Blackmore Area Local History

Sir Stephen Powle (c. 1553 - 1630)

Stephen Powle became Lord of the Manor at Blackmore upon marriage to Margaret Turner Smyth, widow of Thomas Smyth, in 1593. 
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Stephen Powle (c. 1553 – 1630)  

Sir Stephen Powle, an
Essex man, became Lord of the Manor of Blackmore from 1583 when he married Margaret Turner Smyth, widow of Thomas Smyth.  Much may be gleaned about this somewhat obscure Elizabethan man because numerous letters, manuscripts and records survive in the British Library, National Archives (as it known today) and the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

Powle (pronounced ‘Pole’) became a leading diplomat following a three year grand tour of Europe in which he learned about art, culture and, in particular, language.  This broad range of experiences, as demonstrated in his letters home, placed him in good stead despite his poor relationship with his father.  We learn from Virginia Stern’s biography that he was an agent to Queen Elizabeth at Casimir’s Court, visiting
Heidelberg University to research for Lord Burgley the genealogy of the Casimir family; acted as agent for Queen Elizabeth in Italy and engaged in diplomacy in the year of the Spanish Armada (1588).

His first marriage, to Elizabeth Woodhouse Hobart a daughter of a first cousin to Anne Boleyn in March 1589/1590, had ended in tragedy with the death of twins in infancy and his wife nine days after their birth.  Having erected an epitaph to them in St Margaret’s Church, Barking, he moved away to
Durham in an interlude which Virginia Stern describes as “recovery from tragedy”.

In late 1592 he wrote: “I learn of Mistress Smith, widow, whom I hope to marry” and by November 1593 he had taken Margaret Turner Smyth to be his second wife.  She was a wealthy widow and sole heir to the estate of her late husband Thomas Smyth of
Surrey and Smyths-Hall in Blackmore.   

The Powle biography confirms that Thomas Smyth died in 1592 and not 1594, as William Holman recorded in his notes on the parish history of Blackmore (1719) when copying the epitaph on the tomb in St Laurence Church, Blackmore.  This verifies that an entry in the Essex Archdeaconry records is that of the deceased man and the granting of probate to his widow. On 30 October 1592 we find recorded at High Ongar (Ongar Alto) Church: “Thomas Smith gent dec. intestate. Margaret Smith widow adnix: present by Rich. Stane” [ERO D/AZ/2/5].  It is said that Thomas Smyth wrote a will, and indeed there is evidence of one held at the Essex Record Office, but the Court records that he died intestate.  This may explain the battle over the inheritance which Stern refers to between Margaret and the brother and son of Thomas’ first wife, Blanche. 

Upon marriage Stephen Powle became Lord of the Manor of Smyths Hall adopting the numerous children of the previous marriage and treating them as if they were his own.  In 1598 we find that he drafts a love letter for his eldest step-son, John, and later taking some responsibility for John’s estate at Wakes Colne, being involved in the repair of a bridge at Chapell (1616).

As a Civil Servant, working at the Chancery in London, Blackmore was a pleasant rural retreat but found it more convenient to purchase a property at Mylend (Mile End, in the parish of Stepney, then Middlesex) to the North East of London, perhaps felt more comfortable being able to furnish the house more in his style.

From 1597 to 1616 Stephen Powle served as a Justice for the Peace in Essex hearing cases quarterly (Quarter Sessions) at Chelmsford, Brentwood and at his home in Blackmore and attending the Assizes every six months.  We learn that he was totally scrupulous refusing to accept gifts from parties which might have been seen as a bribe to sway the administration of justice.  In 1616 he wrote to Master Fage that he had “never been stained or polluted with any gratuity” when four gallon of sack was delivered unexpectedly to Smyth Hall.  However, in view of the effort the sender had made, he paid what he believed was the going rate for the goods.

A case of local interest heard at Smyths Hall was on 3 September 1600 when John Comaunder, alias Demander, a labourer was bound over to keep the peace against Revd John Nobbs, Rector of Stondon Massey, and John Kempe, a husbandman living in the same parish.

Stephen Powle was knighted by King James I.  In March 1608/1609 he became involved in the Virginia Company as a member of its Council.  The Company was keen to promote investment and trade in
America.  Virginia became a chief exporter of tobacco.  Powle was a friend of Walter Ralegh, a notable British explorer.

In 1621 Margareta (as Stephen referred to her) died. She was buried alongside her previous husband, in accordance with his wishes, on 28 April.  The estate at Blackmore passed to John Smyth, of Crepping Hall Wakes Colne, but it is unlikely that he took on duties there because his will was probated on
8 June 1621.  It seems likely that Stephen Powle stayed on for at little while at Smyth Hall to hand over the reins to Arthur, a younger brother to his step-son John.

In May 1623 Stephen Powle married, for a third time, to Lady Anne Wigmore (Wygmore). They probably lived the remainder of their lives at Mylend.  Sir Stephen Powle died on
26 May 1630.  His widow passed way on 9 April 1631.  Both are buried at St Margaret’s Church, Westminster in London. 

Stephen Powle is mentioned in relation to legacies, gifts and bequests given to the people of Blackmore.  Income was granted from “a piece of land called Long Croft … with a yearly payment of 5s each to 8 of the poorest women in Blackmore” (1618).  Dame Margaret Powle “charged the owner of Smyths Hall in this parish with the yearly payments of 5s each to 8 of the poorest women in Blackmore, at the discretion of the Minister, Churchwardens and Overseers” (1620).


Virginia F. Stern. ‘Sir Stephen Powle of Court and Country. Memorabilia of a Government Agent for Queen Elizabeth I, Chancery Official, and English Country Gentleman’ (United States of America by Associated University Presses Inc., 1992).

Essex Record Office. ERO D/AZ/2/5

Last updated: 9 January 2010