Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fell, Margaret

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FELL, MARGARET (1614–1702), quakeress, daughter of John Askew of Marsh Grange, in the parish of Dalton-in-Furness, Lancashire, a gentleman of ancient lineage and good estate, was born in 1614. Before she was quite eighteen years of age she married Thomas (Judge) Fell [q. v.] of Swarthmore Hall, near Ulverston, by whom she had nine children. She was a deeply pious woman, and with the concurrence of her husband opened her house to religious persons. In her autobiography she states that ‘she hoped she did well, but often feared she was short of the right way, and in this way enquired twenty years.’ During the winter of 1652 George Fox was received by her, and at a meeting in her house converted her and most of the family to his views. On his return from holding the assizes, Judge Fell acquiesced in her acceptance of quakerism and gave the quakers the use of Swarthmore Hall for their meetings. Margaret Fell does not appear to have taken any active part in the quaker ministry for several years, but exerted herself for the relief and release of the Friends who were imprisoned; and during 1655–6–7 she wrote four times to the Protector entreating his protection for them, without much effect. After the death of Judge Fell in 1658, his widow seems to have at once taken a more prominent part in the affairs of the society; and when in 1660 George Fox was arrested while at her house, she went to London and obtained several interviews with Charles II, who, at her instance, ordered the venue of the prisoner's trial to be changed to London, where she remained until Fox was liberated. Shortly after this she wrote to the king, handing the letter to him a few days subsequent to his coronation, on behalf of toleration, calling his attention to his declaration at Breda. She wrote and delivered two other letters to the king asking mercy for the regicides. On each occasion the king treated her with courtesy, but she thought that he was influenced by his ministers, and addressed a petition for the redress of the Friends' grievances to ‘the king and his privy council.’ The outburst of the Fifth-monarchy men caused enactments which pressed most severely on the quakers. Margaret Fell remained in London until she had procured an interview with the queen and had audiences with the queen of Bohemia and the Princess of Orange. Besse (Sufferings, i. 43) says that she procured a royal warrant forbidding the soldiers in Bristol to enter the houses of Friends without legal warrant. Early in 1661 she returned to Swarthmore to be present at the marriage of one of her daughters, returning to London a few months later to entreat the king to liberate more than four thousand Friends who were imprisoned for refusing to take oaths or for attending illegal meetings. She says that her prayer was successful. During the summer of 1663 she visited the meetings in the southwestern and northern counties, and later in the year was summoned before the magistrates at Ulverston for allowing illegal meetings to be held at her house. On refusing the oath of allegiance she was committed to prison. After some months she was brought to trial at Lancaster before Justice Twisden, who advised her to traverse, and offered to admit her to bail in order that she might petition the crown, if she would promise to allow no meetings at Swarthmore Hall for the future. On her refusing this offer she was recommitted to Lancaster Castle. Two of her daughters waited on the king to beg for their mother's release, which the king agreed to order if they would promise to attend no meetings, and on their refusal offered it if Mrs. Fell would permit no meetings to take place at Swarthmore when more than five were present. In any case he promised that sentence of præmunire should not be enforced (see letter from Mary Fell, 22 Aug. 1664, Swarthmore MSS.) Towards the end of the year she was again tried at Lancaster, when, owing to the personal interference of some Lancashire magistrates, she was sentenced to the penalties of a præmunire; her estate, however, was granted by the king to her son. After remaining in prison for twenty months, she was permitted to spend some time at her home, but she was not finally released until June 1668. During her imprisonment she wrote several pamphlets and kept up an extensive correspondence. Her release was due to the intercession of Dr. Richard Lower, a court physician, and brother to Thomas Lower, who subsequently married one of her daughters. Shortly after her release Mrs. Fell visited all the prisons in which any quakers were confined, which occupied her until 1669, when she married George Fox at Bristol, with whom she remained a week, and then returned to Swarthmore, while he continued his ministerial journey. Early in 1670 she was again arrested under an order from the council, and committed to gaol to complete the sentence of præmunire; there is reason to believe that the order was procured by her son, George Fell, in order that he might enter upon the estate which his mother refused to abandon (see letter from Thomas Lower, 19 April 1670, Swarthmore MSS.) Her daughter Sarah at once procured an order from the king for Mrs. Fell's release, which, however, the Lancashire magistrates set aside on technical grounds. In April 1671 she was liberated under a patent. Shortly after her release she went to London to the yearly meeting, and then resided at Kingston-on-Thames with her husband until his departure in August for the West Indies, when she returned to Swarthmore, where she appears to have stayed until the summer of 1673, when she went to Bristol to meet Fox on his return from America. After visiting London with him she accompanied him into Leicestershire, where he was arrested, when she at once returned to London, and at an audience with Charles II begged an order for his release, which the king refused, but offered her a pardon. This she declined to accept, as she considered Fox innocent. From this time till 1689 she resided at Swarthmore, and was several times fined for permitting meetings to take place at her house. Towards the end of the year she spent some months in or near London with her husband, and then returned home. In January 1691 George Fox died, and from this time his widow, although she continued to take great interest in the affairs of the Society of Friends, does not appear to have been actively employed. In 1697 she again visited London, and while there addressed a letter to William III, expressing her gratitude for the protection his government had extended to the Friends. She died 23 April 1702 at Swarthmore, being then in her eighty-eighth year, and was buried in the quaker burial-ground belonging to the Swarthmore meeting. In personal appearance she seems to have been tall and buxom, with a pleasing rather than handsome face. Her correspondence shows her to have been a woman of some culture, of generous disposition, of considerable intellect and warm sympathies. Her charity was great, and she seems to have possessed an infinite capacity for taking trouble for the benefit of others. In her family and business affairs she was just and farseeing, and as a quaker minister she was zealous, simple, and laborious. Her productions are spoiled by their prolixity, and more remarkable for good sense than elegance of style. They breathe a spirit of fervid and sincere piety, but are marred by narrowness.

