NOWELL, Alexander (1516/17-1602), of Westminster, Mdx. and London.

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



Oct. 1553

Family and Education

b. 1516/17 1st s. of John Nowell of Read, Lancs. by and 1st w. Elizabeth, da. of Robert Kay of Rochdale. educ. Middleton g.s. Lancs., Brasenose, Oxf. matric, 1536, BA 29 May 1536, fellow 1536-8, determined 1537, MA 10 June 1540, D.Th. supp. 10 June 1578, cr. 1 Oct. 1595. m. Jane (d. 3 Aug. 1579), da. of Robert Mery of Northaw, Herts., wid. of Thomas Bowyer (d. 13 Sept. 1558) of London, s.p.; (2) Elizabeth, da. of one Hast of Wyndham, Suss., wid. of Lawrence Ball and of Thomas Blount of London, s.p.2

Offices Held

Master, Westminster sch. 1543-55; canon and prebendary, Westminster 5 Dec. 1551-4, 21 June 1560-4, Canterbury 14 Feb. 1560-4, London 3 Dec. 1560-d., Windsor 25 Apr. 1594-d.; archdeacon, Westminster Jan. 1560; rector, Saltwood, Kent 3 Feb. 1560, Much Hadham, Herts. Dec. 1562-89; commr. to visit dioceses of Lichfield, Lincoln, Oxford and Peterborough 1559, Canterbury and Rochester 1560; other commissions 1563-83;dean, St. Paul’s 17 Nov. 1560.; eccles. commr. 1562 1572; j.p.q. Herts. 1564-79; fellow, Manchester Coll. Lancs. by 1578; principal, Brasenose, Oxf. 6 Sept.-14 Dec. 1595.3


In old age Alexander Nowell recalled that he was 13 years old on going to Oxford and that he spent 13 years there before being made master of Westminster school. At Oxford he is said to have shared a chamber with John Foxe, the martyrologist, who thought him ‘a man earnestly bent on the true worshipping of God’. At Westminster he instructed his pupils ‘in pure language and true religion’ and introduced the reading of Terence in Latin and St. Luke’s gospel and the Acts of the Apostles in Greek. Appointed a canon and prebendary in the cathedral at Westminster in 1551, he received a licence to preach two years later but is not known to have done so before the death of Edward VI.4

Nowell had a hand in the by-election of his brother Robert to the Parliament of 1547. He himself was returned in September 1553 for the duchy of Cornwall borough of West Looe, presumably with the support of the Earl of Bedford as steward of the duchy. His Membership was challenged and on 12 Oct. a six-man committee headed by Secretary Bourne was ordered to see whether he and John Foster II ‘may be of this House’. On the following day the committee reported that ‘Nowell being a prebendary in Westminster and thereby having a voice in the convocation house’ could not sit in the Commons. This opinion being ‘so agreed by the House’, the Speaker asked for a writ ‘to be directed for another burgess in that place’, but with what result is not known.5

Following his exclusion from Parliament, Nowell lost his prebend but he kept his post at the school for another two years, whereupon possibly through fear of arrest he left for the Continent. By October 1556 he had settled at Frankfurt, living there until his return to England three years later. After being considered for the see of Coventry and Lichfield by Queen Elizabeth he was made dean of St. Paul’s. Although rebuked several times by the Queen in the 1560s he became a leading exponent of the Anglican settlement. His numerous publications included three versions of the Anglican catechism, all in Latin. He withdrew from public affairs in 1588, made his will in 1592 and died in 1602. Nowell is remembered today not for his work as teacher and divine but for his passion for fishing; he appears in Izaak Walton’s Compleat Angler as ‘A dear lover, and constant practitioner of angling, as any age can produce’.6

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: A. D.K. Hawkyard


  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 2. Date of birth estimated from Nowell’s statement about age on entering Oxford. R. Churton, Alexander Nowell , app. 1; Chetham Soc. lxxxi. 36; A. B. Grosart, The Spending of the Money of Robert Nowell, pp. xxxviii-xliii; Emden, Biog. Reg. Univ. Oxf. 1501-40, pp. 419-21; DNB.
  • 3. Churton, 9, 43, 50, 304; CPR, 1550-3, p. 111; 1553-4, p. 307; 1558-60 to 1569-72 passim; CSP Dom. 1581-90, p. 115.
  • 4. Churton, 6, 9, 13-17; Foxe, Acts and Mons. vi. 272; J. F. Mosley, John Foxe, 16; Strype, Eccles. Memorials, ii (2), 277.
  • 5. CJ, i. 27; Bodl. e Museo 17.
  • 6. Churton, 20-38, 81-83, 103-4, 107, 109, 269-73, 280, 364; C. H. Garrett, Marian Exiles, 237; Strype, Annals Ref. i (1), 153; Parker, i. 193-4; A. G. Dickens, Eng. Ref. 293; P. Collinson, Eliz. Puritan Movement, 46, 61; APC, viii. 165; CSP Dom. 1547-80, pp. 382, 497; PCC 11 Montague.