The Ma(u)nsers of Hightown

My 10th great grandfather Stephen Byne, a yeoman farmer in Burwash, Sussex, married my 10th great grandmother, Mary Manser, in January 1611/12. The King James Bible was published in the previous year, and just a few months before their wedding, Shakespeare’s The Tempest was performed for the first time.

I’ve written about Stephen Byne and his family in earlier posts. In this post, I want to explore the family background of his wife Mary. She was the daughter of John Manser of Wadhurst, a village just a few miles from Burwash. The date of Mary Manser’s birth is not known, but it was probably some time in the 1590s. Mary was one of two children born to John Manser and his wife Jane Snatt who are known to have survived their parents. The other was Mary’s brother Christopher, who would also marry into the Byne family.

John Manser, who was probably born in about 1570, was one of the younger sons of Robert Manser or Maunser of Hightown, Wadhurst. Robert was the son of Christopher Manser, who died in 1546 (the spelling of the surname changed in the course of the sixteenth century). Christopher’s father was Walter Maunser, who was born in about 1470, and his father was Sir Robert Maunser of Hightown, the earliest known member of the family.


Part of Richard Budgen’s map of 1724, showing ‘High town’ to the south-west of Wadhurst

Hightown stood on the Wealden Heights, about 400 feet above sea level, and was inhabited from the thirteenth century onwards, and perhaps before. In 1483 it was recorded as the home of Sir Robert Maunser, my 15th great grandfather, described by one source as ‘a substantial landowner, whose descendants were great iron masters.’  According to the same source:

The Maunser family built several houses on the site. A map from 1652 shows an Elizabethan manor house, half timbered and gabled, with outbuildings and a church. The estate measured 303 acres and included a hammer pond, made by damming up the stream near the present Buttons Farm. This would have been used to work the adjacent iron forges.

Apparently a map from 1839 shows Hightown with a house, gardens, outbuildings and cottages, the estate now covering 261 acres. At around this time the name of the property changed from Hightown to Wadhurst Park, the name it bears today. In the late nineteenth century it was owned by Jose Murrieta, the scion of a wealthy Spanish family who in 1877 was awarded the title of Marques de Santurce by King Alfonso XII. His wife was also Spanish, and it was she who undoubtedly contributed a great deal towards achieving the high position the family held in English society. According to one source: ‘She was clever and fascinating as well as beautiful and a great favourite of the late King Edward VII.’ The source continues:

Among the frequent guests at Wadhurst Park were Lord Randolph Churchill, Billy Oliphant, Lord Charles Beresford and Arthur Balfour, who often came to relax in the pleasant atmosphere at the Murrieta’s new family seat. Edward VII, as Prince of Wales, rarely seemed happier and more at ease than at Wadhurst Park.

Deer at Wadhurst Park (via

This lavish lifestyle came to a sorry end:

In 1890 the financial house of Baring was thrown into crisis when Argentina defaulted on bond payments. The Murrietas were heavily involved with the Argentine Railways and lost their fortune in the aftermath of the crisis. Both Wadhurst Park and the house in Carlton House Terrace had to be sold.  

The purchaser was Julius Charles Drew, co-founder of the Home and Colonial Stores. At least one more owner followed, and then:

During the Second World War the house was requisitioned for troops. Prior to the Dieppe raid and before D-Day Canadian soldiers were billeted there awaiting embarkation to Normandy. After that it was used as a prisoner of war camp. In 1948 because it was so dilapidated the house was demolished. 

In 1976 the estate was purchased by Swedish-born businessman and billionaire Dr Hans Rausing, said to be the richest man in Britain, who built a distinctive one-storey house, retaining parts of the old house as a feature of the gardens.

Part of Hans Rausing’s modern house at Wadhurst Park (via Wikipedia)

Early generations

According to the record of the Heralds’ Visitation of Sussex, my 15th great grandfather Sir Robert Maunser or Manser was known to be alive in 1483, during the reign of Richard III, by whom presumably he was knighted. Apparently Robert married a woman named Margaret and they had two sons: Walter and John. The latter is said to have died during the lifetime of his father, leaving a son named Thomas who lived in Sussex. He in turn had a son, also named Thomas, with whom the line seems to have died out.

In 1570, a property later known as Bridge Cottage in Uckfield was said to be occupied by Thomas Maunser, grandson or great grandson of Sir Robert Maunser. This is almost certainly the ‘Thomas Manser sonne of Thomas Manser’ who was left money in the 1545 will of my 13th great grandfather Christopher Manser (see below). Thomas the younger would have been Christopher’s second cousin. Interestingly, in 1584 the same property was in the possession of Arthur Langworth of Buxted – almost certainly the person of that name referred to dismissively in the 1595 will of my ancestor Magnus Fowle.

As for Robert and Margaret’s older son and heir Walter, he is said to have been alive during the reign of Henry VII, but the name of his wife is omitted from the Heralds’ pedigree. Walter was probably born in the 1470s or thereabouts. The only child of his that we know of is his son and heir Christopher, my 13th great grandfather.

Christopher Manser

Christopher, who inherited Hightown from his father Walter, is said to have been alive in 1526, during the reign of Henry VIII. According to the Visitation records, he married a woman named Mildred, the daughter of a Barham of Wadhurst. However, Christopher must have married for a second time at some point, since his will of 1545 gives his wife’s name as Joan. There’s evidence of the first marriage in the name of one of Christopher’s daughters, and it’s possible that all four of the children named in the will were the result of that marriage. The Barhams were an old Sussex family whose history overlaps with that of my ancestors at a number of points, but to date I haven’t been able to discover how Mildred fits into their family tree.

According to his will, Christopher Manser had three daughters and one son. By this time, Mildred was already married to Robert Wenbourne, who seems to have been the son of John Wenbourne of Wadhurst. There is a link between this family and the ‘tenement’ called Wenborn or Wenbans which Christopher would bequeath to his wife Joan. This property would later pass to Christopher’s grandson Abraham Manser, the brother of my 11th great grandfather John Manser of Wadhurst.

Wenbans, or Wenbourne, in 2008 (via

Christopher’s daughter Maryan appears to have been unmarried at the time of her father’s death, while we gather that her sister Elizabeth was probably married to John Thorpe. I’ve tracked down Thorpe’s will – he died in 1552 – and it confirms that this was indeed the case. Not only that, but by the time John Thorpe died, he and Elizabeth had five children: Christopher, George, Edward, Mildred and ‘Betterys’ (Beatrice?). Mildred was not of age when her father died, while Christopher junior was old enough to be appointed executor, suggesting that his parents had been married for more than twenty years, which places Elizabeth Manser’s probable date of birth some time in the 1510s. John Thorpe appointed ‘my brother Wenborne’ as overseer of his will: presumably this is his brother-in-law Robert, married to his wife’s sister Mildred. Although Thorpe does not mention his place of residence, his will was witnessed by ‘John Bayly preste’, who in other records is said to be of the parish of Wadhurst.

As for the other people mentioned in Christopher’s will, William Barham, one of the witnesses, was no doubt a relative of his late wife Mildred, while George Darrell was probably the person of that name who was Member of Parliament for East Grinstead and Lewes between 1547 and 1554. A Gray’s Inn lawyer, Darrell was the son of Thomas Darrell of Scotney Castle. His father, also a lawyer, was a legal adviser to Sir John Gage of West Firle, Sussex, a courtier and another prominent Catholic, whose patronage may have assisted George’s parliamentary career.

Christopher Manser’s will was also witnessed by a priest: a certain ‘Sr Thomas Hoth’. The same man would witness the will of John Wenbourne, Robert Wenborne’s father, just over a year later. At first, I struggled to find any trace of Hothe in the records. However, in a chapter on ‘Richard Woodman, Sussex Protestantism and the Construction of Marytrdom’ in Art, Literature and Religion in Early Modern Sussex: Culture and Conflict (Ashgate, 2014), Paul Quinn of the University of Chichester mentions a Thomas Hoth who was formerly the precentor of the Augustinian New Priory in Hastings, but in 1533 was charged ‘with rejecting purgatory, tithes and payment on the four offering days, and of supporting clerical marriage, a vernacular translation of the New Testament, and justification by faith’. It’s possible that the same Thomas Hoth went on to become an itinerant protestant preacher and that he may have radicalised a number of the Sussex martyrs who died during Queen Mary’s reign. Quinn also suggests that Hoth may himself have suffered for his beliefs, perhaps being identical with the Thomas Ahoth who is listed in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.

The burning of protestant martyrs at Lewes, Sussex, in 1557

Paul Quinn connects Thomas Hoth with the burgeoning protestant community in East Grinstead, just twenty miles from Wadhurst. It’s possible that, as an intinerant preacher proselytising for the new faith, Hoth visited a number of East Sussex parishes and the fact of his witnessing Christopher Manser’s and John Wenborne’s wills could be evidence that they were among his converts. At the same time, like his contemporary and my probable ancestor John Lucke, Christopher begins his will by bequeathing his soul ‘to almighty God, our lady Saint Mary and all the (glorious) company of heaven’.

If I’m right about Hoth’s identity, then Christopher Manser’s will may provide an interesting example of a transitional phase between old and new forms of piety. It may be significant that Christopher’s will includes none of the traditional bequests for altar lights to be found in John Lucke’s will, or the requests for masses to be said for his soul that occur in the will of another of my 13th great grandfathers, Gabriel Fowle, who died ten years after him.


Stephen Byne of Burwash (1586 – 1664)

In an earlier post I wrote about three of the four sons of my 11th great grandparents Edward and Agnes Byne of Burwash, Sussex, who died in 1611 and 1626 respectively. In this post I want to discuss their other son, my 10th great grandfather Stephen Byne.

Stephen Byne was baptised on 3rd July 1586, in the twenty-seventh year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, at the parish church in Burwash, though he is said to have been born in nearby Mayfield. Since this was his mother Agnes’ home village, it’s possible that she returned there to give birth. We know that Stephen later lived in Burwash, though curiously the will of his uncle Symon Byne, made in 1616, in which Stephen is appointed as one of the overseers, describes him as ‘of Mayfield’.

Stephen was the fourth of the five sons of Edward and Agnes Byne, born eleven years after their marriage. On his father’s side of the family he was the grandson of William Byne of Burwash, who had died in 1559, twenty-seven years before Stephen was born. On his mother’s side, he was the grandson of Magnus Fowle of Mayfield, the great grandson of Gabriel Fowle of Southover, and the great great grandson of Nicholas Fowle of Lamberhurst, as well as the grandson of Richard Lucke of Mayfield.

Stephen had three older brothers – Magnus, William and Edward were ten, seven and five years older than Stephen respectively – and they would eventually be joined by another brother, John, born three years after Stephen.

Parish church of St Peter and St Paul, Wadhurst (via

On 22nd January 1611/2, in the ninth year of the reign of James I, Stephen married Mary Maunser or Manser in the parish church at Wadhurst, a village about six miles to the north of Burwash. (The spelling of Maunser/Manser varies across the generations, but for consistency I will use the later spelling, Manser, from now on.) Stephen was twenty-six years old, but Mary’s exact age is unknown. She was the daughter of John Manser of Wadhurst, who was in turn a younger son of Robert Manser of Hightown, Wadhurst. The Mansers of Hightown will be the subject of the next few posts.

Stephen and Mary Byne had six children, all of them baptised in the parish church at Burwash. Elizabeth was baptised on 22nd January 1613/4; my 9th great grandfather Magnus was born in 1615; John was baptised on 2nd May 1617; Mary on 30th July 1620; Edward on 2nd December 1623; and Stephen on 14th October 1632.

In January 1614, two years after Stephen’s marriage, his father Edward Byne died and was buried at Burwash. Although Edward’s will contains very little information about the disposal of his property, we know that Stephen must have inherited Moyses farm in Burwash (which Edward had inherited in turn from his father William), since he would later bequeath it to his daughter Mary. Two years later, in 1616, Stephen’s unmarried brother John died, leaving some of his property to Stephen.

Old map of East Sussex

Walter Renshaw’s history of the Byne family (pages 122-3) includes detailed information about Stephen Byne’s various land holdings and transactions. In a 1617 survey of the manor of Framfield, Stephen was said to hold the reversion expectant upon the death of his mother Agnes in some copyholds in the parish of Buxted. According to the rental book of the manor of Sharnden in Mayfield, in 1635 he held as freehold a messuage called Bardens, a barn and several parcels of land in Mayfield, containing approximately eighty acres, including Downescroft and Longfield, which had originally belonged to his maternal grandfather Magnus Fowle.

