BOWYER, Sir William II (1588-1641), of Knypersley, 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



1640 (Apr.)
1640 (Nov.) - 8 Mar. 1641

Family and Education

b. 26 July 1588, 1st s. of John Bowyer* of Sidway, Staffs. and Katherine, da. of Sir Christopher Yelverton†. educ. ?Pembroke Coll. Camb. c.1601; Staple Inn; G. Inn 1604. m. 14 Nov. 1609, Hester (bur. 14 Jan. 1658), da. of Sir William Skeffington of Fisherwick, Staffs., 7s. (4 d.v.p.) 6da. (1 d.v.p.). suc. fa. 1605;1 kntd. 5 Sept. 1617.2 d. 8 Mar. 1641.3 sig. W Bowyer.

Offices Held

J.p. Staffs. 1614-d.,4 commr. subsidy 1621-2, 1624-5, 1628, 1641,5 charitable uses 1621, 1632, 1638,6 oyer and terminer, Oxf. circ. 1624-d.,7 administering the oaths of supremacy and office to j.p.s, Staffs. 1625,8 Forced Loan 1627,9 swans, Midland counties 1627;10 sheriff, Staffs. 1627-8,11 dep. lt., 1629-at least 1639;12 commr. knighthood fines, 1630-1,13 sewers 1634.14


This Member must be distinguished from Sir William Bowyer I* and also from Sir William Bowyer (d.1627), who was born in London and was captain of Berwick.15 Bowyer’s family had long been settled at Knypersley, in the parish of Biddulph in north-west Staffordshire, close to the Cheshire border. Bowyer himself may have been the William Bowyer who matriculated from Pembroke College, Cambridge in c.1601; it certainly seems probable that he was the William Bowyer of Staple Inn who was admitted to Gray’s Inn in October 1604, as this was precisely the path that his father had taken a generation earlier. On his father’s death in March 1605, Bowyer was still a minor, and since he held land in capite from the Crown his wardship was purchased by Sir Christopher Yelverton and Henry Yelverton*, his maternal grandfather and uncle respectively. In 1609, shortly after attaining his majority, Bowyer married the daughter of Sir William Skeffington of Fisherwick, an important south Staffordshire figure. Bowyer spent his early married life at Fisherwick, near Lichfield, as it was there that his first children were baptized. However, by 1613 he had moved to Knypersley.16

Although his social network included supporters of the established church such as William Moreton, Bowyer was probably a moderate puritan. His will of 1637 shows that he was both a Calvinist and a promoter of preaching, as he left £5 a year to the vicar of Biddulph on condition that he preach at least every Sunday.17 His choice of executors may also have reflected his religious outlook, although kinship clearly played a part. Those chosen were his moderately puritan relative, John Bowyer, whom he also appointed to the vicarage of Biddulph, and another clerical kinsman of puritan views, Francis Bowyer.18 A further clue to Bowyer’s religious outlook is provided by Edmund Rudyerd’s Thunderbolt of God’s Wrath, which was written in 1618 and dedicated to Bowyer and ten other Shropshire and Staffordshire gentlemen, including Sir Andrew Corbet*.19 Although the work itself was not controversial, Rudyerd himself was, having been deprived of the Northamptonshire vicarage of Culworth for nonconformity in 1605. The dedication suggests that Rudyerd considered Bowyer a godly magistrate.20

Bowyer was chosen to serve for Staffordshire in every Parliament between 1621 and his death bar two. Why he was so electorally successful is a puzzle, as Bowyer’s links with the Staffordshire gentry were largely confined to the northern part of the county. Other than his Skeffington in-laws, he seems to have had few connections with southern Staffordshire.21 Moreover, Bowyer was by no means the wealthiest member of the Staffordshire gentry. Most of the major gentry figures in the county were assessed for the subsidy at £20 in lands, whereas he was rated at only £13 6s. 8d.22 Furthermore, in the 1634 muster of the Staffordshire trained horse, Bowyer was ranked among the 46 people who were expected to furnish one cuirassier each rather than the 11 who were required to provide two.23 Bowyer seems instead to have occupied the middle tier of Staffordshire’s gentry. The estate he inherited was valued at £500 p.a.,24 and though he considerably augmented his holdings by purchase, owning more than 1,700 acres at his death and perhaps developing the coalmines mentioned in his eldest son’s will, it is unlikely that his annual income ever reached four figures.25 Indeed, in the 1660s the Bowyer estate was valued at just £900 p.a.26 It is possible that Bowyer’s electoral success can be attributed to his peripheral position in Staffordshire, which was divided between the supporters of the Devereux earls of Essex and their opponents. In this conflict Bowyer was probably seen as a neutral, enabling him to emerge as a compromise candidate.

