Gabriel Fowle: a schoolmaster in sixteenth-century Lewes

My revised transcription of the will of my 13 x great grandfather, Gabriel Fowle of Lewes, Sussex, has confirmed that he was indeed the master of the Free Grammar School there. Here is the crucial passage in Gabriel’s will:

Item I wyll to be gyven amonge the scholers of the ffrye schole namely soche have been with me a quarter of a yere iijs iijd a peny a pece, as far as yt wyll serve as to pray for me. Item I wyll to John Cotmott the yonger, Andrewe baran Edward Pelham John Raynold & John ffeharbar for theyr dylygence about me vs amonge them, equally to be devyded & all theyse v to take advantage of theyr peny apece, yf ther be under xl scholers beside them.

I’ve been in email contact with David Arscott, author of Floreat Lewys, 500 Years of Lewes Old Grammar School who confirms that his book refers to Gabriel Fowle as headmaster of the school during the reign of Queen Mary.

A Tudor schoolroom: Stratford Grammar School, attended by William Shakespeare

A Tudor schoolroom: Stratford Grammar School, attended by William Shakespeare

Before we explore Gabriel’s life and career in Lewes, it might be helpful to summarise what we know about his origins and early life. Most sources agree that Gabriel was the son of Nicholas Fowle of Lamberhurst, on the Kent-Sussex border, who made his will in 1522, appointing Gabriel as co-executor with his mother Elizabeth. I’ve come to the conclusion that he is not the ‘Gabriel mercer’ mentioned early in the will, who is to receive a ‘good heffer’ when he reaches the age of eighteen. This bequest may have been the source of the claim in some sources that Gabriel was born in about 1507, whereas I now believe that he was born somewhat earlier, perhaps around 1500 or even in the late 1490s.

The name of the property bequeathed to Gabriel Fowle

The name of the property bequeathed to Gabriel Fowle

Nicholas bequeaths to his son Gabriel ‘my ii messuages with the gardens with a medo and a orcharde called [——–] the whiche I hold in fee formme of the prior and covent of ledes’. The name of the property (see above) is difficult to decipher: the first letter looks like a ‘w’, the second is probably a vowel (‘i’ or ‘e’), the middle consonants could be ‘lh’ or possibly ‘th’, and the final abbreviated group of letters (indicated by the symbol above them) might end in ‘n’. It would be useful to have access to a list of field names in and around Lamberhurst against which to check this. Leeds priory owned many properties in Kent, including the manor of Lamberhurst, until its dissolution some time in the late 1530s.

This bequest is dependent on Gabriel ‘paying suche charges as it is charged with all so that my saide son gabriell shall suffre my said wif his moder to have suche parte of that same messuage & gardene as I have now in occupying for all the terme of her lif’ and provided that ‘my sayde son gabriell shall suffre my saide son Thomas to have all suche yeres (?) as he hath taken of the saide partt of the saide messuage gardens & medow as the said Thomas hath now in farme paying unto hym and here iil of lawfull money of England furthermore’.

Countryside near Lamberhurst (via

Countryside near Lamberhurst (via

Although Gabriel is named as the executor of Nicholas’ will, he seems to have been the youngest of the three sons who are mentioned as beneficiaries. His brother John is to receive a number of properties, including Great Petfold and Little Petfold, on the death of his mother Elizabeth, while his other brother Thomas is bequeathed perhaps the greater part of Nicholas’ lands, including the Byne (or Vyne?) in Lamberhurst town and Pyfers, Paldings, Overmead and Hogwood in the wider parish. Gabriel’s bequest of a single property is quite modest by comparison.

In an earlier post I mentioned that a case in Chancery puts Gabriel Fowle in Lewes by 1529 at the latest. However, I’ve now found a reference to him in the Lay Subsidy Roll for 1524-5 – i.e. the year after his father’s death. Gabriel is listed as resident in the borough of Southover, where he is assessed as earning (?) £2 (per annum?) not quite the lowest amount in the list, but a long way behind the prior of Lewes at £18 and Thomas Puggeslye (of whom more later) at £40.

