Francis Howgill's family origins are unknown, though his father was probably a yeoman. He was born at Todthorne near Grayrigg, Westmorland, probably in 1618. He may well have been the brother of Mary Howgill but this is not certain.
No record has been found of any attendance at university, but Francis appears to have been well-educated.
Conversion to Quakerism
Francis was a religious minister at Colton, Lancashire when he met George Fox in June 1652. Converted by Fox, he joined the Quaker movement.
He quickly started preaching the Quaker messages and was one of the 'Valiant Sixty', the set of early Quaker missionaries. He was a prolific Quaker pamphleteer.
In late 1652 he went to Appleby, Westmorland to lend support to James Nayler, who was being tried before the magistrates. When Francis refused to doff his hat as an indication of respect for the magistrates, it was forcibly removed and thrown into the fire. He was himself imprisoned along with Nayler at Appleby, probably in a house near the prison rather than in the prison itself. For part of his time in prison he seems to have declined to consume anything other than bread and water. He was released in April 1653.
Quaker Ministry in London
In 1654 he and another Quaker, John Camm, went to London to attempt to convert Oliver Cromwell. They stayed on a few days and helped to establish Quakerism in the city. They returned to London in the summer of 1654.
By the summer of 1655 Francis Howgill and Edward Burrough were well established as Quaker leaders in London. He joined some other Quaker leaders in a missionary visit to Ireland. He returned to in the spring of 1656.
In 1656 Francis was heavily involved in the difficulties in London created by some supporters of James Nayler, who disrupted Quaker gatherings in their attempt to get Nayler recognised as the leader of the Quaker movement. He was one of those whom some of Nayler's supporters sought to denigrate, and he sought to contain their actions.
Continuing Quaker Ministry
In 1657 Francis Howgill and Thomas Robertson, another Quaker, went on a missionary journey to Scotland.
In 1659 Francis, George Fox and Edward Burrough attended meetings in London.
Francis continued to be active in the Quaker movement, travelling extensively.
In 1663 Francis was tried for refusing to swear the oath of allegiance to Charles II (Quakers believed it was wrong to swear oaths0. He was sentenced to prison for life, and held at Appleby, Westmorland, where he fell sick and never recovered.
Marriage and Child
Francis married twice. His first wife, Dorothy, died in 1656. By her he had at least four children:
possibly a son Henry though this may be his son henry bu his second marriage.
No name is known for his second wife, but they had a son called Henry, born on 27 September 1665.
Francis passed away in prison at Appleby, Westmorland on 20 January 1669. He was buried at Grayrigg, Westmorland on the same day (20th day of the 11th month 1668 in the Quaker burial records).
The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography gives his death date as 11 February 1669 and his burial date as 20 February. The Quaker records cited above give his burial date as the 20th day of the 11th month (i.e. January) 1669, as do Francis Howgill's entry in the original Dictionary of National Biography and the account of his death in Besse's Sufferings of Early Quakers.