CAPELL, Sir Gamaliel (1561-1613), of Rookwood Hall, Abbess Roding, Essex

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press



8 Jan. 1605

Family and Education

b. 2 Jan. 1561,1 4th s. of Henry Capell I† (d.1588) of Little Hadham, Herts. and Rayne, Essex and Katherine, da. of Thomas Manners, 1st earl of Rutland. educ. Pembroke, Camb. 1577, BA 1580/1; fell. Queens’, Camb. 1582-5, MA 1584. m. 6 Sept. 1584, Jane (d. 22 Aug. 1618), da. and coh. of Wiston Browne of Rookwood Hall and wid. of Edward Wyatt of Tillingham, Essex, 6s. (?2 d.v.p.) 3da.2 kntd. 7 May 1603.3 d. 13 Nov. 1613.4 sig. Gama[liel] Capell.

Offices Held

Cornet, militia light horse, Essex bef. 1595,5 dep. lt. 1603-d.,6 j.p. 1597-d.,7 commr. subsidy 1602, 1606-8,8 oyer and terminer, Home circ. 1603-d.;9 sheriff, Essex 1606-7,10 commr. charitable uses 1607-d.,11Admlty. causes 1608,12 aid for Prince Henry 1609,13 repair of highways 1609,14 collector (jt.), Privy Seal loan 1611-12, aid for Princess Elizabeth 1613-d.15


Capell’s earliest known ancestors were settled at Capel in Suffolk during the twelfth century, but the family’s fortunes were laid in the early Tudor period by Sir William Capell, a London Draper who served twice as lord mayor and represented London in Parliament three times. Sir William acquired a great estate in Essex and Hertfordshire, which eventually descended to Capell’s father. As a younger son Capell himself stood to inherit only an annuity worth £20,16 but in the summer of 1584 his prospects were dramatically transformed following the death of his childless cousin Edward Wyatt.17 Fifteen days after Wyatt’s will was proved, Capell, no doubt at the bidding of his father, married the newly widowed Jane Wyatt, his first cousin, a match which brought him not only properties in eastern Essex but also Rookwood manor, which had belonged to Jane’s father. Situated near the Hertfordshire border, Rookwood Hall provided Capell with a residence close to the estates held by the senior branch of his family.

Capell received a university education, acquiring a fellowship at Queens’ College, Cambridge and an MA. His marriage meant that he did not subsequently progress to an inn of court, leaving a gap in his education of which he was keenly aware for, as he later confessed, he was only ‘slenderly studied’ in the Common Law.18 Nevertheless, he remained an enthusiastic scholar, building up a collection of books and manuscripts which he later bequeathed to one of his younger sons. In 1597 he was admitted to the Essex bench, and two years later bought the manor of Abbess Roding.19 Knighted at Theobalds shortly after James’s accession, he was appointed an Essex deputy lieutenant three months later. In February 1604 his status in the county was so considerable that he resolved to stand as junior knight of the shire for Essex, agreeing to pair with his neighbour at Hatfield Broad Oak, Sir Francis Barrington*. However, Barrington reconsidered his choice of partner after it emerged that Sir Edward Denny* also desired a seat. At an emergency meeting of the Essex justices it was resolved that Capell should be asked to withdraw ‘as a good patriot’ to avoid a contest. Under additional pressure from the 3rd Lord Rich (Robert Rich†) and the sheriff, Sir Henry Maynard†, Capell immediately agreed to this request, partly ‘to procure the general peace of this county, lately disturbed by this opposition’, but also because he understood that it was ‘expected that I should defray some good portion of the charges of the election, which I am loath [to do] because it is likely to be extraordinary’.20 This concern to avoid the financial burden of a disputed election may have been entirely genuine, for in 1605 Capell successfully escaped the shrievalty after pleading that he was so heavily indebted he was incapable of bearing the charges associated with the office.21

