Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bell, Francis

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BELL, FRANCIS (1590–1643), Franciscan friar, was the son of William Bell of Temple Broughton, in the parish of Hanbury near Worcester, by his marriage with Dorothy Daniel of Acton Place, near Long Melford in Suffolk. He was born at Temple Broughton on 13 Aug. 1590, and in baptism received the christian name of Arthur, though on entering the religious life he assumed the name of Francis. At the age of twenty-four he entered the college of the English Jesuits at St. Omer, and after remaining there a year he was sent to the English college of St. Alban the Martyr in Valladolid, where he was ordained priest. Not long afterwards, on 9 Aug. 1618, he took the habit of St. Francis in then convent of Segovia, and on 8 Sept. 1619 he was admitted to his solemn vows and profession. Father John Gennings, who was engaged in the restoration of the English Franciscan province, sent to Spain for Bell, and placed him in the English convent newly erected at Douay. Subsequently he was appointed confessor, first to the Poor Clares at Gravelines, and afterwards to the nuns of the third order of St. Francis, then residing at Brussels. At the first general chapter of the restored Franciscan province of England, which was held (December 1630) in their convent of St. Elizabeth at Brussels, Father Bell was officially declared guardian or superior of St. Bonaventure's convent at Douay, with the charge of teaching Hebrew. Before, however, he had gone through the usual term of his guardianship, he was summoned to Brussels by Father Joseph Bergaigne, the commissary-general of the order, and for the restoring of the province of Scotland was appointed its first provincial, and sent in that capacity to the general chapter then held in Spain. On his return he was sent on the mission to England, where he arrived on 8 Sept. 1634. Here he laboured with great zeal for nine years, but at last, on 6 Nov. 1643, he was apprehended at Stevenage in Hertfordshire by a party of soldiers belonging to the parliament army, on suspicion of being a spy. The documents found in his possession revealed his true character, and he was sent under a strong guard to London, where he was examined by three commissioners deputed by the parliament for that purpose, who committed him to Newgate. Just before this his brethren had chosen him, for the second time, guardian of their convent at Douay. He was brought to trial on 7 Dec., found guilty, and executed at Tyburn on 11 Dec. 1643.

As a linguist he was distinguished among his brethren, for he was skilled in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Spanish, French, and Flemish. There is a fine portrait of him in Mason's 'Certamen Seraphicum Provinciæ Angliæ pro Sancta Dei Ecclesia,' printed at Douay in 1649.

He was the author of: 1. 'A brief Instruction how we ought to hear Mass,' Brussels, 1624; a translation from the Spanish of Andres de Soto, and dedicated to Anne, countess of Argyle. 2. 'The Rule of the Third Order of St. Francis.' 3. 'The Historie, Life, and Miracles, Extasies and Revelations of the blessed virgin, sister Ioane, of the Crosse, of the third Order of our holy Father, S. Francis. Composed by the Reuerend Father, brother Anthonie of Aca, Diffinitor of the Prouince of the Conception, and Chroinckler of the Order aforsaid. And translated out of Spanish into English by a Father of the same Order. At S. Omers, for Iohn Heigham, with Approbation, Anno 1625.' 8vo. This extremely rare translation of Father Antonio Daça's, 'Historia de la Virgen Santa Juana [Vasquez] de la Cruz' has an epistle dedicatory, signed 'Brother Francis Bell,' and addressed to Sisters Margaret Radcliffe and Elizabeth Radcliffe, of the second order of St. Francis, commonly called Poor Clares.

[Mason's Certamen Seraphicum, 127-57; Challoner's Missionary Priests (1741), ii. 256-98; Dodd's Church Hist, iii. 102; J. Stevens's Hist. of Antient Abbeys, i. 107; Granger's Biog. Hist. of England, 2nd ed. ii. 206; Oliver's Hist. of the Catholic Religion in Cornwall, 543; Cat. of Printed Books in Brit. Mus.]

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