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Sir John Bolle's Young Lieutenant Farmer

Back to Sir John Bolles at Dunnalong Fortress

Sir John Bolle of the Bolles of Haugh line was Sir Henry Docwra’s second in command in Queen Elizabeth’s offensive in northern Ireland in 1600.  One of the army’s first ambitions after gaining a foothold on the land and establishing their headquarters at Derry was to travel up the Foyle River to a spot where they would build Dunalong fortress which included a residence for John Bolle inside its walls.  Clearly it was expected that he would be there for a while.  However, while on a trip back to England about a year and a half later, Bolle mentions in a letter to Sir Robert Cecil that he strongly felt his separation from his family and requested approval to remain in England. (ref below) In that same letter he requests that he be released from his duty as Commander at Dunalong and that his company of foot be put under his Lieutenant Farmer’s command.  He describes Farmer as “a young gentleman of good sufficiency, and in that he is my brother-in-law, and hath served long.”

 There are different opinions online regarding just who this Lieutenant Farmer was.  My belief is that he was the son of Sir Thomas Farmer of East Barsham, county Norfolk, England, Thomas Farmer Jr., who died in Ireland shortly after his service with Sir John.  See Lieutenant Farmer Found? for my rationale.

 Some of the descendants of a Jasper Farmer of Cork state that he was the son of a Robert Fermor who was married to Sir John Bolle’s sister, Mary Bolle, and served as Sir John’s Lieutenant.  As far as I can tell that claim seems to be based on a family tradition and one reference which might or might not apply.  The family tradition of the Farmars of Clohass, Wexford which was printed in Burke’s Genealogy (ref) was that their earliest ancestor was "Robert Fermor, an officer in the army, third son of Sir George Fermor, Knt. of Eston Neston, co. Northampton, by Mary his wife, dau. and heir of Thomas Curson, Esq. of Waterperry, co. Oxford went to Ireland with Queen Elizabeth's army in which he was an officer of rank and for his services was given by the crown several valuable estates chiefly in the counties of Tipperary and Cork."  Burke's A Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Landed Gentry of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 1, by John Burke, Esq. and  John Bernard Burke, Esq., London, 1847, p. 397  The second is the reference in the 1625 Will of Lady Mary Fermor of Easton Neston, Northamptonshire that her son Robert had “lately been slain in Carlow (Ireland)”.

 The assumption seems to be that the “officer of rank” who was “for his services given by the crown several valuable estates” must have been John Bolle’s young Lieutenant, that the Lieutenant was Lady Mary’s son Robert and that since Sir John’s Lieutenant was also his brother-in-law, Robert must have married one of Sir John’s sisters, Mary being the only one available for that role.

 If there are further references to support this claim I would very much like to be told about them but they do not seem to be given online.  For me this claim fails for several reasons.

 As I’ll show below, Sir John’s Lieutenant Farmer was promoted to Captain in the summer of 1602 and then was discharged with pay from the army in November of the same year when the army in the north of Ireland was being wound down after the fall of the rebel’s last bastion at Ballyshannon.  The list of discharged officers also gives us his first name but it wasn’t Robert.

 It would also be unlikely that he would have been granted large estates anywhere in Ireland based on his limited amount of service as a Lieutenant and Captain.  Neither Sir John nor his commander Sir Henry Docwra, who held a rank equivalent to General and was later appointed Governor of Derry, received grants of estates in Ireland although Docwra wrote a letter to the Privy Council after the war that he had not been awarded any land as others of his rank and service had been. It’s even less likely that such land would be in Cork or Tipperary.  There were grants to senior officers after the Irish Rebellion was suppressed but those lands were in areas further north which had been seized from the Irish Earls who had rebelled.  Both Cork and Tipperary were largely in English hands by this time.  The land which we later find the Farmers on had been purchased in 1602 by Richard Boyle (later the Earl of Cork) from Sir Walter Raleigh, 42,000 acres in the counties of Cork, Waterford, and Tipperary including the townland of Youghal.  It wasn’t available for the Crown to grant to an officer.

 Lastly, Robert Fermor’s being slain in Carlow does not have to imply that he was serving in the Irish Army.  It turns out that Robert’s sister, Anne Fermor, and her husband Sir Barnaby Brian were actually living in Carlow Castle at the time which would give Robert an excellent reason to be there.  Also, one of the Irish Earl’s goals in the Irish Rebellion had been to claim their land back from the English.  The Kavanaghs, an ally of the O’Neills, had only recently been defeated in their bid to reclaim the land which Anne and Barnaby were then living on.  They would have been seen as the occupiers rather than the owners of their land by many of their Irish tenants which could have easily been enough reason for an attack on a visiting family member.  It would have been a dangerous area for a member of the recently victorious English minority to be in.

 William Henry Bowles states in his ‘Records of the Bowles Family’ (1918) that Sir John Bolles and a Sir Thomas Farmer were brothers-in-law “who are often mentioned together in Lord Russell’s Journal and in the Carew Manuscripts at Lambeth Library”.  Lord Russell was Lord Deputy in Ireland from 1594-97 after which he returned to England where he was a leading military figure in Queen Elizabeth’s court.  His journal only covers a period from June 24, 1594 to May 26, 1597. Carew was on the expedition to Cadiz with Sir John and later landed in Tyrone in 1600 on the same expedition as Sir John so they would have known each other well.  Carew requested a return to England in 1601 and was appointed receiver-general and vice-chamberlain to the queen in 1603.  Russell and Carew’s writings were contemporary and credible sources, they knew the people they were referring to and they would be expected to be accurate.

So, although it’s not easy to check those sources, John Bolles' brother-in-law was, almost certainly, a Sir Thomas Farmer.  Since both references were written prior to 1601 Sir John and Sir Thomas were associated in Ireland before the Ulster campaign.

 How closely does that apply to the young lieutenant who Sir John describes as his brother-in-law?  A knight was an important person and, as command came with a title, it strikes me that a peer, Sir Thomas Farmer, would not likely serve as a Lieutenant under another knight.  Possibly a young (say 20 to 25) son or a nephew of his might. Possibly Bolles might also term his brother-in-law’s son as his brother-in-law.

To summarize what I believe we do know:

In a letter John Bolle wrote to Secretary of State Robert Cecil in June 1601 he requests that he be released from his duty as Commander at Dunalong and that his company of foot be put under his Lieutenant Farmer’s command.  He describes Farmer as “a young gentleman of good sufficiency, and in that he is my brother-in-law, and hath served long.”

 There is some belief that this Lieutenant was Robert Farmer of Easton Neston but army reports tell us Sir John’s Lieutenant’s first name was Thomas.  Please see  Lieutenant Farmer’s Military Career  



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This site was last updated 01/29/21