BOWYER, Robert I (by 1502-51/52), of Chichester, Suss.
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Family and Education
Reeve of St. George’s guild, Chichester 1523-4, mayor 1527-8, 1532-3, 1541-2, 1546-7, ?1551; commr. musters 1539.2
Robert Bowyer came of a family not long settled in Sussex. His great-grandfather had moved there from Staffordshire about 1410 and founded a branch of his family at Petworth, a property owned by the Percy earls of Northumberland. Bowyer’s father and his brother John were successively bailiffs of Petworth.3
Bowyer himself settled in Chichester. His business did not compare in size with that of the Cressweller family: in the subsidy return of 1524 Bowyer and John Cressweller the elder had been assessed respectively at £40 and £200 in goods. A measure of rivalry existed between him and the Cresswellers which, although they co-operated in certain ventures, could give rise to clashes: on two occasions early in Edward VI’s reign John Cressweller the younger brought Bowyer to court for failing to comply with contracts, after Bowyer himself had procured Cressweller’s arrest by a local justice, Edmund Ford, for defaulting on a small rent.4
Bowyer seems to have been respected in the city. He served more terms as mayor than any other citizen throughout the 16th century. A dispute arose over the mayoral election of 1541, when some in the city objected either to the custom of electing the mayor from the guild body or—and this is more likely—to the overbearing action of the outgoing mayor. A small group of citizens ‘communed together who should be next mayor of Chichester, and of the election of him: and would be glad to have Bowyer of Chichester to be elected mayor because they think he would be favourable to the poor commoners of Chichester’. Although temporarily confined to ward they achieved their object: Bowyer was elected for the ensuing year.5
Bowyer’s election to Parliament in 1529 was a natural extension of his civic career. It is possible that he had gained his first experience of the Commons six years earlier and before becoming mayor. By 1529 he had held the mayoralty, and it was perhaps for this reason that he took precedence in the return over the recorder Robert Trigges: on this occasion as well as later he may have been favoured by the 5th Earl of Northumberland. He probably sat again in 1536, in accordance with the King’s request for the return of the previous Members, and he may have done so in 1539 and 1545 (in 1542 his third mayoralty would perhaps have debarred him), Parliaments for which the names of Chichester’s Members are not known. He was returned for a last time in 1547, when his partner was the lawyer Richard Sackville II. There is no indication of Bowyer’s activity in any of the Parliaments in which he sat: on 27 Feb. 1552 a bill to prevent the establishment of further iron mills in Sussex was committed to ‘Mr. Bowes’, but this was probably Sir Martin Bowes. It is likely that Bowyer sympathized with the religious changes in which his Membership involved him: while there is no evidence of his own views, his brother Thomas Bowyer of London married into a vigorous Protestant circle, his nephew was in exile at Frankfurt during Mary’s reign, and two of his sons, Francis and Robert, are known to have opposed the Marian regime.6
When Bowyer made his will on 13 July 1551 he confined his bequests almost entirely to the immediate members of his family: he made no mention of the mayors and aldermen with whom he had served. The will suggests that he was in comfortable financial circumstances: he bequeathed a total of £170 in ready money to his wife and children, giving his plate and silver to his wife. The date of probate of the will, 12 June 1552, suggests that Bowyer died in the early part of that year. That he is unlikely to have done so by January 1552 is shown by the entry of his name on the list of Members which was revised on the eve of the final session beginning in that month, where it appears without the suffix ‘mortuus’ appended to the names of other deceased Members. Bowyer may thus have died in the course of that session or have just survived its closure on 15 Apr.7
Ref Volumes: 1509-1558
Author: R. J.W. Swales
- 1. Date of birth estimated from first reference. PCC 8 Dyngeley, 18 Powell, 24 Babington; Vis. Suss. (Harl. Soc. liii), 62; Suss. Arch. Colls. xlii. 19 seq.; W. Suss. RO, Comber pprs. 7, ff. 48-55; 14, f. 1; Portsmouth lib. Everitt peds. f. 158.
- 2. Chichester corp. AE1, f. 41v; LP Hen. VIII, iv, xiv; A. Hay, Chichester, 569.
- 3. Suss. Arch. Colls. xlii. 19.
- 4. Suss. Rec. Soc. lvi. 2; E122/200/5, ff. 11v-12, 200/9, ff. 1-2v; C1/1205/85, 1209/62.
- 5. St. Ch.2/9/85-87; Hay, 569.
- 6. CJ, i. 18.
- 7. PCC 18 Powell; Hatfield 207.