Bowes, George (1527-1580) (DNB00)


BOWES, Sir GEORGE (1527–1580), military commander, was the son of Richard Bowes and Elizabeth Aske [see Bowes, Elizabeth]. At the age of fourteen he was married to Dorothy, daughter of Sir William Mallory of Studley Royal. He early went to the Scottish war, and in 1549 is mentioned as being in command of one hundred cavalry at Douglas. In 1558 he was made marshal of Berwick. Being at this time a widower, he strengthened his position by an alliance with the powerful house of Shrewsbury. He married Jane, daughter of Sir John Talbot of Albrighton. His opinion was often asked by the government about border affairs, and in 1560 he was knighted at Berwick by the Duke of Norfolk. Soon afterwards he resigned the onerous post of marshal of Berwick and retired to his house at Streatlam. In 1567 the privy council gave him a curious commission to get quicksets for hedges to enclose parts of the frontier (Cal. State Papers, For. 1566-8, p. 412). In 1568 he was employed to escort Mary queen of Scots from Carlisle to Bolton Castle. He displayed such courtesy in the discharge of this duty that Mary in later years had a grateful remembrance of his kindness, and wrote to him as to a friend (Memorials of the Rebellion, p. 379). Next year the rebellion of the northern earls threatened Elizabeth's throne, and it was chiefly owing to the steadfastness of Bowes that the rebellion did not become more serious. He remained at Streatlam, in the centre of a disaffected neighbourhood, and faced the unpopularity which his notorious loyalty drew upon his head. Already, on 7 March 1569, Lord Hundson wrote, 'The country is in great hatred of Sir George Bowes so as he dare scant remain there' (Cal. State Papers, For. 1569-71, p. 199). Streatlam was not far from Brancepeth, the seat of the Earl of Westmorland, who was the centre of the disaffected party. Bowes kept a sharp watch on all that was passing, and sent information to the Earl of Sussex, lord president of the north, who was stationed at York. Sussex for some time did not believe that the earls would proceed to any open action. At length their proceedings were so threatening that Bowes thought it safer, on 12 Nov., to leave Streatlam, and shut himself up in the strong castle of Barnard Castle, which belonged to the crown and of which he was. steward. He was empowered to levy forces for the queen, and the well-affected gentlemen of the neighbourhood gathered round him. He wished to use his small force for the purpose of cutting off the rebels who were gathering at Brancepeth; but Sussex hesitated to give permission, and things were allowed to take their course. At last, on 14 Nov., the rebel earls entered Durham, and advanced southwards for the purpose of releasing Queen Mary from her prison at Tutbury. They were not, however, agreed amongst themselves. They changed their plan suddenly and retreated northwards. The sole point in which they were agreed was hatred of Bowes. His house at Streatlam was destroyed, and Barnard Castle was besieged. It was ill supplied with provisions, and the hasty levies which formed its garrison were not adapted to endure hardships. Many of the garrison leapt from the wall and joined the enemy. Bowes held out bravely for eleven days, but dreaded treachery within. He thought it better to surrender while honourable terms were possible. He was permitted to march out with four hundred men. He joined the Earl of Sussex and was appointed provost marshal of the army.

By this time the royal army had marched northwards. The rebels, discouraged by the indecision of their leaders, retreated and gradually dispersed. The rebellion was at an end, but Elizabeth had been thoroughly frightened and gave orders that severe punishment should be inflicted on the ringleaders. The executions were carried out by Bowes, as provost marshal, though the lists of those to be executed were drawn out by the Earl of Sussex. Bowes had been the principal sufferer, but he does not appear to have shown any personal vindictiveness. The Earl of Sussex warmly commended him to the gratitude of the queen, both on account of the losses which he had sustained, and for his eminent services. But Bowes appealed in vain to Elizabeth's generosity. Not till 1572 did he receive some grants of forfeited lands, which appear to have been of small value. In 1571 he was elected M.P. for Knaresborough, and in 1572 for Morpeth. In 1576 he was made high sheriff of the county palatine. In 1579 he relieved his brother Robert [see Bowes, Robert, 1535?-1597], who wished for a short leave of absence from the post of marshal of Berwick. His residence in Berwick was both costly and cumbersome, and after staying there for nearly a year he begged to be relieved. Soon after his return to Streatlam he died, in 1580. The general testimony to his character is given in a contemporary letter to Burghley: 'He was the surest pyllore the queen's majesty had in these parts.'

[The letters of Sir George Bowes dealing with the rebellion are given in Sharp's Memorials of the Rebellion of 1569 (1840), where is also the fullest account of the life of Sir George Bowes drawn from manuscripts at Streatlam, p. 373, &c. See also Cal. State Papers, Dom., Addenda, 1566-79.]

M. C.