Sir Robert Bell, Kt., MP, Speaker of the House of Commons

Is your surname Bell?

Research the Bell family

Sir Robert Bell, Kt., MP, Speaker of the House of Commons's Geni Profile

Share your family tree and photos with the people you know and love

  • Build your family tree online
  • Share photos and videos
  • Smart Matching™ technology
  • Free!

Sir Robert Bell

Birthdate: (38)
Birthplace: Outwall, Norfolk, England
Death: July 22, 1577 (38)
Worcester, Worcestershire, England (Gaol fever - transmitted to him while he was a judge, not a prisoner)
Immediate Family:

Son of Father of Robert Bell and Mother of Robert Bell
Husband of Mary Bell; Elizabeth Bell and Dorothy Peyton
Father of mary elizabeth belt; Margaret le Strange; Dorothy Hobart (Bell); Sir Edmund Bell, Kt.; Sir Robert Bell, Kt. and 6 others

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Sir Robert Bell, Kt., MP, Speaker of the House of Commons

Family and Education

  • educ. ?Camb.; M. Temple, called.
  • m. (1) Mary, daughter of Anthony Chester, s.p.;
  • m. (2) Elizabeth, wid. of Edmund Anderson, s.p.;
  • m. (3) 15 Oct. 1559, Dorothy, daughter and coheir of Edmund Beaupré of Beaupré Hall, 4 sons, 3 daughters
  • Knighted Jan. 1577.

Offices Held

  • Of counsel to King’s Lynn 1560, recorder from 1561;
  • bencher M. Temple 1565, Autumn reader 1565, Lent reader 1571;
  • j.p.q. Norfolk from 1564,
  • Commissioner of grain 1576,
  • Commissioner of musters by 1576;
  • serjeant-at-law 22 Jan. 1577;
  • chief baron of the Exchequer 24 Jan. 1577.
  • Speaker of House of Commons 1572-6.


Bell’s emergence from obscurity dates from a fortunate third marriage, which brought him a large estate in Norfolk, the status and local offices that went with it, and progress in his profession. He became legal counsel, then recorder, and afterwards MP for the local borough of King’s Lynn, some 12 miles from his wife’s estate. After making a thorough nuisance of himself to the government in the 1563 and 1571 Parliaments, Bell became Speaker in 1572, and, finally, poacher turned gamekeeper, ‘a sage and grave man, and famous for his knowledge in the law’.

Apart from an appearance as counsel at the bar in connexion with the bishop of Winchester’s lands (6 Mar. 1559), the first mention of Bell in the journals is in 1566, when he was lampooned in a ‘lewd pasquil’ as ‘Bell the orator’. Speaking on 19 Oct. that year, he ‘did argue very boldly’ to pursue the succession question in the face of the Queen’s command to leave it alone. In her own words ‘Mr. Bell with his complices ... must needs prefer their speeches to the Upper House to have you, my lords, consent with them, whereby you were seduced, and of simplicity did assent unto it’, a reference to the conferences of 23 and 31 Oct. Cecil, too, noted Bell as one of the two leading trouble-makers in this Parliament.

Early in the next Parliament (5 Apr. 1571) Bell launched an attack on the Queen’s purveyors, who took ‘under pretence of her Majesty’s service what they would at what price they themselves liked ...’. This was followed, in the subsidy debate two days later, by the suggestion that grievances should be remedied before supply was granted, the very grievance itself, promoters, anticipating what was to become the subject of contention between Crown and Parliament in the next century. These were licences and the abuse of promoters, for which, if remedy were provided, then would the subsidy be paid willingly [but] if a new burden should be laid on the backs of the Commons, and no redress of the common evils ... they would lay down the burden in the midst of the way, and turn to the contrary of their duties.

This speech of Bell’s was remembered by Wentworth, when he was in trouble in 1576:

  • The last Parliament, he that is now Speaker uttered a very good speech for the calling in of certain licences granted to four courtiers to the utter undoing of 6,000 or 8,000 of the Queen’s Majesty’s subjects. This speech was so disliked of some of the [Privy] Council that he was sent for and so hardly dealt with that he came into the House with such an amazed countenance that it daunted all the House.

Perhaps it was this incident that determined Bell to toe the line. His two remaining speeches in this Parliament, both on 19 Apr., were innocuous. He ‘did collect the substance’ of the resident burgesses debate ‘and in a loving discourse showed that it was necessary all places should be provided for’. But because some boroughs had not ‘wealth to provide fit men’ outsiders could sometimes be returned, and no harm done. Mindful, no doubt, of the power of the Duke of Norfolk in his county, Bell ‘wished that there might the penalty of £40 be imposed upon every borough which should make such election at the nomination of any nobleman’. Later the same day, he spoke on usury, saying ‘it standeth doubtful what usury is; we have no true definition’. Bell’s committees in 1571 were on returns (6 Apr.), the prayer book (6 Apr.), grievances (7 Apr.), fraudulent conveyances (11 Apr.), treasons (12 Apr., 11 May), non-resident burgesses (19 Apr.), church attendance (21 Apr., 19 May), procedure (21 Apr.), vagabonds (23 Apr.), promoters (23 Apr.), tellers and receivers (23 Apr.), fugitives (24 Apr.) and respite of homage (17 May).[2]

As a consequence, no doubt, of discussions behind the scenes, and, perhaps, dissatisfaction with Speaker Wray, Bell was chosen Speaker 8 May 1572. No trace of his past radicalism can be seen in the conventional phrases of his disabling speeches before the Commons that day and before the Queen on 10 May. The Queen, on her part, he was told, had ‘sufficiently heard of your truth and fidelity towards her, and ... understandeth your ability to accomplish the same’. His ‘dealings in this Parliament’ would be ‘such as shall not only satisfy her Majesty’s expectation and confirm that good opinion which she hath conceived of your former doings, but also increasing the same ...’. Bell’s second oration of that day is interesting in that it was not just ornament, ‘too full of flattery, too curious and tedious’, as was usual for the period. Some of it is worth quoting, from the version preserved in the journals of Thomas Cromwell, as an early example of the taste for precedents that became commonplace in the history of the House during the seventeenth century:[3]

Mr. Bell’s second oration.

