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William Fowler
British writer

William Fowler

William Fowler
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro British writer
Was Linguist Translator Poet
From United Kingdom
Field Literature Social science
Gender male
Birth 1560
Death 1612 (aged 52 years)
University of St Andrews
University of Paris
The details (from wikipedia)


William Fowler (c. 1560–1612) was a Scottish poet or makar (royal bard), writer, courtier, and translator.

Early life

William Fowler was the son of Janet Fockart and William Fowler, a well connected Edinburgh burgess. He graduated from St Leonard's College, St Andrews in 1578. By 1581 he was in Paris studying civil law. At this time he published An ansvver to the calumnious letter and erroneous propositions of an apostat named M. Io. Hammiltoun a pamphlet criticising John Hamilton and other Catholics in Scotland, who he claimed had driven him from that country. In response, two Scottish Catholics, Hamilton and Hay manhandled him and dragged him through the streets to the Collège de Navarre.

Following his return to Scotland, he visited London to retrieve some money owed to his father by Mary, Queen of Scots. Here he frequently visited the house of Michel de Castelnau, Sieur de Mauvissiere, where he met Giordano Bruno, currently staying there. He was soon recruited by Francis Walsingham to act as a spy until 1583, by which time he felt his consorting with French Catholics was compromising his religious integrity. His letters to Walsingham mention his widowed mother's concern at his role in London and her moneylending activities, and information he obtained in January 1583 from the exiled Scottish Duke of Lennox. In May 1583, while William was intriguing in London, his sister Susannah Fowler married John Drummond the king's doorkeeper and son of Robert Drummond of Carnock, their son was the poet William Drummond of Hawthornden.

A Career at Court

In September 1584 he met the German traveller Lupold von Wedel in Edinburgh and told him that he been teaching King James the art of memory. Fowler later noted that while he was teaching James the art of memory, the king taught him poetry and imprese or emblems.

Fowler was part of a literary circle around King James which has become known as the "Castalian Band" and included Alexander Montgomerie, John Stewart of Baldynneis, Alexander Hume, Thomas and Robert Hudson, and James VI himself. In 1591 Fowler contributed a prefatory sonnet To the Only Royal Poet to James VI's poem the Furies, printed in His Majesties Poeticall Exercises; while James, in return, commended, in verse, Fowler's Triumphs of Petrarke.

Fowler dedicated his Triumphs to Jean Fleming, wife of the Chancellor, John Maitland of Thirlestane. Mary Beaton, Lady Boyne the former companion of Mary, Queen of Scots, and "E. D.", probably Elizabeth Douglas, wife of Samuel Cockburn of Temple-Hall, contributed sonnets in praise of the author. Fowler dedicated a translation from Ariosto to Mary Beaton, who was a member of his literary circle. He wrote an epitaph for Elizabeth Douglas, Samuel Cockburn's wife, who died in 1594.

Secretary to the queen

In 1589 he was appointed to the diplomatic mission to Denmark to arrange the marriage of James VI to Anne of Denmark with John Skene. He was a paid negotiator for the city of Edinburgh, charged with raising the profile of the burgh. On 28 November 1589, at Oslo, he was appointed private secretary and Master of Requests to Anne of Denmark, when she became James VI's queen. He retained these positions when Anne went to England.

Fowler returned to Scotland before James VI, and planned to rejoin the royal party in Denmark in April 1590. The English diplomat in Edinburgh Robert Bowes reported to Burghley and Walsingham that Fowler had obtained two letters in cipher, one to the Earl of Erroll and the other mysteriously addressed to "Assuerus the Painter". Fowler gave the letters to the Provost of Edinburgh, Sir John Arnot to show them to the Privy Council. The Earl of Bothwell said the letters meant nothing to him, Bowes thought they looked like letters he had previously seen which referred to alleged Catholic and Spanish plots.

John Geddie, a calligrapher, was also a secretary to the queen. He drew out a Latin acrostic poem for a manuscript of Fowler's discourse on the history of mathematics titled 'Methodi, sive compendii mathematici'. This work was not printed.

