The Life of Margaret Fell

Based on Margaret Fox of Swarthmoor Hall by Helen G. Crosfield, Headley Brothers, Bishopsgate, E.C. (1913)

Margaret Fell was called the Nurturing Mother of Quakerism. Her home was the early organizational headquarters of the Religious society of Friends, as the Quakers are also known. Note that, like Betsy Ross, "Margaret Fell," the name she is best known by is neither the name she was born with (Margaret Askew), nor the name she died with, but was the name of her first husband. After marrying George Fox in 1669, she changed her name to Margaret Fox, and was thus known for the rest of her life.


Margaret Askew is born at Marsh Grange in the Parish of Dalton, in Fournis in Lancashire, of good and honest parents. Her father is John Askew and she has one sister. On her father's death she is left 6000 pounds.


Thomas Fell marries Margaret Askew and they live at Swarthmoor Hall. Thomas Fell was a young barrister of Gray's Inn, about 34 years of age. He had inherited Swarthmoor and the estate of Hawkswell near Ulverston from his father, George Fell, an attorney-at-law. This property was of considerable extent, comprising most of the land from Swarthmoor Hall to Morecambe Bay. In 1641 Thomas Fell was made Justice of the Peace for Lancashire and some years later Judge of Assize of the Chester and North Wales Circuit. Several times during the years 1646-1653 he represented Lancashire in parliament. He was made Sequestrian Commissioner for Safety in 1648. In 1649 he was given the office of Vice-Chancellor of the County Palatine of Lancaster and in 1655 that of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Religion was a serious matter to both Judge Fell and Margaret. The Judge in the latter years of his life did not approve of Cromwell's assumption of authority in civil and religious matters and declined to play an active role in the Government. Margaret Fell writes that the first 20 years of her marriage was spent seeking of the best ways to serve God which included having traveling ministers stay at Swarthmoor.


At the time of the arrival of George Fox, the Fell household included the following children: Margaret, aged 19; Bridget, Isabel, George b. 1639, Sarah, Mary, and Susanna. Rachel b. 1653 would be born the next year. William Caton, later a Quaker journal writer, was a companion for George and was being educated at Swarthmoor with the other children.


First visit of George Fox. Judge Fell was away on the Welsh circuit. Margaret, her servants (among whom are Mary Askew, Anne Clayton, Thomas Salthouse) and her children become convinced of the truth of Fox's ministry. Fox, in church, speaking before the sermon asks, "You will say Chirst saith this, and the apostles say this; but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of Light, and hast thou walked in the Light, and what thou speakest is it inwardly from God?" Margaret tells us that "this opened me so, that it cut me to the heart, and then I saw clearly we were all wrong. So I sat down in my pew again and cried bitterly: and I cried in my spirit to the Lord, 'We are all thieves; we have taken the Scripture in words, and know nothing of them in ourselves.' After Fox leaves Richard Farnsworth and James Nayler follow in his steps to Swarthmoor. Judge Fell, before he arrives at the hall is greeted by neighbors who warn him that his family has been taken out of their religion. However, Farnsworth and Nayler persuade him to not act hastily. That night Fox returned and conversed with Thomas Fell and made a good impression so that from then on Judge Fell, though not a convinced Friend was sympathetic to their cause, allowing Swarthmoor Hall to be a meeting place and haven for Friends. He also was a protector, as after his death, a storm of persecution broke out in the North of England.


George Fox is beaten by a mob at Ulverston on his way to Swarthmoor and young George Fell is pummeled too. While the Judge is away Fox and Nayler are imprisoned.


Life at Swarthmoor is described as very loving, both amongst Margaret's family and the servants. William Caton says, "Oh! The love which in that day abounded among us, especially in that family! And oh! The freshness of the power of the Lord God, which then was amongst us; and the zeal for Him and His truth, the comfort and refreshment which we had from His presence - the nearness and dearness that was amongst us one towards another, - the openings and revelations which we then had!" During this time many traveling Friends and Friends meetings are held at Swarthmoor. Margaret also raises money for Quakers in prison and those in need of money as well as organizing the Kendal fund. A number of Epistles written by Margaret Fell can be found here.

October, 1658

Judge Thomas Fell dies. Margaret inherits Swarthmoor Hall and her son George the rest of the estate. The trustees are Friends Anthony Pearson and Gervase Benson. George Fell was about 20 and a law-student at Gray's Inn, London. George had to obtain the King's pardon for his father's service during the Commonwealth or lose his estate. George eventually drifts away from the Quakers.


Two weeks after the restoration of Charles II, soldiers appear at Swarthmoor and arrest George Fox on charges of treason. Fox is imprisoned at Lancaster Castle dungeon for 20 weeks. Margaret Fell left Swarthmoor in the summer of 1660 to visit the King and secure Fox's release accompanied by fellow-Friend Anne Curtis (whose father was executed for Royalist sympathies during Cromwell's time). They secure Fox's removal from jail to London to answer the charges there. Full liberty was then ordered for Fox by the King. See her letter to the king at The Quaker Writings Home Page or her letter to her children.