Despite his willingness to give way to Denny, Lord Rich remained nervous that Capell would harbour resentment against Barrington, who had deserted him in order to ensure his own election.22 Rich’s fears evidently proved unfounded, and when Denny was forced to relinquish his seat later that year after being elevated to the peerage Capell was rewarded for his earlier forbearance by being returned at the subsequent by-election. At Westminster he made no known speeches, but apparently developed a reputation as a willing and assiduous attender of committee meetings, attracting no less than 91 committee nominations, including three joint conferences with the Lords. When, in March 1607, the Speaker Phelips wrote to excuse Capell, who had finally been pricked as sheriff, from attending the Essex assizes, he described him as ‘so serviceable a Member of this House as he cannot be fitly be dispensed withall’.23 Most of the committees to which Capell was appointed dealt with subjects which had little, if any, direct bearing on either him or his constituents, such as the grant of Soham manor (Cambridgeshire) to Sir Roger Aston* and John Grimsdich (16 Dec. 1606), Cutton school in Devon (25 Feb. 1607), and the relief of the victims of recent flooding in Devon, Somerset, Monmouthshire and Glamorganshire (3 Mar. 1607).24 However, he was appointed to numerous legislative committees whose subjects would interest any county governor, such as mending the highways (6 Feb. 1606) and building gaols (16 Feb. 1610).25 His interest in the affairs of his home county was signalled for the first time on 4 Apr. 1606, when he was nominated to the committee for the Hatton land bill, which concerned two members of the county’s elite, Sir Robert Rich* and Sir Christopher Hatton*.26 Whether Capell was interested in the affairs of the Rich family in anything more than a general sense is difficult to say, but it is noticeable that he was later included on the committee for the land bill concerning Sir Robert Drury of Hawstead, Suffolk (27 Mar. 1610), a measure which directly concerned Rich’s father, Lord Rich, the most extensive landowner in Essex.27 Capell was one of three members representing Essex constituencies who were added to the committee for the fen drainage bill on 15 Apr. 1606. On the following day he was named, along with Sir Francis Barrington (Essex) and William Wiseman (Maldon), to the legislative committee appointed to deal with the Essex estate of John Roger. He subsequently formed part of the strong contingent of Essex landowners, not all of whom sat for Essex seats, who were appointed to two committees relating to members of the Mildmay family of Essex, one of whom was Capell’s brother-in-law (20 Feb. and 31 Mar. 1610).28 Although not explicitly named to the committee for the Waldegrave land bill (14 June 1610), Capell would have been entitled to attend its proceedings as an Essex knight of the shire. Interestingly, Capell was related to the Waldegraves through his wife’s sister, Catherine, whose daughter Frances had married Capell’s ‘ever constant and true hearted brother’, Sir Richard Weston* of Skreen.29

Capell’s legislative concerns embraced a variety of religious matters, such as church attendance (19 Mar. 1606), non-communication (7 Apr. 1606), the enforcement of the penal statutes (added 27 Mar. 1606), the restraint of ecclesiastical canons which had not been confirmed by Parliament (11 Dec. 1606), pluralism (4 Mar. 1607) and subscription (14 Mar. 1610).30 In addition, he was twice required to help draft petitions to the king concerning ecclesiastical grievances (13 May 1606 and 18 May 1607), the second of which addressed the questions of non-residence, pluralism and the lack of widespread preaching of the Gospel.31 Capell’s interest in religious questions, and in legislation devoted to alehouses and drunkenness (11 Feb. 1606, 3 and 8 Dec. 1606),32 suggests that he was cast in the godly mould, though his attitude towards recusancy may have been ambivalent, as he once spoke on behalf of one of his wife’s relatives, a convicted recusant.33 At the very least Capell should be regarded as a firm Calvinist: in his will of 1613 he confidently declared that he would ‘be numbered among the Elect and glorious servants of God’.34

Capell’s inclusion on the committee for the bill to assure various small plots of land to the 1st earl of Salisbury (Robert Cecil†) ‘for the more commodious use of his mansion house in the Strand’ (5 May 1606) could be interpreted as an expression of gratitude to Salisbury for agreeing not to prick him as sheriff of Essex in the previous November. It seems more likely, however, that it formed part of a general attempt to court Salisbury’s favour from at least April 1605, as he regularly plied Salisbury with gifts of game from his Essex estate.35 In Parliament Salisbury’s interests continued to attract Capell’s attention even after he was appointed sheriff against his will in November 1606, as he was named to the committee for the bill to assure Cheshunt vicarage to the earl (12 Dec. 1606).36 A handful of Capell’s committee nominations may have been linked to worries about his own financial difficulties as they concerned borrowing and the repayment of debts (3 Apr. 1606, 20 and 22 Feb. 1610).37

