FOWKE, John (c.1596-1662), of Mark Lane, London and Claybury, Essex.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b. c.1596, 3rd s. of William Fowke of Tewkesbury, Glos. by Alice, da. of George Carr of Bushley, Worcs. m. (1) bef. 1634 (with £800), Catherine, da. of Richard Briggs, Haberdasher, of Lombard Street, London, 2s. 1da.; (2) lic. 25 Sept. 1638, aged 42, Mary, da. of Edward Basse, Mercer, of Cheapside, London, 1s. d.v.p. 5da.1
Freeman, Haberdashers’ Co. 1617, master 1642-3, 1652-3, 1655; committee, E.I. Co. 1625-6; asst. Levant Co. 1629-54; common councilman, London 1641, alderman 1642-d., sheriff 1643-4, ld. mayor 1652-3; commr. for militia 1642-Apr. 1647, Sept. 1647-53, 1659, assessment, London 1642, 1647-9, Jan. 1660-d., Glos. 1657; asst. corp. of the poor, London 1647, 1649; j.p. Glos. 1649-Mar. 1660, Essex 1656-Mar. 1660; pres. Christ’s Hosp. 1651-2; commr. for oyer and terminer, London July 1660, sewers, Havering and Dagenham levels Sept. 1660.2
Commr. for customs 1643-5; comptroller and trustee, bishops’ lands 1646, dean and chapter lands 1649; commr. for high court of justice 1649, regulation of trade 1650-1, relief under articles of war 1652, law reform 1652-3, sale of crown property 1653; judge of probate 1653-4; commr. for adventurers [I] 1654, security [I] 1656.3
Fowke claimed descent from the Staffordshire gentry and, through his mother, from a well-known Tyneside merchant family. He was apprenticed to a London Haberdasher, but his chief interest was in the Mediterranean trade, and he wore the livery of his company for a quarter of a century before achieving office. Nor was he particularly successful as a merchant; on the eve of the Civil War he was only in the third rank for ‘ability’. Politically, however, he was prominent in opposition to Charles I. In obedience to a resolution of the Commons he refused to pay tonnage and poundage in 1627, and his goods to the value of £5,827 were seized by the customs. A further refusal in 1629 led to his commitment to the Fleet prison until he was able to produce £40,000 bail. After a brief period on the East India board, he also fell out with the company about his liabilities as security for a defaulting merchant. He played a leading part in stimulating petitions from the citizens to the Long Parliament and in organizing the London train-bands. In January 1643 Charles described him as ‘notoriously guilty of schism and high treason’. During the Civil War he gladly abandoned trade for the more profitable service of the state. But he was again committed to the Fleet in 1645 for refusing to deliver his accounts as commissioner of customs on oath. Despite these occasional twinges of conscience, his prosperity increased, especially after his appointment as comptroller of bishops’ lands. In 1648 he spent £3,819 in buying four of the bishop’s manors in his native county, and he acquired an estate in Essex. His rapacity was the delight of royalist propagandists. After persistent petitioning he was awarded £27,615 compensation for his losses over tunnage and poundage, and £7,000 damages against the East India Company. Though regarded as a Presbyterian, he was ‘not much noted for religion’ and complied with all the changes of the Interregnum.4
In the months preceding the Restoration, Fowke, as chairman of the committee of safety, was the most active and influential member of the common council, being anxious to prevent the corporation giving way to the popular pressure for a free Parliament, lest they should produce a direct confrontation between the City of London and the army. He signed the common council petition of 24 Dec. 1659 for the return of the secluded Members and the convening of a free Parliament, and was a member of the delegation to present it. On 19 Jan. 1660 he was one of the three commissioners appointed to treat with Monck in the name of the City. He was on the committee appointed on 22 Feb. to draw up a ‘congratulatory petition’ to Parliament for restoring the city gates and the common council, and when presenting it he explained that his brethren ‘found some persons for a monarchical, some for a Commonwealth, some for no government at all. The last they did dislike; for the other they would not presume to direct, but should acquiesce and submit to the determination of Parliament.’ When the Restoration seemed inevitable he hastened to publish documentary evidence that he had refused to act as one of the King’s judges in 1649, and informed a correspondent of Hyde’s that he would be delighted to receive a letter from Charles II. He was appointed to the committees of the common council to prepare the City’s answer to the Declaration of Breda, to draw up a petition against the excise, and to raise a loan of £100,000 in the City for the disbandment of the army.5
At the general election of 1661 Fowke, the senior alderman on the bench, was put up for London by the opponents of the Church, as ‘a countenancer of good ministers’ and ‘deeply engaged in bishops’ lands’. On his election Lord Wharton included him in his list of friends in the Cavalier Parliament. An inactive Member, he was appointed to only four committees. With the House about to adjourn on 31 July, he was ordered to bring in a bill after the summer recess to make stealing of children subject to the penalties of felony. He was among those named to the committee on the bill to prevent frauds on the customs (29 Jan. 1662). In the debate on the hearth-tax, he expressed the fear that it ‘would set the chimneys, and so the City of London in a flame not easily to be quenched’. On 13 Mar. he moved a proviso for London to the bill for settling the militia. In the course of a long speech he
let fall several factious and dangerous expressions tending to blemish the honour and justice of this House and their proceedings, and pretending he had direction from the City for bringing in this proviso. But [the House was] informed that the said alderman had solicited and endeavoured to incense the City and beget in them an ill opinion of the proceedings of the House, and that the proviso was contrary to the judgment and without the direction of the City.
A motion to send him to the Tower was rejected, but he received from the Speaker ‘a grave and severe reprehension’ on his knees at the bar of the House, and his proviso was laid aside. At his request the corporation resolved on 8 Apr. to pay him 4s. a day as parliamentary wages ‘due by the statute’ and his livery. Two days later he was named to the committee for his kidnapping bill; but on 22 Apr. he died of apoplexy. No other member of the family entered Parliament.6
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Author: Eveline Cruickshanks
- 1. Vis. London (Harl. Soc. xv), 288; Vis. Glos. (Harl. Soc. xxi), 37; PCC 79 Byrde; Guildhall RO, 10091/19/180v; Misc. Gen. et Her. (ser. 5), ii. 219; St. Dunstan in the East (Harl. Soc. Reg. lxix), 85-91, 221.
- 2. Guildhall RO, 15857/1; J. R. Woodhead, Rulers of London, 72; C191/7/47.
- 3. G. E. Aylmer, State’s Servants, 435; Cal. Cl. SP, ii. 171.
- 4. DNB; Clarendon, Rebellion, ii. 433; V. Pearl, London and the Outbreak of the Puritan Revolution, 130-1, 138, 316-20; Misc. Gen. et Her. (ser. 2), ii. 115; VCH Essex, v. 194; CSP Dom. 1660-1, p. 539.
- 5. G. Davies, Restoration, 294; Cal. Cl. SP, iv. 526, 538, 597-8.
- 6. Guildhall RO, common council jnl.; CSP Dom. 1660-1, p. 539; D. R. Lacey, Dissent and Parl. Pols. 398; CJ, viii. 316, 386; Voyce from the Watch Tower, 296; Smyth’s Obituary (Cam. Soc. xliv), 55.