Page images



His character by


the Court of Chancery has been accounted for by a suggestion that he was previously acquainted only with the practice of the common-law Courts: but this is wholly unfounded; for, during the whole time that he was Solicitor General, he was in the first business at the equity bar, though neither he, nor any other counsel, then confined themselves to that branch of practice.

Lloyd, with the undistinguishing eulogies he bestows on all, says of Littleton, that "his learning was various and Lloyd and by Claren- useful; his skill in the maxims of our government, the fundamental laws of the monarchy, with its statutes and customs, singular; his experience long and observing; his integrity unblemished and unbiassed; his eloquence powerful and majestic, and all befitting a statesman and a Lord Keeper." But Clarendon, though inclined to screen him, having some regard to candour and truth, is obliged to say — "Being a man of grave and comely presence, his other parts were overvalued. From the time he had the Great Seal he seemed to be out of his element, and in some perplexity and irresolution in the Chancery itself, though he had great experience in the practices and proceedings of that Court; and made not that despatch that was expected at the Council table; and in the parliament he did not preserve any dignity, and appeared so totally dispirited that few men showed any respect to him, but they who most opposed the King, who indeed did exceedingly apply themselves to him, and were with equal kindness received by him."

His "Reports."

In 1683 there was published a folio volume of his Reports of Cases decided in the Courts of Common Pleas and Exchequer in the beginning of the reign of Charles I. They are in Norman French, and they are not very valuable; but he had not intended them for publication, and they were found among the papers of his brother, Sir Timothy Littleton, a Baron of the Exchequer.* The Lord Keeper never aspired to the honours of authorship.

The title is curious as showing the strange Gypsy jargon then used by English lawyers: "LES REPORTS des tres Honorable EDW. SEIGNEUR LITTLETON, BARON DE MOUNSLOW, CUSTOs de le Grand Seale d'Angliteur, et de ses Majesty pluis HONORABLE PRIVY COUNCEL, en les Courts del COMMON BANCK et EXCHEQUER en le 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. ans del reign de Roy CHARLES le I."


He was twice married, but his only issue was a daughter, CHAP. and his title became extinct. It was revived, however, in the elder branch of his family,- Sir Thomas Littleton, de- His marscended from William the eldest son of the founder, having riages. been created Lord Lyttleton in the reign of George II. In the south window of the Inner Temple Hall there is a fine shield of the Lord Keeper's arms, with fifteen quarterings, distinguished by a crescent within a mullet, which shows him to have been of the third house.*

I am indebted to Lord Hatherton, representative of the second house of the Littletons, for several interesting particulars of the Lord Keeper, which I have above related.


Consistency of



of his


A. D. 1639.


General to

the Prince

of Wales.

March, 1641. Retained as counsel for Lord Strafford.



I HAVE now to introduce to the reader a man who, although he never was installed in the marble chair in Westminster Hall, nor ever presided on the woolsack, was the legitimate successor of the illustrious Lord Chancellors and Lord Keepers whose names are known to fame. I regret that my researches respecting him have not been more successful, for all that I have discovered of him is to his honour. He was a very high royalist, but sincere, firm, and consistent.

I do not find any information to be relied upon as to his family or education. He seems to have raised himself from an obscure origin by talent, industry, and perseverance. Having never sat in parliament nor been engaged in any great state prosecution, he had not much celebrity till the troubles were breaking out; but he was known to discerning men as an admirable lawyer as well as a steady friend of the prerogative, and in the hope that he might be useful to the Crown in the proceedings which were now anticipated, he was made Attorney General to the Prince of Wales.

