By Maureen Storey
This article was published in the December 2020 edition of Soul Search, the Journal of The Sole Society
I first came across Robinson and Marmaduke Sowle more than 20 years ago in the registers of London’s Merchant Taylors’ School. Robinson was a pupil there between 1705 and 1709, while Marmaduke was listed as attending the school in 1709-10. What really piqued my interest was one extra detail given about Robinson, namely that in 1743 he became colonel of the 11th Regiment of Foot. In those days army promotions were by purchase, so this must have been an affluent family and with two such unusual forenames I thought they would be easy to track down. However, the opposite has proved to be the case and although I can now tie the brothers to one of our early Sole families, there are still gaping holes in the records we hold.
For several years I made no progress at all with the family. They didn’t appear in any of the parish records I had access to and though they were mentioned by Ridlon*, he merely said (erroneously as it turned out) they were from a Gloucestershire family, without any justification for the statement.
The first breakthrough came when I began going through the PCC wills and found two Marmaduke Sowle wills, one dated 1731 and a second dated 1766. The second of these was the lad from the Merchant Taylors’ School and mentioned his wife Lucretia and three married daughters Mary Stanwix, Jane Roberts and Lucretia Roberts. At last I had the beginnings of a family tree!
Merchant Taylors’ School, where Robinson and Marmaduke Sowle were pupils
The first will, however, was the more important as it was the will of Robinson and Marmaduke’s father. The will named Robinson as the oldest son and Marmaduke as the youngest, but also mentioned a third son Henry. It is clear from the will that Marmaduke, senior, felt that he had already given his oldest and youngest sons their share of the inheritance and he left them only £100 each (plus some land in Hertfordshire for Marmaduke) with the residue of the estate going to Henry.
It was Henry’s will, dated 1773, that finally gave me the clues that allowed the family’s origins to be identified. Henry’s will is one of the most unusual I have read and I am somewhat surprised that it was accepted as valid by the PCC. It contains none of the usual legalese about being of sound mind, but instead takes the form of a letter to his ‘good sister-in-law, Mrs Lucretia Sowle of Waltham Cross, nr Enfield’. In it he leaves £5 to each of Herbert Sowle’s children and the residue of his estate, including land in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, and West Cottingwith, Yorkshire, to be shared equally between Lucretia and her daughters. West Cottingwith, a hamlet in the parish of Thorganby, was the ancestral home of one of our larger Yorkshire families and Herbert Sowle was the head of the branch of the family that at that time still lived there. From this it seemed that Henry’s father Marmaduke must have been the Marmaduke Souell, son of Marmaduke and Margaret, who was baptised in Thorganby on 18 Mar 1667. Further proof of this connection came from a law suit in 1833 in which some of Herbert’s descendants laid out their claim to be the heirs of Lucretia Roberts, whose will left her estate to the ‘next of kin of her father Marmaduke Sowle’.
In the seventeenth century the Sowles of Thorganby were yeoman farmers and the land they farmed in West Cottingwith seems to have passed down through their oldest sons, but Marmaduke was the youngest child of his generation and so had to find other means to make a living. His choice was the army and it probably reflects how comfortably off his family was that he was able to buy a commission. I haven’t been able to discover which regiment he joined or what he did in his early years in the army but in 1696 he became the Major of the Garrison of The Tower of London, a position he held until at least 1714 (when his position was mentioned in a legal dispute in which he was involved). I’ve not been able to determine when he left the Tower or whether it was to take up another military post or to retire to the house he had acquired in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire. Parish records for his immediate family are sparse. Marmaduke’s youngest son was baptised in the Tower of London Chapel on 8 Nov 1701, but I’ve been unable to find either his marriage to wife Jane (and hence her surname) or baptisms for his older two sons, Robinson and Henry. His wife Jane died in 1720 and was buried in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire. Marmaduke died in 1731.
All three of Marmaduke’s sons followed him into the army.
The early years of Robinson’s career are not well documented. He joined the army as an ensign in 1708 during the War of Spanish Succession, initially probably in Thomas Chudleigh’s Regiment.