The two occasions on which Bowyer was not elected were 1625 and 1628. The 1628 Parliament was summoned while Bowyer was sheriff, and consequently he was not eligible to serve. His absence from the 1625 Parliament is more difficult to explain, but it may have resulted from a dispute over precedence. In 1621 and 1624 he had been named first in the return, but in 1625 another candidate, Sir Simon Weston, could claim seniority over Bowyer, having been knighted in 1599. Moreover, Weston was a trustee of Staffordshire’s lord lieutenant, the 3rd earl of Essex. It is possible that Bowyer, realizing that he would not get the first place, decided not to stand. By the following year, however, Bowyer had swallowed his pride and was returned in second place after Weston.

Bowyer played only a modest part in the Commons in 1621. The published version of Nicholas’ diary states that on 20 Feb. Bowyer requested the postponement of that afternoon’s meeting of the committee to investigate the revenues from recusancy fines. However, Nicholas’ erratic spelling of Sir William Bulstrode’s surname, apparent in his diary of the 1624 Parliament, may have confused his editor. No other sources report this speech, but the resulting order mentions Bulstrode, not Bowyer.27 Bowyer was certainly nominated to attend two conferences with the Lords, one relating to the petition to the king against Catholicism on 15 Feb., and the other about the bills concerning the Sabbath observance and writs of certiorari on 24 May.28 He was also nominated to two legislative committees. The first, on 26 May, was to continue an Act passed in 1610 prohibiting the burning of moors in certain counties, a matter of interest to Bowyer as, in 1610, Staffordshire had been included in the draft bill and had only been deleted at the third reading.29 The second, three days later, concerned the proposed annexation of Freeford Prebend to the vicarage of St Mary’s, Lichfield, a matter which probably interested Bowyer’s Skeffington relations.30

In the 1624 Parliament Nicholas twice recorded speeches made by a Sir William ‘Bowser’: the first on 23 Feb. and the second on 20 March. However, in the first instance the Commons Journal gives the name of the MP as Sir William Bulstrode, and it is likely that Bulstrode was the speaker on both occasions. Nicholas also records a contribution by Sir William ‘Bowlster’ on 10 Apr., but as Holles gives the surname as ‘Boustred’, this too was almost certainly Bulstrode. Bowyer was not mentioned in the Commons Journal until 21 Apr., when he was named to consider provisos to the monopolies bill and increases in fees in the subpoena office. On 29 Apr. he was appointed to consider a bill for preventing the murder of illegitimate children. He was also ordered to attend two conferences with the Lords. The first concerned bills for limitations of actions and alienations (30 Apr.), and the second was to consider the bill to continue expiring statutes (22 May).31

In 1626 Bowyer was joined in the Commons by his brother-in-law Sir John Skeffington, who was elected for Newcastle-under-Lyme, near Knypersley, presumably with Bowyer’s support. Bowyer made no recorded speeches but was appointed to the privileges’ committee (9 Feb.) and seven bill committees, whose subjects included parliamentary elections (2 Mar.), muster-masters (28 Mar.), and the sale of Leicestershire lands belonging to Sir Brian Cave (5 March). Bowyer may have been appointed to this latter committee because of his relationship with Skeffington, a Leicestershire landowner.32

Although a Forced Loan commissioner, Bowyer did not sign any of the surviving letters from the Staffordshire commissioners.33 However, he was not purged from the bench, suggesting that he did not refuse to pay. After the earl of Essex was reappointed lord lieutenant of Staffordshire in 1629, Bowyer was appointed one of his deputies, retaining the position until at least 1639.34 In addition, in the 1630s he served as a trustee to Essex and also to another of the earl’s deputy lieutenants, Thomas, 4th Lord Cromwell, suggesting that he was now a part of the Devereux affinity.35 He was active in gathering fines for knighthood in Staffordshire during the early 1630s,36 and in 1635 he had access to the Court, speaking to secretary of state, Sir Francis Windebank†, on behalf of Peter Moreton, the English agent in Turin and son of his friend William Moreton.37

