In the last post I wrote about the Fowle family of Kent and Susex, and specifically about my 14th great grandfather Nicholas Fowle of Lamberhurst, who died in 1523. Nicholas was the father of Lewes schoolmaster Gabriel Fowle, who in turn was the father of Magnus Fowle whose daughter Agnes married yeoman farmer Edward Byne of Burwash. Edward and Agnes Byne were my 11th great grandparents.

According to the family pedigree in the record of the Visitations of Sussex, Nicholas Fowle was also the father of Bartholomew Fowle, the Augustinian canon who was prior of St Mary Overy at the time of its dissolution in 1539. I’ve yet to find any confirmation of this in other records, and there is no mention of Bartholomew in Nicholas Fowle’s will. However, there is strong circumstantial evidence that some kind of connection existed between Bartholomew Fowle and my own Fowle ancestors, and in the next few posts I’ll be exploring that evidence.

In this post I’ll summarise what we know about Bartholomew himself.

Origins

One reason to doubt the claim that Bartholomew was the son of Nicholas Fowle of Lamberhurst is the fact that he was also known as Bartholomew Linsted or Lynsted, supposedly because he came from the village of that name, which is also in Kent but some thirty miles from Lamberhurst. One of the few surviving sources of information about Bartholomew Fowle’s birth is the chapter on Lynsted in an eighteenth-century history of Kent, which notes that ‘Bartholomew Fowle, alias Linsted, a native of this place, was the last prior of St Mary Overie, London, being elected to that office anno 1513.’ Interestingly, Lynsted was also closely associated with the Roper family, who were linked by marriage with Thomas More: the recusant Lady Roper of Teynham lived at Lynsted Lodge in the early seventeenth century.

Some sources give Bartholomew’s name as ‘Lynsted alias Fowle’, while others reverse the order. We can only speculate as to why Bartholomew used an alternative surname. Was it a common habit to take the name of your home village, or was it a particular practice among members of religious orders? Did Bartholomew find it politic to conceal his Fowle family connections for some reason, or alternatively did he have a particular reason (a local benefactor or sponsor, for example) for identifying with Lynsted?

Lynsted Lodge, Kent, from an early etching

Leeds Priory

Bartholomew Fowle joined the Canons Regular at the Augustinian priory of St Mary and St Nicholas at Leeds, Kent, about twelve miles south-west of Lynsted and eighteen miles north-east of Lamberhurst, which happened to be one of the manors it owned and one of the parishes for which it possessed the advowson. (In the previous post I wrote about a connection between the Fowle family and another Augustinian foundation, at Combwell, also in Kent.) Canons Regular were priests living in community under the Rule of St Augustine and sharing their property in common. Unlike monks, who lived a cloistered, contemplative life, the purpose of the life of a canon was to engage in a public ministry of liturgy and sacraments for those who visited their churches.

An Augustinian canon (via thurgartonhistory.co.uk)

I’m unsure at what age young men and women joined religious orders at that time, but my research into recusant families suggests that it was usually in their middle teens. Even so, this doesn’t help us with determining Bartholomew’s date of birth, since although we know he left Leeds priory in 1509, we don’t know when he joined. I haven’t found any records for Leeds priory during Bartholomew’s time there, but two years after he left, Archbishop Warham of Canterbury made a visitation. According to a county history:

Richard Chetham, prior, said that all was well; John Bredgar, formerly prior, was now vicar of Marden, and rarely came to the monastery, but thought that all things were well; and Thomas Vincent, sub-prior, said that much had been reformed, but much still remained to be reformed by the prior and sub-prior. […] Besides the eight canons already named there were twelve others, making a total of twenty in addition to the prior.

As noted in my last post, Thomas Vincent would eventually transfer from Leeds to Combwell, replacing Thomas Pattenden as prior, a post he would hold until the dissolution of the house in 1536.

St Mary Overy 

Bartholomew Fowle transferred from Leeds to the priory of St Mary Overy at Southwark in 1509, the year in which Henry VIII came to the throne. According to one source, Bartholomew Lynsted alias Fowle was elected sub-prior at Southwark in January 1513, but there is a suggestion that he was promoted again to prior very soon afterwards, perhaps as early as February in the same year. Robert Michell had been prior from 1499 until his resignation in 1512, when he was succeeded by Robert Shouldham, whose term of office appears to have been less than a year.

According to oral tradition, there had been a church in Southwark, just south of London Bridge, since before the Norman Conquest. In the early twelfth century it was re-founded as an Augustinian priory, dedicated to St Mary, and in time became known as St Mary Overy (‘over the river’). The canons created a hospital alongside the church, the direct predecessor of St Thomas’ Hospital and originally named in honour of the martyr St Thomas à Becket.

