SNELL, John I (c.1638-1717), of Exeter, Devon

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



27 Jan. 1702 - 1708
1710 - 1713

Family and Education

b. c.1638, 1st s. of John Snell, canon of Exeter.  m. 25 July 1656, Anne Wakerell of Chawleigh, Devon, 1s. 3da. (1 d.v.p.).  suc. fa. 1679.1

Offices Held

Freeman, Exeter 1674, sheriff 1681–2, alderman 1684–87, 1688–?d.; mayor Oct.–Nov. 1687, 1689–90, 1700–1.2


At the time of his admission as a freeman of Exeter, Snell was in business as a ‘merchant’ and in later records appears as a grocer. He considered himself to belong to the ranks of the city’s gentry by the later 1680s, his son’s matriculation entry at Exeter College, Oxford in 1688 describing him as ‘gentleman’. An active member of the corporation, he was nominated an alderman under Charles II’s new charter to the city in 1684, was elected mayor at the civic elections in October 1687 but was removed the following month for opposing James II’s policy of seeking support from Nonconformists. He regained his aldermanic rank when the old corporation was restored by the King’s order early in November 1688, though he did not resume his term as mayor. Despite his High Toryism, he did not join other aldermen in their expressions of loyalty to King James sent to Secretary Lord Middleton (Thomas†) on 7 Nov. as William of Orange and his Dutch force approached the city. He enjoyed a full mayoral term during 1689–90, and in 1695 stood for Parliament jointly with Sir Edward Seymour, 4th Bt.*, but was defeated. However, in January 1702, a few months after completing a third mayoral term he was returned unopposed at a by-election, and again at the general election in the summer.3

Snell’s first recorded vote was on 26 Feb. 1702 when he voted for the motion vindicating the Commons’ impeachment proceedings against William III’s senior ministers. Early the following year he helped to initiate, and on 1 Feb. 1703 presented, a bill to make Exeter a free port for imports of Irish wool. In mid-March 1704 Secretary Nottingham (Danial Finch†) forecast Snell as a likely supporter in the furore over the Scotch Plot. Though he had been forecast in the opening days of the 1704–5 session as a probable supporter of the Tack, exception was taken to his absence from a call of the House on 22 Nov. and he was ordered to appear within the next fortnight. He duly complied, voting for the Tack on the 28th. On 15 Jan. 1705 he moved for a private bill on behalf of a wealthy constituent, and was first-named to its second reading committee a week later. When he returned home to Exeter in May, he was greeted several miles outside the city by a huge cavalcade and acclamations of ‘God bless the loyal Tackers’, and at the end of the month was returned, albeit after a contest, in the general election. He was classed as ‘True Church’ in an analysis of the new Parliament, and voted against the Court candidate for the Speakership on 25 Oct. He was further classed as Tory in two lists produced in 1708. In the election of that year he stood down, but was returned unopposed again in 1710 where he was classed as a Tory in the ‘Hanover list’. He later featured in a published list of ‘worthy patriots’ who during the first session assisted in detecting the mismanagements of the Godolphin administration, and on 18 June 1713 voted for the French commerce bill, even though Exeter had petitioned against it on the 4th. In the autumn of his years he felt that reward for his long and loyal services to the Tory cause was overdue. On 7 Aug. he wrote plainly to Lord Treasurer Oxford (Robert Harley*) that

if there be no vacancy for a commissioner in the victualling or Navy Office, I humbly desire some patent office in the customs or what your lordship shall think fit, which will not only gratify those noble lords that have been my advocates but the whole city of Exeter, with Sir William Courtenay* [2nd Bt.], Sir Richard Vivian* [3rd Bt.] and most of the Members of those counties [i.e. Devon and Cornwall].

Had Snell been successful in the approaching general election he might well have received token satisfaction of some kind. But his having chosen to follow his party line in the face of local opposition seriously undermined his continued acceptability to the city and effectively prevented him from renewing his candidacy in September. He died on 26 Aug. 1717 in his 78th year and was buried in Exeter Cathedral.4

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Eveline Cruickshanks


  • 1. Reg. Exeter Cathedral (Devon and Cornw. Rec. Soc.), 53, 76, 150, 153; Vivian, Vis. Devon, 219; Foster, Al. Ox.
  • 2. Exeter Freemen (Devon and Cornw. Rec. Soc. extra ser. i), 166; Trans. Devon Assoc. lxii. 211; Jenkins, Exeter, 181, 192–3.
  • 3. Exeter Freemen, 166; R. Newton, 18th Century Exeter, 14; Trans. Devon Assoc. lxii. 211; Jenkins, 181, 192–3; Add. 41805, f. 158.
  • 4. . Bodl. Rawl. D.863, f. 89; Add. 70206, Snell to Oxford, 7 Aug. 1713; Trans. Devon Assoc. lxii. 211; Reg. Exeter Cathedral, 161.