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Portrait of Sir Nicholas Conyngham Tindal by Sir Thomas Phillips RA, now in the Great Hall of Lincoln's Inn.

Sir Nicolas Conyngham Tindal (12 December 1776 – 6 July 1846) was a celebrated English lawyer who successfully defended Queen Caroline at her trial for adultery in 1820. As Chief Justice of Common Pleas, an office he held with distinction from 1829 to 1846, he was responsible for the inception of the special verdict "Not Guilty by reason of insanity" at the trial of Daniel M’Naghten.

Judge Tindal was born in the Moulsham area of Chelmsford, where 199 Moulsham Street is today, and the site is marked with a commemorative plaque.


The Tindal Family

Sir Nicolas's father, Robert Tindal, was an attorney in Chelmsford, where his family had lived at Coval Hall for three generations. His great-grandfather, Rev Nicolas Tindal, was the translator and continuer of the History of England by Paul de Rapin — a seminal work in its day — and he was also descended from Dr Matthew Tindal, the deist and author of 'Christianity as Old as the Creation' (known as the 'deist's bible') and Thomas Clifford, 1st Baron Clifford of Chudleigh.

Sir Nicolas's branch of the Tindal family were descended from Rev John Tindal, Rector of Bere Ferris in Devon during the Commonwealth of England and who has been claimed as the son either of Dean Tyndale or of (his father) Sir John Tyndale, both of Mapplestead, Essex. It is also said that the family derived from Baron Adam de Tyndale of Langley Castle, Northumberland, a tenant-in-chief of Henry II. Through marriage to a cousin of Anne of Bohemia, Queen of Richard II, they became heirs to the throne of Bohemia, a Crown offered to two of Tindal's ancestors, though ultimately taken by the Habsburgs. Although John Nichols is reported in "Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century"[1] as claiming that the Tindal family has been traced back to the Emperor Henry VII of Germany, it appears that the parentage of Matthew Tindal’s father John is wholly unknown. Furthermore, the authoritative Robert Edmond Chester Waters [2] confidently asserts that 'The Parentage of John Tindal of Beer Ferris, the founder of this family, is wholly unknown, but it is impossible that he belonged to the Tyndalls of Maplestead’.

It is likely that Tindal was also collaterally descended from William Tyndale, translator of the bible. William Tyndale was a nephew of Edward Tyndale of Pull Court, receiver to Lord Berkeley in the 15th century. That same Edward Tyndale is named as the brother of Sir William Tyndale, grandfather of Sir John Tyndale of Mapplestead, in the genealogy of Sir Nicolas's family contained in the ninth volume of the 'Anecdotes' of John Nichol.

Tindal was descended from a number of great legal figures, all of whom were members of Lincoln's Inn. Sir John Fortescue, was a great medieval jurist and Lord Chancellor of Henry VI of England; Sir William Yelverton was an earlier Lord Chief Justice of England; Sir Roger Manwood was an Elizabethan Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer; and his nephew, John Manwood, Sir Nicolas's great great great grandfather, was the author of 'the Forest Laws'.

(See also Tyndall.)


Tindal was educated at King Edward VI Grammar School in his home town of Chelmsford, and later at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated eighth Wrangler in 1799 and was elected fellow in 1801.[3] A statue to him stands in his home town, and a house at his old school is now dedicated to his memory.

He served as a Tory MP for the Scottish constituency of Wigtown Burghs from 1824 to 1826; he was elected MP for Harwich in 1826 and then for Cambridge University in 1827. He served as Solicitor General from 1826-1829, when he was appointed to the bench.

Tindal's greatest achievement was to reform significantly the application of the criminal law. By introducing to the common law the special verdict of "Not Guilty by reason of insanity" and of the defence (to murder) of provocation, he left a legacy that remains to this day.

