BOWYER, John (1557-1605), of Sidway Hall, Staffs.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press



1604 - 7 Mar. 1605

Family and Education

b. 1557, 1st s. of William Bowyer† of Knypersley, Staffs. and Anne, da. of William Heywood of Stonylowe, Staffs. educ. Staple Inn; G. Inn 1578. m. 30 Aug. 1587, Katherine (bur. 8 Dec. 1631), da. of Sir Christopher Yelverton†, j.k.b. of Easton Maudit, Northants. and Cripplegate, London, 8s. (1 d.v.p.) 3da. suc. fa. 1602.1 kntd. 12 May 1604.2 d. 7 Mar. 1605.3 sig. Jo[hn] Bowyer

Offices Held

J.p. Staffs. 1594-5, 1596-d.;4 ?freeman, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffs. 1597;5 commr. charitable uses, Staffs. 1599, 1603,6 oyer and terminer, Oxf. circ. 1603-d.,7 to take depositions in Sir Edward Littleton I* v. Gilbert Wakering, Staffs. 1603.8


The Bowyers acquired the north Staffordshire manor of Knypersley, about seven miles from Newcastle-under-Lyme, in the reign of Edward III, and a member of the family represented the borough in 1411.9 Bowyer’s father, William, was elected for Stafford in 1559, married an heiress and expanded his estates, but held no significant local office. At his death in 1602, William owned three manors in Staffordshire and one in Norfolk, plus various plots in Staffordshire and Shropshire.10 When this Member himself died, less than three years later, his estate was said to be worth £500 p.a.11

Bowyer may have been the John ‘Bower’ who matriculated from St. John’s College, Cambridge in Easter 1571 and was awarded a BA in 1574-5. Alternatively he may be the John ‘Bowre’ who graduated from Oxford University on 5 July 1574.12 What is certain is that, after spending some time at Staple Inn, he was admitted to Gray’s Inn in 1578. There is no evidence he was called to the bar but he evidently practised as an attorney: after his death he was described as a ‘a professor of the laws’ by his fellow Gray’s Inn lawyer Ralph Ewens†, the clerk of the Commons.13 It was presumably at Gray’s Inn that he encountered his future father in law, (Sir) Christopher Yelverton, treasurer of the Inn in 1579.

Bowyer may have been employed by Sir Christopher Hatton† when the latter was lord chancellor. An undated list of Hatton’s servants states that a John Bowyer was granted the office for writing and passing to the Great Seal all licences for the sale of wine.14 However, Bowyer probably moved back to Staffordshire after his marriage in 1587, as by 1590 he was practising law in that county.15 He took up residence at Sidway Hall in the parish of Maer, seven miles from Newcastle-under-Lyme and near to his father at Knypersley. Bowyer seems to have preferred Sidway to Knypersley as he remained there after his father’s death.16

It may well have been his legal training that led to Bowyer’s appointment to the Staffordshire bench. His name appears on a list of justices which dates from around 1592-3, but this must be a later addition as he does not appear in the county’s records quarter session records until 1594.17 However, the following year he was dismissed, and it was not until July 1596 that he was restored. Though an active justice, his involvement in the work of the bench - which often included pleas of a more complex, technical nature - declined after his father died in 1602.18

On the face of it, Bowyer was a puritan. The family into which he married - the Yelvertons - were certainly puritan, and subsequent generations of the Bowyers may have been moderately godly. However, Bowyer seems to have made little effort to improve clerical standards in Biddulph and Maer, the two Staffordshire parishes of which he was patron. A survey of Staffordshire parishes conducted in 1604 describes Richard Badeley, vicar of Biddulph, as ‘very ignorant and wordly’, and characterized John Huntbach, curate of Maer as ‘a mere wordling’. Neither were graduates or licensed preachers. Moreover Bowyer paid Huntbach only £6 a year, although the parsonage was valued at £20. However Badeley and Huntbach were in place when Bowyer inherited the impropriations from his father, and Badeley, at least, could not be easily dismissed. It is possible that Bowyer would have done more had he lived longer.19