In April 1625, in the first year of the reign of Charles I, Stephen’s mother Agnes Byne née Fowle made her will, in which she appointed Stephen and his older brother Magnus as join executors. Agnes died just over a year later. One of the witnesses to Agnes Byne’s will was Christopher Manser, the brother of Stephen’s wife Mary. Four years earlier, Christopher had married Anne Byne, daughter of the John Byne about whose precise connection to my ancestors’ family I’m still uncertain. Anne’s sister Elizabeth had married Abraham Manser of Wenbourne, the younger brother of John Manser of Wadhurst and thus the uncle of both Christopher and Mary. Abraham Manser died in 1627 and a year later Stephen Byne’s older brother Magnus Byne would marry his widow Elizabeth; it was his third marriage.

There is a record in the National Archives of a transaction that took place on 24th June 1630, by which Christopher Manser of Burwash, yeoman, and his wife Anne sold to Stephen Byne of Burwash, yeoman, for £200, the following properties: 

8 pieces of land ‘Woodlandes and Highlandes’ ; 6 pieces S: lands of John French gent and lands of Thomas Glyd gent ‘Wiverherst’; N, W: a whapple way from Halton house to ‘William Cruttendens of the greene’; E: land of Herbert Lunsford gent. Other 2 pieces W: land of HL; N: whapple way as before; S: land of TG ‘Wiverherst’, E: lands of John Dawe of Burwash ‘Hickmans’.

These properties, which had lately been occupied by the John Byne of Burwash mentioned above, had came to Anne Manser by partition of the property of her brother Thomas Byne in 1620. The witnesses to the transaction included Stephen’s brother Magnus Byne, and the latter’s son, also named Magnus.

In 1628 Stephen Byne’s unmarried brother William died and once again Stephen acted as co-executor of the will with his brother Magnus. In 1635 the records show that Stephen was a churchwarden at Burwash.

On 14th August 1632 Stephen’s daughter Elizabeth married Gregory Markwick, ‘gent’ of Wadhurst at Burwash. I understand that they had three children – Isaac, Judith and Elizabeth – before Elizabeth’s early death at the age of twenty-seven, perhaps in childbirth, in 1639. She was buried at Burwash and later the same year Gregory Markwick married again, to Mary Hosmer, at Rotherfield (presumably she wasa relative of the George Hosmer mentioned in the previous post). I assume that Stephen’s other daughter Mary did not marry, since he refers to her as ‘Mary Byne’ in his will of 1660, when she would have been forty years old.

Peterhouse, Cambridge, in the early seventeenth century (via

Two of Stephen and Mary Byne’s sons, John and Stephen junior, followed in their father’s footsteps and became yeoman farmers. The other two sons, my 9th great grandfather Magnus and his younger brother Edward, both studied at Cambridge and became clerics. I’m not sure how unusual it was for a yeoman farmer to have two sons who went into the Church – and whether this was a sign of substantial wealth, enabling their father to pay for their education, or simply of unusual religious devotion.

In 1631 Stephen’s second son Magnus entered Emmanuel College Cambridge, while in 1639 his fourth son Edward went up to Peterhouse. Renshaw suggests that Edward had previously been a pupil at Merchant Taylors School in London and it’s possible that Magnus also studied there. The year 1639 saw Magnus taking up a curacy at Wadhurst, while in the following year later he was appointed rector of Clayton-cum-Keymer, where he married Anne Chowne, the widow of two previous incumbents and the daughter of a third. As for Edward, he enjoyed a controversial career at Cambridge, which coincided with the religious and political turbulence leading up to the Civil War, in which Edward’s own partisanship for the Parliamentary cause and for Puritan doctrine seems clear. In 1652, in the second year of the Cromwellian Commonwealth, Edward married Martha Radford of Surrey.

In May 1647 Stephen Byne’s older brother Magnus died at Framfield; he appointed Stephen and the latter’s son Magnus as the overseers of his will. In December of the same year Stephen’s brother Edward made his will, appointing Stephen as one of the overseers.

Stephen Byne made his own will on 24th July 1660. It’s quite a brief document and the only land bequeathed is the farm at Moyses, said to consist of fourteen acres. Since Stephen’s wife Mary is mentioned in the will, we know that she survived her husband. The main beneficiary of the will seems to have been Stephen Byne junior, who wa appointed executor. The will was witnessed by Edward Polhill and John Polhill. In a recent post I speculated about the identities of these two men and their connection with other Polhills who are linked to my family history.

Having been born in the reign of Elizabeth I, and having survived the reigns of James I and Charles I, as well as the Civil War and the Cromwellian Protectorate, Stephen Byne died in the spring of 1664, four years after the monarchy was restored under Charles II. Stephen was buried at Burwash on 22nd April 1664. He would have been about seventy-eight years old.

The early seventeenth-century wills of Edward and Agnes Byne

In piecing together the story of my 11th great grandparents, Edward and Agnes Byne of Burwash, Sussex, and their family, their respective wills have been a key resource. In this post, I’m reproducing my transcriptions of the two wills, since I believe they offer an intriguing insight into the familial and social circumstances of a yeoman farmer and his family at the turn of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as the long reign of Elizabeth I gave way to the reigns of the first two Stuart monarchs, James I and his son Charles. I’ve divided the wills into separate sections, for ease of reading.

Burwash churchyard

Edward Byne made his will first, in December 1611:

In the name of God Amen the eleventh daye of December in the yeare of our Lord God one Thousand Six Hundred and Eleven and in the nynthe yeare of the Raigne of our Soveraigne Lord James by the grace of God of England Fraunce and Ireland Kinge defender of the faythe and of Scotland the five and fortieth

I Edward Byne of the parrishe of Burwashe in the County of Sussex yeoman being in good health and of good and perfect memory I prayse God therefore doe make ordayne and dispose this my present Testament and last will in writinge in manner and forme following

First and principally I Commend my Soule into the hands of Allmighty God my maker and redeemer and my Body to the earth when yt shall please him,

Item I give to the poore people of the parrishe of Burwashe Tenn Shillings of lawfull money of England To bee payd and distributed amongst the poorest of them by my Executrix hereafter named upon the daye of my burial or within halfe a yeare next after my decease at her discretion

Item I give and bequeath unto Symon Byne my brother Tenn shillings of lawfull English money To bee payd unto him within one whole yeare next after my decease

Item I give and bequeath unto my sonne John my best Cubbard standing in the hall the iron plates standing in the hall Chimny and in the kitchen Chymny the furnase in the backhouse my best ioyned Chest standing in the middle Chamber the ioyned bedsteddle in the same Chamber one featherbed one bowlster two pillows two pillowcotes one Covering one blankett fower payres of sheetes of indifferente sorte two pewter platters one pewter dishe a latten Candlesticke the longe table in the hall with the frame, whereon yt lyeth and my best longe forme

Item I give and bequeath to my sonne William one bedsteddle or Twenty shillings of money one featherbed one bowlster twoo pillows two pillowcotes one Covering one blanket fower payres of sheetes of indifferent sorte two pewter platters one pewter dishe

Item I give and bequeath unto my sonne Edward my ioyned bedsteddle standing in my house at Chatfeild with all the other moveable goods of mine there one featherbed one bowlster two pillows two pillowcotes one Coveringe one blanket fower payres of sheetes two pewter platters one pewter dishe

Item I give and bequeath unto my sonne Stephen one ioyned bedsteddle or Twenty shillings of money one featherbed one bowlster two pillows two pillowcotes one coveringe one blanket fower payres of sheetes of indifferent sorte twoo pewter platters one pewter dishe

Item I give and bequeath unto Magnus Byne my sonne Twenty pounds of lawfull Englishe money To bee payd unto him within one whole yeare next after my decease

Item I give and bequeath unto John Byne sonne of the sayd Magnus five pounds of lawfull Englishe money and I give unto Agnes Byne daughter of the sayd Magnus Byne the like some of five pounds To bee payd unto them and putt fourth for them by my Executrix within one halfe yeare next after my decease for and to the use of benefit and advantage of them

And whereas my sonne Edward Byne standeth bounde unto mee in one obligacion of the some of Two hundred pounds with condicion there underwritten for the full payment of one hundred pounds of currante Englishe money out of thys aforesaid some of one hundred pounds I give and bequeath unto my sonne William fifty pounds of currante Englishe money To bee payd unto him by my sonne Edward within one whole yeare next after my decease

All with goods and household stuffe so by mee before given and bequeathed unto my severall sonnes aforesaid my will and true meaning ys that Agnes my wife shall have enioye and use during her naturall life and after her decease to come and remayne unto them according as the same ys beforegiven

Item I give and bequeath to my sonne William fyfty pounds of currante Englishe money To bee payd him by myne Executrix within one whole yeare next after my decease

Item I give and bequeathe unto Edward Byne my godsonne Three shillings foure pence of lawfull Englishe money

Item I give to Edward Cruttoll my godsonne three shillings foure pence

And I give unto Thomas Byne my godsonne Twoo shillings six pence

And also I give unto Edward Morphen my godsonne Twoo shillings six pence

And I give unto Thomas Byne my godsonne two shillings six pence To be payd within one whole yeare next after my decease

All the residue of all my moveable goods and Chattles not formerly given or bequeathed I give unto Agnes my wife the debts and legacyes being first payd and dischardged whom I make my sole Executrix of this my last will and Testament

Also I also further nominate ordeyne and appoynt my Couzen John Byne of Burwashe Towne and my Brother Symon Byne to bee my trusty supervisors and Overseers of this my last will and Testament to see the same performed according to my true intent and meaning And I give unto them three shillings foure pence a peece and to have all their Chardges and Expenses payd and borne when they shall travel and take paynes to see my will performed

The marke of Edward Byne John Byne David Foster.

Having been born in the time of Edward VI, Edward Byne survived the reigns of Mary Tudor and her sister Elizabeth, dying in the middle of the reign of James I. Although will preambles should not be taken as an entirely reliable guide to the testator’s religious affiliation, it’s worth noting that Edward’s is fairly neutral and certainly doesn’t reflect the implicit Calvinism of some of his descendants. He simply commends his soul ‘into the hands of Allmighty God my maker and redeemer and my Body to the earth when yt shall please him’.

Edward bequeaths ‘tenn shillings of lawfull English money’ to his brother Symon Byne. Symon, whose wife Eleanor had died in 1608, would outlive Edward by just two years, dying in 1616. One of Edward’s sons, Stephen, my 10th great grandfather, acted as an overseer of his uncle’s will and another son, Magnus, would be a witness. Edward Byne’s other brother Anthony had died in 1591.

Edward Byne makes bequests to his five sons: Magnus, John, William, Edward and Stephen. They are to inherit certain items of furniture which I assume are from Edward’s house in Burwash, though his son Edward junior is given items from his father’s house in ‘Chatfield’ – i.e. Catsfield. The catalogue of furniture and household items provides a fascinating insight into the material circumstances of a prosperous yeoman farmer in the early years of the seventeenth century.

The sons also receive gifts of money, as do two grandchildren, John and Agnes, the children of Edward’s eldest son Magnus. As I noted in the previous post, Magnus Byne of Framfield had already been married twice at the time of his father’s death: first to Elizabeth Polhill, and then to Bathshua Newington. I’m not sure which of these wives was the mother of John and Agnes.

Edward also bequeaths money to a number of godchildren. Of these, Edward Byne was probably the son of his late brother Anthony Byne of Battle, of whose will Edward had been co-executor twenty years earlier. Thomas Byne may have been another nephew, the son of Edward’s other brother Symon, born in 1590. 

Another godson, Edward Cruttoll, was probably the son of William Cruttoll of Wadhurst, who died in 1616. Edward Cruttoll would make his own will in 1653. The precise relationship between the Cruttolls and the Byne family is unclear, though we know that another William Cruttoll would marry Ellen or Helen Manser, daughter of Abraham Manser of Wenbourne and his wife Elizabeth Byne, in 1636, while a Christopher Cruttoll witnessed Abraham’s will of 1627. (To complicate the picture further: after Abraham’s death, Elizabeth would marry Magnus Byne, son of Edward, thus becoming his third wife.)

As for ‘Edward Morphen my godsonne’, sources suggest that he may have been the son of William Morfin of Mayfield and that he may have been baptised there on 8th October 1598. His father is probably the person referred to in the 1595 will of Edward Byne’s father-in-law Magnus Fowle as ‘my Brother William Morffyn’ and appointed as one of the overseers of that will. Presumably he was the husband of ‘my sister Morfyn’ also mentioned by Magnus. I’ve been able to find no further information about the Morfyns or Morphens of Mayfield, my only clue being the reference to a John Murfin in the Recusant Rolls for 1592-3.

