Jeffreys, Lord George

, baron Wem, commonly known by the name of Judge Jeffreys, was the sixth son of John Jeffreys, esq. of Acton in Denbighshire, by Margaret daughter to sir Thomas Ireland of Beausey, near Warrington. He was educated first at the free-school at | Shrewsbury, from which he was removed to that of Westminster, where he became a good proficient in the learned languages; and was thence removed to the Inner-Temple, where he applied himself very assiduously to the law. His father’s family was large, and his temper parsimonious, consequently the young man’s allowance was very scanty, and hardly sufficient to support him decently: but his own ingenuity supplied all deficiencies, till he came to the bar; to which, however, he never had any regular call. In 1666, he was at the assize at Kingston, where very few counsellors attended, on account of the plague then raging. Here necessity gave him permission to put on a gown; and to plead; and he continued the practice unrestrained, till he reached the highest employments in the law.

About this time he made clandestine addresses to the daughter of a wealthy merchant, in which he was assisted by a young lady, the daughter of a clergyman. The affair was discovered, and the confidante turned out of doors. Jeffreys, with a generosity unknown to him in his prosperous days, took pity on, and married her. She proved an excellent wife, and lived to see him lord chief justice of England. On her death, he married the widow of Mr. Jones, of Montgomeryshire, and daughter to sir Thomas Blodworth.

Soon after commencing his professional career, alderman Jeffreys, a namesake, and probably a relation, introduced him among the citizens; and, being a jovial bottle companion, he became very popular among them, came into great business, and was chosen their recorder. His influence in the city, and his readiness to promote any measures without reserve, introduced him at court; and he was appointed the duke of York’s solicitor.

He was very active in the duke’s interest, and carried through a cause which was of very great consequence to his revenue, respecting the right of the Penny-post-office. He was first made a judge in his native country; and, in 1680, was knighted, and made chief justice of Chester, and a baronet in 1681. When the parliament began the prosecution of the abhorrers, he resigned the recordership, and obtained the place of chief justice of the king’s-bench; and, soon after the accession of James II. the great seal. He was one of the greatest advisers and promoters of all the oppressive and arbitrary measures of that unhappy and tyrannical reign; and his sanguinary and inhuman | proceedings against Monmouth’s miserable adherents in the West will ever render his name infamous. There is, however, a singular story of him in this expedition, which tends to his creuit; as it shews, that when he was not under state influence, he had a proper sense of the natural and civil rights of men, and an inclination to protect them. The mayor, aldermen, and justices of Bristol, had been used to transport convicted criminals to the American plantations, and sell them by way of trade; and finding the commodity turn to a good account, they contrived a method to make it more plentiful. Their legal convicts were but few, and the exportation was inconsiderable. When, therefore, any petty rogues and pilferers were brought before them in a judicial capacity, they were sure to be threatened with hanging; and they had some very diligent officers attending, who would advise the ignorant intimidated creatures to pray for transportation, as the only way to save them; and, in general, by some means or other^ the advice was followed. Then, without any more fornij each alderman in course took one and sold for his own benefit; and sometimes warm disputes arose among them about the next turn. This trade had been carried on unnoticed many years, when it came to the knowledge of the lord chief justice; who, finding, upon inquiry, that the mayor was equally involved in the guilt of this outrageous practice with the rest of his brethren, made him descend from the bench where he was sitting, and stand at the bar in his scarlet and furs, and plead as a common criminal. He then took security of them to answer informations; but the amnesty after the revolution stopt the proceedings, and secured their iniquitous gains.

