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Charles Bowles and Phineas Pett

Back to The Bolles of Chartham


Charles Bowles of Chatham was the clerk and close friend of Phineas Pett (1570-1647), Master Shipwright, Master of the Corporation of Shipwrights and Commissioner of the Navy at Chatham (1630 to 1647).   

Pett designed and built many notable ships including the Prince Royal, the 'pride of the fleet', for Prince Henry in 1610.  He designed and oversaw his son Peter Pett's construction of the Sovereign of the Seas in 1637 'a first rate of 100 guns' and the largest war ship of that time.

Phineas Pett (1570-1647)

Peter Pett (1610-1672) followed in his father's footsteps, pioneering many ship design innovations including the construction of the first naval frigate.  He became the second Pett to be Commissioner of the Chatham Dockyard (1649-60).

Peter Pett and The Sovereign of the Seas
Painting by Peter Lely, 1637

Pett refers to Charles several times in his autobiography.  In 1633 Phineas Pett wrote about a trip that he took by sea from Chatham to Suffolk with his sons Peter and Christopher and his 'man' Charles Bowles. ref. The purpose of the trip was to propose terms for the marriage of his son Peter to Katharine Cole the daughter of his old friend and fellow Shipwright of the Royal Navy, Thomas Cole of Woodbridge. ref.  That marriage occurred in September 1633. ref. 

Charles is again mentioned by Pett in 1635 when describing a trip he made to Durham accompanied by his son Christopher, Charles Bowles and a guide.  In the footnote to that reference, the editor of the autobiography states that Charles was Phineas' clerk.  ref.

In October 1637 Charles Bowles married Agnes Cole, another daughter of Thomas Cole's, so perhaps more than one marriage was founded during that trip to Woodbridge.  The fact that Peter Pett and Charles Bowles married sisters is a good indication of the strength of the connection between Charles and the Petts.

Note: although Charles is the only Bowles for whom we can find personal connections to Phineas Pett, it's interesting that two contemporary Bowles families nearby, The Bowles of St. Margaret's at Cliffe and the Bowles of Deal, both used the given name Phineas which implies a more general connection between the two families.


Early History of the Petts and Boles in Kent

This part is just speculation but the Bowles and Pett relationship in Chatham may have extended back 100's of years earlier to Shalmsford near Chartham, Kent.

From what I can find online, the so-called Pett Dynasty of shipwrights extended back to the early 1500's. ref.  The family name goes back to the 13th century in Kent generally appearing first as 'atte Pet' or 'del Pet' meaning 'at the pit' or 'of the pit'.  That would imply that the origin of the name Pett would have been a family who lived near a large hole in the ground.  Perhaps a quarry.  I have found references to the 'atte Pett' surname right in Chatham in the 14th century. ref.  I have not found any Bowles references in Chatham at that early date but there are earlier references for both families in business together near Chartham.  in 1457 a Thomas Bolle held a lease on Chartham Manor in Shalmsford near Chartham with a William Pette ref.  This manor would later be renamed Bolles Hall.  According to W.H. Bowles' research these same Bolles seem to have moved to Chatham sometime after 1510. ref.  

Slightly earlier there was an Exchange Agreement signed in Chartham in 1407 which was witnessed by William Bolle, John Petite and three others. ref.  Petite is not unlike Pett especially to a clerk whose first language was probably French in that period.

We also know from a land grant from 1467 that the heirs of John Petyt of Shalmsford inherited land adjacent to the Boles land in Ickham. ref.  See The Boles of Ickham for more about the history of the Bolles family there which extended back into the 1200's. 

This second use of this spelling makes it a slightly stronger case that this family was indeed named Petite/Petyt rather than Pett but there are two other possibilities.  A branch of the 'atte Pet' family may have used the Petite name for some time before this early period when Norman landlords held all the power and business was conducted in French or the Pett family's origin may have been a Norman line named Petite rather than a family who lived near a pit.  This will take some more research.

Note: I said this was just speculation but I find it interesting and I will take this question up again in the future.  I welcome any comments from anyone more informed on this subject area than myself.

This site was last updated 10/19/18