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Sir Robert Bell (Unknown — d. 1577) of Beaupre Hall, Norfolk, was a Speaker of the House of Commons (1572-1576), who served during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

Knighted 1577, Of Counsel, King's Lynn 1560, Recorder from 1561, Bencher Middle Temple 1565, Autumn Reader 1565, Lent Reader 1571,[1] Of Counsel, Great Yarmouth from 11 February 1562-3,DNB [2] Justice of the Peace of the Quorum, Norfolk from 1564, Commissioner of Grain 1576, Musters by 1576, 22 January 1577-Serjeant-at-Law, 24 January 1577-Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer. [1]

Sir Robert Bell

The Arms of Sir Robert Bell[3]
Likeness [7]

In office
Preceded by Sir Christopher Wray
Succeeded by Sir John Popham

In office
22 January 1577 – 27 July 1577
Preceded by Sir Edward Saunders
Succeeded by Sir John Jeffery

In office
24 January 1577 – 27 July 1577



Bell is reported to have married:

1. Mary Chester, daughter of [Sir] Anthony Chester. [1] [4]

2. Elizabeth Anderson (d.1556-58?), widowed daughter in law of Sir Edmund Anderson, Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas. [4]

3. Dorothie, daughter and co-heiress of Edmonde Beaupre, Esq., d. 1567, and Katherine Wynter, daughter of Phillip Bedingfield of Ditchingham, Norfolk. [1][5] [6]

Education and religion

Robert Bell of the Middle Temple, may have been privately tutored or mentored by John Cheke;[7]a dear friend, and kinsman of William Cecil, (Lord Burghley), Queen Elizabeth's 'chief advisor,' who has been appraised as "the probable 'behind the scenes architect of the '1566 succession question,'"[8]that Bell had been chosen to represent the House of Commons; and who is credited with recommending Bell for Speaker in 1572. [8]

Furthermore, John Cheke was a kinsman, and dear friend of Peter Osbourne; a fellow Exchequer colleague of Robert Bell's, whose daughter Anne, married Bell's first son and heir Edmond.

In 1566, Robert Bell was lampooned by Thomas Norton as "Bell the Orator" together with others who served on the succession committee. Most of the individuals featured in this publication were Puritans, for example, Sir Christopher Yelverton who is styled "Yelverton the Poet." [1] HoP

Moreover, scholars have surmised that Robert Bell may have attended Cambridge (Protestant leanings 16th century), [1] [4]which can be supported by his political alignments during the 1566, parliamentary session, in particular, "Mr. Bell's complices"... (Richard Kingsmill and Robert Monson) [1] HoP with whom the Queen referred, during the debate that touched the issues concerning the succession question.

He clearly gained admittance to the Middle Temple, where he excelled, having been qualified to sit as a Bencher, and subsequently elevated to the honor of both Lent and autumn reader. During the period that he attended the Middle Temple, the religious denomination of the pupils and Masters of the bench was primarily Catholic, with emerging factions of Protestants, balancing the Elizabethan membership. The register that would have recorded where he had been formerly educated, or where he attended church has long been lost. [9]

Of course, notwithstanding the above, Bell may have been one of a number of individuals that were significantly impacted, as a result of the Church Reformations, carried out by Henry VIII and his successors Edward VI and Mary I. Naturally, the tempering of one's soul as a consequence of living through this period, would have helped with molding character, that had the potential to desire a latitudinarian posture, with respect, to the many religious issues, that at the present time, were, proving quite controversial, and, dangerous.

This reformed outlook when combined with a 'erastian position, that is, supporting the right of the monarch to decide the religion of the realm,' [10]would have provided the catalyst that promoted Bell's ability to unite the House collectively, on a solid foundation. Furthermore, he seems to have been successful with resolving differences between fellow Members of Parliament during the various committees that he was active, while furthering the Protestant cause; including the Prayer Book. [1]

An example of Robert Bells' sentiments, can be clearly derived, by examining his contrasting description of the reign of Mary I, and that of Elizabeth's: "Mr Bell's second 'Oration' 8 May, 1572":

" The Queen's 'loving subjects' desired her preservation 'more than the chased deer desired the soil for his refreshing'; at the time of her accession the country was subject to ignorant hypocrisy and unsound doctrine', but God inclined her heart 'to be a defense to his afflicted church throughout all Europe.' Many benefits from her reign 'I do forget, and yet do remember divers others which I leave for tediousness'." [1]

At the end of the day, his commitment to the cause, affords the impression of a learned Speaker, who, faithfully believed in, and, sacredly honored, the way, and the truth, and the Life; through industry, sacrifice, and service to others; as he drew his strength from the center of the core, and wielded, certain, eternal loyalties, that have, endured, and that have gracefully transcended the dawn and brilliance of the Golden Age.