I had always assumed that Gabriel moved to Southover specifically to teach at the Free Grammar School, but I’ve begun to wonder about this. If he was master of the school in 1554, it would mean he had taught there for thirty years – and that he had been appointed as quite a young man. My fellow researcher Bill Green suggests that Gabriel might have been come to Southover in order to marry. Certainly it would seem that the extensive lands in Ringmer and Glynde that Gabriel bequeathed in his will were probably gained through marriage. The question is: to whom? I’m currently searching his will, and other documents, for clues as to his wife’s surname. I think there’s a good chance that her first name was Agnes – the name that Gabriel gave to his daughter, and that his son Magnus gave his daughter, my 11 x great grandmother.

Ringmer, Sussex

Ringmer, Sussex

The other unsolved mystery surrounding Gabriel’s early adulthood is: where did he acquire the education that prepared him for the role of schoolmaster? I can find no trace of him in the alumni records for Oxford or Cambridge. I wonder what kind of training or qualification a grammar school master needed in the early 16th century?

The Free Grammar School at Southover had been founded out of a bequest in the will of Agnes Morley, who died in 1512, just ten years or so before Gabriel arrived in Lewes. The will includes provision for the employment of a ‘scolemaister which shalbee a preest able to teche grammer in the said Free Scole, if such a preest able to canne bee had, or els to put in a seculer man whiche ys able teche grammer in the meane tyme in his stede’. There was clearly a close relationship between the new school and the neighbouring Cluniac Priory of St Pancras, since Agnes Morley wills that the prior is to be involved in organising the payment of the wages to the schoolmaster and to an usher. The schoolmaster is to receive ‘xli by the yere’ and the ‘receyvour’ appointed by the prior to handle payments is to ensure that the ‘messuage at Watergate, that is to say, the scolehouse and the house that the scolemaister and the ussher dwellith in, and closure about the same’, are ‘well maytenyned and repaired in all maner condition’.

Elsewhere in her will Agnes Morley bequeaths lands in Southover to ‘Thomas Puggislee the elder and the heirs of his body lawfully begotten’, and if he fails to produce an heir, then ‘that al the saide landes and tenementes shall remayne to the use and behofe of the Free Scole at Watergate, and for the mayteynyng of Saynte Erasmes Chapel in the church of Southovere’. Presumably Thomas was a relative – perhaps the father? – of ‘Sir Andrew Puggeslie’, the curate of St Michael’s church in Lewes and later vicar of Ringmer, who witnesssed Gabriel Fowle’s will.

David Arscott informs me that the original building of the Free Grammar School was in the corner of the grounds of what would become Southover Grange. There is still a Watergate Lane nearby. The school would have been very close to the grounds of Lewes priory.

Tudor schoolmaster and pupils (via

Tudor schoolmaster and pupils (via

The names of some of the scholars left money by Gabriel Fowle are familiar from local records of the period. ‘John Cotmott the younger’ may be a relative (the son?) of the man of that name who was assessed in the Lewes Lay Subsidy Roll of 1524-5, and who seems to have been quite wealthy. From Graham Mayhew’s sumptous recent book on Lewes priory, I learn that a John Cotmott was the priory’s surveyor and its second highest paid servant at the time of the Dissolution. He left several houses in his will of 1559. Edward Pelham may have been a member of the noble Pelham family of Sussex, possibly the son or brother of Sir Nicholas Pelham. As for Andrew Baran (Baron?) and John Raynold, there are a number of people with those surnames in contemporary local records. Previously I thought that ‘ffeharbar’ was a misspelling of Fitzherbert, but I see that a Henry Ferherberd was listed in the Lay Subsidy Rolls for Ringmer.

Dunstan Sawyer, vicar of Ringmer during Mary’s reign, and one of the overseers appointed by Gabriel Fowle, seems to have remained a loyal Catholic. In his will of 1559, a year after Queen Elizabeth’s accession, he, like his late friend Gabriel Fowle, asked for masses to be said for his soul.

Some of the other name that occur in Gabriel’s will – such as Nicholas Aptott of Ringmer Green, William Marle, John Fortune and John Revet – might provide valuable clues to his family connections in the area. I’m also intrigued by the fact that two members of the Brown family are mentioned by Gabriel. He leaves money to a certain Thomas Brown, and elsewhere decrees that his moveable goods are to be equally divided between his son Magnus and daughter, Agnes, ‘with thadvyse of my overseers and Edward Brown.’ Is this an indication that Gabriel was closely connected to the Brown family, perhaps by marriage? Might Thomas Brown be the man of that name, from the parish of St John the Baptist, Southover, who made his own will four years later, in 1558?

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