Fowler wrote an account of the entertainments at the baptism of Prince Henry in 1594, and taught the queen the art of memory, a subject upon which he also wrote a treatise.

In 1598 Fowler agreed to send intelligence from the royal court to England, and was to be known by the cipher 'Ib' in correspondence. However, nothing from him or mentioning 'Ib' survives, except perhaps a newsletter of March 1602 that reached Sir Robert Cecil and appears to be in his handwriting.


In England in September 1603, he met Arbella Stuart at Woodstock Palace, and sent her two sonnets, one addressed to her, and another, Upon an Horologe of the Clock at Loseley which contains a partial anagram of her name. Fowler wrote to the Earl and Countess of Shrewsbury that Arbella was the "eighth wonder of the world,"and "the phoenix of her sex."

On 26 May 1604 he wrote to Lord Cecil apologising for delays in expediting Anna of Denmark's business. He said suits and patents were "in the custody of the women" and he blamed one "Margarete" who usurped authority in the queen's name. In 1609 he received a grant of 2,000 acres (8 km²) in Ulster as reward for his services.

In October 1610 he answered William Trumbull's inquiry about the Scottish Order of the Thistle, an order of knighthood of doubtful history. Fowler believed that there had been an Order, founded to honour Scots who fought for Charles VII of France. He thought it had been discontinued in the time of James V, and could say nothing of its ceremonies or regalia.

Fowler wrote two poems to Mary Middlemore, a lady in waiting in the queen's household, one including her name, "My harte as Aetna burnes, and suffers MORE / Paines in my MIDDLE than ever MARY proved".

He died in 1612 and was buried in St Margaret's, Westminster.

His will mentions a chain of gold of jewels worth £300, and three diamond rings, presents from Anne of Denmark, which he left to his brother John Fowler. The Earl of Shrewsbury owed him £843. The will was witnessed by James Cleghorn, a waiter in the queen's household, and James Gibson, the king's bookbinder.

The green tree and the anagram

At Denmark House, the queen had a green palm tree with a crown and a Latin epigram in gilt letters on the queen's fruitfulness by Fowler based on his anagram of her name; "Anna Brittanorum Regina" - "In anna regnantium arbor". The palm tree was admired and described by John Ernest I, Duke of Saxe-Weimar who visited London in 1613. This seems to have been a salt, described in 1620 with other items of the queen's tableware scheduled for sale as; " a salt of gold in pieces, having a clock within crystal, the foot of same being gold triangle wise, the cover thereof being a castle, and out of the same castle a green tree, the flowers being diamonds and rubies in roses, the same clock salt and crystal garnished with gold, diamonds, and rubies, wanting a dial in the same clock".


His nephew William Drummond of Hawthornden bequeathed a manuscript collection of seventy-two sonnets, entitled The Tarantula of Love, and a translation (1587) from the Italian of the Triumphs of Petrarke to the library of the University of Edinburgh. Two other volumes of his manuscript notes, scrolls of poems, etc. are preserved among the Drummond manuscripts, currently in the library of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. Fowler's poetry was featured in the 1803 publication by John Leyden of Scottish Descriptive Poems.


William Fowler's children included;

  • A daughter who married James Ruch.
  • A daughter who married Patrick Stirling.
  • Ludovick Fowler, burgess of Haddington and owner of the Deanery at Restalrig. He married Jean Cathcart in 1622.
  • Anna Fowler. After the death of her husband, a Mr Delille, she lived in Cambridge in 1665 in poverty and sent begging letters to William Sancroft, Dean of St Paul's.


  • A True Reportarie of the Most Triumphant, and Royal Accomplishment of the Baptisme of the Most Excellent, Right High, and Mightie Prince, Frederik Henry, By the Grace of God, Prince of Scotland. Solemnized the 30 Day of August 1594, Robert Waldegrave, Edinburgh (1594)
  • Henry Meikle, ed., The Works of William Fowler, 3 vols, vol. I 1914, vol. II 1936, vol. III 1940, Scottish Text Society, Edinburgh
The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article on 14 Jun 2020. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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