Egerton, Thomas

, lord Ellesmere, an eminent English statesman and lawyer, the son of Richard Egerton, of Ridley, in Cheshire, was born in Cheshire, about the year 1540. In 1556 he was admitted a commoner of Brasencse college, in Oxford, where he continued about three years; and having laid a good foundation of classical and logical learning, he removed thence to Lincoln’s-inn, and applied himself with such success to the study of the law, that he soon became a noted counsellor.*


There is a tradition that one of the first public occasions which created an opinion of lord chancellor Egerton’s shrewdness and ability in his profession was shortly after he removed to Lincoln’s-inn. He happened to be in their court when a cause was trying, in which it appeared, that three graziers had vested a joint deposit of a sum of money in the custody of a woman who lived in Smithfield, upon condition that she was to account for it upon coming to demand it together. One of the graziers, by persuading him


that he was commissioned to recede the money by his two partners, who were bargaining for some oxen, and only waiting for the money to conclude the purchase, prevailed upon her to entrust him with it; and he immediately absconded. The two other partners began a suit against the woman to recover their money. The cause was brought on, and a verdict he would probably have been given in faYour of the plaintiffs when Mr. Egerton stepped forward, and begged leave to speak as “Amicus Curiæ.” Upon btaining permission, he took care to establish the conditions upon which the defendant was entrusted with the money. These being readily allowed to be such as above stated; “Then,” said he, “the defendant is ready to comply with the agreement. The plaintifiV only may deservedly be charged with attempting its violation. Two of them have brought a suit against this woman to oblige her to pay them a sum of money, which, by the agreement, she was to pay to those two and. to the remaining partner jointly, corning together to demand it where is why does not he appear why do not the plaintiffs bring their partner along with them when they do this,‘ and fulfil the agreement on their part, she is ready to come up to the full extent of it on hers till then, 1 apprehend that she is by law to remain in quiet, possession.” This turned the caiue, and a verdict was found for the defendant.

The | superior abilities he displayed in the line of his profession, and his distinguished eminence at the bar, attracted the notice of queen Elizabeth, and on June 28, 1581, she appointed him her solicitor-general: the year after he was chosen Lent reader of the society of Lincoln’s-inn, and was made also one of the governors of that society, in which office he continued for twelve years successively. His conduct and proficiency in the law, promoted him on June 2, 1594, to the office of attorney-general, and he was knighted soon after. On the 10th of April, 1593, he was appointed master of the rolls, when he shewed his great friendship to Mr. Francis Bacon, afterwards lord Verulam, by assisting him with his own observations in regard to the office of solicitor-general, then likely to become vacant by the advancement of Mr. Edward Coke to that of attorneygeneral, which was acknowledged by sir Robert Cecil as a favour done personally to himself. Upon the death of sir John Puckering, he had the great eal of England delivered to him at Greenwich on the 6th of May, 1596, with the title of lord keeper, by the special choice and favour of the queen, without any mediator or competitor, and even against the interest of the prime minister and his son; and at the same time he was sworn of her majesty’s privycouncil. He was permitted to hold the mastership of the rolls till May 15, 1603, when James I. conferred it on Edward Bruce, afterwards baron of Kmloss.

