Abell, William (DNB00)

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ABELL, WILLIAM (fl. 1640), alderman of London, was elected alderman of Bread Street ward in 1636. He was a vintner by trade, and in 1637 became sheriff of London and master of the Vintners' Company. The guild was engaged at the time in a financial dispute with the king. Charles I had made heavy and illegal demands upon the vintners' resources, and on their resisting his proposals his ministers had threatened proceedings against them in the Star Chamber. But Abell undertook, at the instigation of the Marquis of Hamilton, and with the aid of Richard Kilvert, a liveryman, stated to be the alderman's cousin, to bring the vintners to terms. With some trouble he obtained from them a promise to pay to the king 40s. per tun on all wine sold by them, on the understanding that they might charge their customers an additional penny per quart. Abell was nominated one of the farmers of the new duty; but many merchants refused to pay it, and Abell petitioned for means to coerce them. In 1639 Abell, whose name had become a byword in the city as a venal supporter of the government and as a placehunter, became the licenser of tavern-keepers, and in that office did not diminish his unpopularity. Barely a month elapsed after the first meeting of the Long Parliament before Abell was summoned to answer the committee of grievances for his part in the imposition of the arbitrary duty of 40s. per tun on wine. On 27 Nov. 1640 he was committed to the custody of the sergeant-at-arms by order of the Commons. Bail was refused, and on 26 May 1641 it was resolved to bring in a bill against Abell and Kilvert as ‘projectors’ of the 40s. duty, ‘to the end to make them exemplary.’ On 1 Sept. following Abell was released on bail in 20,000l., and on 9 April 1642, having been declared a ‘delinquent,’ he offered to make his submission to the house; on payment of 2,000l. his request was granted, and pardon promised him. Ten years later Abell was again imprisoned. On 12 March 1652 he was given into the custody of Sir John Lenthall on the petition of certain persons to whom he owed money, borrowed in behalf of the Vintners' Company several years previously. He was not, however, kept in close confinement, but allowed to reside with his son at Hatfield, Herts. On 5 May 1652 it was reported to the council of state that he had spoken ‘dangerous words’ against the existing government, and measures were devised to keep him under closer surveillance. On 25 Feb. 1653–4 he petitioned the judges sitting at Salters' Hall for the payment of 1,333l. 13s. 4d. owing to him from persons concerned with him in farming the wine duty. On 7 June 1655 a passport to Holland was given to him, but nothing seems ascertainable of his subsequent career.

A number of pamphlets and broadsides condemning Abell's action in the matter of the wine duty appeared in 1640 and 1641. Soon after his first imprisonment by the Commons Thomas Heywood published (18 Dec. 1640) a tract dealing with ‘a priest, a judge, and a patentee,’ in which Abell was severely attacked as the patentee. In 1641 appeared ‘An Exact Legendary, compendiously containing the whole life of Alderman Abel, the maine Proiector and Patentee for the raising of Wines.’ He is here described as springing from the lowest class of society, and thriving through his extreme parsimony. His wealth is computed at from ‘ten to twelve thousand pounds.’ He is denounced as having ‘broken’ both ‘merchants and retailors,’ and the city is described as rejoicing in his removal from his shop in Aldermanbury to a ‘stronger house.’ Other tracts relating to Abell, all of which appeared in 1641, bear the titles: ‘The Copie of a Letter sent from the Roaring Boyes in Elizium, to two errant Knights of the Grape in Limbo, Alderman Abel and Mr. Kilvert;’ ‘Time's Alteration;’ and ‘The Last Discourse betwixt Master Abel and Master Richard Kilvert.’ An attempt to defend Abell from the charge of obtaining by undue influence the consent of the Vintners' Company to the wine duty was printed under the title of ‘A True Discovery of the Proiectors of the Wine Proiect,’ and a reply to this defence appeared in ‘A true Relation of the Proposing, Threatening, and Perswading of the Vintners to yeeld to the Imposition upon Wines.’ An engraved portrait of the alderman by Hollar was issued in 1641. Above it is written ‘Good wine needs not A-Bush nor A-Bell.’ Abell is often referred to in hostile broadsides as ‘Cain's brother,’ and as ‘Alderman Medium.’

[Gardiner's Hist. of England, viii. 286–7; Commons' Journal, vol. ii.; Calendars of State Papers, 1638–41, 1652–3, 1655; Remembrancia, 14 n.; Rushworth's Collections, iv. 277–8; Catalogue of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum—Political and Personal—vol. i., where full accounts of the broadsides relating to Abell may be found.]

S. L. L.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.1
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
35 ii 11f.e. Abell, William: for 1687 read 1636
36 i 31-34  for Ten years later .... alderman read In the same year he resigned his office of alderman. Ten years later Abell was again imprisoned