There are two witnesses to Edward Byne’s will. One is David Foster, who I assume was a relative (perhaps a son?) of Edward’s sister Jane, who married Henry Foster. The other is John Byne, who is probably the person referred to elsewhere as ‘my Couzen John Byne of Burwash Towne’ and appointed as joint overseer together with Edward’s brother Symon. Renshaw, in his history of the Byne family, suggests that John may be the person of that name who was the father of the Elizabeth Byne who married Abraham Manser, and later Magnus Byne, and whose identity and connection to the other Bynes of Burwash is unclear.

Renshaw notes that Edward’s brother Simon had two sons named John, one who died in infancy in 1590, and a second whose date of birth is not given, but who would obviously have been after 1590, meaning that he might have been twenty years old or so when Edward made his will. Perhaps a stronger candidate is the John Byne who was born in 1576, the son of Edward’s cousin Thomas Byne, himself the son of Richard Byne of Ticehurst. This person was apparently a churchwarden in Burwash in 1609 and 1611, where Edward himself had served in the same capacity some years earlier. The first of these John Bynes would have been Edward’s nephew, the other his second cousin, but we know that the word ‘cousin’ was often used very loosely in wills of the time, to cover any number of family relationships.  

Part of the will of Agnes Byne (via national

Edward Byne would live for just over two years after making his will, being buried at Burwash on 4th January 1613/14. His widow Agnes would live for another twelve years after her husband’s death, making her will in April 1625, in the first year of the reign of Charles I, and dying in the following year. My transcription of her will follows: 

In the name of God Amen The seaven and twentieth daye of Aprill in the yeare of our Lord god One thousand six hundred and five & twentieth And in the first yeare of the raigne of our Soveraigne Lord Charles by the grace of god of England Scotland Frances and Ireland kinge defender of the faith

I Agnes Byne of Burwash in the countie of Sussex widowe, beinge weake in body But of good and perfect remembrance, thanks be to Allmightie god therefore doe make ordaine and declare this my perfect testament and last will in manner & former following (that is to say) first and principally I comend my soule unto Allmighty god my Creator, hopeinge assuredlie to be saved by and through the merritts and passion of my blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ And I comitt my body to the earth, whereof it is made

Item I give and bequeath unto the poore people of the p[ar]ish of Burwash twenty shillings of lawfull English money, to be paid and distributed amongst them upon the day of my burial or within one moneth next after my decease at the discrecion of my Executors

Item I give and bequeath unto Rose Burner my goddaughter the wife of William Bourner a flockbedd a flock boulter a couverlett and a blanket of the meaner sort to be delivered unto her immediately after my decease

Item I give and bequeath unto Rebecca Freeman my goddaughter two shillings

And to Agnes Merion two shillings

And to Thomas Mitton my godson two shillings all of lawfull English money, to be paid unto every one of them within one halfe yeare next after my decease

Item I give and bequeath unto Anne Crotonden my servant five shillings and fower pence of lawfull English money to be paid unto her immediately after my decease (if she be then dwelling with me.

Item I given unto John Byne sonne of my sonne Magnus Byne four shillings and to my goddaughter Agnes Byne daughter of my said sonne Magnus Byne four shillings of lawfull English money to be paid unto either of them within halfe yeare next after my decease

Item I give and bequeath unto my sonne William Byne the some of fifty pounds of lawfull English money to be paid unto him within one yeare next after my decease by my Executors hereafter named Also more I give unto him two paire of sheets and one paire of pillowe coates of an indifferent sort, and my lesser iron pott to be delivered unto him immediately after my decease

And whereas I have in my life time given unto my sonne Edward Byne forty pounds of lawfull English money w[hi]ch I meant him for his porcion yet nevertheless for the amendinge and increasinge of his porcion I doe further give and bequeathe unto him four pounds of lawfull English money to be paid unto him within one halfe yeare next after my decease by my Executors or the survivor of them

Item I give and bequeath unto my said sonne Edward my great iron vessel called Marmore, my great iron pott, and a great brasse kettle  p…d (?) in the bottom, a paire of iron brandyrons, a little frame table with the frame and forme belonging and used to the same, a great chaire, a painted cheste standing in the middle chamber and three paires of sheets and three paires of pillowe coates of indifferent sort to be delivered unto him within one moneth next after my decease by my Executors.

Item I give and bequeath unto Elizabeth Byne daughter of my sonne Stephen Byne a peece of twelve shillings in gold, and two little plaine chests to be paid and delivered unto her within one halfe year next after my decease

Item my will and meaning is and I doe by this present testament order and appointe that all my pewter vessel shalbe equally shared and divided betweene and amongst all my fower sonnes Magnus, William, Edward, and Stephen Byne, in fower equall parts by the advice of and discrection of my Overseers

The residue of all my moveable goods, debtes and chattels not formerlie given or bequeathed by me in this my will (my debts legacies and funeral expenses beinge first paid and discharged I do give and bequeath unto my two sonnes Magnus Byne and Stephen Byne whome I doe make and ordaine my full and whole Executors of this my perfect testament and last will

And I do nominate ordaine and appointe my trusty and wellbeloved friends John Squire of Framfield yeoman, and Allexander Ellott of Maighfeild yeoman to bee my trusty and faithfull overseers of this my perfect testament and last will to see the same performed in all things according to my said meaninge To whome I give three shillings and fower pence apeece of lawfull English money over and besides their charges and expenses born whensoever they or any of them shall have occasion to travel about the performance of this my last will and testament

In witness of this my perfect testament and last will I the said Agnes have hereunto putt my hand an seale the daye and yeare above written, in the presence of Christopher Manser and Thomas Rolfe his marke; Agnes Byne.  

The first thing to note is that the preamble to Agnes’ will is, at least on the surface, much more ‘protestant’ than that of her late husband: she hopes ‘assuredlie to be saved by and through the merritts and passion of my blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’, a familiar Calvinist aspiration.

From her bequests to her family, we learn that four of her sons were still alive at the time that she made her will: they were Magnus, William, Edward and Stephen, John having died unmarried in 1616 at the age of twenty-seven. William Byne would also remain a bachelor and died only two years after his mother. Agnes appoints her eldest son co-executor of the will, together with his brother Stephen, my 10th great grandfather.

As was the case with her husband Edward’s testament, Agnes’ will offers an intriguing glimpse of the household furniture and goods of the period, with its references to ‘my great iron vessel called Marmore, my great iron pott, and a great brasse kettle  p…d (?) in the bottom, a paire of iron brandyrons, a little frame table with the frame and forme belonging and used to the same, a great chaire, a painted cheste standing in the middle chamber’, all bequeathed to Agnes’ son Edward, as well as the ‘two little plaine chests’ to be delivered to her niece Elizabeth, daughter of her son Stephen, and ‘all my pewter vessel’ to be shared out equally between her four sons.

Like her husband, Agnes Byne seems to have had a number of godchildren who either were not the children of relatives, or whose relationship to her is difficult to discern. These included Rose Bourner, the wife of William Bourner, who is to receive ‘a flockbedd a flock boulter a couverlett and a blanket of the meaner sort to be delivered’. Born in about 1589, Rose Bourner was born Rose Lucke and was the daughter of Edward Lucke of Mayfield, son of Christopher Lucke, the brother of Agnes’ mother Alice Fowle nee Lucke. She married William Bourner of Ewhurst in 1619.

Rebecca Freeman, another goddaughter, is probably the woman of that name who married George Hosmer in Burwash in May 1624. She was the daughter of Thomas Freeman and Mary Byne, the latter being the daughter of Thomas Byne, the son of Richard Byne and the grandson of John Byne, who was the brother of Edward Byne’s father William. I haven’t been able to discover the exact relationship between Agnes and her other godchild, Thomas Mitton.

Agnes was also rich enough to be able to keep a servant, Anne Crottenden or Cruttenden, but perhaps not as wealthy as her late father Magnus Fowle, who left bequests to no fewer than four servants in his will of 1595. The Cruttendens were an old Burwash family, with connections to the Bynes. Goddard Cruttenden, a butcher in the village, married Joan Byne, another descendant of Edward Byne’s uncle John Byne, while her brother Henry married Eleanor Cruttenden.

By the time Agnes Byne née Fowle died in June 1626, her son Stephen, my 10th great grandfather, was a middle-aged man of thirty-nine, who had been married for fifteen years and had five children. I’ll write about Stephen in the next post.

The sons of Edward and Agnes Byne

In recent posts I’ve explored the family of my 11th great grandmother Agnes Byne née Fowle, discussing first the family of her father Magnus Fowle and latterly that of her mother Alice Lucke. In this post I’m returning to Agnes and her husband, my 11th great grandfather Edward Byne. I provided an outline of Edward’s life in an earlier post, in which I noted that he and Agnes had five sons who survived them: Magnus, born in 1576; William, in 1579; Edward in 1581; Stephen in 1586; and John in 1599 I’ll write about Stephen, who was my 10th great grandfather, in a separate post, but in this post I want to share what I’ve discovered about his three brothers.

Magnus Byne of Framfield

Magnus was the eldest son of Edward and Agnes Byne. Named after his grandfather Magnus Fowle, he was the first of a confusing number of Byne family members to bear that name. Magnus was baptised at Burwash on 4th November 1576, a little over a year after his parents’ marriage, and in the seventeenth year of the reign of Elizabeth I. In 1595, when Magnus was just nineteen, his maternal grandfather Magnus Fowle appointed him co-executor, with his mother Agnes, of his last will and testament. Although Magnus Fowle decreed that, on his death, his son-in-law Edward Byne should have the profits of his various properties, he also stated that after five years these should pass to his grandson Magnus Byne, and also that following the death of his mother Agnes, all of the property left to her should pass to him.

Renshaw’s history of the Byne family (pages 107-8) notes that in 1602, when Magnus was twenty-six years old, ‘Cortelands in Ticehurst were mortgaged by John Humfrey to Magnus Byne to secure £54 10s. made payable at the house of “Edward Byne the father in Burwash”.’

Two years later, in 1604, Magnus married Elizabeth Polhill of Burwash: in the licence he is described as a gentleman of Burwash. One of the sureties named in the licence was Hamond Hardiman of Cliff, near Lewes. Hardiman, a glover by trade, was married to Mary Harman, daughter of John Harman, the Lewes merchant who married Agnes, sister of Magnus Fowle: in other words, he was Magnus Byne’s second cousin. His name on Magnus’ marriage licence, and his involvement with Magnus in a bond mentioned elsewhere by Renshaw (page 109) suggests a continuing close relationship between Magnus and his mother’s family.

I assume that Elizabeth Polhill was related in some way to the family of that name who would later be linked with others in my Byne and Manser family trees. For example, Edward and John Polhill would both be named as witnesses to the will of Magnus Byne’s brother Stephen, while the 1674 will of Nicholas Manser of Hightown refers to Edward Polhill as a cousin. Edward Polhill was almost certainly the eminent Puritan author of that name, and he and John were the sons of Thomas Polhill and his wife Faintnot – the latter being a popular Puritan name.

According to one source, the author Edward Polhill was born in 1622:

He entered Gray’s Inn on 16 June 1638–9, and was called to the bar, but he chiefly divided his time between the care of his family estates in Burwash, Sussex, where he was justice of the peace, and the compilation of religious tracts, somewhat Calvinistic in temper, but supporting the established church.

If, as seems likely, the Elizabeth Polhill who married Magnus Byne was a member of the same family, then their marriage is interesting in providing possible evidence of a shift from Catholic sympathies to Puritanism in two generations.

Magnus and Elizabeth Byne had a daughter named Elizabeth who died in infancy and was buried at Burwash on 22nd June 1606. Magnus’ wife Elizabeth would die, perhaps in childbirth, just over a year later and be buried on 28th July 1607.

Renshaw states that in July 1606 Magnus Byne was admitted to Croxted and other ‘extensive copyholds’ of the manor of Framfield, which was about twelve miles to the west of Burwash. In the following year he was plaintiff and his father Edward was deforciant in a fine levied as to lands in Ringmer. Perhaps these were lands bequeathed by Magnus Fowle, but it’s unclear whether this case is evidence of a disagreement between father and son.

On 23rd August 1608 Magnus Byne married for a second time, at Kingston Bowsey (now Kingston By Sea) to Bathshua Newington, daughter of Morgan Newington of that parish and his wife Elizabeth Stephens. Bathshua’s first name hints at her parents’ religious sympathies. Two of Bathshua’s brothers married daughters of Goddard Hepden of Burwash with even more obviously Puritan names: Samuel Newington married Hopestill Hepden, and Thomas Newington married her sister Fearnot; another relative, Zabulon Newington, married a third sister, Goodgift. Morgan Newington’s will of 1610 mentions his daughter ‘Bathshua Byne’ while his widow Elizabeth’s will of 1622 bequeaths ‘to the four children of Magnus Byne my sonne in law 10s. each’ (Renshaw, page 108).

