Fowler Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Fowler Surname Meaning

The surname Fowler is believed to have come from the Old English fugal meaning “fowl” and fugelere, meaning a hunter of wild birds. In the medieval period a fowler would have been an important position and all major houses would have employed one. 

The name of Richard Fugelere appeared as a witness in Lancashire’s assize courts in 1218. But the Fowler spelling had taken hold by 1300.

Fowler Surname Resources on The Internet

Fowler Surname Ancestry

  • from England and from Scotland (East Coast)
  • to America, Australia and New Zealand

EnglandThe first Fowler of record was Richard Fowler of Foxley in Buckinghamshire. He accompanied Richard the Lionhearted to Palestine in 1191 and was rewarded for his valor with lands and a coat of arms.  The subsequent line would seem to have gone via Reginaldus le Fowler, who was recorded in Shryvenham, Berkshire in 1301, and later onto:

  • Sir William Fowler, who lived in Rycote, Oxfordshire. He was granted Preston Manor in Buckinghamshire for his services to King Edward IV and he died there in 1466.
  • his son Sir Richard Fowler, who was the Chancellor of the Exchequer under Edward IV in 1469 (although his son, known as “Sir Richard the Foolish,” was a great spendthrift and lost most of the family estates).
  • and later Fowlers who resided at Harnage Grange in Shropshire.

When Sir Richard the elder died in 1477, he left money for a monk to sing a daily service at St. Dunstan’s chapel in Westminster Abbey “where my father lies buried.”

The Fowler name cropped up in Islington, then a village outside London, in Tudor times. Thomas Fowler, a merchant in Calais when it was still in English hands, acquired Barnesbury Manor in 1542. Queen Elizabeth seems to have been partial to Islington and made frequent visits to the Fowler home there. The male line died out in 1656 and the manor passed to Sir Thomas Fisher who had married the heiress Sarah.

Early Fowlers in Gloucestershire were:

  • the Fowlers of Bisley, starting with Thomas Fowler who was born there around 1520. One line of this family moved to Derbyshire and then, with Deacon John Fowler, crossed the Atlantic to Connecticut in the 1640’s.
  • the Fowlers of Stroudwater who prospered in the local cloth industry. Richard Fowler was a clothier who took a lease on a mill at Stonehouse in 1533. These Fowlers remained clothiers there until the late 18th century.
  • and the learned printer John Fowler, born in Bristol in 1537, who opposed the Protestant tendencies in England and took his press to Antwerp to aid the Catholic cause.

The later distribution of the Fowler surname showed it widely spread, but with three concentrations – one around London in the southeast, a second in the southwest with Gloucestershire prominent, and a third around Yorkshire and Lancashire.

Robert Fowler was a Protestant clergyman from Lincolnshire who settled in Ireland in the 1760’s and became the Archbishop of Dublin. His son, also named Robert, was Bishop of Ossory. A later Robert of this family, born in Meath, earned schoolboy renown for his all-round performance in the 1910 Eton vs. Harrow cricket match which came to be known as Fowler’s match.  

Scotland. The Fowler name extended into Scotland, mainly on the East Coast from Edinburgh to Aberdeen. The early spelling was Foular:

  • John Foular was an Edinburgh notary who kept the town records from 1500 to 1534 in his Protocol Book. Then there was William Fowler, a prominent merchant and burgess who lived around that time at Foular’s or Fowler’s Close, now Anchor Close. His son is thought to have been the poet and courtier William Fowler.  
  • David Foular’s birth was recorded in Nigg, Kincardineshire in 1686. One Fowler line has been traced from the marriage of William and Isobel Fowler there in 1751.

America.  In 1657 Robert Fowler from Bridlington in Yorkshire led the second party of Quakers to Massachusetts. He departed London for America with eleven Quakers on his small sloop the Woodhouse, with few of them having any experience of sailing. Remarkably they all landed safely on Long Island only a few miles from their intended destination and moved up the coast to the Quaker safe haven in Rhode Island.

Another Fowler arrival in Rhode Island was Henry Fowler from Rutland who had come in 1653 and married Rebecca Newell in Providence two years later. Their son William was in Queens, Long Island in New York state by 1680 and later moved to Westchester county.