(Until 1751 regiments were identified by the names of their colonels and this regiment went through several changes of name until the naming system changed and it became the 34th Regiment of Foot.) The regiment was sent to France in 1708 and took part in the sieges of Lille (1708), Douai (1709) and Bouchain (1711). In 1713 after the war had ended with the Treaty of Utrecht, the regiment returned to England and was disbanded as it was no longer needed. In 1714 Robinson appears in a list of half-pay officers as a captain in Thomas Chudleigh’s Regiment.
In 1715 the regiment was reformed and sent first to Ireland and then in 1717 to Spain where England was fighting in the War of the Quadruple Alliance. The regiment took part in the capture of Vigo in 1719 and returned home in 1720.
The next definite mention I’ve found for Robinson was his marriage to Judith Hinde on 9 Jul 1724. The couple married by licence at St Andrew’s, Holborn, although both were said to be of Cheshunt, Hertfordshire. The couple had two sons: Marmaduke (b 1725) and Richard (b about 1729).
In 1726 Robinson had risen to the rank of major and was stationed in Gibraltar. This was a time when Spain was becoming increasingly aggressive prior to their attempt to retake Gibraltar from the British in 1727. Robinson was involved in the strengthening of the garrison’s defences. He also led at least five expeditions into mainland Spain to gather intelligence about what the Spanish forces were doing. It seems he was still in the 34th Regiment, but didn’t sail with them when they left for a tour of duty in Jamaica later that year, returning instead to England.
The only record I’ve found for Robinson in the 1730s is an entry in the Hertfordshire Poll Book of 1734 in which he appears in the list of voters in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, but is said to be of St James, Westminster. Then in 1740 Lieutenant Colonel Robinson Sowle of Stephen Cornwallis’s Regiment appears in a list of burgesses of Edinburgh. He is listed as becoming a burgess by act of council, i.e. he was given the freedom of Edinburgh, but there is no indication of why. The record does, however, show that he had risen in rank again and had changed regiment. He probably moved with Stephen Cornwallis when Cornwallis was promoted in 1738 and took over the regiment that was later to be known as the 11 Regiment of Foot.
By 1742 Britain was fighting in Europe again, this time in the War of Austrian Succession and Cornwallis’s Regiment was sent to Flanders. In Feb 1743 the regiment began moving towards Germany but was halted in Aix-la-Chapel by bad weather and didn’t reach Germany until mid-May. It was during this journey that Colonel Cornwallis died. Robinson received his last promotion on 23 May 1743 when he took Cornwallis’s place as colonel. For the next two years the regiment was known as Sowle’s Regiment. Robinson and his men joined the army led by George II and the Duke of Cumberland at Aschaffenburg in Bavaria and took part in the Battle of Dettingen. The regimental losses were 11 killed and 29 wounded. The battle was a victory for George II and his allies, though it had little influence on the outcome of the war. Its main significance in British history was that it was the last time a reigning British monarch led his army into battle.
Painting by John Wootton of King George II at the Battle of Dettingen, the battle, which Robinson Sowle fought in, can be seen in the background.
During 1744 Sowle’s Regiment was in Flanders and Brabant, and they spent the winter in garrison in Bruges. On the resumption of hostilities in spring 1745, the regiment took part in the relief of the fortress of Torney and in
April attacked the French forces at Fontenay, where 53 of their men were killed and 110 were injured. The regiment then marched first to Lessing, then Tournay and on to Grossmont and finally reached Brussels.
The regiment returned to Britain to reinforce George II’s army during the second Jacobite rebellion. They joined the main force at Lichfield and marched with them to relieve Carlisle. The regiment was left at Carlisle to maintain control of the area as the rest of the army moved into Scotland. At about this time Robinson was becoming increasingly ill – one report said that he had been committed to an asylum – and it became necessary to replace him as colonel of the regiment. It was known that much of his income was derived from his position and so the army was reluctant to just retire him as that would leave him destitute. The problem was solved by moving him to be colonel of the 3rd Marine Regiment of Foot, a much lower ranked regiment that took little part in active service at that time. Various records say that Robinson died in 1746 but I’ve not found either a burial or a will for him.
I’ve been unable to find out much about Marmaduke’s second son Henry. He appears in the 1714 list of half-pay officers as an ensign in Thomas Chudleigh’s Regiment, the same regiment as Robinson. His entry in the archives of the Scots Guards simply states
4 Nov 1731: Lt (in Captain Steuart’s Company) and Captain 3rd Foot Guards.
(The 3rd Foot Guards later became known as the Scots Guards.) What happened to him between 1731 and his death in London in 1773 remains a mystery. I’ve not found a marriage for him and he is recorded in his brother Marmaduke’s family papers as dying without issue.