Magnus’ father Edward Byne died in 1614. Edward’s will divides his household effects between his sons and also bequeaths them sums of money, but makes no mention of his land holdings. This may mean that he had made provision for these properties elsewhere.

Parish church of St Thomas à Becket, Framfield, Sussex (via wikipedia)

In 1611 Magnus Byne, ‘gent.’ was a churchwarden at Framfield. His second wife Bathshua was buried there on 22nd July 1620. Eight years later, on 17th June 1628, Magnus married for a third time, to Elizabeth Manser, widow of Abraham Manser of Wenbourne. Abraham was the younger brother of my 11 x great grandfather John Manser of Wadhurst, whose daughter Mary had married Magnus’ brother, my 10 x great grandfather Stephen Byne, in 1611. Elizabeth Manser had been born a Byne: her father was a certain John Byne of Burwash (Renshaw, pages 194 & ff) whose precise connection with my Byne ancestors I’m still trying to establish.

Renshaw mentions a purchase of land in Burwash made by Magnus Byne in 1629, and in 1642 a court case relating to properties in Battle and Ticehurst. Magnus Byne made his will on 7th May 1647. He died shortly afterwards and was buried on 13th May at Framfield.

Magnus Byne had four children. John, his firstborn, was mentioned in his grandfather Edward’s will of 1611, so must have been the child of Magnus’ first or second marriage, but I have no further information about him. His daughter Agnes was also mentioned in her grandfather’s will. She married John Bennett of Lewes in about December 1639.

Another son, Magnus Byne junior, married Mary Durrant in 1637. He seems to have inherited a considerable amount of property in Framfield from his father, so perhaps his older brother John died young leaving Magnus as the heir. Magnus and Mary Byne had a number of children, including yet another Magnus Byne, also a gentleman of Framfield, who married Constance, widow of John Osbaldiston, a recusant.

Little is known about Magnus Byne’s third son, Thomas, except that he seems to have inherited property in Ringmer and also to have owned land in East Hoathly. Renshaw suggests that he is probably the Thomas Byne who was buried at Burwash in August 1667 and who had children named Elizabeth, Thomas and William.

William Byne

William, the second son of Edward and Agnes Byne, was baptised at Burwash on 15th October 1579, He died a bachelor and was buried at Burwash on 28th August 1628. In his will of April that year, William made bequests to John and Magnus, the sons of his older brother Magnus; to Dorothy, Mary and Elizabeth, the daughters of his brother Edward; and to Magnus (my 9th great grandfather), son of his brother Stephen, to whom he left ‘my peece of silver of 5s. called George on Horseback’. William also left his Bible to John, another son of Stephen, and some household items to Stephen’s daughter Elizabeth and to Agnes, daughter of his brother Magnus.

The residue of his estate William left to his brothers Magnus and Stephen, whom he appointed executors. He divided his lands in Waldron, Burwash and Ticehurst between his brother Edward and his nephews Magnus (son of Magnus of Framfield) and John (son of Stephen), and bequeathed other property in Ticehurst to his brother Magnus and his heirs.

Edward Byne

Edward, the third son of Edward and Agnes Byne, was baptised at Burwash on 21st May 1581. In his history of the Byne family, Renshaw states that a number of records place Edward in Framfield (like his older brother Magnus) in the years 1609 and 1612. Intriguingly, one of these records relates to a bill which Edward filed in Chancery against Elizabeth, daughter of John Markwick of Heathfield, yeoman, to recover ‘one goulde ring of the value of 40s. or thereabouts’, which he had entrusted to her as an engagement ring (Renshaw, page 117).

On 4th May 1615 Edward married Dorothy Alchorne at Rotherfield. Afterwards he lived in Catsfield, where on a couple of occasions he got into trouble with the rector for not paying his tithes. Renshaw (page 118) mentions a number of legal cases which provide us with detailed information about Edward’s land holdings in Catfield.

Parish church of St Laurence, Catsfield (photo by Nick MacNeill, via Wikipedia)

Edward and Dorothy Byne had one son, Edward, who was born in 1616 and died when he was only a few months old, and three daughters: Dorothy, Mary and Elizabeth (all mentioned in the will of their uncle William: see above). Dorothy Byne the younger did not marry and was buried at Catsfield in 1629. Mary, baptised at Catsfield in 1617, married first in 1635 to Edmund Colvill, who died in 1637, leaving a son Thomas and daughter Mary, and secondly in 1637 to John Carpenter; she died in about March 1644. Elizabeth Byne married John Wimshurst, by whom she had a son named Richard and a daughter Dorothy.

Edward Byne made his will on 10th December 1647, appointing his wife Dorothy as sole executrix and his brother Stephen as one of the overseers. The will includes bequests to his daughter Elizabeth of properties in Catsfield known as Heardsbeake, Somerleas and Twiserly, which were all previously owned by his father Edward.

Dorothy, the widow of Edward Byne, made her will in March 1656, appointing her grandson Thomas Colvill as sole executor, and making bequests to her daughter Elizabeth Wimshurst and grandchildren Richard and Dorothy Wimshurst.

Richard Wimshurst and Thomas Colvill sold Heardsbeake, Somerleas and Twyserlye to James Markwick, citizen and clockmaker of London (Renshaw, page 122). The latter may have been a relation of Gregory Markwick of Wadhurst who had married Elizabeth, daughter of my 10 x great grandfather Stephen Byne, in 1632, and perhaps of the John Markwick of Heathfield mentioned above.

John Byne

John, the youngest son of Edward and Agnes Byne, was baptised at Burwash on 6th April 1589. Like his older brother William he never married. He was buried at Burwash on 7th February 1616. In his will John bequeathed land to his brother Stephen and money to his brothers William and Edward. He left his mother Agnes the residue of his goods and appointed her as his executor, making his brother Magnus and ‘cozen’ David Foster overseers. One of the witnesses was John Byne the elder, whom Renshaw identifies with John, the son of Thomas Byne and grandson of Richard Byne of Ticehurst who was born in 1576 and died in 1630, and was thus (I think) the second cousin of the testator. This John Byne’s brother Joseph is also mentioned in the will. The will also includes bequests to Ann Lucke ‘my kinswoman’ and to Rose Lucke, who must have been related in some way to Alice Lucke, John’s maternal grandmother.

Edward Byne died in 1611 and his wife Agnes in 1626. In the next post I’ll discuss what we can learn from their respective wills.

The Lucke family of Mayfield

My 12th great grandfather, Magnus Fowle married his wife, Alice Lucke, some time in the late 1550s, on the cusp of the reigns of Mary Tudor and her half-sister Elizabeth. As noted in the previous post, there is evidence that both the Fowle and Lucke families retained their allegiance to Catholicism, while conforming outwardly to the new protestant orthodoxy.

Richard Lucke

Alice Lucke, my 12th great grandmother, was the daughter of Richard Lucke, a yeoman farmer from the village of Mayfield, Sussex. Although we don’t have any firm information about Richard’s parents, there are references to a William Lucke holding property in Mayfield in the second half of the fifteenth century, and he may have been Richard’s father. Tax records from 1498 show that William owned seven pieces of land, one of which was Grubbes at Tidebrook, where he lived.

We know that Richard Lucke definitely had a brother Thomas, who joined the Augustinian order at Michelham Priory, and it’s almost certain that John Lucke of Mayfield, who died in 1549, was another brother.

Countryside near Mayfield, Sussex

Richard’s name doesn’t appear in the lay subsidy rolls of 1524-5 for Mayfield, or indeed for anywhere else in Sussex, suggesting that he may not have been of age by that date. There was another branch of the family in nearby Wadhurst, and one of the difficulties in tracing my Lucke ancestors is the incidence of similar names in both places. For example, there was a Richard Lucke and more than one John Lucke in Wadhurst at around the same period. Indeed, Walter Renshaw, the usually reliable historian of the Byne family, claims that Alice’s father was the Richard Lucke of Wadhurst who died in 1593. However, I’ve found conclusive evidence that my ancestor was from Mayfield and that he died some forty years earlier.

There are a number of references to the Lucke family in the Court Rolls of the Manor of Mayfield. On 12th January 1546/7, ‘John Luck’ came to the Mayfield court and ‘submitted himself to the lord’s pardon because he has cut down two willow trees upon the lord’s common at Ryden and Byshetwood.’ In the court held at Mayfield on 10th April 1547, there is a reference to a ‘Richard Luck’, said to own land close to the property that is the subject of the case. A number of other landowners came to court at this time to surrender six and a half acres of land ‘into the lord’s hands…to the use of Richard and John Luck who were admitted.’ At the same session of the Mayfield court, Richard Lucke was involved, together with William Penkhurst, in a separate case concerning another plot of land. Penkhurst would be named some years later as a defendant in the Chancery suit brought by Magnus and Alice Fowle concerning Thomas Lucke’s will.

In the record of the court held on 12th January 1550/1, it was noted that in the previous December a widow named Alice Boniface ‘surrendered into the lord’s hands one messuage with a garden adjoining with the appurtenances in Mayfield, to the use of Richard Luck and his wife Agnes who were admitted’. So these manorial court rolls have provided me with at least one significant new piece of information: the name of my 13 x great grandmother, Agnes Lucke. This might explain why Magnus and Alice Fowle gave their only daughter, my 11 x great grandmother, the name Agnes (though Magnus also had a sister with the same name).

At the Mayfield Hundred held on 30th April 1551, Richard Lucke’s name appears in a list of eight men ‘amerced’ the princely sum of twenty shillings ‘which has been exacted from each at the taking the oath before the jury of 12 and they absolutely refused’. Was it the fine they refused – or the oath? The record is tantalisingly brief, and I would be interested to know more about this act of defiance on the part of my ancestor.

Richard Lucke and William Penkhurst are mentioned together once again in the record of the manor court held on the same day. Richard obviously overcame his resistance to serving on the manorial jury, as his name is included in the list of twelve men ‘appointed for the lord king’ at the hundred held on 4th October that year. According to Catherine Pullein’s history of Rotherfield, the Rotherfield Roll for the court of 6th December 1556 includes the following statement:

At this Court appears Richard Lucke who holds freely of the Lord of this Manor, and prays to be admitted to fine for his suit released this year, and he gives for the same 8d. 

Pullein suggests that Lucke was the owner of the sub-manor of ‘Hall’ at Rotherfield. Apparently he failed to attend later courts in 1557 and in 1558 his name is listed among those free tenants reckoned to be in default for non-attendance. Richard Lucke’s name is missing from a similar list in May 1559, but in a list entered in October of that year a certain Christopher Lucke – almost certainly his son – is charged in his stead with non-attendance and the record includes the following statement which Pullein describes as ‘defective and unfinished’ due to the frustrating blank space where the name of the property should be:

It is found by the Homage that Richard Lucke who held certainly land, namely [blank] died so seised since last Court.

This appears to be the last reference to Richard Lucke in the contemporary records. It tallies with my own theory that Richard died some time in the mid- to late-1550s . 

The children of Richard and Agnes Lucke

Richard and Agnes Lucke had at least four other children besides my ancestor Alice. From the 1551 will of Richard’s brother Thomas, we discover that Alice had a sister named Elizabeth, who was also a beneficiary of the will. From the evidence of this and other wills, we learn that there may have been three other Lucke sisters: Thomasin, of whom we know nothing further, ‘Joha’ (Johanna, or Joan) and Margaret. The latter two women made their wills in 1567, with ‘Joha’ Lucke writing hers in August of that year. She bequeaths her sister Alice Fowle a portion of the property left to her by her late father Richard, as well as two sheets, and also makes a bequest to ‘Annys’ (i.e. Agnes) Fowle, described as the daughter of her brother-in-law Magnus Fowle. The remainder of her goods she bequeaths to her sister Margaret Lucke, who is also appointed as sole executrix of the will, Magnus Fowle being given the role of overseer. Margaret’s own will must have been drawn up later in the year, since it describes ‘Joha’ Lucke as deceased. Since both women retained their maiden surname, we must assume that neither was married.

Part of the 1567 will of ‘Joha’ Lucke (via

‘Joha’ Lucke’s will also provides some confirmation of my theory that the Luckes, like the Fowles, retained their attachment to the traditional Catholic faith. The preamble to the will includes the words ‘I bequethe my Sowle into the tuition of the holy trinitie’. (I’m fairly sure that ‘tuition’ is the word used here, though it seems an odd choice.) As mentioned in the previous post, this simple Trinitarian formula was popular among Catholics and and Catholic sympathisers.