  • Your highness’ noble progenitors kings of this realm not many years after the conquest did publish and set forth divers ordinances and constitutions. But the same was not confirmed by parliament, and therefore proved perilous as well in not sufficiently providing for those which deserved well nor sufficient authority for punishment of them which deserved contrary. Whereupon King Henry III finding no such perfection therein as he did desire, by the mature deliberation and grave advice of his lords and council did condescend to walk in a new course of government, in which he determined that all things should be provided for by authority of parliament; and shortly after called two of the same, the first at Merton, a the second at Marlborough, b in which divers things before set forth but by charter were then confirmed and ratified by parliament, which have since been received and obeyed; who after that experience had taught him the benefit thereof did prosecute the same all the time of the rest of his reign. And King Edward I did the like, who called a parliament for one only cause, which was for that temporal possessions were gathered together by abbots and other spiritual persons and corporations, to restrain the same from that time forwards and to provide that they should live only of their spiritual promotions. c I mean to note principally but two or three statutes for my purpose. In the xiii th year of his reign he called another parliament for the punishment of felonies and robberies done by vagabonds. d In the xiiii th [recte 13 Ed. I] year of his reign he called another parliament for the only cause of the relief of his merchants, called statutum de mercatoribus. e And after him his son King Edward II in the ixth year of his reign called a parliament for the ending of a controversy between the spiritualty and laity concerning discipline. f These few statutes I thought good to recite, whereby it may well appear what diligent care your Majesty’s progenitors had for reformation of every small cause, and what obedience was in the subjects. Every parliament a cause by itself, and the success thereof had good allowance in the time of King Edward III, for he finding by experience the benefit thereof, in the fourth year of his reign procured it to be enacted that there should every year once at the least a parliament be kept, and oftener if need were. g I move this the rather because I think many marvel of the sudden calling of this parliament this time of the year so shortly after the end of the last. These few examples may answer such objections and satisfy every man that it is their duties to attend. If the causes before remembered were allowed sufficient causes [to] call parliaments, then let us weigh them in balances with the weight of those causes for which this parliament is called; and if for punishment of vagabonds were a sufficient cause to call a parliament, as it was indeed then great and now not small; if the relief of merchants were a sufficient cause to call a parliament, if the determination of a controversy between the clergy and laity were a sufficient cause, let us indifferently consider whether now far greater be offered unto us, I mean the preservation of the prince upon which one only cause, who seeth not that all these causes and all other causes which may concern this state doth depend. The want of good provision in one parliament may be an overthrow to the good meaning of all the rest ...

Of course this should not be taken literally. Not all these early assemblies were Parliaments to which representatives from the shires and towns had been summoned, and Bell had done no more than go through the standard books of statutes and precedents picking out a few of the more important to fit his case. There is another reference in the 1572 Parliament to the usefulness of annual Parliaments (16 May), by Recorder Fleetwood. Perhaps, as Bell suggests above, the subject was in their minds because the previous Parliament had been dissolved less than one year before the 1572 Parliament began. The rest of the oration adhered to convention. The Queen’s ‘loving subjects’ desired her preservation ‘more than the chased deer desired the soil for his refreshing’; at the time of her accession the country was ‘subject to ignorant hypocrisy and unsound doctrine’, but God inclined her heart ‘to be a defence to his afflicted church throughout all Europe’. Many benefits from her reign ‘I do forget, and yet do remember divers others which I leave for tediousness’. Bell concluded by asking for the usual ‘ordinary petitions consisting in three points’. The first was liberty of speech without which it is impossible any great matter be achieved in any conference, for except the objections on every part be heard, answered and confuted, the counsel cannot be perfected. Some speech perhaps singly and nakedly reported hath and may seem odious, which the circumstances considered and well digested carrieth no cause of offence.

The second was access to the Queen, the third that if by my imperfection I shall mistake and so misreport any message either from the House to your Majesty or from your Majesty to them that I may be received to repair anew for the declaration of the same.

Bell’s closing speech, 30 June 1572, after a session devoted to the question of Mary Queen of Scots, ‘the weightiest [cause] that I have known any Parliament called in my time’, was devoted to urging the necessity for her execution. This speech and Bell’s part in the 1576 session, which included the storms over Peter Wentworth’s sequestration and the Arthur Hall privilege case (Hall ‘injuriously impeached’ Bell’s memory in his book) have been examined elsewhere. At the end of the day the impression is of a Speaker who handled the House firmly enough to satisfy the Queen and Privy Council without compromising too many of his principles. His support for Robert Snagge and his abhorrence of ‘tale tellers’, for example, have to be admired. Snagge made a speech in the House to the effect that the Queen and the noblemen represented their own voice only, the knights and burgesses of the lower house represented all the commonalty of the realm, ‘sinister reports’ of which extraordinary sentiments soon reached the Lords (and, no doubt, the Queen), and on 11 June 1572, Snagge desired ‘the House to aid him’. Wentworth thought the freedom of the House taken away by tale tellers, and therefore very necessary to search them out and to send to the Lords to know from whence the information was received.

