BOWES, Robert (by 1497-1555), of South Cowton, Yorks. and London.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Mar. 1553

Family and Education

b. by 1497, 3rd s. of Sir Ralph Bowes of Streatlam, co. Dur. by Margery, da. and coh. of Sir Richard Conyers of South Cowton. educ. L. Inn, adm. 4 May 1511. m. Alice, da. of Sir James Metcalfe of Nappa, nr. Richmond, Yorks., 4 or 5s. d.v.p. Kntd. by 8 July 1540.4

Offices Held

J.p. Cumb., Northumb., Yorks. (N. Riding) 1525-47, Westmld., (W. Riding) 1525-d., (E. Riding) 1529-d., liberty of Durham 1539; member, Duke of Richmond’s council 1525-36, council in the north 1536-d.; escheator, bpric. of Durham July 1529-Apr. 1531; commr. musters, Yorks. (N. Riding) 1539, chantries, Cumb., bpric. Durham, Northumb., Westmld. 1546, relief, Yorks. (E. W. and N. Ridings) 1550, goods of churches and fraternities, Mdx. 1553; other commissions from 1530; constable, Barnard castle, co. Dur. 1543-d., Alnwick castle, Northumb. 1545-d.; treasurer of the wars 1543; warden, middle march 1545-8, east and middle marches 1548-51; steward, Dunstanburgh and Hexham, Northumb. 1545-d.; master of requests 1545; PC 25 Sept. 1551; master of the Savoy Nov. 1551-52/53; master of the rolls June 1552-3; jt. ld. lt. Mdx. 1553; chancellor of county palatine of Durham 1553; receiver of petitions in the Lords, Parlt. of Mar. 1553.5


In 1512, under his father’s will, Robert Bowes inherited lands worth £10 a year in county Durham, and on the death of his mother in 1524 he acquired a life interest in her manor of South Cowton, which he made his residence. By profession a lawyer, he was also versed in border warfare and throughout his life he alternated between the two callings.6

Bowes’s career in the service of the crown, which began with his appointment to the Duke of Richmond’s council in 1525, was nearly brought to an end by his equivocal attitude towards the Pilgrimage of Grace. He surrendered Barnard castle without resistance and agreed to carry the rebels’ petitions to the King, who after seeing him and Sir Ralph Ellerker at Windsor on 1 Nov. 1536 sent them back to the north with ‘general instructions of comfort’ to await the delivery of a detailed answer to their grievances by the 3rd Duke of Norfolk. Bowes reported to the Pilgrims at York and helped to arrange the final conference with Norfolk at Doncaster. During the negotiations the King reproved Ellerker and Bowes for their ‘slackness’, but Bowes appears to have worked throughout for a genuine settlement and his success in preventing individual acts of violence was attested by Ralph Sadler and others. He had none the less taken and administered the Pilgrims’ oath, and in April 1537 Norfolk described him to Cromwell as ‘a man so lately reconciled’ as to be perhaps unacceptable to the King, at the same time predicting that if the King could ‘find in his heart thoroughly to trust him’ and treat him generously this would secure the loyal service of ‘a wise, hardy man’ without an equal in the north in war or peace ‘of his degree’.7

Norfolk’s advice was accepted and the promise fulfilled, for Bowes became one of the most active members of the reconstructed council in the north. It was doubtless his official standing which accounted for his return to the Parliaments of 1539 and 1542 as a knight for Yorkshire, and in the course of the first of them he was given his own knighthood. In the autumn of 1541 he and Ellerker carried out an extensive survey of the border lands, in December he was called south to report on the situation, and in the following July, when the Scots had again crossed the frontier, he was ordered to levy men in the east and middle marches. On 24 Aug. 1542 he was captured while leading a raid into Scotland. He remained a prisoner, first in Edinburgh and then at St. Andrew’s, until February 1543, when he was released under a general exchange of prisoners. He went straight to London to report, but was soon sent back to the north to attend upon the lord warden. The Parliament of the previous year was again in session, but he had been replaced by Thomas Waterton I at a by-election held on 4 Feb. 1543, a week before his release by the Scots. Later in 1543 Bowes was appointed treasurer for the wars and from July to November he was in France, where his skill in organizing skirmishes after the manner of the Scottish border was commended. In 1544 he assisted Thomas Wharton I, 1st Baron Wharton, to negotiate an agreement with the Earl of Lennox and other Scots commissioners, and in March 1545, when Sir Ralph Eure was killed, he replaced him as warden of the middle march. Bowes was a Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the Parliament which assembled in November 1545.8

