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His "Or


decrees should be brought before a Court of Appeal by preventing parliament from ever assembling.

He deserves great credit for "Ordinancies made by the Lord Keeper Coventery (with the advice and assistance of Sir Julius Cæsar, Master of the Rolls) for the redresse of sundry errours, defaults, and abuses in the High Courte of Chauncerye." I give No. 1. as a specimen, which shows the evil of prolixity then prevailing, and which will prevail, in spite of all efforts to repress it, while the remuneration of lawyers is regulated by the length of the written proceedings. “1. That bills, answers, replications, and rejoinders, be not stuffed with repetitions of deeds or writings, in hæc verba, but the effect and substance of so much of them only as is pertinent and material be set down, and that in brief and effectual terms. That long and needless traverses of points not traversable nor material, causeless recitals, tautologies and multiplication of words, and all other impertinences, occasioning needless perplexity, be avoided, and the ancient brevity and succinctness in bills and other pleadings restored. And upon any default herein, the party and counsel under whose hand it passeth shall pay the charge of the copy, and be further punished as the case shall merit."

To these Orders the authorship of Coventry is confined. With such a predecessor as Bacon, and such a contemporary as Hyde, he seems to have had an utter contempt for literature and literary men, and to have lived almost entirely with lawyers. I find no further account of his domestic A jest of habits, and no personal anecdotes respecting him. One atthe Lord Keeper When tempt which he made at a jest has come down to us. Coventry. Prynne, Bastwick, and Butter were prosecuted in the Star

Chamber for libelling the Bishops, they objected that the Bishops ought not to sit as their Judges; whereupon smartly answered my Lord Keeper, "By that plea you can never be tried, for you have libelled all the magistrates in the land."*

He died the richest man that had yet held the Great Seal. Weldon says, "Coventry, so generally reputed an honest man,


got such an estate by bribery and injustice, that he is said to
have left a family worth a million, which may commend
his wisdom, but not his honesty." But the anonymous bio-
grapher I have before quoted, although he allows that Co-
ventry's enormous wealth was a ground of considerable
"murmuration" against his integrity in his own time, more
good-naturedly, and perhaps more reasonably, says,
vague objection vulgarly inferred that the amassing of his
wealth could not well be done in justice, might be answered
to the full in this, that his patrimony considered, and
the gainfulness of the places he passed through, together
with the great fortunes of his own and his son's inter-
marriages, all concurring and falling into a frugal family,-
might soon wipe away all imputations of the most malignant,
and persuade even detraction itself to suffer him to rest in
peace, and, as we may charitably believe, in glory, as his
posterity surviving remains in his house and fortunes."*




He was buried in the church of Crome d'Abitot, where a His fusuitable monument, recording his age, family, and offices, was erected to his memory.


He was twice married; first, to Sarah, daughter of Edward His deSebright, Esq., of Besford, in the county of Worcester, by whom he had a daughter and a son, who succeeded to his title and estates; and, 2dly, to Elizabeth, daughter of John Aldersey, Esq., of Spenstow, in the county of Chester, by whom he had several sons and daughters. His grandson, Thomas, the fifth Baron, his last male descendant, was advanced in the peerage by King William to be Earl of April 26. Coventry and Viscount Deerhurst, with a special limitation on failure of his own issue to that of Walter, the third son of the Judge, and brother of the Lord Keeper. This remainder came into operation in the year 1719, by the death of the fourth Earl without issue, and under it the honours of the family are now enjoyed.†

# Sloane MS. Brit. Mus.

† Grandeur of the Law, թ. 49.





Infamy of new Lord Keeper.

Jan. 13.

1640. Reasons

for select ing him.

Family of

We now come to one of the worst characters in English history. It is rather fortunate for his memory that he has not had his full share of notoriety with posterity. He was universally execrated in his own times, and ought now to be placed in the same category with Jeffreys and Scroggs. He raised himself to eminence in bad times by assisting to upset law and liberty, and when on the bench he prostituted, in the most shameless manner, his judicial duties for his private ends. It is some consolation to think that, if he did not meet the fate he deserved, he did not escape unpunished.