This was dynamite to a Speaker whose future career depended entirely upon government patronage, but Bell thought it ‘very necessary to be considered of’ and that it impeacheth the credit of the House that we should suffer [the tale tellers] unreproved. It had been his duty, if no man else had done it, to have reproved such speech.

He remembered Snagge’s original comments ‘very well and tended to such end as hath been declared, that the Lords represented themselves only, the commonalty represented here as it were by attornies’. That all this was not, from Bell’s point of view, a storm in a teacup can be seen from the words of the Queen herself at the end of that session. She disliked an implication that you all or some of you conceive the reports and messages should be told to her Highness to the drawing of her misliking to some of the House.

Perhaps Bell was lucky that he was Speaker fairly early in the reign; certainly too little is known of what went on behind the scenes. At any rate, by the end of the 1576 session the authorities not only considered that he had done his stint in the Commons, but positively rewarded him. At the New Year promotions following the end of the session he was advanced to serjeant, knighted and made a judge. But at the Oxford assizes that summer he caught gaol fever, moved on to Worcester, and there, after holding the assizes, he died 25 July. He made a codicil to his will that day, directing the sale of certain land for the payment of debts, and bequeathing a lease to John Peyton I who married Bell’s widow, moved into Beaupré Hall, and succeeded him as MP for King’s Lynn for the rest of the 1572 Parliament.4

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: P. W. Hasler


  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 2. DNB; Al. Cant. i(1), p. 128; Foss, Judges, v. 458, 461; King’s Lynn congregation bk.; Muster Returns (Norf. Rec. Soc.), 25, 39; Neale, Parlts. i. 91-2, 146, 162; HMC Hatfield, i. 34; Trinity, Dublin, anon. jnl. ff. 7, 28, 31; I. Temple Petyt ms 538/17, f. 252; CJ, i. 56, 75, 83, 84, 85, 86, 89, 90, 91; D’Ewes, 50, 124, 125, 127, 156, 157, 158, 159, 160, 165, 166, 171, 173, 176, 178, 179, 183, 184, 186.
  • 3. Trinity, Dublin, Thos. Cromwell’s jnl. ff. 3-5, citing the following: a: The provisions of Merton (1236), the comprehensive statute setting out the law on land tenure, baronial rights etc. b: The Statute of Marlborough (1267) of similar content. c: The Statute of Mortmain (1279) which restricted grants to religious foundations. d: The Statute of Winchester, crucial in the history of criminal law. e: The Statute of Merchants (1285), which clarified the Statute of Acton Burnell (1283) devised to meet the grievances of merchants who found it difficult to collect their debts. f: The Articles for the Clergy (1315). g: A reference to clause 14 of 4 Ed. III (1330) to this effect. The statute fell into desuetude after the 1340s.
  • 4. Trinity, Dublin, Thos. Cromwell’s jnl. ff. 61, 62, 69-71 et passim; CJ, i. 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 104, 125; D’Ewes, 196, 205, 206, 213, 214, 215, 232, 257, 258, 260, 265; Neale, i. passim; Flenley, Cal. Reg. Council, Marches of Wales, 171-2; PCC 35 Daughtry; King’s Lynn congregation bk. 1569-91, ff. 186, 189.
  • From:
  • --

Married 22 April 1590 Blickling, England.

