The family of Gabriel Fowle revisited

My recent research into the family of my maternal 12 x great grandmother Alice Fowle née Lucke of Mayfield, Sussex, has re-awakened my interest in the Fowle family. I’m connected to them through my 11 x great grandfather Edward Byne of Burwash (died 1614), who married Agnes Fowle (died 1626), daughter of Magnus and Alice. Magnus Fowle, who died in 1595, was the only son of Gabriel Fowle of Southover, near Lewes, who may have been the master of the Free Grammar School there, and who died in 1555. Gabriel was my 13 x great grandfather.

Parish church of St Mary the Virgin, Lamberhurst

Parish church of St Mary the Virgin, Lamberhurst

Gabriel Fowle was born in about 1507, in the penultimate year of the reign of Henry VII. He was the son of Nicholas Fowle of Lamberhurst (then in Sussex, now in Kent) and his wife Elizabeth. They were my 14 x great grandparents. Nicholas made his will in 1522/3, in the sixth year of the reign of Henry VIII, appointing Elizabeth and Gabriel as his executors. From the will, we know that Nicholas had two others sons, Thomas and John, who both seem to have been older than Gabriel.

Some time ago I transcribed and discussed the will of Thomas Fowle of Lamberhurst, who died in 1525, believing at the time that he was Nicholas’ father and thus my 15 x great grandfather. A number of online sources had led me to this conclusion, but those sources also turned out to be mistaken about other aspects of Fowle family history: for example, they repeated the common error that Nicholas’ wife was a certain Joan Vince, when his will clearly states that his wife’s name was Elizabeth.

I now think it more likely that the Thomas Fowle who made his will in 1525 was actually Nicholas’ son and the brother of my ancestor Gabriel. What is the evidence for this? Firstly, on the negative side, there is some evidence that Nicholas’ father was a certain William Fowle, rather than Thomas (I’m indebted to my fellow Fowle family researcher Bill Green for this information). Secondly, from his will it would appear that Thomas Fowle of Lamberhurst was quite a young man when he died: he mentions an unmarried daughter and a son who is not yet twenty-one. Thirdly, Thomas’ daughter is named Elizabeth, so may have been named after his mother, Nicholas’ wife.

Unfortunately, Thomas’ will is quite brief and shows evidence of having been written in a hurry – the consequence of a sudden illness, perhaps? As a result, there is no mention of any relatives beyond his immediate family, nor of any specific properties that might enable us to connect him with Nicholas. However, the fact that Nicholas had a son named Thomas, who was probably born in about 1490 and would therefore have been a young married man with a young family in the 1520s, makes it likely that this is the same person.

St Mary Overy in the 17th century by Wenceslas Hollar

St Mary Overy, Southwark by Wenceslas Hollar

Even if Thomas turns out to be my 14 x great uncle rather than my 15 x great grandfather, I remain fascinated by his tantalisingly brief will, and particularly by his connection with the priory of St Mary Overy in Southwark. Although he describes himself as ‘Thomas Fowle dwelling in the p[ar]ishe of Lamberest [Lamberhurst] in the countie of Kent’, he wishes to be buried ‘within the church yarde of Saint Margaret in Southwerk’, all of his religious bequests are to the same church, and two priests there are among the witnesses to the will. Thomas also makes a bequest to ‘my gosteley fader’. Since writing about Thomas’ will a year ago, I’ve seen this term mentioned in other contexts and can confirm that it refers to the writer’s spiritual father or mentor. For example, in Act 2 Scene 3 of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Romeo addresses Friar Lawrence as ‘my ghostly Father’. My knowledge of early-sixteenth-century lay religiosity is sketchy, but from the evidence of his will I would conclude that Thomas Lamberhurst was quite a pious individual.

It seems likely that Thomas Fowle’s association with Southwark had something to do with Bartholomew Fowle being the prior of St Mary Overy, of which the church of St Margaret was a part. Some sources claim that Bartholomew was the son of Nicholas, and therefore Thomas’ brother, but in an earlier post I cast doubt on this theory. For one thing, Bartholomew Fowle was also known as Bartholomew Linsted, because he was apparently born in the Kent village of that name, which was about thirty miles from Lamberhurst. We also know that Bartholomew was elected sub-prior at Southwark in 1513, having transferred there from Leeds priory in 1509. Now, it’s not altogether impossible that Nicholas Fowle had a son who was old enough to hold monastic office in 1513. And the fact that Bartholomew is not mentioned in Nicholas’ will is not necessarily conclusive: my excursions into recusant history have shown that relatives who had taken religious vows were not always named in wills (though in the case of recusants, these omissions may have been for reasons of legality or security). However, given his dates, it seems more likely that Bartholomew was a more distant relative of Thomas Fowle’s – perhaps an uncle or cousin? For now, Bartholomew’s precise connection to my Fowle ancestors remains unproven. Nevertheless, when Thomas Fowle made his will, Bartholomew Fowle had been prior of St Mary Overy for twelve years, and it’s possible that he is the ‘high master’ of St Margaret’s to whom Thomas made one of his bequests. Could he also be Thomas’ ‘gosteley fader’?

We know that Thomas’ brother Gabriel, my 13 x great grandfather, was not yet eighteen years old when his father Nicholas died in 1523. His life thereafter is something of a mystery, but we know that he was certainly living in Lewes by 1529 at the latest. He was named in a case in Chancery that was heard some time between 1518 and 1529. Gabriel and a certain John Fortey were defendants in a case concerning tenements with gardens in East Porte, late in the ownership of one John Salisbery of Lewes. (I assume East Porte is identical with the modern Eastport Lane in Southover, the part of Lewes where Gabriel is said to have lived.) The plaintiffs were Henry Hylles of Lewes, a yeoman, and his wife Agnes, who was the great granddaughter of the said John Salisbery. Some time between 1538 and 1544 Gabriel Fowle or Voule was again the defendant in a Chancery case concerning ‘detention of deeds relating to messuages and gardens in Lewes Cliff’. (Cliffe is a district to the east of Lewes) The plaintiffs were Hugh Vyncent and his wife Anne, daughter and executrix of John May. Gabriel was described as the supervisor of May’s will.

Priory of St Pancras, Lewes (via lewespriory.org.uk)

Priory of St Pancras, Lewes (via lewespriory.org.uk)

Walter Renshaw, in his history of the Byne family, suggests that Gabriel Fowle was master of the Free Grammar School in Lewes. If so, then it seems likely that he himself received some form of higher education, though I’ve yet to find his name in any university records. The school had been founded in 1513 by the will of Agnes Morley and was attached to the Cluniac Priory of St Pancras, which was also in Southover. The priory was surrendered to the Crown in 1537, at the time of the Dissolution of the monasteries, and became the property of Thomas Cromwell, the agent of its destruction. However, the Free Grammar School seems to have survived these events.

Curiously, Renshaw also found records from 1551 that describe Gabriel Fowle as ‘of Burwash’ and which suggest that he often acted as proctor in the court there. Burwash is twenty miles or so east of Lewes, but only about ten miles south of Lamberhurst. It’s possible that Gabriel inherited property there from his father, and that his connection to the area helps to explain how his son Magnus came to marry a woman from nearby Mayfield. Burwash was, of course, the home of my 11 x great grandfather Edward Byne, who would marry Magnus’ daughter Agnes.

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