05/05/2016

Regimental History

Sir John Gell, 1st Baronet (22 June 1593 – 26 October 1671) was a parliamentarian politician and military figure in the English Civil War. His family was one of the wealthiest in the county through their interests of sheep farming and lead mining. Sir John Gell was high sheriff of Derbyshire in 1636 and was made a baronet in January 1642 but he supported Parliament on the outbreak of the English Civil War eight months later.

Gell was commissioned as colonel to raise a regiment in Derbyshire,  he raised infantry and cavalry regiments and a small train of artillery and made his headquarters in Derby Town Hall. As Derby had no castle or walls, Gell ordered the construction of extensive earthworks around the town and throughout the English civil war between 1642-1646, he managed to maintain the counties allegiance to parliament. Many considered Gell to be a man lacking in principle who had no real heart in the cause. His followers were described as ‘nimble youths of plunder’ and it was related that an officer named Hope ‘plundered most sacrilegously a Communion cup and was pulled out of his breeches’. Units of his regiment fought in engagements in the neighbouring counties of Staffordshire and Nottinghamshire and took part in the siege of Chester. Among the more important engagements in which the Derbyshire troops were involved were the siege and capture of Lichfield in 1643, and the battle of Hopton Heath in which the combined force of Gell and Brereton lost 500 men.  The royalists lost about 50 men but they also suffered the loss of their Commander The Earl of Northampton. Gell and Brereton refused to return the earl’s body unless the Royalists returned their captured artillery. The Royalists refused the exchange so Gell took the body with him to Uttoxeter where he paraded it through the town.  Gell was appointed governor of Derbyshire in 1643 two years before the English civil War ended.

Sir John Gells Regimental Colours

Gell became disillusioned with the Cause as his pay arrears grew and in 1645 he tried to divert the excise tax for the use of the county. He remained important to the county committee until the end of the First Civil War, although his management led to serious political divisions within the committee and the election of his brother Thomas to Parliament in 1645 was considered dubious. Disgruntled with his treatment by Parliament, Gell eventually threw in his lot with the regions Royalist factions and was implicated in a Royalist plot in 1649. He was arrested and sentenced to life inprisonment in 1650, but in 1653 Gell was pardoned and lived in retirement in London until his death.