  • 'Robert Bell (Speaker of the House of Commons)
  • 'Sir Robert Bell SL (died 1577) of Beaupre Hall, Norfolk, was a Speaker of the House of Commons (1572–1576), who served during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
  • 'Knighted 1577, Of Counsel, King's Lynn 1560,[1] Of Counsel, Great Yarmouth from 11 February 1562-3, DNB[2] Recorder from 1561, Bencher Middle Temple 1565, Autumn Reader 1565, Lent Reader 1571,[1]Justice of the Peace of the Quorum, Norfolk from 1564, Speaker 8 May 1572, Commissioner of Grain 1576, Musters by 1576, 22 January 1577-Serjeant-at-Law, 24 January 1577-Chief Baron of the Exchequer.[1
  • Marriages
  • 'Bell is reported to have married:
  • '1. Mary Chester, daughter of Anthony Chester.[1][3]
  • '2. Elizabeth Anderson (d.1556-58?), widowed daughter in law of Edmund Anderson, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas.[3]
  • '3. Dorothie, daughter and co-heiress of Edmonde Beaupre, Esq., d. 1567, and Katherine Wynter, daughter of Phillip Bedingfeld of Ditchingham, Norfolk.[1][4][5]
  • Parentage and ancestry
  • 1. 1850, James Alexander Manning, Speakers
  • ' "The subject of this memoir is stated to have been born of a respectable Norfolk family, whose pedigree, however, according to the Herald's visitations for that county, commencing only with himself, we are unable to give any account of his ancestry, although Mr. Bell was allied, by marriage, to some of the most ancient and illustrious families of England."[6]
  • 2. 1921, Harold Wilberforce Bell, (Sir) "Notes and Queries"
  • Sir Robert Bell of Beaupre (12 S. vi. 39 ; vii. 178, 414, 475).------I am grateful to Mr. Bedwell for asking my authority for my statement regarding "Robert Bell of the Temple" in 12 S. vii. 414. As a result of further scrutiny of some papers, I find that the records of the College of Arms and of the Temple do not quite tally with regard to the Robert Bell referred to. From the records in the former---which was the principal authority for my statement---it appears that the arms "Sable on a chevron between three church bells Argent as many lion's heads couped Gules" were granted by patent in 1560 to "Robert Bell of the Temple, London, son of William Bell of co. York." These were not the Arms borne by 'Sir Robert Bell of Beaupre, which were Sable a fess Ermine between three church bells Argent" There were thus two Robert Bells of the Temple about that time." ....[7]
  • 3. 1948, Harold Wilberforce Bell, Notes and Queries.
  • ' "It is curious that little or nothing is known of the parentage of Sir Robert Bell;"... " There is, perhaps, no other Speaker of the House of Commons of whom so little is known." "He was, however, probably of Yorkshire descent [of the ancient family of De Bella Aqua]"[8]
  • 4. 1981, Peter Hasler, of The History of Parliament, House of Commons 1558-1603, HMSO.[1]
  • ' "Bell's emergence from obscurity dates from a fortunate third marriage"...
  • 5. 2004, Professor Graves, ‘Bell, Sir Robert (d. 1577) ’, Oxford DNB, Oxford University Press.[3]
  • ' "Bell, Sir Robert (d. 1577), Judge and Speaker of the House of Commons, is of unknown parentage and origins, although he may have come from a Norfolk or Yorkshire family."
  • 6. 2005, Peter O'Donoghue, Bluemantle Pursuivant, Arms and Pedigrees of Bell.
  • ' "Extensive searches have been conducted in the official registers of Arms and pedigrees held by the College of Arms, and in other heraldic and genealogical manuscripts in our archive"... "The entry listed above suggests that Sir Robert may have been the son of William Bell of Hertfordshire." "It is intriguing that no official record of the Arms was taken at the Visitations, yet other sources suggest that heralds were aware of his or his descendants' claim to a right to Arms."[4]
  • 7. 2010, Richard R L Bell, Tudor Bells Sound Out.
  • ' "Comprehensive and systematic research has been undertaken in an attempt to discover the parentage and ancestry of Sir Robert Bell. Respected historians, heralds, and other professional research specialists have been consulted and commissioned to assist with arriving at a final conclusion. The fruits of these labors helped with the production of an illuminated pe de gree, that has effectively revealed the historical topography related to the Bell's, however, with great lamentation, it appears that any record of his parentage and antecedent's has either been lost or remains sealed in the dark for future generations to unearth, perhaps through the use of genetic genealogy.[9]
  • Education and religion
  • 'Bell may have been privately tutored or mentored by John Cheke,[9] a close friend and kinsman of William Cecil, (Lord Burghley), Queen Elizabeth's 'chief advisor,' who has been appraised as "the probable 'behind the scenes architect of the '1566 succession question,'"[10] that Bell had been chosen to represent the House of Commons; and who is credited with recommending Bell for Speaker in 1572.[10] Cheke was also a relative and close friend of Peter Osbourne, a fellow Exchequer colleague of Bell's, whose daughter Anne, married Bell's first son and heir Edmond.
  • 'In 1566, Robert Bell was lampooned by Thomas Norton as "Bell the Orator" together with others who served on the succession committee. Most of the individuals featured in this publication were Puritans, for example, Christopher Yelverton who is styled "Yelverton the Poet."[1] HoP
  • 'Scholars have surmised that Robert Bell may have attended Cambridge (Protestant leanings 16th century),[1][3][11] which can be supported by his political alignments during the 1566, parliamentary session, in particular, "Mr. Bell's complices"... (Richard Kingsmill and Robert Monson)[1] HoP with whom the Queen referred, during the debate that touched the issues concerning the succession question.
  • 'He clearly gained admittance to the Middle Temple, where he excelled, having been qualified to sit as a Bencher, and subsequently elevated to the honor of both Lent and Autumn Reader. During the period that he attended the Middle Temple, the religious denomination of the pupils and Masters of the bench was primarily Catholic, with emerging factions of Protestants, balancing the Elizabethan membership. The register that would have recorded where he had been formerly educated, or where he attended church has long been lost.[12]
  • 'Of course, notwithstanding the above, Bell may have been one of a number of individuals that were significantly impacted, as a result of the Church Reformations, carried out by Henry VIII and his successors Edward VI and Mary I.
