ROWLETT, Sir Ralph (by 1513-71), of Holywell House, St. Albans, Herts.
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Family and Education
b. by 1513, 1st s. of Ralph Rowlett of London and St. Albans by 1st w. Jane Knight. educ. ?G. Inn, adm. 1533. m. (1) by 1544, Dorothy (d.1557), da. of John Bowles of Wallington, Herts., (2) 27 June 1558 Margaret (d. 3 Aug. 1558), da. of Sir Anthony Cooke of Gidea Hall, Essex, s.p. suc. fa. 4 Mar. 1543. Kntd. by 23 Sept. 1547.1
?Escheator, Essex and Herts. 1540-1; j.p. Herts. 1547-d., q. 1562; commr. relief 1550; sheriff, Essex and Herts. 1559-60.2
Sir Ralph Rowlett’s father established the fortune of the family; he was a member of the Goldsmiths’ Company of London, a merchant of the staple, and one of the two deputy masters of the mint from 1533. It was probably he and not his son who served as sheriff of Essex and Hertfordshire in 1541-2. When he died in March 1543 the son inherited seven Hertfordshire manors, and land and houses in St. Albans, of a total assessed value of over £150 a year. The elder Rowlett had been assessed for subsidy in 1540 at the very large sum of 500 marks, while the son’s estate was then valued at £26 13s.4d.3
In June 1543 Rowlett had livery of his inheritance, and in 1551 he and the other executors of his father’s will secured the discharge of a recognizance of £3,000 in which the elder Rowlett had been bound in 1530, probably as security for the proper performance of his duties at the mint. It was probably he, not his father, who had served as escheator in 1540-1, but otherwise he seems to have held no public office under Henry VIII. It was Edward VI who knighted Rowlett and made him a justice of the peace. He is known to have been Protestant in sympathy in Elizabeth’s time, and may have been so earlier; if so, his religious stance perhaps helped to secure his election to Parliament in 1547 in preference to rivals of older family or higher standing in Hertfordshire; the other knight of the shire was Sir Anthony Denny, a strong Protestant. Like Denny, Sir Richard Lee and Sir Henry Parker, Rowlett served with the Marquess of Northampton in his unsuccessful expedition of August 1549 against the Norfolk rebels. William Cecil listed Rowlett as one of those who was to have transacted affairs in Hertfordshire on behalf of Queen Jane’s government, but there is nothing to suggest that he was actively involved in the succession crisis of 1553. He sued out a pardon after Queen Mary’s accession.4
Rowlett remained on the commission of the peace, but otherwise took no part in either local or national affairs under Mary. Family matters appear to have occupied him, for between 1556 and 1558 he made two separate settlements of his extensive lands. The first created an entail for the issue of himself and his first wife and may have been prompted by the birth of children who failed to survive. The second, in April 1558, was made in contemplation of his short-lived marriage to Margaret Cooke, a maid in waiting to the Queen. In December 1556 and January 1557 Rowlett sold three large parcels of land, one including the manor of Gorhambury, Hertfordshire, acquired through the agency of certain third parties by Sir Nicholas Bacon, a brother-in-law of Rowlett’s, who made it his main seat. Rowlett divested himself in 1565-6 of much of his remaining land by settlements for the benefit of his heirs-apparent, since it was by then evident that he would die childless.5
Rowlett was involved in a good deal of litigation. About 1554 another brother-in-law, Thomas Skipwith, alleged that Rowlett had accepted £270 to transfer by fine four of the family’s principal manors to Joan Skipwith, Rowlett’s sister, retaining only life interests for himself and his wife, but that Rowlett afterwards denied receiving the money and refused to make the transfer. The chief witness against Rowlett was his rival for social primacy in St. Albans, Sir Richard Lee. Relations between the two men worsened and in January 1565 the Privy Council commissioned certain persons to try a dispute between them and, in the following month, took the drastic step of removing both from the Hertfordshire bench. Further details are lacking, but Rowlett had been restored to the bench by the following September.6
Rowlett had been admitted a freeman of the Goldsmiths’ Company in 1551, but he does not appear to have followed his father’s trade or to have taken any part in the company’s affairs. It can hardly have been for the purpose of trade that he was licensed in 1566 to remain overseas, a licence renewed in May 1567 and again, for two years, in July 1568. He was presumably home again by July 1570, when he was accused of vexing tenants at Wheathampstead in their rights of common, and certainly when death came to him on 20 Apr. 1571, for his body was buried eight days later in St. Alban’s abbey. Apart from some lands in Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, Rowlett was then possessed only of Hallywell park and three manors, valued at about £115 a year. The rest of the family lands had been transferred by 1566 to his heirs, four nephews and two nieces, children of his five sisters, whose inheritances were ratified in his will of 28 July 1566. He left sums of money to various relatives and friends, and to charities, among them £100 to St. Albans School. Most of his disposable realty he divided between his nephews, but he left to Chief Justice Sir Robert Catlyn a life interest in Hallywell, and to Bacon the freehold of considerable land in Hertfordshire and adjoining counties. The executors were Bacon, Catlyn, Gilbert Gerard and John Southcote II, with Cecil as overseer. The mayor and corporation of St. Albans contested the will, alleging that the original made no mention of the executors, but the prerogative court of Canterbury, not surprisingly, pronounced in favour of a will exhibited by such an eminent quintet.7
Ref Volumes: 1509-1558
Author: D. F. Coros
- 1. Date of birth estimated from age at fa.’s i.p.m., C142/68/40. Machyn’s Diary (Cam. Soc. xlii), 160, 169-70, 364n; LP Hen. VIII, xix; Misc. Gen. et Her. (ser. 5), viii. 88; C219/19/42.
- 2. LP Hen. VIII, xxi; CPR, 1547-8, p. 84; 1553, p. 354; 1560-3, p. 438; 1563-6, pp. 23, 42, 123.
- 3. J. Craig, The Mint, 100-1; C. E. Challis, The Tudor Coinage, 20-84 passim, 311, 312; Mill Stephenson, Mon. Brasses, 193; St.Ch.2/32/120; E179/120/148.
- 4. LP Hen. VIII, xviii; W. C. Richardson, Ct. Augmentations, 242n; CPR, 1549-51, p. 226; 1553-4, p. 452; Lansd. 103(1), ff. 1-2; Holinshed, Chron. iii. 971.
- 5. Machyn’s Diary, 160, 169-70; CPR, 1555-7, pp. 130-1, 331-2, 337; 1557-8, p. 330; 1560-3, p. 72; C142/206/3; PCC 33 Holney.
- 6. C1/1055/135-6; 3/49, 89, 122/26; 24/34, n. 29; APC, vii. 183, 194, 257.
- 7. W. S. Prideaux, Goldsmith’s Co. i. 56; NRA 10873, p. 262; C142/206/3; PCC 33 Holney, 30 Martyn; St. Albans Par. Reg. ed. Brigg, 183.