The Luckes and the Fowles: united by faith?

Thomas Lucke, who died in 1552, was the brother of my 13 x great grandfather Richard Lucke of Mayfield, Sussex. At the time of his death, Thomas was a priest in the parish of Litlington, but until its suppression in 1537, he had been a canon at the Augustinian priory in nearby Michelham. Thomas Lucke’s will, as well as supplying us with a useful catalogue of local names, is notable for its traditionally Catholic preamble:

Ffyrst I comytt my soule into the hands of almyghtie god, wth the intercessyon of the blessed virgyn marye mother of god and all the holy companye of heaven.

These words, written four years into the reign of Edward VI and two years after the Catholic mass had been banned in England, suggest that Thomas continued to adhere to the old religion even after his enforced departure from Michelham and his appointment to a parish in the (now protestant) English church. As Robert Whiting explains, bequeathing one’s soul to the Virgin Mary and the saints remained common throughout the middle years of the 16th century, despite the dramatic changes under Henry and Edward, and the practice only began to decline during the reign of Elizabeth. Tim Cooper points out that preambles of this kind were popular not only with the laity but also among clergy who wished to signal their continuing attachment to the traditional faith. Robert Brooke of Litlington, one of the witnesses to Thomas Lucke’s will, included a similar bequest – ‘to our Lady Saynt Mary and to all the holy company of heaven’ – in his own will six years later.

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

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

There is evidence that Thomas was not the only member of the Lucke family to maintain his allegiance to the Catholic faith after the schism between England and Rome. John Lucke of Mayfield, who was almost certainly a relative of Thomas, and may well have been another brother of his, made his own will two years earlier, in 1549. Like Thomas, John Lucke begins by committing his soul ‘to Almightie god our lady saynt Mary and all the glorious company of heaven’. But he goes further than Thomas in his explicit Catholicism, following the medieval practice of donating money for the maintenance of ‘lights’ for the altars of local churches:

Item I give to the high aultir ther for my tithes & oblacions forgotten or withholden lyd. Item I bequeath to the light of the withsaid church lcyd. Item to our mother church of seynt ayngell of Southemallinge vyd.

As Caroline Litzenberger notes, bequests of this kind provide us with vital evidence of continuing popular adherence to the traditional faith. Indeed, some historians maintain that most of the population remained Catholic in their sympathies until Elizabeth’s reign. Towards the end of his will, having left money to his unmarried daughter Christian, John Lucke appends the following proviso:

Item if the saide Cristian happen to dye before she be married then the said fyve poundes to be bestowed in this manner five nobles to apriest to praye for my soule her soule and all xten soules and other five nobles to the church of maughfield aforesaid.

Paying to have Masses said for one’s soul after death was a defiantly Catholic practice. John Lucke’s bequest suggests either that he knew his parish priest was enough of a traditionalist to carry out his request, or that he was confident, despite Edward’s protestant reforms, of a return to Catholic practice. Even my 13 x great grandfather Gabriel Fowle, who made his will during the reign of the Catholic Mary Tudor, was careful, in asking for ten priests ‘to celebrate & say masse for my sowlle & all crysten sowles’, to add the proviso ‘yf they can be gott’.

Catholic Mass in the Middle Ages

Catholic Mass in the Middle Ages

The wills of Thomas and John Lucke suggest that the Lucke family remained Catholic in its religious sympathies, at least during the middle years of the century. This may help us to understand how my 12 x great grandparents Alice Lucke and Magnus Fowle came together. As already mentioned, Magnus’ father Gabriel, the master of the Free Grammar School in Lewes, which had been closely connected to Lewes Priory before its suppression, made an explicitly Catholic will before his death in 1555. As well as the request for Masses to be said for his soul, Gabriel leaves his ‘wrytten masse book’ to his parish church in Southover.

As for Magnus, I’ve written before about the curious bequest in his own will of 1595 to Eleanor Ashburnham, a member of a notable family of Sussex recusants (Eleanor had been fined £40 for recusancy three years earlier). Moreoever, it would seem that Magnus’ bequest of his own soul to the Trinity – ‘to Almightie god, the father, the sonne, and the holie ghoste, Three persones and one god’ – was a neutral form of words often used by Catholics and ‘church papists’ to signify their allegiance to the traditional faith, while avoiding both an accusation of recusancy and the florid Calvinist-influenced language of the reformers.

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