BOWES, Robert I (d.1597), of Aske, Yorks.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

5th but 2nd surv. s. of Richard Bowes and bro. of Sir George. educ. Queens’, Camb. 1547; ?L. Inn 1549. m. (1) his cos. Anne, da. and coh. of Sir George Bowes of Dalden, at least 1s. Ralph; (2) 1566, Eleanor, da. of Sir Richard Musgrave of Eden Hall, Cumb.1

Offices Held

J.p. co. Dur. from 1561, Yorks. (N. Riding) from 1569, Cumb., Northumb., Westmld., Yorks. (E. and W. Ridings) from 1577; commr. musters, co. Dur. and Yorks. (E. Riding); sheriff, co. Dur. 1564, 1569; member, council in the north from 1574; treasurer, Berwick-on-Tweed from 1576; special envoy or ambassador, Scotland 1577-9, 1580, 1582-3, 1587, from Dec. 1589.2


Nothing definite is known of Robert Bowes between his leaving Cambridge (without a degree) and his appearance as a j.p. in 1561. Possibly he spent three years or so at Lincoln’s Inn before returning to the north. The few known references to his name during this period could as well belong to his cousin and namesake who was under-sheriff of county Durham in 1562-3. However, there is no doubt about the identity of the Member returned for Knaresborough either through the duchy of Lancaster or the local standing of his family. He was appointed to the succession committee on 31 Oct. 1566.3

In the 1564 reports on the religion of the justices of the peace Bowes, who was sheriff at the time, was among the indifferent—those who lived quietly and obeyed the laws. But it was his protestantism that saved him from a desperate decision during the critical year of 1569. For a while it looked as though he might side with the rebellious earls of Northumberland and Westmorland, but he broke with them over religion at the eleventh hour, joined the forces of his loyal brother and assisted in the attempt to hold Barnard Castle. His son Ralph was then in the service of the Earl of Leicester.4

His membership of the next two Parliaments can be attributed, in 1571, to Lord Scrope who, as warden of the west march, resided in Carlisle, and in 1572 to the Earl of Sussex, then nearing the end of his service as president of the council in the north. On 19 Apr. 1571 he was named to a committee to consider the validity of non-resident burgesses, and in 1576 he served on committees concerned with the relief of the poor (11 Feb.) and fraudulent conveyances by the northern rebels (25 Feb., 8 Mar.). When the third session of the 1572 Parliament was convened, in 1581, he wrote from Berwick to Walsingham, saying that he was a Member and ‘loath to offend or fail’ in his duty by not attending. On the day the session began he wrote again, asking Walsingham either to obtain leave for him to go to London or else ensure that his absence from the House was excused. He appears to have been kept in the north.5

Between 1577 and 1583 Bowes was employed almost continuously at Berwick or in Scotland on diplomatic missions. To him it seemed that his service brought no profit to his sovereign, no satisfaction to his friends and no credit to himself, yet the published collection of the instructions he received and the letters he sent to Burghley, Walsingham and others constitutes a record of assiduous and not unsuccessful application to a peculiarly difficult task. Among several letters to Leicester is one expressing pleasure at ‘the bettering and good success’ of the Earl’s affairs, on which his own ‘welfare and good days’ especially depended. At the same time his close attachment to the Earl of Huntingdon, president of the council in the north after Sussex, alarmed those who feared the Earl’s power and suspected his intentions. ‘Mr. Bowes, the treasurer’, wrote Christopher Rokeby to Burghley (4 Sept. 1580), ‘is much feathered of the president’s wing’.6

After his longed-for though temporary release from Scottish affairs, Bowes served in three Parliaments as knight of the shire for Cumberland, twice as junior to Lord Scrope’s heir, Thomas Scrope, and once, in 1586, as the senior Member, when his junior colleague was Scrope’s deputy warden, Henry Leigh. Bowes was again named to committees considering fraudulent conveyances on 15 Feb. 1585, and also to the subsidy bill (24 Feb.). No activity is recorded in his name in the 1586 Parliament, although as knight of the shire for Cumberland he was appointed to the subsidy committee (22 Feb. 1587). On 14 Mar. 1589 he served on a committee for the town of Berwick, and on 29 Mar. he conferred with the Lords on the question of declaring war with Spain.7

