Nearly two years ago I posted my transcription of the last will and testament of Thomas Fowle of Lamberhurst, Kent, who died in 1525. At the time I mistakenly believed Thomas to be my 15 x great grandfather, and the father of Nicholas Fowle of Lamberhurst. However, I’ve since realised that Thomas was almost certainly Nicholas’ son, and therefore the brother of my 13 x great grandfather Gabriel Fowle, who was the master of the Free Grammar School in Lewes.
As I wrote in an earlier post, Nicholas Fowle of Lamberhurst made his own will in 1522/23, in the sixth year of the reign of Henry VIII. From Nicholas’ will we can conclude that he was married to a woman named Elizabeth and that they had three sons: Thomas, John and Gabriel. The will divides Nicholas’ lands between his wife and his three sons, with Thomas to receive a number of properties in the parish of Lamberhurst, including one called ‘the byne’ in the town itself.
Fowle family researcher Bill Green infers from Nicholas’ will that Thomas was probably the firstborn son, and that he may have been born in the 1490s. That Thomas was still a young man when he died can also be inferred from his own will: firstly from its date, soon after the death of his father, and from the fact that, though he was married by this time, his two children, a daughter named Elizabeth and a son whose name is not given, were not yet of age. It’s possible that Thomas Fowle married his wife Elizabeth in about 1515 or shortly thereafter.
As I noted when I first wrote about Thomas’ will, one of the most intriguing things about this brief document is its references to the church of St Margaret in Southwark. Thomas’ home was in Lamberhurst, some fifty miles away. And yet not only does Thomas ask to be buried in the churchyard at St Margaret’s but he leaves money to the church and to priests associated with it. What was the connection between a young landowner with family and property in rural Kent, and a church on the southern outskirts of London?
The Southwark connection is of interest because of the theory, reproduced in a number of documents but not convincingly proven, that Bartholomew Fowle, the prior of Southwark at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries, was a close relative of Thomas’: according to some sources, he may even have been his brother. In my most recent post about Bartholomew, earlier this year, I noted that he was originally a member of the Augustinian priory of St Mary and Nicholas at Leeds, Kent (about 18 miles from Lamberhurst), before moving in 1509 to the priory of St Mary Overy in Southwark, where he was elected prior in 1513 or thereabouts, a post he held until the priory was ‘surrendered’ to Thomas Cromwell in 1539.
When I first analysed Thomas Fowle’s will, I assumed that St Margaret’s church was identical with the Augustinian priory and speculated that the ‘gostely’ or spiritual father to whom Thomas bequeaths a sum of money might actually be Bartholomew himself. Either that, or Bartholomew might be the ‘high master of Saint Margaret’ who is also left money by Thomas. However, further research has made me more cautious about leaping to such conclusions. Establishing the precise link between the various churches of Southwark is quite difficult, but I understand that St Margaret’s was the parish church for the northern part of Southwark during the Middle Ages. It was granted to the priory of St Mary Overy during the reign of Henry I, in other words before 1135 (the priory had been established in 1106), but this does not necessarily mean that it formed part of the establishment: the priory was also granted a number of other churches in the City of London and elsewhere, as well as properties in Kent and Berkshire. It was only under Henry VIII, and after the forced closure of the priory, that St Margaret’s was united with the nearby church of St Mary Magdalene and the original priory church became the parish church of St Saviour (and much later, the Anglican cathedral of Southwark).
So at the time of Thomas Fowle’s death, the church of St Margaret, Southwark, was a separate parish church, albeit under the general supervision of the nearby priory of St Mary Overy. However, we know that St Margaret’s, Southwark, was also home to the Perpetual Guild or Fraternity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, founded in the reign of Henry VI and later incorporated under Henry VII to manage parish affairs and charities for the people of the northern part of Southwark. In fact, at least one of the priests named in Thomas Fowle’s will appears to have been associated with the fraternity. ‘Sir Richard Dawson morowe masse priest’ was one of the witnesses to the will – a ‘morrow mass priest’ being simply one who said the morning or early mass in a parish church. The Clergy Database includes an entry in 1541, two years after the dissolution of Southwark Priory, for a stipendiary priest by the name of ‘Ricardus Dawson’ at St Saviour’s church, Southwark, where his stipend was paid by ‘the Fraternity of the Blessed Mary in St Saviour’s church’.
As for the other priests referred to in Thomas Fowle’s will, the only William Mychell I can find in the database was a chantry priest and chaplain in Canterbury in 1540. I’ve speculated before that he may have been a relative of the Robert Michell who was prior of Southwark not long before Bartholomew Fowle. At the dissolution, Bartholomew as provided with a house ‘within the close where Dr Michell was dwelling’. The third witness to the will, with Richard Dawson and William Mychell, was ‘Willm Carnell p[ar]ishe priest and Curet of the foresaid Saint Margaretts’. The only other reference I can find to a priest of that name, at around this time, is to a William Carnell, priest, who witnessed wills in Rye, Sussex, in 1509 and 1517. Both wills included bequests to the Augustinian friars, and it’s possible that Carnell was a member of the priory at Rye before moving to Southwark. If so, it might mean that, as well as owning the ‘temporality’ or physical property of St Margaret’s, and controlling its advowson or clerical appointments, Southwark priory was also in the habit of providing its parish priest from among its own number.
Of course, none of this gets us any nearer to understanding why Thomas Fowle of Lamberhurst should want to be buried at St Margaret’s or why he leaves money to the priests associated with the church. And then there’s the unresolved question of who he means by the ‘high master’ of St Margaret. Was this the prior of Southwark, who could be said to have overall responsibility for the church? Or was it the master of the Fraternity? I even wondered at one point if there was a school associated with the church, and whether Thomas had been a pupil there, and the reference was to a school master. But that wouldn’t necessarily explain his continuing attachment to the church and his familiarity with its clergy. It’s frustrating that Thomas fails to name the ‘high master’, but explicable if this person’s role was well known. It’s less understandable that he withholds the name of his spiritual father: would it be obvious who he meant?
I believe Thomas Fowle’s association with Southwark, and the fact that Bartholomew Fowle was prior there, cannot be mere coincidence, but determining the relationship between the two men, and the exact connection between Bartholomew and my Fowle ancestors, remains frustratingly difficult.