The integrity and abilities of the lord keeper so conciliated the favour and confidence of the queen, that she. | employed him in her most weighty emergencies. In 1598^ tye was in corpmission for treating with the Putch, and, jointly with the lord Buckhurst, Cecil, and others, signed a new treaty with their ambassadors in London, hy which the queen was eased of an annual charge of 120,000l. In 1600, he was again in commission with the lord treasurer Buckhurst and the earl of Jlsscx, for negotiating affairs with the senate of Denmark. His conduct in regard to the unfortunate earl of Essex, whose name will for ever distinguish yet disgrace the annals of Elizabeth, exhibits his character both as a wise and loyal subject, and a siacere and honest friend. These illustrious men filled two of ttie highest and most important offices of state at the same time, and with the most perfect harmony, although their characters were very different. Sensible, however, of Essex’s great merit as a soldier, and of his constitutional infirmity as a man, the lord keeper took every opportunity tq soften the violence and asperity of his disposition, and to reclaim him to the -dictates of reason and duty. An instance of his friendly interference, in the year 1598, is given by Mr. Camden by which the high and fesentful spirit of Essex, which disdained to brook an insult from a queen, who, our readers will remember, struck him, was at length softened into a due submission to his royal benefactress; in consequence of which he was pardoned, and again received into her favour. (See Devereux). From this unfortunate affair, however, his friends took an omen of his future ruin, under the conviction that princes, once offended, are seldom thoroughly reconciled. When on his hasty and unexpected return from the Irish expedition, he was summoned before the privy council, suspended from his offices, and committed to the custody of the lord keeper, the latter rendered him every kind and friendly office and, in all his future condu?t to this unfortunate man, tempered justice with compassion preserving a proper medium between the duty of the magistrate, and the generosity of the friend. By the most popular and well-timed measures, he appeased the minds of a, prejudiced people, who then became tumultuous from, the injuries and indignities ’which they supposed were done to the person of their favourite general; asserting the queen’s authority, and justifying the conduct of the public counsels, without heightening or exaggerating the misconduct of the unfortunate earl. Still as the minds of | the people remained dissatisfied, under a persuasion of his innocence, to remove the grounds of these suspicions, the queen resolved that his cause should have an open hearing, not in the star-chamber, but in the lord keeper Egerton’s house, before the council, four earls, two barons, and four judges, in order that a censure might be formally passed upon him, but without charge of perfidy. On this occasion, when he began to excuse and justify his conduct, the lord keeper interrupted him in the most friendly manner, and advised him to throw himself upon the mercy and goodness of the queen, and not, by an attempt to alleviate his offences, to extenuate her clemency. The issue of this trial it is unnecessary here to relate, as it may be found in our account of this unfortunate nobleman. As far as the subject of the present article is concerned, it may be sufficient to add, that after the execution of Essex, with Cuffe, Jvlerrick, Danvers, and Blunt, principal confederates, the lord keeper was in a special commission, with others of the first dignity, to summon all their accomplices, in order to treat and compound with them for the redemption of their estates; and, on security being given for the payment of the fines assessed, their pardon and redemption were obtained. The next year, 1602, he was again commissioned with others of the privy council, to reprieve all such persons/convicted of felony as they should think convenient, and to send them, for a certain time, to some of the queen’s galleys. And again, in the forty-fifth year of Elizabeth, for putting the laws in execution against the Jesuits and seminary priests, ordained according to the rites of the church of Rome. In March 1603, after the queen, oppressed with the infirmities of age, had retired from Westminster to Richmond, the lord keeper and the lord admiral, accompanied by the secretary, were deputed by the rest of the privy council to wait upon her there, in order to remind her majesty of her intentions, in regard to her successor to the crown, whom she appointed to be her nearest kinsman, James of Scotland. After the queen’s death, the care and administration of the kingdom devolved upon the lord keeper and the other ministers of state, till the arrival of king James, her successor, from Scotland, who, by his sign manual, dated at Holy-rood house, Sth of April, 1603, signified to the privy council, that it was his royal pleasure that sir Thomas Egerton should exercise the office of lord keeper till farther orders. | On the 3d of May he waited upon the king at Broxbourne in Hertfordshire, and resigned the great seal to his majesty, who delivered it back again, confirming his office, and commanding him to use it as he had done before. On the 19th of July, king James caused the great seal to be broken, and put a new one into his hands, accompanied with a paper of his own writing, by which he created him “Baron, of Kllesmere for his good and faithful services, not only in. the administration of justice, but also in council, both to the late queen and himself;” the patent for which title he caused to be dispatched the 2 1st of the same month. On the 24th, the day before his coronation, he constituted him lord high chancellor of England, which high and important office of state he supported for more than twelve years, with equal dignity, learning, and impartiality. On the 25th and 26th of November, Henry lord Cobham, and Thomas lord Grey de Wilton, were tried by their peers, the lord chancellor sitting as lord high steward. In 1604, he was, with certain other commissioners, authorized by act of parliament, to bring about an union between England and Scotland, it being the king’s desire, that, as the two crowns were united in one person, an union of the nations might be effected by naturalization. But, differences arising between the house of lords and house of commons upon this point of the naturalization of the Scotch, he was one of the lords appointed of the committee of conference between the two houses. The whole of this transaction, and the causes of its failure, are stated at large in the fifth volume of the Parliamentary History. In 1605, he was appointed high steward of the city of Oxford, and in 1609, he was in commission to compound with all those, who, holding lands by knight’s service, &c. were to pay the aid for making the king’s son a knight.

