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Thomas Richardson (judge): Wikis


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Sir Thomas Richardson.

Sir Thomas Richardson (3 July 1569–4 February 1635), was successively Speaker of the House of Commons, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas and Chief Justice of the King’s Bench.


Origins and early career

The son of William Richardson and Agnes, his wife, he was born at Hardwick, Norfolk, where he was baptised on 3 July 1569. On 5 March 1586-7 he was admitted a student at Lincoln's Inn, where he was called to the bar on 28 Jan. 1594-5. In 1605 he was deputy steward to the dean and chapter of Norwich; afterwards he was recorder, successively, of Bury St. Edmunds and Norwich. He was Lent reader at Lincoln's Inn in 1614, and on 13 October of the same year was called to the degree of serjeant-at-law; about the same time he was made chancellor to the queen.

Speaker of the House of Commons

On the meeting of parliament on 30 January 1620-1, Richardson was chosen speaker of the House of Commons, in which he sat for St Albans. The excuses which he made before accepting this office appear to have been more than formal, for an eye-witness reports that he 'wept downright.' On 25 March 1621 he was knighted at Whitehall on conveying to the king the congratulations of the commons upon the recent censure of Sir Giles Mompesson. In the chair he proved a veritable King Log, and the house had the good sense not to re-elect him. His term of office was marked by the degradation of Bacon.

Judicial advancement

On 20 February 1624-5 he was made king's serjeant; and on 28 November 1626 he succeeded Sir Henry Hobart as Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, after a vacancy of nearly a year. His advancement was said to have cost him £17,000 and his second marriage (see infra). His opinion, which had the concurrence of his colleagues, 13 November 1628, that the proposed use of the rack to elicit confession from the Duke of Buckingham's murderer, Felton, was illegal, marks an epoch in the history of our criminal jurisprudence. In the following December he presided at the trial of three of the Jesuits arrested in Clerkenwell, and secured the acquittal of two of them by requiring proof, which was not forthcoming, of their orders.

In the same year he took part in the careful review of the law of constructive treason occasioned by the case of Hugh Pine, charged with that crime for words spoken derogatory to the king's majesty, the result of which was to limit the offence to cases of imagining the king's death. He also concurred in the guarded and somewhat evasive opinion on the extent of privilege of parliament which the king elicited from the judges on occasion of the turbulent scenes which preceded the dissolution of 4 March 1628-9. By his judgment, imposing a fine of £500 without imprisonment, in the case of Richard Chambers, he went as far as he reasonably could in the direction of leniency; and his concurrence in the barbarous sentences passed upon Alexander Leighton and William Prynne was probably dictated by timidity, and contrasts strongly with the tenderness which he exhibited towards the iconoclastic bencher of Lincoln's Inn, Henry Sherfield.

Chief Justice of the King’s Bench

Richardson was advanced to the chief-justiceship of the king's bench on 24 October 1631, and rode the western circuit. Though no puritan, he made, at the instance of the Somerset magistrates in Lent 1632, an order suppressing the 'wakes' or Sunday revels, which were a fertile source of crime in the county, and directed it to be read in church. This brought him into collision with Laud, who sent for him and told him it was the king's pleasure he should rescind the order. This monition he ignored until it was repeated by the king himself. He then, at the ensuing summer Assizes (1633), laid the matter fairly before the justices and grand jury, professing his inability to comply with the royal mandate on the ground that the order had been made by the joint consent of the whole bench, and was in fact a mere confirmation and enlargement of similar orders made in the county since the time of Queen Elizabeth, all which he substantiated from the county records. This caused him to be cited before the council, reprimanded, and transferred to the Essex circuit. 'I am like,' he muttered as he left the council board, 'to be choked with the archbishop's lawn sleeves.' He died at his house in Chancery Lane on 4 February 1634-5. His remains were interred in the north aisle of the choir, Westminster Abbey, beneath a marble monument. There is a bust by Hubert Le Sueur.

Judicial reputation

Richardson was a capable lawyer and a weak man, much addicted to flouts and jeers. 'Let him have the Book of Martyrs' he said, when the question whether Prynne should be allowed the use of books was before the court; 'for the puritans do account him a martyr.' He could also make a caustic jest at his own expense. 'You see now’ he dryly remarked, when by stooping low he had just avoided a missile aimed at him by a condemned felon, 'if I had been an upright judge I had been slain.' He was not without some tincture of polite learning, which caused John Taylor, the water poet, to dedicate to him one of the impressions of his Superbiae Flagellum (1621).

Family and posterity

Richardson married twice. His first wife, Ursula, third daughter of John Southwell of Barham Hall, Suffolk, was buried at St. Andrew's, Holborn, on 13 June 1624. His second wife, married at St Giles in the Fields, Middlesex, on 14 December 1626, was the first Duke of Buckingham's maternal second cousin once removed, Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Thomas Beaumont of Stoughton, Leicestershire, and widow of Sir John Ashburnham. By his first wife he had twelve children, of whom four daughters and one son, Thomas, survived him. By his second wife he had no issue. She was created on 28 February 1628-9 Lady Cramond in the peerage of Scotland, for life, with remainder to her stepson, Sir Thomas Richardson, K.B., who dying in her lifetime on 12 March 1644-5, his son Thomas succeeded to the peerage on her death in April 1651. The title became extinct by the death, without issue, of William, the fifth lord, in 1735.


External links

Legal offices
Preceded by
Sir Henry Hobart
Chief Justice of the Common Pleas
Succeeded by
Sir Robert Heath
Preceded by
Sir Nicholas Hyde
Lord Chief Justice
Succeeded by
Sir John Brampston
Political offices
Preceded by
Sir Randolph Crewe
Speaker of the British House of Commons
Succeeded by
Sir Thomas Crewe


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