Bell, seems to have achieved notable success at the beginning of his career, specifically (6 March 1559), upon accomplishing favorable results for the patentees of the lands of John White, bishop of Winchester; of which he was of counsel together with Alexander Nowell. [11]

Careful review of his' clients, shed light, on the associations that he enjoyed and speak highly of his abilities: [11]

His career was further secured and launched with his fortunate marriage (15 October 1559), to the baroness Dorothie Beaupre. This afforded him a large estate in Outwell, along with the local offices and status that came with it; including the office of MP, for King's Lynn. During the 1563, 1566, and 1571 parliaments, Bell made a 'thorough' nuisance of himself to the government, and was considered a radical; noted by William Cecil as one of the two leading trouble makers during the 1566, session. [1][4]

Additionally, it would appear that, Elizabeth I, witnessed this 'maverick' style of behavior, as 'on 19 October 1566, '[Bell] did argue very boldly' to pursue the succession question; "in the face of the Queen's command to leave it alone". "In her own words 'Mr Bell with his complices... must needs prefer their speeches to the upper house to have you, my lords, consent with them, whereby you were seduced, and of simplicity did assent unto it'. [1]

Of course, it should be clarified that he was merely conveying the concern of the House, following Elizabeth's near death illness, and for the realm which may have collapsed into civil war upon her death.

Five years later during the next parliament (5 April, 1571) he re focused his attention, and [boldly'] launched an attack on the Queen's purveyors, who took 'under pretence of her Majesty's service what they would at what price they themselves liked...' 'Later in 1576, this speech was recalled by Peter Wentworth during his motion for liberty of speech: 'The last Parliament he that is now Speaker uttered a very good speech for the calling in of certain licenses granted to four courtiers to the utter undoing of 6,000 or 8,000 of the Queen Majesty's subjects. This speech was so disliked by some of the [Privy] council, that he was sent for and so hardly dealt with that he came into the House with such an amazed countenance that it daunted all the House,...' to the extent that for several day's no matter of great importance was raised or considered. [1] DNB

Nevertheless, on 19 April, 1571, he was an advocate for the residents of less fortunate boroughs, " 'and in a loving discourse showed that it was necessary that all places should be provided for equally'." "but because some boroughs had not 'wealth to provide fit men' outsiders could sometimes be returned and no harm done". He further, proposed that all boroughs who sought to nominate a nobleman, should suffer a fairly substantial financial penalty [40£], "mindful, no doubt of the power of the Duke of Norfolk in his county." [1]

Queen Elizabeth I opens Parliament at Whitehall; In the foreground, center, Speaker Bell stands behind the railing with two eminent members of the House of Commons.

From 1570-72, he served as crown counsel, [4] and, perhaps, it was Bell's outspokenness, hitherto, that revealed his niche, as shortly following these events, he was recommended by William Cecil for Speaker 9 (Prolocutor), elected by the House, and approved by Elizabeth I, 8 May, 1572.[12] 'The Queen on her part', he was told, had 'sufficiently heard of your truth and fidelity towards her and... understandith your ability to accomplish the same.' [1]

Bell's second disabling speech of that day was full of luminous detail and "was a model of circumspection:, a lawyer's piece larded with legal precedent; in his careful transmission of royal messages and his preference that attempts to persuade a reluctant queen should be by written arguments rather than by his spoken word;" [4] 'some of it is worth quoting'... 'as an early example of the taste for precedents that became common place in the history of the House during the seventeenth century.'

.."Mr. Bell's second Oration."
.."Your highness' noble progenitors kings of this realm not many years after the conquest did publish and set forth divers ordinances and constitutions. But the same was not confirmed by parliament, and therefore proved perilous as well in not sufficiently providing for those which deserved well nor sufficient authority for punishment of them which deserved contrary. Whereupon King Henry III finding no such perfection therein as he did desire, by the mature deliberation and grave advice of his lords and council did condescend to walk in a new course of government in which he determined that all things should be provided for by authority of parliament;

He concluded his speech by requesting the *ordinary petitions consisting in three points,...

