BOWYER, Sir William I (1558-1616), of Denham Court, Bucks. and Westminster

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



c. Jan. 1587

Family and Education

b. 14 Sept. 1558,1 1st s. of Francis Bowyer, alderman and Grocer, of Old Jewry, London, and Elizabeth, da. and coh. of William Tyllesworth, Goldsmith, of London.2 educ. Oxf. MA 1605; G. Inn 1609.3 m. by 1589,4 Mary (d.1618), da. and coh. of Thomas Pierson of Westminster, usher of Star Chamber, 2s. (1 d.v.p.) 3da. d.v.p.5 suc. fa. 1581;6 kntd. 11 May 1603.7 d. 3 Aug. 1616.8

Offices Held

Member, Grocers’ Co. by 1581;9 j.p. Bucks. by 1593-d., Mdx. by 1601-d.;10 commr. sewers, Mdx. 1604, London 1606, Coln valley 1609, 1615, Mdx. and Westminster 1611;11 collector, Privy Seal loans, Mdx. 1605;12 commr. subsidy, Bucks. and Mdx. 1608,13 aid, Bucks. 1609,14 swans, Kent, Mdx. and Berks. 1609, Northants. and Oxon. 1610,15 oyer and terminer, Mdx. 1612-d., London 1613-d.,16 musters, Mdx. 1614;17 collector, aid for Princess Eliz., Mdx. 1614.18

Teller of Exch. 1602-d.19


Originally from Sussex, Bowyer’s father, a younger son, made his fortune as a successful London merchant.20 Bowyer himself was admitted into the Grocers’ Company by patrimony, but does not appear to have pursued a mercantile career. He instead became a landowner by acquiring an estate on the borders of Buckinghamshire and Middlesex in 1590.21 He must be distinguished from another Londoner a few years his senior, who was knighted in Scotland in 1605 after 30 years’ soldiering on the Borders and died at Berwick-upon-Tweed in 1627.22

Bowyer’s wife was the sister-in-law of (Sir) Henry Maynard†, a client of Sir Robert Cecil†, and it may have been via this connection that in 1602 Bowyer obtained a lucrative post in the Exchequer; he later acknowledged his gratitude to Cecil, declaring that ‘I have ever depended upon his honourable house’.23 It was probably Cecil who recommended Bowyer to the 3rd earl of Cumberland for a seat at Appleby in the first Stuart Parliament; Bowyer may also have been helped by his Westminster neighbour and distant kinsman, Sir Thomas Knyvett*, a former knight of the shire for Westmorland. In the opening session Bowyer was among those appointed to consider the grievances propounded by Sir Edward Montagu (23 Mar. 1604), and to confer with the judges about the controversial Buckinghamshire election (5 April).24 He took part in the debate of 15 June 1604 on the recovery of debts due to the Crown, but it is not stated whether he supported or opposed the repeal of the Elizabethan statute under which the lands and goods of public accountants could be seized.25

During the recess Bowyer was involved in a dispute with the governors of St. Thomas’s hospital in London, concerning a parcel of common land to which he claimed title.26 He accompanied the royal progress to Oxford in the summer of 1605, and was among the numerous courtiers and attendants who received honorary degrees.27 His standing in official circles was sufficient to obtain the reversion of his office for his eldest son, and he wrote to his friend (Sir) Michael Hicks* on 3 Dec. 1605 that with the consent of the customs farmers he wished to add the handling of their surplus receipts to his responsibilities.28 In the second session Bowyer was named to consider John Hare’s radical purveyance bill (30 Jan.), and to help manage a conference with the Lords on the recusancy laws (3 February).29 He was appointed to seven other legislative committees, including those for the repeal of a clause in the Wherries Act (28 Jan.), the recovery of small debts in London (28 Jan.), the supply of water to the capital from the Uxbridge area (31 Jan.), abuses in the Marshalsea Court (13 Mar.), and the foundation of a grammar school at St. Bees, Cumberland (17 March).30 In the third session his only appointments were to committees for a private debtor’s bill (26 Nov. 1606) and the revived wherries bill (13 Mar. 1607).31 In 1609, when John Bingley* succeeded Sir Vincent Skinner* as auditor of the receipt in the Exchequer, Bowyer, who had already experienced Bingley’s ‘unkindness’ at first hand, confided in Hicks that he feared his new colleague would damage his reputation with Cecil, now lord treasurer and 1st earl of Salisbury.32 In the fourth session, he was granted privilege over a Chancery subpoena on 19 Feb. 1610.33 He was named to committees for two private bills and three others, concerning suits against magistrates (28 Mar.), highways (30 Mar.), and prisons (10 May).34 He is not mentioned in the records of the brief fifth session.