In the early 1700’s there was an Indian at Montauk, Long Island by the name of James Fowler. A descendant David Fowler was one of the founders of Brothertown in Oneida county, New York in 1775. By the time of the Revolutionary War, Fowlers in America were most numerous in New York state. Sylvanus Fowler, born in Newburgh, migrated to Tennessee in the 1790’s.

Many Fowlers entered America via Virginia. Among the early arrivals were:

  • Francis Fowler who came with Captain Roger Smith in 1622 as a young lad and survived the massacre in Jamestown the following year. But he was dead by about 1640.
  • and the Quaker John Fowler from Wiltshire who came on the Hopewell in 1662 and settled in Henrico county. His line has been covered in Grover P. Fowler’s 1940 book The House of Fowler.

James Joyce’s 1991 book Annals of the Fowler Family traced early Fowlers in Virginia and the lines of Joseph Fowler in North Carolina and Godfrey Fowler in Kentucky.

Australia.  Samuel Fowler, aged twenty-two from Devon, ran away to sea and arrived in Melbourne in 1855.  He married his wife Hannah there three years later and they settled in Williamstown, Victoria where Samuel was a railway guard.  His son Samuel, a keen sportsman, worked in the insurance industry.

New Zealand.  John Fowler had been a policeman in Ramsbury, Wiltshire. It was said that when he had to arrest some striking farm workers, he decided to resign from the force rather than accompany them to Tasmania as their jailer.

Instead he departed for New Zealand with his family, arriving there in 1842. They were one of the early settlers at Riwaka near Nelson. Their young son George, born in New Zealand, was drowned in the Riwaka river in 1848. But the rest of the family survived. John lived onto 1888.

Fowler Surname Miscellany

Richard Fowler at the Third Crusade.  Richard Fowler of Foxley accompanied King Richard the Lion Hearted to Palestine in 1191 during the Third Crusade. He took with him and maintained during this crusade a body of British bowmen, all of whom were his own tenants at his Foxley estate in Buckinghamshire.

It was during this crusade that the Fowler coat of arms came into existence.   At Acre, a crucial stage had been reached in the campaign when the enemy surprised the Crusader camp one night.  Richard Fowler and his skilled bowmen were keeping watch and, through their gallant fighting, held the enemy at bay until the rest of the army had been awakened, thus saving the forces of King Richard from destruction. In reward for his service Richard Fowler was created a nobleman and received with this honor a large grant of land and the privilege of a coat-of-arms.

The Fowler coat bears a helmet of silver, representing nobility; above the helmet is a wreath – symbol of chivalry, the emblem presented the favorite knight by a lance during a tournament. 

Fowlers in the 1881 UK Census

County Numbers (000’s) Percent
Yorkshire    2.2    13
London    2.1    12
Lancashire    1.7    10
Surrey    0.8     5
Gloucestershire    0.7     4
Elsewhere    9.6    56
Total   17.1   100

Fowler’s Match.  In 1910 public school cricket in England was important, no more so than the annual match between the two elite schools, Eton and Harrow, held at the home of cricket, Lord’s in London.

Playing in this particular two-day match was one who would later become a Field Marshal (Alexander), another an Air Vice-Marshal (Blount), and a third an Attorney General (Moncton), together with various sons of nobility. But it was another schoolboy playing in the match, Robert St. Leger Fowler, who would become famous for what he did.

He dominated with both bat and ball, as the scores below suggest:

Harrow 232 (Fowler 4-90) and 45 (Fowler 8-23)
lost to
Eton 64 (Fowler 21) and 219 (Fowler 64)
by nine runs.

However, these simple facts do not show the drama of the occasion.  Eton appeared to be losing when they were required to follow on and were  subsequently 65-5.  But Fowler’s innings rallied the side and they ended their second innings 55 runs ahead.  It was Fowler’s sensational bowling figures of 8-23 which saw Eton squeeze home by nine runs.  When the last wicket went down, it was said that the cheering from St. John’s Wood could be heard as far away as London Zoo in Regent’s Park and Paddington Station.

After the match, the cricket journal Wisden exclaimed: “In the whole history of cricket, there has been nothing more sensational;” while The Times opined: “A more exciting match can hardly ever have been played.”

