BOWYER, William (by 1493-1544), of London.

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. by 1493. m. 1516/18, Agnes, wid. of William Mynett; 3 illegit. s. 2 illegit. da. by Elizabeth, wid. of Thomas Turner. Kntd. by 29 Nov. 1543.2

Offices Held

Warden, Drapers’ Co. 1524-5, 1532-3, master 1537-8, 1541-2; gov. Merchant Adventurers 1526; auditor, London 1529-31, 1534-6, alderman 1534-d, sheriff 1536-7, mayor 1543-d.3


William Bowyer was born at Harston, near Cambridge, and in 1507 he was apprenticed to a London draper. Within a few years of his admission to the freedom he married the widow of a fellow-draper and settled in the parish of St. Peter’s, Cornhill, where in 1523 he was assessed for subsidy on £430 in goods. He dealt in all forms of drapery and also bought and sold materials for the clothing industry such as wax, orchil and woad. In 1521 he was one of those appointed by the Merchant Adventurers to arrange their shipping to the Easter mart; in 1523 he was similarly charged for the midsummer mart, and in 1526, as one of the two governors of the Merchant Adventurers, he wrote from Antwerp to the Company in London. His ability to speak Dutch was noted by Stephen Vaughan, who nevertheless judged him unsuited to diplomacy, as ‘he hath no knowledge in the intercourse’, and therefore recommended Cromwell to use Paul Withypoll for negotiations with the Emperor’s commissioners in 1532.4

Bowyer and Withypoll were to sit together in two sessions of the Parliament of 1529 after Bowyer replaced John Petyt, who died in August 1532. Although there is no record of the by-election, Bowyer must have taken his seat in the following session, for on 18 Feb. 1533 the recorder, John Baker I, reported to the court of aldermen that ‘Mr. Bowyer and Mr. Withypoll desired him to draw a bill to be exhibited to the Parliament house to corroborate and confirm the court of requests used in this city’. (The aldermen assented, but if the bill was introduced, it failed to pass.) Towards the close of that session Bowyer seems to have drawn attention to himself by his attitude towards the bill in restraint of appeals. His name appears on a list of Members thought to have opposed that measure either on religious or on economic grounds: his interest in the cloth trade might well have led him to do so, but whether religious conviction entered into the matter it is impossible to say. Two days before the opening of the next session, in mid-January 1534, Bowyer was named as one of the Members who were to be paid by the City ‘for their wages and fees and also their liveries and other profits according to the old ancient custom for their labours to be taken in this next Parliament’. It was to be his last session. Since December 1532 he had been up for election as alderman on seven occasions, and on 3 Sept. 1534 he was chosen for the ward of Aldgate. As he had been returned to Parliament as a commoner by the commonalty of London, his elevation was deemed to create a vacancy in the City’s representation: at the by-election held on 27 Oct. 1534 he was replaced by Robert Pakington.5

In the following January Bowyer was appointed a commissioner in London for the survey of church possessions which produced the Valor Ecclesiasticus, and in November he and other aldermen prepared to approach the Council about the sanctuary of St. Martin’s, whose boundaries were in dispute between the City and the ecclesiastical authorities. Shortly after his election in September 1536 by the commonalty as sheriff of London and Middlesex, Chancellor Audley reported to Cromwell that Bowyer had complied with the minister’s request about the office of under sheriff, presumably by appointing a nominee of Cromwell’s. In 1542 Bowyer was the unsuccessful candidate for the mayoralty but in the following year he was elected. Soon after he took office the court of aldermen decreed that any alderman who was a knight or had been mayor should wear his chain of gold and be attended by two servants whenever he went out of his parish, while other aldermen were to wear their tippets of velvet and be accompanied by one servant. It is from this order that Bowyer’s knighthood, of which there is no record, can be dated as having been conferred before 29 Nov. 1543, doubtless on his taking office as mayor. On 7 Jan. 1544 a further order regulated attendance on the mayor, increasing the formality of his proceeding about London on official business, and on 29 Jan. Bowyer was given precedence by the lord chancellor and other subsidy commissioners although his name did not stand first in the commission: as the town clerk noted, ‘all the said lords with one assent ... caused him to sit and keep the chief place’.6