1. Liberty of speech

2. Access to the Queen

3. "That if by my imperfection, I shall mistake and so misreport any message, either from the House to your Majesty or from your Majesty to them, that I may be received to repair anew for the declaration of the same." [1]

While Speaker, he presided over some of the more dynamic issues of the Elizabethan Parliaments, notably, the security of the realm, and a session concerning the question of Mary, Queen of Scots; where he was advised to shorten the discussion upon receiving a royal message that was whispered in his ear by Sir Christopher Hatton. [13]

In 1575, Bell revisited the succession question, where, he 'humbly' and respectfully, petitioned Elizabeth "to make the kingdom further happy in her marriage, so that her people might hope for a continual succession of benefits in her posterity." Although he exhibited great courtesy during the course of his plea, Elizabeth still refused. [12]

Career summary

During a time of uncertainty, Sir Robert Bell valiantly challenged corruption and tyranny, advocated hope for the poor, and bridged hearts and minds, while striving to tear down the walls and strongholds of arrogance, greed, and hate.

Bell's support of Robert Snagge and his abhorrence of 'tale tellers', for example, have to be admired. [1]

He also made a 'thorough' effort, with demonstrating the potential of following a timeless leadership style; an archetype that resonated with the integrity of common virtues and a patient resolve that reflected the importance of carefully weighing and balancing each detail in order to accurately derive the truth, whereof he observed, if found worthy of merit, it should be supported by the necessary foundation of heart, mind, and conscious. [7]

Despite the somewhat candid display of behavior that seems to have defined the majority of his youth, at the end of the day, however, Bell comes over as a Renaissance Man, who earnestly contributed a signal service, by bearing the necessary burdens as a patron for the Brittani, and by diligently laboring to embrace his duty as a steward of the public trust.

His foresight and infallible support of the Crown, helped forge the realm under Elizabeth's rule, and following the 1576 session he was honorably rewarded and nominated for membership of a high powered committee for a special visitation of Oxford, that included Sir Christopher Wray, Edwin Sandys then bishop of London and John Piers then bishop of Rochester and four others. (State Papers, Domestic, Elizabeth, p. 543)


In 1577, during the New Year's promotions, Queen Elizabeth I, expressed her gratitude to Sir Robert Bell for his signal service and conferred a knighthood to him, made him her Serjeant-at-Law, and appointed him Lord Chief Baron of her Exchequer; a post that he retained during the period that Sir Francis Drake wrote the government, claiming his bounty to build his three ships in Aldeburgh,* together with the arrangements he secured from his investors, for his 1577, voyage to circumnavigate the globe. [14]

Bells' contemporaries respected his contributions to society; notably, Sir James Dyer, Edmund Plowden and the historian, William Camden who considered him a 'lawyer of great renowne,' a "Sage and grave man, famous for his knowledge in the law, and deserving the character of an upright judge." [1][2][4]

Modern scholars, such as Peter Hasler have observed that Bell was a "poacher turned gamekeeper," [1]when he changed the manner that he conducted himself, thereby affording himself an opportunity to sow the seeds of inner growth, that he later would reap and perpetuate for the glory of the common good. [7]

Death and commemoration

Unfortunately, he was not afforded the opportunity of enjoying his success, for very long. While presiding as judge at the Oxford assizes, (afterward deemed the Black Assizes), a tragic event would end his life; when he became exposed to prisoners of foul condition during the trial of a book seller who had slandered the Queen. This stench is thought to have caused a pestilent vapor and Bell (along with an estimated 300 others) caught gaol fever.[4], (Camden, Annals, bk. 2.376)

He then moved on to Leominster, and after presiding over the assize in that district, fell ill; where on the 27thof July, he made good use of his last hours, drafting a codicil to his will, where he made his 'Loving wife Dorothie sole executor' and directed the selling of certain property for payment of debts, and future provisions for his family:

"This Codicell and Addicon, made by me Sr Robert Bell knight Cheiff Barron of her maties Exchequer the xxvijth Daye of Julye in the yeare of oure Lorde God one Thowsande fyve hundred Seaventie Seaven, wch I will and my trewe meaninge is that it shalbe annexed and added unto my last will and Testament remayninge at my howse at Bewprehall in Norff ffirst I will my Bodye shalbe buryed in the same Towne where yt shall please God to call me at the discreation of my cheff Sr’nnts that shalbe aboute me at the Daye of my death...."
..."and the money thereof cominge to be ymployed towardes the payment of my Debtes and bringinge upp of my children at the order and discreation of my saide Executrix " [5]

