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?