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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.