St Mary Overy, from the 16th century Norden map of London

We know very little about Bartholomew’s time as prior of Southwark, which coincided with the tumultuous years of Henry VIII’s reign. We do know that he was present at an important chapter of the Augustinians in Leicester, on Monday 16th June 1518, when 171 canons joined in the procession, of whom 36 were prelati or heads of houses. According to one account, Bartholomew used the occasion to call for reform:

As night came on they adjourned till Tuesday morning at seven, and when they again assembled, the prior of Southwark, with every outward demonstration of trouble and sorrow, appealed for a stricter and verbal observance of their rule. His manner and address excited much stir, but he was replied to by many, particularly by the prior of Merton. On the first day of this chapter a letter had been read from Cardinal Wolsey observing with regret that so few men of that religion applied themselves to study. On Wednesday, the concluding day of the chapter, Henry VIII and his then queen were received into the order.

Other sources claim that Bartholomew Fowle was ‘a very learned man’, and not just in matters of religion. He was the author of the book De Ponte Londini in which he popularised a tradition about the origins of London Bridge, subsequently repeated in Stow’s Survey of London. According to one source:

In the early part of the Saxon times there is no notice of any town or other place on this spot ; but a tradition of Bartholomew Linsted, or Fowle, last prior of St. Mary Overie, preserved by Stow (Survey of London, book i, chapter xiii), notices that the profits of the ferry were devoted by the owner, ‘a maiden named Mary’, to the foundation and endowment of a nunnery, or ‘house of sisters’, afterwards converted into a college of priests, by whom a bridge of timber was built, which with the aid of the citizens was afterwards converted into one of stone.

Artist’s impression of London Bridge in the 16th century  (by Peter Jackson, via wharferj.files.wordpress.com)

In 1535 the annual value of Southwark priory was declared to be £624 6s. 6d, with its rents in Southwark alone realising £283 4s. 6d. On November 11th of that year there was a great procession by command of the king, at which the canons were present, with their crosses, candlesticks, and vergers before them, all singing the litany. However, if this was a sign of royal favour towards St Mary Overy, it was to prove shortlived.  

Dissolution

In 1531, following the dispute with Rome over his plan to divorce Queen Katharine, Henry VIII had declared himself Supreme Head of the Church of England. Five years later the king, through the agency of his chief enforcer Thomas Cromwell, began the process of suppressing the country’s religious houses and appropriating their property. According to Wriostheley’s Chronicle for the year 1539: 

Also this yeare, in Octobre, the priories of Sainct Marie Overis, in Southwarke, and Sainct Bartholomewes, in Smithfield, was suppressed into the Kinges handes, and the channons putt out, and changed to seculer priestes, and all the landes and goodes [escheated] to the Kinges use.

St Mary Overy was ‘surrendered’ to Cromwell’s agents on 27th October 1539. Cromwell himself signed the pension list, which granted £8 each per annum to two of the canons and £6 to nine others. There were eleven annuitants in all, besides the prior, with their pensions totalling £70 in all. At least one source claims that Bartholomew Fowle quibbled over his original grant of £80 per annum and managed to have it increased to £100. In addition, Bartholomew was provided with a house ‘within the close where Dr Michell was dwelling’. Robert Michell was the last prior but one before Bartholomew, and may have resigned due to ill health or old age.

In 1545 the priory buildings and grounds came into the possession of Sir Anthony Browne, and there were complaints in the manor court of Southwark that he had opened a public bowling green in the close and was allowing gambling there. Although he was a staunch Catholic, Browne remained a close friend of Henry VIII and became the owner of a good deal of former monastic property. His eldest son, another Anthony, was created Viscount Montague in the time of Queen Mary. It seems probable that Lord Montague lived in what had previously been the house of the prior of St. Mary Overy. He died in 1593, leaving to his wife, Magdalen (whom I mentioned in an earlier post), his mansion house of ‘St. Mary Overies,’ for her life, with reversion to his grandson Anthony.

The area around the former priory buildings became known as Montague Close and would serve as a refuge for Catholic recusants, under the protection of the Browne family. In time the priory church of St Mary Overy would be renamed as St Saviour’s before becoming the Anglican Cathedral of Southwark in 1905.

Southwark Priory buildings in about 1700

Later life

There is evidence that Bartholomew Fowle remained in London after his enforced retirement, and also that he continued to serve as a priest. For example, in 1543 Dame Joan Milbourne, the widow of a former lord mayor of London, bequeathed money in her will to a number of priests to come to her burial at the church of St Edmund, Lombard Street, and to pray for her. She left the sum of £6 13s 6d ‘to my very good friend Bartholomew Linsted some time prior of St Mary Overies, to pray for my soul’. From this, we can conclude two things: firstly, that Bartholomew Fowle was well connected with the gentry of London, and secondly that, despite the religious changes of Henry’s reign, Catholic practices such as prayers for the dead remained popular.

The date of Bartholomew’s death is unknown, and I’ve failed to find any trace of a will, but a number of sources confirm that he was still receiving his pension in 1553. In other words, he lived for at least another fifteen years or so after his expulsion from St Mary Overy. This means that Bartholomew may have lived long enough to have his hopes revived by the brief restoration of Catholicism under Queen Mary.

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