Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gastrell, Francis
GASTRELL, FRANCIS (1662–1725), bishop of Chester, born at Slapton, Northamptonshire, on 10 May 1662, and baptised the day of his birth, was the second of the two sons of Henry Gastrell of Slapton, a gentleman of property, descended from the Gastrells of Gloucestershire, by Elizabeth, daughter of Edward Bagshaw (d. 1662) [q. v.], of Morton Pinkney, Northamptonshire. The father died in early life, and left two sons and two daughters. Edward, the eldest son, inherited the family estate; Francis, the second, was in his fifteenth year admitted on the foundation at Westminster under Busby, and elected student of Christ Church, Oxford, 17 Dec. 1680. He graduated B.A. 13 June 1684, and M.A. 20 April 1687. He was ordained deacon 29 Dec. 1689, and priest 25 June 1690. On 23 June 1694 he proceeded B.D., probably because in that month he was elected preacher at Lincoln's Inn. In 1696 he published anonymously ‘Some Considerations concerning the Trinity, and the ways of managing that Controversy.’ He appears to combat Sherlock, dean of St. Paul's, more as a mediator than a partisan. The ‘Considerations’ were approved by John Scott [q. v.], author of the ‘Christian Life,’ and have been reprinted by Bishop Randolph in his ‘Enchiridion Theologicum,’ 1792. Sherlock replied in 1698, and Gastrell rejoined in a ‘Defence of the Considerations’ in the same year. In 1697 Archbishop Tenison appointed Gastrell Boyle lecturer, much to the mortification of Evelyn, who desired the reappointment of Bentley. Bentley, however, said himself that Gastrell was well fitted for the task. The Boyle lectures were published as ‘The Certainty and Necessity of Religion in general; or the first Grounds and Principles of Human Duty Established,’ 1697. In 1699 he published a continuation entitled ‘The Christian Revelation and the Necessity of believing it established; in opposition to all the Cavils and Insinuations of such as pretend to allow Natural Religion and reject the Gospel’ (2nd edition, 1703). Bishop Van Mildert quotes this book in his appendix to his own Boyle lectures, and styles Gastrell a forcible writer.
These works attracted the attention of Harley, afterwards Earl of Oxford. On 13 July 1700 Gastrell commenced D.D., and in the following year, when Harley was appointed speaker of the House of Commons, he nominated Gastrell chaplain, and in January 1702–3 he was installed canon of Christ Church. On 20 Aug. 1703 he married, at the church of St. Helen, Bishopsgate, his kinswoman, Elizabeth, only daughter of the Rev. John Mapletoft, professor of physic in Gresham College, rector of Braybrooke, Northamptonshire, and vicar of St. Lawrence, Jewry. On 19 Jan. 1704 he preached a sermon, afterwards printed, before the House of Commons upon the fast day ‘for the present war and the late dreadful tempest.’ In 1705 he contributed towards the rebuilding of Peckwater Quad at Christ Church. In 1707 he preached a sermon on religious education at the annual meeting of the charity children, the result of the movement for the education of the poor begun in 1697. In the same year (1707) his ‘Christian Institutes, or the Sincere Word of God,’ one of his most popular works, appeared. It was translated into Latin by A. Tooke, Gresham professor of geometry, 1718. Many abridgments have been published. In 1708 appeared anonymously ‘Principles of Deism truly represented’ (2nd edition, 1709), which has been attributed to Gastrell. In 1711 he was proctor in convocation for the chapter of Christ Church, and was nominated a queen's chaplain. In 1712 he published a sermon preached before the queen, and in 1714 another before the House of Lords. On 4 April 1714 he was consecrated bishop of Chester at Somerset House Chapel. He resigned the preachership of Lincoln's Inn, but was allowed to hold his canonry of Christ Church in commendam. In 1714 he published anonymously ‘Remarks upon the Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity by Dr. Samuel Clarke.’ Clarke, in his ‘Reply to Mr. Nelson,’ acknowledges the fairness and ability of his antagonist. Gastrell had in 1711 been appointed one of the commissioners for building fifty new churches in and about London, and in the same year became a member of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. After the death of Anne, Gastrell opposed the whig ministry in the House of Lords. On 6 Dec. 1716 his only son died of small-pox, and was buried in Christ Church Cathedral. In 1717 he warmly defended the university of Oxford when it was attacked in the House of Lords for a pretended riot on the birthday of the Prince of Wales. In 1719, out of zeal for the honour of the university, he was involved in a contest with the crown and the Archbishop of Canterbury as to the legal qualification for the wardenship of Manchester College. Samuel Peploe [q. v.] had been presented by George I, and obtained the necessary qualification of the B.D. degree from Archbishop Wake instead of going to Oxford. The court of king's bench declared in Peploe's favour. Gastrell vindicated himself in ‘The Bishop of Chester's Case with relationship to the Wardenship of Manchester. In which is shown that no other degrees but such as are taken at the University can be deemed legal qualifications for any ecclesiastical preferment in England.’ This was printed at both universities in folio, 1721. The university of Oxford decreed in full convocation a vote of thanks to the bishop. In 1723 Gastrell strongly opposed the bill for inflicting pains and penalties upon Atterbury, and censured the rest of the bishops, who, with the exception of Dawes, archbishop of York, concurred in the measure. In 1725 Gastrell published anonymously his ‘Moral Proof of the Certainty of a Future State,’ of which a few copies, printed a year before, had been given to friends. It was reissued in 1728.
On 24 Nov. 1725 he died of gout at Christ Church. Hearne asserts (manuscript Diary, cx. 56) that he refused to take a bottle of port wine which might have saved him, saying that he would rather die than drink. In his will he desires if he should die at Chester then to be buried there, but if at any other place as near his dear child as possible at Christ Church. He was accordingly buried at Christ Church. Upon the death of his wife in the parish of St. Margaret, Westminster, 31 Jan. 1761, a monument was erected at Christ Church. The bishop left an only daughter, Rebecca, who married Francis Bromley, D.D., rector of Wickham, Hampshire, second son of the Right Hon. William Bromley of Baginton (1664–1732) [q. v.], and was left a widow in 1753.
In one of Hearne's manuscript notebooks for 17 Jan. 1728 he says: ‘Yesterday I called upon Dr. Stratford, Canon of Ch. Ch., who gave me a print of the late Bp. of Chester, Dr. Gastrell, curiously done by Vertue at the charges of the present Earl of Oxford, from a paint by Dahl.’ Gastrell is frequently mentioned by Swift in terms of admiration. He seems to have been the first prelate who truly conceived what the duties of a diocesan bishop ought to be. Consequently he compiled a thorough record of every parish, church, school, and ecclesiastical institution in his diocese. It is entitled ‘Notitia Cestriensis, or the Historical Notices of the Diocese of Chester, by the Rt. Rev. Francis Gastrell, D.D., Lord Bishop of Chester.’ This has been printed from the original manuscript for the Chetham Society, with illustrative notes and a memoir by the Rev. F. R. Raines, M.A., incumbent of Milnrow, in vols. viii. xix. xxi. and xxii. of the Chetham Society's Papers, Manchester, 1845–50, 4to. ‘One of the most accomplished historians of the present day,’ says Mr. Raines, ‘declares this the noblest document extant on the subject of the ecclesiastical antiquities of the diocese.’ Peploe was appointed Gastrell's successor in the see of Chester. ‘This is done,’ says Tom Hearne, ‘to insult the ashes of Bp. Gastrell.’[Memoir by the Rev. F. Raines in Chetham Society's Transactions; Hearne's manuscript Diaries in the Bodleian Library. The notice of Gastrell in the Biog. Brit. is said to be by Browne Willis.]