At the death of Dr. Bancroft, archbishop of Canterbury, who was chancellor of the university of Oxford, on the 2d of Nov. 1610, lord Ellesmere was the next day unanimously elected into that honourable office; and on the 10th, installed in the bishop of Durham’s house in London. At this period, that university was in a very flourishing tate in point of the number of its members, which amounted to more than 2420 but many of> them, and those of the senior part, were tainted with factious principles, both of a civil and religious nature. Convinced how destructive these ideas and principles, inculcated on | the minds of the youth of the university, who were to be called forth to fill the several departments of church and state, would be of the future health and prosperity of the constitution, he bent his earliest attention to eradicate and correct them.

The fame of John Williams, fellow of St. John’s college, in Cambridge, as an able scholar and accomplished preacher, came to the ear of the lord chancellor, who sent for him, and about Midsummer 1611, made him his chapJain (the first chancellor since the reformation who had a domestic chaplain); and to this promotion, and the subsequent friendship of his patron, this great prelate, afterwards archbishop of York, was indebted for all his future success. The lord chancellor, indeed, employed on all occasions the ablest servants and coadjutors, and his affection made choice of the most honourable and valuable friends. Besides the archbishop Williams, sir Francis Bacon lord Verulam was honoured by his friendship, and promoted by his favour.

Neither the infirmities of. old age, nor the active exertions of a long and laborious life, devoted to the service of their country, are always a privilege which can shelter men from unmerited persecution. On the 19th of January, 1615, the lord chancellor being much indisposed, and novr in his seventy-fifth year, a professional attack from that great lawyer the lord chief justice Coke, though unable to damp the firmness of his spirit, threw an additional weight of anxiety upon his minfl. Sir Edward Coke had heard and determined a cause at common law, but there was some collusion in the matter; for, the witness that knew, and should have related the truth, was prevailed upon to absent himself, on condition that some person would undertake to excuse his non-appearance. A fellow of the party undertook it, in a whimsical manner: he went with the witness to a tavern, called for a gallon of sack, and bade bim drink; and, leaving him in the act of drinking, went immediately into court. This witness was called for, on, whose evidence the issue of the cause depended, when the fellow answered upon oath, “that he left him in such a condition, that, if be continued in it but a quarter of an hour, he was a dead man.” This evidence of the witness’s incapacity to appear in court lost the cause. The plaintiffs removed it into chancery; and the defendants, having ajreadj ha4 judgment at common law, refused to obey tUe | orders of that court; on which the chancellor, for contempt of cdurt, committed them to prison. Thejr preferred two indictments against his Jordship the last day of Hilary term, and he was threatened with a preemunire in the star-chamber upon the statutes 27 Edw. III. and 4 Hen. IV. The lord chancellor being recovered of his indisposition, pursued this affair in Easter Term with great spirit and alacrity; and, it being brought to a hearing before the king as supreme judge of the jurisdiction of courts, he referred the matter to sir Francis Bacon and sir Henry Yelverton, his attorney and solicitor, sir Henry Montague and sir Ranulph Crewe, his Serjeants, and Mr. Walter, the prince’s attorney, all eminent men in their profession, who, upon a serious consideration of the statutes, and the occasion of making them, and of the precedents since that tirne^ in April 1616 presented the king with their opinions and reasons why they conceived these statutes did not extend to the court of chancery. Consonant to this resolution^ his majesty, upon farther advice, gave judgment in July following. “That the statute of 27 E. III. ch. 1. and 4 Hen. IV. did not extend to the court of chancery: for the first was enacted against those who sued at Rome, and the latter was 'designed to settle possessions against disturbances, and not to take away remedy in equity.” Upon this, his majesty ordered the case, the certificate, and the transactions thereupon, to be enrolled in the court of chancery.*


The chief point in controversy between lord chancellor Ellesmere and lord chief justice Coke was, whether the Chancery can relieve by subpœna, after a judgment at law in the same matter. Coke on various occasions resisted the equitable interpositions; and during the seventeenth century, the bounds of equitable jurisdiction were often a matter of dispute, but since 1695 when sir Robert Atkyns published an elaborate treatise against the equitable jurisdiction of chancery (which produced no effect), that jurisdiction, as well after as before judgment, has been uniformly exercised without controversy or interruption. Part of a long note on the subject bjr Mr. Hargrave in Bioj. Brit. vol. V. p. 574.

