Robert Bell (Speaker of the House of Commons)
He was legal counsel (1560) and recorder (1561) for King's Lynn, legal counsel for Great Yarmouth (1562-1563), and justice of the peace of the quorum for Norfolk (1564). He became a bencher in the Middle Temple in 1565 and was elected Autumn Reader that same year and Lent Reader in 1571. In 1576 he was appointed Commissioner of Grain and in 1577 he was knighted and appointed Serjeant-at-Law and Chief Baron of the Exchequer.
|Speaker of the British House of Commons|
|Preceded by||Sir Christopher Wray|
|Succeeded by||Sir John Popham|
22 January 1577 – 25 July 1577
|Preceded by||Sir Edward Saunders|
|Succeeded by||Sir John Jeffery|
|Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer|
24 January 1577 – 27 July 1577
Bell is reported to have married:
Education and religion
An example of Bell's sentiments may be understood from his 1572 oration, contrasting the reign of Mary I and that of Elizabeth I (as described and partially quoted by Hasler):
- "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 defence 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'."
Bell, achieved notable success at the beginning of his career, specifically (6 March 1559), upon accomplishing favourable results for the patentees of the lands of John White, bishop of Winchester, involving a suit that protected their interest; of which he was of counsel together with Alexander Nowell.
His career was further secured and launched with his fortunate marriage (15 October 1559), to the baroness Dorothie Beaupre. This afforded him not only a family, but 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.
Additionally, it would appear that, Elizabeth I, witnessed this 'maverick' style of behaviour, 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'.
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.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 substantial financial penalty [40£], "mindful, no doubt of the power of the Duke of Norfolk in his county."
From 1570–72, he served as crown counsel, 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 (Prolocutor), " elected by the House, and approved by Elizabeth I, 8 May 1572. '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.'
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;" '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"...
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.
Bell's foresight and infallible support of the Crown, helped forge the realm under Elizabeth's rule, and following the 1576 session he was honourably rewarded and nominated for membership of a high powered committee for a special visitation of Oxford, that included Christopher Wray, Edwin Sandys then bishop of London and John Piers then bishop of Rochester and four others. (State Papers, Domestic, Elizabeth, p. 543)
Bells' contemporaries respected his contributions to society; notably, 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." 
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 vapour and Bell (along with an estimated 300 others) caught gaol fever., (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 25thof 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:
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 stained glass panels, representing the various marital alliances that were shared by the Beaupre's and the Bell's. The panels of Arms were originally borne 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 when the antiquary, Beaupre Bell, succeeded to the property.
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, 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.
William Sidney's son, Henry Sidney lord deputy of Ireland, was a neighbour of John Peyton and Dorothy daughter of John Tyndale. The Peytons' second son, John Peyton "served in Ireland under their friend and neighbour 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."
After Bell's untimely death in 1577, John Peyton married Bell's widow Dorothy, where from her estate, Peyton gained position and status in the county of Norfolk, and later became lieutenant of the Tower of London.
"Amongst the many great families with whom the Bells were connected by their various marriages, we may mention the Beaupre's, John de Vere, Earl of Oxford, Dorewood, Bedingfeld, Knyvett, Osbourne, Wiseman, Deering, Chester, Oxburgh, Oldfield, Peyton, and Hobart, all persons of great eminence and distinction."
1. His first son, Sir Edmond Bell (de Beaupre) bap. 7 April 1562, bur. 22 Dec 1607, MP for King's Lynn, & Aldeburgh 'invested heavily in privateering,' married 1., Anne the daughter of Peter Osbourne and Anne Hays 2. Muriell Knyvet the daughter of Thomas Knyvet, 1st Baron Knyvet High Sheriff of Norfolk (c. 1539–1618) and Merriell Parry, the daughter of Thomas Parry (Comptroller of the Household) and Anne Reade.
2. His second son Sir Robert Bell (de Beaupre) 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).
6. His daughter, Margaret Bell b. before 1561, d. 14 September 1591, married Nicholas L'Estrange 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 Henry Hobart, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas; who laboured together with Francis Bacon, to draft and procure the charters for the London and Plymouth Company.
8. His daughter, Frances b. (posthumous) 2 December 1577, d. 9 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.
Following the Elizabethan era, Sir Robert Bell's descendants set sail for America, and arrived in Jamestown, Virginia, before and after the Mayflower landed on Plymouth Rock.
- Hasler, P. W., HoP: House of Commons 1558–1603, HMSO 1981, p. 421-4; historyofparliamentonline.org, Bell, Robert (d.1577), of the Middle Temple, London and Beaupré Hall, Outwell, Norf.
- Foss, E., Lives of the Judges, Vol. V, London 1857, p. 458-61
- Graves, M. A.R., ‘Bell, Sir Robert (d. 1577)',ODNB, OUP, 2004 accessed 13 Feb 2005
- Waters, R.E.C., Genealogical Memoirs of the Extinct Family of Chester of Chicheley, their Ancestors and Descendant Vol. 1, page 120
- "Bell, Robert". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
- House of Commons, Journal Volume 1, 6 March 1559, pb. 1802, Sponsor BHOL: History of Parliament Trust
- MacCaffrey, W. T., 'Cecil William, first Baron Burghley (1520/21–1598),’ODNB, OUP, 2004 accessed 15 April 2005
- Manning, J. A., Speakers, pb. Myers and Company, London p. 242, 245
- Hussey, C., Beaupre Hall Wisbech, Coventry Homes and Gardens Old & New, pb. Country Life, 1923
- Evans, H. M. E., ‘Peyton, Sir John (1544–1630)’, ODNB, OUP, 2004 accessed 7 May 2005
- 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
- O'Donoghue, M.P.D., Transcription Report, The National Archives, UK, Catalog Reference Prob. 11/51, Image Reference 18, (C)Crown Copyright
- The National Archives, UK, Catalog Reference Prob. 11/111, Image Reference 565 (C)
- Kupperman, K., Puritan Colonization from Providence Island through the Western Design, The William and Mary 
- Woodcock, T., and, Robinson, J. M.,Heraldry in Historic Houses of Great Britain, The National Trust, pb. 2000 
- MacDonald, W., Documentary source book of American History, 1606–1913,1910-20-21 
- 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, Chief Baron of the Exchequer 1577, by William Camden Edwards, after unknown artist, and the British Museum