NOWELL, Robert (c.1520-69), of Gray's Inn, London and Hendon, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. c.1520, 4th s. of John Nowell of Read, Lancs. by and w. Elizabeth, da. of Robert Kay of Rochdale Lancs.; bro. of Alexander. educ. Middleton g.s. Lancs.; Brasenose, Oxf.; G. Inn, adm. 1544.2

Offices Held

Autumn reader, G. Inn 1561.

Commr. eccles. causes, Canterbury, Chichester Rochester and Winchester dioceses 1559, audit accts. Queen’s household 1565; attorney, ct. wards 1561-d., steward, dean and chapter of St. Paul’s, j.p. Mdx. 1564-d.3


Robert Nowell replaced Sir George Blagge, who died in 1551, as Member for Westminster in the last session of the Parliament of 1547. He was then a young lawyer at Gray’s Inn and presumably his election was the work of a contemporary there, Secretary Cecil, helped by his elder brother, Alexander Nowell, master of Westminster school: nothing is known about his role in this Parliament. If he was re-elected to its successor in March 1553, for which Cecil discussed the composition before-hand with the Duke of Northumberland, it was not for Westminster, but with Cecil’s help then he could have been returned almost anywhere.4

The accession of Mary saw a downward turn in the fortunes of Nowell’s family: the election of his brother Alexander of West Looe in the autumn of 1553 was declared invalid, and Alexander and another brother went into exile rather than acquiesce in the reunion with Rome. Although he shared his brothers’ Protestantism, Robert Nowell remained in England and continued to practise as a lawyer: he is probably identifiable with the ‘Mr. Nowell’ employed in January 1555 as counsel by the Duchess of Suffolk for a private bill submitted to the Parliament of November 1554. The indenture for Saltash to the Parliament of 1555 is damaged and of the senior Member’s name only the surname ‘Nowell’ and the style ‘esquire’ remain. Two considerations suggest that Robert Nowell was the Member concerned: the style signifies a legal training and only one other Nowell meets this qualification, a kinsman who entered Gray’s Inn in 1549, when Cecil was acting as attorney for the 2nd Earl of Bedford, the most eminent landowner in the neighbourhood of the town, during the earl’s absence abroad. Nowell may also have been able to rely on the support which two years before had facilitated his brother Alexander’s election for a nearby borough. ‘Mr. Nowel’ followed Sir Anthony Kingston’s lead in voting against a government bill, and perhaps for this reason he did not secure a place in Mary’s last Parliament. With the advent of Elizabeth, his family’s circumstances improved and he obtained a lucrative post in the court of wards. Nowell sat in one further Parliament before his death on 6 Feb. 1569.5

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Authors: Helen Miller / A. D.K. Hawkyard


  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament; Hatfield 207.
  • 2. Date of birth estimated from that of his elder brother Alexander. A. B. Grosart, The Spending of the Money of Robert Nowell, pp. xxxi, xxxv-xxxvi.
  • 3. HMC 11th Rep. III, 94; CPR, 1560-3, p. 6; Grosart, p. xxxvi.
  • 4. Westminster abbey, reg. 5, f. 18v.
  • 5. DNB (Nowell, Alexander); CJ, i. 27, 41; C219/24/32; Guildford mus. Loseley 1331/2; Grosart, pp. xxxvi-xxxvii.