The Lucke sisters had a brother, Christopher, who was their father Richard’s son and heir. Christopher Lucke did not long outlive his father, since the record of a post-mortem inquisition tell us that he died on 14th July 1567. Pullein reports that this document includes the following statement:

Christopher Lucke died seised of the manor of Hawle [i.e. Hall] and of a capital meuage and sixty acre of land, meadow, pasture and wood in Retherfeld [Rotherfield] held of Henry Nevill, Knight, Lord Abergavenny, as of his manor of Retherfeld in socage by fealty and rent of 12s. and they are worth 40s. yearly. And of a lane leading from the said capital messuage to Maynard’s Gate, which is held of the same fealty and a rent of 1d. He died 14th July 9 Eliz : and his son and heir Edward Lucke is aged 6 years.

Pullein’s account includes the pedigree of Christopher Lucke’s family from the Herald’s Visitation of 1633-4, which clearly describes Christopher as ‘of Mayfield’ (as was his wife Alice Page), though his son Edward is said to be ‘of Reitherffeld’. His son John, also of Rotherfield, was said to be ‘one of the Coroners of Sussex in the Libertie of the lordship of Aburgaveney’. 

John Lucke

John Lucke of Mayfield, who made his will in 1549, was almost certainly the brother of my ancestor Richard Lucke. One of the witnesses to the will was ‘Richard Lukk’. Another of the witnesses was a certain John Mone.  In his own will of 1595, Magnus Fowle would leave two shillings and two pence to ‘my godsone Magnus Mone’. A third witness turns out to be William Penkhurst, presumably the same man who, with Robert Holden, was the subject of the complaint by Magnus and Alice Fowle in their Chancery case. I wonder if John Wenborne, another of the witnesses, is the man of that name whose son Robert married Mildred, daughter of my 13th great grandfather Christopher Maunser or Manser of Hightown, Wadhurst? Christopher’s great granddaughter Mary Manser would marry Stephen Byne, son of Edward and Agnes Byne: I’ll have more to say about the Manser family in forthcoming posts.

Parish church of St Dunstan, Mayfield, Sussex (via

We discover from John Lucke’s will that he was married to a woman named Joan, and that they had a daughter of the same name, who was married to Thomas Newnem. Another daughter, Isabel, was married to Richard Maynard, while a third, Christian, appears to have been unmarried at the time that the will was made. John Lucke makes his two sons-in-law, Thomas and Richard, the executors of his will.

‘Newnem’ is an alternative spelling for Newnham, a common name in the Mayfield area at this period. The Maynards were another long-established local family, apparently supplying one of the Mayfield protestant martyrs, William Maynard, and John Maynard, who was the Puritan vicar of the parish during the Civil War. I’ve yet to find any further evidence of Thomas and Joan Newnham, or Richard and Isabel Maynard, or their children, or of Christian Lucke, in the local records.

John Lucke died in 1549, two years into the reign of Edward VI, though his will may have been written some years earlier: I can’t quite decipher the Roman numerals of the date given at the beginning of the will: it might be ‘a Thousand five hundred thirty-sixth’. The preamble shows clear signs of a continuing attachment to the Catholic faith: Lucke bequeaths his soul ‘to Almightie god our lady saynt Mary and all the glorious company of heaven’ and gives money to the ‘high aultir’of his parish church ‘for my tithes & oblacions…forgotten or withholden’, and ‘to the light of the… withsaid church’.

As Caroline Litzenberger notes, bequests of this kind provide us with vital evidence of continuing popular adherence to the traditional faith. 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 13th 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’.

Thomas Lucke, priest

John Lucke’s loyalty to the traditional faith, and that of other members of the Lucke family, is not surprising if he and they were indeed related to a priest who had been a member of a religious order until it was unceremoniously suppressed by Henry VIII’s lackey Thomas Cromwell. At the time of his death in 1552 Thomas Lucke, who was certainly the brother of my ancestor Richard and almost certainly the brother of John Lucke, was a priest in the parish of Litlington, but until its dissolution 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. 

Parish church of St Michael, Litlington, Sussex  (via

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 sixteenth 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.

A history of Michelham Priory lists ‘Thomas Luck’ among the canons there at the time of the visitation of 1521. Thomas held the post of precentor, responsible for facilitating worship, and in some monasteries fulfulling the additional roles of librarian and registrar. He was one of eight canons, in addition to the prior, Thomas Holberne.

From the same history we learn that Michelham was dissolved on 1st October 1537 and became the first religious house to be given to Thomas Cromwell by Henry VIII. Following the priory’s enforced closure, the canons each received a pension of £13 1s 4d. The prior continued to live near Eastbourne, receiving a pension of £20, until his death in 1545. Apparently most of the other canons went to Sussex parishes (so it seems Thomas’ experience was fairly typical) and were allowed to keep the beds on which they had slept.

The gatehouse at Michelham Priory (via

Cloisters at Michelham Priory (via

Thomas Lucke’s will makes a number of references to members of his family, though he rarely makes clear their relationship to him, or to each other. A notable absence is the name of Richard Lucke, who we know to have been his brother, though he does refer to another beneficiary as the man who married ‘my brother’s daughter’.  His niece Alice is to receive a number of sums of money, which correspond more or less to the ‘severall sumes of monye to the sume of tenne pounds together’ mentioned in the Chancery suit that Alice and her husband Magnus Fowle entered after Thomas’ death, though there is no reference to the ‘two p[ar]cells of Sylver [ ] pounds & too [ ] called tablets of Sylver gylt sett with certen parcells to the value of five pounds’ also referred to in that document.

The identity of the Thomas Lucke ‘of maydston’ named in the will is unclear: it’s possible this person was either a son of Richard Lucke’s, or a cousin or more distant relative of the testator. The only other person mentioned in the will who was definitely a relative of Thomas Lucke is ‘Woddye of hartysfelde that maryed my brothers daughter’. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is probably a reference to Hartfield, which is a dozen or so miles north-west of the Lucke family’s home village of Mayfield. A certain John Wodye senior made his will there in 1558. From the context, it’s impossible to be sure whether Wodye’s wife was another of the daughters of Richard Lucke, or of another brother of Thomas’.

We know from the case in Chancery that the Robert Holden named in Thomas Lucke’s will was actually his executor: he was the person with whom Magnus and Alice Fowle were in dispute about the will. Thomas describes him as ‘my hoste’ and his wife Agnes, a witness to the will, as ‘my hostess’: she is to receive many of his household goods. Does this mean that Thomas was living with the Holdens at the time of his death, even though one presumes that the parish provided accommodation for their curate? Or had they taken him in after his expulsion from the suppressed Michelham Priory? So far I’ve failed to find the Holdens in any local records, though Nicholas Holden, a weaver of Wythyam, would be among the protestants burned at Mayfield in 1556.

Roger Deane and John Fawkner, who are bequeathed equal amounts of money by Thomas Lucke, seem to have been residents of Waldron, about fifteen miles north of Litlington. They had both acted as executors of the will of Thomas Jefferay of Chiddingley in 1550. That will also makes reference to Sir Edward Gage: the Fawkners of Waldron were ironmasters and tenants of the Catholic Gage family. Indeed, a John Fawkner assisted Sir John Gage in the interrogation of the radical protestant Richard Woodman, who was burned at Lewes in 1557.

Richard Turke, another beneficiary of the will, may also have lived at Waldron, though Richard Turke the elder and younger were named in the lay subsidy roll for Wadhurst in 1524-5. I’ve been unable to find a ‘Brooke of Retherfield’ in the records for Rotherfield, but the ‘Ric. brook the younger’ who witnessed Thomas Lucke’s will may have been the Richard Brooke of Litlington who made his own will in 1556. I’ve been unable to locate the Gregory Martyn of Mayfield who is mentioned in Thomas’ will. Nor have I had much luck with William Hiberden or Hyberden, another of its witnesses, or with Joan Hyberden, who was perhaps his wife, though there were Hyberdens in Birdham near Chichester at this period, and a Francis Hiberden was parish priest in Heathfield in the 1550s.

There’s a Birdham connection with another of the witnesses to Thomas Lucke’s will. Richard Cresweller would be rector there from 1554 to 1569, but at the time of of Thomas’ death he was vicar of Alfriston, just a couple of miles north of Litlington. The Cresswellers, in fact, seem to have been a wealthy and influential Chichester family. Richard Cressweller was probably the fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, who in the early 1530s had been involved in a dispute, culminating in a violent quarrel, concerning property just across the county border in West Tisted, Hampshire.


I’m grateful to Bill Green, Wendy Teeter and Joan Angus for supplying important information that helped me to piece together the story of the Lucke family.

Magnus Fowle: yeoman farmer, county coroner – and secret Catholic?

Having explored the life of my 13th great grandfather, Gabriel Fowle, a schoolmaster in early sixteenth-century Lewes, in this post I’m moving on to the next generation, and sharing what I’ve been able to discover about Gabriel’s son Magnus Fowle, my 12th great grandfather.

Childhood in Lewes

As mentioned in the last post, Magnus was one of two children born to Gabriel Fowle and his wife, the other being Agnes, who married Lewes merchant John Harman. I haven’t been able to find records of the births or baptisms of either child, but from other records we can deduce that they must have born in the late 1520s or the early 1530s, almost certainly in Southover, on the outskirts of Lewes, where their father was master of the Free Grammar School (I wonder if Magnus was a pupil at his father’s school?) It’s likely that they were christened at the local parish church of St Michael, where Gabriel Fowle would ask to be buried, and to which he left ‘my written masse book’. Andrew Puggeslie, the curate of St Michael’s, would be one of the witnesses to Gabriel’s will. However, the family also had links with the neighbouring parish of Ringmer, where Gabriel owned property, and to whose church he left ‘my new graylle imprinted’ as well as money to pay for altar lights. The vicar of Ringmer, Dunstan Sawyer, was appointed as one of the overseers of Gabriel’s will.

The Old Grammar School, Lewes

That will, as previously noted, was composed during the brief reign of Mary Tudor and provides ample evidence of Gabriel Fowle’s loyalty to the ancient Catholic faith, despite the fact that he had lived through Henry VIII’s split from Rome and the protestant reforms of his son Edward VI. Gabriel was also master of a school that, for much of his time there, was attached to the Priory of St Lewes, though he continued in post after its suppression by Thomas Cromwell in 1537. From all of this we can assume that Magnus Fowle was brought up by his parents in the Catholic faith, even if that became increasingly difficult as time went on. In previous posts I’ve referred to the claim in some sources that Bartholomew Fowle, the last priory of St Mary Overy, Southwark, was the brother of Gabriel and thus Magnus’ uncle. Even if this precise claim is difficult to substantiate, there was obviously a connection of some kind between the Fowle family and Southwark priory, and further back with the Augustinian religious order to which it belonged.

Marriage to Alice Lucke

Magnus’ sister Agnes was already married to John Harman by the time her father died in 1555, since John merits a mention in Gabriel’s will, though no children are mentioned, so this had probably happened only recently. We don’t know the date of Magnus’ marriage, but from other records we can conclude that it probably took place between 1555 and 1560. There is a record from 1560 that describes Magnus Fowle as a yeoman of Mayfield, the home village of his wife Alice.

Alice was the daughter of Richard Lucke of Mayfield, who died in 1559, and the nephew of Thomas Lucke, a priest in the village of Litlington, but formerly a canon at Michelham priory, another Augustinian foundation. So the Fowle and Lucke families had the Augustinian connection in common, and there is also evidence of a continuing to attachment to Catholicism in both families, which may help to explain how the marriage of Magnus and Alice came about. I’ll have more to say about the Lucke family in the next post.

A copy of the Chancery bill, setting out the case involving Magnus and Alice Fowle

In the early years of their marriage Magnus and Alice were involved in a case in Chancery. The date of the case in the National Archives catalogue is imprecise, placing it some time in the period 1558 – 1579: in other words, in the first half of the reign of Elizabeth I. This corresponds with the period of office of the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, Sir Nicholas Bacon, the father of the philosopher Francis Bacon, to whom Magnus and Alice Fowle addressed their plea. The only date given in the document itself is 24th October 1551, the date of the will of Alice’s uncle Thomas Fowle, that is its subject. The dispute at the heart of the Chancery case is difficult to reconstruct from the partly-legible document. It would seem that Thomas Lucke made Robert Holden of Mayfield the executor of his will but that, according to Magnus and Alice Fowle, he had abused his trust and acted in a way that ‘vexyd and troublyd’ the complainants. I haven’t found any other records for Holden, but he is said to be acting in league with one William Penkhurst, whose family had lived in the Mayfield area for a number of generations, intermarrying with other families that occur in my family tree, including the Fowles.

