Finch, Heneage

, first earl of Nottingham, and lord high chancellor of England, the son of sir Heneage Finch, knt. recorder of London, was born Dec. 21 or 23, 1621, in the county of Kent. He was educated at Westminsterschool, and became a gentleman commoner of Christ church in Oxford, 1635. After he had prosecuted his studies there for two or three years, he removed to the Inner Temple, where, by diligence and good parts, he became remarkable for his knowledge of the municipal laws, was successively barrister, bencher, treasurer, reader, &c. Charles II. on his restoration, made him solicitor general, and advanced him to the dignity of a baronet. He was reader of the Inner Temple the next year, and chose for his subject the statute of 39 Eliz. concerning the payment and recovery of the debts of the crown, at that time very | seasonable and necessary, and which he treated with great strength of reason, and depth of law. Uncommon honours were paid to him on this occasion, the reading and entertainment lasting from the 4th to the 17th of August. At the first day’s entertainment were several of the nobility of the kingdom, and privy counsellors, with divers others of his friends at the second, were the lord mayor, aldermen, and principal citizens of London at the third, which was two days after the former, was the whole college of physicians, who all came in their caps and gowns; at the fourth, all the judges, advocates, doctors of the civil law, and all the society of Doctors’ Commons at the fifth, the archbishops, bishops, and chief of the clergy and at the last, which was on August 15, his majesty king Charles II. did him the honour (never before granted by any of his royal progenitors) to accept of an invitation to dine with him in the great hall of the Inner Temple.

As solicitor-general, he took an active part in the trials of the regicides, and in April 1661, by the strong recommendation of lord Clarendon, he was chosen a member of parliament for the university of Oxford; but, says Wood, “he he did us no good, when we wanted his assistance for taking off the tribute belonging to hearths.” In 1665, after the parliament then sitting at Oxford had been prorogued, he was in full convocation created doctor of civil law; and, the creation being over, the vice-chancellor, in t^ie presence of several parliament-men, stood up and spoke to the public orator to do his office, who said, among other things, “That the university wished they had more colleges to entertain the parliament men, and more chambers, but by no means more chimnies;” at which sir Heneage was observed to change countenance, and draw a little back. When the disgrace of lord Clarendon drew on, in 1667, and he was impeached in parliament for some supposed high crimes, sir Heneage, not forgetting his old friend, appeared vigorously in his defence. In 1670, the king appointed him attorney general; and, about three years after, lord keeper. Soon after he was advanced to the degree of a baron, by the title of Lord Finch of Daventry, in the county of Northampton, and upon the surrender of the great seal to his majesty, Dec. 19, 1675, he received it immediately back again, with the title of Lord High Chancellor of England.

The conduct of lord chancellor Finch in the disposal of | church livings merits particular approbation. Attached to the interests of the church of England, he had considered the necessity of inquiring into the characters of those who might he candidates for benefices in the disposal of the seal. But the many avocations of his high office prevented his personal attention to this point; he therefore addressed his chaplain (Dr. Sharp, afterwards archbishop of York) to this effect: “The greatest difficulty, I apprehend, in the execution of my office, is the patronage of ecclesiastical preferments. God is my witness that I would not knowingly prefer an unworthy person; but as my course of life and studies has lain another way, I cannot think myself so good a* judge of the merits of such suitors as you are; I therefore charge it upon your conscience, as you will answer it to Almighty God, that upon every such occasion, you make the best inquiry, and give me the best advice you can, that I may never bestow any favour upon an undeserving, man; which if you neglect to do, the guilt will be entirely yours, and I shall deliver my own soul.” This trust, so solemnly committed to his care, Dr. Sharp (says his recent biographer Mr.Todd) faithfully discharged; and his advice was no less faithfully followed by his patron, as long as he continued in office. By so conscientious a disposal of church-preferment in the dissolute reign of Charles II. the cause of religion must have been eminently advanced.

He performed the office of high steward at the trial of lord Stafford, who was found guilty of high treason by his peers, for being concerned in the popish plot. On May J2, 1681, he was created earl of Nottingham, and died, quite worn out, at his house in Queen-street, Lincoln’sinn-fields, Dec. Is, 1682, and was buried in the church of Ilaunston near Olney in Buckinghamshire, where his son erected a superb monument to hrs memory. Though he lived in very troublesome and difficult times, yet he conducted himself with such even steadiness, that he retained the good opinion of both prince and people. He was distinguished by his wisdom and eloquence; and was such an excellent orator, that some of his contemporaries have styled him the English Roscius, the English Cicero, &c. Burnet, in the preface to his “History of the Reformation,” telis us, that his great parts and greater virtues were so conspicuous, that it would be a high presumption in him to say any thing in his commendation being in nothing | more eminent, than in his zeal for, and care of, the church of England. His character is described by Dryden, or rather Tate, in the second part of “Absalom and Achitophel,” under the name of Amri; but more reliance may be placed on the opinion of judge Blackstone. “He was a person,” says this learned commentator, “of the greatest abilities, and most incorrupted integrity; a thorough master and zealous defender of the laws and constitution of his country; and endued with a pervading genius that enabled him to discover and to pursue the true spirit of justice, notwithstanding the embarrassments raised by the narrow and technical notions which then prevailed in the courts of law, and the imperfect ideas of redress which had possessed the courts of equity. The reason and necessities of mankind, arising from the great change in property, by the extension of trade, and the abolition of military tenures, co-operated in establishing his plan, and enabled him, in the course of nine years, to build a system of jurisprudence and jurisdiction upon wide and rational foundations, which have also been extended and improved by many great men, who have since presided in chancery; and from that time to this, the power and business of the court have increased to an amazing degree.

Under his name are published, 1. Several speeches and discourses in the trial of the judges of Charles I. in the book entitled “An exact and most impartial account of the Indictment, Arraignment, Trial, and Judgment (according to law) of twenty-nine regicides, &c. 1660,” 4to, 1679, 8vo. 2. “Speeches to both Houses of Parliament, 7th Jan. 1673; 13th of April and 13th of Oct. 1675; 15th of Feb. 1676; 6th of March, 1678; and 30th of April, 1679.” These were spoken while he was lord keeper and chancellor. 3. “Speech at the Sentence of William Viscount Stafford, 7th Dec. 1680,” printed in one sheet, folio; and in the Trial of the said Viscount, p. 212. 4. “Answers by his Majesty’s command, upon several Addresses presented to his majesty at Hampton Court, the 19th of May, 1681,” in one sheet, in folio. 5. “His Arguments; upon which he made the Decree in the cause between the honourable Charles Howard, esq. plaintiff, Henry late duke of Norfolk, Henry lord Mowbray his son, Henry marquis of Dorchester, and Richard Marriott, esq. defendants; wherein the several ways and methods of limiting a trust of term for years are fully debated, 1615,” folio, 6, “An | Argument on the claim of the Crown to pardon on Impeachment,” folio. He also left behind him, written with his own hand, “Chancery Reports,ms. in folio, and notes on Coke’s Institute. 1


Collins’s Peerage. Biog. Brit. Todd’s Deans of Canterbury. Walpole’s "Royal and Noble Authors by ParKr Ath. Vx, vol. II.