His most famous case was that of Daniel M’Naghten. M'Naghton had assassinated Edward Drummond, secretary to Sir Robert Peel (then Prime Minister), but there was no doubt that he was seriously mentally ill and he was acquitted in a verdict so sensational that Queen Victoria herself called for him to be retried in the House of Lords. Whilst this undoubtedly offended the principle of double jeopardy, the House called upon a panel of judges, headed by Tindal, to advise them on the course to take where defendants committed crimes whilst insane. This advice, leading to the special verdict, remains the foundation of the law of insanity throughout the English common law world.

Statue of Sir Nicholas Conyngham Tindal, Tindal Square Chelmsford.

In the case of Regina v Hale, Tindal ruled that, where a defendant was provoked to such a degree that any reasonable man would lose his self-control and then killed the person responsible for that provocation, the defendant would be guilty only of manslaughter. This judgment remains the foundation of the common law defence of provocation and was incorporated into section 3 of the Homicide Act 1957.

The significance of these judgments was to remove the spectre of the noose from many vulnerable prisoners in an era of the widespread application of the death penalty; and to reform the law through the greater recognition of the importance of differing states of mind (mens rea) in those accused of the most serious crimes. In the context of the century that produced William Wilberforce, the Earl of Shaftesbury and Benjamin Disraeli, Tindal's reforms to the cruel application of the criminal law deserve to be remembered as social reforms of great importance.

Towards the end of his career, Tindal yet again demonstrated the quality that was to lead to his great popularity amongst the public[4]; namely, his high standard of judicial independence from the state and the wide ambit and discretion he would give to juries. In the case of Frost (1839-40), a prisoner had escaped and led 5,000 armed men into Newport, where they shot at regular troops. Directing the jury to consider charges of treason, Tindal said that, were Frost's motives only to free local Chartists from jail, as opposed to intimidating Parliament into enacting radical constitutional reform, they should find him guilty of riot only.[5] Whilst Frost was ultimately convicted, Tindal's direction differed from the legal practice of many of his brother judges at the time and since.

Marriage and Family

Memorial to Sir Nicolas Tindal at Chelmsford Cathedral.

Tindal married Merilina, daughter of Capt. Thomas Symonds, in 1809 and had four children, Vice Admiral Louis Symonds Tindal, Rev Nicolas Tindal (Rector of Chelmsford), Charles Tindal and Merelina Tindal (who married James Whatman Bosanquet of Claysmore and amongst whose descendants was Reginald Bosanquet). He was buried in Chelmsford and is commemorated by a plaque inside Chelmsford Cathedral (alongside memorials to other members of his family). In addition to his statue at Chelmsford, there is a portrait of him by Thomas Phillips, RA (1770–1845) in the Hall at Lincoln's Inn and another in the judges quarters of the Royal Courts of Justice.


Chelmsford Museum holds a portrait by John Lucas, RA (1807-1874) and portraits of his parents Robert Tindal, by John Jackson (1778-1831) and Sally Tindal, née Pocock (by an unknown artist).

  1. ^ ed. Colin Clair) (Sussex: Centaur Press, 1967, p. 303
  2. ^ "Genealogical memoirs of the Extinct Family of Chester of Chicheley, Their Ancestors and Descendants" London: Robson and Son, 1878, p. 289
  3. ^ Nicholas Conyngham Tindal in Venn, J. & J. A., Alumni Cantabrigienses, Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922–1958.
  4. ^ The Gentleman's Magazine, Vol.XXVI (1846) p.199
  5. ^ Greenwood, Frank Canadian State Trials (Barry Wright, 2002)


Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Sir John Osborn, Bt
Member of Parliament for Wigtown Burghs
Succeeded by
John Henry Lowther
Preceded by
The Viscount Palmerston
John Singleton Copley
Member of Parliament for Cambridge University
With: The Viscount Palmerston
Succeeded by
The Viscount Palmerston
William Cavendish
Legal offices
Preceded by
Sir Charles Wetherell
Solicitor General for England and Wales
Succeeded by
Edward Sugden
Preceded by
Sir William Best
Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas
Succeeded by
Sir Thomas Wilde


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