John Fell 1625-1686

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John FELL 1625-1686

Biographical Note

Born at Longworth, Berkshire, son of Samuel Fell, rector there, and later (1638) Dean of Christ Church, Oxford. BA Christ Church 1640, MA 1643, DD 1660. He joined the royalist army in Oxford in the 1640s and was expelled from the College by the parliamentary visitors in 1648. During the 1650s he remained in Oxford, ministering unofficially to a royalist congregation and communicating with Charles II’s court in exile. He was made a canon of Christ Church at the Restoration in 1660, and Dean later that year. With like-minded colleagues like Richard Allestree he developed Christ Church into a hub of training and influence for the Anglican establishment; as vice-chancellor (1666-69) he imposed new order and discipline on the University at large. He became Bishop of Oxford in 1676, and devoted similar energy to administration and reform across the diocese; political and religious tides in the 1680s presented him with ongoing challenges.

Fell was a leading figure in the re-establishment of the University Press in Oxford; he set up a type foundry in Oxford in 1667, arranged for the use of the Sheldonian Theatre as a printing house in 1669, and saw a lease for the Press formally signed in 1672. He was an active scholar, whose publications included theological and philosophical works, a grammar book, biographies, editions of early texts (e.g. Clement of Alexandria, Lactantius), and editions of the works of his friend Allestree.


Subject to a number of specific bequests, Fell left his books and papers to his nephew Henry Jones, rector of Sunningwell; we do not know the size of the collection, but a number of manuscripts which were originally Fell’s were subsequently given by Jones to the Bodleian Library, and Jones’s books were auctioned in Oxford in 1710. The exceptions included his “great Bible” to Lord Grey, a catalogue of the Bodleian manuscripts to Henry Aldrich, Plutarch’s works in octavo to Gervase Eyre, and a small number of manuscripts to the Divinity Library in Oxford. The manuscripts and papers of Richard Allestree, which had been left to him, were to go to William Jane, Regius Professor of Divinity, in accordance with Allestree’s original directions. He also specified the gift of “a quarto Bible decently bound” to 14 named women of his acquaintance.


  • Carter, H., A history of the Oxford University Press, vol.1, 1975.
  • Larminie, Vivienne. '"Fell, John (1625–1686), bishop of Oxford."' Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  • Poole, W., John Fell's New Year books, Oxford, 2018.
  • Purcell, M., ‘Useful weapons for the defence of that cause’: Richard Allestree, John Fell and the foundation of the Allestree Library, The Library 6th ser 21 (1999), 124-47.