County coroner

From his will, we know that Magnus Fowle was a yeoman farmer of some substance, owning property not only in Mayfield, which he probably inherited via his wife Alice’s family, but also in Ringmer and Glynde, and that he was able to employ a number of servants. He was also a man of some standing in the community, serving as one of the county coroners for Sussex.  I understand that in the medieval period there were three coroners for each county, and their role was keeping the pleas of the Crown – ‘custos placitorum coronas’ – from which the title coroner or ‘crowner’ (see Shakespeare’s Hamlet) derives. Coroners were unpaid and there was a property qualification associated with the office. They were elected, but those entitled to vote were a select few: the Freemen of the county, meeting for the purpose in the county court.  

Farms at Mayfield, Sussex (via

A collection of accounts of Sussex Coroners’ Inquests 1558 – 1603, edited by R.F. Hunnisett and published by the Public Record Office in 1996, includes summary reports of 582 inquests that took place in the county during the reign of Elizabeth I. Magnus Fowle acted as coroner in 79 of these cases. His first inquest was held on 30th April 1572 and his final inquest on 8th April 1595, a year before his death. If I’m right in my speculation about Magnus’ approximate birth date, then he would have been in his early forties when first appointed to the role of coroner, and in his sixties when he convened his last inquest.

In most of the inquest reports, Magnus Fowle is described as a county coroner, but a minority give him other titles: he is described as the coroner for Lewes rape in 9, for Bamber rape in 3, and for Eastbourne hundred and Dorset hundred in one each. A number of the reports give him the title ‘gent[leman]’ and accords gives him the suffix ‘esq[uire]’, suggesting a rather higher social standing than ‘yeoman’.

In only one year during this period (1578) did Magnus Fowle not preside at any inquests. In other years, the number of inquests in which he was involved ranged from one, during each of two years in the 1570s and in his final year, to eight in 1592, with two to five inquests being the more typical range in other years. In two cases Magnus presided with another county coroner, but in the vast majority of cases he presided alone.

Of the cases which Magnus oversaw, the majority were deemed to be accidents or death by misadventure, the second largest category being suicides, closely followed by murders and then natural causes, with two cases being defined as killing in self-defence. The reports themselves provide a fascinating glimpse of life in Elizabethan England, albeit through the lens of abnormal events. A remarkable number of people, often women and most of them spinsters, seem to have been desperate enough to take their own lives, with hanging, drowning and cutting one’s own throat among the methods recorded.

Murders were often committed in the course of breaking and entering, or as the result of fights, with a handful of women accused of killing their own babies immediately after giving birth. A number of those convicted of murder were able to plead benefit of clergy, or pregnancy, and therefore escape the noose, but others were not so fortunate. Accidental deaths occurred when people fell into wells, or were mortally injured in the course of work, whether by scythes, ploughs or water wheels.

A substantial number of Magnus’ inquests were held in gaols and involved the deaths of those who had died in custody. These were almost always deemed ‘natural’ deaths, suggesting that disease or poor conditions must have been the cause, and prompting the reflection that a prison term may have been as sure a guarantee of death as a sentence of execution.

A public execution in sixteenth-century England

There is a suggestion in the records that Magnus Fowle might have taken a while to get the hang of his role as coroner. Editorial footnotes by Hunnisett to the reports on his first two inquests, which took place in 1572 in Westmeston and Preston respectively, comment: ‘The coroner was summoned to King’s Bench to answer for defects in the inquest; process against him ceased when the inquest was amended, presumably by the addition of the information about the goods and chattels which is interlined’.

A later inquest report, from November 1585 in Lewes, is followed by a long explanatory note by the modern editor. This was a complex case of murder and violent affray, in which questions appear to have been raised about the conduct both of Magnus Fowle, acting as coroner, and some members of the jury. It’s difficult to reconstruct exactly what happened, but it becomes clear that one of those involved in the case challenged the coroner’s credentials and expressed doubts that justice would be done due to Fowle’s ‘want of sufficient judgement in law’. Apparently the extensive original documentation of the case includes both the accusations against Magnus Fowle and his own answers, which offer very different versions of events.

Perhaps the most notorious case in which Magnus Fowle was involved as coroner was a gruesome murder that occurred in his home village of Mayfield, on 1st October 1594, when a husbandman named Ralph Mepham (or Deaphon, in some accounts) was accused of killing his wife by cutting her throat with a knife. I’m grateful to Rosie Franczak for drawing my attention to this case. It seems that the local constable was the first to arrive on the scene following the violent death of Mrs Mepham. He then called for the coroner (presumably Magnus Fowle) who proceeded to interview witnesses. Having interrogated the suspect, he had him committed to ‘the queen’s gaol at Lewes’, some twenty miles away. One account mentions an inquest held at Mayfield on 8th October 1594 convened by Magnus Fowle, and heard before sixteen jurors. Ralph Mepham was eventually tried at East Grinstead Assizes on 24th February 1595 when, despite his plea of ‘not guilty’, he was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged, the execution being carried out three days later.

An additional point of interest is that the murder was reported in a sensational pamphlet printed by John Danter of Smithfield, London. Danter was a notorious ‘pirate’ with a reputation for printing stolen texts, including (also in 1595) the first ‘bad quarto’ of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. He was both friend and landlord to Thomas Nashe, satirical pamphleteer and co-author with Ben Jonson in 1597 of the lost ‘seditious’ play’ The Isle of Dogs, which was performed in July 1597 when the London theatres were ordered to be closed by Robert Cecil and the Privy Council. There is also a connection between Nashe and the actor Edward Alleyn, son-in-law of the theatrical entrepreneur Philip Henslowe. Henslowe’s diary makes a number of references to Arthur Langworth of the Broyle, Ringmer, who was also a friend and business associate of Alleyn’s. As we shall see, Langworth would be referred to rather disparagingly in Magnus Fowle’s will.

The Mepham case must have been one of the last that Magnus Fowle oversaw, since he made his will on 30th July 1595, just five months after Ralph Mepham’s execution, and died some time before the following May, when the will was proved by his daughter Agnes. The latter seems to have been the only child born to Magnus and Alice Fowle who survived them. Agnes must have been born in the late 1550s or early 1560s, since her marriage to Edward Byne of Burwash took place in 1575. From the fact that it was Agnes who proved her father’s will, and from evidence in the will itself, we can deduce that her mother died first, though the date of Alice Fowle’s death is not known.

Last will and testament

By the time he died, Magnus Fowle was already a grandfather. As co-executor with his wife Agnes, he appointed his eldest grandson, Magnus Byne, suggesting that the latter was already of age. However, we know that Edward and Agnes Byne also had other children by this time: William, Edward, Stephen (my 10th great grandfather, born in 1586) and John, as well as a son named James and an unnamed daughter who both died in infancy. Magnus Byne seems to have been the main beneficiary of his grandfather’s will, inheriting all of the latter’s lands following his mother’s death.

Magnus Fowle’s will confirms that, in addition to his residence in Mayfield he also owned land in the villages of Ringmer and Glynde. These were almost certainly the properties left to him by his father Gabriel in his will of 1554. Magnus also seems to have maintained connections with the village of Rotherfield, with his home parish of Southover near Lewes, and with Lewes itself, since he left money to the poor of all these places.

Parish church of St Mary the Virgin, Ringmer, Sussex (via

Magnus Fowle bequeaths ten shillings ‘to my sister Morfyn’ and twenty shillings to her children. Later in the will he appoints ‘my Brother William Morffyn’ as one of its overseers and awards him twenty shillings for his pain. I’ve been unable to establish the identity of these people. However, since we know that Magnus had only one biological sister – Agnes, who married John Harman – it’s possible that ‘my sister Morfyn’ was actually the sister of his late wife Alice, that William Morfyn was her husband, and that they were actually Magnus’ sister-in-law and brother-in-law.

Besides William Morfyn, Magnus Fowle names two other overseers of his will: John Motley and John Collett. I haven’t been able to identify the latter, but John Motley or Motlay was the parish priest at Ringmer. He graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1566 and was ordained a priest in 1575, serving as vicar of West Firle and Ringmer until his death in 1604. Magnus also leaves forty shillings to one ‘Michaell Marten sometime of Brightlinge’. This might be the Michael Martin who built the house known as ‘Shepherdes’ between 1554 and 1561, on the site of what is now Brightling Park.

The reference in Magnus Fowle’s will to Arthur Langworth is intriguing. Magnus insists that, should his heirs at any time ‘bargayne sell alienate lease demyse grante or otherwise convey or assine’ any of his properties in Ringmer or Glynde ‘to Arthur Langworth to his heires or to anie of his name, or to anie other p[er]sone or p[er]sones whereby or by meanes whereof anie of my saide Landes or the inhertytance thereof maie come to the saide Arthure or to anie other p[er]sone or p[er]sones to his use,  or to the use of anie of his heries or of his name’, then John Motley and various other men ‘shall have full power and authoritie’ to enter those properties and turn them over to the use of the poor of the aforementioned parishes.


Arthur Langworth, who was the owner of ironworks, lived at Broyle Place in Ringmer and seems to have been involved in a number of property deals, which may have been a cause of his breach with my ancestor. I’ve written about the Langworth family elsewhere: Arthur Langworth’s brother John was a prominent cleric who was suspected of being a Catholic sympathiser, a number of whose children married into known recusant families.

As for the men charged with ensuring that none of Magnus Fowle’s properties fell into Langworth’s hands: John Cornford was a yeoman of Ringmer. His father William had been the park keeper at Ringmer Park, which was owned by the Archbishop of Canterbury until it was sold to him in 1546. The Cornfords owned the property until 1580 when John sold it to Lord Buckhurst. John Sheppard was a yeoman of Ringmer as was John Delve, whose own will is dated 1613. Thomas Sharpe also seems to have been from Ringmer.

Recusant sympathiser?

Perhaps the most intriguing bequest in Magnus Fowle’s will is this one:

I give to Elynor Ashbourneham the daughter of Mrs Isabell Ashbourneham Twentie Shillings in gold.

The Ashburnhams were an ancient and notable Sussex family, associated with the village whose name they bore, which is near Battle and about fifteen miles from Mayfield. The Isabel Ashburnham mentioned in Magnus Fowle’s will was almost certainly the widow of John Ashburnham who sat in Parliament for Sussex in 1554. Isabel was the daughter of John Sackville of Buckhurst in Kent. John and Isabel Ashburnham had six children, of whom the Eleanor Ashburnham mentioned in my ancestor’s will was the fourth. Apparently she died unmarried. Interestingly, after her husband’s death in 1563, Isabel Ashburnham spent her later years in Lambeth and in 1584 was buried at the church of St Mary Overy in Southwark.

Ashburnham House, Sussex, before its partial demolition in the 1950s

It would appear that the Ashburnhams, like Magnus’s father Gabriel, were loyal to the traditional Catholic faith, and remained so (at least initially) despite the upheavals of the Reformation. The second John Ashburnham, the son and heir of John and Isabel, and the elder brother of Eleanor, had an accusation of recusancy laid against him in 1574: in other words, he refused to attend services of the newly-protestant Church of England. By 1588 he had amassed so many unpaid fines that his estate at Ashburnham was sequestered by the Crown and later farmed out by Queen Elizabeth to her master cook, William Cordell. It was only recovered when John died and his son, the third John Ashburnham, who presumably did not share his father’s religious scruples, became head of the family. The estate was forfeited again during the Civil War, due to the family’s support for Charles I, but returned to them at the Restoration. (Ashburnham House was eventually sold off and partly demolished in the 1950s. It is now a Christian conference centre: I remember spending a weekend there in the 1970s).

I’ve managed to find the names of various members of the Ashburnham family in the Recusant Roll for 1592. According to one source:

The rolls recorded the punishments and fines of those who refused to conform to the Anglican doctrine. After 1581, recusancy became an indictable offence, so recusants often appear in Quarter Session records and the fines levied were recorded in the Pipe Rolls. After 1592 a separate series of rolls called Recusant Rolls was created which continued until 1691 (previously recusancy was recorded in the Pipe Rolls). The Rolls could include other dissenters or nonconformists and show the fines and property or land surrendered by the accused.

The Recusant Roll is written in legal and abbreviated Latin: my knowledge of the language is a little rusty, but with the help of a dictionary I’ve been able to make some sense of the document. The Roll is organised by county, and in the section covering Sussex I’ve found two long passages which appear to detail the sequestration of the estate of the second John Ashburnham and its occupation by ‘Willelmus Cordell magister coquus coquine domine Regine’ (William Cordell, Queen Elizabeth’s master cook) and its return to the Ashburnhams on John’s death.