Preceding this loss, he had devoted his time and attention with expanding his family home, and had commissioned The Guild of Glaziers? with the production of heraldic glass panels, representing the various marital alliances that were shared by the Beaupre's and the Bell's. The panels were originally displayed and incorporated around the entry way of Beaupre Hall, Norfolk, and were later cut down and relocated to windows in the rear of the Hall; perhaps after 1730[7] when the antiquary, Beaupre Bell, succeeded to the property.[12]

After his death in 1741, Mr. Greaves succeeded, who had married Beaupre Bell's sister (of whom we owe for saving the glass relics). Their daughter Jane brought it by marriage to the Townley family, who held Beaupre Hall until it passed into the hands of Mr. Edward Fordham Newling, and his brother, [15] who anticipated the Hall's ruin, and wished that the stained glass panels would be placed in the care and possession of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, where they are currently on display.

One may find that two panels of similar design were commissioned after his death in 1577:

  1. The Arms of Sir Robert Bell.
  2. The Arms of Sir Robert Bell impaling Harington (the Harington Arms are depicted with the cadency mark 'a label'); probably, Sir John Harington, first Baron Harington of Exton (1539/40–1613) who married Anne (c.1554–1620), the daughter and heir of Robert Keilwey of the Middle Temple. [7]

Sir John's father, Sir James Harington of Exton Hall, Rutland, married Lucy, the daughter of Sir William Sidney of Penshurst, Kent.

Sir William Sidney's son, Sir Henry Sidney lord deputy of Ireland, was a neighbor of John Peyton and Dorothy daughter of Sir John Tyndale. The Peytons' second son, Sir John Peyton "served in Ireland under their friend and neighbor Sir Henry Sidney of Penshurst, and in 1568, he was again in Ireland with Sidney, then lord deputy and had become a member of Sidney's household." [16]

After Bell's untimely death in 1577, Sir John Peyton married Bell's widow Dorothy, where from her estate, Peyton gained position and status in the county of Norfolk. Sir John Peyton would later become lieutenant of the Tower of London.


During the rising sun of the English colonization of America, Bells' children married into the curia regis of the Tudors and other landed gentry. [7] "...Amongst the many great families with whom the Bells were connected by their various marriages, we may mention.... Beaupre, [Montfort] , De Vere, Bedingfeld, Knyvett, Oldfield, [Parry], Osbourne, Wiseman, Deering, Chester, Oxburgh, Le Strange, Dorewood, Oldfield, Peyton, and Hobart, all persons of great eminence and distinction." [17] [12] [18]

1. His first son, Sir Edmond Bell (de Beaupre)[5] bap. 7 April 1562, bur. 22 Dec 1607, MP for King's Lynn, & Aldeburgh 'invested heavily in privateering,' [1] [19] married 1., Anne the daughter of Peter Osbourne and Anne Hays 2. ?Elizabeth 3. Muriell Knyvett the daughter of Sir Thomas Knyvett, 4th Baron Berners (c. 1539-1618) and Merriell Parry, the daughter of Sir Thomas Parry and Anne Reade.

2. His second son Sir Robert Bell (de Beaupre)[5] b. (c. 1563, d. 1539), was a 'Captain of a company in the low countries' MP, built ships for the navy, (c. 1600) married Elizabeth Inkpen.

3. His third son, Synulpholus Bell, Esq., b. March 1564, d. 1628, of Thorpe Manor, issue 8 sons, 3 dau., of Norfolk, married Jane (Anne) daughter of Christopher Calthrop and Jane Rookwood (daughter of Roger Rookwood).

4. His fourth son, Beaupre Bell b. c. 1570, d. 1638, literary scholar of Cambridge, admitted to Lincolns Inn, 1594, was made Governor of the Tower of London in 1599. [20] b

5. His fifth son, Phillip Bell b. 14 June 1574, d. after 1630, Fellow of Queens College, Cambridge (1593-7) [8]

6. His daughter, Margaret Bell b. before 1561, d. 14 September 1591, married Sir Nicholas Le Strange of Norfolk; the son of Sir Hamon Le Strange (c.1534-1580) and Elizabeth Hastings; daughter of Sir Hugh Hastings of Elsing, 14th Lord Hastings (d. c.1540) and Catherine Le Strange (d. 2 February 1558).