  • 'Embracing an 'erastian position, that is, supporting the right of the monarch to decide the religion of the realm,'[13]would have provided the catalyst that promoted Bell's ability to unite the House collectively, on a solid foundation. Furthermore, he seems to have been successful with resolving differences between fellow Members of Parliament during the various committees that he was active, while furthering the Protestant cause; including the Prayer Book.[1]
  • 'An example of Robert Bells' sentiments, can be clearly derived, by examining his contrasting description of the reign of Mary I, and that of Elizabeth's: "Mr Bell's second 'Oration' 8 May 1572":
  • " The Queen's 'loving subjects' desired her preservation 'more than the 'chased deer' desired the soil for his refreshing'; at the time of her accession the country was subject to ignorant hypocrisy and unsound doctrine', but God inclined her heart 'to be a defense to his afflicted church throughout all Europe.' Many benefits from her reign 'I do forget, and yet do remember divers others which I leave for tediousness'."[1]
  • Career
  • 'Bell, achieved notable success at the beginning of his career, specifically (6 March 1559), upon accomplishing favorable results for the patentees of the lands of John White, bishop of Winchester, involving a suit that protected their interest; of which he was of counsel together with Alexander Nowell.[14]
  • 'His career was further secured and launched with his fortunate marriage (15 October 1559), to the baroness Dorothie Beaupre. This afforded him not only a family, but a large estate in Outwell, along with the local offices and status that came with it; including the office of MP, for King's Lynn. During the 1563, 1566, and 1571 parliaments, Bell made a 'thorough' nuisance of himself to the government, and was considered a radical; noted by William Cecil as one of the two leading trouble makers during the 1566, session.[1][3]
  • 'Additionally, it would appear that, Elizabeth I, witnessed this 'maverick' style of behavior, as 'on 19 October 1566, '[Bell] did argue very boldly' to pursue the succession question; "in the face of the Queen's command to leave it alone". "In her own words 'Mr Bell with his complices... must needs prefer their speeches to the upper house to have you, my lords, consent with them, whereby you were seduced, and of simplicity did assent unto it'.[1]
  • 'Of course, it should be clarified that he was merely conveying the concern of the House, following Elizabeth's near death illness, and for the realm, which may have collapsed into civil war upon her death.
  • 'Five years later during the next parliament (5 April 1571) he re focused his attention, and [boldly'] launched an attack on the Queen's purveyors, who took 'under pretence of her Majesty's service what they would at what price they themselves liked...' 'Later in 1576, this speech was recalled by Peter Wentworth during his motion for liberty of speech: 'The last Parliament he that is now Speaker uttered a very good speech for the calling in of certain licenses granted to four courtiers to the utter undoing of 6,000 or 8,000 of the Queen Majesty's subjects. This speech was so disliked by some of the [Privy] council, that he was sent for and so hardly dealt with that he came into the House with such an amazed countenance that it daunted all the House,...' to the extent that for several day's no matter of great importance was raised or considered.[1] DNB
  • 'Nevertheless, on 19 April 1571, he was an advocate for the residents of less fortunate boroughs, " 'and in a loving discourse showed that it was necessary that all places should be provided for equally'." "but because some boroughs had not 'wealth to provide fit men' outsiders could sometimes be returned and no harm done". He further, proposed that all boroughs who sought to nominate a nobleman, should suffer a substantial financial penalty [40£], "mindful, no doubt of the power of the Duke of Norfolk in his county."[1]
  • 'From 1570-72, he served as crown counsel,[3] and, perhaps, it was Bell's outspokenness, hitherto, that revealed his niche, as shortly following these events, he was recommended by William Cecil for Speaker (Prolocutor),[10] elected by the House, and approved by Elizabeth I, 8 May 1572.[6] 'The Queen on her part', he was told, had 'sufficiently heard of your truth and fidelity towards her and... understandith your ability to accomplish the same.'[1]
  • 'Bell's second disabling speech of that day was full of luminous detail and "was a model of circumspection:, a lawyer's piece larded with legal precedent; in his careful transmission of royal messages and his preference that attempts to persuade a reluctant queen should be by written arguments rather than by his spoken word;"[3] 'some of it is worth quoting'... 'as an early example of the taste for precedents that became common place in the history of the House during the seventeenth century.'
  • '.."Mr. Bell's second Oration."
  • '.."Your highness' noble progenitors kings of this realm not many years after the conquest did publish and set forth divers ordinances and constitutions. But the same was not confirmed by parliament, and therefore proved perilous as well in not sufficiently providing for those which deserved well nor sufficient authority for punishment of them which deserved contrary...
  • 'While Speaker, he presided over some of the more dynamic issues of the Elizabethan Parliaments, notably, the security of the realm, and a session concerning the question of Mary, Queen of Scots; where he was advised to shorten the discussion upon receiving a royal message that was whispered in his ear by Christopher Hatton.[15]
  • 'In 1575, he revisited the succession question, and on this occasion respectfully, petitioned Elizabeth "to make the kingdom further happy in her marriage, so that her people might hope for a continual succession of benefits in her posterity." Although he exhibited great courtesy during the course of his plea, Elizabeth still refused.[6]
  • 'Bell's foresight and infallible support of the Crown, helped forge the realm under Elizabeth's rule, and following the 1576 session he was honorably rewarded and nominated for membership of a high powered committee for a special visitation of Oxford, that included Christopher Wray, Edwin Sandys then bishop of London and John Piers then bishop of Rochester and four others. (State Papers, Domestic, Elizabeth, p. 543)
  • Honors
  • 'In 1577, during the New Year's promotions, Elizabeth I, conferred a knighthood to him, made him her Serjeant-at-Law, and appointed him Chief Baron of the Exchequer; a post that he retained during the period that Francis Drake wrote the government, claiming his bounty to build his three ships in Aldeburgh,* together with the arrangements he secured from his investors, for his 1577, voyage to circumnavigate the globe.[16]
