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 http://www.gardenvisit.com)

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.

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