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Judge
    (May 15, 1645-April 18, 1689)
    Born in Wrexham, Wales, United Kingdom
    Lord Chief Justice of the King’s Bench (1683-85)
    Lord Chancellor of England (1685-88)
    Named 1st Baronet of Balstrode (1681) and 1st Baron of Wem (1685)
    Notorious for presiding over the ‘Bloody Assizes’ after the rebellion of James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, which resulted in the executions of more than 150 of the defeated rebels (1685)
    He served as a prosecutor against several innocent Catholics framed by Titus Oates, and earned notoriety by ridiculing the defendants (1678).
    Five years later, he had no qualms about trying Oates for committing perjury in the cases he had prosecuted.
    During the perjury trial, he and Oates openly exchanged insults in court.
    During the treason trial of Algernon Sidney, the Crown could only produce one witness instead of the two required by law. He allowed the trial to proceed, declaring that Sidney’s writings in favor of republicanism constituted a second witness (1683).
    Historian Thomas Babington Macaulay called him ‘the most consummate bully ever known in his profession’ and added ‘He swore in language which no well-bred man would have used at a cockfight.’
    When King James II was overthrown, he tried to escape from England disguised as a sailor. When he was recognized, he begged to be locked up for protection from the mob.
    During the Blitz, all traces of his tomb were destroyed in a German bombing raid.
    He suffered from a painful kidney disease and his doctors recommended alcohol to dull the pain, which probably contributed to his behavior in court.
    Some reports of his most outrageous behavior may been invented by his political enemies.
    Although he was condemned for his harshness during the Bloody Assizes, death was the only sentence allowed for someone convicted of treason. Arguably, the blame for the high death toll belongs to King James II for not exercising his royal prerogative of commuting sentences.
    He died of his kidney ailment while imprisoned in the Tower of London.

Credit: C. Fishel


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