The lord chancellor, having repelled, with credit and success, this extraordinary attack, and being recovered from his indisposition, was, on the 12th of May 1616, constituted lord high steward for the trial of Robert earl of Somerset and Frances his wife, for poisoning sir Thomas Overbury, who were both convicted. After their conviction the chancellor resolutely and consistently refused to affix the great seal to the very extraordinary pardon granted, and already signed by the too indulgent lenity of | the king, which was copied from one granted by the pope to cardinal Wolsey, and which ran in these words: “That the king, of his mere motion and special favour, did pardon all and all manner of treasons, misprisions of treasons, murders, felonies, and outrages whatsoever, by the said Robert Carre, earl of Somerset, committed, or hereafter to be committed.

On the 20th of May following, he was constituted one of the commissioners to treat with sir Noel Caroon, knight, ambassador for the States General, concerning the rendition of the cautionary towns into the hands of the States. On the 3d of June, the archbishop of Canterbury, and others, were appointed to inquire who were the authors of his being indicted of pr<emunirc, which was the leading cause of sir Edward Coke’s disgrace. He was one of the grand council, convened at Whitehall on the 6th of June, 1616, the king himself in council, before whom the twelve judges were summoned to appear, and accused of having, in the execution of their office, unconstitutionally trenched on the powers and prerogatives of the crown, in granting commcndams. The king himself took an active part in this business, and, after a judicial discussion of the question, in which the opinion of sir Francis Bacon, the attorney general, was seconded and confirmed by that of the chancellor, they were severely censured for having grossly and wilfully erred both in the matter and manner of their proceedings; particularly in not obeying the royal command delivered to them by the attorney general, and in not delaying to proceed in a cause in which the prerogative was concerned till they had consulted his majesty, and known his farther pleasure. They all submitted willingly, except the lord chief justice Coke (in the whole of which business he acted a very noble part), and were obliged to crave his majesty’s gracious favour and pardon npon their knees. On the 20tb, the king, in the star-chamber, asserted the authority of the chancellor as more especially his own; and on the 30th, lord chief justice Coke was degraded for several causes of offence, particularly those two which have been just mentioned, viz. his attack upon the chancellor, and the affair of the commendams.

The lord chancellor was now more than seventy-six years of age, and feeling both the powers of his mind and body shrink under the pressure of old age and infirmity, by the most earnest solicitations he entreated the king to | give him an honourable discharge from his high office; partly from a scrupulous apprehension and conscientious diffidence of being competent to bear the fatigues, and to discharge the duties of it as he ought; but principally from an ardent desire to retreat from the busy scenes of office, in order to devote the evening of a life, spent in the honest and faithful discharge of a high profession, to religious meditation. These sentiments he conveyed to the king in two pathetic letters, who at last consented, though he, as well as the prince of Wales, had endeavoured to induce him, as much as possible, to remain in, office. King James parted with an old and faithful servant with all imaginable tenderness, and, as a mark of his royal favour and approbation, advanced him to the dignity of viscount Brackley on the 7th of November, 1616. Though he then resigned the duties of that high and important office of state, the king let him, however, keep the seal in possession till the beginning of Hilary term following, when, according to Camden, on the 3d of March, 1617, his majesty went to visit the chancellor, and received it from his hands with tears of gratitude and respect. On the seventh it was committed to the custody of sir Francis Bacon, the person whom his lordship desired might succeed him. Another author says, that the king sent secretary Winwood for the seal w.ith this gracious message, “That himself would be his underkeeper, and not dispose of it while he lived to bear the title of chancellor,” and that no one received it out of the king’s sight till lord chancellor Egerton’s death, which followed soon after: these accounts are very reconcileable, as the king might both receive it in form from the chancellor’s hands and send his secretary for it afterwards. On the 24th of January he had, for the same reasons, resigned the office of chancellor of the university of Oxford, and was succeeded by the earl of Pembroke.

His lordship’s illness increasing, the king, as a farther testimony of his affection and good- will, sent the earl of Buckingham and sir Francis Bacon on the 15th of March to signify his intention of honouring him with an earldom, accompanied with an annual pension. These honours he did not live to receive, but the king conferred the former upon his son, John Egerton, afterwards created earl of Bridgewater. The age in which he lived was a particular aera of the British annals, distinguished by many great and | extraordinary public characters: but, whilst the misconduct or misfortune of a Devereux, a Raleigh, a Bacon, and a Coke, exposed them to public disgrace, or to an ignominious death; the prudence, discretion, and integrity of lord Ellesmere, secured him a safe and honourable retreat from this life; for, he died at York-house, in the Strand, on the 15th of March, 1617, in his seventy-seventh year, “in a good old age, and full of virtuous fame,” and in the words of Camden, “Forte quanto propius reipublicse mala viderat, ut integer honestum finem voluit.” To sum up his character, says bishop Hacket, the biographer of archbishop Williams, he was one “Qui nihil in vita nisi laudandum aut fecit, aut dixit, aut sensit.” He was buried at Doddleston, in Cheshire, on the 6th of April.

