Renaissance and Reformation Margaret Fell Fox
Catie Gill
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 September 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 September 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0470


Margaret Fell (nee Askew, b. 1614– d. 1702), Quaker leader, was born in 1614 in Furness, Lancashire (now Cumbria). Her father was John Askew, and little is known of her mother, although she is presumed to be Margaret Pyper because of an extant marriage certificate. At the age of seventeen, Margaret married Judge Thomas Fell (bap. 1599, d. 1658) and moved to Swarthmoor Hall, where she would live for most of the rest of her life. In 1652, the itinerant Quaker preacher George Fox called on the hospitality of Swarthmoor and while there subsequently “converted” Fell, in a process Quakers term “convincement.” Most of her family, and many of the servants, also became Quakers at this point. In the years that followed, Fell’s husband remained an attender at the nearby Ulverston church until his death in 1658, while Swarthmoor hosted local Quaker meetings. Fell was important because of the energy with which she galvanized the wider Quaker body. She set up the Kendal Fund, and a very extensive epistolary network operated because of her commitment to keeping news and communication flowing. She was certainly a leader of the early Quakers, based on her administrative capabilities alone. Marriage to Fox, in 1669, further cemented this position as the “mother” of Quakerism. She was an active polemicist who periodically gained access to England’s rulers and tried to use these audiences to effect greater understanding of the Quaker cause; she also wrote over twenty pamphlets. In common with many Quakers of the period, Fell was imprisoned, in her case due to holding meetings at her house; she served over four years in the 1660s, then another year in the 1670s. Her marriage to Fox was to prove to be unconventional, and it certainly made an already strained relationship to her son, George, who was not a Quaker, worse. Fox and Fell spent very little time together between their marriage and Fox’s death in 1691, though their relationship is presumed to be affectionate. Fell died in 1702. She had composed A Relation of Margaret Fell (1690), and “A Testimony Concerning [her] . . . Late Husband George Fox” (1694), both of which are important accounts of her life. Her letters and published pamphlets were collected together, alongside testimonies of praise, in A Brief Collection of the Remarkable Passages . . . of Margaret Fell (1710). The Fell manuscripts are now held primarily in the Society of Friends’ library, London, and they serve as the basis for many of the studies of the Fell family.


Articles can be found in these long-running journals that relate to Fell’s life and works, or context in Quakerism, also known as The Religious Society of Friends. Each of these volumes places a fairly high emphasis on the history, theology, and/or author-studies of 17th-century Quakerism.

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