  • 'Bells' contemporaries respected his contributions to society; notably, James Dyer, Edmund Plowden and the historian, William Camden who considered him a 'lawyer of great renowne,' a "Sage and grave man, famous for his knowledge in the law, and deserving the character of an upright judge, good name, and reputation."[1][2][3]
  • Death and commemoration
  • 'Unfortunately, he was not afforded the opportunity of enjoying his success, for very long. While presiding as judge, at the Oxford assizes, (afterward deemed the Black Assizes), a tragic event would end his life; when he became exposed to prisoners of foul condition during the trial of a book seller who had slandered the Queen. This stench is thought to have caused a pestilent vapor and Bell (along with an estimated 300 others) caught gaol fever.[3], (Camden, Annals, bk. 2.376)
  • 'He then moved on to Leominster, and after presiding over the assize in that district, fell ill; where on the 25thof July, he made good use of his last hours, drafting a codicil to his will, where he made his 'Loving wife Dorothie sole executor' and directed the selling of certain property for payment of debts, and future provisions for his family:
  • ' "This Codicell and Addicon, made by me Sr Robert Bell knight Cheiff Barron of her maties Exchequer the xxvijth Daye of Julye in the yeare of oure Lorde God one Thowsande fyve hundred Seaventie Seaven, wch I will and my trewe meaninge is that it shalbe annexed and added unto my last will and Testament remayninge at my howse at Bewprehall in Norff ffirst I will my Bodye shalbe buryed in the same Towne where yt shall please God to call me at the discreation of my cheff Sr’nnts that shalbe aboute me at the Daye of my death...."
  • '..."and the money thereof cominge to be ymployed towardes the payment of my Debtes and bringinge upp of my children at the order and discreation of my saide Executrix "[4]
  • 'Preceding this loss, he had devoted his time and attention with expanding his family home, and had commissioned The Guild of Glaziers? with the production of heraldic stained glass panels, representing the various marital alliances that were shared by the Beaupre's and the Bell's. The panels were originally displayed' and incorporated around the entry way of Beaupre Hall, Norfolk, and were later cut down and relocated to windows in the rear of the Hall; perhaps after 1730[9] when the antiquary, Beaupre Bell, succeeded to the property.[6]
  • After his death in 1741, Mr. Greaves succeeded, who had married Beaupre Bell's sister (of whom we owe for saving the glass relics). Their daughter Jane brought it by marriage to the Townley family, who held Beaupre Hall until it passed into the hands of Mr. Edward Fordham Newling, and his brother,[17] who anticipated the Hall's ruin, and wished that the stained glass panels would be placed in the care and possession of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, where they are currently on display.
  • One may find that two panels of similar design had been commissioned in 1577:
  • '1.The Arms of Sir Robert Bell.
  • '2.The Arms of Sir Robert Bell impaling Harington (the Harington Arms are depicted with the cadency mark 'a label'); a relative in connexion with, John Harington, first Baron Harington of Exton (1539/40–1613) who married Anne (c.1554–1620), the daughter and heir of Robert Keilwey, Lent Reader, Treasurer and member of the Inner Temple.[9]
  • Sir John's father, Sir James Harington of Exton Hall, Rutland, married Lucy, daughter of William Sidney of Penshurst, Kent.
  • Sir William Sidney's son, Henry Sidney lord deputy of Ireland, was a neighbor of John Peyton and Dorothy daughter of Sir John Tyndale. The Peytons' second son, John Peyton "served in Ireland under their friend and neighbor Sir Henry Sidney of Penshurst, and in 1568, he was again in Ireland with Sidney, then lord deputy and had become a member of Sidney's household."[18]
  • 'After Bell's untimely death in 1577, John Peyton married Bell's widow Dorothy, where from her estate, Peyton gained position and status in the county of Norfolk, and would later become lieutenant of the Tower of London.
  • Descendants
  • "Amongst the many great families with whom the Bells were connected by their various marriages, we may mention.... Beaupre, [Montfort] , De Vere, Bedingfeld, Knyvett, Oldfield, Osbourne, Wiseman, Deering, Chester, Oxburgh, Le Strange, Dorewood, Oldfield, Peyton, and Hobart, all persons of great eminence and distinction."[6][19]
  • 1. His first son, Sir Edmond Bell (de Beaupre)[4] bap. 7 April 1562, bur. 22 Dec 1607, MP for King's Lynn, & Aldeburgh 'invested heavily in privateering,'[1][20] married 1., Anne the daughter of Peter Osbourne and Anne Hays 2. Muriell Knyvet the daughter of Thomas Knyvet, 1st Baron Knyvet High Sheriff of Norfolk (c. 1539-1618) and Merriell Parry, the daughter of Thomas Parry (Comptroller of the Household) and Anne Reade.
  • 2. His second son Sir Robert Bell (de Beaupre)[4] b. (c. 1563, d. 1539), was a 'Captain of a company in the low countries' MP, built ships for the navy, (c. 1600) married Elizabeth Inkpen.
  • 3. His third son, Synulpholus Bell, Esq., b. March 1564, d. 1628, of Thorpe Manor, issue 8 sons, 3 dau., of Norfolk, married Jane (Anne) daughter of Christopher Calthrop and Jane Rookwood (daughter of Roger Rookwood).
  • 4. His fourth son, Beaupre Bell b. c. 1570, d. 1638, literary scholar of Cambridge, admitted to Lincolns Inn, 1594, was made Governor of the Tower of London in 1599.[21]
  • 5. His fifth son, Phillip Bell b. 14 June 1574, d. after 1630, Fellow of Queens College, Cambridge (1593-7) [9]
  • 6. His daughter, Margaret Bell b. before 1561, d. 14 September 1591, married Sir Nicholas Le Strange of Norfolk; the son of Sir Hamon Le Strange (c.1534-1580) and Elizabeth Hastings; daughter of Sir Hugh Hastings of Elsing, 14th Lord Hastings (d. c.1540) and Catherine Le Strange (d. 2 February 1558).
  • 7. His daughter, Dorothy b. 19 October 1572, d. 30 April 1640, married Henry Hobart,[22] Chief Justice of the Common Pleas; who labored together with Francis Bacon, to draft and procure the charters for the London and Plymouth Company.[23]
  • 8. His daughter, Frances b. (posthumous) 2 December 1577, d. 09 November 1657, married Sir Anthony Dering of Kent (1558–1636), JP, of Surrenden Dering in Pluckley, Kent; the parents of Sir Edward Dering, 1st baronet (1598-1644), who married Elizabeth (1602–1622), daughter of Sir Nicholas Tufton, 1st earl of Thanet.[24]
  • Heraldry
  • The Arms of Sir Robert Bell: Sable a Fess Ermine between three Church Bells Argent
  • Sources
  • 1.^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Hasler, P. W., HoP: House of Commons 1558-1603, HMSO 1981, p. 421-4 [1]
  • 2.^ a b Foss, E., Lives of the Judges, Vol. V, London 1857, p. 458-61