Bowyer does not appear to have stood for Parliament again. His eldest son did not live to take up the reversion to the tellership, dying of smallpox in 1613, but Bowyer himself was still ‘in perfect health’ and ‘owing not one penny to the office’ when he drew up his will on 20 July 1614.35 He desired ‘to be interred in Denham church in decent manner, without any great pomp, yet seemly for my calling’, and left bequests to the poor of Denham, Uxbridge, and Westminster, and to the prisoners in Newgate and Aylesbury gaols. As overseers he nominated his nephew Sir William Maynard* and his cousin Robert Bowyer*, ‘clerk of the Upper House of Parliament’.36 At his death on 3 Aug. 1616, the antiquary and herald William Camden described him as ‘Bowyer the rational’.37 He was buried at Denham, in accordance with his wishes. His widow married Sir James Ley* in 1618, a few months before her death.38 Bowyer’s estate was inherited by his ‘sweet grandchild’ William, who was returned for Buckinghamshire at three successive elections between 1659 and 1661.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: John. P. Ferris / Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. C142/193/38.
  • 2. Lipscomb, Bucks. iv. 446.
  • 3. Al. Ox.; GI Admiss.
  • 4. PROB 11/75, f. 87.
  • 5. Lipscomb, iv. 446; PROB 11/110, f. 133.
  • 6. C142/193/38.
  • 7. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 107.
  • 8. WARD 7/55/90.
  • 9. C142/193/38.
  • 10. Hatfield House, ms 278; C66/1549; SP14/33, ff. 4, 27.
  • 11. C181/1, ff. 88, 100v; Lansd. 168, f. 151v; C181/2, ff. 19v, 90, 140v, 229v.
  • 12. E401/2585, f. 2.
  • 13. SP14/31/1.
  • 14. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 511; SP14/43/107; E179/283/12.
  • 15. C181/2, ff. 89v, 117v.
  • 16. Ibid. ff. 178, 196v, 251, 263.
  • 17. APC, 1613-14, p. 566.
  • 18. E403/2733, f. 83v.
  • 19. Exchequer Officeholders comp. J.C. Sainty (L. and I. Soc. spec. ser. xviii), 233.
  • 20. Suss. Arch. Colls. xlii. 31-33; lxiv. 106-7.
  • 21. C142/193/38; VCH Bucks. iii. 258.
  • 22. HMC 10th Rep. IV, 244; CBP, ii. 540; HMC Hatfield, xxiii. 122; Hist. of King’s Works ed. H. Colvin, iv. 777.
  • 23. Lansd. 89, f. 144.
  • 24. CJ, i. 151b, 943a.
  • 25. Ibid. 240a.
  • 26. LMA, H01/ST/A/1/4, ff. 184, 188.
  • 27. J. Nichols, Progs. of Jas. I, i. 556.
  • 28. CSP Dom. Addenda, 1580-1625, p. 446; Lansd. 89, f. 144.
  • 29. CJ, i. 262a, 263a.
  • 30. Ibid. 260b, 262b, 284a, 285b.
  • 31. Ibid. 325a, 352b.
  • 32. Lansd. 91, f. 76.
  • 33. CJ, i. 396a; ‘Paulet 1610’, f. 2.
  • 34. CJ, i. 415b, 416b, 426b.
  • 35. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 497.
  • 36. PROB 11/128, f. 78.
  • 37. W. Camden, Epistolae (1691), p. 30.
  • 38. Lipscomb, iv. 446.