Bowyer was to enjoy these honours for only a short while: he died on 13 Apr. 1544. Although he had asked in his will to be buried ‘without pomp or pride of the world’, the splendour of his funeral matched what appears to have been his conception of the mayoral dignity. It was accompanied to St. Peter’s, Cornhill by the new mayor, the recorder, the aldermen, the chamberlain, common serjeant, common clerk and other officers, ‘and a great number of his other friends’; at mass next day the suffragan of London preached ‘a solemn and clerkly sermon’, which was followed by a ‘great dinner’ paid for by Bowyer’s executors. They could well afford the expense, for Bowyer died a rich man. His assessment for the loan to the King in 1535 or 1536 was £2,000, and for the subsidy in 1541 his goods were valued at £2,666. He dwelt in what Stow called ‘a fair house and large’ next to the Leadenhall, which he rented from the City for £10 13s.4d. a year. By his will, made on 28 Mar. 1544, he left £1,000 to his wife, as the third part of his goods to which she was entitled by the custom of London, together with his house and lands in Hoxton and Shoreditch and the household stuff there, and an annuity of £50 out of his other lands; a codicil of 4 Apr. gave her a room in his London house.7

Bowyer had had no children by his wife, or none that survived, and his heir was his niece, Alice, who was married to Henry Serle. To her he bequeathed the parsonage of Eltisley, Cambridgeshire, which he had bought a few years before his death, and houses in Harston; but such of his lands as he could dispose of without infringing the recent statute of wills (32 Hen. VIII, c.1) he left to his five illegitimate children. He named as executors Thomas Fish and William Eynes, both drapers, and his nephew Henry Serle, and as overseers Clement Smith and Thomas Curteys; he also asked Chancellor Audley to assist them. The will was proved on 16 July 1544, but there followed nearly 20 years of contention. In 1547 the three sons were pardoned for entering upon the lands which their father had left them without obtaining a licence from the King. Francis Chaloner, husband of one of the daughters, sued the executors for failing to give her what was due, to be met with the reply that ‘his supposed wife ... is yet an infant, under the years of consent unto matrimony, that is to say the age of 11 years’. Richard Shepard of Hackney, to whom Bowyer had leased his manor of Wick, complained that Henry Serle had let it instead to Thomas Colshill, and Thomas Fish accused the other two executors of falsifying the accounts. At length, in 1553, following a petition from Francis Chaloner to the King against the executors for wasting the estate, a commission was appointed, which ten years later produced a sentence in the prerogative court by which the executors were found to be at fault.8

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: Helen Miller


  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 2. Date of birth estimated from apprenticeship. PCC 11 Pynnyng, 16 Holder; C1/385/35; City of London RO, Guildhall, rep. 11, f. 14v.
  • 3. A. H. Johnson, Company of Drapers, ii. 468-9; Acts Ct. of Mercers’ Co., ed. Lyell and Watney, 732; City of London RO, jnl. 13, ff. 153v, 238, 422, 449v; 14, f. D; 15, f. 55; rep. 9, f. 73.
  • 4. PCC 11 Pynnyng; P. Boyd, Roll of Draper’s Co. 24; E122/81/8, 82/7 ex inf. Prof. P. Ramsey; E179/251/15b; C1/596/10, 611/5; O. de Smedt, De Engelse Natie te Antwerpen, ii. 429; City of London RO, rep. 8, f. 257v; Acts Ct. of Mercers’ Co. 524, 566, 731-2; G. Schanz, Englische Handelspolitik, ii. 252-3.
  • 5. City of London RO, rep. 8, f. 274; 9, ff. 41v, 73; LP Hen. VIII, ix. 1077 citing SP1/99, p. 234; Beaven, Aldermen of London, i. 3, 73, 91, 101, 115, 199, 207.
  • 6. LP Hen. VIII, viii, xi; City of London RO, rep. 9. f. 135; 11, ff. 14v, 19v, 32v; jnl. 14, ff. D, 351; 15, f. 55.
  • 7. City of London RO, jnl. 15, f. 86v; rep. 9, f. 161v; Reg. St. Peter’s Cornhill incorrectly gives date of death (13 Apr.) as that of burial (21 Apr.); Cott. Cleop. F6, f. 345v; E179/144/120; Stow’s Survey of London, i. 152; PCC 11 Pynnyng.
  • 8. C142/70/40, 71/79; PCC 11 Pynnyng, 12 Chayre; CPR, 1547-8, pp. 71, 204-5, 209; 1553, pp. 186-7; C1/1156/34, 1210/12-13, 1218/64; 1330/58-60, 1341/12, 1385/22, 1407/55-61.