GASTRELL, Francis (1662-1725)

GASTRELL, Francis (1662–1725)

cons. 4 Apr. 1714 bp. of CHESTER

First sat 5 Apr. 1714; last sat 19 Apr. 1725

b. 10 May 1662, 2nd s. of Henry Gastrell of Slapton, Northants. gent. and Elizabeth, da. of Edward Bagshaw of Morton Pinkney, Northants. educ. Westminster 1677-80; Christ Church Oxf. matric. 1680, BA 1684, MA 1687, BD 1694, DD 1700; ord. deacon 1689, priest 1690. m. 20 Aug. 1703, Elizabeth (d. 21 Jan. 1761), da. of Rev. John Mapletoft, professor of physic at Gresham Coll., rect. Braybrooke, Northants. and vic. St Lawrence Jewry. 1s. (d.v.p.), 1da. d. 24 Nov. 1725; will 2 Jan. 1724, pr. 26 Nov. 1725.1

Chap. to Anne 1711.

Preacher, L. Inn 1694-1714; chap. to Robert Harley, later earl of Oxford, 1700-14; canon Christ Church 1703-25; proctor in convoc. 1711.

Boyle Lecturer 1697; commr. 50 new churches 1711; mbr. SPG 1711.

Likenesses: oils on canvas, by M. Dahl c.1720, Christ Church, Oxf; line engraving by G. Vertue, after M. Dahl, 1728, NPG D27453.

Francis Gastrell, a prolific theologian and politically ambitious Tory churchman, was the second son of a ‘gentleman of property’ of Northamptonshire whose family was descended from the Gastrells of Gloucestershire. At Westminster School, Gastrell was a contemporary of Francis Atterbury, bishop of Rochester, and of George Smalridge, bishop of Bristol. Ordained in the aftermath of the 1688 Revolution, Gastrell’s reputation as a theologian grew after his participation in the 1690s controversy over the doctrine of the Trinity.2 His publications brought him to the attention of Robert Harley, who appointed Gastrell as his chaplain in 1701. As such he appears to have played a pivotal role in the distribution of Harley’s ecclesiastical patronage. It was Gastrell who informed Philip Bisse, the future bishop of St Davids, of Harley’s intervention with the queen to secure her approval for Bisse’s marriage, and it was Gastrell who kept the Rev. Ralph Bridges informed about the progress of episcopal appointments during the bishoprics crisis of 1707.3 Gastrell also acted as Harley’s agent in the affairs of the University of Oxford. In December 1712, when factional infighting threatened to get out of hand, Gastrell spent an entire afternoon with Simon Harcourt, Baron, later Viscount Harcourt, discussing the disputes at Christ Church caused by the contest between Atterbury and Smalridge.4

Appointed royal chaplain in 1711, Gastrell gained an even higher public profile with sermons at court. With Harley, now earl of Oxford, at the head of a Tory ministry, his elevation to the episcopacy seemed assured. In July 1713 it was rumoured that Gastrell would succeed John Robinson, as bishop of Bristol.5 However, Smalridge was appointed to that see and in 1714 Gastrell was instead rewarded by Oxford for his personal and political loyalty with the see of Chester.

Gastrell received his writ of summons, took his seat in the House and took the oaths all on 5 Apr. 1714, the day that the House voted that the Protestant succession was not in danger.6 Retaining his position at Christ Church, he shared his time between Westminster, Oxford and Chester, where he proved himself an assiduous bureaucrat. He compiled a complete record of every diocesan institution in the see of Chester.7 According to his enemy (and successor), the low church sympathizer, Samuel Peploe, Gastrell also used his episcopal authority in a blatantly partisan fashion.8

Gastrell attended his first parliamentary session for almost 61 per cent of sittings. A sermon he delivered to the Lords at the Abbey church on 29 May took as its theme the nature of providence. Gastrell insisted that ‘If God be against us, neither skill, nor force, nor all the art and contrivance that the united wisdom of men is capable of, can stand us in any stead, or be any way serviceable for the compassing and effecting what we undertake.’ Given the queen’s state of health this was clearly a message that could be interpreted as an expression of support for opponents of the Hanoverian succession or for its proponents. It was perhaps particularly significant that whilst Gastrell attributed the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 to the workings of divine providence, he made no mention of the role of providence customarily applied to the events of 1688.9 Unsurprisingly, he was forecast by Daniel Finch, 2nd earl of Nottingham as a supporter of the schism bill; on 11 June he voted to extend the schism bill to Ireland. Then, four days later, he supported the passage of the bill. On 3 July he reported from the committee of the whole on the bill for the maintenance of curates. The session ended six days later. Gastrell did not attend the brief session in August 1714 called on the death of Queen Anne, but he was present on 23 Sept. 1714 to take the oaths to the new regime. The House was prorogued until 21 Oct. 1714 and Gastrell did not attend the House again until 17 Mar. 1715, the first day of the new Parliament.

Gastrell’s partisanship became even more marked after the accession of George I and he was suspected of crypto-Jacobitism. After 1715 he exchanged proxies almost exclusively with his Tory colleagues, George Smalridge, Francis Atterbury, John Robinson, William Dawes, archbishop of York, Adam Ottley, bishop of St Davids, and George Hooper, bishop of Bath and Wells. Unsurprisingly, he supported his patron Oxford against impeachment, supported Atterbury against charges of sedition and in 1717 defended the University of Oxford in the Lords when it was attacked for rioting on the birthday of the Prince of Wales. For the rest of his life he was engaged in perpetual controversy, almost always motivated by his Tory politics. Gastrell’s parliamentary career after 1715 will be examined in detail in the next phase of this project.

At the age of 63, on 24 Nov. 1725, Gastrell died at Christ Church. His brief will left his (unspecified) real and personal estate to his wife and sole executor, Elizabeth Gastrell, asking her to remember his nephew who had been appointed chancellor of Chester. He was buried in Oxford at Christ Church.


  • 1 TNA, PROB 11/606.
  • 2 [F. Gastrell], Some Considerations Concerning the Trinity (1696).
  • 3 Add. 70064, P. Bisse to [R. Harley], 29 Mar. 1707; Add. 72494, ff. 33-34.
  • 4 Add. 70239, Harcourt to Oxford, 3 Dec. 1712.
  • 5 Bodl. Ballard 36, f. 155.
  • 6 HMC Lords, n.s. x. 273; LJ xix. 647.
  • 7 F. Gastrell, Notitia Censtriensis ed. F.R. Raines (Chetham Soc. viii, xix, xxi-xxii).
  • 8 Christ Church Lib. Oxf. Wake mss 8, f. 296.
  • 9 F. Gastrell, Sermon Preach’d before the House of Lords (1714).