Capell remained exercised by the inadequate state of his finances for the rest of his life. In his will, drawn up six months before his death, he asked to be buried without pomp ‘because I know the mediocrity of my estate and livelihood cannot well sustain the charge of such rites and exequies as are many time unnecessarily bestowed upon the funerals of men of like sort and degree without some hindrance to my poor children’. Nevertheless, he was far from penurious, assigning a total of £2,000 to his three daughters for their dowries and £500 each to three of his younger sons. No mention was made in the will of his eldest son and heir, Gamaliel, who eventually inherited all his father’s property, including the two Essex manors assigned to his mother (Capell’s sole executrix) for her lifetime.38 Capell himself died at Rookwood Hall in November 1613, perhaps after a long period of ill health,39 and was buried locally in the parish church of St. Edmund. Following the death of his wife in 1618, a marble monument was erected on the north wall of the chancel, depicting him, his wife and their nine children in a kneeling posture, flanked by Corinthian columns.40 None of his immediate descendants sat in Parliament.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Andrew Thrush


  • 1. W. Minet, ‘Capells at Rayne’, Trans. Essex Arch. Soc. n.s. ix. ped. bet. pp. 272-3.
  • 2. Vis. Essex (Harl. Soc. xiii), 171; P. Morant, Essex, i. pt. 2, p. 138; Al. Cant.; Minet, 257; PROB 11/122, f. 371; C142/377/63.
  • 3. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 104.
  • 4. C142/342/130.
  • 5. CSP Dom. 1595-7, p. 110.
  • 6. Add. 11402, f. 89v; SP14/33, f. 4; Bodl. Firth C4, p. 31.
  • 7. Cal. Essex Indictments, Eliz. ed. J.S. Cockburn, 463; Cal. Essex Indictments, Jas. I ed. J.S. Cockburn, 121.
  • 8. Eg. 2651, f. 14v; SP14/31/1; E115/56/7.
  • 9. C181/1, f. 55.
  • 10. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 46.
  • 11. C93/3/3; 93/4/4, 9; 93/5/7, 16.
  • 12. HCA 14/39/217.
  • 13. SP14/43/107.
  • 14. C193/6/188.
  • 15. Essex RO, D/Y 2/7/127; E403/2731, f. 204; 403/2732, f. 164.
  • 16. C142/216/96.
  • 17. PROB 11/67, ff. 176v-7v.
  • 18. PROB 11/122, f. 371r-v.
  • 19. VCH Essex, iv. 190.
  • 20. Eg. 2644, ff. 139, 143.
  • 21. HMC Hatfield, xvii. 519. See also ibid. xviii. 339.
  • 22. Eg. 2644, f. 149; M.A. Kishlansky, Parliamentary Selection, 66.
  • 23. CJ, i. 353a.
  • 24. Ibid. 330b, 340b, 346a.
  • 25. Ibid. 264a, 394b.
  • 26. Ibid. 293b; HLRO, O.A. 3 Jas.I, c. 38.
  • 27. CJ, i. 415b; HLRO, O.A. 3 Jas.I, c. 61.
  • 28. CJ, i. 298b, 299b, 397b, 417a.
  • 29. Ibid. 438b; HMC Hatfield, xviii. 211; Vis. Essex (Harl. Soc. xiii), 514; PROB 11/122, f. 371v. For the bill, see HLRO, O.A. 3 Jas.I, c. 56.
  • 30. CJ, i. 286b, 290b, 294b, 329b, 347b, 410a.
  • 31. Ibid. 308b, 375a.
  • 32. Ibid. 266b, 327a, 328b.
  • 33. HMC Hatfield, xviii. 211.
  • 34. PROB 11/122, f. 370.
  • 35. CJ, i. 305a; HMC Hatfield, xvii. 157, 519; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 568.
  • 36. CJ, i. 330a.
  • 37. Ibid. 292b, 394b, 398b.
  • 38. PROB 11/122, f. 370r-v.
  • 39. Essex RO, D/Y 2/7/127.
  • 40. RCHM Essex (Central and SW), 2; F. Chancellor, Ancient Sepulchral Monuments of Essex, 236.