Stephen Powle (c. 1553 – 1630)
Stephen Powle, an Essex
man, became Lord of the Manor of Blackmore from 1583 when he married Margaret Turner
Smyth, widow of Thomas Smyth. Much may
be gleaned about this somewhat obscure Elizabethan man because numerous
letters, manuscripts and records survive in the British Library, National
Archives (as it known today) and the Bodleian Library in Oxford.
(pronounced ‘Pole’) became a leading diplomat following a three year grand tour
of Europe in which he learned about art, culture and, in particular,
language. This broad range of
experiences, as demonstrated in his letters home, placed him in good stead
despite his poor relationship with his father.
We learn from Virginia Stern’s biography that he was an agent to Queen
Elizabeth at Casimir’s Court, visiting Heidelberg University to research for Lord Burgley the genealogy
of the Casimir family; acted as agent for Queen Elizabeth in Italy and engaged in diplomacy in the
year of the Spanish Armada (1588).
His first marriage,
to Elizabeth Woodhouse Hobart a daughter of a first cousin to Anne Boleyn in
March 1589/1590, had ended in tragedy with the death of twins in infancy and
his wife nine days after their birth.
Having erected an epitaph to them in St Margaret’s Church, Barking, he
moved away to Durham in an interlude which
Virginia Stern describes as “recovery from tragedy”.
In late 1592 he wrote: “I learn of Mistress Smith, widow,
whom I hope to marry” and by November 1593 he had taken Margaret Turner Smyth
to be his second wife. She was a wealthy
widow and sole heir to the estate of her late husband Thomas Smyth of Surrey and Smyths-Hall in
biography confirms that Thomas Smyth died in 1592 and not 1594, as William
Holman recorded in his notes on the parish history of Blackmore (1719) when
copying the epitaph on the tomb in St Laurence Church, Blackmore. This verifies that an entry in the Essex
Archdeaconry records is that of the deceased man and the granting of probate to
his widow. On 30 October 1592 we find recorded at
High Ongar (Ongar Alto) Church: “Thomas Smith gent dec. intestate. Margaret
Smith widow adnix: present by Rich. Stane” [ERO D/AZ/2/5]. It is said that Thomas Smyth wrote a will,
and indeed there is evidence of one held at the Essex Record Office, but the
Court records that he died intestate. This
may explain the battle over the inheritance which Stern refers to between
Margaret and the brother and son of Thomas’ first wife, Blanche.
Upon marriage Stephen Powle became Lord of
the Manor of Smyths Hall adopting the numerous children of the previous
marriage and treating them as if they were his own. In 1598 we find that he drafts a love letter
for his eldest step-son, John, and later taking some responsibility for John’s
estate at Wakes Colne, being involved in the repair of a bridge at Chapell
As a Civil Servant, working at the
Chancery in London, Blackmore was a pleasant rural retreat but found it more
convenient to purchase a property at Mylend (Mile End, in the parish of
Stepney, then Middlesex) to the North East of London, perhaps felt more
comfortable being able to furnish the house more in his style.
From 1597 to 1616 Stephen Powle served
as a Justice for the Peace in Essex hearing cases quarterly (Quarter Sessions)
at Chelmsford, Brentwood and at his home in Blackmore and attending the Assizes
every six months. We learn that he was
totally scrupulous refusing to accept gifts from parties which might have been
seen as a bribe to sway the administration of justice. In 1616 he wrote to Master Fage that he had
“never been stained or polluted with any gratuity” when four gallon of sack was
delivered unexpectedly to Smyth Hall.
However, in view of the effort the sender had made, he paid what he believed
was the going rate for the goods.
A case of local interest heard at Smyths
Hall was on 3 September 1600 when John Comaunder, alias Demander, a labourer
was bound over to keep the peace against Revd John Nobbs, Rector of Stondon
Massey, and John Kempe, a husbandman living in the same parish.
Stephen Powle was knighted by King
James I. In March 1608/1609 he became
involved in the Virginia Company as a member of its Council. The Company was keen to promote investment
and trade in America. Virginia became a chief exporter of tobacco. Powle was a friend of Walter Ralegh, a
notable British explorer.
In 1621 Margareta (as Stephen referred
to her) died. She was buried alongside her previous husband, in accordance with
his wishes, on 28 April. The estate at
Blackmore passed to John Smyth, of Crepping Hall Wakes Colne, but it is
unlikely that he took on duties there because his will was probated on 8 June 1621. It seems
likely that Stephen Powle stayed on for at little while at Smyth Hall to hand
over the reins to Arthur, a younger brother to his step-son John.
In May 1623 Stephen Powle married, for a
third time, to Lady Anne Wigmore (Wygmore). They probably lived the remainder
of their lives at Mylend. Sir Stephen
Powle died on 26 May 1630. His widow
passed way on 9 April 1631. Both are
buried at St Margaret’s Church, Westminster in London.
Stephen Powle is
mentioned in relation to legacies, gifts and bequests given to the people of
Blackmore. Income was granted from “a
piece of land called Long Croft … with a yearly payment of 5s each to 8 of the
poorest women in Blackmore” (1618). Dame
Margaret Powle “charged the owner of Smyths Hall in this parish with the yearly
payments of 5s each to 8 of the poorest women in Blackmore, at the discretion
of the Minister, Churchwardens and Overseers” (1620).
Virginia F. Stern. ‘Sir Stephen Powle
of Court and Country. Memorabilia of a Government Agent for Queen Elizabeth I,
Chancery Official, and English Country Gentleman’ (United States of America by Associated
University Presses Inc., 1992).
Essex Record Office. ERO