Gell, John (1593-1671) (DNB00)

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GELL, Sir JOHN (1593–1671), parliamentarian, son of Thomas Gell of Hopton, Derbyshire, and Millicent, daughter of Ralph Sacheverell, was born 22 June 1593. He matriculated as a commoner of Magdalen College, Oxford, on 16 June 1610, but left the university without a degree. (Oxf. Univ. Reg. Oxf. Hist. Soc. ii. 313; Wood, Athenæ, ed. Bliss, iii. 561). In 1612 he married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Percival Willoughby of Wollaton, Nottinghamshire. In 1635 Gell became sheriff of Derbyshire, and was consequently charged with the levy of 3,500l. from that county for ship-money. This involved him in a quarrel with Sir John Stanhope of Elvaston, Derbyshire, who refused payment, and was summoned before the council for resisting the sheriff's men (Strafford Correspondence, i. 505). Stanhope died in 1638, but Gell is said to have gratified his animosity by plundering Stan- hope's house and defacing his monument during the civil wars. The story is told in ‘Mercurius Aulicus,’ 15 Feb. 1642–3, and is repeated by Mrs. Hutchinson, but it is probably much exaggerated (Memoirs of Colonel Hutchinson, i. 180, 352, ed. 1885). Whether true or not, it did not prevent the subsequent marriage of Gell with Stanhope's widow, Mary, daughter of Sir Francis Radcliffe of Ordsal, Lancashire.

On 29 Jan. 1641–2 Gell was created a baronet, and the title remained in his family till 1719 (Burke, Extinct Baronetage, p. 216). In October 1642 Gell raised a regiment of foot for the service of the parliament, and occupied Derby, of which town he was appointed governor by a commission from the Earl of Essex, dated 5 Jan. 1643 (Hist. MSS. Comm. 9th Rep. p. 343). Mrs. Hutchinson describes Gell's soldiers as ‘good, stout-fighting men, but the most licentious, ungovernable wretches that belonged to the parliament. He himself nor no man knows for what reason he chose that side, for he had not understanding enough to judge the equity of the cause, nor piety nor holiness, being a foul adulterer all the time he served the parliament, and so unjust that without any remorse he suffered his men to plunder both honest men and cavaliers’ (Memoirs of Colonel Hutchinson, i. 180). Gell's plunderings of the cavaliers are recorded in a pamphlet by Peter Heylyn, entitled ‘Thieves, Thieves; or a Relation of Sir John Gell's Proceedings in Derbyshire in gathering up the rents of the Lords and Gentlemen of that country by pretended authority from the two Houses of Parliament,’ 1643, 4to. Whatever Gell's moral defects may have been, he was one of the most active commanders in the service of the parliament; he captured many of the fortified homes of the royalists, held Derby throughout the war, and greatly contributed to the maintenance of Leicester and Nottingham. His military exploits are recounted in two narratives, drawn up either by Gell himself or under his immediate supervision, which are printed in Glover's ‘History of Derbyshire’ (vol. i. Appendix, pp. 62–75) and Shaw's ‘History of Staffordshire.’ The most notable of these services were his share in the capture of Lichfield and the battle of Hopton Heath (19 March 1643). The parliamentary newspapers and the pages of Whitelocke and Vicars mention him with great frequency. Mrs. Hutchinson accuses him of keeping ‘the diurnal makers in pension, so that whatever was done in the neighbouring counties against the enemy was attributed to him; and thus he hath indirectly purchased himself a name in story which he never merited’ (Memoirs of Colonel Hutchinson, i. 181). In July 1645 Gell was in command of fifteen hundred local horse, and might have intercepted the king's troops in their flight from Naseby to Leicester (Carte, Original Letters, i. 129). His neglect to do so gave rise to grave suspicions, and other charges of misconduct as a military commander were brought against him in December (Hist. MSS. Comm. 9th Rep. p. 393).

Gell seems to have taken no part in the second civil war. In 1650 he was accused of taking part in plots against the Commonwealth, committed to the Tower on 27 March 1650, tried by the high court of justice in the following August, and on 27 Sept. found guilty of misprision of treason, and condemned to forfeit his personal estate and the rents of his lands for life (on Gell's trial, see Walker, History of Independency, pt. iii. p. 24, and two tracts, The True State of the Case of Sir John Gell, and A True Confutation of The True State of the Case of Sir John Gell, by John Bernard, 1650, 4to). Gell was released from his imprisonment on 13 April 1652, and obtained a full pardon on 18 April 1653 (Hist. MSS. Comm. 9th Rep. p. 395). He next appears as one of the signatories of a Derbyshire petition to General Monck, urging him to summon a free parliament, and on 4 June 1660 made a declaration claiming the benefit of the king's act of indemnity (ib. p. 396). Gell died on 26 Oct. 1671 at his house in St. Martin's Lane, London, aged 79, and was buried at Wirksworth in Derbyshire, where his monument is still to be seen (Cox, Churches of Derbyshire, ii. 559).

[Glover's Hist. of Derbyshire, 1829; State Papers, Dom.; Memoirs of Colonel Hutchinson, ed. C. H. Firth, 1885; Gell's Papers, now in the possession of H. C. Pole Gell, esq., of Hopton Hall, calendared in the 9th Rep. of the Historical Manuscripts Commission; information communicated by P. L. Gell, esq.]

C. H. F.