Burwash, where he often served as proctor of the court, in 1551. At that time the grammar school was in Southover, on the south side of Lewes, close to the priory with which it was associated, and this is where Gabriel was living at the time of his death. It seems likely that Magnus Fowle spent at least some of his childhood in Lewes, and we know that his sister’s husband John Harman (of whom more another time) was a merchant there. However, we also know that Gabriel owned properties in the villages of Ringmer and Glyne, to the east of the town, which he bequeathed to Magnus in his will.
As I’ve mentioned before, Gabriel Fowle was a faithful Catholic whose will suggests that he would have welcomed the restoration of the old religion under Mary Tudor, whose brief reign coincided with the last few years of his life. The key events of the English Reformation – Henry VIII’s assumption of the title of Supreme Head of the Church, the royal divorce, the dissolution of the monasteries (which affected the Fowle family personally, since one of their number was the prior of St Mary Overy in Southwark) – all took place during Magnus Fowle’s childhood. However, we can assume that, given his family’s loyalties, Magnus’ childhood would have been marked by traditionally Catholic practices, and that this influence would have remained with him in later life, despite his apparent outward conformity to the newly-protestant state church.
We don’t know exactly when Magnus was married, but it was probably some time around 1550, and almost certainly during the reign of Edward VI. Magnus married Alice Lucke, daughter of Richard Lucke of Mayfield. It seems likely that it was through his wife, and perhaps following a marriage settlement from his father-in-law, that Magnus Fowle came to be living in Mayfield. Renshaw cites a source that has Magnus, described as a yeoman, living in Mayfield in 1560. His father Gabriel died in 1559, the year that Elizabeth I became Queen, having made his will in 1554, during Mary’s reign.
According to his own will of 1595, Magnus Fowle only had one (surviving) child from his marriage to Alice: a daughter named Agnes, my 12 x great grandmother, who was probably born in Mayfield in the early 1550s. Agnes would marry Edward Byne, eldest son of William Byne of Burwash and his wife Joan. William had died in 1560 and Joan in 1575, making Edward her sole executor. Renshaw informs us that Edward Byne was both a freehold and copyhold tenant of the manor of Bivelham in Mayfield and that he owned various other properties in nearby villages.
Agnes Fowle must have married Edward Byne in the early 1570s. We know that their son Magnus was born around this time, since he was of age when the grandfather whose name he shaeed made his will in 1595 and appointed him, with his mother Agnes, as an executor. Although they aren’t mentioned in Magnus Fowle’s will, we know that Edward and Agnes Byne also had other children by this time: William, Edward, Stephen (my 10 x great grandfather, born in 1586), John, James (who was born in December 1593 but died a year later), and an unnamed daughter who died shortly after she was born.
Magnus Fowle was one of the witnesses to the will of John Byne of Withderden, in Ticehurst, in 1581. The precise identity of this John Byne, who married Dionysia Pudland in 1569, is unclear, but from this we can surmise that he was a relation (a cousin, perhaps) of Magnus’ son-in-law Edward.
Since she is not mentioned in Magnus’ will of 1595, we can assume that his wife Alice predeceased him. Magnus died at Mayfield, some time between making his will in July 1595 and its being proved by his daughter Agnes Byne in May of the following year.