FOWELL, John (1623-77), of Washbourne, Harberton, Devon.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1661 - 8 Jan. 1677

Family and Education

bap. 14 Aug. 1623, 1st s. of Sir Edmund Fowell, 1st Bt., of Fowellscombe, Ugborough by Margaret, da. of Sir Anthony Powlett of Hinton St. George, Som. m. by 1665, Elizabeth, da. of Sir John Chichester of Hall, Devon, 2s. (1 d.v.p.) 3da. suc. fa. as 2nd Bt. Oct. 1674.1

Offices Held

J.p. Devon 1652-3, 1657-July 1660, Sept. 1660-d., commr. for assessment 1657, Aug. 1660-74, militia Mar. 1660; gov. Dartmouth 1661-d.; commr. for corporations, Devon 1662-3, loyal and indigent officers 1662, v.-adm. 1666-d.; commr. of inquiry, Newfoundland govt. 1667, pressing seamen, Devon 1672, recusants 1675, v.-warden of the stannaries ?-d.2


Fowell’s family was founded by a lawyer, who sat for Totnes in 1455. His father represented Ashburton from its re-enfranchisement by the Long Parliament till Pride’s Purge; a Presbyterian, he was active in sequestration work in Devon, but welcomed the Restoration and was made a baronet. Returned for the family borough in 1659 and 1660, Fowell probably supported the Court in the Convention, in which he was moderately active; he made no speeches, but probably sat on 15 committees, of which the most important were for fixing the maximum rate of interest at 6 per cent and for the attainder bill. He was also concerned with the suppression of profanity and the proclamation of a fast. On 28 Dec. 1660 he obtained the concurrence of the Upper House to a grant of £10,000 to the Duke of York.3

Fowell was considered a sufficiently staunch Royalist to retain his seat during the Presbyterian débâcle in 1661; he may have enjoyed the support of George Monck, who recommended him as governor of Dartmouth. Though lucrative, this post seems to have carried little political weight. He was not an active Member of the Cavalier Parliament, in which he was named to only 35 committees, and twice acted as teller. In the first session he was entrusted with carrying a local estate bill to the Lords; he also served on the committees for the corporations and militia bills. On 19 Mar. 1662 he was teller in favour of excluding tin from the provisions of the bill against customs fraud, and in the following month he attended the King to ask for the suspension of the Merchant Adventurers’ monopoly of cloth exports to Germany. A letter written many years later shows Fowell keenly alive to ‘the decay of our woollen trade, which falls exceedingly heavy on this poor, populous country’, and convinced that government interference could only be harmful. In 1664 he was among the Members appointed to consider a clothiers’ petition and to draw up a bill for the better observance of Sunday. In 1666 the petition against the Canary patent came before him, and he was among those asked to estimate the yield of the hearth-tax.4

At the instance of Thomas Clifford Fowell reluctantly and ineffectively intervened in the Dartmouth by-election of 1667 on behalf of Joseph Williamson, covering himself beforehand with the remark that the fickle corporation had disappointed him once before, and afterwards with the assurance that his failure was due to want of power, not want of will. About this time he probably succeeded to Clifford’s farm of the logwood patent, and in 1669 he was listed by Sir Thomas Osborne among those who usually voted for supply. In the session of 1670-1, he was named to two committees concerned with woollen manufactures, but after that he probably ceased to attend. He was granted £500 on the hearth-tax in 1675, and on receipt of the government whip, promised Williamson to come up ‘in spite of the indisposition which you know I am subject to’. Nevertheless, he retained an intelligent interest in politics, as appears from a letter of 14 Jan. 1676:

Till we come plainly to believe that what is truly for the interest of the King is for the interest of the people, and whatever is for the good of the people is for his Majesty’s advantage, I doubt we shall never enjoy that happiness which is daily prayed for.

Williamson was so impressed that he showed the letter to the King, who returned it without comment. The last reference to him is as a sure man for the Court in the list drawn up by Sir Richard Wiseman in 1676. Fowell died on 8 Jan. 1677, three days after inheriting his mother’s jointure of £900 p.a., and was buried at Ugborough.5

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Authors: M. W. Helms / John. P. Ferris


  • 1. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 370
  • 2. CSP Dom. 1661-2, p. 311; 1664-5, p. 177; 1671-2, pp. 346, 402; APC Col. i. 433; Exeter City Lib. DD 63162; Devon RO, 1392M/L1676/1; Ind. 24557.
  • 3. Keeler, Long Parl. 180.
  • 4. Cal. Treas. Bks. i. 384; P. Russell, Dartmouth, 131; CSP Dom. 1675-6, p. 512.
  • 5. CSP Dom. 1666-7, pp. 379, 473; 1675-6, pp. 326, 512, 541; 1676-7, p. 500; Cal. Treas. Bks. ii. 402; iii. 167; iv. 314.