Nothing has yet been found on the early years of third son Marmaduke’s military career. The first mention of him comes from the report of a riot in Newcastle in 1730. The high price of food had led to workers in the town plundering the local granaries and although the disturbance was initially quelled by the local militia with the promise of lowering the grain prices, this promise was not kept and trouble flared again. The rioters attacked the city hall, injuring at least one city councillor, and threatened to burn the local shops. The riot was finally bought under control by Captain Marmaduke Sowle of Colonel Howard’s Regiment (yet another name for the regiment that would become the 34th Foot), who marched three companies of men from Alnwick, where they were stationed, to Newcastle. The soldiers quickly dispersed the crowd: 40 rioters were arrested of whom 6 were sentenced to transportation at the next assizes. The town council was so grateful to Marmaduke for his intervention that they gave him the freedom of Newcastle.
It was also in 1730 that Marmaduke married Lucretia Holmes, the daughter of Henry Holmes, a retired army officer and member of parliament. Marmaduke and Lucretia had 4 children: Mary, Henry, Jane and Lucretia.
By 1745 Marmaduke had been promoted to major and was serving in his brother Robinson’s regiment in Flanders. He stayed with the regiment after Robinson left and went with it to Holland in 1746 to rejoin the British forces taking part in the War of Austrian Succession. On 11 Oct 1746 the regiment took part in the Battle of Recoux. Marmaduke was injured during the battle and was initially listed as missing, though in fact he had been captured.
Marmaduke seems to have left the army in about 1750 – he was unwell and needed to sell his commission to help support his family. In January 1751 his wife Lucretia’s family appears to have stepped in to help them and £2000 in Bank of England annuities was put in trust for him which was to go to his wife and children after his death. Marmaduke must have recovered, however, because in 1763 he became a Commissioner of Appeals in Excise, a post he held for the next three years, some of which he spent in Dublin, though by then his permanent home was in Bryanston, DOR. Marmaduke died on 14 Sep 1766 and was buried in the family grave in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire.
To complete the story I needed to find out what happened to Marmaduke and Robinson’s offspring. This proved easy for Marmaduke’s four children as they are well documented in the papers of the Holmes family held by the Isle of Wight Record Office. In April 1763 the oldest daughter Mary (b 1732) married Major General John Stanwix, a widower who became Governor of the Isle of Wight later that year. In 1766 John and Mary drowned when the boat in which they were making the crossing from Dublin to Holyhead was lost at sea. Marmaduke’s only son, Henry (b 1733), died in infancy. In 1755 the second daughter Jane (b 1734) married Henry Roberts, an Isle of Wight landowner. The couple had three children. I’ve been unable to pin down Jane’s death, but as Henry married again in 1784 it must have been before then. Lucretia (b 1737), the youngest of Marmaduke’s children, married John Roberts in 1778 in Newport, Isle of Wight. The couple had no children. Lucretia died in 1824.
The elder of Robinson’s two sons, another Marmaduke (b 1725) followed his father into the army and in 1746 was a lieutenant serving in his father’s old regiment with his uncle Marmaduke. He was killed on 11 Oct 1746 at the Battle of Rocoux. The only definite mentions I have of Richard, Robinson’s other son, is in the 1735 will of his maternal grandmother Mary Hinde and in a court case of 1746 between various factions of the Hinde family, when he was said to be 17. If, as seems likely, he also joined the army then perhaps he was the Captain Richard Sowle who was tried for (and acquitted of) murder after he killed George Paschal in a duel in London in 1751. Or perhaps he was the Captain Richard Sowle who was buried in the choir of Bath Abbey in 1754. Hopefully further research will reveal if either or both of these records refer to Robinson’s son.
* Ridlon: ‘Soule Family Vol 1’ (or Vol 2 as appropriate), ‘A Contribution to the Families Named Sole, Solly, Soule. Sowle, Soulis with Other Forms of Spelling from the Eighth Century to the Present with Notes on Collateral Familes Both Foreign and American’.