William Fowler (makar)

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William Fowler (c. 1560–1612) was a Scottish poet or makar (royal bard), writer, courtier, and translator, active from 1581 to 1612.

Early life[edit]

William Fowler was the son of Janet Fockhart[1] 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.[2] 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.


Fowler was part of a literary circle around King James which has become known as the "Castalian Band", which 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;[3] while James, in return, commended, in verse, Fowler's Triumphs of Petrarke.

In 1589 he was accompanied by William Schaw on the diplomatic mission to Denmark to arrange the marriage of James VI to Anne of Denmark. He was a paid negotiator for the city of Edinburgh, charged with raising the profile of the burgh.[4] Subsequently 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.

He wrote an account of the baptism of Prince Henry in 1594,[5] and taught the queen the art of memory, a subject upon which he also wrote a treatise.

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.[6] Fowler wrote to the Earl and Countess of Shrewsbury that Arbella was the "eighth wonder of the world,"and "the phoenix of her sex."[7] In 1609 he received a grant of 2,000 acres (8 km²) in Ulster as reward for his services.


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.


  • 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


  1. ^ MHB Sanderson, Mary Stewart's People, (1987), 91
  2. ^ Calendar of State Papers, Scotland: volume 6: 1581-83 (1910), 262-3, 265-6.
  3. ^ James VI, His Majesties Poeticall Exercises, (Edinburgh, Robert Waldegrave, 1591), (p. 7)
  4. ^ 'Marriage and the Performance of the Romance Quest: Anne of Denmark and the Stirling Baptismal Ceremonies for Prince Henry'by Claire Mcmanus, A Palace in the Wild: Essays on Vernacular Culture and Humanism in Late-Medieval and Renaissance Scotland, ed. L.A.J.R. Houwen, A.A. MacDonald, S.L. Mapstone Peeters, 177
  5. ^ Bath, Michael, 'Rare Shewes, the Stirling Baptism of Prince Henry', in Journal of the Northern Renaissance, no.4 (2012)
  6. ^ The sonnets sent to Arbella are nos 260 & 261 in Meikle's edition, the approximate anagram is in 'BELL ... DISTEMPERED HAPP.'
  7. ^ G. R. Batho., ed., HMC Calendar of Talbot Papers, (1971), pp. 229-30, 233 (Lambeth Talbot K. fos. 121,163)