The insurrection of the Fifth Monarchy Men, in which Quakers did not take part, is used as a pretext for renewed persecution. Margaret obtains a proclamation of freedom to Quakers from the King and Council and returns home after an absence of 15 months. A great deal of the correspondence between Margaret and her children during this time survives.

January 29, 1662

daughter Margaret is married to John Rous (d. 1694), merchant of London, later a Quaker missionary in Barbadoes and Massachusetts; a few months later Bridget marries John Draper of Headlam in Durham, son of Henry Draper, a friend of George Fox.


An act to suppress the Quakers passes parliament by which they can be imprisoned for refusing to take the Oath to the King. Again Margaret goes to London to intercede with the King who hears her favorably. She then travels from Devonshire to Northumberland with her daughters Sarah and Mary as a traveling Quaker minister.


Returning to Swarthmoor, the Hall is ransacked and Fox arrested and thrown into Lancaster Gaol. Later Margaret is arrested and refusing to take the oath is placed in Lancaster Castle also, the chief magistrate behind this act being Colonel Richard Kirkby. It was Kirkby's father who had been replaced as the local magistrate by Thomas Fell in 1641 when Parliament deposed Charles I, and afterwards lost much of their land. In the trials it is clear that the purpose of the Judges is to prevent Quakers from meeting together as they attempt to get Fox and Fell to agree to this and only try to get them to say the Oath of Obedience after they refuse. Margaret's answer was "...this I shall say, as for my allegiance, I love, own, and honor the King and desire his peace and welfare; and that we may live a peaceable, a quiet and a godly life under his government, according to the Scriptures; and this is my allegiance to the King. And as for the oath itself, Christ Jesus, the King of Kings, hath commanded me not to swear at all, neither by heaven, nor by earth, nor by any other Oath." She then spent 6 months in Lancaster Gaol after which there was a trial 21 September 1664 at which she was committed to life in prison and forfeiture of her property. Her answer to this sentence was, "Although I am out of the King's protection, yet I am not out of the protection of the Almighty God." Fox was also committed and moved to Scarborough prison. Her daughters tried to get the King to intercede, but he did not have the power to overturn acts of Parliament. The Conventicle act was passed soon afterwards and persecution of the Friends, in fact, increased. During 1664, while she was in prison, her daughter Isabel was married to William Yeamans, a Quaker merchant of Bristol. Margaret Fell remained in prison for 4 and a half years except for a brief parole in 1665. During her imprisonment she took up the pen, writing Religious phamplets (published by Ellis Hookes in London). William Caton dies. The Plague and great fire sweep London. In January 1665 the King granted her forfeited estate to her son George Fell, who was no longer a Quaker. However, he left his sisters in charge of Swarthmoor as he preferred the city. George married Hannah Potter, widow, daughter of Edward Cooke in 1668. Quaker meetings continued at Swarthmoor unabated. See 1664 letter to John Rouse.

Title of a pamphlet written in prison: Women's Speaking Justified, Proved and Allowed of by the Scriptures, All Such as Speak by the Spirit and Power of the Lord Jesus And How Women Were the First That Preached the Tidings of the Resurrection of Jesus, and Were Sent by Christ's Own Command Before He Ascended to the Father (John 20;17). /p>

Summer 1668

By order of the King and council Margaret Fell was released from Lancaster prison. On 26 August, 1668 Mary Fell married Thomas Lower of Cornwall, a Quaker convinced by Fox in 1656 along with his aunt, Loveday Hambly.

Summer 1669

Fox writes, "I had seen from the Lord a considerable time before that I should take Margaret Fell to be my wife. And when I first mentioned it to her, she felt the answer of life from God thereunto." They obtained clearness from Margaret's children and the Quakers in Bristol and were married 27 October, 1669. On returning to Swarthmoor she was again imprisoned in Lancaster for breaking the Conventicle act preventing Quaker meetings where she remained for about a year. A few months after her release, Fox leaves for America. Not long after he returns in 1673, he is thrown into prison in Worcester for unauthorized meetings. Margaret again intercedes with the King and eventually in 1675, Fox is freed. After recuperation at Kingston with the Rouses they spend over a year together at Swarthmoor. There they are busy building the organizational structure of the Friends.


Fox leaves for Holland.


Fox leaves for London where his service for the rest of his life chiefly lay.


Sarah Fell marries William Meade, linen draper of London. Sarah had been Clerk of the Lancashire Women's Quarterly Meeting and the person most concerned with the family's finances.


James II issues the act of Toleration and all Quakers are freed from prison.


Meeting house built at Swarthmoor.

January 13, 1691

George Fox dies. After his death, Margaret Fox spent the remaining years except for one journey to London, in the quiet home-life of Swarthmoor. August 1691 - Susanna Fell marries William Ingram of London. It is said the Margaret oversaw the publishing of Fox's journals after his death.

April 23, 1702

She dies. Her last words being, "I am in Peace." She was buried at Swarthmoor Meeting-house. No headstone marks her resting-place.

Information on this page provided by James Quinn. Visit Gwynedd (Pennsylvania) Friends Meeting.