After the accession of Edward VI Bowes was sent to meet the emissaries of the Queen of Scots in an abortive attempt to secure a new peace treaty. In April 1548 he became warden of the east as well as the middle march, with no increase of pay: his reminder to the Protector Somerset that the one wardenry had ‘sucked up’ his allowance was annotated ‘Response—that Sir R.B. take patience for a time’, and he was not granted the fees of the wardenship of the east march until his formal appointment on 1 Jan. 1550. In April the Privy Council decided to replace him by John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, and to give him instead an annual stipend until the King ‘should see a place where to employ him’. A letter to this effect was sent to Bowes on 2 May but, despite a purported reversal of the decision on 19 July, Warwick’s patent of 17 May was enrolled without cancellation and Bowes seems not to have acted as warden after 1551, when he wrote a second and more extensive survey of the state of the borders. He was one of the commissioners who negotiated a treaty of peace with Scotland in June 1551; from September he was resident in London, a new member of the Privy Council who attended its meetings regularly.9

Bowes had not been elected to Parliament in 1547 but he replaced Sir Charles Brandon as knight of the shire for Westmorland in the last session, which opened on 23 Jan. 1552; a privilege case was committed to him and other lawyers on 22 Feb. Before the next Parliament he was appointed master of the rolls and received a writ of assistance to the House of Lords; his election as knight of the shire for Middlesex he clearly owed to official nomination. In the Upper House he was named a receiver of Gascon petitions on the opening day, 1 Mar. 1553; in the Lower House bills for making of broad cloths and for the reorganization of the revenue courts were committed to him after their second reading. He was again summoned to attend in the Lords as master of the rolls in a Parliament called for September 1553, but the death of Edward VI cancelled the summons. He signed the letters patent devising the crown away from Mary and Elizabeth and the letter of 19 July from the Council to Lord Rich urging him to remain true to Queen Jane, and although he went back on this the next day by signing the Council’s order to the Duke of Northumberland to disarm he was too seriously compromised to be kept in office. He was replaced as master of the rolls before 14 Aug. 1553, when a writ of summons to Parliament was sent to the new master, (Sir) Nicholas Hare, although Hare was not formally appointed until 18 Sept. On 14 Oct. Bowes was granted a general pardon.10

Bowes was still to be of service in the north: already by 15 Nov. 1553 he was at Berwick assisting Sir Thomas Cornwallis in negotiations with the Scots. He was there again in 1554 helping to take the muster, and he was in receipt of an order to conduct a general survey of the town’s defences when he died on 28 Feb. 1555. His goods in Berwick were valued at £188. Bowes’s children had all died in infancy and his heirs (whose wardship he had been granted in 1548) were the three daughters of his nephew George Bowes, but under the terms of the use created by his mother the manor of South Cowton descended to his brother Richard.11

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: Helen Miller


  • 1. E159/319, brev. ret. Mich. r. [1-2].
  • 2. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 3. Ibid.; Hatfield 207.
  • 4. Date of birth estimated from education. Vis. Yorks. (Harl. Soc. xvi), 31-32; Durham 3/3/12; LP Hen. VIII, xv; DNB.
  • 5. Cam. Misc. iii(4), p. xxiii; R. R. Reid, King’s Council in the North, 113, 491; Hutchinson, Durham, i. 443-4; APC, i. 145; iii. 363; iv. 227; LP Hen. VIII, iv, v, viii, x-xxi; CSP Scot. 1547-1603, p. 109; CPR, 1547-8, pp. 82, 87, 90-92; 1549-51, p. 162; 1550-3, pp. 110, 305; 1553. pp. 68, 353-4, 414; 1553-4, pp. 25, 26, 209; 1555-7, p. 27; 1557-8, p. 257; R. Somerville, The Savoy, 37; Duchy, i. 537; LJ, i. 430.
  • 6. Durham 3/3/12; C142/102/46; LP Hen. VIII, iii.
  • 7. LP Hen. VIII, xi, xii; SP1/188, ff. 155-6.
  • 8. Hodgson, Northumb. iii(2), 171-242; PPC, vii. 285; APC, i. 145; LP Hen. VIII, xvi-xx; Arundel Castle mss, autograph letters 1513-85, no. 7.
  • 9. CSP Scot. 1547-1603, pp. 9, 109, 185-6; APC, iii. 6, 23, 88, 363 seq.; CPR, 1549-51, p. 404; Hodgson, iii(2), 171-248; M. L. Bush, Govt. Pol. Somerset, 34; W. K. Jordan, Edw. VI, i. 248-9, 271, 278, 285; ii. 149, 151-2.
  • 10. CPR, 1550-3, p. 305; 1553-4, pp. 209, 464; C218/1; CJ, i. 18, 25; Chron. Q. Jane and Q. Mary (Cam. Soc. xlviii), 100, 109.
  • 11. APC, iv. 357, 366-7, 381; v. 7, 15, 95; C142/102/46; Wills and Inventories, i. (Surtees Soc. ii), 145; CPR, 1548-9, p. 1.