VOWELL, Thomas (by 1499-1544), of Fowelscombe, Devon.

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 1499, 1st s. of Richard Vowell of Fowelscombe by 1st W. Blanche. m. (1) 1518, Mary, da. of Richard Hals of Keynedon, Sherford, 2s. 4da.; (2) Maud Bevill, 3s.; (3) settlement 1537, Jane, da. of Nicholas Dillon of Bratton Fleming, wid. of John Somaster (d.1535) of Painsford. suc. fa. 6 Oct. 1525.1

Offices Held


It is easier to identify Thomas Vowell than to trace his career. He came of a family settled some miles east of Plymouth and had succeeded to his inheritance some four years before he was returned to Parliament for that borough in his early thirties.

Vowell’s election on that occasion gives point to the questions posed by his career. The standing he enjoyed in the neighbourhood is likely to have been augmented by the favour of the sheriff Sir Peter Edgecombe, for Vowell’s stepmother came of that prominent family; but such local advantages would have been outweighed by favour at court, and this too he may have enjoyed. The progress of a gentleman usher of his name can be traced through a series of grants between 1522 and 1543, and some of these, like the custody of lands in Plymouth and Exeter and the reversion of the harbourmastership of the duchy of Cornwall, would have befitted a Member for Plymouth. When and how Vowell, if it was he, obtained the ushership is not known—perhaps he owed this to the Edgecombe connexion—but it may have been before October 1514, when a ‘Thomas Vowell of Ringwood, Hampshire, alias of Fowelscombe, Devon, Westminster or Greenwich, gentleman’, sued out a pardon.2

A connexion of quite another kind is glimpsed by way of Vowell’s fellow-Member John Pollard, a leading figure at the Middle Temple, the inn which had recently furnished Plymouth with two of its Members. There were two Middle Templars at this time named Vowell: the elder one had been admitted in 1501 and rose to be bencher in 1517 and reader in 1517 and 1524, the younger was admitted in 1525 and is not heard of again. As both are lacking christian names in the records of the inn their relationship, if any, with Thomas Vowell can only be guessed at, but the coincidence of Richard Vowell’s death in 1525 with both the disappearance of the elder and the advent of the younger Templar makes it tempting to identify the two with the father and son from Fowelscombe. In any case Vowell may be thought to have had a link with Pollard at the Middle Temple as well as in Devon.3

They were certainly to be linked in the minds of at least some of their constituents, although not in respect of their cost to the borough. Whereas Pollard appears to have received only the 13s.4d. which he originally agreed to, the total of £23 1s. paid to Vowell for the first four sessions represented the standard rate of 2s. a day (and not the 16d. on which its first instalment of 40s. had been calculated) for almost the whole of the 224 days involved: he had also had a special payment when he rode with James Horswell, probably in 1530, to lay before the lord chief justice the town’s charter and other documents in its dispute with the lord admiral. By January 1535, however, both Members had fallen out so badly with a faction on the town council as to provoke a complaint to Cromwell against ‘certain seditious persons’, including the two Members, ‘men without substance and unfit to rule this town’: matters even reached the point where ‘Vowell and his adherents’ were reported as having planned to bring a quo warranto suit against the town. (This episode is curiously reminiscent of one which had occurred nearly 20 years before, when a Thomas Vowell—whether or not the Member cannot be established—‘would have indicted the mayor’s deputy, the constables and other persons of the town’ at the Exeter assizes.) The dispute thus begun was to outlast this Parliament, but the Members presumably carried too much weight at court to be compromised by it, and when a new one was called for June 1536 Pollard was almost certainly re-elected, and probably Vowell also, in accordance with the King’s request for the return of the previous Members. The sole indication of Vowell’s part in the proceedings of the Commons is his inclusion on a list of Members whose names Cromwell wrote on the back of a letter of December 1534: the Members concerned are thought to have had a particular connexion with the treasons bill then passing through Parliament, perhaps as forming a committee, but since they range from leading crown officials to men who may have had objections to the bill nothing can be inferred as to Vowell’s attitude to the measure, although if he was a gentleman usher he might be regarded as belonging to the ‘official’ element in the group.4

In March 1537 Vowell had a lease of the dissolved Augustinian priory of Cornworthy, near Totnes: it is the only indication found of his having benefited from the Dissolution. His own property, some of it in the same area, had involved him in a number of lawsuits, the last of them dating from the chancellorship of Audley, that is, between 1538 and 1544. He died on 17 Dec. 1544, apparently intestate, but, as the inquisition shows, possessed of lands in various parishes between the rivers Dart and Erme. A year-and-a-half later a gentleman usher of his name was granted a licence to export Gascon wine: this cannot have been a posthumous reward to the Member, for it was made in respect of munitions consumed ‘in chasing of the galleys’, an episode of July 1545 in the war with France. Unless it was this grantee who had held the ushership for upwards of 20 years, his tenure of it must have overlapped or succeeded the Member’s: in either case he could well have been Vowell’s eldest son by his second marriage.5

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: Roger Virgoe


  • 1. Date of birth estimated from age at fa.’s i.p.m., C142/43/57, 73/36. Vis. Devon, ed. Colby, 104; Vis. Devon, ed. Vivian, 284, 695; C1/623/44-47, 796/7-10.
  • 2. Vis. Devon, ed. Colby, 104; LP Hen. VIII, i, iii, vi, viii, xii, xvi, xviii.
  • 3. M.T. Adm. i. 4, 18; M.T. Recs. i. 2, 15, 50, 51, 73.
  • 4. Plymouth receivers’ acct. bk. 1515-16, 1529-30, 1530-1, 1531-2, 1532-3, 1534-5; LP Hen. VIII, vii. 1522(ii) citing SP1/87, f. 106v; viii.
  • 5. LP Hen. VIII, xiii, xxi; C1/623/44-47, 796/7-10, 914/33-34, 1083/40-42; 142/73/36; J. A. Williamson, Tudor Age, 183-4.