For Fowler, everything afterwards in his life was anticlimax.  He fought in the trenches during World War One, but died an early death of leukemia at the age of 34 in 1925.

Robert Fowler’s Voyage on the Woodhouse.  In 1659 Robert Fowler penned a narrative of his voyage on the Woodhouse with eleven other Quakers from Yorkshire to Long Island two years earlier.  He described the voyage as follows:

“A true relation of the voyage undertaken by me Robert Fowler, with my small vessel called the Woodhouse, but performed by the Lord, like He did Noah’s Ark wheri He shut up a few righteous persons and landed them safe, even at the hill Ararat.”

Of the eleven who crossed the Atlantic, five of them landed at New Amsterdam on June 1 after a voyage from London of two months.  The rest left New Amsterdam in Robert Fowler’s vessel on June 3 and, passing through Long Island Sound, reached Newport, Rhode Island safely.

The House of Fowler.  Grover P. Fowler’s 1940 book The House of Fowler. covered the descendants of John Fowler from Wiltshire who came on the Hopewell in 1662 and settled in Henrico county, Virginia.

The table of contents of this book reads as follows:

  • Chapter I. The Fowlers and their name
  • Chapter II. John Fowler, the first in America
  • Chapter III. Descendants of John Fowler, oldest son of Godfrey Fowler
  • Chapter IV. Descendants of Mark Fowler, son of Godfrey Fowler
  • Chapter V. Descendants of Richard Fowler, son of Mark Fowler
  • Chapter VI. Godfrey Fowler, the second, and his descendants
  • Chapter VII. Thomas Fowler, son of Godfrey Fowler the second
  • Chapter VIII. Richard Fowler, son of Godfrey Fowler, the second
  • Chapter IX. John Fowler, son of Richard Fowler of Laurens, S. C.
  • Chapter X. Francis Fowler, son of Godfrey Fowler, the second
  • Chapter XI. Capt. Moses T. Fowler of Greenville County, South Carolina
  • Chapter XII. William Perry Fowler of Spartanburg County, South Carolina
  • Chapter XIII. Fairview Presbyterian Church and history of Spartanburg County, South Carolina
  • Chapter XIV. Thomas Fowler of Spartanburg County, S.C. and Cobb County, Ga
  • Chapter XV. Nicey Fowler Peden Family, and her son, Mark Simpson Peden
  • Chapter XVI. Mark Fowler Family of Cobb County, Ga., and the Cassandra Fowler Cooper Family of Laurens, Greenville and Spartanburg Counties, S.C., and the Aris Fowler Family
  • Chapter XVII. America Fowler and Cynthia Eliza Fowler Wallace Families
  • Chapter XVIII. History of Greenville County, S.C.
  • Chapter XIX. Descendants of Joseph Fowler of Wake County, North Carolina
  • Chapter XX. Godfrey Fowler of Wake County North Carolina
  • Chapter XXI. Descendants of Bullard and Bathsheba Crudup Fowler of Carroll County, Tenn., and William and Mourning Crudup Fowler of Wake County, North Carolina
  • Chapter XXII. Descendants of Joseph Fowler of Wake County, North Carolina and Greene County, Tenn.
  • Chapter XXIII. Miscellaneous Fowler records, including those of William Fowler of Laurens, S.C., and Joshua Fowler of Laurens County, S.C. Records of Richmond and Bedford Counties, Virginia
  • Chapter XXIV. Records of Alexander Fowler of Goochland, Va., and Sherwood Fowler of Amelia County, Va. and Marshall County, Tenn.

Fowler Names

  • Richard Fowler of Foxley was an English commanding officer in Palestine in the 1190’s during the Third Crusade. 
  • Henry Watson Fowler was an early 20th century writer on English usage, best known for his A Dictionary of Modern English Usage. 
  • Henry Fowler was US Secretary of the Treasury from 1965 to 1968 under the Johnson administration.
  • Kevin Fowler, better known as Kevin Spacey (his grandmother’s maiden name), is a well-known but controversial American actor.

Fowler Numbers Today

  • 29,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 37,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 24,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Fowler and Like Surnames

These were status positions within the feudal position of that time – usually positions serving noble families, lords of the manor, or in the church.  Here are some of these status position surnames that you can check out.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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