There are two brief references to Eleanor Ashburnham in the Recusant Roll. In the first ‘Ellionara Ashburneham’ appears in a list of recusants fined £40. Eleanor’s name comes after that of one Eleanor Parker, a spinster of Willingdon, which was about fifteen miles south-west of the village of Ashburnham, and she is said to be ‘de eadem’ – of the same – and also a spinster. There is a similar reference a few pages further on in the document.

The first list in which Eleanor’s name appears includes three other members of the Ashburnham family: Mary and Katherine Ashburnham, both said to be of Ashburnham and both spinsters, and William Ashburnham of Dallington, which was about five miles north of Ashburnham. Mary, Katherine and perhaps William were all the children of the recusant second John Asburnham who died in 1592. Clearly, they did not share the desire of their brother, the third John Ashburnham to conform to the Church of England, but instead maintained their father’s recusant principles. There is a reference elsewhere in the document to a William Ashburnham of Ashburnham, but I’m not sure if he is identical with William of Dallington. There are also two references to a Thomas Ashburnham, who is probably another sibling of Mary, Katherine and William, but it’s also possible he was Eleanor’s brother of that name, who is mentioned in their mother Isabel’s will of 1584.

The third Sir John Ashburnham (by Hieronymus Custodis, 1593)

To summarise: we know that in 1592, three years before her name appears in Magnus Fowle’s will, Eleanor Ashburnham, the unmarried, middle-aged daughter of John and Isabel Ashburnham (she was probably about forty years old at the time), was fined for holding fast to her late brother’s recusant principles. She was joined in this by two of her nieces and at least one of her nephews, and perhaps by her own brother. It’s worth noting that Eleanor’s nephews and nieces would have been in their late teens or early twentiess at the time: they were all born in the reign of Elizabeth I and thus represented a new generation determined to hold on to the faith of their ancestors, despite the increasingly heavy penalties for doing so.

If Eleanor Ashburnham was still being fined £40 on a regular basis three year later, when Magnus Fowle wrote his will, it makes his bequest to her of ‘Twentie Shillings in gold’ more understandable. It also makes it more likely that Magnus was sympathetic to Eleanor’s religious stance, even though he felt unable, for whatever reason, to adopt that stance himself and to face the legal consequences. I have no evidence that he, too, was a recusant. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t feel a secret sympathy for those who were brave enough to risk all for the religion of their (and his) forefathers, especially if there were long-standing links between the two families, perhaps connected with their shared patronage of the priory of St Mary Overy?

The preamble to Magnus’ will may provide a further clue to his (secret) religious affiliation. Although it doesn’t include the appeal to Mary and the saints that we find in more explicitly Catholic wills, Magnus bequeaths his soul ‘to Almightie god, the father, the sonne, and the holie ghoste, Three persones and one god’. According to Michael Questier, this simple evocation of the Trinity was commonly used by Catholics after the Reformation, to signify their allegiance to the traditional faith, while avoiding both an accusation of recusancy and the florid Calvinist-influenced language of the reformers.

If we combine the evidence of his will with what we know of his upbringing, then I think it’s reasonable to conclude that Magnus Fowle was a ‘church papist’, in other words someone who outwardly conformed to the new religion, but inwardly retained an allegiance to the traditional faith, and may even have attended its rituals in secret, despite the fact that this would become increasingly difficult during Elizabeth’s reign. As we shall see from the next post, there is also evidence that Magnus’ secret allegiance to Catholicism was shared by his wife’s family, the Luckes.

Gabriel Fowle, a schoolmaster in sixteenth-century Sussex

The story so far. My 12th great grandfather William Byne was a yeoman farmer in the village of Burwash, Sussex, in the first half of the sixteenth century: he died in 1559. William’s son Edward Byne, my 11th great grandfather, married Agnes Fowle in 1575. Agnes was the daughter of Magnus Fowle of Mayfield. Magnus was the son of Gabriel Fowle of Southover, who was the son of Nicholas Fowle of Lamberhurst, who died in 1522. In recents posts I’ve been exploring what we know about the Fowles of Kent and Sussex, including their connections with Bartholomew Fowle, the last prior of St Mary Overy, Southwark, and their links with other branches of the family who were, variously, yeomen farmers in Surrey, soldiers in Ireland, and servants in the royal household.

In this post I’m returning to my direct Fowle ancestors. Whatever uncertainties may surround the claim that Bartholomew Fowle was the son of my 14th great grandfather, Nicholas Fowle of Lamberhurst, there seems little doubt that my 13th great grandfather Gabriel Fowle was Nicholas’ son. Nicholas Fowle’s will appoints his son Gabriel as co-executor, together with Nicholas’ wife Elizabeth. Nicholas also bequeaths to Gabriel ‘my ii messuages with the gardens with a medo and a orcharde called withryn [?] the whiche I hold in fee formme of the prior and covent of ledes’. Leeds priory owned a number of properties in Kent, including the manor of Lamberhurst, until its dissolution some time in the late 1530s, and Bartholomew Fowle had been a canon there before he transferred to Southwark in 1509.

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 in Lamberhurst town and Pypers, Paldings, Overmead and Hogwood in the wider parish. Gabriel’s bequest of a single property is quite modest by comparison.

When and why Gabriel Fowle moved from Lamberhurst to Lewes, some thirty miles away, is something of a mystery. I’ve found a reference to him in the Lay Subsidy Roll for 1524-5, the year after his father Nicholas’ death. Gabriel is listed as resident in the borough of Southover, Lewes, where he is assessed on £2 per annum: not quite the smallest amount in the list, but a long way behind the prior of Lewes at £18 and Thomas Puggeslye (of whom more later) at £40. If Gabriel was already a tax-paying adult in the early 1520s, then he must have been born in the very early years of the century, at the latest.

Southover Grange, Lewes (via trip

Gabriel Fowle was named in a case in Chancery that was heard some time between 1518 and 1529. He and a certain John Fortey were defendants in a suit 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 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.

It may be that Gabriel moved to Southover to become master of the Free Grammar School of Lewes, a post we know he held later in his life. However, it’s also possible that Gabriel came to Lewes in order to marry, in which case the extensive lands in nearby Ringmer and Glynde that he bequeathed in his will may have been inherited from his wife. However, I’ve yet to find a record of Gabriel’s marriage, or any records that mention his wife. 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 11th great grandmother.

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 sixteenth century?

An artist’s impression of the Priory of St Pancras, with Southover and Lewes beyond (via

The Free Grammar School at Southover had been founded from 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 canne bee had, or els to put in a seculer man whiche ys able to 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 directs that the prior is to be involved in organising the payment of the wages to the schoolmaster and to an usher. The priory was suppressed in 1537 and became the property of Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s ‘fixer’ and the agent of its destruction. However, the Free Grammar School seems to have survived these events.

According to Agnes Morley’s will, the schoolmaster was to receive ‘xli by the yere’ and the ‘receyvour’ appointed by the prior to handle payments was 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 would witness Gabriel Fowle’s will.

David Arscott, author of Floreat Lewys, 500 Years of Lewes Old Grammar School , 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.

Gabriel and his wife had two children who survived them. One was my 12th great grandfather Magnus Fowle, who will be the subject of the next post, and the other was their daughter Agnes. Was it a playful sense of humour that made Gabriel give Magnus and Agnes these similar, rhyming names? Both children were probably born in the late 1520s or early 1530s, during the reign of Henry VIII. Agnes married her husband, John Harman, twenty or so years later, probably in the reign of Edward VI. Harman was a Lewes merchant, involved in the export to continental ports of materials from the thriving Wealden iron industry.

John and Agnes Harman had four children who survived them: a son and three daughters. I haven’t been able to discover what became of their son John. Their daughter Mary Harman married Hamon Hardyman and they had four children. Hamon (or Hamond) Hardyman (or Hardiman) was a glover in Cliffe, near Lewes, and was almost certainly related to ‘Jerman Hardyman my Neighbour’ who would witnessed John Harman’s will in 1599. In his will of 1595, Magnus Fowle would leave ten shillings to ‘my cosen’ Hamon Hardyman. In 1604 Hardyman would act as one of the sureties of the licence for the marriage of Magnus Fowle’s grandson, Magnus Byne, to Elizabeth Polhill. Hamon Hardyman died in 1617 and was buried, like his father-in-law John Harman, at All Saints Church, Lewes.

Agnes Harman, who had been christened at All Saints church on 20th April 1567, married Nicholas Bonwick, the latter being the name of an old Lewes family. I’ve found a record of the marriage, on 18th January 1586, of ‘Nicholas Bonnycke’ and ‘Annys Harman’. Interestingly, it took place at the church of St Saviour, Southwark, which had previously belonged to the priory of St Mary Overy.

A third Harman daughter, whose name was either Elizabeth or Alice, married a man named John Smith, at All Saints church, Lewes, on 25thOctober 1562. The Smiths had two sons: Richard and Thomas.

All Saints Church, Lewes (via

Gabriel Fowle’s will, signed and sealed on 27th January 1554/5, in the early months of the brief reign of Mary Tudor, reveals him to be a faithful Catholic who had retained his faith during the turbulent years of Henry VIII’s split from Rome and the radical reforms of Edward VI. Having begun by bequeathing his soul to Almighty God and asking to be buried in the parish church of Southover, Gabriel goes on to give money ‘to the hygh altare of Ryngmer’. He continues:

Item I wyll x preistes yf they can be gott to celebrate & say masse for my sowlle & all crysten sowles, & to be honestly recompensed by my executor. It[em] I give my new graylle Imprynted to the churche of Ryngmer. Item I give my wrytten masse book to the church of Southover.

The cautionary phrase ‘yf they can be gott’ is perhaps an acknowledgement that finding ten priests who were prepared to say masses for the souls of the departed might not be easy after twenty years of protestant reforms.

We can deduce from the will that Gabriel’s wife had predeceased him, and also that his son Magnus was already of age, since he is made executor of the will. In addition to bequests to members of his family, and to his servant Jane Bryan, Gabriel also leaves money to a number of his school pupils:

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. 

Some of these names 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 Queen Mary’s reign, and one of the overseers appointed by Gabriel Fowle, also 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 names 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? And 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?

Gabriel Fowle died in the summer of 1555, at around the same time that the arrest and execution of protestant ‘heretics’ was taking place not far from his home in Lewes. When Gabriel made his will, it must have seemed that Catholicism had finally been restored after two decades of religious turbulence. However, within three years Queen Mary would be dead, her half-sister Elizabeth would be on the throne, and the tables would be turned, with Catholic worship declared illegal and priests executed as traitors. Nevertheless, there is evidence that some members of the Fowle family retained their allegiance to the traditional faith, as I hope to show in the next post.

‘To almighty god, to our blessed Lady and to all the saints of hevyn’: the will of Thomas Fowle of Lamberhurst

On 17th October 1525, in the sixteenth year of the reign of Henry VIII, Thomas Fowle of Lamberhurst, Kent, made his last will and testament. Circumstantial evidence leads me to conclude that Thomas was the son of my 14th great grandfather, Nicholas Fowle of Lamberhurst, who had made his own will just two years earlier, and the brother of my 13th great grandfather Gabriel Fowle, who will be the subject of the next post. I also believe that Thomas Fowle’s will is further evidence of some kind of connection between my Fowle ancestors and Bartholomew Fowle, the last prior of St Mary Overy, Southwark, even if the claim made by some sources, that Bartholomew was another of the sons of Nicholas Fowle, is difficult to substantiate.

Countryside near Lamberhurst, Kent (via

Nicholas Fowle’s will, which I discussed in an earlier post, mentions three sons: Thomas, John and Gabriel. Nicholas divided his land between his wife Elizabeth and his three sons, with Thomas receiving a number of properties in the parish of Lamberhurst, including one called ‘the byne’ in the town itself.

My fellow Fowle family researcher Bill Green concludes 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. From the brevity of the document, we might also infer that the will was written in a hurry, perhaps during a sudden illness.

Wyngaerde’s 1542 panorama of London, from Southwark

For our purposes, the most intriguing thing about Thomas Fowle’s will is its references to the church of St Margaret in Southwark. After the usual preamble, the will makes these bequests:

First I bequeath my soule to almighty god, to our blessed Lady and to all the saints of hevyn And my body to be buried within the church yarde of Saint Margaret in Southwerk. Item I bequeath to the high master of Saint Margaret xxv Item I bequeath to the churche of Saint Margaret xxv Item I bequeath to my gostely fader xii.

Thomas also asks the following men to be among the witnesses of his will:

Willm Carnell p[ar]ishe priest and Curet of the foresaid Saint Margaretts Sir Richard Dawson morowe masse priest and Wm Mychell be records of this testament with other men.