It has been suggested that (Sir) Robert Cecil† was responsible for Bowyer’s election at Newcastle-under-Lyme in 1597 and 1604.20 However, there is no evidence that the borough received any outside nominations in 1604. Moreover, by this date Bowyer had strong connections with Newcastle, which was close to Sidway, Knypersley and indeed most of his Staffordshire estates. He was a tenant of the corporation and owned and leased other property in and around the borough.21 Bowyer’s close relations with the town’s authorities are illustrated by the fact that, shortly before Parliament met, a dispute erupted between a townsman and Bowyer’s servant, whereupon the mayor expected Bowyer to come to Newcastle-under-Lyme to examine the witnesses.22

In April 1604 Bowyer was nominated to two committees, one for the bill against the export of artillery and the second to prepare for a conference with the Lords about religion.23 On 21 May 1604, nine days after he was knighted, he requested leave to return home because of poor health. Though granted permission to be absent for 20 days, Bowyer three days later renewed his suit through Sir Robert Wingfield, who had also studied at Gray’s Inn.24 Subsequently Bowyer was only mentioned once in the Commons Journal. This was on 4 June 1604, when he was nominated to a committee to consider two bills against clerical pluralism. That same day, however, he signed an order in his capacity as a justice of the peace, suggesting that he was still in his native county.25 He died intestate on 7 Mar. 1605 and was buried nine days later in Maer church, where a funeral monument with effigies of himself and his wife stands.26 Administration was granted to his widow on 24 Apr. 1605.27 His eldest son, Sir William, represented Staffordshire in the 1620s and 1640s.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Ben Coates


Staffs. Hist. Colls. ed. S.A.H. Burne (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. 1940), pp. 84-5.

  • 1. Staffs. Hist. Colls. ed. H.S. Grazebrook (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. v. pt. 2), pp. 49-50; GI Admiss.; C142/281/86; HP Commons, 1558-1603, iii. 679; Maer transcribed S. Gill (Staffs. Par. Reg. Soc. 2004), pp. 11-14, 26.
  • 2. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 132.
  • 3. C142/289/97.
  • 4. Staffs. Hist. Colls. ed. S.A.H. Burne (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. 1932), pp. 54. 100, 118, 205; Staffs. Hist. Colls. (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. 1940), p. 189.
  • 5. T. Pape, Newcastle-under-Lyme, 223.
  • 6. C93/1/16; 93/2/7.
  • 7. C181/1 ff. 37v, 104v.
  • 8. STAC 5/L49/26.
  • 9. HP Commons, 1386-1421, ii. 319.
  • 10. HP Commons, 1558-1603, i. 474-5; C142/281/86.
  • 11. HMC Hatfield, xxiii. 204.
  • 12. Al. Cant.; Al. Ox.
  • 13. HMC Hatfield, xxiii. 204.
  • 14. Lansd. 69, f. 195v.
  • 15. Staffs. Hist. Colls. ed. S.A.H. Burne (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. 1930), pp. 4, 11.
  • 16. Maer, 11.
  • 17. Hatfield House, ms 278.
  • 18. Staffs. Hist. Colls. (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. 1932), xix; Staffs. Hist. Colls. ed. S.A.H. Burne (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. 1935), pp. 4, 15-16, 47.
  • 19. Staffs. Hist. Colls. ed. W.N. Landor (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. 1915), pp. 27, 186-7; A. Peel, ‘Puritan Survey of the Church in Staffs. in 1604’, EHR, xxvi. 342, 344.
  • 20. J.K. Gruenfelder, Influence in Early Stuart Elections, 45, 53 n. 7.
  • 21. Staffs. Hist. Colls. (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. xvi), 168-9; Pape, 228; C66/1603, mm. 38-9.
  • 22. Staffs. Hist. Colls. (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. 1940), p. 85.
  • 23. CJ, i. 169b, 178a.
  • 24. Ibid. 221b, 977a, 978a.
  • 25. Ibid. 232a; Staffs. Hist. Colls. (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. 1940), p. 138.
  • 26. Maer, 14; N. Pevsner, Staffs. 201.
  • 27. PROB 6/7, f. 3.