Alice Fowle and the Lucke family: evidence from a case in Chancery

How can the Chancery bill that I transcribed in my last post help us to understand the family background of my 12 x great grandmother, Alice Fowle of Mayfield, Sussex?

One of the drawbacks of the document, or at least of the copy that I’ve been sent, is that it doesn’t seem to be dated. The reference to the case in the National Archives catalogue is imprecise, placing it some time in the period 1558 – 1579: in other words, in the first half of the reign of Elizabeth I. I’ve discovered that this corresponds with the period of office of the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal to whom Magnus and Alice Fowle addressed their plea. I’d already managed to decipher the reference near the beginning of the document to the ‘Lorde Keeper of the Seale of England’ and then the word ‘knyght’ immediately before it. The actual name above it was more difficult to identify, but I looked up a list of Lord Keepers and discovered that it was Sir Nicholas Bacon, the father of the philosopher Francis Bacon, who was Lord Keeper of the Seal between 1551 and his death in 1579.

Sir Nicholas Bacon (via Wikipedia)

Sir Nicholas Bacon (via Wikipedia)

The only date given in the document, as far as I can see, is 24th October 1551, the date of the disputed will that is its subject. So we know that the Chancery case must date from some time after 1551. Unfortunately, we don’t have precise dates for the births or marriage of Magnus and Alice Fowle. The only firm dates we have for them are the will of Magnus’ father Gabriel Fowle in 1554, which makes no mention of Alice or any grandchildren, and the marriage of Magnus and Alice’s daughter Agnes to Edward Byne (they were my 11 x great grandparents), which took place in 1575. It seems likely that Magnus and Alice were married some time in the mid- to late-1550s, and that Agnes, their only surviving child, was born shortly afterwards. Without further evidence, it’s difficult to date the Chancery bill more exactly, but I suspect it might date from the late 1550s or early 1560s: in other words, during the reign of Mary, or the early years of Elizabeth’s reign. The reference to ‘the Queenes maieste’ means that the document can’t have been written before 1553, when Edward VI died.

As to what the document can tell us about Alice Fowle’s family of origin, it’s almost certain, despite the breaks caused by folds and creases in the parchment, that she was one of the daughters of Richard Lucke, ‘late of Mayfield deceased’. If this is true, then Richard can’t, despite Renshaw’s claim, be the Richard Lucke of Wadhurst whose will I transcribed in a recent post, since he made that will in 1590 and died in 1593. However, he may yet turn out to be a relative of some kind.

The will at issue in this legal dispute seems not to be that of Alice’s father Richard but of the latter’s brother, who is said to have been a ‘clarke’, in other words, a priest or minister. At first, I thought this might be one of the two John Luckes who we know to have been Church of England ministers, but their dates are too late. The first John Lucke was born at Wadhurst in about 1567 and studied at Clare College, Cambridge in the late 1580s. He was vicar of Mayfield from 1620 to 1624. His son, another John Lucke, was born at Mayfield and studied at Sidney Sussex College in the early 1620s. We know that he was ordained, but I haven’t found a record of his appointments.

Litlington parish church, Sussex (via totally-cuckoo.com)

Litlington parish church, Sussex (via totally-cuckoo.com)

In fact, the brother of Richard Lucke who was a ‘clarke’ turns out to have been the Thomas Lucke whose name is mentioned elsewhere in the Chancery document. The place where he wrote his will – ‘Lythyngton’ – provides the vital clue. A Thomas Lucke was curate at Lythington, or Litlington, in Sussex, in 1551. It’s unclear how long he served there, but his stay may have been brief and curtailed by his death: the only date given in the clergy records in 14th December 1551. I’ve been unable to find a record of Thomas’ graduation from either of the universities, and the church records don’t give details of his ordination. Intriguingly, a Thomas Lucke had been one of the priests at Michelham Priory, an Augustinian foundation until its suppression in 1537, when it had the dubious distinction of being the first monastic site to be awarded to Thomas Cromwell. Is it possible that this Thomas Lucke became a secular priest on his ejection from Michelham and turned up at Litlington, which after all was only about six miles away? On the other hand, would a former monk have been comfortable serving the ‘reformed’ church of Edward VI? Whatever the truth of the matter, it seems likely that Thomas Lucke of Michelham was connected in some way to the Luckes of Mayfield and Wadhurst.

Thomas Lucke’s last will and testament appears in a catalogue of Sussex wills, and I’m in the process of ordering a copy from the local record office, in the hope that it includes some more clues about the wider Lucke family.

If Thomas Lucke, priest, was an uncle of Alice Fowle’s, then the Elizabeth Lucke ‘lately deceased an other of the daughters of the sayde Richard Lucke’, also mentioned in the Chancery document, must have been her sister – and given her name, must have been unmarried. Again, if a copy of Elizabeth’s will is available, then it might help us to fill in some of the missing information about her relatives.

The dispute at the heart of the Chancery case need not detain us, and is anyway difficult to reconstruct from the partly-legible document. It would seem that Thomas Lucke made Robert Holden of Mayfield the executor of his will but that, according to Magnus and Alice Fowle, he had abused his trust and acted in a way that ‘vexyd and troublyd’ the complainants. I haven’t yet found any other records for Holden, but he is said to be acting in league with one William Penkhurst, whose family had lived in the Mayfield area for a number of generations, intermarrying with other families that crop up in my family tree including (ironically) the Fowles.

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