The most important are: 1. ‘False Prophets, Antichrists, Deceivers which are in the World, which John Prophesied of, which hath long been Hid and Covered, but is now Unmasked,’ &c., 1655. 2. ‘For Manasseh Ben Israel, the Call of the Jewes out of Babylon,’ &c., 1656. 3. ‘A Testimony of the Touchstone for all Professions and all Forms and Gathered Churches,’ &c., 1656. 4. ‘A Loving Salutation to the Seed of Abraham,’ &c., 1656. 5. ‘A True Testimony from the People of God (who by the world are called Quakers) of the Doctrines of the Prophets, Christ, and the Apostles,’ &c., 1660. 6. ‘The Examination and Tryall of Margaret Fell and George Fox,’ &c., 1664. 7. ‘Women's Speaking Justified, Proved, and Allowed of by the Scriptures,’ &c., 1666. 8. ‘The Standard of the Lord revealed,’ &c., 1667. 9. ‘A Touch-Stone, or a Perfect Tryal by the Scriptures of all the Priests, Bishops, and Ministers who have called themselves the Ministers of the Gospel,’ &c., 1667. 10. ‘A Call unto the Seed of Israel, that they may come out of Egypt's Darkness and House of Bondage unto the Land of Rest,’ &c., about 1668. 11. ‘A Brief Collection of Remarkable Passages and Occurrences relating to the Birth, Education, Life, Eminent and Faithful Servent of the Lord, Margaret Fell, but by her Second Marriage, Margaret Fox, together with Sundry of Her Epistles, Books, and Christian Testimonies to Friends and Others,’ &c., 1710 (autobiographical).

[Fell's Brief Collection, &c.; Webb's Fells of Swarthmore Hall; Besse's Sufferings of the People called Quakers, &c., vols. i. and ii.; George Fox's Journal, ed. 1765; Sewel's Hist. of the Rise, &c., i. 157, iv. 362; Piety Promoted, pt. ix.; Life of Margaret Fox, 1859; Smith's Catalogue of Friends' Books; State Papers, Dom. 1664, 523, 1667, 137; Swarthmore MSS.]

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