North, who informs us of this circumstance, tells us likewise, that, when he was in temper, and matters indifferent came before him, no one better became a seat of justice; and the following anecdote seems to prove that he at least knew what was right. At a contested election for a member of parliament for the town of Arundel in Sussex, government interfered so openly as to send down Jeffreys, then lord chancellor, with instructions to use every method to procure the return of the court candidate. On the day of election, in order to intimidate tl>e electors, he placed himself on the hustings close by the returning officer, the mayor, who had been an attorney, but was retired from business, with an ample fortune and fair character; he well | fcnew the chancellor, but for prudential reasons acted as if he was a stranger both to his person and rank. In the course of the poll, that magistrate, who scrutinized every man before he permitted him to vote, rejected one of the court party, at which Jeffreys rising in a heat, after several indecent reflections, declared the man should poll, adding, “I am the lord chancellor of this realm.” The mayor, regarding him with a look of the highest contempt, replied in these words, “Your ungentlemanlike behaviour convinces me, it is impossible you should be the person you pretend; were you the chancellor, you would know that you have nothing to do here, where I alone preside;”“then turning to the crier,” Officer,“said he,” turn that fellow out of court;“his commands were obeyed without hesitation, and the chancellor retired to his inn, in great confusion, and the election terminated in favour of the popular candidate. In the evening the mayor, to his great surprise, received a message from Jeffreys, desiring the favour of his company at the inn, which he declining, the chancellor came to his house, and being introduced to him made the following compliment:” Sir, notwithstanding we are in different interests, I cannot help revering one who so well knows, and dares so nobly execute the law; and though I myself was somewhat degraded thereby, you did but your duty. You, as I have learned, are independent, but you may have some relation who is not so well provided for; if you have, let me have the pleasure of presenting him with a considerable place in my gift, just now vacant." Such an offer, and so handsomely made, could not fail of drawing the acknowledgments of the party to whom it was made; he having a nephew in no very affluent circumstances, named him to the chancellor, who immediately signed the necessary instrument for his appointment to a very lucrative and honourable employment.

On the bench, judge Jeffreys talked fluently, and with spirit; but his weakness was, that he could not reprehend without scolding, and in the very lowest language. He called it “giving a lick with the rough side of his tongue.” It was ordinary to hear him say,-“Go, you are a filthy, lousy, nitty rascal;” with much more of like elegance. He took a pleasure iir mortifying fraudulent attorneys. His voice and visage made him a terror to real offenders, and formidable indeed to all. A scrivener of Wapping having a cause before him, one of the opponent’s counsel said, | that he was a strange fellow, and sometimes went io church, sometimes to conventicles and none could tell what to make of him, and it was thought that he was a Trimmer.” At that the chancellor fired. “A Trimmer!” said he, “I have heard much of that monster, but never saw one; come forth, Mr. Trimmer, and let me‘ see your shape:” and he treated the poor fellow so roughly, that, when he came out of the hall, he declared “he would not undergo the terrors of that man’s face again to save his life; and he should certainly retain the frightful impressions of it as long as he lived.

When the prince of Orange came, and all was in confusion, the lord chancellor, being very obnoxious to the people, disguised himself in order to go abroad. He was in a seaman’s dress, and drinking a pot in a cellar. The scritener, whom he had so severely handled, happening tocome into the cellar after some of his clients, his eye caught that face which made him start; when the chancellor seeing himself observed, feigned a cough, and turned to the wall with his pot in his hand. But the scrivener went out, and gave notice that he was there; and the mob immediately rushed in, seized him, and carried him to the lord-mayor. Thence, under a strong guard, he was set to the lords of the council, who committed him to the Tower, where he died April 18, 1689, of a broken heart, aided by intemperance. He was first interred in the church belonging to the Tower, and afterwards was removed to that of St. Mary Aldermanbury, and deposited near the body of his son. His father survived him, and died in 1690. Pennant records an instance of insult on this once great man during his imprisonment. He received, as he thought, a present of Colchester oysters, and expressed great satisfaction at the thought of having some friend yet left; but on takiiig off the top of the barrel, instead of the usual contents appeared an halter.

This wretched man left an only son, who inherited his title as lord Jeffreys, and also his intemperate habit. Two poetical efforts, in the “State Poems,” 4 vols. 8vo, are attributed to him, and he is said to have published “An Argument in the case of Monopolies,1689. He died in 1703, when his title became extinct, and was buried in St. Mary Aldermanbury church. He married Charlotte, the daughter and heiress of Philip earl of Pembroke, by whom he had an only daughter, who married Thomas earl of Pomfretv | After his death, the countess of Pomfret became a munificent benefactress to the university of Oxford, hy presenting to it the noble collection of the Pomfret marbles. Granger informs us that this very amiable lady met with very rude insults from the populace on the western road, merely because she was grand-daughter of the inhuman Jeffreys. Jeffreys’s seat, well known by the name of Buistrode, was purchased by William earl of Portland, in queen Anne’s reign, and until lately has been the principal seat of the Portland family. There is some reason to think that judge Jeffreys was created earl of Flint, but the fact has never been clearly ascertained. 1

1

Life and Death of George Lord Jeffreys,1693, 8vo.—Life and Character of, &c. 1725, 8vo.—Life of the Lord Keeper North.—Burnet’s Own Times.—Gent. Mag. vol. LV.—Granger.—Hume’s History.—Nichols’s Leicestershire, vol, II.