Though considerable sums passed through his hands as treasurer, Bowes neglected to observe the regulations governing disbursements and failed to present coherent accounts. He frequently pleaded shortage of money due to the expenses of his missions to Scotland. Settling his claims with the Exchequer and other matters kept him in London for nine months or so in 1579. From Sir George Bowes in Berwick, to whom he had sent a description of his gracious reception by the Queen, came back the brotherly advice to ‘take time when time is, and be bold and blush not for fearfulness or abashfulness’, for ‘sure your service hath deserved much more than you require’. An exchange of lands with the Crown, proposed by him and including his house at Berwick (built for £2,300) and his Yorkshire manor of Great Broughton as each worth £50 per annum, was agreed in the following year, though it appears that the warrant (‘for his speedy relief and maintenance’) did not issue until 1 June 1581. Later in the 1580s he invested at least £4,000 in the construction of salt-pans at Sunderland and in a colliery to supply them with fuel, employing 300 people in his works, but by September 1591 they had been ‘seized and taken from him’ and were lying waste.8

By this time Bowes was again in Scotland, having been posted there as ambassador in December 1589. So that he could make another effort to sort out his accounts and repair his salt-pans, he was licensed to return to England at the end of 1591, his credentials being renewed in May 1592. Further visits to London followed and he received several grants of money and lands, but his financial difficulties increased. His debt to the Crown amounted to £7,000, out of which £5,500 represented arrears due to the garrison at Berwick. Repayment, fixed at the rate of £1,000 a year for 1593-4, was reduced as a concession to £500 a year, to be raised from the Sunderland salt-pans. Bowes’s frequently reiterated complaints that he received little towards the expenses of his sojourn in Scotland are not borne out by the records in the Exchequer, which show that between 21 Oct. 1591 and 11 Sept. 1592, to take one year as an example, he received a total of £830 for his diets and £408 for his intelligence expenses. Still, worried he certainly was, and ill, and he begged unavailingly to be recalled. He died 15 Nov. 1597 and was buried at Berwick.9 Aske, which had been settled on him by his parents, passed to his son Ralph.

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Authors: J.C.H. / E.L.C.M.


  • 1. Cooper, Ath. Cant. ii. 227; Durham Vis. Peds. ed. Foster, 38.
  • 2. Lansd. 56, f. 168 seq.; 155, f. 250 seq., CPR, 1569-72, p. 224; Reid, Council of the North, 495; Cam. Misc. ix(3), p. 67; Sharp, Memorials of the Rebellion, 30 and n.; Corresp. ed. Stevenson (Surtees Soc. xiv); J. Scott, Berwick-upon-Tweed, 173.
  • 3. D’Ewes, 127.
  • 4. CSP Dom. Add. 1566-79, pp. 91, 95, 110, 119, 147; Cam. Misc. ix(3), p. 67; Sharp, 240.
  • 5. CJ, i. 85, 105, 108, 112; Corresp. 157, 168.
  • 6. HMC Hatfield, ii. 107; Sharp, 31 n.; Corresp. 19-20; CSP Dom. Add. 1580-1625, p. 17.
  • 7. D’Ewes, 349, 356, 409, 446, 454.
  • 8. Scott, 180, 181, 183; CSP Dom. Add. 1580-1625, pp. 323, 327-8; Sharp, 31 n., 391; PRO Index 6743; HMC Hatfield, ii. 325; J. Nef, Rise of the British Coal Industry, i. 29, 176, 404 n.
  • 9. HMC Hatfield, iii. 450, 455; xvi. 12; Cooper, ii. 227; Border Pprs. ii. 92-3; E403/2428, f. 30, ex inf. Mr. Gary Bell; CSP Dom. 1595-7, p. 8; VCH Yorks. E. Riding, i. 60-1.