Although, previous to the death of Lord Keeper Coventry, it had been resolved to submit to the necessity of once more calling a parliament, the King and his advisers were by no means fully aware of the state of the public mind, or of the difficulties which surrounded them. Instead of making conces sions, and trying to gain over opponents, they were resolved still to stretch the prerogative, and, if they could not obtain a supply of money by dictating to the House of Commons, to throw aside all profession of respect for the constitution and to govern by open force. The most violent and unscrupulous supporter of arbitrary power that could be found in the profession of the law was therefore to be chosen as Lord Keeper, and there was no hesitation in fixing on Sir John Finch, Lord Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, although he was, in reality, "a man exceedingly obnoxious to the people upon the business of ship money, and not of repu tation and authority enough to advance the King's service."

He disgraced a family of considerable antiquity, which, in the seventeenth century, rose to great distinction by pro

* Clarendon.

ducing several very eminent lawyers. They were said to be descended from Sir Henry Fitzherbert, Chamberlain to King Henry I., and in the time of Edward I. to have assumed their present surname from the acquisition of the manor of Finch's, in Kent. Their possessions were greatly enlarged by the marriage of Sir Thomas Finch with the heiress of Sir Thomas Moyle, Chancellor of the Court of Augmentations in the reign of Henry VIII. The eldest son of this marriage was Sir Moyle Finch, the ancestor of the Earls of Winchelsea and Nottingham. The second son, Sir Henry Finch, from whom sprang the subject of this memoir, was twice representative in parliament for the city of Canterbury in the reign of Elizabeth, and the first great lawyer of the family. He was autumn reader of Gray's Inn in 1603, took the coif in 1614, and was made King's Serjeant in 1616. He wrote the treatise called "Finch's Law," which, till the publication of Blackstone's Commentaries, was the great elementary text book for law students. From his preface, he seems to have had himself a very high opinion of his own performance, and to have thought it of infinitely greater importance than the NOVUM ORGANUM: "Inter innumeros tam augustæ disciplinæ alumnos, surrexit adhuc nemo, qui in eo elaboravit ut rerum præstantiam methodi præstantia consequatur. Aut ego vehementer fallor, aut superavi rei vix credendæ difficultatem maximam; syrtesque et scopulos, Scyllam et Charybdin præternavigavi."





John, his son, whom we have now to take in hand, was Birth of born on the 17th of September, 1584, and was of a very dif- Keeper ferent character, being, from his early years, noted for idleness, though he showed a talent for turning the industry of other boys to his own advantage.

He was entered of Gray's Inn, and there professed to study the law, but instead of reading his father's black-letter treatise, or attending "moots and readings," he spent his time in dicing and roistering. When called to the bar, he had little acquired learning of any sort,- no clients and many debts. He saw that he had no chance to get forward in the regular routine of his profession, and that he was in considerable danger of being sent to prison by his creditors; but his

His habits

at Gray's


CHAP parts were lively, his manners were agreeable, he had powerful friends at Court, and he determined to make his fortune His career by politics. He avoided the degree of the coif, as he knew at the bar. he could make no figure in the Court of Common Pleas, among the drowsy, long-winded Serjeants, but he contrived to be employed occasionally, in libel cases, in the Star Chamber. What he looked forward to with most eagerness was the meeting of a parliament; a chance which an aspiring lawyer, in those days, might for years expect in vain. Having led a free life in a restrained fortune, and having set up upon the stock of a good wit and natural parts, without the superstructure of much knowledge in the profession by which he was to grow, he was willing to use those weapons in which he had most skill.” *

Returned to parlia


A. D. 1626. Chairman of Com

mittee on Sir E. Coke's


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He was disappointed in not being returned to Charles's first parliament, but he took his seat as a burgess in that which met in February, 1628. He was one of the lawyers then accused of "taking retainers on both sides," and "of waiting to see which way the cat jumped." The popular party had been gaining strength every new parliament since the middle of the reign of Elizabeth, and now had a complete ascendency in the House of Commons, but they had no preferment to bestow, and John Finch would have been much better pleased with the appointment of Attorney to the Court of Wards than with the reputation of a flaming patriot. An expectation prevailed, which was not disappointed, that some of the most formidable leaders, who gave least open offence to the Court, would be offered employment.

Under the pretence of great moderation, the new member contrived to get himself appointed Chairman of the Committee, to whom was referred the very important question, "whether Sir Edward Coke, late Chief Justice of the King's Bench, having been appointed, against his will, sheriff of Buckinghamshire before the general election, was disqualified to sit in the House of Commons for another county?" The Committee very much deferred to Finch as a gentleman of the long robe, who, among lay gents, could talk very glibly of


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