  • 3.^ a b c d e f g h i Graves, M. A.R., ‘Bell, Sir Robert (d. 1577)',ODNB, OUP, 2004 accessed 13 Feb 2005
  • 4.^ a b c d e O'Donoghue, M.P.D., Report, 'Arms' and ‘pe de gree's' of Bell [Sir Robert Bell], 15 August 2005
  • 5.^ Waters, R.E.C., Genealogical Memoirs of the Extinct Family of Chester of Chicheley, their Ancestors and Descendant Vol. 1, page 120
  • 6.^ a b c d e Manning, J. A., Speakers, pb. Myers and Company, London p. 242, 245
  • 7.^ Bell, H. W. Notes and Queries, 12 S. VIII. FEB. 26, 1921 p. 175
  • 8.^ , Notes and Queries, Vol. 193 (24), 1948, pp. 515-6, OUP, Wilberforce-Bell, ‘Sir Robert Bell: Speaker of the House of Commons,1572.,’ Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer 1576- 7 [2]
  • 9.^ a b c d Bell, R.R.L., Tudor Bell's Sound Out, Rolls-privately pb, 7 September, 2006
  • 10.^ a b c MacCaffrey, W. T., 'Cecil William, first Baron Burghley (1520/21–1598),’ODNB, OUP, 2004 accessed 15 April 2005
  • 11.^ Bell, Robert in Venn, J. & J. A., Alumni Cantabrigienses, Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922–1958.
  • 12.^ Williamson, J. B., The History of the Temple of London, London, pb. John Murray (2nd ed. 1925)
  • 13.^ Summerson, H., Correspondence, 4 February 2007, (Opinion; in matters of religion) [3] [4]
  • 14.^ House of Commons, Journal Volume 1, 6 March 1559, pb. 1802, Sponsor BHOL: History of Parliament Trust
  • 15.^ MacCaffrey, W. T., ‘Hatton, Sir Christopher (c.1540-1591)’, ODNB, OUP, 2004 accessed 7 May 2005
  • 16.^ Bawlf, S., The Secret Voyage of Sir Francis Drake 1577-1580, pb. Walker Publishing Co. 2003, p. 67
  • 17.^ Hussey, C., Beaupre Hall Wisbech, Coventry Homes and Gardens Old & New, pb. Country Life, 1923
  • 18.^ Evans, H. M. E., ‘Peyton, Sir John (1544-1630)’, ODNB, OUP, 2004 accessed 7 May 2005
  • 19.^ Coll Arm Ms, The Visitations of Norfolk, 1563, William Hervey 1589, Robert Cooke and 1613, John Raven, p. 33-34 Bell. Beaupre., Ed. Walter Rye, London 1891
  • 20.^ The National Archives, UK, Catalog Reference Prob. 11/111, Image Reference 565 (C)
  • 21.^ Kupperman, K., Puritan Colonization from Providence Island through the Western Design, The William and Mary [5]
  • 22.^ Woodcock, T., and, Robinson, J. M.,Heraldry in Historic Houses of Great Britain, The National Trust, pb. 2000 [6]
  • 23.^ MacDonald, W., Documentary source book of American History, 1606-1913,1910-20-21 [7]
  • 24.^ Salt, S. P., ‘Dering, Sir Edward, first baronet (1598-1644)’, ODNB, OUP, 2004 accessed 23 May 2005
  • Likeness
  • NPG, London. (1) Robert Bell, Esq., Speaker 1572, possibly by the artist T. Athlow, (2) Sir Robert Bell, Chief Baron of the Exchequer 1577, by William Camden Edwards, after unknown artist, and the British Museum [10]
  • ____________________
  • 'Sir Robert Bell and his early Virginia Colony descendants: a compilation of ... By James Elton Bell, Frances Jean Bell
  • Pg. 111
  • '1. Sir (Knight) Robert Bell (father was William Bell) was born between 1520-1537 in Norfolk Co., or Worcester Co., England, and died 22 July 1577 in Leominster, Herefordshire, England (on circuit). He married (1) Mary Chester. He married (2) Elizabeth (Darnell) Anderson, Lady Anderson widow or daughter-in-law of Sir Edmund Anderson. He married (3) Dorothy Beaupre' Lady Bell 15 October 1559 near King's Lynn, Norfolk, England, daughter of Sir Edmund Beaupre' and Catherine Bedingfield, Dorothy was born about 1537 between King's Lynn/Wisbech, Beaupre' Hall, Outwell, Norfolk, England and died February 1602/3.
  • Pg. 112
  • 'Children of Robert Bell and Elizabeth Anderson are:
    • 2 i. Humphrey Bell born before 1560 in Norfolk or Nottingham, England: died about 1605. He married Rose Clarke 22 September 1590 in St. Mary's or Colston Bassett: born in probably Prestwold, Leicester Co., England
    • 3 ii. William Bell, born before 1560 in Norfolk or Nottingham, England, He married (1) Mary __., (2) Margaret Holden, (widow), 26 November 1599.
    • 4 iii. George Bell, born before 1560 in probably Huntingdon or Norfolk, England: died after 1638 in possibly Virginia: previously was swelling in Waynford, Northampton Co., England.
    • + 5 iv. Mary Elizabeth Bell, Lady Belt, born about 1558 in probably Norfolk, England; died about 1629.
  • Children of Robert Bell and Dorothy Beaupre' are:
    • + 6 i. Margaret Bell, Lady Le Strange, born about 1560 in Outwell, Norfolk, England: died 14 September 1591 in Hunstanton, Norfolk, England.
    • 7 ii. Sir (Knight) Edmund Bell, born 07 April 1562 in Beaupre' Hall, Outwell, Norfolk, England; ? died 1608 (will December 22, 1607, probated February 8, 1608).
    • 8 iii. Sir (Knight) Robert (jr) Bell, born about 1563 in Beaupre' Hall, Outwell, Norfolk, England, died about 1639, Capt. of a company in low countries. He married Elizabeth Inkpen about 1594: born about 1562 in possibly Winchester, Hampshire Co., England.
    • Pg. 113
    • + 9 iv. Esq. Sinolphus Bell, of Thorpe, born March 1564/65 in Beaupre' Hall, Outwell, Norfolk, England: died 1628 or 1636.
    • 10 v. Beaupre' Bell born March 1565/66 in Beaupre' Hall, Outwell, Norfolk, England, died August 1638.
  • Page 114 is not part of this book preview.
  • _________
  • 'From: 'Wisbech Hundred: Outwell and Upwell', A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 4: City of Ely; Ely, N. and S. Witchford and Wisbech Hundreds (2002), pp. 206-219.
  • Edmund Beaupré was the last of his family in the male line, his daughter bringing the manor by marriage to 'Sir Robert Bell, Speaker of the House of Commons in 1572 and later a judge, who died at the Black Assize at Oxford (1577). The marriage seems to have taken place shortly before 1561, when Beaupré settled the manor on his heirs male with remainder to Bell as his son-in-law. It was held of the queen in chief by 1/20 knight's fee. The Bell family continued to hold the manor for nearly 200 years'. Beaupré Bell senior, the last but one of the male line, was 'one of the strangest of mortals, letting his wild colts and cattle of 20 or 30 years old come into the very house, which was quite uncovered and every other way suitable, in a very ruinous condition'. (fn. 33) He seems in his youth to have run away from school or been kidnapped, £100 reward being offered for his return by his mother and guardian Dorothy Bell. (fn. 34) His son Beaupré was an antiquary, making a collection of coins and medals which he pre sented to Trinity College, Cambridge. (fn. 35) The younger Beaupré Bell's sister and heir Elizabeth, to whom he bequeathed the manor, married William Greaves of Fulbourn. (fn. 36) Their daughter Jane brought it by marriage to the Townley family, in which it has since continued, Mr. Charles E. Townley being lord in 1937, though the ownership of land is much divided.
  • ____________