7. His daughter, Dorothy b. 19 October 1572, d. 30 April 1640, married Sir Henry Hobart, [21] Chief Justice of the Common Pleas; who labored together with Sir Francis Bacon, to draft and procure the charters for the London and Plymouth Company. [22]

8. His daughter, Frances b. (posthumous) 2 December 1577, d. 09 November 1657, married Sir Anthony Dering of Kent (1558–1636), JP, of Surrenden Dering in Pluckley, Kent; the parents of Sir Edward Dering, 1st baronet (1598-1644), who married Elizabeth (1602–1622), daughter of Sir Nicholas Tufton, 1st earl of Thanet. [23]

Following the Elizabethan era, a number of Sir Robert Bell's grandchildren, envisioned, the opportunity of living new lives beyond the horizon, and, endeavored to be bold, Adventurers; and Planters, who set sail for America and arrived in Jamestown, Virginia, before, and, after, the Mayflower landed on Plymouth Rock. [7]


The Coat of Arms of Sir Robert Bell

The Coat of Arms of Sir Robert Bell:

Sable a Fess Ermine between three Church Bells Argent

The Crest is upon a Helm on a Mount Vert a Falcoln Rising wings elevated and inverted Or armed Sable [17][5]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Hasler, P. W., HoP: House of Commons 1558-1603, HMSO 1981, p.  421-4 [Bells second oration.] [1]
  2. ^ a b Foss, E., Lives of the Judges, Vol. V, London 1857, p. 458-61
  3. ^ Gwynn-Jones, P., The Art of Heraldry, Parkgate Books, London: 1998 [2]
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Graves, M. A.R., ‘Bell, Sir Robert (d. 1577)',ODNB, OUP, 2004 accessed 13 Feb 2005
  5. ^ a b c d e O'Donoghue, M.P.D., Report, 'Arms' and ‘pe de gree's' of Bell [Sir Robert Bell], 15 August 2005
  6. ^ Waters, R.E.C., Genealogical Memoirs of the Extinct Family of Chester of Chicheley, their Ancestors and Descendant Vol. 1, page 120
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Bell, R.R.L., Tudor Bell's Sound Out, pb, 7 September, 2006
  8. ^ a b MacCaffrey, W. T., 'Cecil William, first Baron Burghley (1520/21–1598),’ODNB, OUP, 2004 accessed 15 April 2005
  9. ^ Williamson, J. B., The History of the Temple of London, London, pb. John Murray (2nd ed. 1925)
  10. ^ Summerson, H., Correspondence, 4 February 2007, (Opinion; in matters of religion) [3] [4]
  11. ^ a b House of Commons, Journal Volume 1, 6 March 1559, pb. 1802, Sponsor BHOL: History of Parliament Trust
  12. ^ a b c d Manning, J. A., Speakers, pb. Myers and Company, London p. 242, 245
  13. ^ MacCaffrey, W. T., ‘Hatton, Sir Christopher (c.1540-1591)’, ODNB, OUP, 2004 accessed 7 May 2005
  14. ^ Bawlf, S., The Secret Voyage of Sir Francis Drake 1577-1580, pb. Walker Publishing Co. 2003, p. 67
  15. ^ Hussey, C., Beaupre Hall Wisbech, Coventry Homes and Gardens Old & New, pb. Country Life, 1923
  16. ^ Evans, H. M. E., ‘Peyton, Sir John (1544-1630)’, ODNB, OUP, 2004 accessed 7 May 2005
  17. ^ a b Coll Arm Ms, The Visitations of Norfolk, 1563, William Hervey 1589, Robert Cooke and 1613, John Raven, p. 33-34 Bell. Beaupre., Ed. Walter Rye, London 1891
  18. ^ Josselyn, J. H., Sir John Hawkwood, the Condottiere, some of his lineal descendants, Notes and Queries, 7th series, Vol. X, London, 1890, p. 101-102
  19. ^ The National Archives, UK, Catalog Reference Prob. 11/111, Image Reference 565 (C)
  20. ^ Kupperman, K., (a) Puritan Colonization from Providence Island through the Western Design, The William and Mary [5]
  21. ^ Woodcock, T., and, Robinson, J. M.,Heraldry in Historic Houses of Great Britain, The National Trust, pb. 2000
  22. ^ MacDonald, W., Documentary source book of American History, 1606-1913,1910-20-21 [6]
  23. ^ Salt, S. P., ‘Dering, Sir Edward, first baronet (1598-1644)’, ODNB, OUP, 2004 accessed 23 May 2005


NPG, London. (1) Robert Bell, Esq., Speaker 1572, possibly by the artist T. Athlow, (2) Sir Robert Bell, Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer 1577, by William Camden Edwards, after unknown artist;[9] and the British Museum [10]



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