Bowyer was re-elected for Staffordshire to both the Short and Long Parliaments, and died in March 1641, probably at Knypersley, as he was buried the following day in Biddulph parish church.38 His will, dated 10 Oct. 1637, was proved at Lichfield.39 A funeral monument to Bowyer and his wife was erected in Biddulph parish church.40 His son John fought for Parliament in the Civil War and was elected for Staffordshire in 1646 and for Newcastle-under-Lyme in 1656 and 1660.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Ben Coates


  • 1. C142/289/97; Staffs. Hist. Colls. ed. H.S. Grazebrook (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. v. pt. 2), pp. 49-51; Al. Cant.; GI Admiss.; Par. Reg. of Biddulph ed. N.W. Tildesley (Staffs. Par. Reg. Soc. 1991), pp. 33, 55; ‘Elford Par. Regs.’ (Staffs. RO, transcript), 49, 50, 51.
  • 2. J. Nichols, Progs. of Jas. I, iii. 435.
  • 3. C142/702/36.
  • 4. C66/1988; 66/2858.
  • 5. C212/22/20-1, 23; Staffs. RO, D1798/HM Chetwynd/116, unfol.; E179/283/27; SR, v. 65.
  • 6. Staffs. RO, D1798/HM Chetwynd/116; C192/1, unfol.
  • 7. C181/3, f. 119v; 181/5, f. 219.
  • 8. Staffs. RO, Q/SO/2, f. 44.
  • 9. C193/12/2, f. 53v.
  • 10. C181/3, f. 227.
  • 11. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 129.
  • 12. SP16/149/81i; 16/412/9.
  • 13. E178/7154, f. 290.
  • 14. C181/4, f. 189.
  • 15. For the latter see CBP, ii. 540; CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 397.
  • 16. Par. Reg. of Biddulph, 24, 26; Staffs. Hist. Colls. ed. S.A.H. Burne (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. 1934, pt. 2), p. 3. For Sir William Skeffington see SIR JOHN SKEFFINGTON.
  • 17. Lichfield RO, B/C/11, will of Sir William Bowyer, 1641.
  • 18. Ibid.; J. Maltby, Prayer Bk. and People in Elizabethan and Early Stuart Eng. 152; Staffs. Hist. Colls. ed. W.N. Landor (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. 1915), pp. 27, 186; A.G. Matthews, Calamy Revisited, 557.
  • 19. E. Rudyerd, Thunderbolt of Gods Wrath Against Hard-Hearted and Stiffe-Necked Sinners (1618), epistle dedicatory.
  • 20. K. Fincham, Prelate as Pastor, 325.
  • 21. Lichfield RO, B/C/11, will of Sir William Bowyer, 1641; C2/Chas.I/E17/38.
  • 22. E179/178/287; E179/178/299A.
  • 23. Staffs. Hist. Colls. ed. G. Wrottesley (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. vi), 229.
  • 24. HMC Hatfield, xxiii. 204.
  • 25. Staffs. Hist. Colls. ed. W.K. Boyd and G. Wrottesley (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. n.s. iv), 68; C142/702/36; PROB 11/251, f. 74.
  • 26. Staffs. Hist. Colls. ed. D. Fawkes (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. ser. 4, xiii), 60.
  • 27. Nicholas, Procs. 1621, i. p. 68; CD 1621, vi. p. 452.
  • 28. CJ, i. 522a-523b, 626a.
  • 29. Ibid. 627b; Kyle thesis, 425.
  • 30. CJ, i. 631a.
  • 31. ‘Nicholas 1624’, ff. 2v, 103v, 139v; CJ, i. 671a, 773a, 778a-9b, 780a-b, 793a; Holles 1624, p. 75.
  • 32. Procs. 1626 ii, 7, 21, 33, 69, 177, 200, 386, 339.
  • 33. SP16/56/89; 16/59/14; 16/59/32; 16/73/80.
  • 34. Sainty, Lords Lieutenants, 32; R. Cust, Forced Loan, 108-9; SP16/460/8.
  • 35. Staffs. RO, D5121/1/6/19; HMC Bath, iv. 350.
  • 36. Staffs. Hist. Colls. ed. H.S. Grazebrook (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. ii, pt. 2), pp. 18-20.
  • 37. Add. 33936, f. 146; Handlist of British Diplomatic Representatives comp. G.M. Bell, 232.
  • 38. Par. Reg. of Biddulph, 47
  • 39. Lichfield RO, B/C/11, will of Sir William Bowyer, 1641.
  • 40. N. Pevsner, Staffs. 69.