Soon after this promotion the Long Parliament met, and Strafford was impeached for high treason. However much Charles wished to protect him, he could not be defended by Banks or Herbert, the Attorney and Solicitor General to the Crown, and Mr. Lane was retained as his leading counsel, along with Gardiner, Recorder of London, a man of great eminence in his profession, and Loe and Lightfoot, two proAttempt by mising juniors.

the Com

mons to intimidate


An order being made by the House of Lords for assigning them and giving them access to their client, the Commons most unreasonably complained that such a thing should be done without their consent, and inveighed with much bitterness against those lawyers that durst be of counsel with a

He is said to have been connected with the family of Lane who assisted Charles II. to escape, after the battle of Worcester.

person accused by them of high treason. Nay, one member went so far as to move that they should be sent for and proceeded against for their contempt; but it was suggested that they not only were obliged to it by the honour and duty of their profession, but that they would have been punishable for refusing to submit to the Lords' order. It appeared too revolting to make this matter a breach of privilege, and the debate dropped. Such attempts at intimidation have ever been scorned by the bar of England, and Lane and his brethren were now only more eager and determined to do their duty at every hazard.

When Strafford was brought up to be arraigned, Lane made a heavy complaint of the length of the articles of impeachment, which contained the actions of the Earl's service for thirteen years past, both in England and Ireland, and he prayed farther time to prepare the answer. This, after considerable difficulty, he obtained.

During the seventeen days which the trial lasted on matters of fact, Lane and the other counsel were not allowed in the slightest degree to interfere, and the noble prisoner, unassisted, carried on against the most distinguished lawyers and statesmen of the country party, and against public prejudice and passion, that heroic struggle which seemed to render the result doubtful, and which shed such a lustre on his closing scene.

"Now private pity strove with public hate,
Reason with rage, and eloquence with fate;
So did he move the passions, some were known
To wish for the defence, the crime their own."

He then prayed that he might be heard by his counsel upon
the question, whether any of the charges amounted to treason
in point of law? and in spite of a stout resistance by the
managers of the Commons, who felt that the case was going
against them, leave was given.

The 17th of April, 1641, was the most memorable day in the life of Lane. The Commons resentfully refused to attend as a body, but almost all the members of the House were present from curiosity. The Scottish and Irish Commissioners filled the galleries; the King and his family were known to be in the



Courage of

the bar.

April 14.



legal argument in Strafford.

favour of


CHAP. royal closet, the Prince occasionally showing himself and nodding to his Attorney General; the uninclosed part of Westminster Hall was filled by an immense mass of anxious spectators from the city and from the provinces, once strongly incensed against Strafford, but now beginning to doubt his guilt, and strongly inclined to admire and to pity him. How insignificant in comparison was the trial of Warren Hastings, of which we have heard such boastful accounts from our fathers!

Lane surpassed all expectation. Knowing that a majority of Peers were now favourable to his client, and being unchecked by any opponents, although he professed to carry himself with all content and satisfaction to the House of Commons, and to abstain from touching on the merits of the cause, he said that it was impossible to argue the question of law without stating the facts (as he understood them) out of which that question arose. Accordingly he took a short, rapid, and dexterous view of the evidence adduced. Having then shown very distinctly and incontrovertibly that none of the charges amounted to treason under the statute of Edward III., which provides against "compassing the King's death, levying war against him, violating his companion, and counterfeiting his Great Seal," but is entirely silent with respect to "subverting the fundamental laws of the kingdom," he came to the main point which had been urged by the Commons, "whether the salvo in that statute as to parliament declaring a new case of treason could apply to a parliamentary impeachment?" and he argued to demonstration that this power could only be exercised by parliament in its "legislative capacity,"—that the House of Lords was then acting judicially according to promulgated law, —and that the Earl must be acquitted, unless he could be proved to have done an act which had been legislatively declared treason before it was committed. He finally contended that, assuming the subversion of the fundamental laws of the kingdom to be high treason, one or more acts of injustice, whether maliciously or ignorantly done, could in no sense be called the subversion of the fundamental laws; for otherwise, possibly "as many judges, so many traitors," and all distinction and degrees of offences being confounded, every man who transgresses a statute may lose his life and his estate,

« PreviousContinue »