Edmond Chester Waters, Esq., Genealogical Memoirs of the Extinct Family of Chester of Chicheley, their ancestors and descendants. Vol I, London, Robson and Sons, 1878, p. 120-1. Google Books online.

See the family tree on p. 120—it names five sons [Edmund, Robert, Synolphus, Beauprey, and Phillip] and three daughters [Mary, Dorothy, and Frances].

His will, on p. 121, names these five sons, but does not name or give the number of the daughters.

15 Sep 1577: Sir Robert Bell Kt. Chief Baron of the Exchequer.

Will dated 27th Mar 1577.

Beauprey my son to have when 21 all my lands, &c. in North Walsham, Mundesley, Edingthorpe, or elsewhere in Norfolk, which were sometime in possession of Geo. Heydon in right of his wife, excepting always the Manors of Longham, Titleshale, and Gunton, provided that my wife, who is joint purchaser with me, enjoy the said premises for life. My youngest son Philip to have when 21 in feetail all my lands called Ketches lying in Thorpe, which I lately purchased from Mr. Francis Thursby, saving my wife's life estate therein as aforesaid. If my wife die before my said two sons, her executors or administrators to have the profits of the said premises till my sons be 21 towards the advancements of my daughters. I leave to decend to my eldest son [Edmund] the residue of all my manors and lands in Longham, Titleshale, King's Lynn, Castleacre, Upwell, Outwell, Elm, Ely, and elsewhere in England, after my said wife's death. My second son Robert standeth assured at my purchase of the Manor of Chamberlens, Herts, by a deed of feoffment. My third son Synolphus is by a like title seised of the Manor of Thorpe. If my eldest son [Edmund] dispute my Will, then the premises devised to him to go to my two youngest sons Beauprey and Phillippe equally, with benefit of survivorship between them.

Codicil dated 25th July 1577, to be attached to my Will, remaining at my house at Beaupre Hall. To be buried where I may die. All my manors and lands in North Walsham, Mundesley, Knapton, Bradfield, &c. and my house at Lynn to be sold for payment of my debts, and bringing up of my children. Mr. John Payton to have the one moiety of the lease of Long Sutton, bought lately of Mr. Tamworth, he paying one half of the purchase money thereof.

Residue of all personalty to my wife Lady Dorothy Bell, whom I appoint my sole executrix. My servant Robert Chabnor Gent to be supervisor of my Will.

Will and Codicil proved 5th Sept. 1577 in C. P. C. (35 Daughtrey.) Robert Edmond Chester Waters, Esq., Genealogical Memoirs of the Extinct Family of Chester of Chicheley, their ancestors and descendants. Vol I, London, Robson and Sons, 1878, p. 121. Google Books online


Portrait of Sir Robert Bell, attributed to Thomas Athow, after Unknown Artist

from a miniature in the possession of F. Bell, Esq.

watercolour, early 19th century

National Portrait Gallery, London

view all 22

Sir Robert Bell, Kt., MP, Speaker of the House of Commons's Timeline

Outwall, Norfolk, England
Age 21
Outwell, Norfolk, England
Age 21
London, Greater London, United Kingdom
Age 22
Outwell, Norfolk, England, (Present UK)
Age 23
Outwell, Norfolk, England
Age 24
Outwell, Norfolk, England
March 25, 1564
Age 25
Outwell, Norfolk, England
March 1565
Age 26
Beaupre' Hall, Outwell, Norfolk, England
Age 31