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.