Thomas Fowle’s home was in Lamberhurst, some fifty miles from Southwark, and yet not only does he ask to be buried in a churchyard in Southwark, but he leaves money to the church and the priests associated with it. What was the connection between a young yeoman farmer with family and property in rural Kent, and a church on the southern outskirts of London?

St Mary Overy, Southwark

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. (Bartholomew Fowle had been elected prior of St Mary Overy in 1513 and would remain in that post until its suppression in 1539.)  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 monastic 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 Augustinian priory. However, we know that St Margaret’s 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’.

Sixteenth-century clergy

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. He may have been a relative of the Robert Michell who was prior of Southwark not long before Bartholomew Fowle. At the dissolution, Bartholomew was 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 had been 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. However, determining the relationship between the two men, and the exact connection between Bartholomew and my Fowle ancestors, remains frustratingly difficult.

Adam Fowle, ‘servant to Queen Elizabeth’

In my search for clues about the origins of Bartholomew Fowle, the last prior of St Mary Overy, Southwark, and his connection with my own Fowle ancestors, I was intrigued to come across a reference to him in the pedigree of a later, London branch of the family. For this discovery, I’m grateful to Catherine Pullein’s history of the village of Rotherfield, Sussex, which I mentioned in the last post.

The record of the Visitation of London for the years 1633-34 and 1635 includes a Fowle pedigree of four generations, headed by a coat of arms that is very similar to that of the Fowles of Kent and Sussex. The first person in the family tree, Adam Fowle, is described as ‘Keeper of the house and garden at St James’ and ‘servant to Q. Elizabeth’. Built by Henry VIII, St James’ was then, as now, one of a number of royal palaces: Elizabeth I is said to have stayed there during the threat of invasion by the Spanish Armada, and Charles I spent his last night there before his execution.

St James’ Palace and garden (via

It’s intriguing to discover that a branch of the Fowle family rose to the status of royal servants. However, for our present purposes, the most interesting part of the description of Adam Fowle in the Visitation record is the statement that he was ‘nephew to the prior of S. Mary sauos [i.e. Saviour’s] co Surrey’. St Saviour’s was the name given to the church of St Mary Overy after Henry VIII’s suppression of the priory.

Pullein found an earlier and fuller pedigree of the same family in the Middlesex pedigrees collected by the Somerset Herald Richard Mundy in 1623. Much of the information given echoes that of the London pedigree, though no mention is made of the Prior of Southwark. However, from this earlier version we learn that Adam Fowle was from Faversham in Kent, but ‘descended out of Sussex’.

Fowle family pedigree from the record of the ‘Visitation of London, anno Domini 1633, 1634, and 1635. Made by Sr. Henry St. George, kt., Richmond herald, and deputy and marshal to Sr. Richard St. George, kt., Clarencieux king of armes’

Both pedigrees have Adam marrying a woman named Anne Dryland, also from Kent, who was the widow of a man named Webb. Their son was Alphonsus Fowle, described in the earlier pedigree as a justice of the peace in Middlesex, ‘dwelling near St James’, beyond Westminster’, and in the later pedigree as ‘sometime servant’ to Queen Elizabeth, King James, Prince Henry and Prince Charles as well as (like his father before him) ‘sometime keeper of the house and gardens of St James’. Alphonsus Fowle was said to be still alive and 74 years old in 1634: I’ve found the record of his baptism at St Martin-in-the-Fields in 1559. He was married firstly to Eleanor, daughter of a Mr Medley, who died in 1624, and secondly to Ellen, daughter of Mr Chapman of Tuts(h)am Hall, which was near Maidstone, and widow of John Lawrence of Essex.

Catherine Pullein was unable to find any reference to Adam Fowle in the parish registers, nor was she able to locate his will. The only references I can find to Adam Fowle at the National Archives are two certificates of residence, from 1563 and 1571, declaring him to be liable for taxation in the Royal Household. His son Alphonsus made a will in 1635 but, as Pullein reports, there are no clues in it as to his father’s origins or connection to any other branches of the Fowle family. She speculates that Adam might be have been another son of Robert Fowle the elder of Carshalton; but if so, it seems odd that he doesn’t appear in the Sussex pedigree, especially given his status as a royal servant.

As an alternative, Pullein falls back on the explanation that ‘nephew’, like ‘cousin’, was used very broadly in documents at this period. However, the name given at the end of the London pedigree – presumably the Heralds’ informant? – is Alphonsus Fowle. This was probably Adam’s grandson, another Adolphus (who by this stage was married with a daughter), rather than Adam’s 74-year-old son. Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that this Alphonsus would have made a mistake, or used an inaccurate term, about a key relationship of his grandfather’s, especially as his own father was still alive to correct him.

If the Visitation records are correct, then it would mean that Adam Fowle was the grandson of my 14th great grandfather Nicholas Fowle of Lamberhurst, the nephew of my 13th great grandfather Gabriel Fowle, and the cousin of my 12th great grandfather Magnus Fowle of Mayfield. And it would also mean that, among my ancestors were men who were servants at the courts of three successive monarchs. However, as I’ve noted before, doubts persist about the veracity of the Visitation records, and conflict with the evidence of other sources, such as family wills. Nevertheless, it’s clear that there was a connection of some kind between my Fowle ancestors and Bartholomew Fowle, the last prior of Southwark. In the next post, I’ll share one more piece of evidence to support that thesis.

Robert Fowle, ‘a Captaine in Ireland’

Continuing my exploration of the Fowle family, this post reports on what I’ve been able to discover about Robert Fowle, who on 25th February 1566, at the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields, Westminster, married Mary or Maria Burton, the daughter of Nicholas Burton of Carshalton, Surrey. Burton was married to Eleanor Fowle, the widow of William Fowle of Mitcham, who had died in 1547. At one stage, Robert and Mary Fowle were in dispute with Randall Hurlestone, Eleanor Fowle’s third husband (and anti-Catholic pamphleteer), about a provision in Eleanor’s will relating to a property in Carshalton.

Elizabethan harquebusiers and pikemen on the march in Ireland (via

I’m fairly certain that Robert Fowle was related in some way to William Fowle of Mitcham, but I’ve yet to discover their exact relationship. What does seem clear, however, is that there was a connection between Robert Fowle and my own Fowle ancestors, who lived in the neighbouring counties of Sussex and Kent. The Burton family pedigree in the record of the Visitations of Surrey describes the Robert Fowle who married Mary Burton as ‘a Captaine in Ireland’. If we turn to the Fowle family pedigree in the record of the Visitations of Sussex, we find a Robert Fowle who is described in Latin as ‘p[ro]positus Marischellus Conucie usus in bello Tirenensi in hiberniae’, in other words, the Provost Marshal of Connaught during the war in Tyrone, Ireland. The pedigree claims that he was the son of another Robert Fowle ‘of Carshalton in Surrey’, who in turn is said to be the son of my 14th great grandfather Nicholas Fowle of Lamberhurst, and thus the brother both of my 13th great grandfather Gabriel Fowle and of Bartholomew Fowle, the last prior of St Mary Overy, Southwark.

Other sources confirm that the Captain Robert Fowle who served in Ireland, and the man who became Provost Marshal of Connaught there in 1581, were one and the same person. According to a note that I found in an edition of the Selected Letters of Edmund Spenser, Fowle was ‘appointed by Grey on Malby’s recommendation’, with a letter by the former to the Privy Council of 9th December 1581 describing his ‘sufficiencie in service, and his well deserving of longe tyme’. Arthur Lord Grey was Lord Deputy of Ireland under Elizabeth I and Sir Nicholas Malby was the Governor of Connaught.

16th century map of Connaught / Connacht

Following the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, when many Spanish sailors and soldiers were shipwrecked in Ireland, the Calendar of State Papers contains the following entry (my added emphasis):

Upon Monday the 16th of September, it was thought good by the Governor and Council, forasmuch as many of the Spaniards who escaped shipwreck were kept by divers gentlemen and others of the province, and used with more favour than they thought meet, to set forth a proclamation, upon pain of death, that every man who had or kept any of them should presently bring them in, and deliver them to Robert Fowle, the Provost Marshal, the justices of peace, the sheriffs, or other head officers, or else that any man who should detain any of them above four hours after the publication of the said proclamation to be held and reputed as a traitor, which he published in every place for avoiding of further peril. Whereupon Teige Ne Bully O’Flaherty and many others brought their prisoners to Galway, and for that there were many Spaniards brought to the town of Galway from other parts of the province, besides those which the townsmen had taken prisoners beffore, he despatched Robert Fowle, the Provost Marshal, Captain Nathaniel Smythe and John Byrte [thither] with warrant and commission to put them all to the sword, saving the noblemen or such [principal] gentlemen as were among them, and afterwards to repair to O’Flaherty’s country [to make] earnest search who kept any Spaniards in their hands [and to] execute them in like manner, and take view of the great ordnance, munition, and oth[er] things which were in the two ships that were lost in that country, and see how it might be sa[ved for] the use of Her Majesty. Whereupon they executed 300 men at Galway.

Another source gives this account, which (to modern sensibilities, anyway) does not reflect well on Robert Fowle:

The year 1588 was rendered memorable for the destruction of the celebrated Spanish Armada. One of the ships which composed this ill-fated fleet was wrecked in the bay of Galway, and upwards of seventy of the crew perished. Several other vessels were lost along the coast; and such of the Spaniards as escaped the waves, were cruelly butchered by order of the lord deputy, Sir William Fitz-Williams, who, finding, or pretending to find, fault with the alleged lenity of Sir Richard Bingham, the president of the province, commissioned Robert Fowle, deputy marshal, who dislodged these unfortunate men from their hiding-places, and in a summary manner executed about two hundred of them, which so terrified the remainder, that, though sick and half-famished, they chose sooner to trust to their shattered barks, and the mercy of the waves, than to their more merciless enemies, in consequence of which multitudes of them perished. 

There are many other references in contemporary sources to Fowle’s role as Provost Marshall, including his involvement in negotiations with Irish rebel leaders and his disagreement with the tactics of Sir Richard Bingham, the governor of Connaught, whose ‘intemperate dealings and bad instruments’ he blamed for a rebellion in the province. Another officer, a Captain John Merbery, described Captain Fowle as ‘a professed enemy to Sir R. Bingham and always a stirrer of the State.’ (See Wikipedia’s account of Bingham’s controversial career.)

Another opinion, which seems to be that of Bingham himself, claimed that ‘no officer in Connaught hath so much broken the composition and exacted from the subjects inordinately as Mr. Fowle hath, what by cessing of his horses and horse boys, and placing his deputy marshals in every county, who hath gone up and down with 20 or 30 horses, eating and spoiling and exacting of money.’ On the other hand, Fowle himself claimed in a letter to Lord Burghley: ‘The general discontent in Connaught grew upon some unruly proceedings of bad officers. The Burkes and others still continue in those mistrustful terms towards Sir Richard Bingham and all his ministers.’ The dispute resulted in each man petitioning Queen Elizabeth against the other.

The British Museum and the National Library of Ireland hold copies of a ‘statement of the accompts of Capt. Robert Fowle, late Provost-Marshal of Connaught, set down and signed by Philip Hore, Feb. 26, 1599’, suggesting that he died some time in the 1590s.

Catherine Pullein writes about Robert Fowle in her 1928 history of the village of Rotherfield, Sussex, the home of one branch of the Fowle family. She seems to have been unaware that Robert’s wife Mary was the stepdaughter of Eleanor Fowle, who had been married to William Fowle of Mitcham. Pullein reports her failure to find any reference to a Fowle in the Carshalton parish registers before 1557, when Eleanor Fowle married John Russell; in the following year Joan Fowle is said to have married John Haydon. Pullein writes that ‘doubtless they were Robert’s daughters, named after his grandmother and mother’. This is contradicted by my own findings that Eleanor and Joan were actually the daughters of William Fowle of Mitcham.

Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Cork (via

Pullein notes that she was also unable to find a will for either Robert Fowle the elder or his son, the ‘Captaine in Ireland’. However, on making enquiries at the Four Courts in Dublin, presumably about Robert Fowle the younger, ‘a copy of a letter doing duty as a will, and addressed to “Cousin Boyle”, was received, and was wholly disappointing since no relatives we named except “my wife daughter and her children” a rather puzzling phrase that suggests that he had lost his first wife and married a widow with a daughter’. The letter is dated 1595 and Pullein notes a source that claims Robert Fowle the younger ‘lost his life in a skirmish of arms in Ireland’ and that probate was made on 15th January 1595/6 to the executor, Richard Boyle. The latter was born in Canterbury in 1566 and went to Ireland in 1588 where, having served as Lord Treasurer of the kingdom, was created the first Earl of Cork in 1620. I wonder if he was a relation of Robert Fowle’s second wife?