Fortescue, Sir John

, an eminent English lawyer in the reign of Henry VI. was descended from an ancient family in Devonshire: but we cannot learn either the place or time of his birth. It is also uncertain in which ^university he studied, or whether he studied in any. Prince, in his -Worthies of Devonshire, supposes him to havebeen educated at Oxford, and bishop Tanner fixes him to Exeter, college: and the great learning every where shewn in his writings makes these conjectures probable. When he turned his thoughts to the municipal laws of the land, he | settled at Lincoln’s Inn, where he quickly distinguished himself by his knowledge of civil as well as common law. The first date that occurs, with respect to his preferments, is the fourth year of Henry VI.; when, as Dugdale informs us, he was made one of the governors of Lincoln’s Inn, and honoured with the same employment three years after. In 1430 he was made a serjeant at law; and, as himself tells us, kept his feast on that occasion with very great splendour, In 1441 he was made a king’s serjeant at law; and, the year after, chief justice of the king’s bench. He is highly commended by our most eminent writers, for the wisdom, gravity, and uprightness, with which he presided in that court for many years. He remained in great favour with the king, of which he received a signal proof, by an unnsual augmentation of his salary. He held his office through the reign of Henry VI. to whom he steadily adhered, and served him faithfully in all his troubles; for which, in the first parliament of Edward IV. which began at Westminster, Nov. 1461, he was attainted of high treason, in the same act by which Henry VI. queen Margaret, Edward their son, and many persons of the first distinction, were likewise attainted. After this, Henry fled into Scotland, and it is generally believed, that he then made Fortescne chancellor of England. His name, indeed, upon this occasion, is not found recorded in the patent rolls; because, as Selden says, “being with Henry VI. driven into Scotland by the fortune of the wars wijth the house of York, he was made chancellor of England while he was there.” Several writers have styled him chancellor of England; and, in his book “De laudibus legum Anglia;,” he calls himself “Cancellarius Angliae.

In April 1463, he embarked with queen Margaret, prince Edward, and many persons of distinction, who followed the fortunes of the house of Lancaster, at Hamburg, and landed at Sluys in Flanders; whence they were conducted to Bruges, thence to Lisle, and thence into Lorrain. lu this exile he remained for many years, retiring from place to place, as the necessities of the royal family required: for though, during that space, the queen and prince were often in motion, and great efforts were made to restore. Henry, yet, considering the age of Fortescue, it is not probable that he was suffered to expose himself to such hazards; especially as he might do them better service by soliciting their interest at different courts. It is certain, | that he was not idle; but, observing the excellent understanding of prince Edward, who applied himself wholly to military exercises, and seemed to think of nothing but qualifying himself for an expert commander, he thought it high time to give him other impressions, and to infuse into his mind just notions of the constitution of his country, as well as due respect to its laws; so that, if Providence should favour his designs, he might govern as a king, and not as a tyrant, or a conqueror. With this view 1 as we learn from his introduction, he drew up his famous work, entitled “De Laudibus Legtirn Anglise;” which, though it failed of its primary intention, that hopeful prince being not long after cruelly murdered, will yet remain an everlasting monument of this great and good man’s respect and affection for his country. This very curious and concise vindication of our laws was received with great esteem when it was communicated to the learned of that profession; yet it was not published till the reign of Henry VIII. when it was printed hy Edward Whitchurch, in 16mo, but without a date. In 1516 it was translated by Robert Mulcaster, and printed by R. Tottel, and again in 1567, 1573, and 1575; also by Thomas White in 1598, 1599, and 1609. Fortescue, with HenghamVs “Summa magna et parva,” was likewise printed in 1616 and 1660, 12mo, and again, with Selden’s notes, 1672, 12mo. In 1737 Fortescue was printed in folio; and lastly, in 1775, an English translation with the original Latin, was published in 8vo, with Selden’s notes, and a great variety of remarks relative to the history, antiquities, and laws of England, with a large historical preface by F. Gregor, esq. In 1663, E. Waterhouse, esq. published “Fortescue illustratuV” a commentary on the “De Laudibus,” which, although prolix and defective in style, Mr. Hargrave thinks may be resorted to with great advantage, and may very much facilitate the labours of more judicious and able inquirers. When lord chancellor, sir John is said to have drawn up the statute 2$ Henry VI. “of resumption of certain grants of the crown,” which, though much relied upon by the writers on that subject, is not extant in any present edition of the statutes. The house of Lancaster having afterwards a prospect of retrieving their fortunes, the queen and the prince went over to England, Fortescue with many others accompanying them. They did not succeed, so that this chancellor was forced to reconcile himself as well as he could to the | victorious Edward IV.; for which purpose he wrote a kind of apology for his own conduct. Tlws treatise, though it has never been published, Selden had seen; as he tells us in his preface to Fortescue‘ s book, “L)e Laudibus, <kc.” After all these extraordinary changes of masters and fortunes, he preserved his old principles in regard to the English constitution; as appears from another valuable and learned work, written by him in English, and published in the reign of queen Anne, with this title: “The difference between an absolute and limited monarchy, as it more particularly regards the English constitution: being a treatise written by sir John Fortescue, knight, lord chief justice, and lord high chancellor of England, under king ’Henry VI. Faithfully transcribed from the manuscript copy in the Bodleian library, and collated with three other manuscripts (which were afterwards printed). Published with some remarks by John Fortescue Aland, of the Inner Temple, esq. F. R. S. 1714,” 8vo. There is a manuscript of this work in the Cotton library, in the title of which it is said to be addressed to Henry VI. but many passages in it shew it to have been plainly written in favour of, and for the service of, Edward IV. A second edition, with amendments, was published in 1719, 8vo. As for this author’s other writings, which were pretty numerous, as they were never printed, we know nothing more of them than we learn from the titles, and the commendations bestowed upon them by those who had perused them. They have, however, been carefully preserved in libraries, some of them being still extant under the following titles “Opusculum de natura Legis Naturae, et de ejus censura in successione regnorum supremorum;” “Defensio juris Domus Lancastriae” “Genealogy of the House of Lancaster” “Of the title of the House of York” “Genealogise Ilegum Scotios” “A Dialogue between Understanding and Faith” "A Prayer Book which savours touch of the times we live in,' 1 &c. It would certainly be a gratification, if not a benefit, to the learned world, if his manuscripts were printed; for he was a man of general knowledge, great observation, and his writings would probably throw much light upon the dark parts of our history and antiquities.

We know nothing further of his life, which probably was spent in retirement in the country, free from the cares, and remote from the dangers of a court. Neither | is there any distinct account preserved of his jdeath; we are only told in general, that he was then near ninety years of age, which the circumstances of his life rendered very probable. His remains were interred in the church of Ebburton in Gloucestershire, where he had purchased an, estate; and where one of his descendants, in 1677, caused a monument to he repaired, upon which was the figure of this venerable person in his robes, and added an inscription to his memory. It was truly said by his editor, Mr. Fortescue Aland, that “all good men and lovers of the English constitution speak of him with honour; and that he still lives, in the opinion of all true Englishmen, in as high esteem and reputation as any judge that ever sat in Westminster hall. He was a man acquainted with all sorts of learning, besides his knowledge in the law, in which he was exceeded by none; as will appear by the many judgements he gave when on the bench, in the year-book of Henry VI. His character in history is that of pious, loyal, and learned: and he had the honour to be called the chief counsellor of the king. He was a great courtier, and yet a great lover of his country.1

1 Biog, Brit, Prince’s Worthies., Bridgman’s Legal Bibliography*