His lordship left four manuscripts of choice collections. 1. “The Prerogative Royal. 2. The Privileges of Parliament. 3. Proceedings in Chancery. 4. The Power of the Star-Chamber;” and, when he was lying upon his death-bed, to testify his affection to his chaplain Williams, he desired him to chuse what most acceptable legacy he should leave him; when Williams requested only these four books, and having been the principal instruments of his future fortunes, he so highly valued as to deem them a present fit to be offered to king James, to whom he gave them. In lord chancellor Egctrton’s life-time was printed in quarto, in sixteen sheets, Lond. 1609, his “Speech in the Exchequer-chamber,” in Robert C’alvine’s cause, son and heir-apparent of James lord Calvine, of Colcross, in the realm of Scotland, commonly called the case of the postnati. In 1641 was printed at LondonThe Previleges and Prerogatives of the high court of Chancery, written by the right honourable Thomas lord Ellesmere, late lord chancellor of England.” In 1651 there was published at London a small octavo book, entitled “Certaine Observations concerning the office of Lord Chancellor,” composed by the right honourable and most learned Thomas lord Ellesmere, late lord chancellor of England, small octavo, extracted chiefly from records. And Mr. George Paul published some papers found amongst the manuscripts of Mr. Laughton, of Cambridge, which were said to have been written with the lord chancellor Egerton’s own hand. These were entitled “The lord chancellor Egerton’s Observations on the lord Coke’s Reports, particularly in the debate of causes relating to the Right of the Church, the | Power of the king’s Prerogative, the Jurisdiction of Courts, or the Interest of the Subject;” but it is not generally agreed that these papers are truly ascribed to lord chancellor Egerton. There is, however, in Mr. Hargrave’s collection of law manuscripts, a piece entitled “Abridgment of the lord Coke’s Reports under the lord Egerton’s own hand.” It contains a short account of each case in the eleven volumes of Reports published by lord Coke himself; and, probably, was a labour undergone by lord chancellor Egerton, as a preliminary to his observations on lord Coke’s Reports. There is also in Mr. Hargrave’s collection a piece with tbis title, “Observations upon lord Coke’s Reports, made by the lord chancellor Egerton, taken by me out of his own papers, written with his own hand.” These observations are not the same as those in print, but seem to be additional. Who the transcriber was does not appear.

His person, as to its exterior, was possessed of such grave and striking dignity, as to excite the curiosity of many to go to the chancery in order to see and admire his venerable presence. His apprehension was keen and ready, his judgment deep and sound, his reason clear and comprehensive, his method and elocution elegant and easy. As a lawyer, he was prudent in counsel, extensive in information, just and honest in principle; so that, while be lived, he was excelled by none, and, when he died, he vyas lamented by all. As a statesman, he was able, faithful, and sincere, on all occasions; and, as a judge, impartial and incorrupt. In his private character he was generous, beneficent, and condescending to his friends; and to his enemies, who were tew, he was merciful and forgiving; and the same spirit of benevolence and affection which distinguished the whole of his public character, pervaded his more intimate and domestic connections, and displayed themselves in every act of his private life. Though uncommonly successful in every occurrence of his life, and promoted through the merit of superior parts and application to the highest honours, neither the insolence of fortune, nor the splendour of these honours, could, in his enlarged and exalted mind, efface the sentiments of the Christian, nor deaden the feelings of the man. Fine sensibility, the inseparable attendant on fine genius, cultivated by philosophy and religion, was his privilege and ornament and the pain which it necessarily and | occasionally experienced from the feelings and distresses of humanity, was abundantly repaid, and often heightened into enjoyment, by the exercise of a benevolent, and by the reflections of a Christian and conscientious mind. His heart was full of faith, and his hope of immortality was frequently expressed in the apostolic language, “Cupio dissolvi et ease cuin Christo.1

1 Biog. Brit from the hon. and rev. Francis Egerton. Sir E. Brydges’s edit, f foilins’s Peerage. Park’s Royal and Noble Authors.